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“They are so annoying,” James said, his eyes flickering to the stands where a group of giggling girls were making their way out of the stands.  They didn’t turn up at every practise but occasionally they made the trip out to watch us and giggle.  “I can’t believe I didn’t notice before now.”

It was the end of another training session and I’d volunteered to help James pack up the equipment, although I might have had an ulterior motive for getting my brother alone.

“James, can I ask you something?” I said as he secured the straps that kept the bludgers imprisoned in their case.  I pulled the string tight on the bag of practice quaffles and waited for his response.

“Sure, shoot,” He said, not looking up at me as he heaved open the top of the Quidditch trunk.

“Do you have a crush on Alice Bell?”

The heavy wooden lid crashed shut as it slipped out of James’s fingers and he turned to me with wide eyes.  “What?”

You see, when I didn’t see James talking to Lucy again after the Quidditch victory party, I’d decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.  He’d been so adamant that he wasn’t hitting on her and from the way he’d spoken, he’d more or less worked out my feelings; after all if I didn’t have those sort of feelings my accusations would have been seen as a ridiculous overreaction.  So I had gone back to trusting my brother, convincing myself that he wasn’t a rival in my attempts to earn her affections.

Then, yesterday, I’d seen them together in the library.  I was late to meet her for a study session and I’d spotted her handing a book to James in the Herbology section.  While I was still trying to work out what they were doing, James had stunned me by hugging Lucy…for giving him a book!  I’ll admit that I very nearly stormed over there and punched him, but my own panic and the feeling of pure dread that was pouring into my veins had kept me rooted to the spot.  James had disappeared at that moment and I had tried to keep my mood light with Lucy when I met her a minute later, but inside I was dying, assuming my own brother had gone behind my back to pursue the girl he knew I cared about.

It seemed to go from bad to worse to downright excruciating when Lucy started asking me if James ever talked to me about the girls he liked.  I’d felt physically ill as I tried to answer her questions, my worst fears seemed to be coming true.  And then suddenly Lucy was talking about her sister, and how she suspected James fancied Alice because he’d been writing to her and as she spoke all of the pieces connected in my head like a puzzle.  Every comment James had made recently, his obsession with studying for his N.E.W.T’s, the focus on his future, even his interest in Lucy, all seemed to point to one thing: James had feelings for Alice Bell.

It made sense, actually it made A LOT of sense, but I still had to be sure.  My inner fears needed to be allayed and the only way to achieve that was to get the facts from James himself, hence the post-Quidditch training ambush.  As if I’d ever volunteer to help James put the equipment away…I can’t believe he didn’t see this coming!

“Do you fancy Alice Bell?” I repeated my question calmly.

“How…how did you…?” His voice petered away as he continued to stare at me.

“I’m friends with her sister and by the sounds of things you’ve been getting into the ol’ love letter business.  Alice told Lucy you’d been writing to her, Lucy asked me if you’d been acting weird and we eventually put two and two together.” I shrugged calmly, hiding the excitement I felt at the look of concern in James’s eyes.  There was no doubt about it, he had a crush on one of the Bell sisters, but not the same one as me.

“Lucy knows too?” James whispered.

“She’s pretty smart, she worked it out before I did,” I shrugged.  But I may have been blinded by my own passion so it’s not like I’m stupid or anything.  Well that’s my excuse anyway.

“Did she say anything else?  Like maybe if Alice has said anything about me?” James looked slightly hopeful and I realised I actually felt sorry for the poor, sorry soul.  He was going through the torture of fancying the pants off someone and having no idea how they felt.

“She didn’t say much, just that Alice had commented that you were writing to her.  Lucy didn’t think it was a bad thing though, to be perfectly honest Lucy seemed to be rather fond of the idea.” It was true, once I realised Lucy wasn’t interested in James for herself, it became obvious that she liked the idea of my brother pursuing Alice.

“But Alice didn’t say…?” James looked a little disappointed.

