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Chapter 34 : Broomstick maintenance
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The couple in question, however, were both obviously so deliriously happy that no one even thought of begrudging them anything, and before long Sirius, Remus and Peter seemed to get used to the new state of affairs and went back to wreaking the occasional havoc among themselves. Even the half dozen or so girls who made up the James Potter fan club appeared to accept that they had well and truly lost their chance. In fact, the only person who really seemed very put out by the relationship was Severus Snape.
To no one’s surprise, the seating arrangements in Potions changed after Lily and James got together, in that Charlotte replaced her at my table. While something like this would normally have had no impact on the class at all, especially since they were both members of the Slug Club and were therefore treated indulgently by the teacher, it was impossible not to notice that Snape was less than thrilled with what had happened. If looks could kill James would have been dead twenty times before the next class even started and, while he put on a show of ignoring Severus’ repeated attempts to sabotage him, I had a sneaking suspicion that he was just storing up each incident in his memory, to exact revenge at a later time. If nothing else I was impressed with the strength of his Shield Charm, which stayed intact no matter how many hexes were hurled at it.
This sort of carry-on, which continued throughout the term, was naturally a rather significant distraction for the rest of the class. This was a bit of an issue as the potions we were supposed to be making would have been difficult enough even if we’d been able to give it our full concentration. In truth I was feeling Lily’s loss rather significantly, and Charlotte was feeling the loss of James and Sirius, as we had both relied on their expertise to get us through the increasingly complicated potions Slughorn was having us make. Leda Madley and Al Jorkins, the Hufflepuffs we shared a table with, weren’t of nearly the same calibre as Lily and couldn’t provide much by way of assistance, so we struggled through on our own.
“What do we do next?” Charlotte asked one day as we stumbled our way through the instructions for a Blood Replenishing Potion.
“Powdered moonstone, I think,” I said, pulling out an elastic and tying my hair back to get it out of the way before picking up my copy of Advanced Potion-Making once again. “We’ve added the crocodile heart, right? Well, that’s the last of the base ingredients. So we stir it three times anticlockwise and then four times clockwise, and put in the moonstone one teaspoon at a time, stirring six times clockwise in between each spoonful.” I looked at her and grimaced. “This is a nightmare.”
“No arguments from me there,” Charlotte agreed, a look of concentration on her face as she followed my instructions, before looking intently at her own book. “Oh, we need some nettles, do you want me to get them?” And she took off towards the students’ store cupboard in search of further ingredients, taking a rather wide berth around Lily and James’ table on the off chance she might get in the way of a Snape jinx.
Eventually we finished our potions and they even looked pretty much like they were supposed to. Maybe a year of sitting with Lily during this class really had made me better at it. I lined up with everyone else when the class was over to hand over my sample to be marked.
“Thank you, Miss Collins,” Professor Slughorn said rather absently as I gave him my sample and hoisted my bag over my shoulder in readiness to leave the dungeon. Hmm, Collins. Not that far off the mark, Slughorn definitely was improving. At least we had the right number of syllables, which wasn’t always the case. And at least he acknowledged my existence, which again wasn’t always something I could rely on.
Heading back upstairs Sirius fell into step beside me, his hands deep in his pockets and a look of disapproval on his face. “Did I hear that right?” he asked almost angrily. “He’s been teaching you for over six years and he can’t even get your name right?”
I laughed. “It’s pretty funny, really, he keeps trying to make me Irish. Collins, Connolly, Carroll, Connor …”
He still looked annoyed, his grey eyes flashing. “But that’s not good enough, he should know who you are by now.” He seemed to be taking the whole thing far more seriously than was warranted – after all, it had been happening for years and had turned into such a game for me that if it stopped now I’d probably be disappointed.
“Not him,” I said, pulling my hair out of its ponytail and stowing the elastic in my pocket. “I’m not in the Slug Club, which means I’m not important enough to worry about. You know he only picks the brightest and the best-connected.” I let out a giggle. “Maybe I should let slip that my cousin married Dai Llewellyn’s nephew last summer, that might get me in.”
He looked at me curiously. “Did she? I didn’t know that!”
I shrugged. “That’s probably because I never told anyone. It’s not important.”
He grinned. “Prongs might disagree with you. Anything Quidditch-related, he wants to know.”
“You think?” I asked, trying not to notice how that smile always affected me, trying not to tense up too much. Sometimes it felt like a never-ending battle. I took a deep breath, re-composing myself. “Dangerous Dai’s dead, so it’s not like he can get me free tickets or a discount at Quality Quidditch Supplies.”
