Somehow, the incident in the library made Herman so much more tolerable to Daisy and Ronnie. Daisy thought that it was better just knowing that Herman was willing to throw out even his most sacred rules, if a troll was involved. Ronnie thought it was more than that-it was how Herman had acted after the adults showed up-as if destroying the library had been their only reasonable option and that he didn't regret it.
Either way, Daisy didn't mind partnering with Herman in Herbology anymore, and Ronnie didn't mind partnering with him in Charms. Herman even sat with them for meals at the Gryffindor or Slytherin table. On Thursday, when they all met each other outside the Great Hall for lunch, Daisy offered to sit at the Ravenclaw table.
"Oh...oh, no," Herman stammered. "You-you don't have to do that." He gave a nervous laugh.
Daisy and Ronnie looked at each other. Ronnie said, "Well, you sit at our tables, so it's only fair, really."
"Oh, but you-you have other friends in your Houses." Herman laughed nervously again. "The Ravenclaws don't like me much."
Ronnie looked enraged, and grabbed Herman's wrist and marched into the Great Hall, dragging the reluctant boy behind her. Daisy sighed, and took a moment to collect herself. Ronnie tended to do the right thing impetuously, but Daisy was getting used to it. She knew that Ronnie was going to ruffle some feathers, though. Daisy snickered. The lion was going to ruffle the ravens' feathers, and it was up to the snake to smooth things over. She plastered on an easy smile and walked into the Great Hall, where Ronnie sat indignantly at the Ravenclaw table next to an embarrassed Herman, silently daring any of the Ravenclaws to raise an objection.
Daisy sat down carelessly across from them. "Have either of you two got any ideas for McGonagall's essay?" she said easily. "I understand Flibb's method of switching, but I can't get my head around Kirk's."
Herman looked at Daisy gratefully, and launched into a detailed lecture comparing and contrasting the two methods. By the end of it, Ronnie looked bored, but Pankaj Patil, who had been listening, said, "I still don't understand why we have to learn two different ways of doing the exact same thing. Seems a waste of time to me."
"Oh," Herman said. "But if the objects you want to switch are roughly the same size and density, Kirk's method is actually much easier, because if you use Flibb's method, it's harder to...disentangle them at the last step, really."
Pankaj's mouth opened slightly and he looked away. "Ooooooh," he said, in a small voice, and Herman looked triumphant. Daisy smiled.
Slytherin's last team practice before their first Quidditch match was Thursday night. Marcy Flint did an odd thing, though, once they were all in the changing room. She locked the door and threw up a privacy spell.
"Ladies," she said. "We play against Gryffindor on Saturday, our first match of the season. We've worked hard on skills, technique, and plays, but as most of you know, skills and technique are not our only strategy." Marcy looked hard at each of them, then sighed when she looked at Daisy. Daisy shifted uncomfortably.
Marcy continued, "If any of you has any objections to our traditional team strategies, please, let's just talk about it now."
There was an uncomfortable silence, and Daisy bit her lips. Whatever this was, she had a feeling it was about her.
Finally, Sam Weasley spoke up and confirmed Daisy's fears. "Daisy Evans is eleven. years. old."
Suspecting it was one thing, but hearing it spoken out loud so baldly stunned Daisy. Worse, the other girls in the room seemed to take Sam's comment as permission to talk. Alex said, "Oh my god, I've been having nightmares about Dad coming to the match."
Jestine Dalham, one of the Chasers, groaned. "And my grandmother has never missed a match yet."
"She's Daisy Fucking Evans. Never mind your relatives, what would the school think?" asked Carlotta Hansford, another Chaser.
Marcy seemed to let out a sigh of relief. "Okay, so we're all on the same page here?"
"Yes," the other girls chorused.
"What?" Daisy finally asked.
Marcy again looked around the room, then said to Daisy, "Listen, Daisy, you may have noticed that the Slytherin Quidditch team runs high to girls. We don't keep boys out on purpose, it's just that they'd have to be damn good to compete the way we compete. We play the game to the best of our ability, and that just so happens to include..." she waved her hands. Daisy tilted her head in question.
Sam groaned. "Eleven years old," she repeated.
"Just spit it out," Alex said. "We dress slutty to distract the boys on the other teams."
"Not just the boys," Jestine said. "We have this down to an art form. When we're on our game-girl, boy, gay, straight-it doesn't matter. Everyone's gender preference is the Slytherin Quidditch team."
"We are magnificent," Carlotta agreed.
Marcy said, "But I think we're all uncomfortable playing on the sex appeal of an eleven-year-old girl."
The room got quiet. Daisy felt that now was the time to speak up-at least if they weren't going to treat her like a little kid. Eleven wasn't that young, after all. "How uncomfortable?" she ventured. "Uncomfortable, like, we-are-definitely-not-going-there, or uncomfortable, like, we're-going-there-because-we-know-it-will-work-on-you-sick-fucks?"
