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    For the next week, the Gryffindors’ collective attitude to Sirius seemed to have miraculously changed. When Sirius came back from the hospital wing on Sunday, people clapped him on the back and congratulated him on making reserve. Someone gave him a bottle of Butterbeer that was left over from the party. No one mentioned the Slytherins, or James’ speech. They just pretended that the previous week hadn’t happened. Sirius didn’t ask questions, he just hung round with James as usual, was polite when people talked to him, and slowly, James noticed the furrow go out of his brow, the slump go from his shoulders, and the good humour return to his face. Word got round to the Ravenclaws about what had really happened with the Slytherins, and the Bertrams came up to shake hands with James and Sirius. There were stiff apologies all round, and they were back to nodding terms again, just six days after the fight. After a week had passed, there was no further mention of ‘experimenting.’ Sirius simply melted into the framework that was Gryffindor house. Almost as quickly as he had become hated, Sirius became just another face in the common room.

    Yet as far as James and Mindy Hampton were concerned, there was no harm in making sure of things. The day before the Quidditch match, after a quick conference with James, Mindy began to complain that she wasn’t feeling very well. She didn’t eat any lunch. In the common room that afternoon she went up to Kingsley Shacklebolt while he was finishing his homework, and they conferred quietly in a corner for a few minutes.

    Sirius and James were sitting with the other first year boys. They had a Transfiguration test on Monday, and Remus, Peter and David were all sweating over it. Sirius and James were playing Exploding Snap. They’d only had to read through their notes once before they knew it all.
    ‘Snap!’ called James, for the fourth time in a row.
    ‘Cheat!’ retorted Sirius. ‘You can’t just get it that quickly so many times, you must be looking!’
    ‘Cheat? Cheek more like!’
    James launched himself at Sirius and there was a friendly scuffle. It ended abruptly when they knocked into the table and made Peter’s ink bottle teeter precariously.
    ‘Take it somewhere else, you two!’ said David. ‘You may not have any trouble with this stuff, but we regular people find it murder.’
    ‘Yeah, you could make yourselves useful,’ said Remus. ‘Look at the girls. Lily knows it all too, but she’s not messing about, she’s helping the others.’
    James looked over at Lily. Remus was right - she was sitting there as patiently as could be, testing Annie Cuthbert.
    I’ll show her, he thought. I’ll teach her to call me a selfish bighead.
    For she had done, that very afternoon. She had seemed to grow to dislike him more and more, as the term went on. Everyone else laughed when James played up in class. No one cared any more if he lost a few points here and there. But Lily was different.
    ‘Come on, Peter,’ he said, trying to make his voice sound kind. ‘I’ll test you.’


    Sirius tested David and Remus once he realised he’d lost his Exploding Snap partner. It wasn’t too bad. He found David nice enough but a bit wooden, not much personality. But he quite liked Remus. He felt sorry for him, being ill so much. He’d been away for three days the week before, and had come back looking awfully pale, but just said: ‘It’s my normal sort of illness.’ He wouldn’t elaborate.
    But even apart from that, Sirius had the feeling he didn’t know everything about him. He respected Remus’ right to secrecy. After all, he hadn’t told people everything about himself. Even James didn’t know what things were like for him at home.
    Sirius looked thoughtfully at Remus. He understood his shyness and lack of confidence. He’d had it himself when he started Hogwarts, and still did a little. He didn’t stop to think that the root of Remus’ detachment might be different from his own. As far as Sirius was concerned, it meant there was something about him he didn’t want people to know. For Sirius, it was the hatred and fear he had for his family, the store of painful memories. It was knowing that sooner or later he’d have to explain away the nightmares he’d had since he could remember, that he was sure had only stopped because he was in a different place ... every night before he went to sleep he worried that he was going to wake up screaming ... and what a relief, though it made him feel guilty to admit it, to hear Remus tossing and turning, moaning in his sleep! Yet he couldn’t help feeling curious. Did Remus have an abusive family too? He’d talked quite fondly about them, so unless he was a very good liar it wasn’t that. So what was Remus’ secret?
    ‘What?’ asked Remus.
    ‘Oh. Sorry,’ said Sirius. ‘I wasn’t staring at you, I was staring into space and just happened to be looking in your direction.’
    ‘Well, I’ve been waiting for about five minutes for you to ask me the next question,’ said Remus, apparently not noticing the not-very-good lie.
    ‘Sorry,’ repeated Sirius. ‘OK - what’s the incantation for ...’

