A/N: Hey guys! So sorry about the slow update--it's been a stressful few weeks. Enjoy, and please leave a review! I'd love to know what you think :)
The next week passed slowly. Dad and I sort of tiptoed around each other, not knowing how to start bridging the chasm that had sprung up between us. I knew he was probably expecting me to tell him I’d come to my senses about wanting to play in the pros. Likewise, I was waiting for him to change his mind and support me as an athlete. But neither of these things was likely to happen anytime soon, so we just didn’t say anything at all to each other. I guess that’s what happens when two stubborn people disagree—things just take a while to move forward.
It was a huge relief to get to Platform 9 ¾ on the first of September. The tension at home was exhausting, and I was more than ready for a break. The platform was one of my favorite places in the world; being there never failed to lighten my spirits, and today was no exception. The noise swirled all around me—everywhere I turned I could hear friends reuniting, owls hooting, and parents giving last-minute reminders. The excitement in the air was contagious. Lucy and I quickened our pace as we walked in front of our parents, dragging our luggage toward the train. My owl, Atlas, screeched at me when his cage tipped dangerously to one side.
“Sorry, sorry,” I muttered as I righted him. He just stared at me, not looking too amused. If owls could speak, I imagined mine would be saying something like, “You’ve been doing this for seven years. Shouldn’t you know how to carry luggage without almost killing me?”
“Don’t judge me, you stupid owl,” I said in response to the imaginary snub. “This is the last year we’ll have to do this, anyway.”
With a jolt, I realized the full implications of what I’d just said; never again would I be here as a Hogwarts student. I’d never really considered it before, and the thought was like a punch to the gut. Was I ready for it to end? How had the years passed so quickly?
At the sound of someone yelling my name, I looked up to see my best friend Olivia Pike barreling towards me. I braced myself for the impact I knew was coming, and sure enough, she gave me an aggressive hug that was more like a body-slam. Our shrieks of laughter were loud enough to echo across the platform; several people looked at us like we were insane.
“Man, am I glad to see you,” I said with a wide smile.
“Likewise, sweetie. So, anything interesting happen over break?”
“I have so much to tell you,” I said. “But wait till we get on the train, okay?”
“Sure, I’ll go get a compartment for us. Hey, maybe I can catch Alice Longbottom on the way! I heard she and her brother had this huge party at their place over the summer—“
“Just get on the train!” I laughed, shoving her lightly in front of me. “If you finish this story all the compartments will be taken.”
She stuck her tongue out at me as she turned around. As she flounced away, I noticed that her Hogwarts skirt was way shorter than the normal knee-length. This was typical Olivia; every year she made her uniform a little more inappropriate, and she blatantly refused to wear robes over it. The professors gave her a lot of detention for it, but that had never stopped her from wearing whatever she wanted. I laughed under my breath—it was nice to know some things never changed.
The train whistled, reminding me sharply of the time. Lucy and I turned to say goodbye to our parents, but found only one of them standing there.
“He’s…er…” Mum trailed off, looking uncomfortable. I followed her gaze to see Dad not too far away. He was giving a stern lecture to Christopher Moore, a fifth year I recognized from the Slytherin Quidditch team. Even over the noise of the platform, Dad’s voice carried clearly. He was talking about—of all things—broomstick regulations. I cringed.
Lucy’s face was bright red. “Mum, can’t you stop him from doing that? It’s completely embarrassing.”
“Oh honey. He means well, you know,” Mum said, waving Dad over. He brandished his finger at Chris one last time and made his way toward us.
“I’ve got to go right now,” Lucy said apologetically to our parents. “I’m late for the prefect meeting.” She hugged and kissed them both, promised to write, and hurried onto the train, shooting me a fleeting smile as she passed. I turned to them more slowly, not sure exactly what to say.
Mum broke the silence, rushing forward to hug me. “Have a good time, sweetheart,” she said. “I know you’ll be busy, but please remember to write.”
“I will, Mum. Don’t worry.”
She leaned up to kiss my cheek and stepped back, looking at Dad pointedly. He shifted uncomfortably.
“I know you’re upset with me.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
“Sweetheart, you know I love you more than anything,” he said earnestly. “I’m not trying to ruin your life. I just want what’s best for you.”
