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Chapter 8 : Quidditch Try-Outs.
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Rose was relieved to see Blackburn at breakfast the next morning. She couldn’t explain exactly why, but she felt it’d have been a bad sign if she hadn’t been there.
Plus, it gave them an opportunity to talk to her.
She nudged Albus.
“Let’s go up and say hi to Blackburn after breakfast.”
He shifted awkwardly. “I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on. We’ve History of Magic first. Binns won’t notice if we’re a few seconds late.”
“But wouldn’t she think it a bit odd? I mean, what would we say?”
“She won’t mind.”
Albus still looked dubious, but once they’d finished eating and the staff were rising from their seats, he followed Rose towards the staff table. She’d been fairly certain he would. He usually went along with her suggestions in the end.
Neville, however, approached Blackburn before they did and the two teachers left the Great Hall together.
Albus looked at her nervously.
“We can’t interrupt now.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest we should. Come on, anyway, we can get to History of Magic this way as easily as any other.”
Admittedly, it would take a little longer, but not that much and there was still a chance they might get to talk to Blackburn if she and Neville parted.
A few other students passed them, hurrying to various classes or rushing back to collect something left behind in the Great Hall, but compared with their usual route, the corridor was quiet, quiet enough that they could hear much of the teachers’ conversation.
“…if you could do me a favour,” Neville was saying.
He laughed. “You should probably wait and hear what it is first. I’m probably taking a bit of a liberty even asking, but well, my anniversary’s this week and I was planning to take Hannah somewhere special over the weekend, but nobody seems to be available to watch Frankie so I was just wondering if there was any chance you’d be free?”
“I’d be delighted to,” Blackburn said slowly. “But are you sure Hannah’d trust me with him?”
Rose and Albus exchanged glances. This obviously wasn’t a conversation meant to be overheard. There wasn’t much they could do about it though, except slow down a little and hope the teachers didn’t realise they’d heard them.
As they were already taking the long way around, they couldn’t slow down too much and the conversation continued to drift towards them. Rose just hoped the teachers weren’t going all the way to the History of Magic classroom.
“Of course she would,” Neville said. “Why wouldn’t she?”
“A lot of people wouldn’t.”
He placed a hand on her arm. “Hannah isn’t like that.
“Well, like I said, I’d be delighted to,” Blackburn said again. “Thank you for asking me, Neville.”
“It’s we should be thanking you. You’re doing us a big favour.”
They reached the turn for the History of Magic classroom and Albus and Rose hurried down it, relieved that the teachers continued straight ahead.
“Do you think they noticed us?” Albus asked.
“I don’t think so. Anyway, they could hardly blame us. It wasn’t like we were trying to eavesdrop. All we did was walk down the corridor. We’ve every right to do that.”
“I know,” he said, “but all the same…”
She knew what he meant. The conversation had obviously been private. They mightn’t have actually been angry, but Blackburn, at least, might well have been embarrassed.
Still, Rose didn’t think she’d noticed.
Binns had already begun his lecture when they slipped into the classroom, but as Rose had predicted, he showed no sign of even noticing their entrance.
Boring as the lesson was, Rose made every effort to pay attention. She’d no intention of allowing herself to spend every class chatting or daydreaming. History was important, after all, no matter how boring the teacher might be. Her mother’d always stressed that.
Sometimes, though, she couldn’t help feeling she learnt far more just from reading the books afterwards than she ever did from Binns. He was completely useless.
The rest of the day passed without major incident and that evening, a notice went up in the Ravenclaw common room, announcing try-outs for the position of Seeker the following Sunday.
Albus stared at it and bit his lip.
“I assume you are going to try out,” Rose said.
“I don’t know,” he said doubtfully. “What chance would I have against sixth and seventh years? I’d probably be wasting my time.”
“I thought the whole idea was that the Seeker was meant to be small and slight. I might not know much about Quidditch, but I’ve picked up enough to know that. Anyway, what have you got to lose? Worst case scenario, they choose someone else and that’ll certainly happen if you don’t try out.”
