***Start of ATE Year 3***

Happy 37th Birthday, Harry! I hope everyone enjoys the continuing adventures at Hogwarts and home for Albus, Gwendolyn, and the rest of their family and friends!

Chapter Twenty-Five – We're All At Hogwarts Now!

"It obviously says something about these Potter kids that Al's on this side of our compartment with Gwendolyn and me; while Lily's over there with Hugo and Jonah," Rose teased as they sat back after waving goodbye to their families. The Hogwarts Express was picking up speed slowly; but they were already beyond where they could see even the taller, red-headed members of their clan among the throngs of parents and younger siblings that had turned out for a Sunday departure.

"Al and I are each with two of our best friends; so I don't see the problem," Lily told her with a grin. "If you really want to even things up, though, we can go looking for a nice Wizard for you and a Witch for Hugo a bit later."

"How come Rose gets a nice one but Hugo doesn't?" Gwendolyn asked curiously; and Lily laughed.

"Because he's more suited to bad girls?" Lily suggested; earning a few laughs and a blush from Hugo.

"Then if he's one of your best friends; what does that say about you?" Rose countered.

"Something that you can discuss later when I'm not around," Al said before Lily could offer an opinion – though her smile spoke volumes. "That's the most-crowded the platform has been in our three years. I didn't realize just how many parents couldn't come to the station during the work week – or even on a Saturday like last year."

"I really loved getting to say goodbye to Mum and Dad this year," Gwendolyn told him. "It'll be the only time we get to do that on September First for the rest of our years at Hogwarts."

"You're looking farther ahead than I am right now to even know that," Lily told her; and Gwendolyn laughed.

"If you're even thinking about anything beyond getting sorted to Gryffindor; it's only through to tryouts on Saturday – and the start of your brilliant Seeker career at Hogwarts."

"That's true," Lily admitted. "We can use magic on the train, right? We should practice the Bat-Bogey hex that Mum's taught me – just in case I need to use it on the sorting hat tonight."

"And who would you like to use for a test subject?" Rose asked. "We'd rather not do that – especially if you've been taught any new twists that we don't already know about."

"I wouldn't mind letting James have it," Lily suggested. "He was not very nice to Mum and Dad again today; and I'm getting sick and tired of him hurting them so much. I could get away with it too; since I haven't been sorted yet. You guys could lose points for your Houses if you did it."

"They don't generally take them away before any have been earned; but let's not start off the year like that," Rose told her. "It would be nice to have a better year – and maybe even have a chance to win the House Cup again."

"I'd rather win the Quidditch Cup; but I guess that'd be okay too," Lily professed with a smile and half-shrug. "When does the party start – or whatever we do on this trip to explain why the Hogwarts Express is so popular?"

"Have you heard anyone mention parties or anything else particularly amazing to have you expecting that?" Gwenolyn asked; and Lily shook her head.

"No, but nearly everyone is always excited about the trips; and if there are any firsties on this train that aren't as excited as we are; they're likely defective," she explained; including Hugo and Jonah in that 'we' with a wave of her hand. "I just expected that the 'what' we do is a big secret."

"You didn't," Al guessed. "We'll try to help you have fun right back while you're entertaining us; but we don't party all the way to Hogsmeade."

"Maybe Lily will change that this year," Hugo suggested with a grin. "Did you bring enough hats and party treats for seven or eight hundred?" he teased.

Hugo's joke sent their chat off on a little side trip for a while, but they did start settling in for the long trip; and talked about everything from the train and what the three firsties could expect once they were at the Hogsmeade station through to the latest gossip making the rounds of the train as friends and cousins began stopping by for cameo visits while walking the train. The teen drama, as usual, was at the top of the gossip news; but there were other stories that were much more interesting to Al and the other junior Quidditch players – like finding out for sure that Scorpius was the junior team Captain – and that he was rumored to be the proud ownder of a shiny new Lightningbolt. That news had gotten out of Slytherin House through some bragging friends that wanted to taunt some Hufflepuff rivals; so it was likely accurate.

Unfortunately, another story that Al and Lily hadn't wanted to hear was accurate too; and James was in the middle of it. What was really the worst of that rumor for them was the fact that their brother had apparently enjoyed publicly surprising Chris Cauldwell with the news that he'd snogged Bristol during the summer holidays by not only telling him; but by trying to snog Bristol again when he stopped by to 'say hello' to her – while Chris was sitting next to her and still unaware that anything had gone on between his girlfriend and James. While Chris didn't try to hurt Bristol any further; that was still a very public and harsh break-up when he left the compartment – while James and Ollie were still there; and James was continuing to act the git. Al, Gwendolyn, and Rose heard about that directly from Bristol when she escaped and came looking for Rose and Gwendolyn; and then Al, Lily, Hugo, and Jonah went for a walk along the train when Bristol needed two of her best friends to comfort her.

They didn't talk about Bristol and James while they were on that walk; didn't spread any rumors; and stayed away from James when they saw him twice in passing. Fortunately for him, he didn't try to get in their faces either; since Lily likely would have blasted him if he'd tried; but they tried to instead have fun during cameo visits with cousins and other friends. Sometimes, they could do both – like when Jonah and Lily had a chat with Ryan and Katrina; or they all had an entertaining visit with Ray, Melissa, Kathryn, and Tory. In that case, Kathryn was with her cousins instead of Olivia or Ollie because she didn't want to get in Olivia's way and knew that Ollie wouldn't let her hang out with him anyway – even if she'd lost her mind and wanted to spend time with him and James. Staying away from their compartment indefinitely wasn't an option, but Gwendolyn came looking for them before they needed to worry about a poorly-timed return.

As they got past that bit of teen drama, the rest of the trip was fairly uneventful; though Lily certainly made sure that her travel buddies were kept entertained. Lunch ended up being a pot-luck that they collectively shared along with supplemental treats and drinks from the trolley; there were quiet times when they rested or watched the mirror network or played mirror games or read books; and busier moments with visitors or other walks along the train. While the excitement level varied, it was fairly high as they closed in on Hogsmeade – mostly because Lily got more fired up as she watched the clock. She was pretty much bouncing in her seat by the time the train began to slow for the approach into Hogsmeade station.

"We can deal with your luggage if you don't want to wait until after the first rush for the exits to get out of here," Al told Lily. "Just try not to get crushed by the older teens."

Lily bounced up, grabbed her shoulder bag, and then stopped and sat down again. "It won't matter," she decided. "We'd just have to wait for Hagrid to call for the firsties anyway – and he won't do that until most of the students are off the train."

"That's Professor Hagrid here," Rose reminded her with a smile. "You get used to it; though I think we'll find it stranger this year now that he'll actually be teaching us too."

"It's funny that you're thinking about that for Care of Magical Creatures while I'm just hoping that I don't get bit by any of those animals – or worse," Gwendolyn told her with a grin. "I'm still not sure that I should've taken the class."

"Mabye that'll be one of your joint classes with us," Rose offered. "Then you'd have Al to protect you."

"He could," Lily agreed; "but probably shouldn't go Animorphmagus to do that. Then he'd be potential dinner for some of those creatures."

"There are more student injuries in other classes; yet nobody ever talks about dropping DADA or Charms," Al pointed out.

"Partly because we can't at least until after our OWL year," Rose reminded him. "Students drop optionals for other reasons, though; and I'm fairly sure there has never been a serious Arithmancy or Ancient Runes injury."

"Except for when someone has ignored the messages in those runes," Al added with a grin. "I'm sure we'll all have fun with Professor Hagrid's class – even if Gwendolyn and I don't get to take it together."

"That would be fun," Gwendolyn said seriously; "but I'd rather have you in the same classes with me for Arithmancy, Charms, and Potions or Transfiguration. They'll all be tougher subjects."

"There are five optionals, so we could get to take two of them with Ravenclaw," Rose said with a nod. "I think that we could end up with Transfiguration and Charms with Ravenclaw this year; but they do change that up now and then when they do a major schedule revision for all of the classes; so we can't count on that – though it's likely that we won't get History and Herbology together again this year."

"I'll miss your help with Herbology," Gwendolyn assured her; but would be okay with getting Charms and Transfiguration with you guys."

"We'll still be able to study Herbology together," Rose assured her. "That will only be a problem if our classes are days apart – though we'd still be able to do our weekend assignments together."

"With the weird part of that being that we'll actually still have work to do on the wekeends," Gwendolyn added. "I'm really going to miss getting our work done by dinnertime every Friday."

"You've mentioned that a few times," Rose told her, "but then so have Al and I – and most of our study group friends."

"We're here!" Lily interjected enthusiastically. "How long will we need to wait before it's safe to get in line?"

"Not long," Al assured her. "Five minutes or so at most; and then we can get out of here once the pushiest students are out of the way."

He was right about that; they gathered their things; and it really wasn't long before they were off the train and standing on the platform. There was a round of best wishes and hugs that they had finished with by the time Hagrid called for the firsties, and after Lily, Hugo, and Jonah went to join him with the other firsties; Al, Gwendolyn, and Rose went to get in line for the carriage rides to the school. Being in third-year meant moving up the student food chan a bit, so they didn't need to wait until the very end to get a ride, but they did still need to wait for the NEWT through fourth-year students to go ahead of them. That also meant putting up with a walk-by razzing from James and Ollie, but Al managed to avoid any major nastiness with them; and they moved on because they were more interested in trying to impress the fourth-year girls instead.

On the downside of that blast of hurry up and wait for Al was that he and Gwendolyn had less time to spend together once they were at the school and needed to split up and go to their own House tables. The wait while the rest of the third-year and all of the second-year students arrived wasn't that long; and then there was a pause while waiting for the start of the firstie processional and sorting ceremony. That did give Al and Rose some time to chat with Ray, Bristol, Cora, and some of their other friends; but they did that quietly – or comparatively-so to the overall level of noise in the Great Hall. Al's attention was all for the firsties when the doors opened and they began to walk into the room down the center aisle in the middle of the four House tables. He wasn't surprised to see Lily right near the front; smiled when he noted that she was holding Jonah's hand as he walked next to her; and then he moved on to look for the other firsties he knew or recognized through their families and friends.

There were quite a few of those kids that he knew too, and while he knew some of them fairly well – like Melissa, Kathryn, and Katrina; there were others that he knew through family friends; though not nearly as well. All of those other kids were connected to him through the Aurors, Quidditch players, or former school friends that his parents, aunts, and uncles knew; so he also took special note of the kids that he knew were interested in playing Quidditch – though that would be more important for him as the sorting began and he got to find out about some of the new talent he might have for his team. There were about one hundred firsties, maybe a few more; so it took a while for all of them to line up at the front a half-dozen rows deep; Professor Sinistra had the honor of leading the sorting this year; and she set the sorting hat on the stool as soon as the last few firsties stopped at the back of the pack – presumably the least-enthusiastic or most-timid of the group. The noise level in the hall dropped to a murmur as they all stopped to listen to this version of the sorting hat's annual song.

It's September First – how time has flown!

Now you're all back – and I'm no longer alone!

While you've had fun all summer long;

I've had nothing to do but make up this song!

One hundred verses and more I wrote;

But I won't sing them all; though I know them by rote!

While that effort is wasted; I've work to get to;

So I'll whittle it down to another verse or two.

All of our returning students I wish a hearty bonjour;

And our firsties are always pres de mon coeur!

Whether Slytherin or Ravenclaw;

Gryffindor or Hufflepuff;

Every one of you is special;

And have the right Hogwarts kind of stuff!

So let's get started with the sorting;

And find out where you belong!

So I can get my one job finished;

And start working on next year's song!

There had been some laughs and a lot of smiles during that little ditty; but the noise level still remained low as the first few firsties were called forward to be sorted. Al tried focusing his extended senses on the firsties as they were sorted, regardless of the House they went to; though that wasn't always fun for him. Some of the Slytherin firsties were a problem; though only one of them actually looked directly at him – and that was just random chance that it happened at all. Early in the sorting, it was a bit weird for him with Gwen Cauldwell as she was sorted to Gryffindor; but that was mostly because of Bristol's reaction to her recently-former boyfriend's sister joining their House – especially when Gwen had been there during the scene with James.

For the most part, the firsties were happy with their assigned Houses; and Al was happy for all of the kids he knew – including Denise Creevey when she was sorted to Gryffindor; and Alyssa Graves when she was placed in Ravenclaw with her brothers – and Gwendolyn. As he continued to focus on the firsties, Al also pondered what the sorting hat sensed in each new student; and tried to associate what he sensed with the choices the hat made. Sometimes, he guessed before the sorting hat decided, but while he had some success with that; he also didn't come up with a guess at all for the majority of kids – or the hat chose more quickly than he could guess. He began to feel more excited as the sorting continued and got closer to the middle of the pack – and Jonah and Lily. He could see them more easily as the group thinned; and knew that Lily was fired up too because he could see her bouncing expectantly as she waited.

"Good luck," Lily whispered as she smiled brightly at Jonah when his name was finally called. She squeezed his hand in support; and then let go so that he could step forward and sit on the stool. She was almost certain that he'd be sorted to Ravenclaw with Gwendolyn, but only half of her hoped that would happen; while part of her wished that he could be in Gryffindor with her. The sorting hat seemed to need to think about Jonah too; since it was a long moment before it made a decision.

"Ravenclaw!" it finally called out; Jonah got up right away; and then he and Lily earned a few laughs to go along with the clapping Ravenclaws when she stepped forward to hug him before letting him go on to the Ravenclaw table – and the hug that Gwendolyn had for him when he arrived there.

"I guess that I'll have to get sorted to Gryffindor if I want a hug after I'm sorted," Hugo teased as she stepped back next to him; and she grinned at him.

"You will be; though I'm sure there would be at least one or two Witches in the other Houses willing to hug you if you end up in Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw."

"By the time they get to me; half the students here could be sleeping," Hugo joked. "Nobody will notice which House I'm sorted to – or they'll just be glad that the sorting is nearly over by then."

"Or both," Lily whispered with a nod. She was bouncing even more as the handful of students that were alphabetically between McCormack and Potter were each called to be sorted; and then, finally, it was her turn!

"Lily Potter!" Professor Sinistra called; and her last name caused a drop in the sound level in the hall. She was smiling brilliantly as she stepped forward and sat down. The sorting hat was placed on her head; and then her attention was focused inward as it spoke to her.

"A Potter Witch!" it said enthusiastically. "Now this is a rare treat! Hmm – let's see what we have here. Yes, Yes, a bit of both brothers in you; several dashes of your mother; and more of your father than you realize, my dear! What's that I see?" Lily giggled when the hat laughed. "Oh my, you are quite a little dynamo, aren't you? Well, if it's the choice between a Bat-Bogey hex and what you wish for most; then I'd better place you in – GRYFFINDOR!"

Lily was still laughing as she hopped up and practically ran to the Gryffindor table – and all the way along it to Al and Rose so that she could hug each of them before going to sit down with the other firsties – next to Denise Creevey. That had earned her some more laughs; but then the sorting was already continuing; and she tried to calm down while happily chatting with Denise and the other kids closest to her.

"Do you think she's happy?" Rose asked Al quietly as they both watched Lily for a few moments after she was sitting down.

"She is; and so am I," he answered. "If the two best firstie Seekers had ended up in other Houses; we might have been in for a tough season in Gryffindor."

"You could always take the job," Rose pointed out. "I think you'd do as well as Victoire doing that if needed."

"Maybe," Al admitted; "but I really want to play Chaser – and get a chance for a rematch with Gwendolyn too; so this works out better for us."

"That's fun to joke about; but we didn't really have any doubts about Lily being sorted to our House," Rose said with a nod. "Now we just have to wait for the W's to find out whether we get the best firstie Chaser prospects."

Al grinned at her. "Let's not get too many of them. I am allowing tryouts for all three Chaser positions. It would really suck to be me if I got beat out for one of those spots."

Rose laughed. "I'm more worried about winning my Keeper duel with Hugo and whomever else tries out for the job, but we can have fun with that too; and it might be nice to have an all-Witch team – though I don't think we've got two Witches in the entire group interested in playing Beater. Even if we did; I'm not sure they'd be able to win the jobs over Fred and Orlando."

"Katrina might," Al pointed out; and nodded toward the front. "Want to make a prediction?"

"Ravenclaw," Rose answered immediately. "She wants to be on Gwendolyn's team with Ryan."

The sorting hat must have agreed; since it barely touched her head before sorting her to Ravenclaw. Katrina was obviously thrilled; and was even happier to get hugs from her cousin and brother when she rached them at the Ravenclaw table.

"How come you're not getting up to hug more firsties?" Rose teased; and Al laughed.

"Because I don't want to start out our third year as a woodlouse," he joked. "You?"

"I'm not team Captain; and I'll make sure that Hugo gets a hug when he's sorted to our House."

"Good, then I can get away with a high five or handshake while you take care of that."

While that ended up being what they did, it was Rose's reminder about him being team Captain that had Al thinking about what he needed to do differently this year because of that responsibility. It was different for the junior Captains – or should be – because a third of their potential player pool would know little or nothing about Hogwarts and school Quidditch. For Gryffindor, even the second and third-year students were likely wondering what Al would do as team Captain after the way things had gone with James a year ago. Having tryouts notices ready wasn't enough, he decided, and while he wasn't as outgoing as Louis; Al decided that he did need to make the rounds of the Gryffindor common room after the feast; introduce himself to as many firsties as he could; and talk with all of the second and third-year player hopefuls. He could get Rose and Ray to help with that; and they did have Lily, Hugo, and the other firsties they did know available to lend a hand too; so Al just hoped that he'd do well-enough with that half-plan; and that his fellow Gryffindor would give him a chance to help their junior team to have a better season than they'd had the past few years.

With so many firsties to sort, Hugo wasn't the last student to be sorted, but he was near to the end. Rose and some of the other girls thought that it was amusing when Hugo was left standing with Wanda Wintringham – Fred's girlfriend's sister, and Kathryn and Melissa Wood before he was called to be sorted; but Al sensed that he'd mostly been glad to still have kids that he knew still with him to that point instead of being on his own for the last half of the sorting. That foursome was interesting for another reason that was noticeable as the sorting drew to an end – all four of them were sorted to Gryffindor. Their House didn't get all of the final handful of students. Madison's brother, John Whitby, for instance, was sorted to Hufflepuff; which meant that Gryffindor also didn't get all of the best new firstie Quidditch prospects at that end of the alphabet either.

The sorting was finished soon after Kathryn and Melissa Wood were sorted; Professor McGonagall gave her annual speech with some of the rules highlights; and then the feast finally began as the platters and bowls appeared on the tables! Al was more polite than most of the other guys when it came to filling his plate and geting started on the meal, but he was hungry; and ate more than his fill – as did most of the teens and tweens in the hall. While he and Rose had sat with Ray and Bristol closest to them; they'd also ended up with a mix of other third-year classmates that made for an interesting dinner conversation – particularly with the teens they weren't as close with despite being in the same classes or dorms with them for two years now. Al was a bit more involved in that chat time than he normally would be due to his team Captain status; but that didn't keep his mind from wandering as his senses were heading toward information overload as he was bombarded with the non-stop stimulus provided by hundreds of fired up students.

