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Chapter 12 : Sticks and Stones and Boot Camp
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Chapter 12: Sticks and Stones and Boot Camp
I narrowed my eyes, tapping my quill against my thigh as I stared in Sirius’s direction, burning a hole in the back of his head with my gaze. It was my sixth year, for Merlin’s sake, and I was not going to let those two pricks decide how I was going to spend it. Since I was already not acting like myself this year, I decided that I might as well go all out and not let them get away with ignoring me. Plus, I had less than no idea why those two bugged me so much and I really wanted to figure out why.
“Mr. Black,” the Professor called out, tapping his fingers loudly on his podium. “What is so interesting about the back of your eyelids?”
Sirius jumped a bit in his seat, looking startled that everyone was staring at him. It took a moment to regain his composure but he quickly slipped back into the “normal Sirius” mode. “Absolutely nothing, teach.” He said as he leaned back, stretching his arms over his head.
I wonder if they thought nobody would notice (and I probably would have too if I wasn’t the deciding factor in the reason they were acting that way) the variation in their seating arrangements today. James and Sirius sat the furthest away from each other they could without drawing attention, with Remus and Peter between them.
“How about finding something interesting in your textbook to focus on while you pretend to pay attention?” the Professor told him, raising an eyebrow in a mocking way.
Sirius looked down at his textbook which was closed. “Where?”
“What page should I pretend to pay attention to?” Sirius asked, his face stoic, one eyebrow raised.
What is he doing? I wondered, suddenly afraid for him.
Normally he would put on an innocent face and play dumb, but today Sirius seemed like he really didn’t care what happened to him. And since the professor was already in an extremely peeved mood, it didn’t seem like the best day to annoy him.
“Chapter 3,” I tried to tell him without sounding too obvious.
I could tell he heard me by the way his jaw clenched and his fists tightened on his textbook, but he didn’t turn to the page I told him to.
“What page, Professor?” he repeated, his eyes boring down onto the teacher with detached emotion.
Everyone could tell he was pushing it, and the professor’s blood was obviously starting to boil. The group as a whole seemed to hold their breath as they waited for him to answer.
“20 points from Gryffindor and Chapter 3, Mr. Black.”
Sirius looked down at his book, slowly flipping to chapter three. The room let out the breath they had all been holding, mine coming last.
“I wonder,” I said, trailing after him once class was finished. “Do you have a death wish or do you just have a blatant lack of regard for any person with more authority than yourself?”
Sirius ignored me, continuing to walk down to corridor. It was just the two of us now since I had caught him the moment his three stooges had taken a turn for the library to study (Remus), hang around without any sort of purpose (Peter), and hit on fourth years (James). We had taken an odd turn into a deserted hallway which left us without any other stragglers around, making me slightly uncomfortable but I tried not to show it.
“I for one think it’s the second.” I went on, talking to him even though he seemed not to care. “Although that begs the question: Why now? You’ve always been so classy with your snide remarks and witty comments that most were written off as humorous anecdotes to keep the wheels of Hogwarts fresh and turning.”
I watched Sirius’s face carefully, trying to find any signs of emotion. Boy, he’s good at being silent when he wants to be…
“But I guess today you got sloppy, right? And nobody really blames you. I mean, Wednesdays are horrific for everyone, right? It really should get voted off as the least liked day of the week, cut it out and be done with it so everyone can get on with their pitiful lives.”
Still nothing? Really? This is some of my best stuff! I sighed silently, my nostrils flaring with annoyance. It took a moment, but I calmed myself again, taking longer strides to keep up with him, and continued.
“I know it’s always good to branch out a bit and try new tactics with the professors, but I don’t think you really accomplished what you wanted to, do you?” I gave him a half second and when he didn’t reply I went on, scared that if I stopped talking and he didn’t start I might go entirely insane. “Maybe you should try something totally new tomorrow. How about going into class, getting there on time, being on the right page, and actually participating in class?” I gave a strained laugh. “That would sure give them a run for their money; they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves!”
We made another turn and I was finding myself becoming winded from the over-the-top brisk pace Sirius was keeping. He seemed unfazed by the speed but years of anti-quidditch had taken its toll on me. I could have sworn we were walking in circles, but I followed him nonetheless.
