Chapter 5 : Quidditch and Christmas Trees
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“Are you sure we can do this?” I asked anxiously as Albus, Lily, Scorpius, and I all walked back to the Potter’s backyard; it was huge, definitely big enough for the four of us to play a shootout version of Quidditch. However, that didn’t help my case. “I mean, maybe we can go inside and play Wizard’s Chess? It’s a tad bit…safer,” I finished lamely.
It seemed either no one was listening to me, or none of them really cared. We all reached the broomshed, and I began to chew on the inside of my cheek, especially when Lily handed me a broom. She had, fortunately for all of us, changed out of her skirt and into some jeans, good enough for playing Quidditch in. “Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Ruby,” she said, exasperated, when she noticed the concern in my eyes, “you’ll be perfectly fine. Nothing bad will happen, I promise.”
My eyes continued to shift to our two companions—both skilled Quidditch players, and fairly strong young men—and my heart sank to my feet. This was surely not going to end well. Nonetheless, I followed them out of the broomshed, and onto the crunchy grass. “Relax, Ruby,” said Albus from my right, making me jump in the process.
“I…I am relaxed,” I said stubbornly, clutching my broom so tightly my knuckles were turning white.
“You’re trembling,” he pointed out, and I noticed my shaking hands as well. “And it’s not that cold out,” he added, with a smirk, when I opened my mouth to give that exact excuse.
We finally reached the center of the backyard, and Lily and Albus—the two team captains—discussed the goal post locations, and it was decided that I would be guarding at the line that was marked by an old garbage can. Albus—the other Keeper—was to guard at the other end of the yard, right where a spare broom had been placed. My self-esteem was draining out of me quickly as I realized that Scorpius—who was a Chaser for the Slytherin Quidditch team, and a damn good one—was going to be trying to get that Quaffle past little old me. Oh Merlin, I was sure I was going to puke.
I mounted my broom, and felt it slowly begin to bring me up higher and higher, until we were at the appropriate height. It seemed it was fairly tame, and wasn’t trying to buck me off of it—thank Merlin, or else I’d be a complete goner.
“Alright, Lily,” called Albus, ready in his spot and looking ready to compete, “let’s see what you can do!”
Lily began to shoot towards her older brother, Quaffle in hand, her broom clearly bending to her will. She reached her arm back and shot it past her brother as he accidentally went too far to the right. The red-head cheered loudly, gladly bragging to both Albus and Scorpius, an arrogant smirk planted on her face. She zoomed over to me, high-fiving me before taking up post to the side, so that Scorpius would have no obstacles.
“Come on, Ruby,” I heard Lily mumble, and I gripped my broom tighter.
Scorpius began to slowly fly towards me, almost at a snail’s pace. I understood what he was doing immediately—he was trying to psych me out, force me to get comfortable so that he could pick up speed and toss the Quaffle past me. Just as I realized his tactic, Scorpius shot forward and suddenly the Quaffle was barreling towards my left. Without even thinking, I launched in the same direction, catching the Quaffle with only minor difficulties.
“Oh yes!” yelled Lily, flying over and snatching the Quaffle from my hand, “I believe my secret weapon is working perfectly.” She laughed in Scorpius’ face as she passed him, but he simply rolled his eyes, grinning all the same.
Unfortunately for my best friend, Albus caught her next try, forcing him to shout at her, “Lily, maybe you should start focusing instead of talking!” But, on the other hand, I stopped Scorpius on his next try, and on the try after that. We went back and forth for about twenty more tries each, and I managed to stop more than I let in. It was nothing short of a miracle. Before I knew it, we were down to our last round, and Lily had just landed her last shot, causing her to happily smirk at both her brother and his best friend, much to their chagrin.
It was just Scorpius and me, and I felt my stomach begin to squeeze into knots. Nothing bad had happened yet, and I had a chance to get out of this match unscathed. Now that would truly be a miracle. Scorpius abruptly zoomed towards me and whipped the Quaffle…directly at my head. Before I could even blink, the red, hard leather ball smashed into my face with sickening crack, no doubt coming from my nose.
My hands instantly went to my face, holding it as pain rushed through my entire head. A shriek escaped me as my broom began to descend towards the ground and, as soon as my toes brushed against the grass, I collapsed onto the cold Earth, my hands never leaving my face. Blood had begun to slowly seep through my fingers. I was too busy trying to figure what the hell I was going to do that I didn’t notice my three companions all touching down on the ground as well. A warm pair of hands grabbed ahold of my wrists, gently pulling them away from my face. I tried to stop whoever it was, afraid of how it would look with all of the blood and bruising, but they softly whispered, “Come on, Ruby, let me take a look.”