There was that phrase again. I just want what’s best for you. He’d said something like that the night we’d fought last week. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but I was appreciated the message behind it. Even though he wasn’t exactly happy with me, he still cared for me just as much as before. It was a sentiment that I shared wholeheartedly. Maybe, for now at least, that could be enough.
“I want what’s best for me, too,” I said finally, with a tiny smile. I was glad to see him give me a smile of his own in return. “I love you, Dad.”
Our parting hug was stiff and formal, but at least it was something.
Olivia hadn’t gotten us a compartment after all. When I boarded the train, I found her pressed eagerly against a window, talking with some sixth-years I vaguely recognized. Upon seeing me, she beckoned me over to join them.
“Look,” she said, pointing toward the window. “God, I wish I had your cousin’s life.”
I looked out over Olivia’s head and quickly saw what she was so worked up about. There was my cousin Victoire, locked in a passionate embrace with none other than Teddy Lupin, the Metamorphmagus heartthrob who’d graduated two years before. It was easy to see why people envied Victoire—I mean, the man was stone cold handsome. I had to admit, I wouldn’t have minded being in her position.
“Some people are just lucky, I guess,” I said with a shrug.
“I guess.” She sighed and moved away from the window. “Let’s go. I think I might cry if I watch any more of this.”
“I’m with you, believe me,” I said. “Let’s go find a seat.”
“So what were you going to tell me earlier?” she asked as we started down the hall. “You know, before you practically tossed me onto the train?”
I decided to start with the good news. “I had a magazine feature written about me.”
“Really? That’s fantastic! Wait…why didn’t I see that? Magazines are my only reading material.”
“It was in Seeker Weekly.”
“Oh. That explains it.” Quidditch had never been an area of interest to Olivia. Except, of course, for the hot guys involved. “So why don’t you look happy?”
“Because it started the whole Quidditch discussion with my dad again.”
She winced knowingly. “So you finally dropped the bomb on him.”
“Yeah. We got into a huge fight the other night.”
“Must’ve been a killer.” She opened a pack of Drooble’s Best and popped it into her mouth. “Was he really that mad?” she asked, smacking her gum loudly. “I mean, most dads would pee themselves if their kid was going to go pro. And I mean pee themselves in a happy way, of course.”
“Yeah, well, not mine. I might as well have told him I was going to work in a brothel.”
“That can be your backup plan. The money’s probably just as good,” she said with a wink.
I hadn’t really, truly laughed in quite a while, and it felt great to do it now. Olivia was really good at distracting me from my thoughts when they got too depressing. It was one of the many things I loved about her. In fact, Olivia making me laugh was what had started our friendship in the first place. Basically, she’d saved me at a time when I’d desperately needed saving.
My first few months at Hogwarts were a living hell. My uncles had made it sound so exciting, and I’d expected my first year to be completely perfect. But I’d soon learned that that wasn’t going to be the case. As it turned out, no one wanted to talk to the “giant girl.” I was a freak from the minute I stepped on the train, and everyone made sure I knew it. I tried to make friends at first, but the other kids seemed determined to avoid me. On the first day of class, many of my professors mistook me for a fifth year—that didn’t exactly help me fit in, either. My personality just sort of shriveled for a while, and I got more and more withdrawn. And the worst part was that I had no idea how to fix it on my own.
There was this one girl, Amanda Flynn, who was extremely vocal about hating me. Even after people got used to seeing me and the whispers died down a bit, she just wouldn’t stop. One day in Defense Against the Dark Arts class, Professor Creevey had asked us how we could protect ourselves if we were cornered by a giant.
“Why don’t you ask Molly?” Amanda had said in a loud, mocking voice. “She’s part giant.”
The whole class had burst into laughter, and I wanted to die. I had been too afraid to say anything to her; instead I’d just sat there and stared straight ahead, willing the awful feeling to go away. Professor Creevey had opened his mouth to reprimand her, but the black-haired girl sitting next to me—the one who would later become my best friend—was already taking care of it.
“At least she’s not part dragon, like you,” Olivia had said boldly, standing up and pointing for dramatic effect. “Look at those claws!”