“Sorry, no.”  I replied.  “But I can ask Lucy.”

“Oh…well just, you know, if you hear of anything.  But don’t make a big deal out of it.” James shrugged in what he was obviously trying to pass off as casual, but I knew him a little better than that.

“Sure thing,” I replied as we stored the Quidditch equipment back in the broom shed.  After that I let the issue drop.  Sure, James hadn’t actually said the words ‘I fancy Alice’, but his reaction had been enough for me.  Anyway, guys don’t really like to get too into that sort of stuff; much better to focus on Quidditch I think.

Even though our next match wasn’t until after the Christmas holidays, James was ever the diligent captain, not letting us slack off and scheduling practises right up until the end of term.  He was determined to use the upcoming Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff match as an opportunity to study their technique and help him work out something of a game plan.

“Now the best scenario we’re hoping for is that Hufflepuff win Saturday’s match with less than three hundred points.” James explained at our last training session before the match.  “That way we will still be in the lead and in a strong position.  Keep your eyes open at the match, look for anything useful that we might need to know, and not just for your position, for everyone.  We’ll share at the next practice.”

However, as I climbed the stairs of the Quidditch stand on Saturday morning, my mind was nowhere near the strategies and techniques of the match.  I was thoroughly entranced by the dancing brown hair of the girl in front of me, and maybe slightly preoccupied with the way her jeans sat snugly on her hips…

Ahead of us, I saw some of the others filling a row and slipped into the next one, realising the first row would soon fill up.  I’d noticed Lucy looking in that direction and had expected her to sit on the end of the row, so I was pleasantly surprised when there was no room next to Rose and she had to slide in next to me.  I smiled at her, pleased that we would get to spend the whole game sitting together, but I was a bit confused when she blushed as she sat down.  Maybe I’m being a bit obvious? I wondered.

I tried to rearrange my smile into something friendly and non-threatening.  It seemed to work because Lucy smiled back at me, though it wasn’t her big, knee-knocking grin, just a small, tentative smile.  I realised that Jane and Louis were filling the seats beside Lucy and I wondered for a moment if Lucy would just spend the entire game talking to Jane and ignoring me, in which case I was about to be very bored, but just as I was trying to come to grips with this thought, Lucy pushed her hair behind her ear and turned to me.

“Does it feel weird?” She asked. 

Huh?  Did I miss something? 

“Sorry?” I could hear the confusion in my voice and from the way Lucy laughed, I realised she hadn’t worded her question properly.

“Sitting in the stands and not playing, does it ever feel weird?” She explained, and I realised what she’d meant. 

“Oh,” I laughed along with her.  “Yeah, I s’pose it does feel a bit odd.” I nodded my head as I smiled at her and she smiled too before we fell into silence once more.  The air was starting to get thick with awkwardness and I couldn’t think of anything else to say or ask Lucy.  She was obviously at a loss for conversation fodder, because she turned to talk to Jane on her other side, but Louis had captured her attention, the two of them laughing about something.  In fact, Hawthorn seemed to be finding Louis’s comments extremely funny, maybe he did have a chance with her after all.  I noticed that Lucy seemed a bit unsure about whether or not she should be interrupting the conversation, so I took the opportunity to try and draw her attention back to me.  I leant towards her slightly so I could talk in a low voice and still be heard.

“Looks like someone’s having fun,” I said, causing Lucy to jump.  She paused for a moment before turning to me.

“Yeah…same immature sense of humour,” She replied, her voice light.

“It’s nice for Louis that someone besides Fred thinks he’s funny.  Poor bloke, all those French women in his family, none of them quite get the subtlety of the Weasley humour.”  I joked back, playing on the irony of the fact that Louis and subtlety didn’t really go together when it came to humour.

“Subtle,” Laughed, snorting a little bit as she did so.  Is it weird that her snort made me want to snog her? 

“Are you implying that we Weasley men are not subtle in the fine art of humour?” I pretended to be insulted by her comment.