He laughed that bark-like laugh of his. “You have got the measure of him, haven’t you, Laura? You’re right, that probably is what would interest him the most.”
“In which case,” I pointed out, “there’s not much point in my mentioning it. Which has been my strategy all along, you might notice.” I had realised that I couldn’t escape him – it was lunch time so we were both going to the Great Hall, and if I tried to do something else it would have been really obvious I was trying to avoid him.
He had a bit of an unusual look on his face. “You know, there are a lot of kids at this school who would be making sure everyone knew they had a connection to Dai Llewellyn, however tenuous. You really don’t like drawing attention to yourself, do you?”
I thought about that. “I don’t think it’s that, necessarily. I think that if I’m going to have people’s attention, it’s better if it’s for something that’s actually about me, not about random relations.”
He was quiet for a bit, apparently thinking. “I can understand that,” he said eventually, frowning slightly. “It’s an extension of what you said to me the other year. Don’t judge someone on the bad stuff their family has done. And don’t take credit for something someone else in your family has done either. Is that right?”
Again he had surprised me by his insight, not to mention his memory, considering when I’d said that to him (in fifth year) he’d barely acknowledged that I existed. “That’s exactly right,” I agreed. We had reached the Great Hall by now and filed in for lunch, me trying my hardest to ignore his proximity, his smell, his hand resting on my back as we made our way to the Gryffindor table. What was the score again? Quivering Wreck 35; Laura 0. Or something like that.
Mary, who didn’t take Potions, was already there and had saved me a seat in between her and Martha. Thanking her inwardly for ensuring I didn’t have to sit next to Sirius, I climbed into the gap. Sirius took a spot on the other side of Mary, and James, Lily, Remus and Charlotte soon filed in and occupied seats across the table with Peter. Mary leaned in close to my ear.
“Wha’s he bin sayin’? Ye’re drooling.”
I shut my mouth very quickly and mopped it with a napkin. “Nothing much,” I said quietly. “Could do with a broom ride though.” She shot a very knowing look at me and changed the subject.
“We’ve bin up i’ th’ common room an’ all,” she said more loudly, indicating Martha and Peter. “They’ve announced th’ nex’ Hogsmeade visit. Las’ weekend i’ October.”
Lily nodded. “We considered having it not go ahead at all after the Dementors last year, but Dumbledore said he’s done a risk assessment and he thinks it should be safe enough.” She looked at James fondly and he put an arm around her.
I’d forgotten that the Head Boy and Girl organised dates for Hogsmeade visits as part of their duties, and part of me was a little surprised they had managed to achieve anything at all since they had got together. Martha, apparently thinking along the same lines, was smiling broadly.
“So you two have actually been doing work? I thought that was just an excuse to hole up together in an empty room for a while!”
Lily blushed a little but James took it in his stride. “Of course it was an excuse. We’re just using up the plans Lily had made at the start of the year to make it look like we’re doing something productive. Good thing she’s so organised, really.”
Sirius grinned. “I thought you said what you were doing was productive. Are you saying you lied, mate?”
“Depends on how you define it, really,” said Remus, who appeared to be resolutely not looking at Charlotte next to him. A smile was dancing around the corners of his mouth. “I’m sure they think it’s very productive. Whether or not Dumbledore would agree is, of course, another matter.” Lily and James both laughed, Lily a little self-consciously, as we all settled in for lunch.
Even though Lily was undoubtedly taking up much of his time and certainly most of his thoughts, and there was a noticeable decrease in his pranking that we were sure could be dated from the day they got together, James was still somehow managing to do his other duties, including those associated with captaining the Gryffindor Quidditch team. And he hadn’t forgotten that I had suggested I might be induced to talk to his players about broom handling and maintenance and so, rather predictably, kept insisting that I attend Quidditch practices occasionally, being rather keen on the idea that I give tips to his team all at once, rather than on the ad hoc basis on which I was currently doing it (that is, whenever someone cornered me after I’d been out for a ride). Unfortunately, most of the practice sessions were on days where I had a mountain of homework to finish, or a detention for hexing someone, or some other reason that meant I couldn’t make it. Finally towards the end of October he managed to find a time that suited me, so I agreed to go down and have a chat to anyone who wanted help.
