Chapter 15 : Brave
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"So how's it going with James?"
The mention of his name makes my head snap up, my eyes wide and alert.
"H-how's it going?" I repeat nervously.
Across the dinner table from me, Rose nods, the etchings of a frown beginning to appear on her forehead.
"Oh, fine," I reply, brushing the question off.
Clearly my answer isn't nearly convincing enough. Rose looks concerned, "What happened?"
I shake my head, "Really, Rose, it's fine. We're fine."
"Merlin, you are the worst liar."
"I'm serious!" I cry, even more unconvincingly, "Really! James and I are-"
"Shh," Rose hisses at me, and my blood runs cold as I notice a shadow fall over the table.
It's all that I can do not to turn around.
"Rose," James says, "We have practice after dinner. 8 pm. Don't be late."
"Cool it James," Rose rolls her eyes, "I was only late once."
"Because you were visiting Malfoy," he points out, "Again."
Rose goes pink, "I'll be there, alright?"
"Good," he says.
Unable to resist, I look around, "Hi," A weak sort of whisper escapes my mouth.
James offers me a quick, burning glance, so quick I'm not even sure if it happened, before turning on his heel and leaving the great hall.
Rose gives me a meaningful look, "Sure as hell doesn't look like you're fine."
"…We had a fight," I admit.
"Cute!" Rose exclaims, "Your first fight!"
I shake my head at her, "It was over a week ago," I add, "And he's barely looked at me since."
This makes Rose look a little more concerned, "What was it about?"
I shrug, "I can't even remember."
This is also a complete lie. James' words keep echoing over and over again in my head.
They're colliding with one another until I'm sure I'm going nuts.
Just…why do we need to be a couple? Why all the rules, the boundaries? The labels?
You know why I thought it would be better to keep things on the down low? Because you wanted it that way!
Everything that came out of his mouth was a walking contradiction.
Well, one thing had been clear from our argument. James didn't want a relationship. He was ok with snogging me in abandoned classrooms, but he drew the line at being seen in public with me.
"Stop making me out to be the bad guy here! Just because I don't want a relationship doesn't mean I don't give a shit."
That sentence was the most confusing. He's confusing.
Maybe that's something I need to start avoiding.
"It sounds like it was just a silly argument," Rose says, trying to be comforting, "Maybe you should try and make up with him."
"I'm not apologising to that-"
"Calm down," Rose stops me, "I'm not saying that you accept full blame, but I'm sure he'll be grateful for you making the first move."
I contemplate the idea. Letting down my guard. Allowing James to possibly reject me once again.
"I'd rather not," I reply.
"You won't know until you try," Rose points out.
* * *
When I return to the common room after breakfast I find Cameron sprawled on the couch, looking utterly despondent.
"Something up, Cameron?" I ask him.
He looks up at me, "Oh, hi Artois."
"Expecting someone else?" I raise my eyebrows.
"No," he mutters sulkily, "I thought you might be Lexie."
"Oh," I reply. I move his legs and sit down onto the couch next to him, "You're still down about that?"
"I'll say," he growls, "My life is over."
I roll my eyes, "Don't be so dramatic."
"My heart is broken into a million and one pieces."
"You fancied her for what…two weeks?"
"Before she rejected me," he moans wretchedly, as though it causes him physical pain to remember it.
"Maybe you should talk to her…sober this time."
"She won't speak to me," he mutters, "And the one time I cornered her in the library she told me to climb into a hole and die."
"Ouch," I say.
"I'll never love again."
I feel compelled to roll my eyes again, "Yes you will. There's plenty of fish in the sea."
"None like her!"
"OK," I sigh, since clearly this wasn't working, "How about we go to the library. We could read a book, take your mind off it?"
He wails as though I've just punched him in the stomach, "Lexie reads!"
I sigh, "Well, maybe there's some breakfast left over in the great hall. I'm sure the food would help."
This only makes him wail louder, "Food! Lexie eats food!"
I roll my eyes again at him.
Cameron looks at me pleadingly, "Artois? What should I do?"
I shrug, "I'm not really the person to ask for romantic advice."
"You're the one who got me in to this mess!" he cries, "You told me she liked me! You made me think about her! I would never have thought about her if you hadn't planted the seed!"
"And maybe she wouldn't have rejected you if you hadn't been completely inebriated and kissed her in front of the entire common room," I point out.
He sighs grumpily, "I thought it would be romantic."
"It was mortifying."
"I was nervous," he replies, "I don't usually ask girls out…on dates. I mean usually I don't have a problem getting girls to hook up in a broom cupboard with me. But I figured Lexie probably doesn't like doing that. She'd want a dinner somewhere in a fancy restaurant, or a romantic walk. I don't know how to act in those kind of situations! I can't…talk to her!"
I pause, feeling guilty. Lexie had turned Cameron, the blissfully confident Cameron, into this snivelling wreck. With my help.
"Give it time." Is all I can say.
Suddenly the last person I want to see is standing beside us.
James, looking slightly tired from the quidditch practice, is looking at Cameron with an extremely annoyed expression on his face.
"Cameron, this is the second practice you've missed. If you weren't my best mate I would have kicked you off the team by now."
"I'm sick!" Cameron cried indignantly at him.
James frowns, "What's wrong with you?"
"Lexie rejected me!"
James rolls his eyes. Clearly he's also getting tired of this, "So you've said. It's just a girl, mate."
"Not a girl, the girl!"
"A girl who you won't remember existed in six months time," James corrects him.
This sentence makes me feel a little sick to my stomach.
"I think Cameron's just being a coward," I say cooly, "Not facing up to someone who might be important to him."
