Chapter 6 : Flying Lessons
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‘No, mate,’ Greg shook his head, ‘Zac?’
‘Yeah,’ Isaac turned around, grinning keenly as he waited for the other two children to catch him. ‘My uncle was Ravenclaw Captain,’ he explained. ‘I got my first broom when I was four.’
‘Shit,’ Theo muttered. ‘I bet all the Gryffindors have done it before, too. They’re going to love it when I can’t even take off.’
‘Matt had never flown before,’ Greg reminded his friend, ‘and neither had Oscar. They’re both muggle-born, like us – and they’re captain and vice captain now.’
‘Were you any good at muggle sports?’ Greg insisted. ‘Matt says it’s the same... finding space, keeping your position, staying balanced.’
‘It’s on a broom!’
Isaac laughed. ‘Can you ride a bicycle?’
‘Yes!’ Theo protested, angrily.
‘Well, I can’t – but Uncle Roger says it’s just like a broom.’ Isaac paused, sensing the other boys’ disbelief. ‘He’s married to a muggle now. We go to see them sometimes, and their children have their own bikes...’
‘I’m sure you’ll be fine, mate,’ Greg smiled, trying to pretend he didn’t harbour the same fears that his friend had voiced moments before.
‘Yeah,’ Isaac echoed, blithely, ‘now come on, or we’ll be late, and we’ll get left with the crappy school brooms...’
The other two Slytherins hurried after their friend, but as they arrived at the pitch, they could see that his prediction had already come true, and the Gryffindor children had taken first choice from the store cupboard.
‘It doesn’t matter, really,’ Isaac whispered as he picked out three of the least battered examples from the pile. ‘It won’t stop you flying. It will just go slower and won’t corner so well.’
Theo gulped, gritting his teeth and willing his breakfast to remain in his stomach as he wondered how he could reply. He was saved, however, by the arrival of the Quidditch coach.
‘Right, first-years,’ his rich accent punctuated the dewy morning, and the three Slytherin boys drew closer together, not noticing Lucas’ late arrival by their side. ‘My name is Professor Wood,’ he intoned, ‘I played Quidditch here for Gryffindor for six years, and professionally for Puddlemere United for another ten, as well as 17 times for Scotland.’
'Wow...' Isaac whispered, under his breath, but the other children had not all been so easily impressed.
‘Then why are you here coaching us?’ The spiky-haired boy who had challenged Isaac after the History of Magic lesson spoke out.
The teacher lifted his right hand, pushing his wrist back on itself a full 180 degrees, before pulling it back down in the opposite direction. ‘There is only so much magical surgery can do for you.’
The spiky-haired boy shuddered, and a quick glance around the assembled first-years told Greg that he wasn’t the only queasy one.
‘What’s your name, boy?’ Wood demanded.
‘Spencer Dawlish,’ he answered.
The professor nodded, before striding onwards down the line. ‘I see you have all taken a broom,’ he announced. ‘So we will start at the very beginning. Place your strong hand over the broom, and in a calm and clear voice, shout ‘up’!’
‘Up...’ Greg offered weakly, staring at the broomstick that remained disobediently motionless by his feet. ‘Up,’ he pleaded, as he watched Isaac’s broom float upwards into his friend’s grasp.
‘That won’t work,’ the other boy chided. ‘You have to say it like you mean it, like you actually expect it to happen.’
‘Up...’ Greg repeated.
‘No!’ Isaac shook his head. ‘I can tell you don’t think it’s going to work. Say it like you really believe it... like the way you persuaded me Slytherin wasn’t all bad.’
Greg nodded slowly, bracing himself as he turned to stare down at the broom. ‘Up!’ he commanded, before grinning excitedly as it rose steadily into his grip. ‘I did it!’
‘Told you,’ Isaac snickered. ‘Now, Theo...’ He repeated his instructions to the other Slytherin, and as the lesson progressed the two muggle-born children grew ever more confident in their flying.
‘I think I know what your uncle meant about this being like riding a bicycle,’ Theo smiled, breathless, as he landed alongside his friends, flicking the fringe of his hair from in front of his eyes. ‘You stop having to think about what you’re doing to make it turn or dip, it just comes naturally.’