Al was getting better at handling the sensory barrages in large groups, but that was offset a bit by the fact that his abilities continued to grow and develop – allowing him to sense even more of what was going on around him. Some of that was good, but there was more than enough bad too; and more still that he simply tried not to think about at all while still storing everything into memory without even thinking about the fact that he did that automatically. While some of their friends wanted to talk Quidditch, the gossip network was on overload too; and every rumor was mentioned and discussed – though that was done more by the girls than the boys. Bristol's news was part of that, and she didn't hide from it; but Al was grateful when their classmates mostly left her alone about it after she admitted that it was all basically true. What Al sensed from her while that had been going on was one of the things he didn't really want to think about, since while she did truly feel bad about what James had done, and for hurting Chris; she also didn't regret going for what she'd wanted with James.

Fortunately, the good vibes were a lot stronger than the not-so-great feelings around him; so Al was able to stay in a good mood through to the end of the feast. He finished up early-enough to go over to the Ravenclaw table and wish Gwendolyn a good night before they needed to split up and head for their own Houses; and then he met up with Rose again for the walk to Gryffindor tower. Lily and Hugo had stayed with the firsties while they did that; so Al and Rose didn't talk with them again until after they were all in the common room; and the firsties had been set free for a while to hang out until they'd be split up and taken to the boys' and girls' dorms for the night. While they were busy, Al, Rose, and Ray made the rounds with as many of the second and third-year students as they could get together with to talk about Quidditch and team tryouts. Al could sense the various reactions to that news; there were trust issues he was going to need to deal with; and at least a few of his fellow Gryffindor were still on the James and Ollie bandwagon – and would likely never give him a chance.

The visits with the firsties that followed went better; though it had helped to have some of the most-outgoing firsties already in his camp – like Lily and Kathryn. Al didn't get to meet every firstie before they were rounded up, but he did make sure that word would get around about what he was going to do for tryouts – and during the coming week too; he sent posters with Lily and Hugo to put up in the firstie dorms; and posted more of them around the common room after the firsties left so that he had that done too before sitting down for a while to chat with Rose, Ray, and a few other friends until they split up to head for their dorm rooms too.

"I'd say that you're off to a great start as Captain," Rose told Al once they were gathered around one of the work tables with Ray, Bristol, Cora, Scott, and a few others.

"Not everyone would agree with you on that," Al countered; "but we'll see how it goes over the next week – and at tryouts."

"You'll never be able to make everyone happy, Al," Rose told him. "Do the best you can; be fair; and make Quidditch fun for us again this year. Win a few games along the way; and you might even wind up being the most popular geek in Gryffindor."

"I'd like to win a few matches this year just to get James and Ollie to shut it with the loser insults," Ray told them.

"Let's worry aobut making the team first," Al told him with a grin. "I'm really glad that we've gotten so many really good firstie players; but it'd suck to be us if Melissa, Kathryn, and another player win the Chaser tryouts over us. If that happens; James and Ollie will never let us forget it."

"If you've jinxed us by saying that; I'm going to blast you after tryouts next Saturday," Ray wanred. "I've waited two years now to play for our House team, and I might have to wait for a year or two again once we're eligible for the senior team; so this is my big chance to play – and I'm not going to let you mess that up for me!"

"Good – then don't," Al told him with a grin. "Now we'll just have to hope that Rose doesn't have her own plan to have a team with as many Witches on it as possible; and stop us from scoring even one goal against her at tryouts."

"I'll definitely try to stop every shot," she assured them; "but that'll be true for every Chaser – not just the Wizards. Don't forget that I need to do better than the other Keepers – including Hugo – and I'm in the same boat with Ray; since Louis will still be on the senior team during our fourth and fifth years."

"I know that I'm out-numbered by the Quidditch fanatics in our group," Bristol told them; "but isn't anyone else more worried about our third-year classes – and having the extra optionals to keep up with when we'll also have fewer study periods to keep up with all of that work?"

"I am," Scott assured her, "but then I'm not sure whether I'll have much of a chance to even make the reserve squad this year – especially if Rose's brother is good-enough that she's worried about whether she can make the team or not." He smiled at Al. "That will be your biggest problem with the other players, Al – if you end up with a team full of Weasleys, Potters, and Woods. It won't matter for some of our friends whether they win those spots fairly or not. They'll just choose to believe that the tryouts were fixed – again." He turned his smile on Rose when he noticed the expression on her face. "Don't hex the messenger – you know I'm right about this."

Rose smiled too and sighed. "Yeah, but it isn't fair."

Scott shrugged. "No, but then you could say the same thing about getting to have better or worse brooms at tryouts; the luck of the draw for those of you born to Quidditch families; and the distribution of natural talent for the game. None of that's fair either; but we all have to live with reality – even when we don't like it."

"If you're thinking about having everyone use school brooms at tryouts; forget it," Ray told Al; earning a round of laughs.

"Would you be okay with it if I let everyone fly Firestorms instead?" Al asked; and Ray frowned at him.

"That's a no-win question," he decided. "You're Captain – do what you want; but I won't be lending my broom to anyone."

"That's very unsportsmanlike of you," Bristol teased; and Ray smiled and shrugged.

"Maybe, but a Firestorm in the hands of a player that isn't good-enough to use one is an accident waiting to happen. I wouldn't want my broom busted up; but I wouldn't want any kids to get hurt either."

"That's a good point," Al told him, "but maybe we can come up with something this week that will be more fair for everyone; since Scott's right too."

"So you're going to trade families with Scott for the year too?" Bristol asked with wide-eyed innocence that was almost believable.

"Let's not get silly here," Scott told her before Al could say anything. "Al might have the family advantage for Quidditch; but that doesn't mean that I'd like to have James for a brother for the next year."

Scott's answer sent their chat off in a different direction, but not before Al sensed that Bristol hadn't actually liked Scott's response – her own feelings for James a jumbled mess of good and bad that he didn't attempt to decipher. They eventually moved on to talk about their expectations for classes in the morning; there were a few cameo chats with visiting relatives or friends; and then Al eventually was the first third-year guy to head up to their dorm room. He stopped to check in with Hugo and make sure he was doing okay; and then he got ready for bed and was in his bed before Ray, Scott, and a few other guys joined him in the new room they'd be sharing for most of the next ten months. He had a quick mirror chat with his parents then; followed that up with some reading while talking with Ray and Scott; and then wrapped up his night with a mirror chat with Gwendolyn that was fun but short too; because they were both ready to get some sleep by then so they'd be ready for whatever they'd each be doing for their first day of classes on Monday.

Al had planned on renewing his early-morning routine when hegot up on Monday, and while that earned him a few jokes from the other guys when he was heading for the common room while they were just getting up or still in bed; he was also looking forward to his morning walk and talk time with Rose – something he had missed during the summer. She'd felt the same way, since she met up with him in the common room within a few minutes of his arrival; and then they were on the go again once they'd shared a quick hug and morning greetings. What they talked about while making their way to the Great Hall didn't really matter at all – it was the hanging out together that was important. They did talk about what their expectations and hopes were for their third-year classes and Quidditch; discussed how they were going to watch out for James, Ollie, and any Slytherins – both for themselves and for their favorite firsties; and made some preliminary plans for study sessions that were going to be much tougher with ten and eleven subjects, Quidditch practices, and Hogsmeade weekends to work around.

The Great Hall was nearly-empty when they arrived, so they were able to welcome all of their Gryffindor classmates; have cameo visits with Lily, Hugo, and some of their friends; and Gwendolyn stopped by for a good morning hug and kiss with Al just in case they didn't get to do that after breakfast – and once the schedules were handed out. The mood in the room was generally fairly upbeat with an undertone of anticipation. The morning conversation while they ate was entertaining due to the ongoing overload of gossip; though some teens and tweens found all of that more fun than others. Al was more involved in the conversations than usual, but since he was mostly asked about Quidditch; he suspected that the spike in his popularity would be temporary – especially once tryouts were finished on Saturday. Most of the students ate their meal quickly – especially the teens most looking forward to finding out what their schedules were going to be like for the year.

The Professors did get to that all-important task as soon as most of their students appeared to be finished eating; so it wasn't long before the third-year students began receiving their schedules. That took longer than for the first and second-year kids because each individual schedule was confirmed with each student; mostly to make sure that the optionals that were on the schedule were correct; or to go over the rare conflicts that came up due to optional ch0ices and the regular, overall schedule for each House. Those latter issues only happened for the students that picked two optionals with the same time slot for their own House; and the solution usually meant taking one of those classes with students in the other Houses in their normal time slot. Despite having eleven classes, that wasn't a problem for Al because Muggle Studies was the doubled-up class for Gryffindors; and he wasn't taking it. Getting their schedules individually meant needing to wait for some of their friends once Al and Rose had their schedules; but they were able to put their heads together and take a closer look at them while they waited.

"Starting out the week with DADA will be fun," Rose said as they began the review with the class they'd be heading to first once their friends were ready to go too. "You don't get to do that with Gwendolyn; but it'll be more fun to take with Hufflepuff than it was with Slytherin last year."

"True, but we have Arithmancy after that with Ravenclaw; so that works for me," Al said with a nod and smile. "Gwendolyn will be happy about that one too."

"And then the fun level drops – for us," Rose told him; frowning as she looked at their afternoon classes. "Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures with Slytherin."

"We'll be with the Slytherins all afternoon on Fridays too," Al pointed out; drawing Rose's attention to their double-Herbology class on Friday afternoon. "I am so going to miss our double study periods on Friday – especially now."

"Add in Potions with Slytherin first thing on Tuesday and Thursday; and I'm not sure I like this schedule much at all, Al. That's double-Potions on Tuesday too."

"You do get a study period after that class and our lunch break while I'm in Divination, though; and then we'll have Charms with Raveclaw for our last class on Tuesday," Al advised her; and then pointed to the classes on Thursday. "Once we get that Potions class out of the way; we'll be spending the rest of the day with Ravenclaw for Ancient Runes before lunch and double Charms in the afternoon. I like that a lot."

Rose grinned at him. "You would; and so will Gwendolyn. "I'd say Gwendolyn got almost everything she'd hoped for – we'll have Transfiguration with her too – that double class on Wednesday afternoon and the other class on Friday morning." She smiled then. "Astronomy works for us on Tuesday night; but you'll miss all of the snogging you did with Gwendolyn in that class last year."

"I'm glad we don't have that on a Quidditch practice night for our team," Al said with a nod and smile. "We managed to do pretty well in that class last year; so maybe the snogging helped – not that we actually did do anything more than sneak a kiss and hug now and then."

"You'd better hope that isn't true, or you'll have some explaining to do at the end of the year if you're still the top student in Astronomy – and one of the other girls in our House is runner-up to you."

"Funny, but now you'd really better hope that you don't have that happen with you and one of my dorm mates getting those top marks," Al advised her with a laugh.

"That's getting a bit off-track," Rose decided; wanting to change the subject. "We might not like taking those afternoon classes with Slytherin, but it will be handy to be in the greenhouses or with Professor Hagrid on Mondays and Fridays. We'll be able to go straight to our Quidditch practices after that – as long as we take our gear with us."

"And tougher if we don't and have to make the round trip to our dorms," Al added with a nod. "There are parts of these schedules that I don't like, but they are more good than bad; so we can't complain about them."

"I guess," Rose agreed a bit grudgingly. "It looks as though we're pretty much done now; so let's hurry to our dorms to get the books we'll need for the morning and get to our DADA class – unless you want to try to meet up with Gwendolyn first."

Al looked over at the Ravenclaw table. Gwendolyn was still waiting for her turn to get her schedule; so he shook his head. "We'll see her in Arithmancy, and I don't want to interrupt things at her table; so let's just go."

They did that; it didn't take long to make the trip to Gryffindor tower and then move on to the DADA classroom along with more than half of their Gryffindor classmates. Tory and Madision checked in with them while they waited for the class to start; they compared schedules; and both girls were happy to find out that they'd also be taking Divination with Al along with DADA and History. There were jokes about dueling for the right to be Al's DADA partner all year despite the fact that Scott and Ray were in the class too, but they were just joking about that; and Al paired with Rose again when they did eventually begin the bit of practice time they had left to them after their first lecture of the year from Professor Jones.

Once they had that first class out of the way, the rest of the day seemed to speed along – at least for Al. He loved their first Arithmancy class – and not simply because he sat next to Gwendolyn as they were introduced to the subject by Professor Vector. Though he'd read far-ahead of their first lesson; it was still a lot of fun to work with the numbers and learn about the history and relationship between numbers and magic. Rose and Gwendolyn had fun too, if not as much as Al did; but the one thing that was most-different about their first optional class was only having some of their classmates with them instead of everyone. For Arithmancy, it was a bit less than half; so the combined total between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw was about the same size as a normal, single-House class.

Al and Gwendolyn hadn't been able to compare schedules before Arithmancy, so they did that after their class – and before they split up to go to their dorm rooms to get the books they'd need for the afternoon classes. Gwendolyn had been happy with her schedule too – especially thanks to getting to take some of her toughest classes with Al and Rose. They didn't meet up again before lunch, but finished eating early-enough to spend some time together before Al needed to head out to the greenhouses and she needed to move on to her afternoon classes. By the time Al got to the greenhouse, Rose was already there; and she was happy to see him because Scorpius Malfoy and Davis Zabini were also there early – and the vibes Al immediately sensed from them explained why she hadn't been enjoying the moment.

"I've changed my mind," she whispered to him. "Being a third wheel with you and Gwendolyn would have been more fun than this."

Al laughed and hugged her. "You wouldn't have been in the middle of anything weird," he assured her. "We'll wait a bit before working the snogging into our schedules – once we've worked out everything else." He frowned when he heard Davis snort out a laugh while Scorpius smirked. "That 'we' would be Gwendolyn and me," he advised them evenly; trying not to let his annoyance show. "Don't go starting any stupid rumors – even if some of your buddies would be happy to believe them – no matter how idiotic they might be."

"You look pretty cozy to me right now," Davis retorted. "I'd believe it. That's likely how we ended up with this infestation of Weasleys – you keep hooking up with your cousins." He scowled when Al and Rose both laughed.

"That's only funny because our family only had Wizard babies for generations until Al's Mum was born," Rose told him. "Your insinuation is a bit impossible; and we all know that Al's Mum didn't marry one of her cousins." She smiled sweetly then. "I'm sure that you will find it amusing that Scorpius' cousin just married one of ours this past summer. Does that make us cousins-in-law of his, Al?"

"We're cousins anyway," Al reminded her, "but don't have too much fun with that either, Davis. We're very distant cousins to Scorpius – and through a line that was disowned by the Black family a long time ago."

"You're just making all of that up," Davis accused; and then stared at Scorpius when his friend didn't show any signs of denying it. "No way! You're related to them?" he demanded; and Scorpius frowned and glared at him.

"They'd think so," he answered grudgingly. "As he said, that's through members of the Black family that were disowned, so as far as my family is concerned; they're not related at all – incluidng the cousin that just got married to their cousin." His expression hardened at the look on Davis' face. "Don't even think about going there," he warned. "My family did the right thing with the blood-traitors in our family; so it doesn't matter what they think or believe."

"That's your loss," Rose told him. "We think that we're lucky to have a Harpies' Quidditch star for a cousin – and now we've got one of the best new Aurors for a cousin too – though Teddy is Uncle Harry's Godson too; so he's always been close to the family anyway."

Your cousin married Victoire Weasley?" Davis asked incredulously; and Scorpius glowered at him.

"What part of disowned or disinherited don't you understand?" he said with real annoyance now. "Drop it, Davis. I mean it!"

Davis grumbled about that a bit, but he did drop it; and Al and Rose didn't say anything else to either of them while they waited for their classmates and Professor Longbottom to arrive. Al had mixed feelings about that first run-in with any Slytherin students that had been more than passing moments with nothing more significant than glares or a muttered insult or three. That was mostly because of what he sensed from Scorpius. Davis was easy – he simply hated Al, Rose, and their entire family because they were responsible for everything that had befallen his parents and family. There was some of that with Scorpius too, but the darkness Al sensed with him went far beyond that; while also being mixed with many other emotions ranging from jealousy to doubt and insecurity. Above all else, Al most-strongly sensed that Scorpius was a threat to him – even though he'd never tried to do anything to him at all in their first two years at Hogwarts. That seemed to be an almost-violent contrast to the things they had in common – like being junior team Captains and top students in their Houses; but Al also didn't get any sense that those similarities and similar interests could ever overcome the anger and hatred.

While he mused about that for a while until their class started, once Professor Longbottom got to work; it was time to focus on their studies for the rest of the afternoon. As always, Rose had more fun in Herbology than Al did; but then they both had a blast in Care of Magical Creatures – especially when they went flying on the backs of a pair of hippogriffs – the only students in their class willing to give that a try during their first class with Professor Hagrid. Hearing the old stories was very different from actually doing something like that; though Al had a true advantage over his classmates – probably because the hippogriffs somehow recognized his Animorphmagus kinship to them. Getting to go for that fly had been brilliant; but then the highlight of the day for Al was his Quidditch workout after that class. He was using the time slots for what would be his team practices starting next week for training, and while he'd made it optinoal for everyone; he had a big turnout – including getting every interested firstie player because they needed to pass their flying tests with Mr. Peakes before they'd be allowed to try out for the team.

"Welcome to our first training workout!" Al called out loudly after trying several times to get the attention of his fellow Gryffindors. "While I'm sure that many of you have been practicing all summer, that isn't possible for everyone; so these workouts that we'll be doing today, Wednesday, and Friday are meant to help us to get ready for tryouts on Saturday – and get a head start on our training for those of us lucky enough to make the team this year." He smiled as he looked around and tried to offer silent encouragement to some of the tentative-looking firsties in the group.

"I will not be using these training sessions to assess any of you. The best players on Saturday will make the team; so don't worry about anything else beyond getting ready to play your best during those tryouts." That statement seemed to relax most of the teens and tweens. "Mr. Peakes will be doing flying tests for the first-year students all three days during these workouts, and will be here for the second-half of our time slot because he'll be doing tests with the Hufflepuff players at the stadium during the first half. Firsties can join these workouts with us without passing the test; but must pass it before being allowed to try out for the team. That does give you until the end of the day on Friday to do that, though, so if you need a bit of work on your flying; you'll have time to do that too between now and then."

"If anyone here can't fly already; they shouldn't be here," one of the second-year boys suggested; and Al shrugged and smiled at him.

"My Dad had never flown a broom before coming to Hogwarts," he advised the boy – and everyone else. "It turns out that he was pretty good at it; and was the youngest player on a House team in a century – back when we didn't have junior teams. Let's give all of our fellow Gryffindor some support and help. You never know where the next great player might come from!"

"You want us to help other players to do better than us?" Ray joked. "I don't like that idea at all!"

Al laughed along with most of the other kids. "I'd miss playing on the team if I get beat out; but that'd be great for our House to have the best players on the team – even if it would suck for me – or you. Let's not worry about that today, though; and just try to have some fun." He smiled again then. "We're going to start with the warm-ups we normally do at home when we're practicing during the summer. They might be challenging for some of you, since they're based on the workouts that the Harpies do, but just keep up the best you can; and don't worry about whether you can do everything while you're just learning the exercises."

