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CHAPTER 6: QUIDDITCH TRIALS


    ‘Come on, Madam Pomfrey, please!
    ‘No, Potter. You heard what I said. Black has concussion, he needs rest.’
    ‘But he can have rest later! He just has to get up for a couple of hours!’
    ‘To play Quidditch!’ Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips.
    ‘Not to play, to try out! It’ll only be for a few minutes, Madam Pomfrey! Come on, he needs this!’
    ‘He needs to play Quidditch?’
   
    ‘Listen,’ pleaded James. ‘You don’t want to be ina - inun - uh, busy, with people who’ve been beaten up, right? I mean, your - your valuable time, Madam Pomfrey, should be spent on important things like brewing Pepperup Potion, flu season is coming you know. And if Sirius plays Quidditch it’ll show he’s on Gryffindor’s side, the fights will stop.’
   
    ‘Hmm,’ said Madam Pomfrey. The idea was obviously attractive to her. Healing Noah’s broken nose, and Carl’s two broken ribs, had ruined her Friday evening, which was usually spent with a book and a cup of cocoa. She looked over at her desk, where her cocoa still stood, cold and untouched, and a romantic novel - A Short Spell In Heaven by the popular writer Jacinta Roebuck - was propped open on its spine. James had not failed to notice these things. In fact, he had turned his head sideways to look at the back of the book, and he was wondering vaguely why the length of the hero’s wand was so important to the plot as to be part of the blurb. It was only other day that Professor Flitwick had assured them all so fervently that size wasn’t important ...

    ‘Very well,’ said the matron at length. ‘But if Black isn’t brought straight back here after the trials are over there’ll be trouble, do you understand me? Endangering the health of a friend is liable to lose you even more points from Gryffindor, young man.’
    ‘He’ll be OK,’ said James reassuringly.
    He hastened over to the bed where Sirius still lay, looking fed up - not that he could blame him. It had been a rotten trick on the Slytherins’ part, turning two houses against Sirius. James, whose mother had had occasion to accuse of being self-centred and thoughtless, really felt for Sirius; he had done ever since he had met him on Platform Nine and Three Quarters.

    He had looked at the Black family, cold and unfeeling, except for the boy his own age whose eyes were full of quiet sadness, though he stood as straight and rigid as any of them. He had watched the parents arguing over how cruel they were going to be towards their son. Even his brother didn’t seem to care about him. James, an only child, had always wanted a brother, and he couldn’t believe that Regulus didn’t appreciate the one he had. Somehow, James had known from that moment, he was going to be friends with Sirius. He felt a sense of duty, as if it was up to him to unlock whatever was behind all that pain, bring out the real person. He had felt determined to befriend him, to stick by him. And apart from that short moment of doubt the day before, he had.

    In the three weeks that they had known each other, James had already noticed Sirius begin to change. He had loosened up, lost some of his shyness, smiled and laughed more. James’ mother was right - he had never worried about anyone but himself before. But as he watched his friend open up under his influence, James felt a sense of responsibility; he had someone depending on him, and he actually didn’t mind. He wouldn’t know it until he looked back many years later, but he was beginning to feel what it was like to have a brother.

    James dragged Sirius out of bed. He groaned, but didn’t complain. James saw Sirius’ clothes neatly folded on a nearby chair, and he threw them at him, telling him to get dressed quickly. Quidditch trials started in just over an hour, and they needed time to get some breakfast. When Sirius had put his boots on the wrong feet, and his robes on back to front, Madam Pomfrey bustled in with a small glass containing a lime green potion.
    ‘Drink this,’ she said, ‘it’ll help you keep your strength up. But you’ll feel pretty tired when it wears off, I don’t recommend it except in special cases. I want you back here as soon as the trials are over, do you hear me?’
    ‘I hear you,’ said Sirius. He grinned cheekily. ‘I heard you the first time.’
    ‘None of your lip, sonny jim. Look at the state of you.’
    Deftly she yanked off his boots and put them on the right feet.
    ‘Oh, I wondered why my feet hurt,’ said Sirius vaguely. He sat there like a passive doll while she shifted his robes around. Then he drank the potion.
    ‘Mmm,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘That’s not too bad considering it’s medicine!’
    ‘It has a lot of sugar in it,’ said Madam Pomfrey. ‘The rush will keep you going. According to the recipe, if you drink more than three glasses in a twenty-four hour period, all your teeth will simultaneously drop out.’
    Sirius winced. James chuckled; he knew Sirius was vain about his teeth. But he had to admit, if he was Sirius he’d probably be a lot vainer himself. James knew very well that Sirius was the type of boy who grew up to look like the people in magazine advertisements, and he, James - well - wasn’t.
   