James' eyes flash in my direction, burning hot and icy cold all at once, "Funny, I don't remember asking your opinion, Wood."
"Funny, I don't remember needing you to ask me for it," I snap.
He glares at me, as Cameron sits up a little, nodding vigorously, "Stella's right. I'm being a coward. I'm hiding from her, and I haven't apologised. It's pathetic. If I want Lexie, I need to fix it."
"Good call, Cameron," I say to him, smirking a little in James' direction.
"She rejected you, mate," James counters quickly, "She's not worth your time. Think of all the other girls who you could be with! Girls who won't make you into the bad guy every chance they get."
This brings up painful memories of our argument, and I immediately retort, "Don't be one of those guys," I say to Cameron, putting a comforting hand on his forearm, "One of those guys who doesn't know what he really wants. One of those guys who doesn't know when he's being a total jerk."
"Yes, because it's all Cameron's fault, isn't it?" James snaps at me.
"Well, maybe Cameron should just own up to the fact that he isn't the fucking king of everything," I glare at him.
"And I'm sure Lexie has faults of her own," James says, "Maybe she's insecure, or paranoid. Maybe she puts herself onto a fucking pedestal, looking down on everyone who isn't fucking good enough for her!"
"I don't think she does that," Cameron says meekly, looking a little alarmed at how quickly our argument is escalating, "She's always been really nice to me."
"How about the fact that Lexie never told you how she felt about you?" James looks at Cameron urgently, staring intensely at him, "She was probably playing you hot and cold the entire time."
Feeling extremely indignant, I exclaim, "As if Cameron wasn't doing the exact same thing!"
"Only because Lexie was being so bloody indecisive!" James is finding it difficult to look at
Cameron, now that all of his anger is directed at me, "Lexie never acted like she was invested. Sometimes she was into you, the next she hates your guts!"
"You- I mean, Cameron was the one who started this whole thing! He kissed her first! He never wanted to be seen in public with her!"
"I'm pretty sure that's just something Lexie made up in that creative little head of hers,"
James counters, and my jaw drops in outrage.
Cameron starts laughing, waving his hands to stop us, "OK, I don't know who you guys are talking about but it's not Lexie and I." He chuckles, "Whoever you guys are talking about, Merlin they have some issues to work out."
"I think it's Lexie's issue," James mutters just low enough for me to here.
"Cameron is plenty fucked up all on his own," I snap back in hushed tones.
Cameron hears this exchange and continues to chuckle, "Seriously guys, you don't have to talk in code about these people. As entertaining as this was I'm going up to bed, so you can keep on gossiping."
He hops off the sofa, looking considerably more elevated, before sauntering off towards the common room staircase, leaving James and I alone.
Some part of me hopes that James will continue the argument. The part that wants to confront him. The other part of me wants to run away and hide.
There's a long, awkward pause in which neither of us can look directly at the other.
"That was completely immature, Potter," I tell him scathingly.
"You were pretty childish yourself, Wood," he replies angrily.
"I can't believe I thought about trying to make up with you," I mutter.
"What?" his voice sounds slightly strained, but the hint of intrigue is definitely there.
I look away from him then, feeling a deep blush creep up my cheeks.
Luckily, before I have to explain myself, the portrait hole opens, and the perfect distraction walks through the portrait hole.
Albus, with his arm around a very pretty girl, enters the common room.
"Hey guys," he says, grinning widely at us, "I wanted you to meet someone. This is Cecily."
"Stella and I already met," she grins, flashing a smile of what seem like hundreds of pearly white teeth, "Herbology in 5th year, right?"
"Yeah, I remember," I grin, "So are you two…"
"Together," Cecily grins at Albus, who grins back at her. It's almost nauseating.
"I hope this isn't weird for you Stella?" Albus says.
"What? Why would it be?" I laugh lightly.
Cecily pauses, raising an eyebrow, "You two used to date."
"Oh, that!" I laugh, mortified that I keep forgetting that Albus was by boyfriend for a month or so, "Don't worry, it was amicable."
"That's what Al said," Cecily smiles sweetly, again with those flashy teeth.
"Oh, and this is my brother, James," Albus says.
"Hey," they both nod at each other. Cecily smiles some more, and James manages a mildly friendly grimace.
"Well, I have to go," James says gruffly, glancing at me for a split second, "Nice to meet you."
"You too!" she says eagerly, but he's already turned away from her.
When she looks slightly downcast, Albus pats her on the arm, "He's usually pretty standoffish."
"Oh, Ok," she says, "I should go back to my dormitory anyway. It's getting late."
"Sure," Al says, "I'll see you tomorrow then."
He kisses her quickly on the lips, and she leaves through the portrait hole.
After she's gone, he looks back at me, beaming all over his face.
I nod at him, feeling impressed, "I have to admit, I wasn't expecting you to take my advice."
He shrugs, "I figured I can't wait around for Ray. And Cecily is…well, I like her a lot."
"I'm glad you've moved on," I smile gently at him.
"Thanks," he gives me a consolatory pat on the shoulder, "I hope you do too."
"Thanks," I reply.
"Oh, by the way, have you heard about the new quidditch tryouts?" He asks.
I frown, "No. What tryouts?"
"Well, since Eve got kicked off the team, Gryffindor are looking for new keeper."
"Oh," I pause, not sure how to process this information, "Interesting. Do you know anyone who wanted to try out?"
"I heard a few people were considering it, especially now that Gryffindor are on a winning streak."
"OK. Well, I hope they find someone good."
"Actually," he looks at me meaningfully, "I had someone in mind."
"Really?" I frown, "Who?"
Albus smirks a little, "Well, she's really talented, and she's probably the best person for the job. And she just recently learned how to get over her fear of flying. Sounds pretty good to me."
