Chapter One: Quaffling About
A/N: Lately I've been engrossed in Harry Potter's next-gen fandom. Jo Rowling created a fantastic world, and I'd like to share my head canon with you, my wonderful readers. Please enjoy my fanfiction, Pitch It to Me.
Disclaimer: Do I look like Jo Rowling to you? No? So yeah, I don't own her book or her characters. OCs, on the other hand, are most definitely mine (and I hope you'll like them!)
I'm screwed. Utterly, completely, hopelessly screwed. If there were a spell that could summon a black hole beneath my feet, I'd be content to scream those magical words and disappear, at least for the next hour. Actually, make that three...days...ah, to hell with it; I'd happily just vanish until graduation or at least the end of fifth year, cursing my no-good best friend all along the way.
"Why in Merlin's name did I let you talk me into this?" I groan, flopping backwards into my bed, still a bit groggy. If there was one good thing about the Gryffindor girls' dorms, it was the sheer tardiness-inducing comfort of the beds, and waking up at six-thirty in the morning only amplifies the gravitational pull of the sheets. To top it all off, today was only the third day of school, and my body still seemed to believe it was summer break.
Aforementioned best friend, dressed in her full crimson-and-gold glory, just shoots me a quizzical look with her wide, light-brown eyes. "Oh come on, Alice, you'll be fantastic. We only spent, what, the entire bloody summer getting ready? Besides, you're a natural."
"Says Lily Luna Potter, Quidditch Goddess Extraordinaire," I scoff. "Lil, next to you I'm practically a monkey on a broomstick. A very fat, very clumsy monkey. And that monkey would rather lie on this nice, soft bed that won't laugh at her when she inevitably breaks some record for stupidity on the Hogwarts pitch."
"Fat? If Alice Longbottom is fat, then most of the girls in the castle might as well be sumo wrestlers," Lily deadpans with one raised eyebrow. If I weren't so distracted, I'd probably pry into what exactly these wrestlers are, but I just brush off my curiosity; it's probably an obscure muggle thing that Lily's grandpa told her.
"Well, I certainly feel like I weigh a freaking ton every time I try to make a turn. Remember that time I crashed into you while trying to catch a pass from Claire?"
"Okay, your flying could use a bit of, er, refinement, but I'm sure everyone will notice your talent with that crazy throwing arm," she cheerfully replies, giving me the patented nothing-gets-Lily-Potter-down smile. "Now come on, tryouts are starting soon and I don't feel like explaining to James why our prospective Chaser thinks she's a jungle animal."
I giggle before slowly scooting myself upright, then off the side of the bed, to pick up my broom.
When it comes to people and my friendship with Lily, there's only three types. One- strangers who only know us through our famous parents; they tend to assume that we're friends because our fathers got along so well, or because we've been roommates since being sorted into Gryffindor. Two- most people, who connect the dots. We were both named after our paternal grandmothers, both of whom sacrificed their lives in the war against Voldemort. We both grew up as the daughters of war heroes, and we were thus both eagerly welcomed by all of Hogwarts for that reason. But only the third type, our close friends and family members, know the truth, which comes in an unexpectedly silly anecdote. We were both five, and it was just another visit to the Potter household; Harry and Ginny have always been close friends of my father's. And yes, Harry and Ginny; the most celebrated hero in the wizarding world and the most decorated female Chaser in Quidditch history have always insisted that my brother and I call them that instead of Mr. and Mrs. Potter. At that point in life, though, I called them "Uncle 'Arry" and "Auntie 'Inny", which they didn't mind at all; in fact, they were not-so-secretly delighted. Anyways, where was I? Oh, right- my fistfight with Lily Potter. My five-year-old self had decided that it would be a good idea to show Lily my new doll, charmed to give a simple response when asked a question. Well, in her infinite diplomatic wisdom, Lily called it a stupid toy and said that the big kids played a game called "Quidditch", citing James and Al as an example. Even five-year-old-me didn't think two boys age six and seven were "big kids", and one thing led to another. When Dad finally saw me pulling on Lily's bright red ponytail, his face went a comical shade of red while Mom and Ginny were having a good laugh. We were only stopped by a chuckling Harry, who firmly but gently pressed Lily to apologize. It took her a few minutes to come around, but eventually we made up in the way that little kids do. She confessed that just a week ago she would have loved my doll, but her eyes were opened to the wonderful game of Quidditch. Of course, I don't remember most of that; some of the details were filled in later by Frank, who, like any older brother, still teases me about that little episode to this day. Oh, and if that wasn't embarrassing enough, my dad's the Herbology professor here. Thank goodness it's not my mom, though, or the entire castle would know all about my horrible childhood shenanigans.