    But he didn’t mind. It was for girls to torment each other for their looks. He’d seen some of the Slytherins chanting ‘Carrot top!’ at Lily Evans. At the opposite end of the corridor where it happened, he’d been making his way up to defend her, when Severus Snape appeared and did it for him. James was surprised until he remembered that Sirius had said they were friends. They’d known each other before Hogwarts, or something.
    ‘Leave off, you idiots!’ Severus said. ‘Her hair’s auburn, not ginger. Are you blind? Do you realise how stupid you all look?’
    ‘Why don’t you mind your own business, Severus!’ said one of the girls. ‘Why are you so interested in a Mudblood? Not turning traitor like Black, are you?’
    ‘Of course not,’ snapped Severus. He turned to Lily; once he stopped facing the Slytherin girls his face softened.
    ‘Go on, Mudblood, get out of here if you know what’s good for you,’ he said. He left just enough space between his other words and ‘Mudblood’ to let her know he didn’t mean it, but not to make it obvious to the Slytherin girls. Lily obviously got the hint, because she didn’t look upset when she turned around and walked off down the corridor.
    ‘Oh, hi Potter, what are you doing here?’ she asked. She persisted in using his surname because he always used hers.
    ‘Nothing much, are you OK? I saw them bullying you. I was going to tell them off ...’
    ‘Oh, don’t worry, Severus fixed it,’ Lily said cheerfully. ‘See you later.’
    ‘Do -’ James hesitated, feeling suddenly nervous. ‘Would you like me to walk with you a bit?’
    Lily laughed, striking his pride full on.
    ‘Don’t be silly,’ she said. ‘I’m fine, I told you. Thanks though, and all that.’
    She walked off. The next time James saw Severus Snape, he felt not his usual indifference, but a burning hatred that he couldn’t explain.

    *



    James herded a still-vague Sirius into the Great Hall for breakfast. It was quite late, and not many people were still there. The Bertram brothers were thankfully absent. Lily was there, with her friends Annie and Vanessa. James immediately felt awkward. He’d felt awkward in her presence ever since that day with the Slytherins.
    ‘All right Evans?’ he said, ruffling her hair as he and Sirius walked past.
    ‘Hey - get off, Potter, you numbskull!’ Lily said crossly, smoothing her hair down. James laughed as he walked away. Somehow, teasing her made him feel better.
    ‘What’re you winding up Lily for?’ asked Sirius, helping himself to some orange juice.
    ‘Dunno, just felt like it,’ said James with a shrug. ‘Girls always spend too much time on their hair, serves ‘em right to get it messed up once in a while.’
    ‘Fair enough,’ said Sirius. He blinked a few times, and James immediately felt concerned.
    ‘Are you feeling any better?’ he asked.
    ‘Getting there. I think that potion’s working,’ said Sirius. He smiled reassuringly.
   
    They ate quickly, since the Quidditch trials were in twenty minutes and they still had to get to the broom shed. First years weren’t allowed their own brooms, and they would have to borrow the school ones. David Morris and Merlin O’Brien were engaged in an epic whinging session about this, and didn’t stop until they’d all chosen brooms and were walking towards the Quidditch pitch.
    Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Gryffindor captain, was waiting for them, along with the rest of the team. Older students, who had their own brooms, were already there. There were eight people trying out in total. James’ heart sank - what chance did they have, as first years?
   
    ‘Hello, first years!’ Bolt called cheerfully. ‘Great, now we’re all here, we can start. Now, in case you don’t know everyone, this is Bessie Marsden, Chaser, Mark Prewett, Chaser, Patrick Hallam, Seeker. I’m the third Chaser. We’re looking for two Beaters and a Keeper today. I’m going to test your skills in all areas, so don’t go for just one position. First years, you know it’s very unusual for anyone so young to get into the team, but we go on skill not age. It’s just that older people tend to play better. This isn’t always true, so try your best. Now - when I blow my whistle I want you all to fly around the perimeter of the pitch as fast as you can. I want to see how tight your turns are.  I won’t be judging you on speed because I know the school brooms would put you at a disadvantage there. Keep going until I blow my whistle again. Mount your brooms now.’
   