The whole team choked on their laughter. Marcy said, "That would make it official: we'd all end up in hell."
There was a long pause before Alex spoke up again. "But we'd be reigning Quidditch champions."
"...in hell," Sam said.
"This is stupid," Jestine said. "There's more than one way to play up being a girl. It's not all sex appeal."
"Protective instincts," Carlotta said.
"Exactly," Jestine said.
Sam cheered. "Daisy, how would you feel about playing Quidditch dressed up as a little girl?"
Daisy frowned. "You mean, like a stupid, baby girl who doesn't know which way to point her broom?"
"Yes," Jestine said. "Exactly like that innocent, sweet girl."
Well, Daisy had to admit that there was a point to it, at least.
She didn't have time to be offended or even bewildered before the other girls made her stand on the bench and started to circle her, patting her hair and asking her very odd questions.
She was asked about her wardrobe: "What's the girliest skirt you own? Does it have pleats?" (Daisy didn't own a skirt at all-which caused a minor team crisis.) "Do you have any maryjanes, you know, the kind of shoes with buckles?" (Daisy only had trainers, which caused a major team crisis.) And about her knickers: "Do you own wholesome knickers? I'm talking, white cotton." (Daisy did.) "How do you feel about strangers maybe possibly getting a glimpse of your wholesome, white, cotton knickers?" ("I don't think I like that idea," Daisy said, and Sam cheered her for it. "I wouldn't want to flash my knickers until I was at least thirteen years old, anyway," Sam said. "And certainly not if they were white cotton.")
Daisy never had more fun-all of the older girls doting on her and fawning over her in a way that she'd never experienced. She felt warmed and embarrassed in turns.
In the end, Daisy wore an old miniskirt of Jestine's (which just reached the top of Daisy's knees); old maryjanes that belonged to Marcy's younger sister but were two sizes too big for Daisy, so the team had stuffed the toes with socks and used sticking charms to keep them on Daisy's feet; white knee socks which Alex had in her bag; a simple white blouse-Daisy's only contribution to the ensemble-and a green headband. Underneath her skirt, she wore a pair of black Muggle bike shorts, which she didn't mind the whole school seeing if her skirt flew up. She didn't even know where the bike shorts came from. Over the whole thing she wore the emerald green Slytherin team robes, completely open and only reaching her calves.
The team stepped back from their creation. "You are the picture of innocence," Alex said.
"Innocent as a rose," Jestine said.
"Innocent as a Daisy," Marcy said. "If you grow tits any time soon, we're going to have to tape them down. It would mess with the look."
Daisy blushed but giggled anyway.
"Honestly, it's such a good look, I'm starting to think we need a new strategy," Carlotta said.
"What do you mean?" Alex asked.
"I mean, what if we all looked like that? Innocent as a daisy, or whatever. Who would dare hit a bludger at anyone if they looked like that?"
"Girls," Alex said. "Boys might be fooled if Marcy showed up to the match in maryjanes and kneesocks, but the girls would want to punch her in the face."
Marcy laughed, and Carlotta sighed. "You're right. It was just a thought."
Then the rest of the team tried on their game-day outfits, which took much less time as their looks were evidently more traditional for the Slytherin Quidditch team. It seemed to Daisy that they emerged from a cloud of powder like indomitable goddesses. Their make-up, their hair, their fingernails,-their legs were somehow shiny. Their chest sizes defied logic, but Daisy did finally understand why they all had so many spare socks with them. Every time they blinked, the corners of their eyes glittered. Their Quidditch robes, which only reached down to their mid-thighs, were clasped together in a single spot just underneath their impressive breasts.
"So," Marcy said. "Let's get a look at us."
The girls all gathered together to look at themselves in the mirror. Daisy felt horribly like the ugly duckling, surrounded by the older, more sophisticated, and stunning girls. It didn't help that all the other girls were all looking at her.
Marcy tore her eyes away from Daisy to address the other girls. "Ladies, let me remind you that there's a pretty big difference between owning your sexuality and feeling like you have to dress slutty for the team. The first one is empowerment, the second one is coercion. If you don't feel empowered right now-if you feel coerced at all-let me know now-or later, in private."
"I just can't stop looking at you, Daisy," Carlotta said. "I just want to take you home and tuck you in and read you bedtime stories."
Daisy turned bright red.
"I know," Marcy said. "I can't believe we wasted so much time teaching you to dodge bludgers. What a useless skill for you to have."
Daisy felt tears threatening and looked down.
"Oi there," Sam said. "If that bashfulness is part of your look, that's fine, but if it's not, say what's on your mind."
She didn't know where to start. She felt too ugly, she felt too young, she felt left out. She knew it was ridiculous since the team spent most of the evening on her, but for all of that-when she looked in the mirror, she just obviously didn't fit in with the rest of them.