But yeah, that was the rocky beginning to not one, but two beautiful relationships- my friendship with Lily and my obsession with Quidditch. Ever since my first time playing on the Potter family's miniature pitch, I've been the biggest Quidditch nerd around, memorizing the plays and players from famous games. I could tell you exactly who won the yearly MVP of the British and Irish Quidditch League for the last twenty years, though chances are the answer would be "Oliver Wood," who had won that particular accolade twelve times in a row before retiring.
By the time I make it down to the Quidditch pitch, I realize that Lily was right about being late; there was already quite a crowd inside the pitch, gathered conveniently around the entrance to prevent my short, sorry self from seeing what all the commotion was. I try in vain to spot Lily's signature fire-red hair; she had run down to the pitch, while I completed the trip down from the dorms in a shaky walk. I had watched tryouts only once before from the sidelines, during my second year. Funnily enough, the positions had been reversed; I had been the one consoling a nervous Lily. Ever since we had met, she had wanted to play Quidditch just like her entire immediate family before her. As it turned out, she hardly had any reason to worry; over the course of that tryout, Lily managed to score not once, not twice, but ten freaking times on seventh-year keeper Jeremy Thomas, who was also the team's captain. None of the other Chasers had managed to score more than twice; most didn't score at all. Lily was the all the rage in Gryffindor for the following two weeks; people were calling her the next Ginny Weasley, which was not an unfair comparison; aside from her striking physical resemblance to her mother, Lily had the family talent and the training that normally comes from having a professional Quidditch player as a parent. I was definitely more than a bit envious, as I had always dreamed of playing the exact same position on the exact same team. To make matters worse, my family wasn't keen on the sport at all; Mom runs the Leaky Cauldron and Dad, well, teaches here, so I never had the background that several members of the team did. I mean, for crying out loud, Claire and Alex's parents are freaking Oliver Wood and Katie Bell. And while Mom and Dad at least encouraged me to pursue my interest through friendly games with Lily and Claire, Frank, the stupid prat that he is, detests Quidditch. I still don't get how my very own sibling could have turned out so different. Anyways, now that my worrywart Hufflepuff of an older brother has graduated, this is the perfect year for me to try and make the team, or so Lily says.
Lily's voice breaks my reverie. The crowd of bodies still stops me from catching any glimpse of her, but I can hear her bright, high voice cutting through the hubbub. I can't quite make out what she's saying, but suddenly, everyone goes quiet.
"Listen up," a familiar male voice booms across the crowd. "I want you all to spread out so that I can get a head count."
The crowd starts to move, forming a crude half-circle of Quidditch hopefuls around the oval entrance to the pitch. Everyone's attention is focused on the two blokes standing in the focal point of the curve, and the one on the left t steps forward. I identify the speaker; he's tall, around six-two with an extremely muscular frame and wild auburn hair framing a handsomely boyish face with playful brown eyes- but I know him as my best friend's brother. I knew that quite a few of the girls who were previously crowding the door but were now occupying the stands had no intention of trying out, but were simply here to ogle James Potter in his uniformed glory; he was, as Claire so delicately put it last year, "smoking hot". That comment had caused Lily to groan and plant her face into the desk.
The other boy, though shorter and slimmer than James, strikes an imposing figure as well; he's roughly six feet tall with dark brown hair and darker eyes that stand out against his fair skin. He's wearing the crimson and gold cloak like James, but his pose is a far more casual one, leaning against his broom with a smirk on his face very similar to Claire's.
"Alright, let's get started," James continues. "First, we'll do introductions. I'm James Potter, and I'm the captain of Gryffindor this year. To my left- your right- is Alex Wood, your assistant captain. We have two other returning players, Claire Wood," met by Claire's hand shooting over her blonde head, "and Lily Potter."