    They all did as they were told. James and Sirius were both experienced flyers, but David had never been on a broom before their first flying lesson. But now he shouted ‘Up!’ and sat astride his broom as if he’d been doing it all his life.
    Bolt blew the whistle, and immediately everyone rose into the air and flew off around the pitch. James had always found flying easy, and Sirius was pretty good too. It looked like Morris was a natural. Some people veered off at the corners, but the three first year boys turned perfectly every time, except that Sirius missed just one. They must have flown round six or seven times before Bolt blew his whistle again and they all clattered back to the ground. He was holding a clipboard and scribbling away with a quill.
    ‘Well done, everyone!’ he said. ‘Right - now let’s see how well you hit a Bludger! Don’t worry, Madam Pomfrey’s sitting right over there, so any injuries will be Healed straight away.’
   
    They spent the next ten minutes dodging Bludgers and hitting them. James found he was good at dodging but couldn’t hit to save his life. Merlin seemed fairly good at both. There were four standouts, and James was happy to see that two of them were first years, and one of them was his best friend. He had suspected that Sirius would have some skill at hitting things, and privately felt that it would be very good for him. The other was David Morris, but James, even trying to be as objective as he could, didn’t think he was quite as good.
    I wonder if they’ll get it? he mused to himself.

    Next it was time to test their reflexes. The three Chasers got into formation, and all the people trying out took it in turns to guard the goalposts. James found he could do this fairly well. Sirius was hopeless. David obviously still had his mind on the previous task, because he dodged the Quaffle a few times rather than saving it. He retreated to the ground, blushing furiously.
    Merlin O’Brien was a different matter. She seemed to be able to predict where the Quaffle was going before anyone shot the goal. She saved everything so efficiently that the Chasers decided to step it up a notch, but no matter what they threw at her, she let nothing into the goal hoops. Everyone applauded when her turn was over. She looked flushed and happy. James couldn’t imagine anyone who more belonged on a Quidditch pitch. If he’d been captain it would have been a foregone conclusion.

    ‘All the positions we’re looking for have been tested,’ said Bolt. ‘But we’re always on the lookout for reserves, so I’d like to see how you go at some basic Chaser formations, and we’ll also test for Seekers.’
    The Seeker test was pretty straightforward - first Bolt lobbed some ordinary Muggle tennis balls into the air, to see who could catch them. James was proud to find he was the only one who caught them all, though several people only missed one or two. Sirius was one of the worst, but he applauded James enthusiastically. Then Bolt let out the Golden Snitch, and had two people race for it at a time. James was paired with Luke Randall, a second year who had proved an expert with a Beater’s bat, but couldn’t catch a Snitch to save his life. James’ eyes and reflexes were better; he was also a better flyer. He streaked ahead of Randall and felt a rush of triumph as his hand closed over the struggling golden ball.
    Yes, he thought triumphantly. If only they were looking for a Seeker this year!

    There was only the Chaser test to go. Both James and Sirius did all right at that, although they were a bit wobbly trying to keep in formation. Bolt acted as Keeper when they tried to shoot goals, and only Mindy Hampton, a seventh year girl who was last to have her go with the Quaffle, got one past him. Bolt grinned and called ‘Well done!’ before blowing his whistle.
   
    ‘OK, guys, well done to everyone!’ he said, after making a few final notes. ‘It’ll be a tricky choice this year. Go and find seats in the stands, I’m going to confer with the team, and we’ll call you back over when we’ve decided.’
    ‘Nerve wracking hey?’ said Luke Randall.
    ‘I’ll say,’ said David.
    ‘I think I’ll throw up if they don’t get back to us in five minutes,’ Merlin said earnestly. Her golden eyes looked very bright; she was hugging her knees and rocking back and forth in her seat as if this was the most important thing in the world.
    ‘I’d be happy enough with reserve,’ said Sirius with a shrug. ‘I didn’t really expect to get in this year.’ Then he winced and put a hand to his head.
    ‘Are you OK?’ James asked worriedly.
    ‘I think I’d like to go back to bed soon,’ Sirius admitted.