“They would probably be so aghast that they would forget to assign homework! I’m sure that would be a nice break,” I told him as I took a deep breath in a desperate attempt to keep the air flowing in my lungs. “Anyway, I actually think your outburst today came from a different source.” I saw his jaw tightening again. “Maybe you’re too overloaded with the mixture of James’s early morning practices and all of the work the professors are piling on us.”
He seemed to twitch in a ‘didn’t see that one coming’ sort of way. I couldn’t tell if he was happy I wasn’t bringing up the subject or annoyed that I was beating around the bush. And yes, by now I was almost certain we had passed that same gargoyle statue about four times now. Though what did I know, all of the gargoyles in Hogwarts looked the same to me.
“I bet James would lighten up if you asked him,” I commented, shrugging my shoulders in an attempt to mask my deep gasps for air. “I mean, he is your best mate and everything. The two of you pretty much do everything together.” Breath. “With Remus too, of course. And that short guy, Peter, that follows you around almost everywhere. I mean,” gasp, “I was pretty surprised when I found out he wasn’t on the team since—“
Sirius stopped walking, allowing me to stop as well; trying to catch my breath as silently as humanly possible. He looked over his shoulder at me for a moment, watching my chest heave in and out. A second longer and he turned to face me, his head tilting slightly to one side as he seemed to size me up.
“Explain.” Was all he said, but it sounded like an order and I found myself stammering to get the words out.
“W-Well you k-know he’s always f-following the th-three of you around so I, uh, just figured he-e wou-uld be on the team like the rest of you.” I bit my bottom lip, wishing we weren’t all alone. I would have at least liked someone to be around to identify him as the killer once I was dead and the case went into the hands of the Ministry.
“No,” he said shaking his head, a blank expression still plastered onto his face. “Explain to me what happened.”
I looked at him blankly, unable to comprehend what he was asking. Or maybe I was just stalling. I didn’t really know which.
“Just get on with it, Serena.” He said, his eyes staring down at me like two vacant black holes. “Say what you came here to say, I’m late for class.”
I swallowed nervously. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. He wasn’t supposed to look so…empty. I had braced myself for any emotion (anger, depression, annoyance, whatever), but this? I didn’t know what to do with a lack of emotion and he wasn’t giving me anything to work with.
I took a deep breath, hoping he wouldn’t see the subtle fear in my eyes. “It wasn’t what it looked like.”
Real smooth, Serena… I thought, mentally punching myself. Could you have picked a worse phrase?
Sirius’s eyebrows raised slowly and he crossed his arms over his chest. “Really?” he asked, tilting his head to the side. “Because it really looked like you were standing millimeters away from my best mate and neither of you were wearing shirts. Am I wrong?”
Why do I feel like I’m being reprimanded by a teacher? No, actually it feels more like an interrogation…
“Well… no, but—“
“And, as I saw it, it looked like a pretty bad situation that you probably wouldn’t have wanted a teacher to see you in, don’t you think?”
I bit my lip. “Well, yes—“
“Then, Serena,” Sirius said, his face starting to form into an expression of accusation as he started to step forward toward me. “How wasn’t it what it looked like?”
I took a step backwards to keep the space between us. “Nothing was going on, Sirius,” I clarified, keeping eye contact with him. After a second a light bulb seemed to go on in my head and I added, “Why do you even care?”
Sirius paused, breaking eye contact with me. “James is my best mate; I have to look out for him.”
I took a step forward. “Then why are you ignoring him?”
His eyes flicked in my direction as he shoved his thumbs through his belt loops. “I’m late for class.” He turned, starting down the corridor.
My mind couldn’t help screaming “I win! I win!” but I also felt like nothing had been resolved at all. If possible it felt like we were even worse off than we had been before (and that would have been quite a feat if accomplished).
I walked out of the locker rooms (sports bra under my shirt just incase anything anti-shirt happened – I didn’t want to be caught with any black lace incidents again), my eyes scanning the greens before me. James had posted a paper outside saying to change and meet on the pitch, so I didn’t bother to check the strategy room before heading outside.