I could see Lily on the other end of the semicircle raising her hand with a winning smile.
"Before we actually get into what you lot will be doing to impress the two of us, there's some changes that we need to go over. As you all know, Headmistress McGonagall retired last year, and she's taking the old Quidditch system with her. Headmaster Simons has decided to, erm, modernize Hogwarts's Quidditch program to better prepare our players for possible futures on professional teams. Most of you know what's new, which is why this damn pitch is so crowded right now."
A wave of laughter sweeps the crowd, and I can't help but follow suit. Alex steps forward, and the crowd mostly quiets down.
"This year's Quidditch House Cup will be a weekly event, as opposed to the monthly showmatch that used to pass for a tournament around here," he states with a toothy grin. Yep, there's that Wood-Bell competitive streak. "We'll not only be looking to fill the three openings on our starting lineup- two Chasers and one beater, by the way- but also to fill out a reserve team of fourteen players. Now if this were last year, being a reserve would hardly be better than off the team entirely- but that's not the case this time. We'll be swapping in players quite a bit more, and even if you're on the starting roster it's entirely possible that we decide a reserve player plays better with the team after some trial and error, and you might find yourself on the bench more often than not. Oh, and practices will be on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, with matches every Friday. So if you have plans to spend your Fridays snogging your girlfriend, boyfriend, or someone else's girlfriend of boyfriend, best get off the pitch right now." Alex turns to James, who effortlessly segues into the lecture.
"Right then, this tryout will consist of two parts- the technical trials and the practical simulation. We'll start by separating the players by position. Chasers will try to score on Alex, Beaters will field Claire's bludgers, Keepers will have to block out Lily, and I'll observe the Seekers chasing a variety of Snitches. Then we'll get to the fun part. There are fifty players here other than the four I just mentioned, so we're going to need at least five or six games. Now, some of you might be called to play more than one game, and some of you will only take to the pitch once. If you get called for an encore, it's so we can get more info on players who haven't really made much of an impression either way. And keep in mind that while it's an individual tryout, in the end what we want are team players. Don't try to hog all the glory or we'll notice," James finishes with a wave of his broom. "Now follow your assigned group and we'll get started."
Fortunately for my vertically-challenged self, Alex's height and dark hair makes him easy to pick out in the crowd. I struggle against a wave of people heading up to the stands, but eventually I join the newly-formed crowd standing around Alex.
"Get on your brooms and let's start. As you can see, we're standing a good distance away from the hoops. You lot will be lining up in the air right here and flying down to take a shot on me. The most important thing will be how many goals you score, but I might also put in a good word for you if you impress me with, say, your flying technique."
Well, that doesn't bode well for me, does it?
Alex takes off, positioning himself a dozen yards away in the center of the three hoops. I follow the other players, rising in a spiral to hover at hoop level. As we get into a neat line (or as neat as you could reasonably expect nervous, eager Gryffindors on brooms to be), I take a quick glance at the other end of the pitch, where Lily's already started chucking Quaffles at the poor saps who are hoping to get one of the two reserve Keeper spots. I only count six hopefuls, which makes sense as there's no starting spot open for grabs. Unfortunately, the Chaser situation is the complete opposite; there had to be at least thirty players here vying for the two main team openings and six reserve positions.
Alex shouts something that I can't quite decipher, and the first person in line, a hulking seventh-year girl shouts out "Saoirse Stevenson", which I realize is her name, and accelerates with the Quaffle in hand. I observe as she makes her approach, and while there's power in her flight and posture, there's no subtlety in the way she moves. Before she even takes the shot, I read that she's aiming for Alex's right- our left. And to nobody's surprise, Alex swings to his right, arm outstretched, and catches the Quaffle without breaking a sweat.
Another ten or so players try in vain to get past what Lily jokingly calls "the Wood eye". All eyes are on me as the last player to take a shot grudgingly hands me the Quaffle. I gulp, close my eyes briefly, and fly forward.