The class had started laughing even harder as a red-faced Amanda inspected her long (obviously fake) fingernails. I giggled along with them, the knot in my stomach loosening a little.
“Thanks,” I’d said to Olivia.
“Screw her,” she’d said, a word that I’d never heard used by an eleven-year-old before. “She’s just a bully. She doesn’t know anything.”
After that day, life at Hogwarts was infinitely better. Having someone on my side gave me courage to face the rude kids, and I started to feel more like my real self again. Olivia and I became close really quickly, and in true Hufflepuff fashion, we were extremely loyal friends and always stuck up for each other in the years to come. Olivia wasn’t exactly popular either—by fourth year she’d established a reputation as a notorious boyfriend-stealer, so needless to say she wasn’t well-liked by most girls. I had never had a boyfriend for her to steal, which was another reason our friendship worked so well.
At least there was one upside to my complete lack of sex appeal.
“Hey look, it’s Sam,” said Olivia, jolting me back to the present. “Let’s go sit in there.” She gestured towards a boy sitting in the compartment to our right. He was looking out the window with a frown, which was weird. Sam Swenson was the not the kind of guy who stared dejectedly out windows. We’d had class together since we’d first arrived at Hogwarts, and I’d played Quidditch with him for the past five years. In all that time, I had never seen him in a bad mood. I almost didn’t even want to go in and see what was wrong, because I had no idea how to react to a depressed Sam.
“I don’t know,” I said to Olivia, who had started walking faster. “He looks kind of upset.”
“Well then we’re just the girls to cheer him up, right? Come on!” She skipped ahead, as was her way, and stuck her head in the compartment door.
“Hey handsome,” she said brightly. “What’s the matter?” We stepped into the compartment, and I noticed that Sam wasn’t alone in there. Blake Harper, Sam’s good friend and Hufflepuff’s best Chaser, was stretched out on the bench opposite him. He stared blankly up at the ceiling, not even glancing our way as we entered.
“Nothing,” Sam said, still looking morose. “What makes you say that?”
“Your face,” I said. “You look like your puppy just died. Now what happened?”
It wasn’t Sam who answered, but Blake. “Check out Paul Morgan,” he said, gesturing toward the hallway without looking at us. Olivia and I rushed to the window, craning our necks to look for him. When I spotted him, I immediately saw why Sam was so upset—there was a gleaming Head Boy badge on his Gryffindor robes.
I turned back to Sam and gave him a tight smile. “Oh, Sam, I’m sorry. That really sucks.”
“I couldn’t have said it better.”
“I don’t get it,” said Olivia. “Why are we mad at Paul?”
“We aren’t exactly mad at him,” said Sam, ever the diplomat. I knew that he was absolutely mad at Paul, but he wouldn’t say so. He was too nice for that.
“Sam really wanted to be picked as Head Boy,” I explained. “Move, Harper, I need to sit.”
Blake grunted irritably as I shoved his legs off the bench, barely managing not to fall onto the floor. He threw me a glare, and I returned it by sticking out my tongue. Blake and I had never been close—our personalities just had a hard time gelling together. He had the infuriating combination of huge talent and zero motivation, which had started a lot of arguments between us at Quidditch practice over the years. I couldn’t imagine how such a lazy person had managed to make it into Hufflepuff.
“Oh, is that it?” said Olivia brightly, bringing my thoughts back to the conversation at hand. “Don’t be sad, Sam. That just gives you more time to hang out with us!” She flounced over to sit down beside him, hooking her arm through his. He snorted down at her, a brief smile flashing across his round face.
“And it also gives you more time for Quidditch, right?” I said slyly. He didn’t give the enthusiastic affirmative I was hoping for, but instead looked down and started to fidget. I suddenly had a bad feeling.
“Sam, why do you look guilty? You are trying out for the team this year, aren’t you?”
“Honestly, I wasn’t planning to—let me finish!” He held his hands up in surrender as I moved to stand. “I wasn’t planning to if I got Head Boy, but obviously that didn’t happen.”
“So this works out perfectly, then!”
“Ouch, Molly. Way to be sensitive to my pain.”
I sighed. “You’re right, I’m sorry. But Sam, you’re the ideal choice for Keeper! You’re the only one who ever had any motivation last year—besides me, of course—and it’ll be good for the team to have a solid Keeper.”