Isaac nodded. ‘Fun, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah!’ The two other boys echoed each other’s enthusiastic response, Greg’s grin almost as wide as Theo’s near-permanent smile.
‘Well, then,’ the teacher’s voice called the children together moments later. ‘It’s time to see how good some of you are.’ He reached into the pockets of his robes, pulling out a small, fluorescent orange ball. ‘This,’ he announced over the gasps of surprise, ‘is what the pro teams use when they’re training.’ With the deftest of flicks of his left hand, he sent the ball sailing five or six metres skywards, before nonchalantly catching it once again. ‘Think about how far it goes when I really throw it.’ He gazed around the crowd of enthralled first-years. ‘So who’s up for it?’
‘Me,’ Isaac announced calmly, swinging the handle of his broomstick between his legs. ‘Isaac Davies.’
‘Do we have an opponent?’ the teacher nodded, before staring towards the Gryffindor children, who backed away to either side of Isaac’s sister.
‘Holly Davies. Isaac’s big sister.’ She copied her brother’s actions in mounting the broom, glaring coldly at the brown-haired boy, before pushing off in pursuit of him as Wood hurled the ball into the air.
‘Get off,’ Isaac mouthed as his sister closed the distance between them. ‘Find your own space.’
‘Why don’t you?’ she smirked. ‘Can’t fly fast enough, baby brother?’
Isaac shook his head. ‘Why don’t we swap brooms and see?’ He struggled to prise himself free of her attentions, pushing back against her as they jockeyed for position in the sky, Holly shadowing her brother’s every move.
‘I hope he gets it...’ Greg whispered to Theo, several metres below. ‘She won’t let him hear the end of it...’
‘I know,’ Theo nodded, ‘but why... why are they both so far away, when the ball’s going to fall...’ He stretched out his arm, pointing to the empty space between the two fliers and the other gathered first-years, and as he did so, Isaac answered his question, streaking away from the girl’s grip into the gap that Theo had indicated.
‘Come on!’ He dropped gently back to the ground, punching the air with delight as Theo and Greg ran up to him. ‘She fell for it!’
‘Proper Slytherin cunning,’ Greg smiled, high-fiving his friend as the successful flier opened his palm to reveal the orange ball.
‘Well flown, young man, well flown,’ Professor Wood nodded his head towards Isaac. ‘Five points to Slytherin.’
‘But...’ Spencer interrupted. ‘Aren’t you a Gryffindor, sir?’
‘Yes,’ Wood turned back to the first-year, his eyes suddenly flashing with anger, ‘why do you ask?’
‘He’s in Slytherin,’ Spencer retorted, as if the matter were obvious.
‘I can tell that, Dawlish,’ the teacher’s gaze didn’t waver. ‘I can also tell that he won. You don’t win Quidditch matches by pretending.’ He caught the training ball as it sped back to him, Isaac having forgotten just how easy it was to project. ‘Do you fancy a go, then? Five more points at hand?’
‘I’ll take him on,’ Greg heard himself announce to the crowd before he realised what he was saying.
‘Good luck, mate,’ Theo whispered.
‘Yeah, good luck,’ Isaac repeated. ‘Remember, out-think him if you can’t out-fly him.’
Greg nodded, pushing himself up gently from the ground as he watched Spencer shoot away, in pursuit of the ball’s landing. ‘Think,’ he told himself, watching the bright shape of the ball curving further upwards, and trying to calculate where it would come down. As far as he could tell, Spencer had it right, and he glided over towards the Gryffindor boy, setting himself a handful of yards closer to the gathered children. ‘You sure you’re happy there?’ He yelled out.
‘Yes, mate,’ Dawlish sneered. ‘It’s coming straight to me – and you know that crappy little broom won’t let you beat me.’
‘Your choice,’ Greg called back, watching the ball reach the top of its arc and begin its descent. If he couldn’t beat him on the level... he’d have to jump the queue. Knowing that he would need to time his climb perfectly, he braced himself, staring upwards at the ball until the moment he could wait no longer, and he powered up to intercept the projectile from its course towards Spencer’s arms.
Greg smiled as he heard Isaac and Theo’s delighted shouts from the ground below, bringing the broomstick out of its climb and gliding back to the ground below. He dismounted, taking a handful of steps back towards the teacher and passing him back the ball. ‘I didn’t think I should throw it,’ he explained, and Wood smiled.