The wind rushes into my face, blowing strands of my brown hair across my forehead. I wobble a bit before finding a leftward angle toward the hoops, as Alex crouches in front of the center one. I know that I'm going to have to feint; Alex is far too good to fall for brute force. I deepen the turn, making for the hoop on my left with both eyes on the target. Out of the corner of my right eye, I notice Alex start to turn right in anticipation, and that's when I strike. I whip the Quaffle to my far right with every ounce of strength in my shivering body, and Alex turns to block, but his fingertips just barely miss the edge as the ball soars toward the hoop, and I can't look, so I close my eyes again. I'm a coward, so sue me. I hear the telltale thud of the Quaffle making contact with a hoop, not passing through, and my heart sinks. Nobody makes a sound.
As I slowly open my eyes, something incredible happens. Noise reaches from the crowd, growing from silence to a noticeable cheer. I look down, and a good five yards below me I spot Alex just floating in place, Quaffle in hand. He rises up, handing me the object with a wry grin spread on his face. "Grazed the rim, but that's a fair shot. One point for Alice Longbottom!" he shouts. Elation rises in me, a giddy rush of emotion as I fly back to the line, where I hand the ball to the next person in line, a seventh-year boy with a dumbstruck look on his square-jawed face. I'm pretty sure that even Lily couldn't grin as brightly as I was now, and all I wanted to do was scream "Hah, beat that!"
Unfortunately, the boy seemed to have heard my message, and he makes the shot, a clean and fast one through the left hoop. It turns out that my mental taunt target of choice happened to be Gilbert O'Connell, last year's reserve center.
I wish I could say that the rest of the technical trial comes down to me and O'Connell slugging it out among a sea of washouts, but sadly, that's hardly the case. Despite Alex's incredible saves, at least five or six players manage to score multiple times over the course of the hour-long trial, and I'm barely among them with just three goals to my name. O'Connell, the bloody git, tops the table at six, including a mirrored replica of my first shot. Actually, it wasn't quite a replica; his version sailed through cleanly.
By the time the hour's up, I'm pretty conflicted; I figure that on one hand, there can't be more than ten players here that scored three goals or more, so I should be in good shape to at least make the reserves. But on the other hand, I'm definitely not even remotely close to Lily or even Gilbert freaking O'Connell.
It's mid-morning by the time we finally touch down and circle around Alex, who tells us to stay grouped and wait for James. Two minutes later, aforementioned Captain arrives with his box of practice Snitches in hand. I notice that the box bears the triple W's, short for Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, the joke shop run by Lily's uncle George. I remind myself to ask Lily later about why the store known for Puking Pastilles is manufacturing Snitches.
Alex walks up to James, and Claire and Lily make their way out of the crowd to join the two in a whispered conversation. They nod, and Claire moves toward the entrance end of the pitch while Lily turns the opposite way.
"Alright," James yells, "we're going to start the practice games. Stevenson, Donahue, Kim, Terrell, Andrews, Parker, and Bennet, go to the entrance end."
Alex rattles off another seven names, none of which are mine, before adding, "The rest of you, go sit your sorry butts in the stands until we call you."
I watch Lily and Claire as they give what appears to be a brief explanation of the rules of the game before walking toward us. Lily's the first up the stairs, and I wave to her. Claire follows and they sit on either side of me, sporting matching mischievous grins. Yep, here comes the Inquisition. Claire's tall, around five-nine, and Lily's not much shorter at five-seven; even seated, my tiny five-three frame is noticeably dwarfed as they put their arms around my shoulders.
"So Alice, how was taking potshots at my cocky arse of a brother?" Claire opens with a cheeky grin. I scoff. "Fun, wasn't it?"
"Well, at least I made a few of them, and I didn't maim Alex, so it can't be all bad, right? And shouldn't you be watching the game and taking notes or whatnot?" I huff, gesturing to the aerial antics in front of us.
"Nah, Lil's got it, doesn't she? Now if only she didn't spend half the time ogling my brother's arse," Claire sniggers.
"In my defense, Alex does have a nice one," a smiling Lily replies, waggling her eyebrows before returning her eyes to the players above.
"Tsk tsk, and I used to think you had good taste," responds Claire. I just groan.
"Can we not talk about arses right now?"