“Well technically you’re a Potter,” She said, “So maybe you’ve got a bit more subtlety than the others.”

“My mother was a Weasley,” I countered, enjoying the flow of conversation we had struck upon.

“Yeah but maybe it only passes down through the males of the family, you know like baldness passes down through the females.”  Lucy suggested, and although she nearly lost me there, her reasoning wasn’t entirely off the mark.  It also gave me an opportunity to tease her a little bit.

“So what are you saying, I’m not subtle and I’m balding?” I exclaimed theatrically to which Lucy rolled her eyes.

“Keep up genius, I was paying you a compliment.  Thanks to your bespectacled father, you have just a little more subtlety than your dear cousin over there.  And as for your hairline, well that was just a general example for the purposes of illustrating my point; your reaction however, indicates a deeper anxiety about the whole hair-loss situation.  I’d see a specialist about that, you obviously have issues.”

I was vaguely aware of the fact that my mouth was hanging open as I stared at Lucy.  I’d spent enough time with her to know she was funny and clever, but this was a new extreme.  I was stunned, I was amused and amazingly enough, I was even more attracted to her.

“Bell, you are completely mental!” I gasped, unable to stop the laugher escaping my lips.  Lucy smiled at me, but our conversation was cut short by the cheers from the crowd around us as the teams flew out on to the pitch.  I watched the players carefully, my focus going toward the new Hufflepuff seeker, a third year girl named Amanda Jones.  She was a small girl with a long blonde plait and she balanced easily on her broom as the balls were released and she began her circuit around the pitch.  She seemed very much at home in the air and I found myself quite determined to watch her – she might well turn out to be a threat.

“I’ve lost track, who do we want to win?” Lucy asked suddenly, leaning towards me slightly.  I naturally ducked my head towards her as I responded.

“Well it would be good if Hufflepuff could win, because that would even out the points nicely,” I began, but at that moment a slight breeze blew past us, brushing a tendril of Lucy’s hair to flutter against my cheek.  A positively delicious smell that seemed to be sort of woodsy yet mixed with a sweet berry scent teased my nostrils, distracting me and causing me to forget what I’d been saying.   It took me a few seconds to regain my senses as the wind died down again, although the memory of that scent lingered. “Uh…but the best outcome would be if they won with less than three hundred points, because then Gryffindor would still be in the lead, well just behind Slytherin anyway since they’ve already played two matches.” I managed to finish explaining.

“Hufflepuff for less than three hundred it is then,” Lucy smiled at me before turning her eyes back to the pitch.  The game was quite exciting, the two sides seemed to be well matched and I couldn’t help but analyse the various plays and strategies used, locking away a few tidbits of information, like the way that one of the Ravenclaw beaters tended to favour the right side of the pitch or how one of the Hufflepuff chasers was a much more accurate shooter than the other two.  I also found that I couldn’t help but talk to Lucy, using the excuse of explaining various parts of the game to her.   

“See that Ravenclaw chaser with the black hair?” I commented at one point, resting my arm on the wooden platform behind us so I could scoot a little closer to her.

“That one there?” Lucy asked, looking a little confused for a moment as she pointed to the pitch.

“Yep,” I replied.  “The one with the quaffle.  Watch him carefully, in the next minute, he’s going to do a reverse pass.”

“What’s that?” Lucy asked curiously, keeping her eyes on the boy.

“He’ll throw the quaffle over his shoulder to that other chaser behind him.” I explained.  We watched for about ten more seconds before he suddenly tossed the quaffle neatly over his shoulder without even looking, to the girl behind him who caught it deftly and zoomed towards the goals.

“How did you know he was going to do that?” Lucy beamed at me as the Ravenclaw crowd cheered the move.

“That’s the seventh time he’s done it this game,” I shrugged.  “It’s a pretty tricky move to do accurately but he’s overusing it.  Next time we play them it should be easy to predict and therefore easy to intercept.”