She opened her mouth to try to explain all of this, but what came out instead was: "My aunt doesn't allow me to wear make-up." And then she burst into tears, because her cousin Eva was of course allowed to wear make-up, because (as Aunt Petunia said) Eva was older than Daisy. Aunt Petunia had been saying that for Daisy's whole life, and when Daisy was younger, she thought she'd have to wait four months before she could do what Eva had done. Eva was four months older than Daisy, so if Eva got new shoes now, then in four months Daisy should get new shoes. In four months she should get dance lessons. In four months, she should get a pretty new necklace.
It had taken her a lot longer than four months to figure out that she would never get these things.
"This is stupid," Sam said. "Alex, you and I should dress like little girls, too. We're the next youngest on the team, and we could pull it off."
Alex balked, and Daisy balked with her. "You can't do that," Daisy blurted.
"Why not? It would-"
"No, no," Daisy interrupted, and wiped her tears. "Look at me. If you looked like me when you hit a bludger at someone, they'd know your innocent look was a lie. But if you look like you when you hit a bludger at someone, Jesus Christ, they're just happy you're paying attention to them."
Even Sam snorted. Alex said, "She did know that, Daisy. It's just-Merlin's beard, look at you. We just want you to be happy."
Daisy smiled, even as more tears spilled out. "I know," she choked out. And then an idea seized her. "I'm only crying because I want to see how far I can take this thing."
The girls laughed again, and Marcy said, "Daisy Evans, you fit on this team so well that I honestly don't know if you're lying or telling the truth. Ladies, we will knock 'em dead on Saturday. They'll never even know what hit them."
When the Slytherin Quidditch team stepped out on the pitch on Saturday morning, Serafima nearly laughed out loud. Until that moment, she hadn't admitted to herself how nervous she'd been that Miss Flint would cling to tradition and dress Daisy Evans like a trollop.
But Serafima had chosen her team captain well. Miss Flint continued to prove herself ruthless and intelligent-a deadly combination.
"Th-th-th-this should b-b-b-be interesting," Professor Quirrel said, and Serafima silently cursed Dumbledore. The headmistress had always assigned the professors' seating for Quidditch matches, and Serafima always sat in the Slytherin section, of course. Usually Professor Sinestra was assigned to sit with her, but this year Dumbledore had moved Sinestra to the Hufflepuff section and placed Quirrell with the Slytherins.
Serafima could guess why. Keep an eye on Quirina, indeed. She wondered if she could do what Dumbledore asked while ignoring Quirrel completely. Probably not, but it was pure fancy anyway-sitting this close to the woman raised the hairs on the back of Serafima's neck. Serafima didn't understand it, but she knew she couldn't ignore the woman.
She ignored the woman as best she could anyway, and tried to focus on the match. Slytherin was doing particularly well: the Misses Weasley were proving themselves to be superb Beaters; the Chasers had worked together for two years now and their experience showed; Miss Flint rarely let anyone score against her; and Miss Evans flew all around the pitch, completely unmolested by the Gryffindor Beaters.
But as Serafima watched, Miss Evans did an odd little flip on her broom, so that she was suddenly facing the opposite direction. She came unseated slightly, and Serafima knew, she knew, that the girl hadn't done the flip on purpose.
Leigh Jordan, who was commentating the match, said, "It looks like Daisy Evans can't figure out which way to point her broom!" which irritated Serafima because of course Miss Jordan would openly pick on the opposing team, and of course Melvin McGonagall would overlook the infraction, but wasn't it obvious that Miss Evans's broom was malfunctioning?
Then the broom dropped several feet and stopped abruptly, and Miss Evans hit her chin on the handle.
Her heart in her throat, Serafima started to silently chant a protection spell on the broom. Parce. Miserere. Parce. Miserere.
The moments stretched. Serafima didn't dare blink as the broom became more and more erratic despite all her best efforts. Miss Evans still hung on heroically, even though her mouth and chin were dripping blood and her skirt was hiked up around her waist (revealing modest black shorts, to Serafima's relief). Both teams had stopped play and tried to help the girl, but no one could get close to her-if they tried, the broom juddered away quickly.
And just when Serafima didn't think things could get worse, she recognized the smell of burning robes. Her robes. As in: she was on fire. Miss Evans forgotten, she stumbled a bit but cast a quick Aguamenti on herself. By the time she looked up again, Miss Evans was nowhere in the air. She panicked and looked at the ground, only to see Miss Evans, standing on her own two feet, and clutching at her chest with both hands. Was she having a heart attack? A panic attack? What had Serafima missed?
But then the oddest thing happened: leaving one hand on her heart, Miss Evans reached down inside her blouse...and pulled out the snitch. "I caught the snitch!" she said, sounding surprised herself.