I roll my eyes at him, "Albus, there's no way I'm trying out."
"But you know you'd be great at it!" he whines, "You're just worried that you'll fail."
"No, I would just rather avoid James as much as possible."
It's Al's turn to roll his eyes, "Come on, Stella. James shouldn't dictate how you live your life. If you want to do it, then don't let him stop you."
I counter, "He'll make my life on that team hell."
"But it'll be worth it!" he grins, "And now that you know how to work through your fear…maybe you should give it a try."
"Maybe next time," I sigh.
"What if there isn't a next time!"
I pause, biting my lip as I contemplate the idea, "I'll think about it."
Suddenly I remember that one night, where James and I were racing one another, diving and jumping in the dark. It had been…perfect.
"You know you're the best person for the job," he presses on.
"I said I'll think about it!" I laugh.
"OK, OK, I'll go to bed then. Tryouts are Wednesday afternoon though!"
"Oh, and I hope…well, I hope Ray isn't still angry with me." I give him a look and he sighs,
"Just a tad."
"Just tell her I hope we can be friends."
He grins hopefully, before leaving through the portrait hole.
I shake my head, chuckling slightly, as I climb the stairs towards the dormitory.
As I push open the door, I see Lexie, sitting up on her bed with a large book propped up against her knees.
"Hey," I approach her gently, "I was just talking to Cameron earlier. He's really sorry about what happened."
"Funny, I haven't received that apology," she says, not taking her eyes off the book she's reading.
"He really does like you, you know," I try again.
"He has interesting methods of communicating those feelings," she says, her face completely deadpan.
"OK, maybe he could have chosen a better way of-"
"No," she shakes her head, "What you were saying to me before. You were right. Cameron is interested in me now, but in a week? The next girl in line will be there waiting."
"No! You have to understand!" I tell her desperately, "He really, really likes you!"
"Sure he does," she rolls her eyes.
"Then why did he have to show up drunk to get the courage-?"
"He was nervous!"
"My brother doesn't get nervous."
I'm startled by the sound of Ray's voice, as she emerges from the bathroom. The look on
Ray's face is less than friendly.
"What?" I ask her timidly.
"He doesn't get nervous," she reiterates, "He was an arse to Lexie, and he doesn't deserve her time."
Lexie is nodding vigorously, but I turn to Ray, "Come on, Ray! This is your brother! Surely he has some redeemable qualities."
"My brother is exactly like the rest of them," Ray frowns, "He uses girls, then he loses them. Trust me, Lex, you dodged a bullet."
"Ray there are nice guys out there!" I say to her.
"Really?" Ray raises an eyebrow, "Cameron's had about ten different girlfriends since the school year began. Fred's had about double that number. James ignores anyone not worth his time. Your fake ex-boyfriend tried to kiss me barely a week after you broke up, not to mention after he planned a manipulative scheme to get me to fall in love with him. I'm not seeing much evidence to the contrary."
I sigh, "Speaking of Al. He wanted me to ask you if you guys could maybe be friends in the future."
Ray's look towards me is so cold that I almost run into the bathroom to avoid the pierce of her stare. I realise now that that was a stupid thing to say under the circumstances.
"Since when have you become everyone's messenger?" Lexie frowns.
"Since men have been cowards when it comes to confrontation," Ray says.
I try again, "Well, Al said-"
"I'm sure it was very charming, whatever he said," Ray says, looking bored, "But I'm not interested. And you shouldn't be either, Lex."
OK, I give up. I'm done trying to make peace.
Taking a deep breath, I flop onto my bed. "Boys," I sigh.
"They suck," Lexie agrees.
"It's what I've been saying all along," Ray says to us, "They're not even worth our breath."
* * *
The next morning, as Lexie, Rose and I were sitting at breakfast, Ray comes storming over, her face livid.
"Oh shit," Rose murmurs, "Incoming."
We all prepare for the incoming tidal wave of fury.
Ray sits down, her lips grinding together with anger, her eyebrows knotted together.
"Albus fucking Potter," she growls, uttering each word with a special brand of hatred.
"What about him?" Rose asks, looking terrified to her very core.
Ray's eyes widen, "That prick has a girlfriend now! A bloody girlfriend!"
We look towards the Ravenclaw table, where Albus and Cecily are sitting together, chatting cosily.
"Maybe they're just friends," Lexie offers, without much hope in her voice.
"No, they're not," I mutter in a low voice.
Ray continues to look completely outraged, "Ugh, that jerk thinks he can just kiss me, and then tell me he's liked me for ages, and then just pretend none of it happened and just get a girlfriend!"
"I thought you didn't want him," Rose utters uneasily, "You said you didn't like him."
"That doesn't change the fact that he has no right going around, getting girlfriends!" Ray cries, "I mean, who does he think he is?"
None of us want to answer that. The answer could subject us to several hours of the Ray Mitchell fury.
"You did punch him in the face," I mention, "Maybe he's just trying to…move on."
"At the speed of a fucking concord," Ray mutters bitterly, "And who is she anyway?"
"Her name is Cecily," I murmur gently, "She's a Ravenclaw."
Ray snaps to look at me, her eyes ablaze, "Yes, thank you Stella, my cognitive skills are not completely fried. I guessed that since they were sitting at the Ravenclaw table that she's a fucking Ravenclaw."
Ah, angry Ray was truly back.
The rest of the table falls relatively silent, and Ray lowers her voice, "Well maybe someone should warn her that her boyfriend is a lying tosser."
"I thought you said boys weren't worth our breath," Lexie says timidly.
"I'm just trying to protect this Cecily," Ray utters the name with a tone that only implies disgust, "from getting involved with someone like him."