‘Five points to Slytherin,’ he nodded. ‘Okay, ready for the next pair!’ Two Gryffindor children took to the air, but neither managed to catch the training ball as it plummeted downwards moments later, and nor could Theo hang on to his target – although he eluded his opponent and got a hand onto the object.
‘Good effort, mate,’ Greg clapped his friend on the shoulder. ‘Remember you’ve only been flying half an hour – I bet he’s been doing it for years!’ With or without experience, however, the vast majority of the first-years made a reasonable attempt at tracking down the training ball.
‘Last pair,’ Wood called, as the only two children yet to take off shuffled forwards towards him. ‘Abercrombie and Brand, am I correct?’ The two boys nodded, barely noticeably, before the professor tossed the ball gently upwards – and neither of them moved as the ball looped through the air to plug in the turf, only yards away, as the bell for the end of the lesson rang out over the grounds. ‘Dismissed,’ Wood announced, ‘except for you two.’ He looked around, expectantly. ‘Didn’t you hear me? Go!’
‘What do you think will happen to them?’ Greg asked his friends as they followed the track back to the castle ahead of the next period. ‘Lose points? Detention?’
Isaac shook his head. ‘Wood’s a legend at Puddlemere. He was a great keeper, but he always played fair, too. He gave us points over Gryffindor – he wouldn’t take points off just because someone wasn’t very good... would he?’
Theo shrugged. ‘I’m just glad it’s not me.’ He hesitated. ‘I mean...’
‘We know what you mean,’ Greg assured his friend, ‘and it’s fine. You are Slytherin, remember.’ He pushed open the door of the classroom in which they would have their next lesson to find the Gryffindor children already filling most of the places in the room. ‘Come on,’ he whispered, ‘over that side.’ He led the other two boys to a table on the far side of the classroom, steeling himself for a snide comment from Spencer as he walked past, but the Gryffindor said nothing.
‘I hate these study lessons,’ Theo complained as he dropped his bag onto the desk. ‘Why don’t they just tell us what we’ve got to do before the next proper lesson?’
‘Cause you wouldn’t do it, that’s why!’ Greg laughed as he pulled the sheets of parchment marked ‘History of Magic’ from his satchel.
Theo shrugged, shaking his head. ‘Thanks for the support, mate.’ He pulled a crumpled page out of his own bag. ‘What’s this if it isn’t my homework?’
‘A paper aeroplane?’ Isaac offered, before ducking as Theo hurled the ball of parchment at his friend. Any chance Isaac had to respond, however, disappeared as the seventh-year boy who was to supervise their lesson pushed open the door.
‘Good morning,’ he announced, only to be met by silence from the class. ‘Good morning,’ he repeated, and this time a handful of children answered in kind. ‘Let me introduce myself. I am Neal Kennedy, seventh-year, Ravenclaw, and I will be the taker for your History of Magic study lessons this year.’ He paused. ‘I know what you’re thinking: more History of Magic. Great – like Binns didn’t bore me enough already... but I don’t think History needs to be taught like that. I think there are different ways, which can even make you interested in what you’re reading about. It doesn’t all have to be names and dates of Goblin Rebellions.’ He lifted himself up onto the desk at the front of the room. ‘So,’ he began, ‘what did you cover on Friday?’
Greg raised a hand, slowly.
‘Yes, you – at the back.’
‘We learned about the four Houses,’ he swallowed, looking down at his notes, ‘and their characteristics.’
Neal nodded. ‘So you’ll have heard the stories of the four founders,’ he began, ‘and how the Sorting Hat came about?’
‘Yes,’ Greg answered, ‘and how Slytherin fell out with the other founders.’ He gulped, feeling the eyes of the Gryffindor children in the room beginning to bore into him.
‘Yes, yes,’ Neal pushed up from the desk and began to pace around the classroom. ‘Blood purity above all. Yet,’ the seventh-year paused beside the Slytherin boys’ desk, ‘you are not pure blood,’ his gaze met Greg’s eyes. ‘Muggle stationery.’ He smiled. ‘So, how has it come to be that the Hat no longer follows Slytherin’s wishes? What does it really mean to be a Slytherin?’ He looked across the room, and back down at his badge, ‘Or a Gryffindor, or a Ravenclaw?’ Neal retraced his steps to the front of the room, and flicked his wand. ‘On each of your tables, there is a sheet of parchment. Use it, as you wish, to show what it is about being in your House – or simply being at Hogwarts – you are proud about.’