    Bolt and the others didn’t seem to take all that long, although Merlin kept asking everyone how many hours it had been. The whistle blew again as the tall captain beckoned them over.
    ‘OK, we’ve made our decision,’ said Bolt. ‘I won’t keep you waiting. We’ve decided the new Beaters will be Mindy Hampton and Luke Randall. David Morris and Sirius Black will be reserves, since you two were the next best. You’ll be given preference at tryouts next year, when Mindy’s left.’
    Everyone clapped. Mindy and Luke beamed and shook hands with each other.   
    ‘Next is the position of Keeper. Now I said we went on skill not age, and I think you’d all agree that Laura O’Brien was far and away the best. So congratulations Laura, you’re our new Keeper!’
    Merlin jumped up and down and shrieked and said thank you, and only just remembered to remind Bolt about her nickname.
    ‘Kevin Newton and Wendy Quinn, you’ll be reserves,’ the captain went on. ‘Now - none of you were too bad as Chasers, but there were no real standouts this year. Everyone who didn’t get in may be called upon as reserves as of when someone’s needed. But I’d like to name James Potter as reserve Seeker. I thought you played excellently, Potter. I may well have you play a couple of times this year, just to see how you do under pressure. Seekers are hard to find, and a real match is the best kind of training. Patrick won’t hold it against you, he did the same when he was your age.’
    Patrick Hallam grinned at James.
    ‘I’ll help train you up too, if you like,’ he said. ‘Let’s book the pitch tomorrow and do some practice.’
    ‘OK,’ said James, grinning back. He was excited - to think, he might soon be playing in his first real Quidditch match!
   
    They all walked back up to the school in high spirits. Gryffindors didn’t tend to be bad losers, and even those who hadn’t got anywhere congratulated those who had. Sirius seemed as delighted that James had got a reserve position as he was with his own success. When he banged him on the back and told him he’d be brilliant, James felt even better than when he’d been praised by Kingsley Shacklebolt.
    But it didn’t escape his notice that Sirius was flagging. He kept blinking vigorously to dispel flashing spots of light in front of his eyes, and he even seemed to forget where they were going a couple of times. By the time they reached the hospital wing, he was leaning heavily on James.
    ‘Right,’ said Madam Pomfrey, bustling over (she’d gone straight back after the Beater tryouts had finished). ‘Let’s get you back into bed then, young man. All right, Potter, you can let him go now, he’ll be all right with me. He just needs rest, he’ll be fine by tomorrow.’
    ‘Go on,’ said Sirius. ‘You should be celebrating.’
    ‘Nah, I’m not in the mood,’ lied James. ‘I’ll keep you company.’
    ‘Well you can help him undress then, Potter, I dare say he’ll find you less embarrassing than me,’ said Madam Pomfrey. She smiled at them and went away to get Sirius a glass of water.
   
    ‘I don’t need help,’ Sirius protested, but he almost fell over trying to get his boots off.
    ‘It’s my fault you’re feeling so rotten,’ said James, when Sirius was tucked up in bed. ‘I shouldn’t have pushed you into getting up.’
    ‘It’s OK,’ said Sirius. He smiled. ‘You were right. Didn’t you notice? They were including me as much as anyone today. It’s almost like last night never happened.’
    ‘I hope it lasts,’ said James. ‘Quidditch types aren’t the same as everyone else. You’re playing on their team so you’re OK by them - the others might be harder to convince. But at least you should have a few more friends now, and Quidditch players are popular so it’ll hopefully bring the others round, at least that’s what I thought.’
    ‘Thanks,’ said Sirius. ‘If it wasn’t for you ...’
    But he stopped then, obviously embarrassed.
    ‘How about I go and get my chess set?’ James said. ‘A game or two might, you know, help you to focus.’
    ‘Thanks,’ said Sirius again, ‘but I think I might just go to sleep, actually. Go back and congratulate Merlin, if she hasn’t fainted with happiness by now.’
    ‘All right,’ said James. ‘Get better.’
   