"I'm sure she'd value your opinion," Rose mutters.
"He's your bloody cousin!" Ray snaps at her, "Can't you do something to get him under control?"
"He's hardly on a girlfriend rampage!" Rose exclaims.
Feeling a sudden need to change subject, before Rose and Ray declare an all out war, I look at Rose, "So I heard there are quidditch tryouts coming up?"
She looks at me, a bit flustered, "Oh, yeah. Since James kicked Eve off the team we need a new keeper. Quite a few people have signed up already actually."
"Have they?" I ask, slightly absentmindedly.
"Why? Ooh! Were you thinking of trying out?" Rose asks me.
I pause, "I thought about it for a second, and then I thought maybe not."
"But you'd be great!" she grins, "They're tomorrow evening if you want to come."
Out of the corner of my eye, Ray continues to seethe with anger, occasionally glancing towards Albus and Cecily, who are still sitting together at the breakfast table.
"I'd better go," I say, "I'll think about the tryouts."
It was definitely something I had to consider. Did I really want to be back on that team? Would it be better this time?
I decided that I had to find out for myself. I was going to go down to that pitch, and practice on my own.
Walking out of the great hall, out of the entrance hall and outside, I was hit by the sudden cold breeze. Winter had come and I had barely noticed.
Down on the pitch I looked around at the deserted stands. Anxiety began to build up more quickly than I had expected, and I looked up at the extremely high goal posts.
Swallowing my fear, I walked towards the broom shed, opened the door, and promptly bumped straight into someone.
The person I bumped into trips, and falls flat on their back with a thud, emitting a loud yell, and then a groan.
"Shit!" I cry out in fright, "I'm sorry!"
"No…problem," he replies, clearly in pain as he tightens up his eyes and rolls over onto his side.
I drop to my knees, "I should have looked where I was going."
"Really, it's fine," he wheezes, although he's clearly winded.
I take a closer look, and see that it's Luke Corner, the extremely, almost unnaturally attractive Ravenclaw captain. I remember back to my extremely awkward encounter with him at Hogsmede village, right after Fred had challenged him to a duel over Eve's affections.
"Here," I say offering him an arm, "Let me help."
"I'm fine," he repeats, but he takes the arm anyway, "You just caught me off guard."
Once he's on his feet, he takes a closer look at me, "Stella, right?"
"Yeah," I reply nervously, "And you're Luke."
"Good memory," he smiles faintly, because he's clearly still slightly out of breath from his fall.
"Eve's potions partner," I murmur.
"Really good memory," he laughs slightly.
I can't help but look down at the ground. God, he must think I'm some sort of stalker.
There's an awkward pause, and I stammer, "W-well, s-sorry about that. I'll just grab a broom and be out of your hair."
"Oh, no, it's fine," says Luke casually, "I was about to practice too, actually."
"Oh," Is all that comes out of my mouth.
Thanks brain, very helpful. I'm sure Encycolpedia Britannica is applauding your eloquence.
"Maybe we could…practice together," he suggests, a little awkwardly.
"A-are you sure?" I ask, "I don't wan't to bother you or anything. You were here first, after all."
"Rubbish," he says, looking a little more relaxed, "You're a keeper. I'm a keeper. I'm sure we'll find a way to help one another."
"I'm really out of practice," I explain, "I'm probably terrible!"
Luke offers me a broom, "I've seen you play," he says, "Before you quit, I mean. You're good. Really good, in fact."
"We'll see I suppose," I reply uneasily, as we make our way out onto the pitch.
Before I kick off I take a deep breath.
Remember Stella, remember the night on the quidditch pitch with James. Remember how unafraid you were, how exhilarating it felt?
I feel the steadiness of the ground, the vibrations in my hand as I tremble slightly.
"You coming?" comes Luke's voice from high above me. I hadn't realised he was already there.
"Hang on!" I cry.
Don't be a coward, Stella.
I kick off, and pick up speed, as fast as I can towards the opposite end of the goal posts.
And there's that feeling of exhilaration again, sweeping in waves through my body like a powerful adrenaline that can't be quenched.
I'm almost sad to reach the end goalposts when I do.
I slow down, and feel the uneasiness begin to rise up. Ignore it, Stella. Pretend like you're standing on the ground, not hovering 500 meters in the air.
Luke whistles, "You're a fast flyer."
I'm not really sure what to say to that, so instead I say, "Shall we take turns at being the keeper?"
"OK," he grins, "You can go first if you like."
"That's OK, I'll be the chaser," I offer. I know that I'm not ready to be the keeper yet.
I grab the quaffle and begin to fly around the stadium to get a feel for it. Luke waits at the goalposts, and I pay attention to how he holds himself on the broom. Not frozen as he waits, but more relaxed. Ready to go in any direction.
I fly over his head and shoot a quaffle over his shoulder. He catches it with an annoying amount of ease, and throws it back to me.
I try again, and he catches it again.
"I'm not really a chaser," I laugh slightly.
"Or I'm just a really amazing keeper," he grins.
We both laugh, but he's right. He's really good. He moves with agility, ready to grab the ball at any second and yet he's not wobbling, he's firm and still.
On my third shot he catches it again, launching out towards the ball and yet not falling off his broom.
"How do you do that?" I ask him, slightly out of breath.
"What?" he asks.
"How do you launch out that far, and not fall off?"
He frowns, "I don't know. It's kind of a reflex I guess. I sort of grip the broom with my knees."
"Don't you seize up?" I ask.
"No," he frowns.
So it's just me then.
I try again, throwing the ball. He catches it once again, and I glance sideways at him. The way he stays on the broom, completely confident in the air.