I was rather surprised when, on my way out of the portrait hole at the assigned time, I was assailed by Sirius who insisted he was coming with me. “James’ orders,” he said almost a little smugly. “He doesn’t want you wandering around the castle or the grounds alone after dark, which it could well be by the time you’re finished.” He walked downstairs with me, hands in his pockets, moving with an effortless grace that I could never hope to emulate no matter how hard I tried. Great, I thought, watching him. Way to make a girl feel inadequate.
I scowled at him, an action that was most probably influenced by my aforementioned feeling of inadequacy. “Anyone would think I was helpless,” I complained. “What does he think’s going to happen to me?”
He shrugged. “Search me.” Ooh, I thought involuntarily, can I? No, Laura, focus. I forced my face into a more serious expression as he continued. “Though we’re playing Slytherin in the first game, so he might be worried they’ll have a go at his secret weapon.”
I laughed. “And that is?”
Sirius looked surprised. “You, of course. The go-to girl for all things broom-related. Apparently our Seeker has been having trouble with her broom jerking towards the left when she goes too fast. Which I dare say can be a problem if the Snitch is on her right.”
“Hmmm.” I thought about that, glad to have a distraction from Sirius who had to be walking closer to me than necessary. What was he going to do, physically shield me if someone tried to attack? “I think she might have a Cleansweep Six. In which case there’s not much we can do about it, they all seem to do that after a few years. But I’ll have a look at it.” I looked up at him suddenly. “’Cause I’m guessing we want to make sure the Slytherin Seeker doesn’t get the Snitch.”
He laughed that bark-like laugh of his. “You’re not wrong. If Reg gets one up on me this early in the year I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“I can just see the Daily Prophet headlines now,” I said with a wry smile. “Slytherin triumphant over Gryffindor: Black family feud magnifies. They’ll be up here before you know it, pestering you for an interview.”
He laughed again. “Yep, definitely front page material,” he agreed. “Complete with an in-depth exposé with my dear sweet mother telling them what a disappointment I am. With material like that, she’ll be able to keep going for months.”
“In that case, there will have to be a spinoff book released as well,” I said, getting into the swing of it, “just to cash in on the story’s popularity.” Elvira and the fan club would be lapping it all up, I thought, even if no one else did.
“You’re right,” he said in a serious voice, though I was sure his eyes were sparkling. I didn’t quite trust myself to look into them, though, so I couldn’t be certain. “What do you reckon, Fantastic Blacks and Where to Find Them? Though finding a fantastic Black would take some doing, I dare say.”
I laughed despite myself, thinking that it was really just a case of knowing where to look. “Or Tales of Beedle the Black.”
“That could work,” he agreed thoughtfully. “And I don’t doubt my dear old mum has some lovely tales to tell. Tale of the Two Brothers, one of whom is unworthy of the name, that type of thing.”
I felt a bit bad for bringing it all up now – he was talking lightly but I was sure there was still some latent discontent in there that his family had abandoned him. And if what he was saying was true, if his mother had constantly been on about what a disappointment he was, then that just made it that much worse. He must have noticed my reticence, because before I realised what was happening he had an arm around my shoulders and was giving me a squeeze.
“Don’t worry about it, Laura, it’s ancient history,” he said reassuringly. “I’m well used to what they say about me by now.”
“Okay.” I gave a bit of a terse smile, noticing that my shoulders had rather predictably tensed from the contact with him. I was also very aware that he still had his arm around me, which had to be an oversight on his part, and twisted my torso a bit in an attempt to dislodge his hand. He realised what I was doing and promptly let go, and I felt a combination of disappointment and relief. However, I also still felt bad for talking so blithely about something that was bound to be a little upsetting to him (when did I become so insensitive?) and decided to change the subject. “Anyway,” I went on, “are you sure you should be coming out at all tonight?”
He looked surprised. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“Put it this way,” I said, “I’m not the one who got in trouble with McGonagall this morning for not handing in my Transfiguration homework.”
“Oh, that.” He shrugged, looking completely unconcerned. “She’ll keep.”
I looked at him curiously. “That’s not like you, though,” I pointed out. “Normally you’d hand up something, even if you thought it was rubbish.”
“Yes, well,” he said, looking a little uncomfortable, “I had something on my mind at the time and couldn’t really concentrate.”
Again, not like him. I was getting more and more curious. “Good or bad?”
He looked even more uncomfortable. “Um … both, I guess.”