    Back at the common room, the Gryffindors were engaged in all-out celebration. The first years were ecstatic that one of their own had been chosen to play Quidditch, and everyone else just spotted the opportunity for a knees-up. Congratulations flowed in for James, too, as reserve. A few people asked him where Black was. When James told them Sirius was resting because he had concussion, one or two frowned and said it served him right, but the majority said to tell him ‘Get well soon’ from them.
    ‘He’s an idiot,’ said one of the fifth years, ‘but at least he’s willing to do something for Gryffindor.’
    ‘OK, OK,’ said James. He had been hit with a sudden flash of inspiration. He stood up on one of the tables and shouted for attention. Everyone looked at him. For a split second he felt nervous, but James Potter was a born performer, and he soon launched into his speech.
   
    ‘Listen, you lot,’ he said. ‘I want to tell you something about Sirius Black - as his mate, and a witness to what’s been going on. I know you think he’s some sort of traitor, but he wouldn’t have been Sorted here if he was supposed to be in Slytherin. Can’t you see they’re jealous? You know what an important family the Blacks are to that lot. Sirius is clever and talented, and he would have made them look good - so they’re trying to make him look bad to us, in revenge! Sirius never asked them to come and talk to him. And as for punching Noah Bertram, well, I was pretty near when it happened, and I tell you, Bertram provoked him! Are you really going to side with a Ravenclaw against one of our own? And he is, I tell you, he is one of us! You’re right, Richard or Ronald or whatever your name is, Sirius is willing to do something for Gryffindor. But if you carry on treating him like an enemy he’ll stop being willing. Driving someone away because of what family they come from is a Slytherin thing to do. I thought Gryffindors were better than that.’

    ‘We are,’ called someone. ‘And I haven’t seen any evidence that Black is one of us.’
    There was a murmur of agreement.
    ‘But if you lot carry on bullying him you’ll make that true!’ said Merlin, jumping up beside Sirius. She obviously thought as the hero of the hour, her words might carry some weight.
    ‘We’re not bullying him, we’re protecting ourselves!’ said another voice in the crowd.
    ‘Yeah, we don’t want to be infiltrated!’ said someone else.
    ‘Well I think Sirius is all right,’ said David Morris. He joined Merlin and James on the table, making it creak under three people’s weight. ‘Come on, you two ... Lupin, Pettigrew ... you know him! If the Slytherins are only pretending to be his mates to turn us against him, what other evidence is there that he’s a traitor?’
    ‘None,’ said Peter. ‘I think he’s all right. I always thought so.’
    He looked at James for approval. Resisting rolling his eyes, James nodded at him. He knew very well that Pettigrew had been gossiping along with everyone else, but if the little rat was willing to help now, that was fine by him.
    ‘He’s been nice and polite to me,’ said Remus Lupin, in his quiet, shy voice.
   
    ‘I think we should give him another chance,’ said Bolt. ‘Give him a week. Everyone be nice and normal with him, see how he responds. If we’ve still got any doubts after that, we’re quite justified in shutting him out.’
    ‘You won’t regret it!’ said James. He and the others jumped down from the table.
    ‘But don’t say anything to Black!’ said Bolt, raising his voice above the chatter that had instantly restarted. ‘Just be normal. This is an experiment.’
    ‘Right,’ said a few people. They were all getting bored now. They were far more interested in partying than whether some little first year was popular or not. Someone brought out a radio and turned it up to full volume. A few of the older ones fetched some food and drink that they’d got from Hogsmeade.

    James was just reaching for a Pumpkin pasty when Mindy Hampton touched his arm and beckoned to him. He followed her out of the common room, where she ducked out of sight under the girls’ staircase.
    ‘What?’ James asked, puzzled. He joined her. She towered over him.
    ‘You’re absolutely sure about Black? It’s not just that you’re his friend?’ she hissed.
    ‘If I wasn’t sure about him I wouldn’t be his friend,’ said James.
    ‘Right,’ said Mindy. ‘I asked Bolt and we’re playing Slytherin the Saturday after next, the first match of the season. I’m going to get mysteriously ill. And I shall tell Bolt that Black’s the better reserve.’
    ‘So he’ll get to play?’ James said. ‘That’s brilliant - he can make a big show of clobbering the Slytherins, and ...’
    ‘Exactly,’ said Mindy. ‘It’ll help. Now I’m off to bed, because today I really do have a cold coming. See you later, Potter.’
    James felt he could definitely enjoy the party now.

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