James, his team shirt fully intact, sat in the stands about half-way down the pitch, messing with a notebook he held on the rail in front of him.
Mary walked out of the locker rooms behind me, standing slightly to my left. “Why isn’t he playing today?” she asked in a tone of confusion. “It’s only the second day of practice…”
Felicia walked past us muttering, “Maybe he’ll make himself run laps for not participating…”
“Maybe he’ll take his shirt off, too!” Mary giggled, elbowing me playfully in the side. “Yum!”
My cheeks flushed pink as I remembered the day before and how close we had gotten, our skin brushing against each other’s. Maybe it’s nothing to do with that at all… I thought hopefully. Maybe he… forgot! Yeah, he must have forgotten the whole thing. It was too bad I was horrible at convincing myself because ignorance probably would have made my life a little easier.
James looked up, counting the number of bodies on the pitch. Confident everyone was out, he cleared his throat. “Today we’ll be doing some warm-up exercises to help different parts of your game.” He announced. “First thing’s first,” he said, jumping from the top of the bleachers.
A collective gasp emitted from the team, and Mary clenched onto my arm. A second later James was casting a spell and his broom flew under him, letting him make a clean descent to the ground. Mary took a deep breath, letting my arm go and apologizing.
Mary turned to me, her eyes wide. Jack Titan (5th year, Reserve Beater), who stood on the other side of me coughed in order to hide his gaping mouth. He leaned over to me after a moment later.
“He’s never done this before so early in the season. It’s usually a punishment if we do a terrible job at practice or if we lose a game. And I wouldn’t say we did too bad at practice yesterday.” He looked at me for a moment and hesitated. “Well… most of us didn’t.”
He braced himself for impact but I just narrowed my eyes at him instead. “You know, just because you’re a fifth year doesn’t mean I won’t still kick your butt to Pluto and back.” I told him pointedly, putting my hands on my hips. “And I wasn’t that bad yesterday.”
I turned to Mary who was giving me an I’m-not-going-to-disagree-with-you-because-you-look-like-you-could-hurt-me-but-I’m-going-to-raise-an-eyebrow-and-wait-until-you-get-the-hint look.
I groaned, hiding my face in my hands. “Who am I kidding? I was absolutely horrendous!”
Jack patted my back. “Don’t worry! Some practices are optional for Reserve members; maybe it would do you good to take some time away from quidditch. Get some more sleep or something.” He winked at Mary who laughed at my expense.
I dropped my hands, my jaw hanging loosely off my face. “You think he’ll bump me off first-string?” I asked, appalled.
Jack laughed, putting his arms around my shoulders. “Probably not, but he’s done it before. Though he seems to have taken a liking to you so I wouldn’t worry,” he said with a suggestive smile and a wink.
I scoffed, pushing him off. “Don’t you dare join the rest of these people in the Looney Bin, Titan! I was just starting to get used to you!”
“Colton! Titan! Knight!”
The three of our heads snapped forward, completely shocked by the fact that James was only a few meters away. He walked forward more until he was within whispering distance of us, but he didn’t lower his voice.
“I don’t pick favorites, Jack. You of all people should know that.” Jack’s face dropped and his mouth looked like it had been sewed shut with thread. “You really shouldn’t let people turn your attention from the person giving instructions, Mary.” Mary’s face paled as she looked straight forward, afraid to make direct eye contact with him.
James turned in my direction, looking me straight in the eyes and I almost stopped breathing. I wasn’t sure if I was on a time lag, but the words that came out of his mouth didn’t quite match up with what I saw in his eyes. “Serena, I don’t want to have to put you on the Reserve team, but I will if provoked any further. You’re a great player when you put your mind to it,” Was that a compliment? I almost smiled but he continued, “but if you keep showing the performance you did yesterday you’ll be kicked off the team entirely and I’ll bring Kyle Rouge back. Do you really want to lose your spot to a third year?”
Although I heard every word he said (and completely resented him for each word that left his lips), his eyes were shouting something entirely different. Though his eyes (being eyes) couldn’t string together actual sentences, they were silently spelling out the event that took place the day before. It looked like he was just as confused about it as I was.
