Chapter 6: Sakura and Tryouts and Invitations

Syaoran may have been experiencing a whole new world for the first time, but not Sakura. Hogwarts held no surprises for her. After the year she had already spent in the Scottish school of magic, her expectations for classes and life had all been well established before even leaving Japan. Classes, meals, studying, playing. All of these matched her expectations as the days at Hogwarts slowly transformed themselves into weeks. This was for the worse as well as for the better.

Sakura had held both hope and fear for Charms class this year. Of the two feelings, fear turned out to have been the more appropriate emotion to have felt. She felt bad saying it, given the class was taught by her own head of house, but she really disliked Charms class. Increasingly so as time went on. "Just read the book." "That's the way it's always been done." "Why can't you follow instructions?" "Stop daydreaming and pay attention." "Can't you do anything the right way?"

Days with Charms class dragged by slowly.

This was in sharp contrast to days with Potions class. The fact class with Professor Snape was double normal length meant those days practically flew by. They would have lunch, then Potions, and then the day would be over. Then she would be able to meet up with Syaoran again.

Sakura reflected on these differences as she stirred the cauldron in front of her. The Pepperup Potion was modestly more complicated than the previous ones they had worked on in class. Professor Snape had emphasized that timing was especially essential in crafting it, and there was a great deal of waiting involved in its preparation. It left Sakura with plenty of time to relax and think about whatever idle thoughts crossed her mind.

The class had moved on to more complicated potions as compared to her first-year, such as Angel's Trumpet Draughts, Regerminating Potions, and the Pepperup Potion she currently had brewing in front of her. Thus far into the school year, the additional complexity of the new potions hadn't yet been a problem for Sakura. If anything, it just made her that much more interested in the field of study. She wouldn't necessarily say that Potions was her absolute single most favorite class, but if it wasn't then it was definitely one of her more favorite ones.

"Kinomoto," Professor Snape called out, catching her attention after she had dropped the last of her fairy wings into the cauldron.

"Hoe?" Sakura exclaimed in reflex. Professor Snape rarely called her out. His addressing her caught her by surprise. For a brief moment she was reminded of how Professor Flitwick called her out all the time. Sakura then corrected herself, asking, "Yes, Professor Snape?"

"I'd like a word with you after class today," Professor Snape said.

The pit of Sakura's stomach dropped out at that declaration. That flicker of recognition had been foreboding. Professor Flitwick had asked her to stay behind after class enough times that she knew what Professor Snape's request meant. She had just messed up and would need remedial work. Again.

A quick look in the Potions textbook revealed what the problem was. Her potion was nowhere near as dark as the vermilion it should have been before adding the fairy wings to it. She had added them too early. If only she had paid more attention, she could have avoided ruining another one of her classes in the school. The only good thing was that the session was almost over so Sakura wouldn't have much time to brood over it before judgment would be upon her.

"Oooo," one of the Hufflepuff boys said mockingly. "So Sakura finally does something wrong."

"Quiet, MacMillan. Minus three points to Hufflepuff," Professor Snape snapped out.

Fair or not, the loss of points silenced the room. The short remainder of the class was spent with students finishing their Pepperup Potions and then cleaning their supplies.

On the way out, Lisa whispered a quick, "Good luck." Then all of the other students were gone and Sakura was left alone with Professor Snape.

Sakura hesitated, but there was no way out of it. The room was empty, so it wasn't like she could really hide or anything. She approached the desk at the front of the room. Professor Snape stood behind it, looking more towering and more imposing than she had ever seen him before. Sakura asked, "You wanted to see me, Professor?"

Professor Snape stared down at Sakura with a measured eye. Sakura found herself intimidated.

"Hand me your Potions textbook," Professor Snape ordered.

Sakura dutifully retrieved it and handed it over.

Professor Snape opened the book, checked the cover for something, flipped through several pages, and finally ended up opening the book to the section with the Pepperup Potion instructions. As Professor Snape did so, he asked, "Tell me, Kinomoto. Why did you mix the knotgrass with the salamander tail before you added it to the potion?"

"The instructions said to add them at the same time and I thought it would be easier if they were already together," Sakura answered. Professor Snape had emphasized how important timing was, and she had thought it would simplify things and make the potion easier to make.