With that, Al got everyone to line up in rows and got started on the stretching exercises; followed that up with the physical workout that he led; and then moved on to a flying exercise that he had Lily lead; but that he had her do in stages so that he could have time to get some of the less-experienced kids on the ground again when they reached their personal limits. Mr. Peakes was there as they wrapped that up, so he used one end of the practice pitch for his flying tests while Al continued the workout at the other end with some position training. He let Lily again lead the Seeker workout for that; he led the Chasers; Rose worked with him so that they could have the Keepers and Chasers work together; and he had the prospective Beaters stay on the ground and work with a regular ball that they batted around and tried to keep airborne instead of using bludgers because he didn't want to risk any injuries – particularly with the firsties doing their flying tests.

Dominique was doing workouts with her senior team and other prospects too; so the junior team had to give up the pitch at the end of their normal time. That worked for Al anyway, because by then; most of the younger kids were already tired out from a workout that was tougher than anything they'd done before. James and Ollie were the last to arrive for the senior players, but while that was good for Al; he wasn't totally able to avoid the razzing and insults that the two boys launched into right away as they got ready for their own workout. They picked on some of the other junior players too, but called out most of the insults to Al, Rose, and Ray – despite several warnings from Dominique and Louis to stop. Al ignored them as best he could; but he was also sure that he'd need to deal with them sooner instead of later if they wouldn't stay out of his way while he worked with his team.

Despite the annoyances that were James and Ollie, most of the junior team hopefuls were still smiling as they wrapped up their practice and gave way to the senior team players, so Al was sure he'd done okay for his first day; and he felt pretty good too as he put his gear and broom away; answered several dozen questions from the other players; and kept an eye on the senior team as they began their own warm-ups. He couldn't stay, because he had a lot of assignments to work on from his first four classes of the year; but he did take note of the handful of player-prospects that did stay to watch the senior team practice. He'd need to wait to find out if they had the skills too, but having enough interest in the game to try learning more from the best players in their House made them worth keeping an eye on; and he made a mental note to get to know them better over the next few days – and help them out too.

Geting back to the castle and their House, Al and Ray split up from Rose and Lily while dropping off their gear and grabbing the books they'd need for studying for the rest of the day; and then three out of four of them headed for their usual classroom to meet up with Gwendolyn – and anyone else studying with her while they'd been busy with Quidditch practice. That ended up being a smaller group than they'd expected because none of their Gryffindor study buddies were there – including the non-players, and while they weren't surprised that Shane hadn't decided to keep studying with them after breaking up with Rose; Gwendolyn only had Toni and Michael with her in the room when Al, Ray, and Rose arrived. Gwendolyn welcomed Al with a bright smile, hug, and kiss; and then went back to work while he got his books out so that he could work on Arithmancy with her.

"I'll switch to that in a few minutes," Gwendolyn told him. "I just want to finish what I'm working on with this first. How was your workout? Any surprises?"

"Except for some James and Ollie issues, it was a really good workout," Al answered. "I haven't seen any major surprises yet, but a few of the players have gotten better over the summer; and there are a couple of firsties that we don't know with some potential."

"Lily thinks that one of the firstie Seekers she worked with could be good," Rose advised them; "but he doesn't have any experience at all."

"She didn't say anything to me," Al mused with a grin. "Are you sure she was talking about potential as a Seeker?"

"If she wasn't; then how did she find out he doesn't have any experience at whatever you think she might mean instead?" Gwendolyn teased; and Al laughed.

"I am so wishing that I didn't try to make that joke now. "We definitely don't need a repeat of last season for our Seekers – or any of the other players either."

"Tood bad for you, Rose," Toni said with a grin – "and I guess that applies to you too, Ray," she added with a laugh. "Tory might not think that's funny, but for all we know; there are some hot new Chaser prospects on her team this year too. Speaking of hot, though, were there any guys that you were particularly interested in at practice, Rose?"

Rose smiled and nodded. "Yeah – my brother. There might be some players at the other positions for Al, Ray, Lily, and Fred to worry about competing against on Saturday; but Hugo is going to be my toughest competition at tryouts; so I'll hope he won't be too hot – at leat from a Keeper performance perspective."

"Or at least not as hot as you are?" Ray offered; and then spun around when he heard a pair of laughs coming from the doorway.

"Good timing," Madison told him with a grin. "Good luck explaining to Tory why you're commenting on Rose's hotness."

"I heard enough of what they were talking about to know," Tory advised her. "Teasing Ray about it would be fun; but we've got way too much work to do for that little side trip. We're talking Quidditch workouts?"

"Yeah, and we'll want to hear your news too; but we're pretty much ready to get to work now too; so we should get to that and multi-task your practice report," Rose answered. "We're starting with Arithmancy, so if you want to do DADA with us; that'll have to wait until after dinner."

"We'll do that and work on something elsse now," Madison decided with a nod. "Our workout was pretty good; though we had some disappointed firsites that failed their flying tests with Mr. Peakes."

"Al's giving them until Friday to pass that test," Ray advised her. "It won't likely help many of them; but our firsties might be happier."

"We thought about doing that too, but I decided not to do that. I'm trading off a few upset firsties for what will hopefully be better workouts without being slowed down by the kids that just aren't ready to play yet."

"You might be right about that," Al said with a nod. "I don't think that we were slowed down too much today; but then I did spend some time dealing with players that I needed to have sit out parts of the workout when it got to be too much for them."

They continued to talk about Quidditch too, but started to get focused on their assignments too. Al, Gwendolyn, and their fellow Ravenclaw and Gryffindor Arithmancers got that assignment finished by the time they packed up for dinner; and then they all split up for that meal – where Quidditch was again a top chat topic while they ate and enjoyed the break in their busy day. It was back to work again after that, and they had the same group for the evening – mostly because the rest of their friends opted to work with other friends. That had been something they'd dealt with at the start of second-year too, and while those changes might just be temporary; they'd have to wait and see – just as they'd likely end up with additions to their group over the next few months as new friendships and relationships developed. Al expected more of that this year through their optionals; though that might also mean that they ended up with different groups on different days. One thing that he was sure of, though, was that he would anchor those groups with Gwendolyn and Rose; while their other friends would rotate in and out of the group.

They worked until shortly before curfew, but Al and Gwendolyn left enough time for a side-trip to the Owlery so that they could send first letters of the school year with Winter – more to give her something to do for the first week there before getting into a weekly routine for their now-usual Sunday night Owl Posts. They managed to get their assignments finished too; though Al expected to need to work after curfew on a regular basis as the workload piled u on them to keep up with everything. He walked Gwendolyn to the Ravenclaw entrance; their goodnight hug and kiss was short and sweet thanks to too many observers in the hallway; and then Al made it back to his House with a few minutes to spare. Rose was already there, and had stopped to talk with some of their friends, so he joined them for a little while; catching up on the stories from the common room that Rose was being told about – mostly by the girls.

Being able to do that without even one walk-by razzing from James and Ollie was nice, but since they had tried to mess with him at practice; he didn't plan on letting his guard down around them anytime soon – if ever. They were in the common room at another work table, and seemed to be goofing around more than studying, but their friends seemed to be having fun with them; so that at least seemed to be going well for them. Al stayed in the common room for a half-hour, including spending five minutes or so talking with Lily and Hugo; went up to his dorm room; and then got ready for bed before having a short mirror chat with his parents. They didn't plan on doing that every day, but he'd promised to give them a first day of classes update; and they didn't tell him anything he didn't want to know about their first, full, kid-free day of the school year. He didn't need to be in the room with them to sense that they were going to survive the next three and a half months of empty-nesting, and while he was glad of that; he was also okay with not knowing just how much fun they were having without their kids in the house.

Despite the fact that more than half of his roommates only had three classes on Monday, Al was still the first to get to sleep – even before most of the other guys came up to their room for the night. He was up again in the morning at his regular time; and was falling right back into the daily school routine – though there were adjustments needed from a year ago that would take a few weeks to develop. First up for those changes was getting used to the third-year class schedule. Starting Tuesdays with a full morning of Potions with Professor Perks and Slytherin was good and bad for Al, and while he was happy to have Rose for his partner in the class, Slytherins seemed to be particularly grumpy first thing in the morning; and he sensed even more animosity among some of them than there'd been even on Monday afternoon – possibly becuase he and Rose were two of Professor Perks' favorite students.

The good news about having Potions in the morning was that it was out of the way by lunchtime, and while he'd had fun in the class despite the sensed animosity in the room; Al was ready for that break in the action to get relaxed and ready for his first Divination class. He hadn't compared schedules with everyone in Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, so he was surprised to find out that he and Romeo were the only two guys taking the class – and that none of the guys in Hufflepuff had signed up for it. Romeo was very happy about that – especially since Al was already taken; which left all of the girls to him. Al found that amusing – especially since he could sense that it had been the only reason Romeo had for taking the class in the first place. Cora and Bristol teased him about that, but then they also teased Al about what Gwendolyn would say when she found out that there were only two boys in the class. Some of the girls got teased too – Kylie Cootes was supposedly taking the class to help her with announcing the Quidditch matches by predicting weather and winners or losers.

Al mostly had fun with all of that before the class started, and he was amused by the reactions from some of the girls to Firenze when he arrived and started the class; but then he simply got into the first lesson when Firenze started his lecture; and soon had his Centaur Professor and fellow students impressed as he could answer every question; and then was the only student in the class to succeed with their first practical exercise. There was some weird with that too, but that mostly came through what he sensed from Patricia – and a few of the girls. In her case, Patricia didn't like watching him do so well in the class whileher own efforts didn't work out nearly as well; and she still had a lot of animosity directed his way because she blamed him for her break-up with James. While Al didn't think that was funny at all, he couldn't help but wonder how she'd feel about him if she found out that he'd already started to hold back on what he was doing in class because he didn't tell Firenze about everything he learned from that first exercise – not to mention that he sensed more of everything around him just by focusing his attention on the subject.

By the time the class ended, he was sure that it was going to be a favorite for him; and Charms was going to be great too because Gwendolyn was his partner for that class. That made having Professor Dawlish again a lot easier to take, but then he didn't have any problems at all during that first class with their Professor. He even awarded a total of twenty-five points to Al, Gwendolyn, and Rose by the end of the class, and while Al still sensed that Dawlish didn't like him or Rose, he did appear to genuinely like Gwendolyn; and grudgingly respected Al and Rose for being talented and interested students. Their classes weren't finished for the day for the Gryffindors, since they had Astronomy at midnight with Professor Sinistra. Al was glad to have that on Tuesday nights, since Gryffindor didn't have Quidditch practice, but Gwendolyn did have her team workout to get to after Charms class; so she hurried off to do that right after class while Al, Rose, and Ray went to their dorms to switch books on their way to their study classroom.

Madison, Tory, Michael, and Toni met them there; but that was everyone until Gwendolyn joined them after her workout. Bristol and Cora had been talked into studying with Romeo and some of the other girls from their Divination class, which was, ironically, why Al did that assignment first; worked on Charms when Gwendolyn joined them; and then did his Potions assignment after dinner. Rose and Ray had been able to work ahead on that assignment during their study class while he'd been in Divination and while he'd worked on that Divination assignment; which was why they were able to take most of the evening off to relax and have naps ahead of their Astronomy class. Al didn't try having a nap after walking Gwendolyn back to her House ahead of curfew, but he did lay on his bed and read for a while before heading to the Astronomy Tower with the rest of his classmates shortly before midnight.

Astronomy was not the same without Gwendolyn as his partner, and he got teased about that too, but Rose worked with him; and they managed to keep entertained – even though he would have preferred to share the wonders of the universe with his girlfriend. He was tired by the time they trudged back to their House at one o'clock, though, so he got ready for bed right away; and was out for the count before half the guys were even in their beds for the night. Having just a handful of hours of sleep made it a bit tougher to wake up on Wednesday morning, but their schedule for the third day of the week was pretty good; so Al had fun all day as Gryffindor had DADA and History with Hufflepuff in the morning; and double Transfiguration with Gwendolyn and Ravenclaw in the afternoon. Gwendolyn was Al's partner for Transfiguration; and Professor Clearwater was very impressed with them – and with Rose too – as they worked through tthe first lecture of the year; and then had a blast with their first practical Transfigurations.

After they were finished classes for the day, it was time for Al, Rose, and Ray to get to their second Quidditch workout with Al's prospective team players. He was able to get right into the warm-ups without any delays, though there were a few stragglers that needed to join in for that part of the workout as they arrived late. While he changed up a few things to keep the workout interesting, Al still had Lily work with the Seekers; he and Rose worked together with the Keepers and Chasers; and Fred and Orlando led the Beater exercises – which they could do with bludgers and in the air by then because Mr. Peakes had been able to do the firstie flying tests with their team first because Madison had only given the Hufflepuff firsties the one shot at passing their flying tests ahead of tryouts. The only blip in Al's practice came at the very end – and that was again thanks to James and Ollie calling out insults and jokes while getting ready for their own worout with the senior team. Fortunately, they didn't show up until the last minute, so they couldn't do that for long before they needed to get started on their warm-ups; and the junior team practice was done.

"I'm glad that James and Ollie have left us alone the rest of the time; but I'm already sick and tired of them bugging us at the end of our practices," Rose told Al as they walked back to the castle. They were on their own because Ray had gone on ahead with some of the other guys while they'd taken a bit of time to watch the start of the senior team workout. "It's too much to hope that they won't make the senior team or their reserve squad; but I'd be okay if that happened and we didn't have them around to bug us at all."

"That is too much to hope for," Al agreed with a smile. "We could end up having more trouble with them after the senior team tryouts too; since I think that Ollie truly believes that he's the best Chaser and should make the team. He's going to be mad when that doesn't happen – especially if he's not even the best Chaser on the reserve squad – and that could happen too from what I've seen so far this week."

"He's delusional to think he's better than Lucy or Olivia," Rose declared with a shake of her head, "but then he thinks he's better than you and Gwendolyn too; and that's even more idiotic."

"It is, but then if we're honest with ourselves; we're a bit like that too – except at the opposite end of the scale," Al suggested; earning a laugh from Rose.

"That's because we find their bragging so offensive; though I'll admit that I don't feel as confident as maybe I should be. That isn't all bad; since I think we work harder to keep trying to be better players – while James and Ollie are still coasting along on talent without putting the effort into their game. James can get away with that more than Ollie can because he's got more talent – as annoying as that is to admit."

"I don't mind admitting that; and I really do hope that James has some success. That might actually help him."

"He's won two Quidditch Cups," Rose reminded him; and Al nodded.

"True, but that's not the same as personal success. The only claim he has for that right now is that he's beat G-Air in every match against him so far. He'd never admit it, but having some wins – like being top Seeker – would make him feel better about himself."

"You are an optomist," Rose said with a wry smile. "That might be possible; but I think it's more likely that he'd just become even more insufferable. We don't want to go there, though; so let's talk about what you want to do on Friday for our last workout ahead of tryouts."

Al was good with that suggestion, but then they didn't get far into that before he was hit by the now-familiar warning alarms going off in his head. He had his wand out without thinking about it; put up a shield above them; and watched as a handful of fairly nasty curses crashed into it and were deflected harmlessly away. His eyes had blazed with fiery anger, but there were no targets for a counter-attack because he could sense that their attackers had struck and immediately run off. Rose had her wand out too by the time he dropped the shield again; but put it away again when she saw Al pocketing his first.

"Well, we know that wasn't James and Ollie," she told him; and Al laughed.

"True, but someone has obviously learned from them. I'd say it's time for us to start checking our maps for more than just James and Ollie again. We're obviously not going to get most of the year off from having problems with some of our Slytherin haters."

"We'll need to warn Lily and Hugo too," Rose said thoughtfully. "They'll have more to worry about for things like this than we will – even with Lily's charm bracelet and Hugo's medallions."

"They are staying in groups anyway to avoid the bullies around here, but we'll do that; and hope for the best."

"And be ready for the worst – as always," Rose added. "It would be so nice to have a year around here where we don't have these problems, Al. Are you sure there's no way for you to get rid of that trouble magnet of yours – or reverse the polarity?"

"If you have any ideas; I'd be happy to hear them," he countered. "I don't plan on changing my name or disowning my family; and I'm not even sure that would work if I tried it."

"Probably not," Rose conceded. "I guess I'll just have to try to hang out with you less – at least when you're out and about the castle and grounds."

"That's probably a good idea. We'd better pick up the pace, though; since we have a lot of work to get done before curfew – or after; if we don't get it all done by then."

"That'll likely depend on how many study buddies we have tonight. We seem to be losing a few this year – and not just because Romeo's trying to put together an all-Witch study group with him as the only Wizard and leader."

That half-joke sent their chat off in a new direction; they put the hit-and-run ambush behind them for a while; and hurried to their dorm rooms to switch Quidditch gear for book bags before going on to their study classroom. They were a bit surprised when Ray, Toryn, Madison, and Scott weren't there – and they didn't join them at all for the pre-dinner studying. Al did have fun sitting with Gwendolyn while they worked, though; and they were able to get more done with the smaller group. They were back to having a larger group after dinner, but Gwendolyn was finished her work early thanks to the extra study time she'd had while Al had been busy with Quidditch; so she left early to go and have a nap ahead of her own Astronomy class while he worked on until right before curfew with Rose and the rest of their Gryffindor and Hufflepuff study mates. They managed to get their work done by then, which surprised Al a bit; but then he was wiped out by then after not getting much sleep on Tuesday night; so he went straight to bed once they got back to their House just ahead of curfew.

Thursday mornings were going to start out with another class of Potions with Slytherin, so that wasn't something that Al was excited about, but he still enjoyed the lessons and potion-making; and then they got to move on to Ancient Runes with Ravenclaw. The Muggle Studies class for Gryffindor was at the same time, and they had that class with Slytherin too; but Al and Rose found out at lunchtime that only two Slytherins were taking the class with them; so it wasn't a big deal for them. Al loved getting to have another class with Gwendolyn, and that was even better because they also had double charms together all afternoon. Getting to spend so much of the day with Gwendolyn was great; though it was going to be a tough day for her because she had Quidditch practice after Charms; and then had some tough assignments to get done with less time to do all of the work. Al was able to do Charms and Ancient Runes with her; and help out with her Astronomy too; but Gwendolyn still had some work to do when they needed to be back in their own Houses at curfew.

Al would have preferred to stay and work with Gwendolyn until she was finished, but since that wasn't an option; he had a visit with Lily once he was back in their common room; talked with Hugo and a few of their other friends too; and then headed up to his room and went to bed early. That was mostly because he wanted to be rested up for what he expected would be his toughest day of the week – Friday. Starting the day with DADA and Transfiguration was good, but an afternoon of Herbology with Slytherin wasn't going to be nearly as much fun as their Friday afternoon study classes with Ravenclaw had been in second-year. With no study classes at all this year, he also felt more tired by the end of that two hours of Herbology; and still had his Quidditch workout to get to straight from the greenhouse. He might have been able to get an early start to the workout, but not even all of his fellow third-year prospects had brought their gear along to the greenhouses; and the teens that didn't ended up being late by the time they made the round-trip to their dorm rooms.

