There were a lot of things Beth had done over the years that she might not have otherwise if her group of friends had consisted solely of girls – namely, spent a considerable amount of evenings up in the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory and in the Great Hall, where there was nearly always food the four could demolish. But the thing she hated most was having to hang around in the Gryffindor Quidditch locker rooms on account of James. They were small, they were a bit crowded, and the pervading odor of sweat was always a bit nauseating. She tried her hardest to breathe through her mouth, subtly covering her nose with her robes as they stood around in a small circle right before the Gryffindor versus Slytherin Quidditch match.
Since the November game, earlier in the year, Gryffindor had slammed Hufflepuff in the last week of January, and were looking to be a strong contender for the school championship, as usual. Unfortunately, Slytherin was also pushing strong, and today’s match was sure to be uncharacteristically brutal – not just because both teams wanted sorely to come out on top, but in the recent months when the blood purity question had come to stronger light, the members of the Houses were more opposed than ever.
And, if that weren’t enough, last night had been another full moon, and Beth and Peter were both half-asleep on their feet, along with Remus. She stifled a large yawn, still trying not to breathe any more than she had to, as Sirius chattered about something that sounded vaguely like feather pillows, but she wasn’t sure she was following the conversation correctly.
James gave Sirius’s wristwatch a quick glance as the latter reached up to scratch his nose. “You guys had better get out into the stands, you know – you’re not going to get good seats if you don’t hurry.”
“Lily and the others have some seats for us,” Beth said, migrating subtly towards the door leading back out to the pitch. “I don’t think any of us want to miss this – it’s going to be a bit of a bloodbath, though, don’t you think?”
“Dunno,” said James as they emerged into the spring sunshine, squinting upwards as though gauging the weather conditions. “Knowing the nature of our lovely Slytherin classmates as I do, it’s pretty likely.”
As though talking about them had conjured them out of thin air, a small cluster of emerald-clad players from the Slytherin team materialized at that moment as out of thin air. Leading the pack was Wilkes, one of Severus’s friends, who played Beater; Beth had a hard time seeing how he’d got on the team, as he wasn’t the brightest boy. Then again, you didn’t need to be innately smart to whack a ball around with a club. She instinctually scanned the crowd around him for Severus without realizing what she was doing, but he was nowhere in sight.
“Well, look who’s here,” smirked Wilkes, small bits of spittle flying everywhere as he spoke; those within a two-foot radius beat a hasty retreat. “I don’t think anyone but the players are allowed to skulk around the locker rooms, Black.”
Sirius ground his teeth together so hard that Beth, who was standing to his right, could hear them snapping plainly. “Watch your mouth before I knock you in the head with your own club,” he spat. Wilkes raised an eyebrow derisively, although it didn’t have the same effect as when Rosier did it; his buck teeth stood in the way of that.
“Not very nice, that,” he said, subtly wiping his mouth as Peter had done only a few minutes earlier. “Afraid I’m going to pick on your little half-blood friend?” He jerked his head in Remus’s direction, not even bothering to look him in the eyes. “Defending him so he won’t have to waste breath doing it himself? He’ll need to save it, there won’t be many more of his kind before too long –“
Anything else the ginger-haired boy might have been about to say was quickly cut off as Sirius lunged for him, scrabbling furiously in his pockets. James and Beth each caught one of his arms without thinking, restraining him before he could get in even more trouble for fighting. He squirmed, desperate to be free, but neither was willing to give him even an inch.
“You – I’ll get – mark my words –“ Sirius blustered, face turning rapidly red as he searched for something nasty enough to say to Wilkes. The group of Slytherin players roared with laughter as, with considerable effort, James and Beth hauled Sirius out of their earshot, Remus and Peter having to throw in their weight to the effort.
“He’s – a – git –“ James panted, finally depositing their friend unceremoniously on the ground as the fight seemed to go out of him. “Why do you even listen, Sirius? Haven’t we told you - ?”
“What you’ve told me doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s lower than scum,” Sirius said, correcting the sleeves of his robes where they’d been twisted as he’d been dragged away. He stood up, scowling and brushing dirt from his trousers. “Come on,” he snapped. “Let’s go and find our seats.”
The roar of the crowd was nearly deafening as James circled around two of the Slytherin Chasers, anxious to block them from getting the Quaffle, constantly turning his head back and forth to see whether Finch was ready to pass yet or not. For all his skill as a Chaser, he was sorely lacking in knowing the right time to play off to others; it got on James’s nerve to no end.