‘This isn’t so bad, I guess...’ Theo admitted as he began to sketch a copy of the green and silver crest of Slytherin House on the centre of the parchment. ‘Neal seems alright.’
‘Yeah,’ Isaac agreed, looking up as Ciaran and Lucas trudged into the classroom.
‘Where have you two been?’ Neal demanded, standing up from alongside a table of Gryffindors.
‘P... Professor Wood... was talking to us...’ Ciaran stammered, struggling to hold back his tears. ‘He w... wanted...’
‘Alright,’ Neal interrupted, ‘that’s all I needed to know. There’s a free table over here,’ he gestured, ‘please can you sit down and get on with your task: everything you need to know is on the blackboard.’ The seventh-year kept an eye on the two new arrivals as they edged across the room, filing into a vacant table in front of the Slytherin boys, before striding over to talk with them a few moments later.
‘Are you guys alright?’ Neal offered, kneeling down between the two nearly silent children.
Ciaran nodded, slowly.
‘Your first flying lessons?’ the seventh-year guessed, smiling gently as the little Gryffindor nodded again. ‘They’re not much fun when you can’t get off the ground,’ he whispered.
‘W... what?’ Ciaran jolted. ‘How do you know?’ He checked himself. ‘I mean...’
‘Relax,’ Neal leant an arm around Ciaran’s shoulders. ‘I’ve been there. I know the feeling. It’s not the end of the earth, Ciaran.’
‘H... How do you know my name?’ The first-year jumped in his seat.
‘It’s on your bag,’ Neal grinned.
‘Oh,’ Ciaran smiled, sheepishly, ‘right.’
‘I’m Neal Kennedy,’ the seventh-year introduced himself to the newcomers, ‘I’m taking your History of Magic study lessons this year – so you can keep me up to date with how the flying goes.’ He glanced up to the classroom roof for a split, wistful second. ‘I couldn’t even get the broom into my hands in my first lesson... and now I’m on the Quidditch team.’ Neal turned to Lucas. ‘Don’t talk much, do you?’
‘How about this task, then?’ Neal continued. ‘A side of parchment about why you’re proud to be in your House – or just to be at Hogwarts.’
‘A side, each?’ Ciaran asked.
‘The other tables are working together,’ the taker added. ‘So you could work as a pair or do your own, or...’ Neal stood up. ‘Does any group have space for these two boys to join you?’
Isaac, Greg and Theo looked up at one another, before Isaac turned back over his shoulder to see if any of the Gryffindors had offered. ‘No one else is going to...’ He whispered as he looked back. ‘You know what they think of Slytherins.’
Theo nodded. ‘They can work with us,’ he called out to the seventh-year. ‘Both of them, if they want to.’
‘Well?’ Neal turned back to the newcomers. ‘There’s your choice, boys.’ Lucas stood up as the taker finished speaking, lifting his bag over to the other Slytherins’ table. ‘Ciaran?’
‘I’ll stay here,’ he murmured.
‘Suit yourself,’ the taker shrugged.
‘Hiya, Lucas,’ Theo offered. ‘Are you gonna talk to us today, or not?’
Lucas stared back at the other Slytherin boy, stony-faced.
‘Why are you sitting with us if you’re not going to talk to us?’ Isaac nagged. ‘You’ve got to live with us for the next seven years. How are we going to get on if you won’t talk to us?’
‘Maybe we don’t want to get to know him?’ Greg suggested. ‘If he’s like his brother...’
‘I’m not like my brother!’ Lucas snapped.
‘Who are you like, then?’ Greg challenged him.
Lucas shook his head.
‘Who do you want to be like?’ Isaac pressed the other boy. ‘You can’t just sit there and hide,’ he sighed. ‘I know, I tried...’ He looked across the table towards his friends.
‘I want to get better at flying,’ Lucas shivered. ‘I want to be able to fly like you did.’
‘Well we’ll help you,’ Isaac clapped him on the shoulder, turning the parchment on the table around to face himself and his neighbour, and pointing out a particular line on the paper. ‘Slytherin is about sticking together.’
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