“No offense, Mol, but the Hufflepuff Quidditch team is kind of a downgrade from Head Boy.”
“But you aren’t Head Boy!” I exclaimed, maybe with a little too much glee in my voice.
“Once again, ouch.”
“Sorry. But think about how exciting it would be to win the Cup this year! If we work really hard—“
“And replace practically the entire team—“ Blake put in, quite unhelpfully.
“—we could go all the way.”
Sam sighed. “I was afraid of this.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Of you getting your hopes up when you got Captain.” When I gave him another confused look, he sighed again. “Look, Molly, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I don’t think even you can get us to the Cup.”
“What? Why not?”
“It’s hopeless,” said Blake, rolling his eyes. “Hufflepuff hasn’t won the Cup in recent memory. Do you really think we can put together a championship team in one season?”
“I’d say the chances are about as small as your body fat content,” Olivia put in, poking my bicep to illustrate her point.
“There’s no point in trying,” Blake went on, with an air of finality. “I refuse to spend the whole season killing myself for something that isn’t going to happen.” Sam gave a solemn nod.
I glared at them. “Your apathy disturbs me.”
“Well, we can’t all be obsessive about Quidditch, like you,” Blake said matter-of-factly.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” I huffed. “Have you two never heard of House pride?”
Silence greeted this. Blake looked bored, Sam was avoiding my eyes, and Olivia was too busy playing with her hair color to follow the conversation. Since we’d gotten onto the train, she’d changed it from blonde to bright blue to her favorite obsidian black.
So, she was no help.
Although I made sure to keep my face and stance looking tough, I was secretly taken aback by the boys’ attitudes. I’d been expecting them to be just as excited about the upcoming season as I was, but that wasn’t turning out to be the case. What if I couldn’t find anyone willing to put in the work necessary to get us the Cup? I shuddered at the thought—it would be just like last year all over again. Out of all my years of playing Quidditch, last year had been by far the worst season I’d ever experienced. Our brain-dead captain, Roland Smith, seemed like he was determined to run the Hufflepuff team into the ground. He was constantly late for practice—when he bothered to have practice at all—and he obviously hadn’t cared whether we won or not. And of course, his indifference had rubbed off on the rest of the team. It had been torture for me to play on a team where no one would try. I mean, even I couldn’t win matches singlehandedly—I needed an actual team behind me. So when I’d found out I was this year’s captain, I had vowed to change things. This year, I wanted Hufflepuff to have the best season on record. But in order to do that, I needed Sam and Blake to cooperate. They were the best players in our House (besides me, of course), and without them I had no chance at putting together a championship team.
So I had to make them care. I had to make them want victory just as much as I did. And luckily, I had a plan. I knew Sam and Blake reasonably well, and there was one thing that they both wanted—recognition. I mean, we were Hufflepuffs—we all craved attention because we never, ever got it. And if there was one thing that got people’s attention at Hogwarts, it was being on a great Quidditch team.
“Let me put this to you another way,” I said, lowering my voice for effect. “Who has won the Cup every single year since we’ve been at Hogwarts?”
“Okay, I’ll play along,” said Blake. “Gryffindor.”
“Exactly. And that is why everyone worships them.”
This was actually a true statement. It was common knowledge at Hogwarts that Gryffindors were at the top of the popularity totem pole. They walked around like they were better than all the rest of us, and I found it sickening. Even my family seemed to think Gryffindor was the only House worth being in. The overwhelming majority of Weasleys were either current Gryffies or alumni—in fact, Lucy, Victoire, and I were the only ones to ever be sorted into a different House.
Yep. I was even a freak within my own family. Although technically, Victoire had it the worst. At least Lucy and I were in Hufflepuff together—she was the only Weasley in Ravenclaw. But she had always taken it in stride, and been completely poised and comfortable with her House situation—just like she was in every situation.
This was another reason I envied her.
“So,” I went on, “wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could win it all this year? You know, to show people Gryffindors aren’t the only ones who matter at this school! Think how awesome it would be for us if we won the Cup! Hufflepuff would rule this place!”
The boys just gaped at me. Apparently my passion and excitement weren’t as contagious as I’d hoped they would be.