James turned, walking back to the front of the group. “Today I’ll ease you into it, and maybe tomorrow we’ll add in some extra fun things to keep you on your feet.” He said after a moment, looking each person in the eyes at least once (except for me, whom he skipped). “We’re going to do sets of the following: 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, 10 jumping-jacks, and then a lap around the pitch.”
“Merlin help us…” Mary muttered, her eyes widening.
“Everybody down!” James shouted, watching everyone scramble to the ground.
I’m going to kill him if he’s doing this because of me…
15 extremely unhappy team members did as he said, some struggling, some (like Mary and I) pretending, and some (like the majority of the guys) actually accomplishing the task at hand.
“3…2…1…” he said pacing back and forth between the struggling bodies.
I flipped onto my back, finishing each sit-up with ease. Finally, something I’m actually relatively good at.
“3…2…1… Get up!” he shouted, projecting his voice across the pitch with unneeded force since everyone was already up on their feet. “10!” he paused, watching everyone flail their arms around in pathetic attempts at jumping-jacks. He walked over to Charles (who was, surprisingly, failing miserably), doing straight-armed jumping-jacks in front of him. “7! 6! 5!”
It seemed like two seconds later but we were all rushing in a mad frenzy around the pitch, all trying to avoid being the last one to the finish line. My lungs burned already, but I tried to push it to the back of my mind. I was not going to let James see me fail.
The next set was harder, but definitely not the worst. By the fourth set I couldn’t feel my face. Don’t ask me why, because I had no idea why, but it was entirely numb. Maybe it was from grimacing so much…
By now the guys were beginning to ditch their shirts, flinging them anywhere they could in the middle of whatever they wanted to.
Mary leaned over to me during the fifth set of push-ups gasping for breath. “How *gasp* much *gasp* longer *gasp* do you *gasp* think *gasp* he’s goin-- *gasp* --ng to kuh-- *gasp* --eep this up?”
James spotted her mouth moving in words not pre-approved (all words not appropriate for minors), and immediately honed in on her. “I’m sorry, Knight, are you not feeling the burn yet? You’ve still got breath enough to talk? I take it this isn’t challenging enough for you all!” he shouted, narrowing his eyes. “Everybody up! Ten laps!”
A collective groan resounded through the team, making James frown. I thought he was going to reprimand us further, but he stayed quiet as everyone scrambled to their feet, setting off around the pitch.
If I ever stop running I’m going to personally whack a Bludger into his head. That stupid, incorrigible, horrendous excuse for a wizard… And why, pray tell, isn’t he busting his arse with the rest of us? I’ll bust his arse after I get done running… Oh! Sports bra!
Halfway through my second lap I slowed down a little, taking the time to strip off my sweat-soaked red and gold shirt, flinging it in the direction of the bleachers. I didn’t take the time to see if it managed to hang on any of the rafters, picking up speed to catch up with the rest of the team.
Once I reached Mary she took the time (and much needed energy) to gasp out the words “Good idea.” Her low self-esteem kept her from doing the same thing, and she merely rubbed the back of her neck as she kept running.
It soon became blatantly obvious that concentrating on the burning pain in my body wasn’t helping me at all, nor was worrying over why it felt like a lead pipe was being shoved through the center of my chest. My eyes flitted across the quidditch pitch, catching on a steady figure.
Sirius was standing in the middle of the pitch talking (or more like arguing) with James. He yanked at his sweat-soaked shirt, trying to peal it off of his body.
I tried to read his lips but it was hard to do while running and only came out in spurts.
“…going to kill someone…” “…this all about?” “…you need to…”
“Bloody hell, mate!” Sirius shouted, shaking his wet hair as he snapped his jaw in anger.
James narrowed his eyes, saying something in a hushed tone, his mouth barely moving.
My breath caught in my throat, my eyes widening as I found myself horizontal to the ground, the turf coming in faster and faster. I gave a yelp of surprise, throwing my arms up to protect my face.
“Serena!” Mary screeched from behind me, trying to eliminate the power of momentum but failing miserably.