    ‘Excuse me,’ said the deep voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt. The boys looked up to see him standing next to their table.
    ‘Sorry to interrupt,’ said Bolt. ‘Black, can I have a word please?’
    ‘Sure,’ said Sirius, glancing an apology at Remus.
    He followed Bolt to a seat near the fireplace.
    ‘OK, Sirius, it’s like this,’ said Bolt. ‘Mindy Hampton’s sick. She’s not going to be able to play tomorrow. I’d like you to take her place.’
    Sirius was silent for a moment, taking it in.
    ‘Well? You’re a reserve, we’re calling upon you. What do you say?’
    ‘Yes, of course I’ll do it!’ said Sirius, with a big grin. ‘But I haven’t touched a bat since the tryouts!’
    ‘I’ve thought of that,’ said Bolt. ‘Let’s get Randall and go out for a practice. There’s still a bit of light left. Bring Potter if he’s finished his homework.’
    ‘OK,’ said Sirius. ‘Can you just give me five minutes though? I’ve got to finish something off.’
    ‘Yeah,’ said Bolt. ‘Oh, and there should be a set of robes in that old trunk in the dressing room. We always keep a couple of spares just in case. I’ll see you on the pitch.’
    ‘Thanks!’ said Sirius. He stood up; he was going to go back and finish testing Remus before disappearing for the rest of the afternoon. As he looked over at the corner where his friends were sitting, he noticed James watching him and Kingsley Shacklebolt intently, grinning. He looked away quickly when he saw Sirius.
    Sirius was puzzled. Had James known Kingsley was going to ask him? At any rate he looked pleased about something. Sirius rushed over.
    ‘James, guess what!’
    ‘Mindy’s ill, she can’t play, so I’m going to be in the match!’
    ‘Hey, that’s fantastic!’ James said, jumping up to bang Sirius on the back. ‘Congratulations - want to go and practice flying?’
    ‘Yeah, Bolt and Randall are going to meet us. But I wanted to finish testing Remus first.’
    He sat down before James could argue, and smiled encouragingly at Remus.
    ‘Where were we ...?’


    Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, with a slight breeze. Ideal Quidditch conditions. After the flying practice the night before, Sirius was feeling confident. He hadn’t missed a single Bludger, or been hit by one, and he was flying well too. Mindy had lent him her broom, a Nimbus Nine Hundred.
    James was surprised to find he was feeling a bit odd when he woke up on Saturday morning. He’d planned to get up with the rest of the Quidditch team, but he overslept. He looked at the clock on his bedside table - half past ten! He couldn’t believe it! He sat up with a jerk, too quickly because the blood seemed to rush from his head and he collapsed back on his pillow, dizzy. He dressed hurriedly and went down to  the common room, to find there was no one there except Mindy.
    ‘Hey, aren’t you going to the match?’ he asked.
    ‘No,’ she croaked. ‘It’s fate, or karma or something. I really am sick! I think I’ve got flu!’
    She dissolved into a fit of coughing. James told her to get well soon and moved on. There wouldn’t be time for breakfast now. He’d have to take his place in the stands. It took ten minutes to walk down there. He felt really tired, as if he’d hardly slept at all. And he must have slept for twelve hours.
    ‘Oh well,’ James muttered to himself as he joined the last tangle of people making their way into the Quidditch pitch. ‘I suppose you can oversleep. That’ll be what’s done it.’
    He took the steps two at a time and joined his fellow first years on the very top tier. Lily and Remus had made a banner all in red and gold that said: ‘GO GRYFFINDOR GO!’ and changed every so often to ‘GO SIRIUS GO!’
    ‘Last minute change,’ said Remus with a grin, when James complimented them on it.
    ‘Didn’t you make anything?’ asked Lily.
    ‘No,’ said James. ‘I was going to, but then we had flying practice, and I was whacked after that.’
    ‘Are you all right, James, you look a bit pale,’ said Remus, squinting at him.
    ‘That’s good coming from you,’ teased James.