"I see," Professor Snape said, continuing to carefully watch Sakura. "And what about the fairy wings. Why did you mix them with your wand?"

Had she? She couldn't remember doing that. Certainly not intentionally. She really shouldn't have been daydreaming that much. She hesitantly ventured, "I'm sorry. I don't remember."

"This is the Pepperup Potion that Jones brewed earlier," Professor Snape said, sliding a flask of amber liquid across the table towards Sakura. "Tell me. What do you make of it?"

That threw Sakura for a loop. She certainly wasn't about to cause any problems for another student. She barely looked at it before quickly answering, "It seems fine to me."

Professor Snape raised his eyes and looked down his nose at Sakura in a skeptical glare. He said, "Honestly, Kinomoto. This isn't going to hurt Jones. Tell me what you really think of it."

Sakura didn't know what Professor Snape expected of her. She hesitated more. She slowly reached out for the flask. When Professor Snape didn't object she picked it up. It felt a bit off to her, even though she couldn't exactly verbalize what it felt like.

Professor Snape continued to stare at her. Sakura felt the pressure of the room's silence continue to mount. She tried to put her vague, indescribable feelings into words.

"It feels a bit... maybe... sour?" Sakura hesitantly asked as much as said.

"Very well," Professor Snape said, snatching the potion out of Sakura's hand. "Tell me, Kinomoto. Have you ever put any thought into becoming a Potions-Mistress?"

"Hoe?" Sakura asked. Of the questions she had expected, that most certainly had not been one of them.

"You have a real talent. If you were to focus your studies, you could go far," Professor Snape said.

"I could? But what about the other students?" Sakura asked. She felt she did well enough in class, but others were good as well.

"Your classmates? They're worthless," Professor Snape scowled. "Less than a third of each class will qualify in their O.W.L.s for further studies, and that's in Slytherin and Ravenclaw. The dunderheads in Gryffindor and Hufflepuff will be lucky if they get even half of that."

"Why's that? Potions aren't that difficult. It's just mixing things together," Sakura said. She realized her gaff right after it left her mouth.

"That's exactly what I mean," Professor Snape said, seeming to not care that Sakura had dismissed his field of expertise. "That you think that shows exactly how lucky you are. Making potions is not just putting ingredients together. A muggle could do that. The process for brewing a Felix Felicis potion is well known, but I could only brew one if I were to have an exceptionally lucky month. The real secret of potions is in the magic. You imbue everything you make with a part of your personality, your attribute, your very essence. That's the reason only certain people can make certain potions, and why there's only ever been one person known to have successfully created a Philosopher's Stone."

If the use of magic was intrinsic to crafting potions it answered the question Sakura had had about why Tomoyo and other muggles couldn't make them even when shad had followed the same instructions step-by-step that Sakura had. It raised another one, though. She asked, "What about those potions in our book? If everybody makes potions differently then how do they work?"

"These? They're nothing more than children's toys; the most basic formula for the masses. The real secret to potions is when you start to innovate. You're already doing it. I can tell. That's why your potions come out better than everybody else's."

"Hoe?" Sakura asked again.

"You don't need to answer right now. This is a very serious decision and you're only starting your second-year. There is a long time to go yet. Just think about it. If you want to become a true Potions-Mistress, let me know and I'll arrange some private lessons with you," Professor Snape said. He then handed Sakura's textbook back to her.

Sakura's mind was whirling. She wasn't exactly sure what had happened next, although she knew she must have said something appropriate before leaving Professor Snape. The next thing she knew, she was standing in front of the door which blocked entrance into Ravenclaw Tower.

"What aspect does salamander add to a potion?" the knocker on the door asked.

Sakura shook herself out of her thoughtfulness. The question of what to do or not do in regard to Professor Snape's offer was far less pressing than the question of whether or not she could get into her dorm room in time to drop off her supplies before meeting Syaoran.

A more impartial person would have said she was dropping off her supplies in preparation for meeting Gloria. Sakura and the others were going to go watch the Gryffindor Quidditch tryouts. Gloria had invited everybody interested to come. That group included Syaoran, though, and with him around it was hard for Sakura to think of the upcoming meeting as being with anybody but him.