“NO, worst case scenario, I fall off my broom and make a complete fool of myself in front of half the house.”
“Albus, when was the last time you fell off a broom?”
He shrugged. “I don’t remember.”
“Yeah, ‘cause it was probably when you were about seven years old. You’re trying out. I’m not giving you any other option.”
“All right,” he said bravely. “I’ll try out, but they’re not going to choose me. I know they won’t.”
By Sunday, however, he’d changed his mind about trying out more times than Rose could count.
“I’m going to make a fool of myself, Rose. I don’t think I can do this.”
“Nonsense. You saw some of the people trying out for Gryffindor last year. You can’t possibly do as badly as a lot of them.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“Well, I’m sure. You’re being ridiculous, Albus. You know you can play better than most of this school.”
“No, I don’t.”
She rolled her eyes. “Just stop arguing and do as I tell you, all right?”
At the pitch, Rasmus, Derek and Dora were also waiting to try out, along with a large number of older students.
“Honestly, I don’t even know why I’m bothering,” Rasmus said amiably. “I’m no Quidditch player and to be honest, I’m not even sure I even want to be on the team. I’m only here to shut Hilda up. She’s insisting I have a go.”
“Oh for God’s sake, don’t you start doubting yourself. I’ve spent the last four days reassuring Albus he has a chance today.”
“When you see me play, you’ll see why I’m doubting myself.” Rasmus laughed. “To be honest, I think Hilda only wanted me here in case nobody else turned up.”
Albus had gone extremely pale.
“Are you all right?” Derek turned to him.
He shook his head.
“I’m going to make such a fool of myself.”
“At least you’ve been flying since you were little. I’ve only been doing it a year. I’m still worrying about whether I’ll be able to stay on my broom.”
Dora stood apart from her classmates, staring at them disdainfully. Both Albus and Derek seemed to wilt beneath her gaze.
Rose sighed impatiently. “Don’t let her psych you out. She’s not even that fantastic a flyer. I really don’t think she’ll be much competition.”
“I’d rather not have her see me make a mess of things though,” Albus said shakily. “And I bet a lot of the older students here will be serious competition.”
Of course, she’d no idea how good the older students were, but none of the second years were likely to be any great threat to him. Dora’s flying was pretty average and Derek’s could barely be considered that. Rasmus wasn’t a bad flyer, but he didn’t really care about Quidditch and she couldn’t imagine him giving it the attention a Seeker needed to. She knew she wouldn’t.
“OK.” Hilda strode out onto the field. “Could everybody who’s not trying out move to the back of the bleachers please?”
Rose did as she said, leaving Albus standing with Derek and Rasmus. He glanced after her almost pleadingly.
His nerves would be his biggest problem, she mused. At home or at the Burrow, he was a great player, but he was quite capable of shooting himself in the foot by worrying so much about all the mistakes he could possibly make that he neglected to pay attention to the Snitch.
She really hoped that wouldn’t happen. Albus loved Quidditch and would be so proud to be on the team, like his brother. Particularly since he’d be making it a year earlier than James had done.
Hilda began by making all the hopefuls fly around the field and already Rose could see some people who were certain to be rejected. Derek’s flying was jerky and uncertain. There was no way he’d be able to maintain control while flying at awkward angles in order to catch the Snitch. A couple of third years were clearly messing, trying to pass each other out and nudging and pushing each other surreptitiously. A fifth year was flying far too quickly. Seekers had to keep their eyes open, not jet around the pitch as if in a race.
Hilda blew her whistle and they returned to earth.
“All right, the next thing I’m going to do is divide you up into groups of five or six and let a Snitch loose. Don’t worry if you don’t catch it. I’ll be watching your entire performance – how close you come, any near misses, how well you distract your opponents and so on. Since we don’t want try-outs to last for all eternity, I’m giving each group an absolute maximum of twenty minutes. After that, I’ll send up the next group, even if the Snitch hasn’t been caught.”