That last workout went well-enough from Al's perspective, but there were some disappointed firsties by the end of their practice time because they didn't pass their flying tests with Mr. Peakes – their last chance to do that before the tryouts on Saturday. While Al had lots of sympathy for them, he hadn't been surprised; and even some of the tweens that had passed their flying test weren't going to be serious contenders for spots on the team or reserve squad. He also had a pretty good idea about which players were going to be the toughest competitors; and thought that some of his friends were going to be surprised at tryouts – especially the handful of players that were, to be blunt, delusional about their own Quidditch skills.

Al didn't have time to think about that – or the tryouts – very much from the time their workout ended through the rest of the afternoon and evening. He left the annoyance over more insults and idiocy from James and Ollie at the end of the practice behind him too; and focused on his studies. They'd been given alot of assignments and projects for their three classes, and with at least part of Saturday being a write-off for tryouts; Al wanted to work hard to get as much done as possible so that he and Gwendolyn wouldn't end up studying all weekend too – though they also already had two bigger projects assigned to them so far that they'd need to work on in addition to the regular assignments. Gwendolyn had been able to get an early start on her work, but they had no chance of finishing everything by dinnertime; and it definitely felt different to be working after dinner instead of having a night off to hang out together and play – or spend time having fun with their friends. They did wrap up their studying an hour before curfew so that the couples could have some time together, and Al and Gwendolyn went for a walk; visited Winter in the Owlery; and had a minor snogging session in a classroom on the way to the Ravenclaw tower entrance. They both managed to get back to their Houses ahead of curfrew; and Al had a visit with Lily in the common room to hear about most of her day and talk about tryouts with her, Hugo, and some of the other firsties.

He was glad that Lily was having fun – especially with Denise, Hugo, Kathryn, and Melissa; but wished he could spend more time with her too. They'd be able to talk more at Quidditch practices once they had their fourteen players picked, but if their first week was any indication; Al wasn't sure how much time he was going to be able to spend with his sister when he was so busy with his studies. That had been a bonus when it came to James; but he'd wanted to spend more time with Lily now that they were at school together. The in-person chats at night were better than mirror chats; but not nearly as good as getting to spend hours together nearly every day the way they had all summer. While that wasn't working out for them so far, Al was glad to hear that she was having fun every day; doing pretty well in her classes; and avoiding any major trouble with Slytherins – and with James and Ollie too.

The weather on Saturday morning was cloudy and damp, but not seriously unpleasant. Al was awake at his normal time even though there wasn't any hurry because the Gryffindor team had the first afternoon time slot for their tryouts. He was looking forward to spending time with Gwendolyn before her team tryouts in the late-morning time slot – after Slytherin; and he was happy to go for a longer-than-uusual walk and talk with Rose when she was up early too – and wanted to talk Quidditch with him. Studying wasn't high on their list of priorities for the day, but they did spend most of the morning working on their assignments – first in their study classroom; and then outdoors when the misty rain let up and being outside was an option. That transition worked out for Al because they did that when Gwendolyn needed to be at the stadium for her tryouts; and then the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff memebers of their group found a good place to work and wait for her while Toni and Michael went with Gwendolyn to watch the tryouts and offer her their support.

"Do you think that's our Slytherin competition this year?" Tory asked when she spotted a group of Slytherins leaving the stadium not long after Gwendolyn and the rest of the Ravenclaws had all gotten there. They could all see Scorpius Malfoy and Davis Zabini at the center of the group; but they also didn't know most of the students with them.

"If it is, they've got the reserve players with them," Rose suggested. "They only had four returning players, so if they all made the team again; then only three of the others are on the team with them."

"We'll want to find out whatever we can about their new Seeker and Keeper for sure," Al told her. "Their third Chaser might not be a big deal; since Scorpius will be the anchor for their Chaser trio. Maybe we should have asked Lily and Hugo to join us. They might know some of those firsties – and Fred likely knows the second-year teens."

"They're likely all doing homework this morning – and trying to get it done by lunchtime," Rose suggested. "I'd like to do that too; so let's get back to it – and maybe we'll be able to take the rest of the weekend off – or most of it; if we want to work on our projects tomorrow."

Doing that wasn't as much fun as playing or goofing off would have been, but it did keep them busy until the Ravenclaw tryouts were finished – and Al could spend a bit more time with Gwendolyn before lunch. They'd needed to split up to go to their own dorms to drop off book bags or Quidditch gear, and for Al to get his Quidditch bag; but they took care of the tryouts recap first – and Gwendolyn was a very happy camper. She also had some big news; since the Ravenclaw tryouts had some real surprises – at least for some of the prospective players.

"Congratulations," Al told her after he'd shared a hug and kiss with Gwendolyn. "I have to ask you why Jonah and Stephanie both looked so excited when we saw each of them with their friends. We thought that one of them would be disappointed right now."

Gwendolyn laughed and hugged him again. "They're happy because they both made the team," she explained happily. "Jonah won the Seeker battle, and she was runner-up for that; but then they also both won spots on the team at Chaser – and I mean they came in fist and second for those two spots!"

"Are you kidding?" Rose exclaimed; and then laughed. "Never mind, but that's amazing!"

"It is," Gwendolyn agreed; "though maybe I should be a bit worried about that because I had to dip into my reserve squad for my third Chaser and add the sixth-best Chaser to that trio of Chasers."

"So is Landon your third?" Rose asked; and Gwendolyn shook her head – surprising Rose for a second time.

"He isn't – Alyssa was third-best. I don't know if Landon got discouraged or if something else was wrong today; but he was that sixth-best – and wouldn't have made the reserve squad either if Jonah or Stephanie hadn't won the Seeker spot."

"Was Ryan that good?" Al asked; and Gwendolyn smiled and nodded.

"He was great, but I did the Chaser and Keeper tryouts at the same time; and Landon didn't do very well against the other Keeper prospects either." She shrugged then. "I could be wrong, but do think he might have given up when Jonah, Stephanie, and Alyssa were all enough ahead of him that he wouldn't be able to do better than fourth-best. He was only sixth-best by one goal."

"That's too bad," Rose said sincerely; "but you do have three Witches for Chasers – even if you are stuck with boys at Keeper and Seeker. Did Katrina make the team?"

"She did – and was the top Beater. Patrick Thomas is her Beater partner – he's second-year; and he must've put in some extra work this summer since he's definitely a lot better than he was last year."

"That sounds great for you – and bad for our teams," Tory told her with a grin. "You're not making me feel as though this is going to be our year with that report. Can't Ravenclaw and Gryffindor ever have a lousy team?" She laughed too when most of her friends laughed. "Okay – can't both houses have lousy teams in the same season?"

"We could say the same about Hufflepuff," Al suggested. "You've won the last two matches against our junior team. Shouldn't that make it our turn to win this year?"

"Not if we can help it," Madison told her with a grin. "We won those matches, but your Houses have won the last two Quidditch Cups; and we're definitely overdue for a turn!"

They had fun talking about that for a while, but eventually headed into the castle to make those stops in their dorm rooms before going to the Great Hall for lunch. Al and Rose met up with Lily and Hugo in the common room and walked to the Great Hall together before splitting up to sit with their third and first-year friends. Lily also made a side-trip to stop and congratulate Jonah with a hug and kiss that earned them some teasing from the other Ravenclaw firsties; but Al also knew that Lily and Jonah hadn't spent a lot of time together either during their first week because they spent most of their time with friends and cousins in their own Houses instead. Quidditch was the top gossip topic at lunch – either with the news from the morning or speculation on the afternoon tryouts. Jonah's news was a top story – especially since he beat out the top Seeker from last season to earn the spot on the team. Stephanie's new spot on the team at Chaser was big too; though she did get teased about coming in second to Jonah for Chaser too.

While that chat time while they ate had mostly been fun for Al, he also finished eating early; stopped to get a good luck hug and kiss from Gwendolyn; and then headed out to the stadium pitch early to get everything set up for the start of his tryouts. That didn't take long, but he was mostly glad to have some comparative quiet time while fetching the Quidditch set and getting his own gear on while waiting for all of the junior team prospects to arrive – along with quite a few spectators. Dominique, Lucy, Louis, and Olivia were among those spectators; but he was thankful when James and Ollie didn't bother to show up and offer their brand of support. When he had what seemed to be all of the teens and tweens that he'd been working with all week out on the pitch; he called for everyone's attention and got to work.

"I'd like to thank everyone for coming today and trying out for our team. We're going to start with a quick warm-up; and then we'll begin the tryouts with Beaters first; follow that up with our Chaser and Keeper tryouts together; and then wrap up with finding our next Seeker. I'll again mention that all fourteen spots on the team and reserve squad are open to the top players at each position, and while I may need to pick our Beaters if the contest is close; we'll do tie-breakers if needed for the other positions. Are there any questions?"

There were a few from a trio of firsties; but then Al led a ten-minute warm-up before sending the six Beater prospects into the air to battle it out for those four jobs on the team and reserve squad. He wasn't surprised when Fred and Orlando convincingly won their spots on the team, and while he'd needed to pick the players for the reserve squad; the two firstie boys that didn't earn those back-up positions were only a bit disappointed about not making the cut – though Al didn't find out until the next round of tryouts that it was because both boys also tried out as Chasers. Since his own job was on the line too, Al had to juggle watching the other players with trying his best against all of the Keeper prospects – including Rose and Hugo. He was able to recruit help for keeping track of the scoring for the Chasers and saves for the Keepers; and Lily was one of his volunteers for that job. They had five Keeper candidates and fifteen Chaser hopefuls; so he went with three shots per Chaser on each Keeper, which gave him a best-of-fifteen shots for the Chasers; and a best-of-forty-five shots on goal for the Keepers.

He'd needed to drop two of the Chasers as they went along because they'd each either been hit by bludgers or had too many close calls; but everything else went fairly smoothly. Nobody in the stadium should have been surprised to see Al win the Chaser battle with thirteen goals out of fifteen shots; Ray was second with ten; and then the surprises for some started when Kathryn won the third spot with nine goals; Melissa was fourth with eight; while Kira Kirke and Romeo Remillard earned the final two spots on the reserve squad. Al didn't think any of those results were an upset, but Anna was among the players and hopefuls to be stunned when they not only didn't make the team; but were near the bottom of the pack. The Keeper results were a bit more obvious; though Al did have to deal with a tie-breaker problem because Rose and Hugo both earned thirty-seven of forty-five; so Al went with a fifteen shot tie breaker with five shots on each of them from himself, Ray, and Kathryn. With that round against the best three Chasers, Rose won the duel with Hugo by two saves – with an extra save each against Al and Kathryn being the difference when she and Hugo both went three for five against Ray.

By then, they were running out of time for their tryouts, so Al got right to the Seeker battle. He had six prospects for that job too; got them lined up; set the snitch free; and then gave his Seekers a countdown before allowing them to chase after it. Lily soon proved that she was the best Seeker by a lot when she caught the snitch in under five minutes; and then she waited on the pitch and watched as the other five hopefuls battled it out for the reserve team spot. Patricia was one of those hopefuls, and she'd been shocked by how easily Lily had caught the snitch when she hadn't even been anywhere near it at the time; but she was in for an even larger shock when another firstie needed just nine minutes to make the second snitch catch – and earn the job as Lily's Seeker back-up. That had been a minor suprise for Al too, though he had seen enough of Hunter Hudak's play during their workouts to know that he had some skill – even though he'd never played the game before coming to Hogwarts.

With that done – and before they ran out of time; Al was ready to move on to a short team meeting after they packed up and made way for the Hufflepuff team and their supporters. He gave everyone a half-hour to celebrate with their friends and have a break first; and he went to meet up with Gwendolyn to do that too; but he didn't take as much time for that; and was first to their usual study classroom – though Rose, Ray, and Hugo weren't far behind him; and the rest of their new team all made it there on time. He didn't want to drag out that meeting, so he simply handed out Quidditch rule books to the players that needed them; talked about his plans for their practices as they got ready to play Slytherin in three weeks; and did more detailed introductions for everyone so that they could all learn a bit more about each other before starting to work together three days a week for the rest of the school year. Once that was done, Al, Rose, and Ray went to meet up with Gwendolyn and the friends she was hanging out with while waiting to find out what was happening with the Hufflepuff tryouts. They still had to wait to find out about that, but they played while they waited; and enjoyed the free time to just hang out together until dinnertime.

Scorpius had needed to escape both his new team mates and his girlfriend before he could go off on his own and get together with Thomas – so it wasn't until mid-afternoon that he could get into the Room of Requirements and spend some time with his painted mentor. After closing the door behind him with a sigh of relief, he went to the table; got the portrait out of his bag; and then set it on the table before sitting down in the armchair.

"Would you like me to guess that you're not happy with your new team?" Thomas asked with a wry smile. "It's obvious that you're not overjoyed."

"Not even close," Scorpius confirmed. "I ended up with three firsties as the best of the rest; and didn't get anyone better than the Harpers at Beater or Davis at Chaser; so they're all back on the team too. Terri is very happy that her brother made the team as our new Seeker, and he did at least catch the snitch to get the job; but it wasn't pretty – and he's not as good as G-Air. Derrick Selwyn might make a half-decent Keeper in a year or two, but he couldn't stop me even once; and only stopped Davis once during tryouts. He won the job because he was the best of a lousy group of Keepers. Grant Pritchard was the best of the rest at Chaser; but I'll have to hope that the other teams have lousy third Chasers too or he's going to be a very weak link."

"Are you sure it's that bad?" Thomas asked. "You've told me that the other teams will have a lot of new players too; so your team could be better than you think – at least by comparison."

"I don't know what's going on with the Hufflepuff tryouts, since they're still going on right now, but we did hear about the Ravenclaw tryouts at lunch; and I think I saw all of the new players for the Gryffindor team before coming here. I stopped to watch from one of the windows, and while some of their reserve squad players were with the last groups of players leaving the stadium; most of my guesses are likely right. Unfortunately, I'm probably not wrong about my team. Albus has Rose and his little sister, Lily, on his team for sure; the same Beaters as last year – including his cousin, Fred; and Ray Wood at Chaser. The only thing I'm not sure about is who their third Chaser is; since Ray's younger sister and younger cousin were both with them after the practice – and they both looked happy-enough to have made the team."

"You haven't seen most of them play at all, or in more than a year," Thomas pointed out. "Having so many players on their team from Quidditch families could make a difference, Scorpius; but you've no chance at all if you start out believing you can't succeed."

"That is a problem," Scorpius admitted seriously. "I was faster than everyone else out there today – and faster by a lot. At least G-Air could keep up with me last year – though he didn't know that I was holding back to keep from passing him during our flying workouts."

"Your new broom would make that difference," Thomas reminded him. "There wasn't anyone else with a Lightningbolt, was there? That'll be an advantage for you against the other teams too."

"That's true," Scorpius conceded. "Maybe that will make a big difference – if I can fly circles around Albus, Gwendolyn, and Tory."

"That's better," Thomas approved. "If you have that advantage, you could use other strategies to make up for the shortcomings you see at Seeker and Keeper – though you likely understand those strategies for Quidditch better than I do. I may not be interested in the game, but do remember enough to know that the best players don't always win the day. If you're lacking there; make up for it with a better game plan."

"I suppose, but can't shake the bad feeling I've had about our chances this season since seeing just how thin the talent is for my team."

"Did you switch an optional and decide to take Divination?" Thomas joked; and Scorpius laughed.

"I'm taking Muggle Studies because you think it'll help me, so no; I'm not taking the other dumbest class at Hogwarts too – even though I heard that Albus is taking it in the same time slot that we have for that Muggle Studies class."

"If you want to be able to exploit the Muggles some day; you need to learn enough about them to do that. There are a lot of them infesting the world; and some of them are quite dangerous if you don't know how to handle them properly."

"Okay, but you could likely teach me everything I need to know instead of learning it from Professor Peakes. She might as well be a Muggle the way she spouts off about how wonderful the Muggle World is."

"I will tell you all that I know," Thomas promised, but I'm sure that a lot has changed in the Muggle World over the past two decades – just as it did during my lifetime. You'll be able to learn about all of what's new since I was killed – and then I'll help you learn how to exploit the Muggles to gain wealth and power."

"Okay, but since I won't need that for a while; can we do a lesson while I have the time?"

"Yes, but don't you want to finish your Quidditch report? You haven't told me about what you know of the Ravenclaw team yet."

Scorpius laughed. "Actually, no, but I will tell you that Gwendolyn's little brother beat out Stephanie Boot at Seeker – and she was the best junior Seeker last season. Stephanie's on the team too, though, since they both also tried out for Chaser and came in first and second at that position too. Landon didn't make the team again this year because his baby sister beat him too – and she was given the third spot when Jonah McCormack earned the Seeker job instead. They have two new Beaters – including a firstie Witch, but she's another cousin of Gwendolyn's; so she may have been trained by her Aunt Gwenog. I have no idea whether she's any good or not; but we will get to see Ravenclaw play before we have our match against them in March." He smiled then. "Can we get to the lesson now?"

Thomas had laughed; and then went on to teach Scorpius for more than an hour and a half until he needed to go on to the Great Hall for dinner. They both enjoyed the lesson, and while Scorpius had some difficulty with the magic; he did learn how to cast the curse he was being taught by the time he needed to leave – though he'd still need to keep practicing it before he'd be ready to cast it with enough force to be effective on an opponent. Scorpius would have liked to spend more time on his lessons with Thomas, but since he couldn't reasonably do that; he was willing to settle for spending the evening with Terri – and allowing her to express just how happy she was about her brother making it onto Scorpius' team. While he was only anticipating that as he left the Room of Requirements and walked to the Great Hall, that was enough to have Scorpius smiling – and not caring at all about the weekend assignments that he still needed to get finished by Monday or Tuesday. He knew that Thomas would berate him for that if he knew that his studies weren't his first priority; but then Thomas had never appreciated Witches in the same way that Scorpius now did; and Scorpius had decided that – at least for this one thing – he knew what was best for his own life.

Fortunately for him, he was quite successful when it came to his girlfriend, his school work, and his 'real' studies with Thomas. Now, if he could just add Quidditch glory to that list; he'd have everything he needed to have a brilliant year!

Madison and Tory had their new team mates around them for the walk from the stadium, but they split off from the pack to stop for a quick visit with Al, Gwendolyn, Rose, and the rest of the teens hanging out with them to pass on their Quidditch tryouts report. They were both smiling; so it was obvious that they were happy with the results.

"We're having a little meeting before dinner; so we'll just give you the highlights before getting to that," Madison said as both girls were welcomed with a round of hugs – starting with hugs and kisses from their respective boyfriends.

"Okay, but we should tell you that at least a couple of the guys are already happy to see that you and Tory didn't stack your team with hot third-year guys," Gwendolyn teased.

"Well we might have – if you'd come up with that brilliant suggestion before our tryouts," Tory joked; smiling at Ray. "We didn't even have acategory set up for assessing hotness of the Wizards; and now it's too late."

"That's funny, but let's hope that we have a different kind of hot for our new team," Madison told her.

"I'd say you have both," Rose suggested – "though Ray and Scott appreciate that more than the rest of us. Since you don't have much time, though, let's hear the short version of the Quidditch report."