    At eleven o’clock on the dot, Madam Hooch flew out onto the pitch. The audience cheered.
    ‘Here comes the ref, bang on time as usual!’
    Bobby Jordan, a Gryffindor fifth year with a cheeky grin and dreadlocks, was commentating through a magical megaphone.
    ‘He’s been commentating since he was twelve,’ said Annie Cuthbert, who always seemed to know everything about everyone. ‘Professor McGonagall has to sit next to him to stop him swearing, but she knows no one else is as good as he is, so she doesn’t stop him doing it altogether. And apparently he’s got a little brother who’s coming to Hogwarts next year, so he’s going to teach him all about it for when he leaves.’
    ‘OK, welcome to the first Quidditch match of the season!’ Jordan cried. ‘It’s Gryffindor versus Slytherin, and should be a tough battle. Both teams have new blood this year. Let’s bring them out and see how they do!’
    The crowd erupted into applause as the players ran out onto the pitch. James saw Sirius, dressed in robes that were slightly too large for him, next to Merlin, who looked excited and nervous. Kingsley Shacklebolt led them out, and along with the Slytherin team they mounted their brooms and shot up into the air. Some of them did a few loop-the-loops, and the audience applauded them. Then Madam Hooch blew her whistle, and they all took up their positions.
    ‘Captains, shake hands!’ she ordered.
    They did so. Madam Hooch released first the Golden Snitch, then the Bludgers, which flew straight up and hovered dangerously around the players. James saw Sirius heft his bat nervously. Randall said something to him and he grinned.
    Holding the Quaffle, Madam Hooch flew up so she was exactly in the centre of the pitch. Then she blew the whistle again, throwing the ball up into the air.

    ‘And they’re off!’ Jordan yelled into the megaphone. ‘And Shacklebolt has to dodge a Bludger straight off - but Black’s given it a good whack and it’s speeding down towards the Slytherin goal posts! Serves them right for spreading lies about him ... oops. Sorry Professor.’
    ‘He’s really biased,’ explained Annie Cuthbert.
    ‘You don’t say,’ said James. He was feeling irritable. The noise of the crowd seemed louder than he’d expected, and it was giving him a headache - and he still felt really tired.

    It was ten minutes before the first goal was scored. Bolt and the other Chasers spearheaded down the pitch in tight formation, passing the Quaffle with practiced skill. Prewett caught the ball from Bolt, and lobbed it with all his might at the right goal post.
    The Slytherins booed. Their Keeper was also called Prewett. They were an old and very large wizarding family whose sympathies were not necessarily in accord. Whole branches detested whole other branches - it was like the Black family but on a much larger scale.
    The Slytherins stepped up their game after that, but it also got dirty. Their Chasers were penalised for stooging Merlin. Bolt took the penalty, but Prewett saved it. A groan ran through the Gryffindors in the audience.
    ‘Bad luck, Bolt!’ called Jordan. ‘Now it’s Slytherin in possession - Goyle passes to Nott - oooh, that’s got to hurt!’
    The Gryffindors cheered as a Bludger, hit by Sirius, struck Nott full in the stomach. The Slytherins called time out so Nott could get his breath back.
    ‘Looks like Gryffindor’s not suffering from playing a reserve!’ Jordan said triumphantly. ‘Black’s on fire!’
    ‘GO SIRIUS!’ yelled the first years - all except James. His limbs were feeling very heavy and he had to sit down. No one seemed to have noticed, but he was glad about that. He didn’t want a fuss.
    ‘Bloody Mindy Hampton,’ he muttered. ‘She’s given me her bug.’
    His head was pounding and his eyes were straining. He took off his glasses and closed his eyes. No one noticed him slip off the bench.