Albus moved closer to Derek, clearly hoping they’d be placed in the same group. It didn’t work. In fact, of the four second years, only Dora and Rasmus were in the same group.
Albus was bound to be relieved not to be in Dora’s group, but Rose wasn’t so sure it was a good thing. If she wasn’t playing, she’d have more opportunity to try and put him off.
Rose wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d turned up just for the sake of making him nervous. She’d never shown any particular interest in playing Quidditch in the past.
Derek’s group were the first to try out the uncertainty in flying Rose had already noticed quickly became apparent. He had to concentrate so intently on controlling his broom he was unable to give much of his attention to the Snitch.
There were some other good players in the group though. Two older girls competed fiercely, both coming close to capturing the Snitch on more than one occasion.
“Well done, everybody,” Hilda said, after blowing her whistle to signal they should return to earth. “Marcia and Lisa, could you stand over here, please?”
The two girls exchanged pleased glances. It was obvious they believed themselves to be in with a chance.
The next group didn’t include any second years, but Rose watched intently anyway, concerned about Albus’s chances. She didn’t really think any of them likely to give him much trouble.
Finally, Hilda ordered Albus’s group into the air.
If he didn’t let his nerves get the better of him, she really thought he’d a good chance. Those two girls, Marcia and Lisa, were all right, but she was pretty sure Albus could do better.
It was harder to judge his performance than anybody else’s, possibly because she wanted him to be the best so badly. She could compare the other groups one to the other, because really, she didn’t care who was the best of them. When you did care, it was hard not to let your heart rule your head, hard not to make excuses for any errors he might make.
To her biased eye, he seemed by far the best, but she was uncomfortably aware she’d probably have thought that anyway.
It was just as well Rasmus didn’t really care about making the team. Otherwise she’d feel a little guilty about hoping Albus outdid him.
Something – it looked like a stone - hit off the underside of Albus’s broom and he glanced up in surprise.
“YOU, OUT HERE.” Hilda was pointing angrily at Dora. “Leave the pitch, please. I’m not having anybody with such bad sportsmanship on the team. I don’t care how good a player you are.”
A whisper of “what did she do?” rustled through the spectators.
Dora grinned cheekily at Hilda and Rose moved forward to try and hear her reply.
“If he makes the team, he’ll have Bludgers to contend with. I was only trying to make this realistic.”
Rose fingered her wand. She knew she shouldn’t hex her, but boy, it was so tempting.
Hilda, however, seemed to have the situation well in hand.
“You’re a second year, right?”
Dora shrugged. “So?”
“So I’d advise you to show a little more respect to your elders. I’ll be having a word with a couple of the prefects, remind them to keep an eye on you…hey, aren’t you that kid that lost us all those points last year?”
Dora shrugged again.
“I think you’ve been in enough trouble, don’t you? Now, please leave this pitch. I wouldn’t even think about considering you for the team, until you undergo a major shift in attitude.”
Dora sauntered off, but there was something forced about her nonchalance. Rose got the feeling Hilda’d made her point all right. Rasmus’s sister was obviously a force to be reckoned with.
But that, of course, was what you wanted from a Quidditch captain, or prefect. There wouldn’t be much point putting somebody in a position of authority if they hadn’t the ability to enforce it.
Hilda blew her whistle again and the players flew to the ground.
“I’m sorry about this, but I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to begin again. I’d a certain…situation to deal with here and I took my eyes off what was taking place in the air. I don’t want to misjudge anybody as a result of missing something.”
Albus looked pained. The change of plan was bound to make him more nervous. She just hoped it didn’t interfere with his performance.
But it didn’t seem to. As far as she could tell, he was playing even better than he had before they’d been interrupted and when their time was up, Hilda sent him to stand with Marcia, Lisa and two others who’d apparently proved impressive.
Rasmus’s group went next and having failed to make the cut, he joined her in the bleachers to watch the rest of the try-outs.