“Come on… come on…” he muttered, diving low and veering to the right to cut off one of the Slytherin players, who’d made a sudden start forward. “Pass, you idiot, pass…”
So far, the match had been just as brutal as Beth had worried it would be, and Gryffindor was only ahead by twenty points at this stage in the game. Several players on both sides had taken minor injuries, although nothing necessitating a trip to the hospital wing yet, but James knew that if Tennison didn’t get the Snitch soon, almost anything could – and probably would – happen.
“Hey, Potter!” roared a voice in his right ear, and he whipped around to see none other than Wilkes leering at him, tossing his Beater club from hand to hand as though he weren’t hundreds of feet up in the air. “Are you still going to be so brave about defending your pal up here?”
“Lay off!” James spat bitterly, knowing what Wilkes was all about – psyching players up in order to get them to lose concentration was no new tactic in Quidditch. He scanned the sky a bit above him for Finch, who had now passed to Mumford, and the two were engaging in a sort of volleying play to keep the Quaffle away from the encroaching opposing Chasers.
“I suppose you’re not quite as cool without all your mates behind you, though,” Wilkes persisted jeeringly, now flying down so that he was directly in front of James, taunting him. “You’re all Muggle-lovers, the lot of you.” His tone became distinctly more biting as he added, “Aren’t you dating one of them? That ginger-haired Muggle-born?”
“I said get away!” James elbowed Wilkes roughly as he flew past him, hoping that it might persuade him to find some other mid-game hobby, but that seemed to incense him even further. Finch had finally spotted that James was open, and lobbed the bright red Quaffle at him. James rushed up and felt his fingers close around solid leather, barely even pausing as he wheeled around and made for the bright gold goalposts at the opposite end. He was almost there – ducked Wilkes, who looked furious – ducked another Slytherin player, probably a Chaser, he didn’t know – he was almost there –
“POTTER SCORES!” The red and gold mass on one side of the stadium went wild, jumping and screaming, and James waved at them proudly, smirking at Wilkes’s reddening face, visible even from this distance.
He didn’t see him speeding straight for him, however, until the Slytherin collided with him in midair; something heavy and wooden collided with James’s jaw, and he distinctly heard a loud crack before the pain made him black out.
Sirius was gripping the wooden partition dividing their seats from those in front, his hands looking more like claws with the amount of force they were exerting. More than ever, Beth thought, he wanted Gryffindor to win, if only to be able to rub it in Wilkes’s face later on.
“What is James doing?” Lily said in a slightly breathless voice from further down the row, her hands clasped anxiously under her chin. Beth, who had turned to look at her as she spoke, glanced back at the pitch, searching for James. He was doing an odd sort of darting maneuver, which Wilkes seemed to be blocking.
“Shove him in the gut, punch him in the face… Do something, mate,” Sirius was muttering; apparently he had been looking in this direction, too.
“You’re going to snap that, you know,” said Beth, grinning and gesturing at the partition, but Sirius shushed her, his eyes still riveted on the game. Finch, a sixth-year Chaser, had finally passed the ball to James, and he was streaking up the field, more blurred than solid. The screams mounted as he neared the goalposts and, almost effortlessly, put the ball away inside the left hoop.
“Yeah!” Sirius shouted, his face breaking into a grin and his arms raised above his head, but the expression disappeared almost at once. Beth knew why; Wilkes had suddenly turned his broom and was making straight for James, who couldn’t see him coming, his face red and the arm holding his club poised to strike.
There was a collective gasp as the two boys collided; Sirius’s mouth had dropped open, and he looked ready to vault the partition. Beth clapped her hands to her mouth and felt her eyes go wide as James went limp and, to her horror, slipped off his broom.
“No!” she shrieked, reaching out her hands as though in some way hoping that that would slow his fall. Someone, at least, seemed to be able to intervene, for as he neared the ground he slowed, hitting the turf as though he’d only fallen a few inches.
Without a word to anyone, Sirius bolted, making straight for the stairs that led down to the grounds, and Lily followed close behind. Beth looked wildly around at Remus, who appeared just as horrified as she felt. He shrugged, and, taking that as confirmation, Beth ran off after Lily.
By the time the group of them had clustered together once more, near the cut-out section of the pitch that led onto the field, Madam Pomfrey was already there with a levitating stretcher. A small ring of staff had formed around his limp body, warding off curious students who were already trying to see what the commotion was; the players hovered on their brooms, unsure of what else to do.
“Make room!” barked the nurse, hastening to take her wand from a pocket of the apron she wore around her waist. Pushing up her sleeves, she pointed it at James’s jaw; Beth could see through a small gap between two elbows that it was already swollen and turning a nasty purple color.