    Sirius felt invigorated by the excitement of the match. He knew he was playing well. When his Bludger hit Nott he felt a cruel satisfaction that shocked him a little, but he shook off the mood and concentrated on the game. The Slytherins were back in it now. Sirius found himself having to dodge Bludgers that came at him too fast to hit. Randall saved him from being smashed in the head.
    ‘Watch out Black, they’re really going for you now!’ Randall called.
    ‘Bring it on!’ Sirius called back, hiding his nervousness. Randall grinned.
    After half an hour, Gryffindor led thirty points to nothing. Both Keepers were good, but Merlin was unstoppable. In the stands, people were gawking at her. No one had expected a first year to be that good.
    ‘She’s practically professional standard!’ said David.
    ‘Well you know why, don’t you,’ said Annie in a superior voice.
    ‘Her parents are super-rich, that’s why,’ said Annie. ‘They’ve got a Quidditch pitch in their back field.’
    ‘How do you know these things?’
    ‘My sister Liz, in Ravenclaw,’ said Annie. ‘She overheard Merlin’s sister Flora telling the Bertrams.’

    Their attention was drawn by the Slytherin Seeker, Antony Parkinson. He’d been doing what most Seekers did, keeping high up and out of the way, looking for the Golden Snitch.
    ‘Looks like Parkinson’s seen the Snitch!’ said Jordan. ‘He has! He’s going for it! It’s heading for the Slytherin goalposts!’
    ‘Hey - look at Randall and Black!’ said someone in the Gryffindor stand. They all looked. The Beaters were hitting one of the Bludgers back and forth, moving down the pitch after Parkinson, waiting to be close enough to strike. The Slytherin Beaters hadn’t failed to notice, either. One of them belted the other Bludger down after them.
    ‘PARKINSON’S INCHES AWAY FROM THE SNITCH!’ Jordan yelled. The crowd stood up, staring as Parkinson stretched out his hand ...
    It all happened very quickly. The Bludger had gone straight for Sirius. Seeing it, he had hit the other one as far away as he could. Then he took aim and whacked it hard towards Parkinson.
    It didn’t hit him, but it hit the end of his broom. Parkinson veered off course, swearing loudly in frustration. His fingertips had just been touching the Golden Snitch. His broom spun as he hurtled straight towards Prewett ... and streaking past them went Patrick Hallam, leaning forward with his arm stretched out ... and before the Snitch could get away he snatched it out of the air, just as Parkinson crashed into Prewett, leaving them both sitting on the same broom. Parkinson’s broom smashed into the goal post and broke in two.

    The crowd erupted. The Slytherins began to leave, but the other three houses cheered and clapped and jumped up and down.
    The Gryffindors were all hugging and cheering. Sirius hung back. He wasn’t sure how to deal with public displays of affection. He saw the first years running onto the pitch, and brought Mindy’s broom down to the ground, glad for an excuse to get away.
    ‘Well done, Sirius! You saved the match!’ said Peter.
    ‘Yeah, brilliant. Couldn’t have done better myself.’
    That was David, the other reserve. He and Sirius shook hands amiably.
    Sirius was grinning from ear to ear - until he noticed that someone was missing.
    ‘Hey - where’s James?’ he asked.
    The first years all looked round.
    ‘Oh - isn’t he here?’
    ‘Where is he?’
    ‘Have you seen him?’
    ‘Actually,’ said Lily, ‘I don’t think he’s been around for ages. Do you suppose he left?’
    ‘No, surely not, not when his best friend’s playing!’
    ‘Well,’ said Remus, ‘I don’t think he was feeling very well. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t look like himself.’
    ‘Oh no, maybe he went to the hospital wing,’ said Peter. ‘Let’s go and check.’
    ‘Did anyone actually see him leave?’     asked David.
    ‘No, but we wouldn’t have noticed, would we?’ said Annie. ‘We were all too busy concentrating on the match.’
    They all decided to go back up to school and look for James. Everyone but the Slytherins was still at the pitch. In their hurry they passed their retreating opponents, and they had to dodge curses that were sent their way. Sirius got hit with the same lightning bolt curse that Noah Bertram had used on the Slytherins at the beginning of term. He noticed it was Guilelme Zabini who had done it. He immediately sent a Leg-Locker his way. It missed and hit Severus Snape instead.
    ‘I’ll get you for that, Black!’ he growled.
    ‘Don’t call him that,’ said Morgana Rosier. ‘Call him Sirius. He’s not fit to be called a Black.’
    They didn’t get the reaction they wanted. Sirius was grinning all over his face by the time he and his friends got back to the castle. They looked everywhere for James. He wasn’t in the common room, the dormitory, the hospital wing or the Great Hall. As a last resort they checked the library, but he wasn’t there either.
    ‘Where can he be?’ asked Peter.
    ‘I think he mustn’t have left the pitch,’ said Remus. ‘Let’s go back to where we were sitting. He might have fainted and we didn’t see him lying there.’