In either case, daydreaming about Professor Snape's strange offer or her upcoming meeting with Syaoran would do nothing to get her into Ravenclaw Tower. She was sure that somebody else would either enter or leave the tower soon, but she was in a hurry and wanted to meet up with Syaoran sooner rather than later.

Salamanders was the question. Salamanders in potions. So, what potions actually used salamanders? The most obvious one was the Pepperup Potion. It was still at the forefront of Sakura's mind given the lesson she had just had. There was also the Chill-Warming Draught, which helped people who got the chills to feel better. Between those two, and the fact that Sakura knew salamanders both lived in and ate fire, the answer was obvious; they added heat or warmth to a potion.

Then again, it wouldn't do to be too hasty. She had been certain of her answer in the past and been proven to be incorrect before. Sakura thought more about what other potions she knew that used salamanders. There was Strengthening Solution, Cough Potion, Dragon Tonic, and Invigoration Draught as well. Dragon Tonic could conceivably be heat related due to a dragon breathing fire, but none of the other three fit with her theory. So what else could there be?

Sakura thought more about it, trying to tease out the commonality between all of the potions she could think of. She came to her conclusion and declared, "It adds an aspect of health to a potion."

"Well said," the knocker answered, and then opened the way for Sakura.

So the knocker was on a potions theme now. That was new. She should pass the word along to the other Ravenclaw students when she had a chance as a courtesy to the others. The new subject was a relief. She could finally stop carrying the Arithmancy reference volume around with her. As she had actually studied potions in class, she felt like she actually had a chance on her own now. That was unless it was actually on a magical creature theme, in which case she would need to replace the Arithmancy book with a magical creatures one. That would be annoying, seeing how most magical creatures tomes were either heavier or more dangerous than her Arithmancy book. She really hoped it was a potions theme.

"What do you think you're doing?" Penelope's shout could be heard clearly. It was made all the more attention grabbing by the fact that the Ravenclaw common room was as quiet as it was. It startled Sakura and made her snap her attention to the prefect. What had she done? She quickly thought back.

It was only after a few moments that she realized Penelope wasn't addressing her. Sakura, along with the other students in the room, joined in staring at the prefect yelling at a young girl.

Sakura let out a groan. She should have known. It was Luna. She had a palette in one hand, a brush in the other, and a crudely drawn rainbow on the wall in front of her.

"I think I'm drawing a rainbow," Luna said. Her voice was much more calm than the prefect's, but it still carried in the deathly still room. "What do you think I'm doing?"

Penelope didn't bother trying to answer Luna's question. Doing so always led down a rabbit hole totally tangential to the topic at hand. Instead she asked, "And just why do you think you're drawing a rainbow?"

"Well, there's the red out here, and then the orange inside of it, and then the yellow..." Luna said, pointing to each band of color as she did so.

"No!" Penelope shouted, cutting the girl off. "I mean why are you drawing a rainbow?"

"This room's too boring. There's just a lot of blue and gray. I thought it could use more color," Luna answered. Her eyes only briefly looked at Penelope before turning back to the wall in front of her.

"The room is supposed to be blue and gray; that's Ravenclaw's colors!" Penelope shouted, clearly both frustrated and angry.

"I see. I thought they'd just run out of the other ones," Luna said. She then turned back to her palette and asked, "What do you think? More red?"

"No!" Penelope continued to shout. In the past three weeks, Luna had caused more shouting in Ravenclaw Tower than the entire previous year in total. "No more painting. You're going to put your paint away and then clean up this mess you made."

"Okay," Luna said. She seemed to be entirely unfazed in the least by the girl yelling right next to her. She put her palette and paintbrush down, turned, and started walking towards Sakura.

"I meant clean this up right now!" Penelope shouted at Luna's back.

"Right now? Why didn't you say that in the first place?" Luna asked. She turned back to her painting supplies and the picture she had drawn on the wall.

Sakura quickly went to her dorm room while this confrontation was ongoing. She was tempted to gawk and find out how this latest incident with Luna would be resolved, but she was on a timetable. Once at her desk, it was a quick thing for Sakura to drop off all of her textbooks. She wouldn't need any of them for the rest of the day.

A quick glance around the room didn't reveal Keroberos's presence, and Sakura could feel that he was out on the Hogwarts grounds somewhere not too close but not too distant either. He had probably gotten bored from always waiting in the Ravenclaw dormitories. Sakura didn't really like him wandering around on his own, but she honestly couldn't expect him to just sit on her bed all day while she went to classes. If she needed him, she would also be able to find him without too much difficulty.