"We kept our four returning players; added Ricky Peakes and Lee Johnson for our Beaters; Michael MacMillan is Tory's new Chaser partner along with Justine; and my little brother, John, is Leanne's back-up at Keeper," Madison summarized in one breath. "That's it – gotta go now!" She earned a round of laughs, but didn't rush off; since she was still holding Scott's hand.

"Lee's no surprise if he's got as much talent as Calvin and Tina," Rose said; "and Mr. Peakes must be happy about Ricky making the team this year." She smiled at Al before continuing. "Al and I have met Michael before, since he's one of the Auror kids; but we don't know him very well."

"I'm so used to your family connections to Quidditch, I forget about the family friendships you have through the Aurors and Ministry of Magic," Madison admitted with a nod. "We've had a good impression of Michael so far; though he's quite a bit different than Susannah."

"Did your brother give Leanne as tough a go of it for the Keeper job as Hugo did with Rose?" Gwendolyn asked; and Madison laughed.

"We didn't need a tie-breaker, but John was solidly second-best today. He's got it tougher than Hugo, though, since Leanne's only one year older."

"That could be scarier for Leanne in a few years," Rose offered. "Considering how things went for me today; I might have lost that Keeper duel with Hugo if he was a year older and had the extra experience."

"Thanks for reminding us about just how much talent you have in Gryffindor," Tory told her with a faux-frown. "We really can't be late for the meeting, Madison, since you're in charge; so let's get going." She smiled at Ray. "Walk me there?" she asked; and hugged him when he quickly agreed to do that. Scott went along with Madison; and they were sent off with best wishes and a couple of bonus congratulations for Tory since she had, after all, earned her spot on the team again too.

While Hufflepuff was having their post-tryouts meeting, Al, Gwendolyn, Rose, and the rest of their friends mostly just hung out together until it was time to go inside for dinner. After a full week where they hadn't been able to spend a lot of time with their younger sister and brother, Al and Gwendolyn invited Lily and Jonah to hang out with them for the evening, and while they'd had other offers from their firstie friends; they both picked the play time with their big brother and sister. They met up after enjoying a fairly entertaining dinner where Quidditch continued to be the top chat topic for most of the younger students; and then they headed for Al and Gwendolyn's usual study classroom. They were about half-way there when James and Ollie just happened to cross paths with them – and they were forced to stop because the two boys blocked the hallway to keep them from just passing them and moving on.

"Oh look, Ollie – it's Captain Potty, Captain Potty-trainer, and their little wanna-be clones," James said with a sneer. "Where are you off to in such a hurry – a brothers and sisters snogging session?" Ollie snorted out a loud, raucous laugh.

"They all have kissing cousins too; so that wouldn't surprise me."

"What do you want?" Al demanded; his anger immediately sparking at the ridiculous insults.

"We just wanted to congratulate you," James declared with totally-fake sincerity. "Great job getting your baby sister, brother, and cousins on your teams – and screwing all of the other junior players in your Houses along the way. How much did you have to cheat to make that happen – or did you just get others to do your dirty work. Maybe Rose confunded the other players – her Mum was good at that sort of thing when she was here."

"Will that be what happens if you and Ollie and Louis make it on Dominique's senior team with Olivia and lucy?" Lily asked sweetly. "Let me guess – you'll earn your spots over the other senior player hopefuls that aren't members of your families – or the McClaggens. It's so lucky for them that Fred's the only Beater in our family; or they'd be out of luck too!"

"The only way we won't be on the team is if our families cheat to keep us off the team," Ollie retorted. "We'll have Al to thank for that too; since my sisters are all sucked in by his lies."

"Sure, because it's impossible for you to admit that your sister and our cousins are better Chasers than you are – even though they're two and three years older than you are," Lily shot back. "By the way, did you come up with this load of total rubbish about us cheating during tryouts on your own, or do I sense the smell of sour grapes in the air from a certain former girlfriend and your hand-picked reserve squad Seeker behind your insults?" She smiled victoriously at the expression she saw on James' face. "I am so glad that you've patched things up with Patricia, James; and all it took was teeling you what you wanted to hear about our tryouts – since you were both too busy to come and watch them yourself; or cheer for your own sisters. I was worried that you'd be very lonely this year when all of the Witches around here with half a clue don't want to have anything to do with you."

"Big talk for a Witch that needed her loser brother's help to make the team," James said angrily. "At least I earn my spot on the team every year." He scowled when Lily and Gwendolyn both laughed.

"Even last year?" Lily asked with wide eyes. "I don't remember hearing about you winning a Seeker duel for the job – while I watched Al win his spot on our team as top Chaser. She likely didn't tell you about that either, but if Patricia thinks that I cheated; I'd be happy to do a best-of-five duel with her – and you're welcome to come along and make sure that I don't cheat. I'm sure that Al would be happy to give her a spot on the team if she can actually win that duel."

"The loser had two of the Keepers in the bag," James retorted. "Don't waste your breath repeating Al's lies. They don't work on us. As for Patricia, I'll pass that offer on; but she's likely decided she doesn't want to play on a team with a bunch of cheats and losers like you and Captain Potty here."

"That's likely for the best," Lily told him with a smile. "She couldn't best a firstie who had only been flying for five days; so I don't actually think I'd have a problem winning five of five against her – without cheating."

"You're as delusional as the loser; and likely won't win another Seeker duel all year – unless you cheat to do it. Quite wasting our time – or better yet; get a clue; quit the team; and get as far away from the loser before he totally ruins your reputation too."

"You're the one that started this little chat," Lily reminded him, "but if you don't want us to waste your time; we'll be on our way." She stepped up and hugged him. "I love you, James, but from now on, if you can't play nice; leave me alone. This was nastier than anything the Slytherins have thrown at me so far; and that's not a very nice thing for me to admit about one of my own brothers."

"Don't worry, Lily. If you keep hanging out with Captain Potty and the potty-trainer; you'll be sure to have more trouble than you can handle around here. One of these days you'll thank me for trying to tell you the truth about Animorphpotty here, so even if you don't like it now; I'll keep trying to get through to you before it's too late."

"Go away, James," Lily said with a sigh as she looked up at him and shook her head. "You're not doing any of this for me; and I'm not some prize for you to try and win from Al to prove that you're the better Wizard or brother."

"I'd say you look more like the spoils of war – not a prize," Ollie snorted. "Then again, is it possible to be the spoils of war and still need a few years to ripen up a bit?" Lily whirled and slapped him across the face as hard as she could; and then jumped back when Ollie took a swing at her – that stopped abruptly when Al stepped in and grabbed his wrist.

"I'm not going to ask you to apologize," Al told him while squeezing hard-enough to have the color draining from Ollie's face, "but you had that coming to you; and I'm not going to let you hit my sister."

"Trying to goad us into another fight to get us expelled?" James taunted; but the sneer froze on his face when Al turned to glare at him.

"You won't need my help for that if you keep this sort of thing up for long," Al retorted. "Lily loves both of us, and she doesn't deserve any of this crap from either of you. We're leaving now; you're going to go away; and that's the end of it." He let go of Ollie's wrist; held out his hand to Gwendolyn; and offered a half-bow and a wave to silently invite Lily and Jonah to go first. Ollie and James were both glaring at him, but they waited until Al and Gwendolyn were a few paces away before Ollie drew his wand and fired a pair of curses at them – spells that were met by Al's shield before he'd even turned around to face them again.

"Apparently I needed to be more specific," Al said conversationally to Gwendolyn – though loudly-enough for James and Ollie to hear. "I should have told them to go away and not bother trying to attack us from behind."

"They should have been able to figure that out on their own," Gwendolyn countered. "Now what?"

"I'll need to make sure they do go," Al decided; pointing his wand at James and Ollie – and putting a large bubble around them that included the shield that Ollie had hastily erected with a smirk that changed back to anger in a flash. Al just smiled at them as he set the bubble to bouncing. "If you give it a chance, I think you'll find the ride fun," he advised them. "Once you figure out how to move it around on your own; just find something pointy to pop it on – but be careful with that; since you don't want to get stabbed too or fall from any heights without the bubble to protect you!" With that, and while Gwendolyn, Lily, and Jonah all laughed; he gave the bubble a magical push and sent it bouncing down the hallway away from them.

"Can we try that too?" Lily asked hopefully. "That looks like a lot of fun."

"Sure," Al agreed; putting Lily and Jonah in a bouncing bubble and sending them bouncing in the opposite direction – and toward their classroom. Gwendolyn linked arms with him and smiled.

"I think that we can try that some other time," she decided. "Do you think that James and Ollie were trying to get another fight going with all of that idiotic blather? They can't really still be so dim as to think they'll be allowed to stay if they blast anyone again this year."

Al shrugged. "I don't know what they're doing. Maybe they actually think they can get away with anything because I won't turn them in and risk getting James kicked out of here – even though that's the opposite of what he claims."

"He's right about that, but if he gets caught by someone else while in the act; it won't matter what you do or don't say. I guess we can't do anything about that, though, so let's just keep an eye on our maps and try to avoid any trouble with them."

"We should have checked one of the maps tonight anyway, since we already knew that we should be watching out for our new hit and run Slytherins," Al agreed and added. "Speaking of that; we'd better catch up with our bouncing brother and sister before they get too far ahead of us – just in case James and Ollie aren't the only trouble-makers out and about tonight."

They did that, but didn't have any other problems for the rest of the evening. Music time with Lily and Jonah was as much fun as their duets always were; if not quite as intimate as those music practices for two could be. They set up sofas and watched some shows on the mirror nextwork after that; and mostly just enjoyed hanging out together for a few hours before it was time to head back to their Houses ahead of curfew. That parting was different for Al and Gwendolyn because they shared their goodnight hugs and kisses mid-way back to Ravenclaw tower so that Al and Lily could split off there and go on to their own House instead of walking Gwendolyn and Jonah 'home' – or having Jonah walk Lily to Gryffindor tower and then be left to walk back to his House alone. Lily hugged and kissed him goodnight too, so Jonah was a happy camper when he moved on with Gwendolyn; and Lily was grinning too as she took Al's hand and they headed for Gryfindor tower.

"Is he caught already, or are you just having fun?" Al teased; and Lily laughed.

"Both, but I'm not in any hurry to jump into a serious relationship the way you and Gwendolyn were in your first year." She smiled when it was Al's turn to laugh.

"Let's talk about this again at Christmas," he suggested. "My perspective on Gwendolyn and me changed a lot in that first three and a half months from September First through to the Christmas holiday."

"I know," Lily agreed, "and I'm not saying that couldn't happen to me too; but It is a bit different for Jonah and me. You must be able to sense that; since you are quite a bit less-clueless than most guys."

"That's something that I try not to do," Al advised her seriously.

"You try, but that doesn't really happen, does it?" she countered. "I don't actually want to talk about Jonah and me with you, though; so let's change the subject."

"Okay," Al agreed. "Let's start with an update on how Holly and Poofy are adjusting to life in a dorm room. Are they having fun?"

"They're having a blast," Lily confirmed with a nod. "All of the girls love them; and Holly spends more time prowling around than she spends in my room – including at night."

"Rose has told me that she's stopped in for some visits to her room – and to mooch for treats," Al said; and Lily nodded and smiled.

"I've heard that she gets offered lots of treats. That's something I didn't expect when planning for what I'd need for Holly between now and Christmas; but that might not last for long – even if she is the most adorable kneazle ever. You'd see them now and then if you were in the common room more often."

"That's something I'd like to do so that I could see you more often," Al told her; "but I'll likely be spending even less time there as we go along and the work starts to pile up on us. Our study classroom works better for that – and not just because Gwendolyn and I can work together. It's never quiet in the common rooms."

"Not even when the couples are all snogging each other senseless after the work is done?" Lily teased; and Al laughed.

"Especially not then," he agreed. "Quieter isn't necessarily audible noise for me."

"Not to mention that you don't think that snogging should be a spectator sport," Lily added with a laugh. "I don't know whether Denise, Mielissa, Kathryn, and the rest of our new friends will want to start studying with kids from the other Houses anytime soon, but I suppose we'll need to do that eventually. Just don't expect us to join your study group."

"Why not? Don't you think we'd have fun together?"

"Honestly – no, we wouldn't,' she said with a laugh. "You're busy-enough with eleven classes, and don't need a bunch of firsties pestering you for help; and I'm not interested in being indoctrinated into the Al and Rose over-achiever study method."

"Says the Witch at the top of the firstie class so far for earning points for our House during her first week of classes," Al reminded her; and Lily shrugged.

"I'm not against doing well, Al, and I certainly plan on working at my studies harder than James has so far. Just don't expect me to put that ahead of everything else. Quidditch is first for me; having some fun while we're here is right up there too; and I'll be happy with good marks for my classes. I don't need to be the best student the way you seem to need that." She smiled at his reaction to her assertion. "I'm not talking about how you feel about the attention," she advised him. "You do want to be the best student, Al. If it was just about the magic, you could be the best at that without putting in all of the extra time to make your assignments perfect or write perfect tests and exams all of the time."

"Saved by the entrance to the common room," Al said with a laugh. "Would you like to do the honors; or is that getting old already?"

"It's still fun," Lily answered; "though Molly could come up with more interesting passwords for us." She smiled up at the portrait of the fat lady. "Good evening," she said politely. "The password is Alohomora!"

"Correct, and you are quite right, young lady – though we don't need to tell our Head Girl that. She is, after all, a fine young lady – if a bit unimaginative."

Lily grinned at her. "I'll try to do that, but if the next password is password; I might need to have a private chat with our cousin."

The fat lady laughed too as she allowed them entrance into the Gryffindor common room; and Al waved Lily to go ahead of him through the portrait hole; holding his hand out to her to help with climbing through it. It was nearly curfew by then, so the snogging was in full swing by then along with other teens playing mirror games and still more watching a show on the mirror network. Lily went to join Denise Creevey and a small group of firsties after sharing a quick hug with Al; but he went straight through the room and up to his dorm because Rose wasn't there and he didn't want to be around all of the snogging. He wasn't the only guy in the room, but Ray wasn't there yet, so he only paused for a quick chat with Roger Johnson on his way past the other boy's bed; and then moved on to get his bathroom kit; eal with the usual bedtime routine; and then he got into bed once he was changed and ready to call it a night. He did some not-so-light reading in his Arithmancy textbook while winding down toward sleep, but while he didn't find the material at all boring; he didn't get very far before putting it aside and heading off to dreamland for the rest of the night.

With the tryouts finished and the junior teams picked, it was time for Al, Gwendolyn, Rose, and their friends to develop and settle into their school routines during the second week of September. They began doing that on Sunday with a study morning that was split between research time in the library and studying in their usual classroom until lunchtime. After eating that meal, the Quidditch fanatics in their group headed out to the practice pitch for a scrimmage; they played for nearly two hours; and then Al and Gwendolyn only had a few other couples with them for some hang out time by the lake that included a swim for the teens that wanted to really cool off after the match. When it was time to get ready for dinner, they split up to do that; Al ended up walking to the Great Hall with Rose, Lily, and a small gang of their collective friends; and then he enjoyed the meal before wrapping up his weekend with some quality alone time with Gwendolyn. There had been mirror chats with their parents to go along with the music and snogging fun; and then they made a stop to the Owlery to send Winter with her weekly Owl Post for home that now included letters from Rose, Lily, Hugo, and Jonah as well as their own letters.

By Monday, it was time to get back to work, and there was a lot to keep up with for Al, Gwendolyn, Rose, and most of their third-year study buddies. Even the friends that only took two optionals were still busy, and while they didn't have a larger study group; Al and Rose already started to have some other friends looking for tutoring on a rotating basis that depended on the classes each day and how well they understood the lessons in those classes. Adding in the Quidditch practices and everything that Al and Gwendolyn needed to do to keep up with their responsibilities as team Captains meant that there wasn't much time left in each day for anything other than their studies and Quidditch. On Monday and Wednesday, Al even needed to work in his dorm room after curfew to get all of his 'must-do' assingments finished; while Tuesday and Thursday were better thanks to the extra study time he had while Gwendolyn was busy with her team practices after last class each day.

The workload also kept them from taking time off to watch the Harpies play the Bats at Ilkley stadium on Thursday evening; though they did have two mirrors tuned into the game while they studied. The match didn't last two hours, but it was another tough battle for the Harpies; and they'd only managed to earn a slim eighty-to-fifty lead over the Bats when Gabrielle ended the game at the one hour and forty-seven minute mark with a fairly spectacular catch of the snitch to earn the Harpies' third win of the season. While getting those wins was proving tougher now that the other team players knew a lot more about Victoire and how she played with Candice and Hailey; what mattered most was that they were earning those wins!

Winning and losing wasn't really an issue for the younger students at Hogwarts as the weekend approached, but that was on the minds of the senior team hopefuls as they got ready for their round of tryouts on Saturday. While the junior team players were all very interested in how those tryouts would go, since that would be a big deal for the Quidditch Cup race; Al, Gwendolyn, and the rest of their study group didn't have time to think about that much on Friday as they made it through a full day of classes; half of them had Quidditch practice after that; and then they all studied the rest of the time through until curfew because they were going to lose parts of the day on Saturday while supporting their respective senior teams and players at those tryouts. Al and Gwendolyn had one other, fairly-important job to deal with on top of the Quidditch and studying – getting everything ready for Lily's twelfth birthday on Saturday. They did some of that prep work after dinner on Friday, and Al dealt with some of the rest after he was in his dorm room; so they only had the party set-up to finish on Saturday morning.

While that was a high priority on his to-do list, before getting to that work, Al was up a bit earlier than usual; he got ready for a very busy day; and then went to the common room to wait for Rose and Lily to join him – knowing that Lily would be fired up and ready to get her special day off to an amazing start. When they walked into the common room from the stairway to the girls' dorms, Al knew right away that Rose had already helped Lily with that because they were both smiling brilliantly; Lily was wearing a new outfit; and it was a safe bet that they'd had some hair and make-up fun together while getting ready for the day too.

"You'd better sit with us at breakfast," Al said as he stood to welcome his sister and cousin with hugs and kisses. "The firstie boys won't be able to eat properly with their mouths hanging open and their jaws on the table – which they will be when they see you." He handed her a gift as both girls laughed. 'Happy Birthday, Lily."

"Thanks," she said happily as she accepted the gift-wrapped box and immediately started tearing into the wrapping paper. "It's been really great so far, thanks to Rose. Do you like what she did with my hair?"

"Yes, and the new outfit is great too," he answered; earning another pair of laughs.

"You were right," Lily told Rose. "He noticed."

"I did," Al agreed; "but you don't necessarily need to mention that to any of the guys. I'm supposed to be oblivious about things like that."

"We can do that for you," Lily promised. "James and Ollie already razz you more than most of us have to put up with; so we won't add to your problems." She had the box opened by then; pulled out the pair of glasses; and laughed as she looked at Al in amusement. "You do know that I don't wear glasses, right?" she said; and he grinned at here.

"Yes, but I thought that you might like these glasses; since they have a few charms on them that you'll find very useful – plus they'll work as sunglasses on the days we actually get sunshine around here."

Lily laughed again and put them on. "Okay, what kinds of charms did you put on them?"