"Could I have a go? Being keeper?" I ask timidly.
"Sure," he nods, grabbing the ball from me as he takes on the position of chaser.
I sit, waiting and ready. I grip the broom between my knees. And I gingerly take my hands off the handle.
It feels unnatural, sitting up, without holding onto something.
Luke passes, a gentle one, and I get the feeling that he's going easy on my out of pity.
I lean out, just as he did, but not far enough. The ball brushes my fingertips and Luke has to dive down to catch it.
"You're pretty scared of falling, aren't you?" he says, once he's flown up again to meet me.
"I don't like taking my hands off the broom," I admit.
"That might be a problem, considering your job is to catch a ball."
"Do you…think you could show me, how not to be scared of falling?" I ask him.
He shrugs, "I'm not sure if it can be taught, to be honest. But I'll give it a go."
He flies over to me so that we're level, side by side as we face away from the goal posts.
"Well, maybe you need to loosen up in your shoulders," he suggests, observing me as I hunch over on my broom.
I do as he says, and my stomach drops a little.
"And look ahead, rather than down."
I lift my chin to face the opposite goal posts.
"Just…maybe grip the broom with your knees, and relax your top half."
I try that too, but I still feel nauseous. I immediately grip the broom handle again.
He sighs, "I'm sorry. I'm not really a teacher."
I shake my head, "It's OK. I was stupid to think it was something I could just learn in five seconds."
"You're a really good player, and that's when you're scared," he sighs, "Imagine what you could be if the fear stopped."
"I can't just stop," I reply, "I don't think it's that simple."
"Or maybe it is," he shrugs.
Before I can put much thought into that idea, there's a loud voice from below us.
"Hufflepuff have the pitch booked, Corner!"
We both look down and see Georgia Deely, the Hufflepuff captain, looking up at us indignantly.
"Sorry, Georgie!" Luke shouts down at her, a grin on his face, "We were just finishing up."
From way down below she scowls, "I've told you not to call me that anymore, Corner!"
"Sorry, Georgie!" he teases.
I raise an eyebrow at him. He grins, and explains, "Childhood friend. She doesn't like it when I call her by her kid nickname."
I nod, "Well, thanks anyway."
"Were you thinking of trying out for Keeper again?" he asks.
"People keep asking me that," I reply, "I don't know."
"You should," he nods, "I mean, I like Eve. She's a great potions partner. But after the stuff she pulled at the Gryffindor Slytherin match it's no wonder Potter kicked her off the team."
"I'll probably end up making a fool of myself," I chuckle.
"So?" he asks, "I reckon you like it more than you let on."
"What? Making a fool of myself?"
"No!" he laughs, "Quidditch."
I nod, but before I can reply Georgia Deely yells, "Seriously, Corner, we've booked-"
"Coming now!" he beckons to me, "Let's go before Georgie loses it."
* * *
Later that night I allow Luke's words to mull over in my brain.
Tryouts are tomorrow. Do I really want to go?
It's bizarre. Two months ago I quit the team, with hardly any intention of ever going back.
Hating quidditch, hating the team, it was all I ever thought about. I lived and breathed quidditch, and yet I hated it.
But then again, a lot had changed in two months. And was me liking quidditch so strange?
Weirder things have happened. I mean, Ray Mitchell fell for a boy. James Potter kissed me. Cameron wants to be with Lexie, and only Lexie.
By comparison, rejoining the team seemed normal.
The fear was still there. Apparently that hadn't changed.
But as Luke said, maybe the solution to that was simple. Maybe I just needed to…stop being scared.
Was it really that obvious? Was it something that had been there, right under my nose, this whole time?
That night with James, I had been angry. It had been powerful, fiery, and enough to overshadow my fear.
And I had been with James. We had laughed together, had fun. Done things that I would never have pictured us doing.
It was my one night of being bold.
And I want to repeat it.
When I wake up, I eat breakfast, go to my classes, and sit patiently and calmly, waiting for the evening to come.
It is a long day, but eventually we sit down to dinner.
Ray commits herself to glum silence this time, while Lexie opens a book and read it as she ate.
I eat lightly, waiting for the clock to strike eight o'clock, and when it finally does, I rise from the table and say goodbye to them.
Walking down to the pitch I feel cold. But for now I don't need to be worried.
On the pitch I'm amazed at the number of people who are there.
The team are all there, decked out in their scarlet robes. And the many, many hopefuls, at least twenty of them, standing around and looking ever so slightly impatient.
And there are people watching too, sitting in the stands, laughing and chatting as they wait for the tryouts to start.
I feel suddenly as though I'm under a spotlight. Which is ridiculous because no one is looking at me.
This was a stupid idea. I turn to go, but too late.
"STELLA!" Rose cries from where she and the rest of the team are standing, "YOU CAME!"
Quite a few people turn to look at me, and any possibility of leaving has just evaporated.
I wave awkwardly at Rose, who skips over to me, "I'm so glad you decided to try out."
"I don't know if I am," I mutter nervously.
"Nonsense, you're the best person here."
"I'd rather not stick around to find out if you're right."
"Don't be silly," she says, "Come on. Let's go to the changing rooms. That's where were keeping the extra quidditch robes."
She takes my elbow and steers me over towards the girls changing rooms.
Once we're inside, I gulp when I see at least fifteen more hopefuls, in various states of dressing.
She leads me purposefully over to an empty spot and hands me some robes to pull on.
The other girls in the changing room turn to look at me curiously, and I feel even more self-conscious.
I pull on the quidditch robes with ease, unlike the others who haven't had the practice that I've had.
The voice behind me is one I recognise too well. And this is exactly what I don't want to happen.