Well it would be his own fault if he missed the Quidditch tryouts. He always enjoyed the sport far more than Sakura herself did, and she was sure he would regret his decision to go flying off to somewhere in the forest, assuming Sakura's feelings were correct, rather than stick around and wait for classes to finish.

Sakura double-checked that she had everything she wanted. Then, having second thoughts, she picked up up her Arithmancy tome again, just in case, and grabbed an encyclopedia of magical creatures to add to it. She considered adding her potions book to the stack as well, but she had enough books already and could probably fudge her way through another potions question if she needed to.

Once she had stocked everything, Sakura returned to the common room and headed for the exit to Ravenclaw Tower. In the silence of the common room, it was easy to hear Luna ask, "You said to get rid of the paint, didn't you?"

"I meant to get rid of your paint, not all of the paint!" Penelope screamed at the young girl.

That piqued Sakura's attention. Despite herself she stopped and looked at the scene. Luna's paintbrush and palette had disappeared. The girl instead had a wand in her hand. She was innocently facing the prefect, standing right beside the white wall.

White wall?

Sakura took another look. Indeed, where previously there had been a childishly-drawn rainbow there was now a rainbow-shaped white section on the wall.

Luna stared at the absence of decoration she had made for a second. She slowly said, "I see what you mean. Kruzals would be attracted to that, I suppose." Luna then raised her wand.

Sakura quickly dodged out of Ravenclaw Tower. She just knew that nothing good could come of this. Another shout by Penelope, audible even through the door as it closed behind her, suggested that she had been right.

After a quick trip through a hidden passage Sakura had found in the past with the others, Sakura found herself in the Great Hall. It was the place everybody had agreed to meet. It wasn't the exact center of the four dorms, and it wasn't the strictly speaking the closest place for any of them; but given the dispersed nature of the four houses it was a central enough and it had plenty of room for them to congregate while waiting for everybody to arrive.

Syaoran and Gloria were already waiting in the Great Hall when Sakura arrived. Syaoran must have been as eager as Sakura to meet up considering his early arrival, whereas Gloria was the one for whom this meeting was taking place. She had a large broom propped up against the table next to where she sat. Sakura didn't hesitate in the slightest before joining them there.

It didn't take a master of divination to figure out what they were talking about. Gloria still maintained her one-track mind for Quidditch, and ever since Syaoran had first taken to the skies on a broom it had been all he had wanted to talk about as well.

"And the broom won't fall down or anything?" Syaoran asked Gloria as Sakura took a seat next to him.

"Of course not, but you need to make sure you have a good grip. They played the All-Africa Cup in the middle of a hurricane back in 1961, and the..." Gloria said before she cut herself off. "Oh, hello Sakura."

"Hello, Gloria. Hello, Syaoran-kun," Sakura greeted the pair. "I just had the strangest conversation."

"Really? What was it?" Gloria asked.

"Was Flitwick causing problems again?" Syaoran asked. "That little dwarf's such a pain."

"He's half-goblin, not half-dwarf," Gloria corrected Syaoran, "and I don't see the problem you and Sakura have with him. He's a pretty decent professor."

"My problem with him is that he's always yelling at me, even when I'm the first person in the class to float that feather," Syaoran said. "What happened? Did he give you detention again?"

"Not this time," Sakura answered. Ever since that first detention on that first day of school, Sakura's head of house hadn't given her another one. He hadn't docked any points from Ravenclaw, either. He had restricted himself to just strongly encouraging Sakura to continue to practice her charms, for all the good it did. "It was actually Professor Snape this time."

An angry look crossed Gloria's face at the mention of the head of Slytherin. She asked, "What'd that greasy git do this time?"

"He's my head of house, not some greasy git, and I don't see the problem you have with him. He's a pretty decent professor," Syaoran said to Gloria, mimicking her words from earlier.

"He didn't do anything. I mean nothing bad," Sakura said. "He invited me to do have some private Potions lessons with him."

"You mean like Flitwick always asks me to do private Charms lessons?" Syaoran asked. "How's that not bad?"