“Um…a little reaction would be nice, guys. Anything at all.”
“I’m not convinced,” said Sam, after a pause. “I mean, I’ll admit I’d love to see the Gryffies get cut down to size for once.”
I raised my eyebrows. Sam must have been really bitter about a Gryffindor beating him out for Head Boy—this statement was the closest to rude I’d ever heard him get. Well, he sometimes had a few choice words for me and Blake, but that didn’t count. We all tended to be rougher on each other while on the Quidditch pitch, including Sam Swenson.
“But,” Sam went on, “I just don’t know if we should be the ones to do it.”
“Oh, come on, Sam,” I cried, totally exasperated. “I know you’re disappointed about the Head Boy thing, but you’re going to have to get over it sooner or later. I’m just trying to help you find something really worthwhile to do with your time, to help you get past it. Sam,” I leaned towards him, staring at him urgently. “Just think about what it would be like to be champions. For once, we’d be the House on top! The Gryffindors would be worshipping us.”
He uncrossed his arms, relaxing his shoulders and raising his eyebrows at me. “Go on.”
“We could bring this House back to life!” I cried, encouraged by his intrigued expression. “We’d go down in history as the team who broke Hufflepuff’s thirty-year losing streak.”
“Has it really been thirty years?” Blake interjected. “We suck worse than I thought.”
“Look at it this way,” I said to Sam, ignoring Blake completely. “If you’d gotten Head Boy, people might have remembered you for a few months, at most. But if you help win us the Quidditch Cup, you’ll be remembered for years. Decades, even. You’ll have a real legacy at this school.”
At the word “legacy” his face broke into a smile, and I knew I had him.
“So, what do you say? Will you try out for the team?”
He pretended to think for a moment, then smiled even more broadly. “All right, I’ll do it.”
“YES!” I screamed, flinging my arms around him for a celebratory hug. Or, as the case may have been, a celebratory tackle. He was a big guy, and a little chubby, so it was like running into a semi-comfortable brick wall. I felt his chest rumble as he laughed.
“That was a pretty good speech, you know. Really inspiring. Maybe you should be going into politics instead of Quidditch.”
“If you say those words ever again, I’ll knock your teeth out,” I snarled, still not letting go of him.
“If it makes you feel better, Molly, I would never want you working for our government,” said Blake. “The idea scares the crap out of me.”
“Aw, Blake, that’s sweet of you,” Olivia piped up, batting her perfectly curled eyelashes at him. “Did you hear that, Mol? Blake thinks you’d be a crappy Ministry employee! Isn’t that nice?”
“Wow, Blake. I am just so flattered,” I said with exaggerated sappiness, stepping out of Sam’s arms. “Could you do me a favor and tell that to my dad? He doesn’t seem to share our opinion on the issue.”
“You’re both psychotic,” he responded. “I dish out a perfectly good insult, and you manage to turn it into a compliment.” I had to laugh at his disappointed expression.
“It’s a gift,” Olivia said, flashing me a proud smile. Sam sat back down on the bench next to her, laughing softly at us.
“So, back to business,” I said curtly. My championship season was on the line, and I’d already wasted too much time on that ridiculous conversation. “Harper, are you planning to try out for the team?”
“I never said I wasn’t,” said Blake, running a hand over his close-cropped blonde hair. “Tryouts are just a formality anyway, I’m sure. Sam and I make the team just by showing up, right?”
“Yeah, basically,” I said with a shrug. There was no point in denying it.
“In that case, I’m in. So you can calm down now. No need for another speech.”
“Fair enough,” I said, sitting back down next to him. “So it’s settled then. Hufflepuff is making a run for the Cup.” It was incredibly satisfying to say the words out loud. Olivia and Sam high-fived me from across the compartment.
Blake just rolled his eyes. “So does this mean I actually have to show up to practices?”
“Yes,” I said with an amused smirk.
“And stay until the end?” He was looking more and more put out.
“Yes. This isn’t going to be like last year. You’ll actually have to work.”
He sighed. “The season hasn’t even started yet and you’re giving orders.”
“Hey, what did you expect?” I said with a smirk. “It is me, after all.”
Blake turned his eyes to the heavens. “Merlin, help us all.”