I turn to face Eve, who looks as pretty as ever. Her lips are twisted slightly, and she looks a little nervous.
"Oh, Eve," I reply.
Rose gives her a cold stare, which Eve does her best to ignore. She looks at me face on,
"Listen, Stella. I've been doing some thinking, and I realised that it was completely unreasonable for me to blame you for James kicking me off the team."
Behind me, Rose makes a distinctive snorting noise. However, Eve presses on.
"It was really immature of me to think you had something to do with it. I was caught up in the moment, and I really hated being kicked off the team. But I've realised it was my own fault. You had nothing to do with it. Of course you weren't trying to steal my spot! I was so paranoid. I'm sorry."
I pause, unsure if this is really happening, "That's OK, Eve."
Rose offers her opinion on this reconciliation by scoffing again.
"I hope," Eve pauses uncertainly, "I was hoping one day we could be friends again."
"Er, sure," I'm not sure whether Eve is being entirely sincere. But she does seem to be pretty apologetic.
Then it hits me, "Wait, Eve, what are you doing here?"
She gestures around her, "I thought I'd give it another shot. I've been working on my quaffle problem, and I think I ready to get out there again."
"Oh," is all I manage, before my voice dies in my throat.
She pauses, frowning, "Is that why you're here too?"
"Yeah," I mutter.
"Oh," she says, her glowing smile fading on her face, "So when you said you didn't want to be back on the team…you were lying?"
At this point Rose steps in, "Hey! It took a lot of guts for Stella to come here."
I feel a warm glow inside towards Rose. But Eve doesn't look very convinced.
"I'm sure it did," she says, through slightly pursed lips. Sighing she says, "Well, see you out there. May the best keeper win."
She leaves, leaving Rose and I staring after her.
"I always knew she was about more than that girl next door smile," Rose mutters darkly,
"Don't worry, Stella, you'll beat her."
I swallow, "Let's hope."
* * *
"OK, everyone," James shouts clearly over the crowd, "Let's start with ten laps of the pitch.
We want to know if you can actually fly first."
I scrutinise him. Here he is in his element. Yet he still doesn't even offer a glance in my direction.
I take a deep breath. Just don't be scared, Stella. It's that simple.
Then I kick off, along with everyone else.
Everyone begins to race around the pitch, and it feels incredibly crowded. At least thirty people are up here, all zooming around the pitch like lunatics.
I grip the handle of the broom and fly.
After one lap a few of the first years drop out, barely able to get a few feet off the ground and wobbling all the way.
After seven laps, I feel slightly dizzy, but half of the people have already dropped out, unable to keep up with the rest of us.
After nine laps, I notice that there are only a handful of people ahead of me. And one of them is Eve.
My jaw sets, and I put on a burst of speed.
The final lap goes quickly, and everyone speeds ahead. Even though it isn't supposed to be a race, it has somehow become one. Eve pulls into first place, her blonde hair flickering daintily over her shoulder.
My hair whips in my face, but I keep flying.
Then the ten laps are over. Eve came first, but I came second, ahead of at least fifteen others. I can be proud of that, at least.
Once everyone has landed, James looks at all of us.
His eyes fall on Eve, "Collins? What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to try out," she says.
He frowns sceptically at her, "I kicked you off the team. You're scared of the quaffle."
A couple of the other candidates snigger slightly, and for a moment I feel a hint of compassion for Eve.
"I thought I would try again," she says, "I'm a good flyer."
"Well," he pauses, still looking a little uncertain, "You're the fastest out of this lot."
That puts the sniggers to rest, and puts a small smile on Eve's face.
I notice that James has yet to acknowledge that I'm there.
"Right," he says, "Now that we've gotten rid of half of you, you'll go one on one, with one of my superb chasers. Anyone who catches four out of the five shots moves on to the next round."
Everyone nods, and James looks at the person who came last in the race, a scrawny fourth year boy, "We'll start with slowest to fastest."
The small crowd disperses and the fourth year, who now looks extremely nervous, flies towards the goal posts.
Rose kicks off, quaffle under one arm, and flies to meet him.
Everyone in the stands cheers loudly, until James throws a look at them, which makes them hush almost immediately.
Rose takes her first shot, which the fourth year catches.
After the other four passes, Rose successfully scores three goals, which means that the fourth year is out of the running.
He lands, looking slightly dejected. James eyes him up and down, "Better luck next year."
The boy nods, before retreating to the changing rooms in shame.
And so it continues. Some of the candidates catch the quaffle four times, and move on to the next round, but most of them don't.
After successfully scoring five out of the five shots, Rose kisses the quaffle, as the kid who failed sinks to the ground, looking thoroughly depressed.
And I before I know it, its my turn.
I kick off again, and fly towards the goal posts.
"Don't go easy on me, Rose," I tell her.
"Wouldn't dream of it," she grins.
Her first shot comes hard and fast, and I catch it, more out of shock than actual expertise. I rock slightly on my broom, and the familiar terror reappears.
No, now is not the time to be scared.
Her second shot is a side pass, and to my surprise I catch that one too. Then I catch the third. From down below the team cheers loudly for me.
Nervously I reach out my hands for Rose's next pass. I feel my elbows lock and my hands freeze.
She scores, as the ball flies over my shoulder, and my hands lower. The crowd goes silent.
Three out of five passes, with one last chance to go.
I breathe in. The air fills me up, and I close my eyes. I'm at peace all of a sudden, barely even aware of how high up I am. Opening my eyes, I see that Rose has been waiting patiently for me. I give her a tiny nod to let her know that I'm as ready as I'll ever be.
She shoots, and I lunge out to the side, further than I've reached before. And I catch it.