    They ran back down to the pitch, this time coming upon scores of friendly faces. They all wanted to congratulate Sirius. The Gryffindor team asked where they were going.
    ‘We’re having another party! A bigger one this time!’ called Patrick Hallam. ‘I’ve got a secret weapon - got it in the holidays. I swore if we won at Quidditch I’d use it to get up a really big bash. We’re going to set it up now and we need all the help we can get!’
    ‘We’ll be there!’ said Lily. ‘We’re going to look for Potter.’
    ‘Don’t bother, there’s no one left at the pitch,’ said Bessie Marsden.
    ‘No, we think he’s there. We’ve looked everywhere else.’
    ‘Fine, but don’t be long!’ said Hallam. ‘And if you find Potter tell him I want a word with him, will you?’
    ‘OK,’ said Sirius, mystified. James and Hallam had become quite good friends since they’d started doing Seeker practice together, and he supposed it must be some Quidditch thing.
    ‘I’ll come with you!’ said Merlin.
    The first years carried on towards the pitch. The sun was high in the sky and quite hot for early October. It burned the backs of their necks as they ran up to the stands.
    Sure enough, they found James, out cold under one of the benches. His glasses were sticking out of the breast pocket of his robes.
    ‘James! James, wake up!’ said Sirius anxiously. He shook him by the shoulder but he didn’t stir. He was, at least, breathing.
    ‘He’s on fire!’ said Sirius, feeling his forehead. ‘James - come on, wake up.’
    Finally James shifted on the hard stone floor, and opened his eyes. Quickly Sirius passed him his glasses.
    ‘Wh - what happened?’ James asked thickly, before bursting into a fit of coughing that made everyone but Sirius stand back warily. Sirius helped him to sit up.
    ‘Anyone got any water?’ croaked James.
    ‘No, but we’ll get you up to the hospital wing as soon as we can,’ said Sirius. ‘Do you think you can walk?’
    ‘Sirius, don’t be an arse. You know what I mean - what happened in the match?’
    ‘We won,’ said Sirius. He was going to tell James what he’d done, but for some reason he wanted to be modest about it. ‘Hallam pulled off a spectacular catch. And Merlin was brilliant.’
    ‘So was Sirius!’ said Merlin, stepping forward to bang Sirius on the back. ‘You should have seen him - he sent a Bludger at Parkinson just at the right moment! He gave Hallam the opening!’
    ‘That’s brilliant, mate,’ James said weakly. ‘I knew you could do it.’
    He put out his hand to shake Sirius’. Sirius took the opportunity to haul him to his feet. He supported him on one side, Merlin on the other, and the first years began the slow trek back up to the castle.

    About halfway up, however, James passed out again.
    ‘Oh, hang on,’ said Lily. ‘I’ve had a brainwave. Something I read the other day ...’
    She took out her wand and did a complicated motion with it, saying an incantation under her breath. James immediately became weightless, enabling Sirius to carry him comfortably, and speeding up progress.
    ‘Clever!’ said Sirius. ‘Where did you learn that?’
    ‘The library,’ said Lily offhandedly. ‘You should visit it some time.’