“You sound like my brother,” Lucy laughed.  “Phil’s always making comments like that, breaks down the game into moves and can predict the course of the match.  It’s pretty clever.”  I smiled at the compliment as we turned back to the game.

A little while later, I noticed Lucy was shifting slightly in her seat uncomfortably.

“You alright?” I asked.

“Yeah I’m ok, these benches just aren’t that comfortable,” She said, looking a little self-conscious.  My desire to be Lucy’s white knight took over again and I tried to think of a way I could help her.

“Oh, yeah they are a bit rough on the old backside,” I agreed.  “Here’ you can sit on my cloak if you like, it might help.” It was a little bit too chilly to be sitting outside without a cloak, but I was happy to make the sacrifice.  I reached up to undo the clasp so I could remove it.

“Oh no, really it’s fine!” Lucy said, a red blush suddenly creeping across her cheeks. “I don’t want you to get cold.”  I bit back a sigh, it was so typical of Lucy to not accept my help.  How on earth was I supposed to impress her with my gentlemanly ways when she flat out refused to let me act like a gentleman?  We turned back to the game and watched in silence for a while as I tried not to feel embarrassed.  Maybe the reason Lucy wouldn’t accept my offer of help was because she thought it might give me the wrong idea; was ‘here take my cloak’ some sort of code for ‘I really, really fancy you’?

“That Hufflepuff seeker is quite a good flyer,” Lucy commented, finally breaking the silence as we watched Amanda Jones zooming around above the other players.  Lucy grinned at me mischievously, “You getting nervous?”

“Me, nervous?  Never!” I said, pouring on the fake bravado.  “But you’re right, she is a really good flyer, although flying isn’t the only skill a seeker needs.”

“Of course, the ability to catch tiny, little, shiny, flying thingies is also of vital importance,” Lucy said in a grave voice.

“Vital indeed,” I nodded seriously and we both laughed.

“Well let’s hope she can do it,” Lucy replied.

By the time the snitch made its final appearance on the pitch, Lucy and I were past the awkwardness of the cloak incident and back to making light hearted banter again.  All of this was forgotten however as we watched the race for the snitch amidst the shouts and screams of our fellow students.  I was reminded of Lucy’s earlier question as I watched the proceedings, realising just how different it was to watch the nail biting battle for the snitch as opposed to actually being one of the two seekers involved.  As I watched the two brooms racing towards the glint of gold from opposite sides of the pitch, I found myself reliving my own experiences of speeding through the air; time would seem to stand still, the noise of the crowd would disappear and only the rushing of the wind in my ears would remain.  The snitch always seemed to expand and became my only focus, my key goal in that moment, until of course it was secured safely in my hand.

Watching it from the sidelines was so different, yes I was caught up in the excitement of it all, and I really hoped Amanda Jones could secure the win for Hufflepuff because that would be good for Gyrffindor; but my focus kept drifting to Lucy, the way her hair fluttered around her face or how she perched excitedly on the edge of the seat, caught up in the critical moment of the match.  And suddenly she was throwing her arms in the air with a cheer, and I realised that Amanda had indeed caught the snitch.  I jumped to my feet with the others, a loud cheer escaping my throat and joining in with the rabble of excitement from the Hufflepuff supporters and the Gryffindors who had done the maths.

Lucy turned to me, her eyes shining with excitement, a broad smile on her face, and suddenly I couldn’t contain myself.  Caught up in the moment, I reached out toward her, wrapping my arms around her in a hug.  Lucy responded immediately, her arms encircling my shoulders as my hands found their way instinctively to her waist, reaching around to her back and pulling her close to me.