"He said that he thought that I was better than everybody else and that he wanted to help me get even better. Something about some owls or something," Sakura said.

"And you're seriously considering it?" Gloria asked.

"I'm not sure," Sakura admitted.

"Well better you than me. I still don't see how you can stand the guy. I wouldn't spend any more time with him than absolutely necessary," Gloria said.

"I still don't get why you're always so negative about him. He's better than Flitwick by a long shot," Syaoran said.

"Only because he's the most..." Gloria started saying, before cutting herself off again when Lisa and Wayne took a seat as well. "Oh, hey there. We were just talking about Snape."

"I could tell," Lisa said. "I swear your dislike of him is most irrational."

"It's not just me," Gloria protested. "Everybody in Gryffindor agrees."

Wayne shrugged, staying out of the conversation.

"Anthony told me he had to look something up for that Herbology homework we have so I think we are all here," Lisa said, trying to stop that old argument before it flared up again.

"Are you nervous for the tryout?" Sakura asked as all five of them got to their feet and Gloria picked up her broom. She held on to Syaoran's hand as they walked outside.

"A little," Gloria admitted as they started walking to the Quidditch pitch where the tryouts were being held. "What about you four? Why aren't any of you trying out for your teams?"

"Quidditch isn't really my thing," Sakura answered first. She still got apprehensive every time she got onto a broom. She had been careful and had never had a broom explode under her since that first time she had tried to fly using one, but it was hard to just forget an experience with that.

"It would take far too much time from my studying," Lisa said agreed, holding Wayne's hand.

"Ravenclaws," Gloria said muttered. She turned to the two boys and asked, "What about you two?"

"Don't look at me. I'd love to try out, but first-year, remember?" Syaoran said.

"I'm scared of the Bludgers," Wayne openly admitted.

"The Bludgers? How can you be scared of the Bludgers? People almost never get any serious permanent injuries from them," Gloria said dismissively, completely oblivious to three pairs of eyes staring at her incredulously.

"So, what are the tryouts like? Is there going to be a test of some kind?" Sakura asked.

"No idea," Gloria admitted. "I assume they'll be some trials like throwing the Quaffle into the hoops or something, seeing how I'm trying out for a Chaser position."

"Is anybody else trying out?" Wayne asked.

"Oh, of course. Let's see. There's Seamus, and Neil, and Fay," Gloria said. She was looking up in the air and counting off against her fingers. "There's also Kellah, and David, and Bern, and Iain. That's just the people I know for sure."

"Wow. That's a lot of people," Sakura said, duly impressed. So many people trying out for so few positions, most of which would already be filled by the previous year's players.

"No kidding. I wish I was in Ravenclaw or something. It'd be so much easier to get on the team," Gloria commented.

When they got to the pitch it was clear that Gloria had not been exaggerating the amount of interest in Gryffindor in the least. It seemed like a quarter of the entire house was milling around on the pitch, every one of them carrying a broom of some sort.

Sakura noticed something odd as they approached. As they drew near, all of the nervous and amiable murmuring quieted down, leaving a circle of silence all around them. More and more people were staring at their small group, and at Syaoran in particular. Many of the looks they were receiving were downright hostile.

Eventually one of the Gryffindor boys, somebody Sakura didn't recognize, walked up to them. He stood right in front of Syaoran and challenged, "Where do you think you're going?"

Not one to be intimidated, even by a boy who stood a full head taller than him, Syaoran let go of Sakura's hand and stood up to the boy. He declared, "I'm here to watch the tryouts. Got a problem with that?"

The older boy answered, "And who invited you, snake?"

"Back off, Barry. Syaoran's with me," Gloria declared, firmly but not quite as openly hostile as the boy.

"Gloria. I should have known. Back in my time, we knew where our house loyalties were," the boy, apparently named Barry, said.

As if by magic, the lanky form of Oliver appeared next to the three of them. He said in an amiable voice loud enough to be heard all around, "Easy there, Bazza. It's not the boy's fault he's got good taste in Quidditch teams."

For a second Sakura thought Barry might push on despite what Oliver said. Ultimately he yielded to the Quidditch team captain. Barry snorted and walked away, pushing through the crowd which had gathered around. He vanished into the throng of people surrounding them. Bereft of the show, the crowd dispersed back to its semi-random small groupings again.