"There's a card in the box with the list and how to activate them," Al advised her. "Among other things, they'll work like binoculars or a microscope; there's a charm that will let you hear anything you're looking at that's a cross between a super-sensory charm and an extendable ear; and you can see through walls and doors. I thought that one might come in handy to watch out for bullies and pranksters."

"That's brilliant!" Rose todl him while Lily was already reading the instruction card and was obviously trying out the first few options as she touched the glasses in different spots and then looked around the room. "You've done all of that in the last two weeks? When did you have time for that?"

"I played with it whenever I had a few minutes to do that here and there; and finished it last night after going up to my dorm room." He smiled at Lily. "They can't see through multiple stone walls, and you won't see everything clearly anyway," he advised her. "Stop trying to look for the boys' showers."

Lily grinned at him unapologetically. "You can't blame me for trying," she said as Rose laughed. "Could you make that charm better so you could do that?" she asked curiously; and Al shrugged.

"I don't know. Maybe, but that'd be wrong to do it. Most guys might not care about that, but I expect that most Witches would have a problem with guys being able to use a charm like that on them – and I'd hope that would include both of you being against it."

"It would be a problem for me," Rose agreed. "I'd be really careful with those glasses around here in the evenings, Lily," she added with a smile. "There are some things you might not want to see going on in some of the classrooms or secret passages that you won't want to witness."

"I'll keep that in mind," Lily promised. "Let's get going, and I'll play with my new toy as we go."

They did that, enjoyed the walk and talk as they took their time getting to the Great Hall; and then they stayed together until their friends began arriving. Lily went to sit with her firstie friends, so Al and Rose weren't with her when Jonah stopped by to give her a gift and share a long hug and very short kiss before going on to the Ravenclaw table. They also missed out on the fun when the Owl Posts arrived for her, and while Al kept a close eye on things when he saw Blizzard make a delivery from James, the card had just been a new twist on the monster cards line, and whatever the gift had been; Al hadn't sensed any danger – and Lily had obviously been amused by it; if not impressed. Al did see the hug, kiss, and punch she shared with James after breakfast, but then he was on the go again by then because he and Rose needed to get together with their study group; do some work while waiting for the Gryffindor senior team tryouts; and then also get their classroom set up for the birthday party they were hosting for Lily after lunch. All of that was done in time for Al, Rose, and Ray to head for the Quidditch stadium.

They didn't go and sit down right away because they had a visit with Madison and Tory first so that they could get the news from the Hufflepuff tryouts before even getting into the stadium; and then they had a visit with most of their senior team cousins and friends to wish each of them good luck. There was a pretty good turnout both for the prospective players and the interested spectators; and Al, Rose, and Ray ended up sitting with Bristol, Noel, and a few other teens that were mostly girlfriends or boyfriends of the players. While they waited for Dominique to get the tryouts started; they talked about the news from the Hufflepuff team, with Rose and Ray leading that chat; since they had the best information from their Hufflepuff friends.

"With three players to replace this year, I'm surprised that they didn't end up with any fourth-year players," Ray said after Rose had given their group the team roster news. "Has Jacques Tremlett ever made the team before this year?"

"He did," Al advised him. "Jacques was Tina's Beater partner in their third year too. He just wasn't good-enough to beat Calvin or Tina for a spot on their teams for any of the other five years he's tried out for the team."

"I guess that makes sense," Ray agreed. "It's no surprise that Myra's their Keeper this year; but I would have guessed that Jonah Finch-Fletchley was better than Roman Smith for that third Chaser spot."

"Maybe, but Roman and Zack might be a pretty good duo for Francine to work with – even if that might not be as good as Alice and Francine have been. That could be a big difference for their team – especially when the Keepers on all four teams could be very closely matched this year – for the senior teams."

"But not with the juniors?" Noel interjected with a smile for Rose. "I'm going to tell Louis you said that."

Rose laughed. "He'd agree with me, though I'm not saying it'll be easy for me against Ryan or Leanne; and we don't know anything about Slytherin's new junior Keeper. I do think that our junior team has the advantage on defense over the other teams; but we'll have a better idea about that after our first match in two weeks."

"Unless Lily catches the snitch in under five minutes," Ray suggested. "If she does that, we'll be wondering why we're working so hard in our practices."

"I'd actually be okay with that," Al told him seriously. "That would be a bigger advantage for us because we'd still be able to save most of the new plays we're working on for our games against Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw."

"That's true," Ray conceded, "but we didn't get to play last year; so it'd still suck just a bit if we didn't get to play much this year – even if it was for a different reason."

"I'll try not to mess that up for you," Lily promised with a bright smile as she joined them – along with Denise, Kathryn, and Melissa. "Have we missed much? We were goofing around and lost track of time."

"Just the Hufflepuff tryouts report," Rose answered. "I can go over that with you in a bit. You're still right on time for the tryouts."

That really was true because Dominique got started with the tryouts for Keeper and Chaser while having the McClaggen brothers test the players' ability to dodge bludgers too while the Chasers took three shots each against each of the Keeper candidates – including Louis. While there had been a lot of hopefuls for the open positions; there weren't any real surprises – excpet for Ollie. He seemed to be truly shocked when Lucy and Olivia earned their spots on the team again, but what was even more amazing to him was that he wound up as fifth-best Chaser behind his new fellow reserve squad Chaser partners, sixth-year Gina Rivers and fifth-year, former team mate, Magnus Finnegan. As Captain, Dominique was top Chaser, though unlike Al; she hadn't offered to try out for the team too – and that would have been silly when she was the only player flying a Lightningbolt. That first round of tryouts had taken a while, but the Beater tryouts were fairly quick by comparison as Tiberius and Brock quickly proved that they were the best Beaters in Gryffindor. Seventh-year, perennial reserve Beater, Pat Towler had likely hoped to earn a spot this year, but he was again third-best; and ended up with a fifth-year Witch for his Beater partner on the reserve squad.

Finally, it was time for the Seeker duel. James stepped forward with a very confident smirk on his face and arrogant attitude. Brandon tried to wish him luck, but appeared to get insulted in return. There were four other prospects that Brandon could shake hands with and share best wishes, but then Dominique got their attention; decided to split them up into two groups; and then sent James up with two of the other prospects to start the Seeker battle. Tiberius and Brock were on Beater duty; and they were the main reason for why it took twenty minutes for James to make the first catch – and that was nearly fifteen minutes after Tiberius knocked one of his two competitors out of the competition with a very solit bludger hit. James had to do a bit of in-your-face celebrating after that, so there was a delay before Brandon was able to take a turn battling against his two opponents; with Dominique's plan being for the two winners to compete for the team and reserve squad Seeker jobs. Brandon surprised more than a few of his fellow Gryffindor when he caught the snitch thanks to a pretty good move to dodge a bludger that then winged the other Seeker closest to him when they'd been chasing the snitch side-by-side – and he did that in under thirty minutes too!

James hadn't been impressed, and was still arrogantly-confident as Dominique let Brandon rest for five minutes before starting the winner-take-all Seeker duel. By then, their biggest problem was that they were running out of time for their tryouts, but they could run a bit into the lunch break without getting in the way of the next tryouts; and did do that as James and Brandon battled on without even a close call for a catch. Nobody watching the contest left when it was time to be in the Great Hall for lunch, and Dominique let them play on until Mr. Peakes put an end to it when he advised them that they all needed to get to the Great Hall for the lunch that was prepared and on the tables for them. Dominique wasn't happy about that, but then she had a real problem on her hands when James demanded to be named to the team over Brandon anyway – and she refused to do that.

"Neither of you won the duel," she reminded him. "I don't know what I'll do about that yet, but whatever we end up doing; it'll be fair to both of you."

"The only way you can be fair about it is to give me the job right now!" James retorted hotly. "We all know that I'm way better than Blandon." He sneered and glared at the older boy. "You know it too," he declared; and Brandon smiled and shrugged – shrugging off the name-calling too.

"You definitely can be," he agreed easily, "but we have different playing styles; you haven't won the job today; and I don't concede because I think that I could help out team just as much as you could – if not in the same way."

"This is ridiculous! The rest of you can go on without us; and we'll keep playing until I catch the snitch!"

"Mr. Peakes has ordered us to stop," Dominique reminded him. "Give it a rest, James. I'll decide what I'm going to do by the time we get together for our practice on Monday. We've got until November to get ready for our first match; and it doesn't really matter whether you're our Seeker or on the reserve squad until then; since you'll be battling each other anyway."

"Give it up, James," Ollie told him; and James rounded on him. "Face it – they're trying to screw you too. That is likely why they split the Seekers up for that first round – to give Brandon an easy way onto the team; and have you run out of time before you could beat him. Dominique didn't do that for the other spots on the team – though they did make sure that they helped out everyone else that they did want on the team with them."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Tiberius demanded; and Ollie sneered at him.

"Do you really think that it didn't help you and Brock to get all of that warm-up time ahead of your tryouts? We usually do Beater tryouts first so that we have the best two Beaters to play against the rest of the prospects for the other positions. I'm sure that the Keeper and Chaser tryouts were fixed too. The girls need you and Brock, but they're out to screw James and me."

"Stop being an idiot and get over yourself," Olivia told her brother angrily. "Dominique's been fair to everyone, and we all know that – even if you're too fat-headed to admit that you're not the best player in Gryffindor – let alone at Hogwarts or the rest of the Wizarding World. James should be glad that I'm not team Captain this year, since I'd pick Brandon just because your best mate is an even bigger git than you are."

"As if we'd believe anything you say," Ollie shot back venomously. "You're in on it too; so don't bother trying to tell me how fair you've been to me – and I'm sure that Dominique will pick Brandon too. The only thing we don't know is how long she'll string James along before giving him the bad news."

"They can try," James told him, "but when they stick me on the reserve squad; I'm going to tell everyone about just how badly I beat Brandon at every practice so that they all know who to blame when our team sucks all year."

"Way to go showing off your selfless team and House spirit," Rose told him. She'd been on the fringes of the group that had surrpounded James and Dominique by then; and had Al, Ray, Lily, and a few other friends still with her too.

"Shut it," James smapped back at her. "Our cousins don't need your help with screwing me over; so get lost – and take Captain loser along with you. The stench is making me gag."

"We all need to get out of here," Dominique said. "I want to have a short team meeting after lunch, so everyone on the team or reserve squad should meet up with me after you've finished eating so that we can do that."

"I guess that leaves Brandon and me out; since we're on neither team right now," James retorted with a dark smirk.

"Show up for meetings and practices until that's decided – or don't," Dominique told him in exasperation. "Right now, I don't really care whether you show up or not – and if you don't; that'll make it much easier for me to pick our Seeker."

"As if that'll matter anyway," James spat. "Let's go, Ollie. Our cousins likely want to have some time alone to congratulate each other on what a great job they've done here this morning."

With that, the two boys shoved their way out of the group; grabbed their gear bags; and left the stadium. They weren't alone, since the exodus that had started with Mr. Peakes' order was still ongoing, but they also didn't attract any students interested in hanging out with them after nearly everyone overheard the shouting match. Al, Lily, and the rest of their little group stayed behind long-enough to congratulate their cousins and friends, but they also all needed to get to the Great Hall. They didn't get there until most of the students in the other Houses had finished eating; and the buzz of the gossip network spreading the stories about their tryouts kicked up a notch as Dominique, Lucy, Olivia, and the other senior players arrived and sat down at their usual spots along the Gryffindor table. Al, Rose, and Ray sat with their third-year friends; and were grilled about anything they knew that hadn't already been passed along by the other students that had been at the tryouts too.

While the news about James and Ollie was more interesting for some of their friends than others, Al mostly tried to stay out of the conversation; and instead focused his attention on Lily's birthday party. He ate quickly; met up with Gwendolyn so that they could go on to their study classroom ahead of Lily and most of their guests; and were ready to welcome everyone by the time that Rose brought Lily to them – along with quite a few of her firstie friends. Cousins, Quidditch team mates, and other friends were invited too, but most of those teens and tweens stopped in for visits instead of staying for the entire party. Gwendolyn, Jonah, and some of the other Ravenclaws couldn't stay either because they eventually needed to get to the late-afternoon tryouts for their senior team while the party continued on without them.

Lily had a blast, and that was the only thing that was important to Al. There was one short bit of trouble when James and Ollie sauntered through to offer their back-handed best to Lily, but they were both still angry about their team tryouts; and were unpleasant-enough to Lily that she not-so-politely asked them to get lost and leave her alone if they couldn't play nice. Al had been ready to step in if needed, but that didn't happen; and James decided to leave when asked – possibly the only good decision he made all day. Gwendolyn and Jonah were back in time to catch the tail-end of the party, and for Gwendolyn to help with the clean-up while Jonah went off to hang out with Lily and some other friends until dinnertime. By then, Al was getting tired, so he was glad to have a bit of comparative quiet time with just the handful of volunteers on the clean-up crew once everyone else had left the room.

"So, how did your tryouts go?" Al asked Gwendolyn; smiling tiredly. "Were there any surprises for your senior team this year – or major teen drama moments?"

"Not unless you consider Seth and Brandon a surprise at Beater," she answered. "The rest of the team stayed the same as last year. The bigger surprises might be with the Slytherin team if the rumors we heard prove true."

"They only lost one Chaser to graduation," Al reminded her. "I would have thought that their tryouts would be the least-interesting this year."

"You didn't think that Rupert and G-Air would make the tryouts interesting – especially with Victor as Captain again?"

Al shrugged. "Not really. Are they the surprises?"

Gwendolyn laughed. "Apparently only to some of us," she answered. "The news we had going around at our tryouts was that Brand Bletchley not only won the Seeker job; but beat up on G-Air quite a bit before catching the snitch. We also heard that Vince Vaisey won the Keeper duel over Rupert; and sixth-year player, Trace Davis, won the third Chaser spot."

"Rupert and G-Air shouldn't be surprised by that; but then I could say the same about how James and Ollie are handling things today too."

"I don't get that with either of them – especially since they're mostly beating themselves. Ollie likely isn't as good as Dominique, Lucy, and Olivia even if he did fix his attitude problems, but James is better than Brandon; so he should have won the Seeker job for Gryffindor."

"Maybe," Al agreed. "I'm probably getting too biased about James to be fair about this; but I have to wonder if Brandon might be better for the senior team. Sure, his style is defensive, and that won't work every time; but James doesn't have a good record against Alex or Pauline; and he's never faced Brand Bletchley before."

"Brandon's record as Seeker isn't very good either," Gwendolyn pointed out; "but I know what you mean. Either way, it'll be a tough choice for Dominique." She smiled at him. "Aren't you glad that it isn't your problem?"

Al laughed. "Yeah, I am – and you're likely glad that the problem is in my House instead of yours."

"Definitely," Gwendolyn assured him. "I've enough to worry about with getting ready for our match against Hufflepuff – especially if the assignents keep piling up the way they have so far."

"We'll get used to the extra work," Al assured her. "You do like all of the optional classes so far."

"Yes, but I'll stop liking them if they start messing things up for me with Quidditch. The new Gryffindor junior team Captain has put together a pretty good team; so I need to work even harder to keep up with the competition."

"You are the defending Quidditch Cup and Junior team champion,' Al reminded her, "but let's shoot for having fun this season and not worry so much about winning and losing."

Gwendolyn grinned at him. "Keep talking like that, and Rose will take you off of the short list for her Cannons' team. She does want to win a championship with them."

"I heard that," Rose said from where she was working with Ray and Tory on the other side of the room. "Al's serious-enough about having fun playing Quidditch, but he likes to win as much as the rest of us do; so he'll stay on my list – and so will you."

"I had to go there," Gwendolyn chided herself; though she was still grinning. "Why don't you just forget about all of that and plan on playing for the Harpies with Lily and me? You'd have fun; get paid better; and have a way better chance of winning championships."

"You already know why I want to play for the Cannons," Rose told her seriously. "The good news for you is that I'm too busy to work on that now, but then I still have nearly five years to do that; and a lot can happen between now and then."

"That isn't making me feel better," Gwendolyn decided; earning a few laughs.

"Do you feel better if you imagine playing for the Cannons with Al and Rose?" Tory asked with a grin; and Gwendolyn smiled and shook her head.

"No, and quit trying to help Rose with comments like that."

"Maybe I'm just trying to free up a future spot on the Harpies' team," Tory offered half-seriously. "I'd have a much better shot at a job with them if Rose's plan works on you."

"Now I'm really regretting that attempt at a joke," Gwendolyn declared. "For the record, Mum wouldn't hesitate to hire you – or any other Witch – over me if I'm not the best girl for the job; but I will keep working to be one of the best Chasers by the time we graduate. Instead of going there, though, let's change the subject; get this work done; and get out of here."

They did that, and then the girls wanted to go back to their dorm rooms to freshen up and change before dinner; so Al left with Gwendolyn to walk her back to Ravenclaw tower. They'd collectively checked Rose's map before leaving, and knew that James and Ollie were out and about; but it wasn't until they were half-way to Gwendolyn's House that they knew for sure that the two boys were closing in to meet up with them instead of Ray and Tory or the small group heading to Gryffindor tower. James and Ollie didn't jump out of the secret passageway in front of them, but they did step out when they were only a handful of steps away; and they did a lousy job of feigning surprise at seeing them.

"Party over so soon?" James asked. "It must have gotten even more boring after we left."

"No surprise there," Ollie declared. "We brought the only fun while we were there; and took it with us when we left."

"Yes, it's over," Al confirmed. "You knew it was only for the afternoon, though, so why are you really here?"

"It's a big castle, but we're still bound to run into you now and then," James retorted. "We're just trying to be polite instead of just ignoring you."

Al laughed; earning a scowl from James. "That'd be more believable if I couldn't see the Marauders Map peeking out of your book bag," he advised his brother. "I really don't want to get into it with you again, though; so let's just move on and you can go bug someone else."

"That isn't very brotherly of you," James told him. "I'm terribly hurt."

Al shrugged. "You're not. Excuse us, please. We have other places we'd rather be."

"Too bad," Ollie told him; blocking the hallway. "We've been waiting for hours to thank you personally for getting your cousins to screw us over at the tryouts today; so you're not going anywhere."

"So much for that chance meeting thing," Gwendolyn said with a smile for Al. "How things change in a week. Last Saturday, you cheated by stacking your team with cousins and Lily; and now you've cheated by somehow fixing the senior tryouts." She turned her smile on James and Ollie. "Did he charm the snitch and quaffle too; or just somehow magically get the other players to play better against you – and worse against the Chasers that did better than you, Ollie? How about you, James? How exactly did Al set you up? You won your first Seeker duel to end up going against Brandon. If the fix was in with the other players; it would have been just as easy for Al to have you lose that first three-way duel; and then you'd have been done for the season anyway. If he messed things up for Ollie; why not just have one more Chaser do better than him instead of having hime end up as fifth-best – not including Dominique? That way he'd have been taking the season off from Quidditch too."

"Silencio!" Ollie shouted; pointing his wand at Gwendolyn. The spell hit her shield harmlessly – the one she put up using her charm bracelet.

"I'd say that everything went exactly as Al wanted it," James declared. "Put your wand away, Ollie. She's just trying to goad us into getting expelled."