“Did you want to talk about it?” I was feeling more sympathetic than accusatory by now; he didn’t usually let things get to him very much as far as I was aware so it was all a little odd.
He hesitated. “No, probably not,” he said eventually, raking his fingers through his hair distractedly. “It’s nothing, just a blip. Don’t worry about it, I’ll deal with it.”
Obviously now was not the time – strange, if he was happy to discuss his family but not whatever this was. Anyway, I let it slide. “Fine. Just don’t do it again, you do enough detentions as it is without being lumped with one for not doing your homework.”
He laughed, all discomfort apparently gone. “Yes, you’re right,” he smiled, looking at me. “If I have to serve a detention I’d much rather it was for something I enjoyed doing.” He changed the subject abruptly. “Hey, what are you doing for Hogsmeade?”
I looked at him, a little taken aback. He had a habit of sudden subject changes like that and it took some getting used to. “Hogsmeade? The girls and I were going to go robes shopping. Why?”
He shrugged, his eyes on the marble staircase which we were fast approaching. “Oh, nothing. Just wondered, that’s all.” Or, I thought, more like you were just making small talk to get away from talking about whatever it was that stopped you from doing your homework. Sometimes he was just a little too transparent.
Eventually we made it to the Quidditch pitch and I got my own broom out of the broom shed in case I needed to demonstrate anything. James pounced on me as soon as I reappeared.
“Right, you’re here,” he said. “I thought you might have … forgotten.” He grinned at Sirius who suddenly looked a little discomfited.
I laughed. “How could I possibly forget when you keep bugging me about it?” I asked.
“I don’t bug you,” James protested, looking hurt. “I just thought you might want to do your bit in helping your team win the Cup this year. Persephone,” he called to the Seeker who was flying in circles (anticlockwise) about twenty feet above us, “can you come here for a bit?”
Persephone Alderton was a very short, slight fourth-year girl who had an uncanny knack for finding and catching small objects, such as Snitches. She looked a little odd next to James, who was at least six foot and rather broad, but she was doubtless used to that by now and wasn’t in the least intimidated. She came to ground level immediately and strolled over, her broom over her shoulder.
I’d been right, it was a Cleansweep Six which had a bad habit of veering off to one side after about five years. There wasn’t much anyone could do about it, but we did remove the Flying Charm and re-cast it, which might confuse the broom into thinking it was a bit newer and stop the veering for a little while at least. If nothing else it was worth a try. The other thing worth trying was putting the Cushioning Charm on both sides of the broom, so if it did start jerking towards one direction and she needed to go in another, she could rotate the broom while still in flight and use the fault to her advantage.
Next in line was Fin Quigley, the sixth-year Beater, whose Shooting Star wasn’t responding to direction changes as well as it should have been. Unfortunately the best thing for this was a complete disassembly of the broom and starting again from scratch, which took a good hour or two when done properly, and therefore having it fixed before practice wasn’t really an option. I did offer to help him do it at another time, which James overheard and promptly included himself in the party for broomstick assembly instructions.
Finally Jasper Stimpson, a third-year who had just been appointed Keeper, came to me. He had a brand new Nimbus Fifteen Hundred, a gift from his parents for making the team, but wasn’t confident on how best to fly it. This however wasn’t really my area and I sent him to James, who had the same broom and was much better qualified to answer those sorts of questions. I could see that young Jasper was rather intimidated by his captain, but if they were going to be on the same team all year then the sooner he got over that the better it would be.
Throughout the whole process Sirius had been sitting on the ground propped up against the broom shed, watching the proceedings and clearly waiting for me to finish. It hadn’t really clicked until that point that I needed escorting back to the common room as well, but I couldn’t exactly tell him to take off before I lost all self-control. (Maybe, I considered, if I just did that it would make life easier as he’d be bound to avoid me afterwards, but I still couldn’t face the rejection. Yes, I was a coward. And I didn’t want to lose him as a friend.)
I looked at him once Jasper had gone to James, my broom in my hand. “Sirius, do you mind waiting a bit longer? I feel like taking a spin.”
He looked surprised but nodded. “Sure. Whatever you like.”
A fast, furious trip around the pitch was exactly what I needed, I had decided. I was sure to be much better behaved around Sirius if I got any excess tension and frustration out of my system before he took me back to the castle. I got onto my broom and took off firmly, taking myself rather higher and wider than the practicing players so I wouldn’t be in the way, and doing a few laps of the pitch while I let off a bit of steam. My Nimbus One Thousand and One, while not as fast or durable as James’ and Jasper’s Fifteen Hundreds, was still a good broom and could get up to a hundred miles an hour in good conditions. After several laps (or maybe a few dozen), I felt calm enough to head towards the ground and was putting my broom away in the shed when I heard James’ voice behind me.