“Is he all right?” Sirius said, trying to shove through the crowd still.
“Stand back, Mr. Black!” Professor McGonagall snapped, holding him off firmly with one of her hands. Sirius looked indignant.
“I’m his best mate!”
“And you can see him in the hospital wing after the match, like all his other well-wishers,” the woman said irritably. “I said stand back, we need to get Potter to the hospital wing.” Sirius looked as though he might have been willing to argue this a bit longer, but Peter stepped forward and pulled him back, and the group of them watched as James was levitated up the grounds and into the castle.
“Let’s go,” he said, as soon as the other onlookers had dispersed to return to their seats for the rest of the game.
“What about the match?” said Remus, gesturing towards their now-abandoned seats. Sirius glared at him.
“Who cares about the match?” he said through gritted teeth. “Or did you not see his jaw?”
“I was only – well, fine, let’s go!” said Remus testily, although the other boy didn’t really seem to catch on to the bitter note in his voice. He charged up the sloped grass towards where James had been carried off to, and Beth, shrugging at Remus apologetically, followed. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, she was more inclined to Sirius’s plan of action at the moment.
Seeing as how the rest of the castle was still out at the pitch, watching the conclusion of the match, they were not at all delayed in climbing the staircases that led to the hospital wing. The double doors to the ward were closed, although a small crack permitted small bits of sound to filter through; from what it sounded like, James was already stirring.
“Professor!” Sirius shouted, banging on the door with a raised fist. “Can we come in, Professor?” Despite the gravity of the situation, Beth had to clap a hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle. The door swung inward sharply, and Professor McGonagall glared down at him, her nostrils flared and white.
“I thought I told you –“ she began crisply, but was interrupted by an unseen voice from far down the ward.
“Could you let them in, Professor? I’d like to see them.” McGonagall rolled her eyes, sucking her breath in noisily through her teeth, but it didn’t appear as though she was about to deny any invalid a request made, no matter how much she disagreed with it. Opening the door just enough to let them pass through, she clucked her tongue once disapprovingly before passing out herself.
James’s jaw was certainly black and blue, although whatever Madam Pomfrey had done to it had made the swelling go down considerably. He grinned a bit sloppily as they clustered around his bed, immediately reaching up to take Lily’s hand as though he didn’t even need to think about it.
“Was it Wilkes?” he asked bitterly, and Marlene nodded mutely, fiddling with the end of her blonde plait. James’s brow furrowed. He looked mutinous. “I’ll kill him,” he muttered. “Making more comments about Remus –“ His brown eyes quickly darted up to look at Remus from behind his spectacles, which had somehow miraculously survived the fall.
Sirius swore under his breath. “If you kill him, I get to help out,” he said, eyeing the bruises. “What’s the verdict, mate?”
“Cracked jaw,” said James grimly. “It’s fixed now, though, although Madam Pomfrey says it’s going to be sore for a fair bit. She healed it in a quick second, though – I’ve always had a fond spot for that woman.” He winced, as though talking irritated it – which, Beth realized, it probably did. She grabbed the nearest elbow to her, which happened to be Peter’s, and talked loudly.
“We should let you rest,” she said, tugging Peter towards the door they had just entered; he looked mildly confused. Sirius looked at her, mouth open to protest, and she squinted her eyes meaningfully at him. It had just come to her attention that James might have wanted to speak to Lily alone, as well, for the way he had drawn her subtly nearer to the bed. Sirius caught onto this at last, and his face fell slightly.
“Erm – yeah, rest up,” he said, patting James’s leg bracingly, if a bit awkwardly. Beth tried very hard not to roll her eyes as she turned and led the group out of the ward. Near the end of the room, she slowed down, looking subtly over her shoulder, not being able to help it. Lily was now sitting on the edge of James’s bed, talking animatedly about something. He had an unequivocally sappy look on his face as she talked.
Beth shook her head, smiling a little smile of her own. A brief thought to tease him about it later crossed her mind, and she nearly began tucking away small jokes in the back of her mind, but remembering how decent he had been about Severus – minus blabbing it to everyone, of course – kept her mind firmly closed. He’d had enough to deal with for one day.
A/N: And with this chapter, this story officially hits one hundred thousand words on the archives! I never, ever thought I'd see a number that big for a story of mine -- it's absolutely amazing to me. And you guys have been so supportive throughout, too, I'm so grateful! Things are getting slightly hectic around here, and it's good to know that fan fiction goes on the same as always -- posting once a week, responding to reviews, catching up on my favorite stories. Thank you for being here! And don't forget to let me know your thoughts in the box below!