The crowd cheers for me, because I've just moved on to the next round.
I land shakily, smiling weakly at everyone. Eve kicks off, and her turn begins.
Rose shoots, and she catches it. Rose shoots again, and she catches it.
Eve catches every single one, and the crowd whoops and yells for her. She is the only candidate who successfully made all of her shots.
She lands, looking proud of herself.
James purses his lips, and looks at the four people who are still left in the running.
"Right," he says, "You all made it to the final round. The most difficult one. What I want you to do is get into pairs."
Somehow the two others who've made it to the final round pair up. Which just leaves me and Eve as partners. Great.
"OK, now we're having a lightening round," he says, "First you play as teams, against the other pair. In your pairs you will alternating the role of chaser and keeper. One of you shoots, the other tries to catch. The first pair to lose a shot is out of the running. Then the final pair has to battle it out between them. It goes without saying that the winner of that battle will be the new Gryffindor captain." Everyone nods nervously. "Right, let's go."
We all kick off, and without saying anything Eve and I both fly to the same goalpost. Dread is rising up in me exponentially.
The other pair fly off to the other end of the pitch, and James blows his whistle. I grab the quaffle, and throw it at Eve, who catches it. Then we switch places, and she throws it at me. I catch it. We stare at one another. Her face is expressionless.
Then I'm the chaser, then she is. We throw it back and forth, until eventually I'm dizzy from catching and throwing.
And somehow neither of us miss it once.
James blows his whistle, "And Pair number two is out of the running!"
Eve and I stop. Since we haven't missed a shot, it must be the other pair that dropped the quaffle first. The two of them fly to the ground.
"So now it's down to our final pair!" James shouts.
I can't help but notice that James is starting to sound like the announcer of a boxing ring.
In the blue corner! She's blonde! She's perfect! She's secretly a petty cow! It's Eve Collins!
In the red corner! She's definitely not perfect! She's actually quite mad! She no longer knows what the hell she's gotten herself into! It's Stella Wood!
At least that's what it sounds like in my head.
So now it's Stella versus Eve. This should be interesting.
Eve and I lock eyes for what feels like an age. It's just me and her now.
"Whoever drops the quaffle first, loses!" James says.
Almost immediately, Eve passes the quaffle, hard and fast.
I grab it, and it almost hits me in the stomach. I look up at her, and I know that she isn't going easy on me at all.
We swap places. I throw it, and she catches it, seemingly with ease.
Damn, when did she stop getting scared of the ball?
Eve seems to notice my surprise, and I swear I detect the hint of a smirk. She thinks she's beaten me.
Swapping places again, Eve chucks the ball out to the side, and I lunge far out to grab it, spinning around in full motion. Once I've uprighted myself, I catch a quick glimpse of annoyance in her face.
She's learnt to control her fear, but I'm still learning.
Everything seems to speed up. We swap places, throwing it back and forth to one another, our passes growing more and more aggressive. One time I do a full 360 turn in the air, but somehow the quaffle ends up in my clutches.
We continue passing. She throws it to the side, because she knows I like to stay put. I throw it as close to her face as possible, because I know that she was worried about it hitting her face.
"I deserve this more than you," she hisses, looking unkempt and out of breath, "You quit! You lost your chance!"
In response I throw the quaffle as hard as I can. It hits her in the stomach, although to be honest I was more interested in hitting her stomach than trying to make a goal.
"You threw your chance away when you played in that match," I snap.
"I believe that was you who threw my chance away," she replies angrily.
She throws the quaffle at the hoops, and I reach out and catch it.
"So much for a sincere apology," I scoff.
"Well, that was before I knew that you were just trying to take my place!" she says.
We swap places again. I look at the quaffle, then I look at Eve.
Feeling the quaffle safely in my grip, it feels…right. It gives me a sense of home that I've never felt before. And it certainly isn't a feeling that I've ever appreciated before now.
Shit, I really want this.
And Eve is about to take it from me.
I launch the quaffle into the air. Eve reaches out her hands, and I realise with a leap that it's not quite far enough.
The quaffle flies past her and into the hoop.
Distantly I hear cheering and whooping down below me.
I'm the new Gryffindor keeper.
* * *
"Totally brilliant!" Rose laughs, swinging and arm around my shoulders, "Thank god you won. I'm not sure if I could stand it if that cow ended up on the team."
As the rest of the crowd disperses, I spot Eve, walking away with her head hung low.
"She just…wanted to be on the team," I mutter.
Rose rolls her eyes, "Oh shut up, she's a cow, and you're the new keeper. This calls for a celebration!"
"Sure," I grin, "I'll meet you up in the common room, yeah?"
"You're not coming up now?" she frowns, "It's getting dark."
"I-" I pause, and my eyes travel towards James, who is busy packing the rest of the brooms away. "I'll meet you up there."
"Oh," Rose says, grinning slyly towards James, "Making the first move, are we?"
I nod, "Something like that."
She grins, "OK then. See you later."
She runs off to join the rest of the team.
I jog to catch up with James.
He turns, barely acknowledges that I'm there, before turning back to locking up the broom shed.
"So, I'm back on the team," I hesitate, wondering if he's even remotely interested in talking to me.
"So you are," is his helpful response.
"Well, you seem invigorated at that prospect," I mutter sarcastically.
"Is there something you wanted to say?" he says, and I detect a hint of annoyance in his voice.
"So, is that just it? Are we just going to pretend we don't know one another?"
"Look," he snaps, "Wood. If you're not going to apologise-"
"Apologise!" I scoff, "Nice try! Where's your apology?"
"You're just too much of a coward to admit you were wrong," he says.