    When they got to the hospital wing, Mindy Hampton was tucked up in bed, sound asleep.
    ‘Oh - another one, is it?’ said Madam Pomfrey sympathetically. ‘I wondered which one of you Gryffindors would come down with it first. Highly contagious, this strain, even before the symptoms show properly. Has anyone else felt unusually tired? Any muscle aches and pains?’
    ‘No,’ they all said.
    ‘Well, I’ll give you a dose of medicine just in case. It should stave it off, but if anyone starts to feel funny, come straight up here to me. I don’t want an epidemic on my hands, thank you very much.
    ‘That’s a neat little spell,’ she said, as she took hold of James and laid him on an empty bed. ‘Which one of you thought to do that?’
    ‘Lily did,’ said Remus, shoving her hand in the air. She giggled.
    ‘Well done, Miss Evans, well done,’ said Madam Pomfrey. ‘It’s not every first termer who can do that.’
    She gave them all a dose of a very nasty-tasting potion, and told them to take it easy for the rest of the afternoon. They all promised her fervently that they would. No one said anything about the party.
    ‘Now, these two should be back for dinner tonight,’ she added, gesturing towards the recumbent forms of Mindy and James. ‘My treatment for flu usually takes three hours. Miss Hampton should be up and about very soon, and I’m going to start Potter off on it now. Provided that the cases aren’t worse than I thought, they’ll be right as rain this evening. Potter was at the Quidditch pitch was he?’
    ‘Yes,’ they all said.
    ‘He fainted during the match,’ explained Annie.
    ‘Well, I think you all did very well getting him up here so promptly and efficiently,’ said Madam Pomfrey. I shall recommend to Professor McGonagall that you each take five points for Gryffindor - and between all of you I think that makes forty-five, hmm ... I can’t give Potter points for fainting, so ... well, Miss Evans, you may take another five points for such an excellent display of quite advanced magic.’
    They all thanked her profusely. They had regained fifty points! That ought to make the older students sit up a bit!
    ‘If we can keep doing stuff like this we might just make up all the points Sirius lost for being a moody git,’ said Remus teasingly.
    ‘Leave me alone, or I’ll moody-git you too,’ said Sirius. Everyone laughed at his choice of words.
    ‘Seriously though,’ said David, ‘I don’t think anyone’ll be calling you a traitor now, Sirius.’
    ‘No,’ said Sirius.
    That got him thinking. He walked on a bit ahead of the others, going over last night’s events in his head. He hardly noticed Remus fall into step with him.
    ‘I wonder if you’re thinking what I’m thinking?’ said Remus quietly.
    ‘Try me,’ said Sirius.
    ‘Well, I think James caught the flu off Mindy Hampton because they were making plans about you playing Quidditch,’ said Remus. ‘I reckon Mindy was going to fake being ill so they’d have to bring you in as reserve. When Bolt got you over to ask you to play last night, James muttered: “Yes, she’s done it,” and smiled like anything. He didn’t think anyone noticed, but I did. And when I found out what Bolt wanted to see you about I put two and two together.’
    ‘But why?’ Sirius wondered.
    ‘Because James thought - and he was right - that if you played in the match against Slytherin you’d be more popular,’ said Remus. ‘I doubt either he or Mindy realised she was actually ill. Talk about rotten timing.’
    ‘Well, I hope they don’t miss the party because of me,’ said Sirius. He was feeling quite guilty, but also, despite himself, quite pleased that James had been scheming on his behalf. He’d just have to find a way to make it up to him, that was all.

    ‘Hey, Remus,’ he said.
    ‘Have you had this flu thing? Is that why you were away last week?’
    ‘No,’ said Remus. ‘I was just my normal sort of ill. You know, like I told you about.’
    ‘Well, you were lucky in a way,’ said Sirius. ‘It was full moon, and our dormitory got the full force of it. You could read by it it was so bright. I couldn’t get to sleep for ages.’
    ‘I know how you feel,’ said Remus. ‘I don’t much like the full moon either.’
    He sounded very sad for a moment, but he was quick to change the subject. They let the others catch them up, and the conversation soon turned to the party, and what Patrick Hallam’s secret weapon might be.

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