That hug was a small piece of heaven, it was like the moment just before catching the snitch only better…much, much better.  The noise of the crowd around us seemed to disappear, only the sound of Lucy’s breathing in my ear remained.  My senses became hypersensitive to Lucy, the softness of her cheek against mine, the warmth of her back under my hands, the beating of her heart against my own chest, that intoxicating wood and berry scent…

I didn’t want to let go of her, but I knew that the embrace had already gone on much longer than a usual friendly hug so I eventually let my hands slip from her waist.  Lucy looked a little flushed as she pulled away and I wondered if my sudden intensity and demand for physical contact had embarrassed her.  Before either of us could say anything, the crowd began pouring down the stairs and we were obligated to join them.  I wanted to talk to Lucy, to make sure she was ok after that incredible yet slightly awkward hug, but it was impossible to have a private conversation when we were surrounded by our classmates.  The crowd thinned out a little when we reached the lawns, but before I could act, Rose jumped on me from behind.

“Piggy back time Alby!” She joked, and I was forced to grab hold of her legs so she wouldn’t fall.  During this exchange, Lucy slipped ahead to walk with Jane, the two of them linking arms and bowing their heads conspiratorially as they chatted.

“You ok Al?” Rose said quietly in my ear as we reached the castle.

“Yeah, of course,” I responded automatically.

“You’re just very quiet,” Rose muttered, but seemed to let the matter drop.  I kept my eyes on Lucy, figuring I could maybe get her alone to talk once we were back in the common room and people went off to do their own things.  About halfway through the castle however, Lucy announced she and Jane were heading off to the Library.  Rose gave me a cross look as I dropped her in surprise, but I tried to cover any interest I showed in their decision to leave the group.  I wondered if Lucy was planning to talk to Jane about our odd hug; more likely she was going to interrogate her about Louis judging from the way she dragged Jane down the hallway.

Back in the common room, Gwen and Rose wandered off up to their dormitory to do something, so it was just we four blokes who crashed out in front of the fireplace.

“So Louis,” Will said slyly.  “You seemed to be having a good time with Hawthorn today.  Anything to report?”

“What?” Louis turned pink.  “Oh…no we were just talking…”

“Looked like a bit more than just talking to me,” I snorted. 

“Like you can talk,” Louis shot back.  “I saw you with your arm up on the back of the seat, you were making googly eyes at Bell for practically the whole match!”

“Shut up,” I mumbled, my own face growing hot.

“Honestly, the two of you just need to ask them out,” Justin said in a bored sort of voice.  “Just put everyone out of their misery.”

“He gets a girlfriend and suddenly he thinks he’s an expert,” I grumbled, feeling a little put out.

“But he still has a girlfriend,” Will said, sounding amused.  And as annoyed and frustrated as I was, I couldn’t argue with that.


AN: So I realise it's been rather a long time but I have had not the time nor inclination to write as of late.  I hope you enjoyed this chapter, I'll try to get some more updates going soon.  I hope you all haven't got so sick of waiting that you gave up on me.  I'll try to tackle the review responses soon too.  Please know that I really do appreciate your feedback and support.

Here's a little snippet of the next chapter to keep you going:

Auntie Hermione is a bit of a genius on her worst day so the fact that the car looked like it might hold five small people and yet there happened to be seven of us, was not something that caused too much concern.  Rose opened the back door of the car and slipped into the back seat, which had been enlarged significantly and had the comfort and texture of the squashy sofas back in the Gryffindor common room.  I followed Rose in and we were joined by Hugo and Lily; although we could have fit another two or three people in with us, James chose to ride in the front seat with Mum and Aunt Hermione where he proceeded to pepper our rather intelligent Aunt with questions about N.E.W.T level exams and the best strategy he should be taking for studying.

“So, you’re into palm reading now, are you?” Rose asked me in a casual but low voice. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied, surreptitiously glancing around to make sure nobody was listening.  Hugo and Lily were pointing at the various muggle shops out the windows as we drove through the city and James was consuming the attention of both adults in the front seat.

“Let me remind you, shall I?” Rose teased.  “Oh Lucy, here hold my hand and tell me about my love line.  You’re about as subtle as a sledgehammer Al.”

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