A second later I was in a blind fit of pain; the reason for a three body pile up as Mary and I were quickly joined by an equally-dead (if not more) Dalton Campbell. I couldn’t tell which limbs around me were mine when I finally opened my eyes, and although I saw mouths moving around me, I couldn’t hear. There was a persistent ringing in my ears that I figured would be what it sounded like having Stuart Little shoved into my brain while hitting a scratch in the disk whenever he said anything with a double “EE” in it.
The tingling started in my right arm, moving from my fingertips to my palm and then up into my forearm. It was too bad that I liked the feeling of a limb failing asleep and then “waking up” again, because this experience would probably ruin it for me for the rest of my life.
“AHHH!!!” I screamed as the pain started to kick in, first at my fingertips and then up my arm. Simultaneously the world ceased to be silent and a waterfall of sound gushed in from all angles.
I probably would have heard the questions, the concerned voices, and what-not, but all of my attention was focused on un-entangling myself from the other carcass-like bodies around me.
“Stop moving!” a voice told me, but I ignored it and continued squirming from my current position.
Orion’s face popped up in my vision and I glared in his direction. It took me a second to formulate a sentence in my head, but I finally succeeded. “Don’t just stand there! Help me up!”
“I don’t think that’s the best idea.” He said, but began digging me out of the limbs nonetheless.
A few other arms helped me up as well, but by the time I had gotten to my feet I had forgotten which way was up. My body started to slump down and Orion made a laughing “I told you so” which I chose to ignore in my current situation.
“Serena…?” Mary gurgled, spitting a wad of spit and blood out onto the ground next to her. “Serena are you okay? Did I hurt you? Oh, Merlin, I hope I didn’t hurt you!” her voice sounded panicked, sending me into a sort of panic as well (but in the oh-my-gosh-someone-cares-enough-about-me-to-panic-about-my-well-being sort of way).
“On second though…” I murmured to Orion, batting at his arm. “Let me down for a second.”
Orion chuckled in an I-told-you-so way, slowly lowering me down to the ground. My limbs welcomed the cushion of the grass, my feet silently thanking me for not continuing to stand. I flopped backwards, rubbing my temples with my thumbs.
It didn’t feel like anything was broken, and for that I was eternally grateful. But even though I didn’t think I had broken anything I didn’t expect my body to be friends with me for quite some time because of all of the abuse I had put it through.
Beside me Mary was trying to get up, but flopped back down on the ground with a defeated sigh. “Can somebody help me to the Infirmary?” she asked, her eyes welling with salty tears.
“What hurts?” James asked, stepping up out of the crowd.
“Everything,” she moaned, wrapping her arms around her abdomen. A second later she was lurching to the side, holding her stomach as she emptied the contents of her stomach onto the grass with nauseating sounds.
I couldn’t see Dalton but it sounded like he was doing something similar, only with many more groans of pain than Mary.
“Alright!” James announced. “Practice is over, everyone go get changed. Casper and Stella, can the two of you get Dalton?”
Casper nodded, moving forward to heave Dalton up onto his feet. Stella gave a disgusted look and Casper waved her off. “I got him, go change.” Stella smiled in thanks, rushing over to the locker rooms.
James hooked an arm under Mary’s shoulders and legs, picking her up bridal style. “Class dismissed…” he muttered as he carried her off in the direction of the castle.
Felicia hung around for a second as the rest of the team dissipated to get changed. “Do you need help?”
I waved my hand at her with a sigh. “I’ll be okay, I just need to lay here for a minute or two. I’ll swing by the hospital wing later and get a check-up.”
“Alright,” she told me, somewhat not convinced, but walked away nonetheless.
It took somewhere between five and ten minutes but I started to gain control of my limbs and, the pain only a dull thudding in the back of my mind.
Alright, Serena. I told myself. Time to get up. You’ve only go cuts and bruises and Mary and Dalton are in the Hospital Wing because of you! So stop being a wuss!
I opened my eyes, blinking as I tried to make out the figure standing over me dangling something that smelled like sweat.
“Here,” Sirius’s voice said as the details in his face started to appear.