I let go of the familiar person’s wrists, and found Albus’ kind eyes searching my face. Lily was practically snarling at Scorpius who, in all honesty, did look anxious to make sure I was alright. My eyes, though, never left Albus’ green eyes, even when he waved his wand in front of my face, fixing my nose with a painful snap that made me gasp out in pain once more, as well as cleaning up the blood and bruising from my face and my hands.
“See, good as new,” he smiled down at me, and I realized one of arms was supporting me, wrapped around my shoulders.
I blinked a couple of times, and even brought my fingertips up to my face and nose, sure that some sharp pain would occur—however, there was none. I was perfectly healed. A weak smile came to my face, and I said, “Thanks, Al. I owe you.”
“Ruby, I really am sorry,” said Scorpius, making me look into his guilty eyes. “Bloody Quaffle slipped in my hand.”
“It’s fine,” I replied, waving his apology away and getting to my feet. “Really, don’t worry about it—it was an honest mistake.”
There was an awkward silence as we all stood there, unsure of what to do next. The sun was already beginning to dip below the horizon, allowing the stars to begin gleaming in the dark night sky. I glanced over at the Quaffle, lying on the ground innocently and at least three feet away from that trash can. A grin appeared on my face as I asked them, “So, since I happened to stop the Quaffle—albeit, with my face—doesn’t that mean we win?”
“Ruby! Guess what?!” Lily was screeching—or, at least, that’s what it sounded like to my pounding head—as she did her best to shake me awake. Bloody Scorpius. Bloody Quaffle. Bloody Quidditch.
I pulled my pillow over my head, burrowing into my blankets and trying to crawl inside my mattress. “I can sleep for five more hours?” I mumbled.
I wasn’t sure if Lily had heard me, but she sighed in frustration. “Come on, Ruby. We can decorate the Christmas tree today!” she yelled, making me moan in pain in the process. “Hurry up and wake up, we have a big day today!” Lily slapped me on the butt before she rushed out of the door, laughing loudly.
Sweet silence filled my room, and I sighed in satisfaction. It was not long lasting though—I heard my door quietly open, and heard Lily arguing with someone in a whisper. Who, I wasn’t sure. Completely unbothered, I closed my eyes, trying to go to sleep and ignore the fact that my head was still throbbing ferociously. My door closed, and I felt myself gradually beginning to fade off into blissful sleep.
My eyes shot wide open, and my heart raced from the intrusion; any sleepiness had vanished, and I sighed sadly. I was not ready to be awake, not yet. Turning onto my side, so I could face the door, shock spread through my body as Albus was grabbing a chair from my desk and pulling it over to where I was lying. “How are you feeling?” he asked me, a kind smile on his face.
“My head hurts,” I replied pathetically, my eyes squinting as the sunlight streamed through the several windows in my room.
“Yeah, I figured,” he responded, smiling faintly down at me as he reached out a hand and brushed it across my forehead. My eyes instantly closed at his cool touch, and I felt a frown form on my face after, a couple of moments afterward, he removed it. “Here, this should help.”
Albus waved his wand as he did the day before, mumbling incantations under his breath that I couldn’t make out, and I sighed in happy relief as the pain washed away from me. “So much better,” I said, smiling appreciatively up at him. “How do you know so many healing spells? You seem to have them mastered.”
A slow, crooked smile appeared on his face as Albus replied, “Just from reading Healer textbooks I’ve found in the library and…some other places.” A mischievous glint shined in his eyes, but I just shook my head, chuckling, not wanting to know. “I’m always healing people on the Quidditch team anyways, especially after we play Gryffindor. It’s just a hobby of mine, I guess.”
He shrugged his shoulders, but I had a feeling there was more to it than that. Nonetheless, I decided not to push it, and sat up in my bed, stretching my limbs without revealing too much of myself. Albus, for his part, kept his eyes modestly on his hands, probably not sure of where to exactly look. Wanting to break out of this awkward silence, I asked, “So, are we decorating the Christmas tree today? Lily just mentioned it in passing.”
Albus smirked and nodded his head. “Come downstairs when you want to, at your own risk. Mum’s got all of the decorating stuff out, and she refuses to allow any of us to use magic. Believe it,” he added when he noticed my cocked eyebrow. “She says she wants to keep as much novelty in the process as possible. Her words, not mine. So, uh, just come on down. You’ll find Lily complaining rather loudly about not being able to use magic for anything and having to sort through all of the ornaments, and me untangling the lights, wishing I could stranger her with them.”