Nobody responds, though, as a roar sweeps the stands. I look toward the field, searching for the cause of all the commotion and I spot it right away: the tall, slim Stephen Kim holding the Golden Snitch in his hand, a faint blush visible on his pale cheeks. He was a quiet boy in our year who Claire had befriended last year in Defense class; I had been somewhat surprised to find out from her that Stephen, like myself, was a fanatical Quidditch lover who had never quite mustered up the confidence to try out for the team.
"I finally convinced him to try out," Claire declares proudly. "He's a bloody fantastic Seeker, just a bit shy when it comes to big crowds," she explains with a grin.
James quickly took to the field again, and I could hear him begin to yell another seven names, the last of which was "Longbottom." I gulp, and Lily gives me a hearty pat on the back.
"Come on, you're with me. And don't fret your pretty head off, you'll do fine," Lily says. "Just think of it as another one of our practice games. James has already seen you play plenty of times, and he agrees with me. You're a talented player, so just be yourself."
Oh great, our illustrious Captain already has expectations of me. Way to make a girl feel better, Lily.
I shuffle down to the field with Lily in front of me. Soon, a full team of seven has gathered, and I vaguely recognize them all, but I only know two by name: Grzegorz Dracik, a fifth-year transfer student from Durmstrang who was sorted into Gryffindor just two days ago, and the aforementioned meathead of a girl, Saoirse Stevenson. Apparently she was interesting enough to merit a second go. The rest of our makeshift team consists of second, third, and fourth-year students, none of whom I've ever spoken to. Lily sorts us by position, and we're waiting for the signal from James to start. But it quickly becomes apparent that something is awry when Claire comes dashing from the other side of the field to convene with Alex and James, and Lily runs to join them. My conscience is screaming no, but my curiosity gets the better of me, and I draw my wand to cast a wordless Sonorus charm, just enough for me to eavesdrop on their conversation.
"I blame Lily for scaring off the rest of the blokes. And come on, it'll be fun," I hear Alex declare.
"No, no way. He's on another House team, for crying out loud. It's already bad enough that he's here watching his girlfriend try out, but playing? We're going to look like we're letting our personal lives get mixed up with Quidditch, and that's never good." That's clearly an indignant James.
"James, you've never let accusations of nepotism bother you before, so why now? Neither has Alex. Remember when people were giving you two hell for me and Claire making it as second years? You hardly batted an eye," Lily chips in.
"And besides, we're trying to test how well they're going to fare against the other House teams. Alex just went up against every Chaser here anyways; what better way than to pit them against the best Keeper in the league?," Claire adds, not bothering to veil her taunt at her brother.
"Oi!" an indignant Alex yelled.
"Fine, the best Keeper we're going to be up against. Happy?"
A satisfied snort leaves Alex. I can make out James throwing his hands in the air, clearly a sign of defeat, and not long afterward, Lily makes for the stands. I see her walk up, and- oh, hell no. No, no, no. This can't be real.
Walking down toward the pitch is none other than Slytherin's starting Keeper, a raven-haired Quidditch genius straight out of my nightmares. He's fairly tall, a bit shorter than Alex, with an attractively toned frame and the most stunning green eyes I've ever seen on a pale, classically sculpted face. The only other person I knew who had those eyes was famous for vanquishing the greatest evil to touch the Wizarding world. The instrument of my demise, now strolling across the pitch in his infuriatingly cocky way, was my best friend's other brother, Albus Severus Potter.
"Bollocks, that's who we're playing against?" Stevenson grunts in disbelief.
"If you did not vant to play against the best, vy are you here?" Grzegorz evenly states in his thick Polish accent. Hmm, I like him already.
I sneak a glance at our younger teammates. All four of them just stare at Al with widened eyes; clearly the git's reputation precedes him. Then again, anyone who watched Gryffindor's pitiful final game against Slytherin last year should know; Al had completed a near-perfect shutout against our Chasers, with only Lily managing two goals against her brother. Alex defended valiantly as well, but any hopes we had were dashed by Seeker Scorpius Malfoy (Al's best friend and Rose's boyfriend, incidentally), who caught the Snitch right out from under a frustrated James's nose. The final score stood at two hundred-and-thirty for them, a pitiful twenty for us. Granted, Jameson had been an awful Captain, and the other two Chasers were hardly better than I am, but Alex and James had taken the loss rather hard.