“Hilda’s your sister,” she whispered to him. “What do you think Albus’s chances are?”
He shrugged. “I’ve no idea really. I’m rooting for him though. Would be a bit of a coup to get one of our classmates on the team and he’s the only one of us still in with a shot. He’s good, isn’t he?”
She nodded. “His mum played professionally, you know, and his dad probably could have.”
“Oh, I know. Ginny Weasley is Hilda’s ultimate heroine. She considers her one of the best female Chasers ever.”
“She was supposed to be good, all right,” Rose agreed.
On the pitch, Hilda’d gathered the small number of chosen ones around her.
“Now, we’re going to have one final play-off. I want all of you back in the air again and showing me what you can do.”
This game was far more hotly contested. All the players were of an impressive standard and they seemed to have the Snitch almost constantly in view. As soon as one player lost it, another would catch sight of it and as soon as they’d done so, the others would be in hot pursuit.
Marcia went into a dive. The other players followed her, all but Albus, who’d shot off in another direction.
“What’s he doing?” she asked Rasmus worriedly.
“Marcia’s faking,” he said grinning. “He’s the only one who noticed. He’s going to catch it! Watch, Rose, he’s going to get it!”
“COME ON, ALBUS,” she shouted out, before realising what a bad idea that was. She’d put him off or put somebody else off or alert the others to what he was doing.
The last seemed to happen, and firstly Lisa and then the others darted after him. But they were too late. The Snitch was already in his hand.
“Well done, Albus. And good misdirection, Marcia. In a real match, it would almost certainly have worked. You’d only be up against one other Seeker for a start and there’d be a whole lot of other things going on in the match to make it harder for them to be sure what you were doing. It’s between the two of you. I’ll think about it and post the team list tomorrow or after.”
Despite the uncertainty, Albus was grinning as he headed up the bleachers towards them, followed by Derek.
“Did you hear that?” he asked excitedly. “I was one of the two best players. I mean, she’s bound to pick Marcia. That tactic of hers was brilliant. I wouldn’t have had a hope of getting the Snitch if she hadn’t distracted everybody else. But she’s in fifth year, so I’ll have a good chance of making the team once she leaves, don’t you think?”
“I think you’ve a good chance of making it now,” Rose said loyally. “Marcia’s tactic may have been good, but she should have been paying more attention and noticed you weren’t following her. Don’t you think so, Rasmus?”
He shrugged. “Could be either of the two really. Don’t get me wrong, Albus. I really hope she’ll choose you, but I don’t know whether she will or not.”
“To be honest, I don’t really even care that much,” Albus said. “I mean, I’d love to be on the team, obviously, but I didn’t really expect to have a hope. I thought I’d be rejected immediately. To be second choice would be amazing enough.”
“Well, I agree with Rose,” Derek said. “I think she should definitely choose you.”
They continued to discuss his chances as they headed back to the castle, where some sort of commotion appeared to be taking place in the Great Hall.
“Hey, what’s going on in there?” Rasmus asked.
“Let’s go and see,” Rose said.
A large crowd had gathered, but James, Robin, Victor Flint and another couple of Slytherin fourth years seemed to be at the centre of the drama.
“Could you kindly explain what was going on here?” the new head of Slytherin house, Professor Sinistra demanded.
“They started hexing us.” The Slytherin girl pointed at James and Robin.
“And clearly you retaliated,” she said tartly, before turning to James and Robin. “Perhaps you could explain exactly what you thought you were doing?”
“They were firing curses at the bronze head of Remus Lupin,” James said indignantly.
“Tell-tale,” Victor spat at him.
“Your pal Phaedra told first.”
“SILENCE!” Professor Sinistra demanded. “All five of you will do a detention for duelling in the hallway and you three, Victor, Phaedra and Maximus will do a second for damaging property and disrespecting a war hero at that. Ten points each from James and Robin and twenty each from the three of you. James and Robin, please see Professor Longbottom to discuss your detention. The rest of you come with me.”
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