Once Barry was out of sight, Oliver turned to Gloria and said, "Good to see you out here, Gloria."

"Oh, you know me," Gloria said back casually. She then turned to the others in her group and introduced, "This is Oliver, the captain of the Gryffindor team. These are my friends, Lisa, Wayne, Syaoran, and Sakura."

"Sakura. I remember you. You're that Ravenclaw Gloria's always dragging to those games, right?" Oliver asked.

"Right. I hope it won't be a problem with us watching," Sakura answered. The scene from before might be over, but the confrontation had still managed to shake her up.

"Nah. Any friend of Gloria's all right in my books. Stay out of the way and you'll be fine. If anybody causes you any problems, you just let me know," Oliver reassured Sakura. "Anyway, we should get this thing started."

"Everybody, we'll be starting the tryouts now!" Oliver shouted, addressing all of the assembled students.

"If you are interested in trying out to be a Chaser, follow Angelina!" Oliver shouted. On cue a girl with her hair tied back raised her broom and waived it, ensuring everybody saw her.

"Beaters, follow George!" Oliver continued. Both of the Weasley twins mimicked Angelina's broom waiving, and then split up and moved to separate areas of the Quidditch pitch.

Ignoring the twin's antics, Oliver continued, "Keepers and Seekers, follow me and Harry!"

The boy with the lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead was standing next to Oliver. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than where he actually was. He was just as scrawny as ever. If it hadn't been for Gloria's insistence that he was a prodigy of a Seeker, and the fact that he had been the center of all of the events surrounding the Philosopher's Stone the previous year, Sakura could have mistaken him as just any other ordinary boy. An ordinary boy which gave her a weird feeling whenever he was near.

"Oh, I guess that's me then. Wish me luck," Gloria said, and then separated herself from the others to follow Angelina.

"Friendly house," Syaoran said sarcastically. He spoke in a low enough voice that only the three people around him could hear.

"I don't know what that was all about. They've never been that bad to me before," Sakura said. There were a couple of odd looks at times, but she had never experienced such outright hostility.

"They have never been so rude to me, either," Lisa chimed in.

"Me either," Wayne agreed.

"Whatever. Anyway these tryouts will probably take a while. Let's find a seat," Syaoran suggested.

Sakura, Syaoran, Lisa, and Wayne took seats in one of the spectator stands, as near as possible to the goalposts where the throng of would-be Chasers were gathered. They made themselves comfortable for what promised to be a long event.

The Chaser tryouts turned out to be a random mix of tests. They had to fly around the pitch and catch a Quaffle passed towards them from a variety directions and speeds, throw a Quaffle into the goalposts at various distances and heights, dodge a Bludger which was set upon them, and both chase and try to evade the other students for a period of time.

The flying wasn't as impressive as the actual Quidditch games Sakura had seen in the past. However they were still interesting enough to watch, and interesting enough that Syaoran kept saying things like, "When do I get to learn that?" and "I want to do that."

Sakura still preferred using The Fly to literally fly on her own two wings. Her first experiences on the broom had been painfully short and she had never forgotten them. Despite that she could appreciate how much Syaoran enjoyed his initial classes in flying on a broom. Judging by how much the current first-year students raved about it, Sakura suspected that the hesitation felt by the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff classes of her year were more the exception than the rule.

Gloria's efforts at the tryout had mixed results. She never outright dropped the Quaffle, unlike most of the others. In Sakura's inexpert judgment it looked like Gloria was able to both chase and evade her fellow competitors better than the others. Gloria also was at least average at throwing the Quaffle into the goal posts, if not a bit above average. On the other hand, Gloria did almost fall off of her broom while evading a Bludger. She narrowly avoided the projectile, but she had lost her grip and had ended up hanging by a single hand. That had given Sakura quite a panic, and her hand clutched at the Key in case an emergency interdiction was necessary. However Gloria had managed to recover herself before the Bludger swung around to finish the job.

Despite Gloria's near disastrous foibles, Sakura and the others congratulated her on her performance when they met up after the tryouts were over. In turn, Gloria seemed rather enthusiastic with her performance and was optimistic with how the results would turn out when they were announced in a few days.