"I wasn't wrong!" I snap.
"You accused me of having a classroom where I take random girls and shag them!" he scoffs, "And apparently the only reason that I was hesitant to tell people about you and I was because I didn't want to ruin my reputation as a womanising player! It was all just some rubbish that you created in your paranoid mind."
"I didn't make it up in my head," I mutter under my breath.
"What?" he asks sharply.
"I didn't make it up in my head," I tell him more clearly.
He rolls his eyes, "Look, I don't really want to talk about it, Wood."
I glare at him, "Now who's being a coward?"
"Sorry if I don't want to stick around to play some stupid game with you," he says angrily, "I don't know where you got the idea that I'm some sort of bloody Casanova, but you were being completely irrational about the whole thing."
"Is it really such a crazy thing to assume?" I ask him with raised eyebrows, "Your best friends are Fred and Cameron! You're the captain of the quidditch team! There girls who would die to go out with you! And Albus..." I trail off hesitantly.
"What?" James frowns at me, "What did Albus say?"
"He said that was the classroom where you took girls for…you know."
"And you believed him?" James scoffs.
"Albus is my friend!" I reply indignantly, "He wouldn't lie to me!"
He stares incredulously at me then, and his voice becomes more hushed, "Did you ever stop to consider that what Albus knows is gossip? Or a rumour? Or not even the slightest bit true?"
I hold my tongue then, knowing that the answer is no. I hadn't considered any of that. I had been waiting for evidence that James didn't want me, and I had grabbed it the first chance I got.
He looks at me deeply then, and I feel the temptation to look away. His look is horrible, a mixture of disappointment and fury, all wrapped up in one shattered package.
"So…it's not true?" I ask uneasily.
He looks tired for a moment, "10 points to Gryffindor. Look, I'm not saying that I'm Mr. Perfect. But I'm not Fred, or Cameron. When there's a girl...it usually means something."
I'm almost to scared to ask if I fall into that category or not.
"Look, what's been said has been said," I sigh, "Maybe then, we can move on."
He shakes his head, "Sure. Whatever, let's move on."
"Good," I sigh with relief, "And now that I'm on the team-"
He cuts over me, "But I don't think we should speak anymore outside of practice."
"What?" I frown at him, feeling hurt.
"You may be a good keeper," he says, "And you're a good addition to the team. But we were idiots if we thought that this, whatever the hell this is, could ever work.You pounced on first chance to hate me that you got, and you didn't even bother to get sufficient evidence. This doesn't work."
This hurts more than I want it to, "So, what, you never want to speak to me again?"
"Well now we're on the same team, I suppose we'll have to try," he says. At this point he looks tired and worn out.
"I'm so sorry, that'll be difficult for you," I snap.
He only looks coldly at me, "It's for the best, Wood. You may be on the team, but I sure as hell don't want you here."
And with that he leaves, turning his back on me.
His words leave a sort of hole in me, and almost immediately I feel my eyes sting.
Then the tears start running and I'm not doing anything to stop them.
Trust James Potter to turn what was supposed to be a proud moment into something horrible.
I run up to the castle, tears streaming down my face, gasping with sobs, my hair pulled loose from its elastic, and sticking about like a wild mess.
Through the entrance hall, up the staircase, up another staircase. The corridors are deserted, and my tears flow freely. By this time I'm not even bothering with trying to calm my breaths.
Halfway up my third staircase, I realise that if I keep going in this state I might go into cardiac arrest.
I sit forlornly down on the stairs, and lean against the cold stone wall.
He doesn't want to speak to me again. He said it. Out loud.
How the hell was I supposed to enjoy quidditch now, with him hating me?
"Stella? Are you alright?"
I spin around in fright, and to my horror, Luke Corner is standing just above me, looking concerned.
I immediately brush my tears off my cheeks, "I'm fine!"
He sighs, and sits down on the step next to me, "No, you're not."
My breaths are uneven and shaky, "OK, I'm not."
He leans his hand out gingerly, and pats me a few times on the shoulder.
"Did something happen at the tryouts?" he asks, "Did you go?"
I nod shakily, "Yeah."
He sighs, "I'm sorry. Look, maybe it's for the best."
"I got the spot," I reply.
He looks surprised, "That's great! I knew you would!"
"Thanks," I Mutter.
He pauses again, "Do you…want to talk about it?"
I shake my head, "Not even a little bit."
He nods, "Well, I was on my way back from the library, but I was thinking of dropping past the kitchens before I go to bed. Want to come?"
Quite honestly, sitting in a kitchen with Luke Corner, who is turning out to be one of the nicest people I've ever met, drinking hot chocolate, sounds like exactly the thing I most want to do.
I look at him, and dry the last of my tears.
A/N: Woohoo longest chapter yet!! Hope that makes up for my appauling tardiness when it comes to updating! (I still love you all, but I've been so busy lately)
I would love to know what you thought! It's really great to read all of your reviews. I know I'm also behind on replying to those, but believe me I read every single one of them, and I take on the constructive criticism, while I absolutely love reading when people like the story!
NEXT CHAPTER: New Years Eve! Stella is still blue about James, but Luke Corner is still hanging around. Rose and Scorpius are suddenly in uncharted waters. Albus and his new girlfriend are happy as can be, and Ray is at her most bitter.
Let me know favourite quotes, characters, moments (or least favourites)! Team Cecily or Team Ray? Team James or Team Luke? Team drunk Cameron or Team sober Cameron? Those are just a few questions to get you started!
Oh and it's my birthday tomorrow, so you can leave a review as a birthday present!! YAAAY!! Finally 18!! (Sorry got carried away there) :)
Happy 2013 and hope you all have a lovely week!
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