The sharp sound of James's voice yelling "Players, take your positions!" cuts short my trip through Memory Lane. I scramble into the leftward Chaser spot, next to Stevenson's obnoxious self.
James blows his whistle and everything leaves my brain. I take off, and immediately I catch that Stevenson has the Quaffle. The right-hand Chaser, a very small boy who's probably a second-year, lags behind as Stevenson passes to me. I catch the Quaffle, narrowly dodging a Bludger sent by the opposing team, and make my way to the goalpost. The other team's Chasers seem to have no bloody idea what they're doing, as I'm literally three yards away from the closest one. I have a decent angle for a shot, but Al's eyes are locked on mine, his green irises piercing into me. I hate myself for it, but I chicken out at the last moment, passing back to Stevenson, who chucks the Quaffle toward the goal to our right- but, of course, Al catches it effortlessly and flashes us his trademark smirk to boot. I hear a cry of "Go Al!" coming from the stands, and lo and behold, it's his girlfriend, Cassidy Finnigan, who I remember seeing in the Chaser trials. She's bloody awful at the game.
The game goes on for the maximum length that Lily had stated, a full hour; neither Seeker has managed to catch the Snitch, and with Al playing Keeper for the other team, it's no surprise that we end up getting massacred, sixty-nil. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't even attempt a shot, not out of fear of missing and looking like an idiot- that certainly didn't stop Saoirse Stevenson- but out of my pitiful mental block every time I try to score on Al. For some reason, the stupid prat's eyes are both magnetic and terrifying, and I just can't shoot when he stares at me, so I pass to our block-headed center instead. Go me.
We touch down, and James immediately launches into the third game, where Al once again takes the field on Claire's side. This time, Gilbert O'Connell takes the field, and Stephen and Grzegorz are called up for a repeat performance. My name isn't called, and my heart sinks. I'm not an idiot; it's clear for everyone to see that this game was the one that mattered, the one with the candidates worth considering.
Lily and Claire join me once more, but this time, they hardly say a word, both pairs of eyes glued to the sky above. I attempt to watch, but I'm still reeling at how much of a bloody coward I am, so nothing really registers until half an hour in I hear an elated cheer from Claire, who stands and claps. I look back at the field and there's Stephen, snitch in hand again, with a slow smile spreading across his face. I join in the clapping, but a part of me is drowning in envy. After all, Stephen was a fifth-year like me, but he's basically a shoo-in as the first reserve Seeker, while I'm probably not even going to get a mention from Alex, let alone a spot on the reserves. And the main team was about as likely as Voldemort being resurrected and voted in as Minister.
By the time James, Alex, Lily, and Claire come to their decisions, it's already well past one, and we're all sweaty from being out in the sun so long, so a part of me is glad when James calls us down to the field.
"Alright, we're going to announce this year's team. First of all, thanks to all of you for showing up and giving it your best. Even if you feel like you flew worse than my uncle Ron on ten shots of Firewhiskey, just know that we appreciate it." Everyone laughs, and though my heart is pounding, I can't help but follow suit.
"We'll begin with the starting roster. In the Seeker position will be James Potter- that's me, by the way. Alex Wood is returning as our Keeper, and our two Beaters will be Claire Wood and our new recruit, Grzegorz Dracik."
Did I mention that I'm an envious person? Yeah, I'll remind you again. I envy the hell out of Grzegorz.
"And lastly, your Chasers this year will be Lily Potter-"
Thud, thud thud goes my heart.
Thuddity thuddity THUD.
"And Alvin Bennet."
Disappointment floods me, but I mentally slap myself. Making the main team on my first go? I'm not Lily.
He then goes through the reserve Seekers- Stephen's one of them, to nobody's surprise- and the reserve Keepers and Beaters before finally arriving on the Chasers. My heart starts up again, and everything feels just a tiny bit slower and louder.
"Derek Donahue, Jessica Herrera, Wilma Pan, Benjamin Terrell, Eileen Jordan and-" James pauses.
The blood is pounding against my head so hard at this point that I feel like passing out. James, the bugger, holds the pause, and then slowly turns his head to scan the crowd. I can't breathe when his eyes meet mine, and I want to look away, but I don't. But then the craziest thing happens- neither does he. Instead, he grins.