Well, thought Serafima. I'll be damned.
She left the stands immediately (noting with satisfaction that Quirina had fallen on her arse at some point-Serafima dearly hoped that she knocked the woman over when she was scrambling to put out her robes) and went to find Miss Flint.
She found the girl celebrating with the team, but Miss Flint seemed to be expecting her, because when Serafima caught her eye, she came over immediately.
"I didn't see anything, ma'am," Miss Flint said. "There was no one on the grounds who shouldn't have been there, and from what I could see, everyone in the stands just looked concerned or even panicked. Except you, of course-you were stony. And that new Defense teacher-whatever her name is."
"How did she look?" Serafima asked, feeling a thrill of foreboding.
Miss Flint scowled and said, "She wasn't even looking. She had her face turned away."
That struck Serafima as peculiar enough to be disturbing. To distract Miss Flint, she said, "Five points to Slytherin. For not completing Miss Evans's look with the obvious white knickers."
Miss Flint laughed. "It never crossed our minds, ma'am."
Serafima doubted that.
By the end of the Quidditch match, Ronnie was jumping out of her skin. She felt like she'd fought with everyone, starting with herself (Gryffindor is my TEAM, but Daisy is my FRIEND, but I can't root for SLYTHERIN, but I don't want Daisy to lose), moving on to Felina Malfoy ("Shut up, Malfoy, I can cheer for Slytherin and still cheer for Gryffindor."), and now that the match was over, she was arguing with Herman.
Ronnie had insisted that Herman sit with her for the match, and it hadn't seemed like a terrible idea because even though he was Muggle-born, he knew all of the rules of Quidditch and was curious how an actual game went. Also, Herman didn't talk much when the game actually started, limiting his comments to things like, "Daisy flies quite well. I wonder why she's dressed up as a girl." (He didn't comment on the dress of the other girls on the Slytherin team, and Ronnie thought it might be possible that Herman hadn't even noticed.)
But when Daisy's broom tried to kill her, Herman somehow got the idea that Professor Snape was behind it. Ronnie had to admit that it was suspicious that Daisy's broom leveled off almost the instant Herman set Snape on fire, but she still couldn't believe that the woman would try to kill Daisy.
"I know what I saw," Herman said stubbornly.
"But-Herman, even if Snape wanted to kill Daisy, she wouldn't do it in the middle of a Quidditch game! Not when Daisy's on her team. It just doesn't make sense!"
"Maybe that's what Professor Snape is counting on," Herman said darkly.
"We have to warn Daisy," Herman said, and Ronnie sighed again. Since she wanted to see Daisy anyway, she followed Herman, who had already started to make his way toward the celebrating Slytherin team.
When they reached the team, Ronnie was a little intimidated by their looks-even the twins-who Ronnie wouldn't have recognized up close, except for their voices as they crowed about Daisy's catch: "The only one of us not showing any cleavage!" Alex gasped in between laughter.
Herman didn't seem intimidated at all. "Excuse me," he said to the team, then turned to Daisy. "Daisy, we need to talk to you."
Ronnie would have been mortified by this, because she just felt so out of place, but then she saw Daisy's hands shaking a little bit, and she really wanted to give her friend a hug just then. So when Daisy walked over to Ronnie and Herman, Ronnie pulled her in tight.
"Days, that was really scary," Ronnie said. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Daisy said, but she didn't pull away from the hug for a few moments.
Herman cleared his throat, and Daisy broke the hug awkwardly. Herman didn't seem to notice. "We were especially concerned because we think we know who did it," he said. "We think it was Professor Snape."
"We don't think anything of the sort, Herman," Ronnie denied, but Daisy just looked thoughtful.
"If Snape wanted to kill me, she'd probably pick a better time than during a Quidditch match. Since I'm on her team and all."
"That's what I said!" Ronnie said.
"But it would make her look innocent, wouldn't it?" Herman persisted. "Because no one would suspect her of murdering her own player."
To Ronnie's great consternation, this explanation seemed to make sense to Daisy. Herman explained everything that happened: "Snape was looking right at you, and she looked fierce, and her lips were moving. So I set her on fire and then your broom stopped behaving erratically."
Daisy choked. "On fire?" she said between coughs.
Ronnie slapped Daisy on the back and said, "I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't seen in with my own two eyes, but it's true. Herman Granger set a teacher on fire. On purpose. To save your life, Daisy."
Daisy cleared her throat a few times. "I'm glad we're friends now, Herman, really."
Ronnie hadn't thought of it like that. But it was just a week before that Herman had gotten angry with them for talking in the library. And now the same boy had set a teacher on fire on a hunch.
Ronnie must have had a funny look on her face, because Herman scowled at her. "What?" he asked.
"I'm glad we're friends, too," she said, and pulled Herman into a hug. She held on to him until he patted her back awkwardly a few times, and finally let him go.