"It'd be worth it to teach her a lesson or three about a Witch's proper place in the Wizarding World."

"We wouldn't need our wands to do that," James told him with a snort of laughter and a lewd, suggestive up-and-down look at Gwendolyn. "Why don't you run along, Captain loser; and let Gwendolyn have some fun with a pair of real Wizards for a while? I'm sure that we can have her forgetting all about you by dinnertime."

"That's enough, James," Al said with quiet firmness; his expression hard and angry now.

"What's the matter, Captain Potty?" James taunted. "Are you afraid of finding out that I'm right? Gwendolyn knows I'm right – don't you? Girls love to talk about things like that; so I'm sure that Bristol's told you all about me. I see her watching me all of the time; and she doesn't give Chris a second glance anymore. Come on, Gwendolyn – find out for yourself just how good I am!"

"How could I possibly turn down an offer like that?" Gwendolyn gushed convincingly-enough that James and Ollie both gaped at her in open-mouthed surprise; and Al needed his extended senses to know she was acting. "Oh, I know – like this!" She had her wand out and blasted both boys off of their feet and a dozen paces down the hallway before they could even react to the lightning-quick change in Gwendolyn's attitude let alone draw wands to defend themselves. She followed that up with a pair of bat-bogey hexes; took Al's hand; and led him into the passageway that James and Ollie had come out of so that they could go around the two boys instead of trying to pass them in the hall or re-tracing their steps and going a different way. "James better cut that out soon," she told Al as she led the way with her wand tip lit so they could see where they were going. "I know he's doing that to goad you; but I'm sick of it."

"Me too," Al agreed, "but that means that it's working exactly as James wants; so we'll need to figure out how to deal with it – and do that without blasting them every time."

"I don't have a problem with blasting them," Gwendolyn countered with a grin, "but you're right; and we should work that out sometime soon so we'll be ready for the next time."

They talked about that for a bit longer while making their way to the Ravenclaw tower entrance; split up there; and then found out at dinnertime that James and Ollie had, indeed, gotten what they'd wanted during that confrontation when Molly went looking for Gwendolyn and told her to go to the Heads' office after dinner to meet with her about the incident with James and Ollie. Al went with her, but then he wasn't invited into the office too; and waited in the hallway while Gwendolyn had her meeting with Molly. He'd expected to talk with Molly too, since he'd been a witness; but that didn't end up happening. Gwendolyn didn't look happy when she came out of the office; but hugged him for a long minute before telling him about what had happened – and what Molly had decided to do about what Gwendolyn had done.

"James and Ollie went to see Madam Pomfrey about their injuries," she advised him. "They told her that I'd done it; and she reported it to Molly. I told her my side of it, but it's apparently wrong to blast them just for saying nasty things to us; so now I've got ten hours of chores detention and lost ten points for my House."

"With the worst of that being that you could end up missing our first Hogsmeade weekend next Saturday," Al said; looking upset now. "I guess we know now that there's one more rule that James and Ollie are willing to break when it comes to us. I should have blasted them instead."

"You know that's what they really wanted," Gwendolyn told him seriously. "I've got time to get this detention served before next Saturday if I get right at it tomorrow, and now that we know they're a pair of rat finks too; we'll make sure that we're ready for them next time."

They didn't have to wait all that long for that next time because James and Ollie were waiting for them half-way between the Heads' office and their usual study classroom. The two boys were smirking as they approached this time from the other end of the hallway from Al and Gwendolyn; and they spread out so that they couldn't just walk past them. Instead of trying to do that; Al and Gwendolyn stopped and waited for them to take the last half-dozen steps.

"Did someone get in trouble tonight?" James taunted. "I guess the perfect potty trainer isn't so perfect after all."

"No, but I've never claimed to be; and do learn my lessons the first time," she retorted. "Congratulations – you've managed to prove that my already incredibly-low opinion of you had room to move even further down than I thought possible. Get out of my way, you rat fink gits."

"Will you blast us again if we don't?" Ollie shot back with a sneer. "How'd that work out for you last time? Good luck getting that detention out of the way before the Hogsmeade weekend, but feel free to blast us again. Twice in one day might get you enough chores time to miss the first couple of Quidditch matches too."

"Spying on me while I was in the Heads' office too?" Gwendolyn asked him in disgust. "We've just come from that meeting, and haven't told anyone about it; so how could you possibly know that I've been given a detention if you weren't listening in? That's very Slytherin of you – but then so is being a rat fink; so I shouldn't be surprised."

"Come on, Gwendolyn – don't be like that," James said with a smirk that was a cross between a leer and a sneer. "All of this verbal foreplay is just turning us on. Let's take our relationship to the next level. I promise you'll love every minute of it – and be well-rid of the loser here when we're done – if you can even remember his name by then." His smile broadened when she drew her wand and pointed it at him. "Go ahead – do it!"

"Okay," Gwendolyn agreed; and then put a shield up around James and Ollie. "Go ahead and rat me out again – once you get out," she told them. "I'm sure you'll have me in big trouble for doing something this awful to you."

"So you say," James retorted. "Look at all of the injuriees you've caused with this shield!" He turned to Ollie and smirked. "Knock me into it – hard," he ordered; and Ollie grinned too before doing as ordered. James shouted in pain as his head and shoulders hit Gwendolyn's shield; and then it was Ollie's turn as James rebounded and pushed him in turn. Ollie hadn't expected that; and actually got hurt as he hit the shield and then fell to his knees. James ignored him and turned to face Al and Gwendolyn again. "I guess you made this shield a bit too small," he declared triumphantly. "Good luck with explaining yourself to our Head Girl – again."

"She won't need luck."

James gaped as he looked past Al and Gwendolyn to where Molly suddenly appeared out of nowhere; the expression on her face grim and unhappy. Al and Gweodolyn turned to face her too; and couldn't resist smiling despite the drama scene they'd been dealing with thanks to James and Ollie.

"Drop that shield, please," she told Gwendolyn. "You won't need it anymore." Gwendolyn did that as Molly stepped past her and stopped in front of James and Ollie.

"What are you doing here?" James demaned.

"Having my suspicions confirmed," she answered. "Ten points to Ravenclaw for dealing with you the right way this time, Gwendolyn."

"You're giving her points for attacking us again?" James demanded incredulously. "Look what that shield did to us!" He turned around so that she could see his back – though the bump on his head wasn't even visible through his hair; so he didn't see the hard edge to her expression.

"I was right here, James; so I saw and heard everything," she told him angrily. "The good news for you is that there's nothing I can do about your rude and crude talk, and there aren't any rules against self-inflicted injuries; so you're free to go. Now that I've seen you in action for myself, though, you can be sure that I'll be suspicious of any future claims you make aggainst Al or Gwendolyn."

James glowered at her. "As if you weren't already one of the loser's delusional little pawns. Why don't you just take away Gwendolyn's detention too; since you've already wiped out the points you took from Ravenclaw?"

"I'm tempted to do just that; but won't," Molly told him. "That is, however, none of your business anyway; and you don't want me to decide to look into how you found out about a private meeting when I know you didn't hear about it from Al or Gwendolyn." She held up a hand when James looked ready to offer another retort. "Enough, James. I've too much to do tonight to sit here and argue with you. Move along; and try to stay out of trouble for a while."

"Fine," James said; and then grinned lewdly at Gwendolyn. "Are you coming, sweetheart? We've still got lots of time before curfew to have some real fun – if you know what I mean. I'm sure that Captain Potty here can go read a textbook or turn himself into a dog and chase his tail for a few hours while you're busy spending time with a real Wizard."

"Go, James!" Molly said firmly.

"Don't mind her, Ollie," James responded. "She's just overdue for a good snogging – though we've heard that isn't the case for Calvin; since he's apparently got his pick of the Witches hanging out around the United team all of the time and willing to hop into bed with him. It's no wonder he's on their reserve squad. He's likely too tired to play well-enough to be on the team. I'd offer to help her out with that little problem, but we're cousins; so that'd just be weird. Maybe you could snog her while I'm having fun with the potty-trainer."

"I'm so glad to hear that you're keeping up with the latest gossip," Molly told him, "but if you think to get me angry with such childishness; then you really don't know me at all." She smiled at Gwendolyn. "Since James apparently has a problem with taking no for an answer from you; I'll walk with you for a while – just to make sure that you don't have any other problems with them."

"So that's a yes?" James countered with a grin that froze when Molly turned her full attention on him.

"That's two very emphatic no's," she advised him; "and it's past-time for you to stop it. Crude and obnoxiious is one thing, but you're getting very close to the line for sexual harassment; and that would definitely get you into trouble."

"There'd be a lot of emphatic shouts of yes, yes, yes if you'd come with us – and if you could get that broomstick out of your butt, but I guess that won't happen tonight; and Gwendolyn will say yes to me eventually – just as the rest of Captain Potty's girlfriends will. It's inevitable."

"Maybe we should go and talk to some of those other girls next," Ollie suggested. "I'm not really interested in snogging the Head Girl anyway."

James laughed. "You're in good company; since her boyfriend isn't interested in snogging her either anymore – if he ever truly was into her." With that statement, James and Ollie sauntered off; leaving Molly, Al, and Gwendolyn to watch them go for a moment before turning to face each other.

"Be careful around them" Molly cautioned. "They're trying to push the limits way more than I thought they would the year while on probation; and Merlin only knows what else they'll try to goad you into blasting them again."

"We'll be careful," Gwendolyn promised. "Thanks for being here. What they were thinking about trying there wouldn't have worked this time; but you did at least save us from having to spend the time explaining what really happened to them."

"You're welcome," Molly assured her. "Try to have a good rest of the night. I really need to get back to my studying. Sometimes I really wonder why I haven't listened to Lucy. Between Head Girl duties and all of the studying; I barely have time for naps by the time I have the work dine each night." She smiled when Al laughed.

"Sorry, but I was just picturing you saying something similar to that sometime in the future – when you're Minister of Magic," he explained.

"Are you making predictions?" Molly teased; and Al shook his head.

"No, I'm not; though it would be cool to have a cousin as Minister of Magic."

"Minister Shacklebolt is doing a fair job," Molly said eriouly. "I doubt we'll have to worry about replacing him anytime soon."

"He's had the job for more than twenty years now," Al pointed out. "One of these days; he'll have had enough of all of the pressure and let someone else take over. Your Dad would take the job if it was offered to him."

"He would," Molly agreed with a nod and smile. "I wouldn't like that, since I plan on going to work at the Ministry of Magic too; but wouldn't want my Dad for a boss; so I'll hope that doesn't happen anytime soon."

They talked for anothe rminute or two, but then Molly left them and went back toward the Heads' office while Al and Gwendolyn headed on to their study classroom with plans to spend the evening playing music; having mirror chats with their parents; and snogging each other for a while before they'd need to be back in their Houses ahead of curfew.

"You look reasonably happy," Thomas told Scorpius once his portrait was on the table and the teen had sat down in the armchair. "Do I want to know why?"

Scorpius laughed. "It isn't for any reasons you wouldn't want to talk about. I'll be busy with that kind of fun later – once I'm back with Terri in the Slytherin common room."

"Okay, so what's going on that you are so happy about?"

"First up would be the senior team tryouts today. I had some fun watching the Slytherin tryouts; and there's some interesting news about James and Ollie with their tryouts too. Ollie only managed to be the sixth-best Chaser for Gryffindor, and they don't have a Seeker for their team yet because James couldn't beat their Seeker from last year before they ran out of time for tryouts. We haven't heard what they'll do about that; but James and Ollie are shooting their mouths off about how the tryouts were fixed against them to keep them off the team."

"That's amusing, considering how things went for them last season," Thomas suggested; and Scorpius laughed again.

"Not to mention that they're likely just making up stories to explain how poorly they did today. Speaking of that, I really enjoyed watching Rupert and G-Air get beat out by Vince and Brand at their tryouts. It turns out that they're not quite as good as they've claimed to be for the past two weeks – though they did get on the reserve squad. G-Air needed to visit the Hospital Wing after Brand was done with him, and he's only the reserve Seeker because nobody else was dumb-enough to go after the job against Brand. Victor wasn't happy that Rupert didn't make his team; but there wasn't anything he oculd do about it – especially since vince is one of his best mates too."

"He ought to want the best players," Thomas countered; "but that isn't surprising. Did he manage to keep the Witches off of the team this year?"

Scorpius laughed. "No. Licentia still made the team again – and made Rupert and Vince both look a bit foolish while doing that. I doubt Victor would have done better if he'd been trying out for Chaser too."

"She's one to keep an eye on too, then," Thomas suggested. "The Notts weren't very bright; but they did come in handy now and then."

"You hink that about nearly everyone," Scorpius accused; and Thomas laughed.

"That's actually true," he agreed. "There is a fairly large difference between those that can be used as allies and those that are handy to have around as servants or slaves. There are really only a very few Witches and Wizards that are most-useful dead instead of alive. It's very difficult to get anything useful out of a corpse."

"The problem always seems to come back to making the right decisions about everyone in each group," Scorpius mused. "Getting it wrong with even one person can lead to the undoing of even the best plans."

"I can relate to that," Thomas dead-panned with a grim smile. "My advice is to get it right as often as possible; and be better prepared than I was for the times that you will get it wrong. This isn't likely what you wanted to talk about tonight or do, so why don't you tell me any other news you have; and then we can do a lesson before you need to get back to your House again."

Scorpius was happy to do both; enjoyed working with the magic Thomas taught him; and then moved on to the Slytherin common room to spend several post-curfew hours snogging his girlfriend senseless.

He was still years away from making all of his dreams come true, but the start of his third year was, for the most part, really great – especially compared to the not-so-great start to the school year that certain other Wizards were having that had the bonus of helping to make his year even better!

Gwendolyn's detention changed her plans for Sunday, but after first setting things up with Mr. Jigger for a batch of afternoon chores; she moved on to a Quidditch practice with her team before joining Al and the rest of their study group for a morning study session that they split between the library and their study classroom. They worked until lunchtime, and then she went to work on her list of chores while Al and Rose led a Quidditch scrimmage with friends from Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. Al didn't like doing that without Gwendolyn, and felt guilty that she was in trouble when James was really trying to hurt him. He kept that to himself as much as possible; but those feelings had a lot to do with why he didn't play nearly as well as normal – and 'his' team lost the scrimmage to Rose's team.

Al tried to make up for Gwendolyn's tough afternoon with some play time after dinner. They did that with Lily and Jonah; had fun playing and singing together; watched a show on the mirror network; and wrapped up their pre-curfew evening with a visit to the Owlery to take care of Blizzard and Winter before sending Winter on her way with the usual weekly letters for home for three sets of parents. There were also cards and gifts going along to be forwarded to Hermione for her fortieth birthday on Thursday, but they used an undetectable expansion bag to keep the package small and light for Winter; and that saved them from sending and extra Owl Post or two. While that play time with Lily and Jonah didn't leave them with any quality snogging time, Al still managed to share a few extra hugs and kisses with Gwendolyn before they split up for the night; and then he wrapped up his weekend with some studying in bed before he was ready to crash and sleep for the rest of the night.

The next few days were all work with the fun mixed in to the classwork, studying, and Quidditch. Al's routine didn't change, but Gwendolyn used the time between last class and dinner on Monday and Wednesday to work on her detention chores while Al was busy with his Quidditch practices and studies. That meant there was a lot more studying for her to get done after dinner, but Al helped her out with that; and their friends gave them some space so that he could focus on doing that while Rose picked up the slack for other tutoring help. The only change on Tuesday was that Gwendolyn traded detention chores for her Quidditch practice; and Al had a bit more time to help her after dinner because he'd gotten more of his own work done before dinner while she was busy.

Rose and Hugo didn't have much involvement with their mother's fortieth birthday – and not only because they were stuck at school. Ron, Harry, and Ginny surprised her with a four-day weekend away; so Rose, Hugo, Al, and Lily were only able to have a mirror chat with her before breakfast. She did open the gifts from them while doing that, and it was a fun little cameo moment in another too-busy day, but then it was time to get back to the normal daily life at Hogwarts for the kids while Hermione got to go out and play with her husband and best friends for the rest of the week – to an undisclosed location that the kids apparently didn't need to know about. That was something that the girls had fun talking about, but Al was fairly sure that this was one parent-getaway weekend that he wouldn't want to know very much about at all!

Hermione's birthday – or her weekend away – wasn't of any interest to most Hogwarts students on Thursday. By then, it was the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year that had the attention of every eligible teen – including Al, Gwendolyn, Rose, and the rest of their friends. They still had two days of classes, Quidditch, and studying to get through first, though; and Gwendolyn had to finish her detention on Friday afternoon – which she did by dinnertime. With the Hogsmeade weekend and a Harpies' match on Saturday, taking Friday evening off from studying wasn't an option – at least for Al, Gwendolyn, and Rose. They didn't have the full study group, though, and Ray, Tory, Madison, and Scott were among the friends that chose to take a break from all of the work and have some play time instead. That was a new change in their study group dynamic, and it would mean that their friends would need to make up that study time on Saturday or Sunday; but it also helped Al, Gwendolyn, and Rose with getting more of their own work finished by the time they needed to be back in their Houses ahead of curfew.

A too-long school week of too much work without very much play time was a contributing factor for why Al was fired up on Saturday morning as he got showered and ready for the day; and he was in a great mood when he met up with Rose and Lily in the common room. They'd managed to get there first, and while Lily wasn't able to go to Hogsmeade with them; she was in a good mood too as she welcomed Al with an enthusiastic hug and kiss. Rose hugged him too; and then they headed for the portrait hole to get started on their morning walk and talk. Lily didn't join Al and Rose for that most mornings so far; but did like spending that time with them when it worked for her too.

"Should we be worried about why you look so happy?" Al teased; and Lily laughed.

"No, but I do plan on having fun today while you're away. We've got a Quidditch scrimmage set up for after breakfast; and Jonah and I might have a Seeker duel after that if the pitch is still open for the rest of the morning. Then we've got the Harpies-Prides match this afternoon; and, hopefully, some play time with you and Gwendolyn after dinner again – unless the two of you want to be alone tonight."

"Are you going to watch the game from our common room?" Rose asked. "Al could lend you his mirror; but you don't know the spells yet for dealing with the furniture, do you?"

"No, I don't," Lily agreed, "but we could sit on the stools at the worktables instead; so I'd rather do that so we can hang out with our Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff friends."

"I'll get that for you once we're in the Great Hall," Al promised; "and we might be back in time to catch most of the game anyway."

"I wouldn't be," Lily told him. "You get to escape for the day, Al. Take all of the time you're allowed and have fun. Sometimes you're just a bit too much like Dad for your own good."

Al laughed. "That line might work better if he wasn't currently on a four-day getaway with Mum, Uncle Ron, and Aunt Hermione," he pointed out – "or because of the trouble-magnet problem I may have inherited from him."

"Maybe, but you know what I mean, Al. It's okay to have fun now and then – even when you don't have all of the work finished first. There's always more work around the corner, and this weekend is a good example; since Dad is doing a bit better at trying to take time to have fun now and then instead of working all of the time."

"I'll try to remember that," he promised. "Does Rose have your list; or should we talk about that next?"