It was my shirt that he was dangling in my face and I grabbed it from him, wishing it didn’t smell so bad and that he hadn’t picked it up in the first place.
“Thanks,” I replied, pushing my back off the grass so I was sitting up on my bum.
Our silence seemed to last hours and I found myself counting blades of glass around my feet to pass the time, wrapping my arms around my skinned knees.
What’s he doing here? Is this his way of saying ‘truce’?
Sirius opened his mouth, decided against speaking and shut it again. In the next minute or so he did this three more times before managing to speak. “Need help getting up?”
I looked up at him, watching him squirm under my gaze. He didn’t wait for a reply and just stuck out a hand, waiting patiently for me to answer that way.
Yeah…I think he is trying to white-flag this.
Carefully, I placed my hand in his, feeling a warmth seep into my palm from the contact. I avoided eye contact, but allowed him to lift me to my feet.
“Thanks,” I said as I took my hand back from his grip.
“You’re a trooper,” he commented, staring down at the grass.
I’m a trooper? What’s that supposed to mean? Stupid boys, always not making sense…
“You shouldn’t have to take all that abuse from everyone but you do.”
I furrowed my brow, starting to walk over to the locker rooms, wincing as I did so. Sirius rushed over, snaking his arm around my waist for support. Reluctantly I wrapped my arm over his shoulders to keep steady.
“What else am I supposed to do?” I asked bitterly, carefully watching my feet to make sure I didn’t trip and fall again. “I’m not going to quit quidditch and I’m not going to hide from you and James just because you’re ignoring me and James is acting like a total arse for no apparent reason.”
Sirius shook his head. “I would assume he’s only mad at me so I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you.”
I looked at Sirius’s face out of the corner of my eye. Why does he always avoid the subject? Is he totally incapable of talking about himself when it doesn’t show his good side?
“Good to know.”
We reached the doors to the locker rooms and I stopped walking, taking my arm from his shoulders. I forced myself to give a no-teeth smile, hoping that would suffice as a thank-you. My hand was on the handle of the door before Sirius cleared his throat.
“Thanks for talking to me earlier,” he said after a minute, commanding my attention. I turned to look at him, watching his face contort painfully. He bit the inside of his cheek before continuing. “I think I needed that verbal slap to the face.”
“You bet you did.” I told him pointed, my lips pursing slightly in my I-told-you-so way as I rolled my eyes.
Sirius frowned. “I’m trying to say sorry, Serena. Can’t you just shut up and listen to me?”
Woah. He sounds like me. Good job on turning the table, Sirius. I thought, mentally applauding him.
He seemed flustered by my silence, but continued after a moment. “I apologize for ignoring you. You didn’t deserve that even after what you did.”
I furrowed my brow, frowning at him in return. “Excuse me?” I asked, appalled. “How is this an apology? All you’re doing is badgering me about yesterday!”
Sirius sighed, rubbing his forehead. “I didn’t mean it like that…”
“Yes, you did.” I told him, echoing his sigh only in a defeated tone. “I’m a big girl now, Sirius. You don’t know all of the things I’ve gone through, and I don’t need you to lie to make me feel better.”
I pulled open the locker room door, swiftly disappearing behind it into the cool air beyond. Stella and Felicia had left a little while ago, apparently, because nobody was there when I entered.
I grabbed my clothes, making my way over to the showers. The process of pealing each article of clothing off my sweaty skin wasn’t exactly the most fun activity in the world, but it momentarily kept my mind off the thoughts that rattled around in my head like dice.
I turned the water on, stepping into the cold water with a gasp. It felt good, the water pounding down on my head, but it quickly let my thoughts take over.
I hadn’t lied to him; I didn’t need him to lie to make me feel better. But I didn’t tell him the whole truth.
I didn’t need him to lie to make me feel better. But I wanted him to.
A/N: Thanks for reading, everyone! Please PLEASE, for the love of Merlin, review! It's like my life source! :D If you're new, pop in and say that it's your first-time reading and you either love, hate, (insert other words here) it! Please, oh, please! :D PS: Much love to all my faithful readers/reviewers, I love you all so very much and I will thus try to get chapter 13 out as soon as writer-ly possible!
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