“Oi, Laura,” he said accusingly, having also obviously just landed, “I thought you said you couldn’t fly.”
“I can fly,” I protested, looking at him over my shoulder. “I just have to keep both hands on the broom to be able to do it. Which means I’m crap at Quidditch,” I went on, correctly interpreting his look as I turned to face him.
His brow furrowed. “Sounds like an excuse to me,” he said. “If you didn’t want to play, why didn’t you just say so?”
I smiled. “I did say so, if you recall,” I pointed out. “And I also said that I can’t throw or catch very well if I’m on a broom. Because I can only fly two-handed.”
James still didn’t look convinced but fortunately Sirius joined the conversation on my side. “Lay off her, Prongs,” he said easily. “She did what you asked her to.”
James just raised his eyebrows at Sirius and shook his head. “That’d be right, gang up on me,” he grumbled. “Though the team’s looking all right, I guess I shouldn’t complain.”
I smiled again. “Good. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’d best be getting back, I’ve got an essay to finish. And you’d better get back to your practice before your team start wondering where their captain is.”
The flight had worked – I was incredibly calm as Sirius walked me back to Gryffindor Tower, even managing to control myself when he smiled at me. I was getting much better at this self-discipline thing, I decided. Quivering Wreck 47 (or something); Laura 1 – this had to count as a victory of sorts. However, once we got back to the common room I was very pleased to be able to make my excuses and head directly for the dorm, claiming the need for a shower so that I didn’t need to spend any more time in his company. And even though it was still early, I stayed in the dorm for the rest of the evening, lying on my bed to finish my Herbology essay rather than heading back downstairs and potentially facing him again.
Of course, even if I had wanted to avoid Sirius – actually wanted to, rather than making vague noises in Mary’s direction that suggested it might be a good idea – it would have proved more difficult than I’d anticipated, as no matter what I did he always seemed to be somewhere nearby. “This is getting ridiculous,” I said to Mary at the end of the week in a rare moment of privacy. “If he was actively trying to torture me he couldn’t do a better job. It’s almost like he’s making a point of hanging around or something.”
Mary groaned sympathetically, though I was sure she was sick to death of my grumbling about Sirius. If I was honest with myself, I recognised that if I’d been on the receiving end, I would have been too. But I needed to talk to someone about it and, as my best friend, she drew the short straw. “Is it really tha’ bad, though?” she asked after a pause.
“Well, look at this week,” I said, counting off the days on my fingers. “Monday – walked me to lunch after Potions, and then he was sitting just behind us in Charms and kept talking to us when we were practicing the Charm. Tuesday – worked on the next plant during Herbology, and helped me out during Transfiguration when I couldn’t get the spell right. Plus walked me down to Quidditch practice and back again, though that was on James’ orders so maybe I shouldn’t count it. Wednesday – was waiting after Ancient Runes because he had to tell Remus something, so walked with us to the library. Thursday – asked for advice during Herbology, where he was on the next plant, again. And today, sat just behind us during Defence and kept interrupting our conversation, and kept offering hints when Professor Perkins asked us to duel. So even if I try to avoid him, I can’t.”
Mary was nodding. “Ye’re richt,” she admitted. “It does seem beyond th’ norm. Bu’ then again, tha’ does ten’ t’ happen when ye’re friends wi’ someone.”
“I know,” I said miserably. “But does he have to be so bloody nice about everything? It was so much easier when I thought he was arrogant.”
“O’ course it wa’,” Mary said reasonably. “When ye though’ he was arrogan’ ye didna lik’ him at all. So there wasna a problem.”
“Yeah, all right,” I conceded. “But what do I do about it?”
“Jus’ enjoy it,” she suggested. “After this year ye may ne’er see him again, so ye micht as well mak’ th’ mos’ o’ it nou.”
I thought about that. “You might be right,” I said eventually. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
Author’s note: Yes, I know, a bit of a filler, but like all fillers it had some important stuff hidden away in there that needed to be covered. And I should confess that I made up most of which brooms were around at what time, and any issues they may have associated with them - we don't have much info about that sort of thing from canon so I had to invent it.
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