"I have it," Rose answered before Lily could. "I also have the lists for Hugo and some of their friends."

"I have some things to get for Fred and Orlando; and Gwendolyn's going to have some things to get for Jonah and their cousins too; so we'll have a lot to pick up this morning."

"If you end up with too much to do; ask our cousins to help out," Lily suggested. "Olivia's taking care of Kathryn and Melissa. I'm sure that Diminique, Lucy, and Louis would help you out."

"I'd like to do this ourselves if we can," Rose told her seriously. "We owe them for helping us the past two years; and they already have a lot more work than we do with their OWL, sixth, and NEWT-year classes."

"Sure, because you guys are slacking off with only ten and eleven third-year classes," Lily teased. "I'm glad that you're doing all of that for us, but we should talk about what Al's going to do to make this first Hogsmeade weekend special for Gwendolyn; and maybe work on finding a nice Wizard for you to share the day with too, Rose."

"Don't even suggest that I take Gwendolyn to the tea shop," Al told them seriously; though he was grinning too. "That isn't going to happen. I was planning on having lunch at the Three Broomsticks with Gwendolyn, though, and thought that she'd like to do a bit of shopping at Gladrags and some of the other, non-supply-shopping stores."

"You could go to the shrieking shack and pretend to be scared so she has to hug you a lot," Lily offered, "or if you really want to get away from it all; take a long walk out to Hogsmeade Station."

"That's a very long walk," Al advised her. "Gwendolyn wold rather come back here and watch the Harpies' match instead. We'll try to have fun while we're in town, Lily, and I'm glad that we get to go this year; but it is different for us than it was for most Witches and Wizards in the past – especially now that we have the mirror network and the Wizarding Wireless Web."

"I suppose," Lily conceded, "but it is still a chance to be somewhere else other than here on the school grounds for a day. That isn't a big deal for me, since I'm still exploring the castle and school grounds; but I'll likely be wishing that I could go along too fairly soon. Do you expect to have any problems with James, Ollie, or your least-favorite Slytherins today?"

"I have no idea," Al admitted with a shrug. "They probably can't get away with anything while we're all heading into town in a pack; but we'll need to be careful after that."

"Especially since our maps don't include the town," Rose added with a nod; and then grinned at Al. "Maybe I'll spend the day hanging out with Bristol and some of the other girls – strictly so that you and Gwendolyn can have fun together; not because you're a trouble magnet like your father."

That joke sent their chat off in a new direction that included rhetorical questions about why Lily and Rose hung out with Al at all after growing up hearing about all of the trouble their mothers had dealt with while hanging out with Harry; they had fun while wandering their way to the Great Hall; and then Lily stayed with them until Denise met up with her and they went to sit in their usual spots with the other firsties. The breakfast conversation was lively for the third-years as they excitedly talked about what they wanted to do while in Hogsmeade. Al decided that he was too boring compared to most of their friends; since he spent some of that time trying to decide the best way to get all of the 'must-do' shopping done with the fewest delays. The other guys were more interested in whether there'd be anything new at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes; and the girls talked about checking out the latest new clothes at Gladrags. By the time that they'd finished eating and he could meet up with Gwendolyn; Al was fairly sure that at least some of his fellow third-year Gryffindors were going to be disappointed to find out that the reality of their day in town just wasn't as exciting as their expectations.

Getting out of the castle and on their way to Hogsmeade took a while because the group they stayed with while lining up to be cleared by Filch and Jigger didn't try to join the rush to be first to be set free for the day. They were in the middle of the pack, since some of the older students hadn't been in any hurry at all with the novelty of the experience long-since worn off for them; so that put them in the middle of the long line of students making the walk to town. There was a sense of change as they lef the school grounds and then walked along the road into town, and a sense of freedome that came with it; but Al was mostly just happy to share the experience with Gwendolyn. He'd been to Hogsmeade before, but never on a Hogsmeade visit day for the Hogwarts students; and that was very different – especially when there were already hundreds of students in town by the time they arrived.

"The best stores will be sold out by the time we get to half of them," Gwendolyn predicted with a sigh. "Where should we start?"

"I thought that we could start with the boring supplies," Al said with a smile and shrug. "If we get that done while most of the students arepacked into those best stores; we'll at least get that done faster – and get all of the supplies we really need the most."

"Maybe, but then we'll be stuck with the leftovers for the sweets and treats," Gwendolyn countered.

"Maybe," Al agreed, "but we can mail order any wheezes we can't get today; and get our Mums and Dads to send sweets if there isn't much left at Honeydukes."

"Okay, we'll go with your plan," Gwendolyn decided, "but if I miss out on any really great outfits at Gladrags today; you might be in trouble later."

"You could do that first with Rose and the other girls while I start with something like the potions supplies," Al offered.

"That's an idea," Rose said; since he'd suggested that loudly-enough for her to overhear. "You do the boring shopping for us; and we'll go and have some fun."

That's what they ended up doing for first stops; and Al picked up the potions supplies for a fairly large group of teens and tweens once all of the girls had told him what they each needed – along with the orders for their first and second-year relatives and friends. While the shopping wasn't any fun for him, he did enjoy finding out how appreciative Gwendolyn was of his efforts – especially since she also picked up a really nice sweater that would be great for cuddling with her later. Once they'd met up again and he'd passed along the potions orders, they stayed together for the rest of their time in Hogsmeade while Rose and the other girls with her moved on to do the rest of their shopping. There were still inks, parchment, quills and other supplies to get; they eventually found out that they could still get most of their sweets and wheezes even after the first big rush of the morning was over; and they then had time to do a tour of the town that included checking out the shrieking shack while waiting for some tables to be available at the Three Broomsticks so that they could have lunch there.

They hadn't even seen James and Ollie around town while doing their shopping, which had been a bit surprising, but Al had stayed on the lookout for them – and for the Averys and their mates too. Walking the streets and alleys of Hogsmeade hadn't been a problem because there'd always been other students or residents around them. There wasn't anything strange about their visit to the shrieking shack either – unless you counted the shrieking and other noises that Al had immediately sensed were being charmed to activate whenever anyone approached the place. He couldn't tell whether that was being done by older students or something the adults in town did to keep the legend going, but that didn't really matter; and he didn't attempt to spoil the fun for Gwendolyn. They made it through lunch at the Three Broomsticks without any problems beyond the wait for a table and a mixed-up side-order; so it wasn't until they headed back to Hogwarts after having their meal that James and Ollie tried to mess with them – and they weren't alone in that effort!

Al sensed that they were being followed within moments of stepping away from the Three Broomsticks. He didn't look around to find their invisible admirers; though he was certain he'd be able to locate them if he did that despite the invisibility charm he could also sense. The level of dark anticipation helped him to at least take a good guess at the number of Wizards hiding behind that magical barrier of invisibility, though since some of those emotions were very strong; it was possible that he couldn't detect everyone. He and Gwendolyn were holding hands as they walked out of town, but he waited until they had some distance between them and the group of boys following them to say anything to her.

"We have company," he whispered without turning his head to look at her. "Too many to be James and Ollie; so I'll guess it's the Averys and their mates."

"That's what we get for deciding to head back early and catch the rest of the Harpies' match," she faux-lamented; though she was smiling too. "Do you think they'll try to hit us out here on the road; or wait until we're back on the school grounds?"

"I have no idea," Al admitted. "Maybe we should just pretend that we forgot something and head back into town."

"We could, but even if they let us do that; it doesn't mean they wouldn't just be waiting for us later," Gwendolyn pointed out. "I've never tried dueling while carrying a bunch of shopping bags. Maybe they're hoping it will be too challenging for us."

Al laughed quietly. "Then they've obviously never seen all of my favorite Witches fighting their way through the sales crowds at Muggle Malls around the Christmas holidays," he joked; earing a laugh from Gwendolyn too.

He stayed alert and ready for the warning bells he expected to go off, but was surprised when the warnings were of imminent danger ahead instead of behind them. By then, the attacks were on the way already; so all he could do was react as he used shields and counter-spells to defend them while Gwendolyn went on the counter-attack.

"They're back in the trees," she advised him even as her first spells struck the trunks of two trees on her side of the road – and back into the woods far-enough that they couldn't see their attackers.

"Okay, you take care of them; and I'll watch our backs," Al answered; though he'd already spun on a heel to face the attacks that were now on the way from the group of invisible Slytherins behind them.

He'd sensed that they'd been startled by the attack too; so he knew that it hadn't been planned as a two-pronged attack. There were two reactions behind him and in the woods that confirmed that James and Ollie hadn't expected that second round of attacks either. After that first shock of surprise from each group of attackers, though, they all seemed to decide to take advantage of the opportunity; and redoubled their collective efforts to blast their ambush targets. Al stopped the first barrage from the Slytherins, but didn't have time to counter-attack at all as he defended against the eight Wizards he could now sense more easily because of the locations of each wand attacking them. The danger from behind him was still palpable too, but while he sensed the attacks, he didn't have time to respond as he needed to keep defending Gwendolyn. That's why a breaking charm caught him low in the leg and dropped him to his knees. A double-whammy hit him in the back and ribs as he and Gwendolyn both faltered momentarily, but when she was hit by a cutting curse that sliced deeply into her wand arm; Al's anger and power flared in response.

"Petrificus Totalis!" he roared; and felt a great deal of satisfaction as the entire group of Slytherins were all imobilised – though he could only sense that; since they were still invisible. He didn't take time to dwell on that victory as he turned again to face the attack still going on from behind him; and got shields up in time to defend more attacks that had been directed at Gwendolyn as she struggled to help while also trying to clamp a hand over the serious cut on her arm. "It's over, James," he called out through gritted teeth. "You and Ollie had better get out of here before I get really mad and do something you'll both regret!" He ground his teeth when his warning was ignored.

"That worked well – not," Gwendolyn told him; her voice angry too and filled with pain.

"Expelliarmus!" Al shouted twice in rapid-fire succession wihtout answering her. He caught each wand at they reached him; both of them bouncing off of trees as they flew through the air between their respective owners and him – and ignoring the magical attempts to regain control of them by their owners. He pocketed both wands; and turned to Gwendolyn. "Let me see that arm, please," he told her; and she turned around so that he could see that side of her.

He couldn't actually see the cut through the fabric of her jacket and shirt. He could see the blood stains, though; and sensed the seriousness of the cut. Pointing his wand at that part of her arm; he let his magic flare anew; and Gwendolyn tensed as the healing began and her arm was mended from the inside out. She sighed with relief once he was done; but looked worried as his shoulders slumped wearily. While Al hadn't paid any attention to the fact that he was still on his knees, it was something that became obvious as she knelt next to him and put her hands on his arms.

"How bad are you hurt?" she asked; and Al smiled grimly.

"I've felt better," he admitted. "Let me deal with that; and then I think we're overdue for a horseback ride. Watch out behind us just in case any of those Slytherins manage to get free before I'm done."

With that, he turned himself into a caterpillar; healed himself on the way there and back to his human form; and then changed into his stallion form after sharing a quick hug with Gwendolyn and taking her shopping bags so that she didn't need to carry them while riding. She laughed as she swung up onto his back and he ran off toward the school gates. He ignored James and Ollie as he sensed them glowering at them as they passed; and didn't worry about whether the invisible Slytherins would get out of their little predicatment before other students ran into them – possibly literally; since they were in the middle of the road and invisible. While they were both healed, Gwendolyn still had a ruined jacket and shirt that were covered in blood, so Al ran all the way to the stadium; stopped in front of the loceker rooms; and changed back again once she was again on the ground.

"I thought that you'd rather get changed here than have anyone see you like this back at the castle," he explained without needing to do that; and she smiled at him.

"You just want to get me into that new sweater in time for the cuddling and game-watching," she teased; and Al laughed.

"That's a bonus," he agreed; "though I'm not happy about what they did to you; so I won't be sending out any thank-you cards to any of those gits."

"Let me get changed, and then I'd like to talk about all of that," she told him seriously. "We've got some real problems if James and Ollie have teamed up with our favorite Slytherin haters this year."

"That was by accident today," Al advised her, "but go ahead; and we'll talk when you get back." He waited while Gwendolyn went to do that, and she must have needed to wash up a bit too; since she was gone for nearly ten minutes before getting back and sharing a long hug and kiss with him.

"Thank you," she told him after the kiss. "You really are the worst sort of trouble magnet; but I'm glad you were there to help out with both the fighting and with healing me too."

"I'd feel better about that if it wasn't for the fact that you likely wouldn't have to fight or be healed if not for me."

"Your Dad has likely said that same thing a lot over the years about everyone he cares about too," she told him. "You'd be included in that too; since you wouldn't have as many troubles around here if not for being one of Harry Potter's kids. I doubt you'll stop letting that bug you either, but try to get used to it; since I don't plan on changing anything about you and me just because it isn't all fun and games."

"There hasn't been much fun at all so far since we got back here," Al pointed out; and Gwendolyn grinned at him.

"Then we'll need to work a bit harder at that – though even this fight wasn't all bad. We did win; and I got to go for a horseback ride. Before I get totally side-tracked, though, what did you mean about that ambush being an accident back there?"

"I'm pretty sure that they were all surprised, so there'd been two attacks planned against us. It was just an accident that they happened at the same time – though the Slytherins only took advantage of the situation after James and Ollie ambushed us first before the Averys and their mates could try blasting us from behind."

"Then let's hope that they don't decide that it worked so well that they should start teaming up," Gwendolyn suggested. "What are you going to do with James' and Ollie's wands?"

"I'm tempted to drop them off with Molly – or Filch,' he only half-joked. "We need to drop off our supplies before going on to the study classroom, though; so I'll stop by the fourth-year dorm room and leave them on their beds."

"That's more than they deserve; but that is one of the reasons for why I love you so much. Let's hurry up. I'd like to catch as much of the match as we can – and we've already missed the first hour or so of it."

They did that; Al walked her to Ravenclaw tower; waited for her; and then had her go on ahead to their study classroom after checking his map and making sure she didn't have anything to worry about from James, Ollie, or the Averys and their buddies. The Slytherins were still nowhere to be seen on the map, and James and Ollie were just making their way in from the gates; so they split up so that Al could take his supplies back to his room and drop off two extra wands before meeting up with Gwendolyn again to watch the rest of the Harpies-Prides match. Lily had quite a group of first and second-year tweens with her for the afternoon, so they'd been very happy when Gwendolyn arrived and started setting up the sofas for all of them to use. They'd needed to move the mirror to work with that, but it hadn't gotten in the way of watching the show; and they had everything done by the time Al got there.

He and Gwendolyn couldn't talk about the fight they'd had, but after delivering the supplies he had with him for Lily, Hugo, and some of the other kids; he sat down with Gwendolyn and they were grilled about their first Hogsmeade trip while the Quidditch match rolled on. The Prides didn't have an all-new team, and Al and Gwendolyn had kept an eye on how they were doing so far this season; but they did get to have a very good look at how well they stacked up against the Harpies with Alice and Daniella at Chaser now; and Jensen and Stanley at Beater. It wasn't a total surprise to find out that they now had a much more closely-matched team than they'd had last season. They were heading toward the end of the second hour of the match by the time Al had gotten comfortablly snuggled with Gwendolyn, and while the Harpies had the lead; it was only by a score of one-forty to seventy. Sure, that was two-to-one for goals, but the shots on goal were closer; and part of that lead had come early – before Alice and Daniella settled into the game and began pretty much trading goals with the Harpies' Chasers after that.

The game continued for more than another hour after that, and Al and Gwendolyn got to watch as Victoire scored four of the last six goals for the Harpies while Alice and Daniella split the four goals for the Prides with two each before the game ended when Erin Connelly once again attempted a very high-risk play to catch the snitch that she missed – and that Gabrielle then took advantage of to end the game. The final score was three-fifty to one-ten, but the players on both teams knew that it had been a much-closer game than the score suggested.

"Erin should stop doing that," Lily said as they watched the action on the pitch. The players had all landed; and it was especially entertaining for them to see Victoire hugging her former Gryffindor team mates and friendly rivals. "She has a better team to work with now; and they weren't in any imminent danger of falling behind by more than one-fifty. She's losing more often than winning with those really risky plays."

"True, but we don't know how many of those matches she'd lose anyway," Gwendolyn pointed out. "I've been wondering for a while whether Erin isn't able to handle long matches anymore. She might be doing that because she's too tired to play her best after a few hours."

"It's something to keep an eye on," Lily agreed with a nod. "The other teams will take advantage of that if it's true, though; so she might not be able to play much longer if she really can't keep up anymore."

"The other teams might have more to worry about from Alice and Daniella," Al offered. "The Harpies were a match for them today, but they'll be enough better than other Chasers that the Seeker duel won't matter as much – if they can get the Prides ahead by one-sixty or more in their matches against the weaker teams."

His suggestion sent their chat off on a slightly different track for a while, including musings about whether Erin's career might end when one of the current Hogwarts Seekers graduated, but it was soon time to pack up and head for dinner in the Great Hall. They were there early, so Al sat with Gwendolyn for a while until some of her friends joined her there; and then he went to sit with Rose, Ray, and his own usual group of dinnr companions. Their Hogsmeade weekend and Quidditch were the top chat topics, and Al mostly had fun with that while he ate; but he also had to deal with some bad vibes that he couldn't avoid coming from James and Ollie just down the table from him – and from the Averys and their buddies at several spots along the Slytherin table. There didn't seem to be any sense that they were mad at him for any other reason beyond being defeated in that ambush, so they'd all obviously managed to make it back to the castle without any other problems; but then the hatred directed his way was more than enough of a problem anyway.

While spending the evening with Gwendolyn was something he was really looking forward to after dinner, once they'd gotten together; they decided to do some studying first – mostly because Gwendolyn had her make-up Quidditch practice after breakfast in the morning; and that was goign to leave her with less time to study on Sunday. Changing their plan to wind down their play day with studying wasn't all bad, since they spent some of that time playing with the magic instead of just writing reports, but there was real work involved too; so they were happy to stop working with enough time left before curfew for a bit of quality snogging. They didn't watch a show on the mirror network too; packed up with just enough time left over for Al to walk Gwendolyn 'home' and then get to his dorm room ahead of curfrew; and then he pretty much went straight to bed after that.

The end of the Hogsmeade weekend Saturday, now that Al had been able to go into town, felt like the end of the first, three-week cycle of the Hogwarts schedule. While that three-week sequence would be different each time from now on; some things would be the same – or at least similar. The classes and studying would be the same; They'd trade Quidditch tryouts for Quidditch matches; and Al hoped that he and Gwendolyn would find time here and there for some different kinds of fun with their family and friends too! A bit less trouble would be nice, but he didn't really expect or sense that he'd be that lucky.

As Al let his mind wander while waiting for sleep to come, he found himself musing about the number three – third year; three-week cycles between Hogsmeade weekends; being part of a Chaser trio; and other, maybe not-so-random occurrences of the number in his life so far this fall. Three was supposed to be a lucky number, but as he thought about that; he didn't remember anyone actually ever specifying that the luck had to only be good. Then again, even the bad moments of his first three weeks at Hogwarts had turned out pretty good for him anyway; so maybe three really would be the charm for him – and hopefully for Gwendolyn, Rose, Lily, and the rest of their family and friends too!