My laugh followed him out of my room; I had turned my head away from the door for a second, to see what the weather was like perhaps, and I did not notice his eyes lingering on me for a brief moment before he left. Blissfully unaware, I grabbed my bathroom gear and hastily took a hot shower, washing away any grime from the past night. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a pale blue sweater, sure that there was still a chance we would be going outside. As long as we didn’t have to go and play Quidditch, I didn’t care what we had to do.
I left my room and quietly descended the staircase, curious of what kind of situation I was walking into. As it turns out, I had good reason to be apprehensive—Lily was fuming as she was sitting and pulling out various ornaments from at least seven different cardboard boxes, while Mrs. Potter was doing her best to calm her down. Mr. Potter and Scorpius were putting up a lovely, fir tree, trying to fit it in the perfect spot, and Albus was sitting on the couch, a huge pile of tangled Christmas lights at his feet.
“Oh, Ruby,” exclaimed Lily as soon as she noticed my presence. “Finally, a reasonable human being. Can you please tell Mum that she’s being ridiculous, and that we should decorate the Christmas tree with magic?”
I bit my bottom lip, looking between Lily, who seemed sure that I would agree with her, and Mrs. Potter, who was shaking her head at her only daughter. Fortunately, I didn’t even have to consider coming up with an answer, because Albus’ voice broke the brief silence by asking, “Ruby, you want to help me with these lights?”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied hastily, giving an apologetic smile to Lily as I hurried over to her brother. She sighed, frustrated, and started complaining, once more, to her mother. Sitting on the couch next to him, I took an end of one of the many strands of lights and began untangling. “Thanks,” I said quietly to him, glancing over at him briefly to give him an appreciative smile.
“I told you so,” smirked Albus as I went back to my work. “She does this every year—you’d think that she’d realize, by now, she’s not going to get what she wants.”
“She’s too stubborn,” I admitted, shaking my head. My fingers did their best to unravel the tangles, but I have to admit, it was difficult.
We stayed in comfortable silence for about five minutes before Mr. Potter and Scorpius finally had the tree fit nicely within the room. I watched as Mrs. Potter pecked her husband on the cheek, subtly squeezing his hand in the process. A small smile appeared on my face watching them—they reminded me of how my own parents used to be, before the car crash. I still remember when I was a child and I would constantly catch them gazing into each other’s eyes, looking like love-struck teenagers. Grandma Kate had always been an overprotective mother who was sure that no woman was good enough for her soon, but even she had admitted there was something about Mum that brought about something in Dad’s eyes. She just made him so happy, and not even Grandma Kate could argue with that.
“You alright?” Albus’ voice broke me out of my reverie, and I looked up at him, surprised. “You had a sad look on your face.”
I turned away from his perceptive, emerald green eyes and tried to focus on my strand of lights. “I was just thinking about my parents,” I finally admitted. “Your parents remind me of them.”
His eyes were still curiously watching me, and I was sure he was going to ask me more. Fortunately, it seemed that Albus understood when someone didn’t want to talk. Still, I didn’t want to give him a chance to have second thoughts, so I asked him, “What were you going to say yesterday morning, before Lily interrupted you?” His eyes were filled with confusion, and I quickly added, “Oh, uh, when you were saying I wasn’t fake, like Lily’s friends, but I was something else.”
Albus stopped what he was doing for a moment, staring at the lights with a sudden grin on his face. “I was going to say, before my sister rudely interrupted us, was that, from what I had always heard from my sister, I had always thought you were just like her, self-involved and a drama queen. Oh, come on,” he added as soon as my mouth opened to disagree with him. “You know she’s overdramatic and worries about herself more than anyone else; don’t deny it.”
I sighed, shaking my head. “She’s not as bad as you make her out to be,” I replied softly. “Lily has her flaws, but she’s still a good person at heart.”
He gave me a look, but didn’t push it. “But, you’re different from her, and the rest of her friends. You’re actually smart and have a sense of humor, and care about others. There’s something else, but it’s just hard to put in words. You’ll just have to take my word for it.”
My lips formed into a warm smile; I was about to thank him for his kind compliments, but we had both finished our strand of lights at the same time—his fingers brushed mine as we both held either end of the single strand. I felt my face begin to warm, and I vaguely heard his nervous laugh. I hastily let go of the strand of lights, tucking a stray hair behind my ear. “Thank you,” I practically whispered.
“You’re welcome,” he softly replied, and we both picked up a different strand of lights while I tried to ignore my racing heart.
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