The sun was low in the sky, but it still provided plenty of light as they walked back to Hogwarts Castle. The fact that tryouts were being done so early in the year was a good thing. The days were starting to get shorter but even after the long tryouts there was still plenty of time for them to return to the castle before night fell. It made for a picturesque scene as Sakura walked with her friends back from the Quidditch pitch to Hogwarts castle proper. Sakura once again walked hand-in-hand with Syaoran. The warm glow of companionship surrounded her.

The tryouts had taken right up until dinnertime. The fact that there was just barely enough time to go to Gryffindor Tower to drop off their brooms and return ensured that there would be several smelly Gryffindor students for dinner. Ravenclaw had had to undergo a similar trial two days ago, and undoubtedly the other two houses would need to suffer through the same thing in the coming week.

None of this was a problem for Sakura. The only things she had on her person were her ever-present cards, the Key, and a couple of reference books for the Ravenclaw knocker. She had no need to drop any of those off at the dorms. Likewise, none of the other spectators had any reason to return to their dorms, so Sakura got to squeeze in another couple of minutes with Syaoran as they made their way to the Great Hall along with Lisa and Wayne. Partway there, they bid Gloria a quick farewell as she dashed away to Gryffindor Tower.

Even with their casual walking speed, Sakura and the others were still a bit early for dinner. The room was basically empty, and they had their choice of where they wanted to sit. With the current count of people being two Ravenclaws, one Hufflepuff, and one Slytherin, it was an easy decision. By unspoken consensus, the four of them walked to a section near the end of the Ravenclaw table and sat. Syaoran took his seat next to Sakura and Lisa sat next to Wayne.

They were still talking about Gloria's tryouts, which primarily entailed Syaoran raving about the flying with the others throwing in only occasional comments, as the room filled up with the other students eager for their evening meal. Sakura just sat there, enjoying listening to her boyfriend talk. She barely even noticed anything else until Anthony took a seat on the other side of her.

"Hey, Sakura, how were the tryouts?" Anthony asked.

"Very interesting," Sakura answered. "Gloria did really well."

"I'm sorry I missed it," Anthony said to Sakura.

"How was your studying? Did you find what you were looking for?" Lisa asked.

As they spoke, the Hogwarts house elves quickly placed dinner plates on the table. Syaoran paid close attention to the small creatures, but nobody else really paid them any heed beyond the extent needed to move slightly to the left or to the right to get out of their way when necessary. Even Sakura had become inured over the previous year to their presence, and the small army deftly arranging dinner was utterly unremarkable to her.

"It was fine. Nothing too special. Another year, more studying, same as always," Anthony said half-resigned.

"I agree. I need to do more Charms practice later," Sakura said. She got a sour look on her face at that thought. She really agreed with Syaoran about Professor Flitwick being entirely too strict.

"I can help you with that," Anthony said. He had a slight tick of hesitation and nervousness in his voice. He added, "With your Charms practice later, I mean."

"That's a really good idea. You always were good at Charms," Sakura said, causing Anthony to noticeably brighten. "Syaoran-kun, do you want to come too? We can make it a group session."

Anthony's face fell, ending up darker than it had started.

"Sure, I guess. Professor Flitwick's been giving me a hard time," Syaoran said.

"I meant... never mind," Anthony said. He looked disappointed for some reason.

"Can I come too? My Charms could use some assistance as well," Lisa asked.

"Sure. How about you, Wayne?" Sakura asked.

"Nah, my Charms are fine. I need to do more Astronomy work. Always Astronomy work," Wayne said with a sigh.

"It's suspicious that we can only see the stars at night, isn't it?" Luna's voice chimed in, sounding her uninvited arrival in their group. She was sitting on the other side of Syaoran and spoke in a voice loud enough to be heard by the whole group despite her distance.

"What's so suspicious about that? It's just the sun blocking them out, isn't it?" Wayne asked back.

"So you're thinking corruption. Is that why we need to watch them all the time?" Luna asked. "Do you think they're in league with the aurors?"

"What?" Wayne and Lisa asked in chorus.

"What're you doing here, anyway?" Anthony asked. "Shouldn't you be with the other first-years?"

"They're boring. There's one girl, but she wasn't really all herself. It's much more interesting here. Like Sakura and Syaoran. They have an entirely different type of magic, you know," Luna said, still in her prominent voice. There wasn't anything particularly rude or incorrect about how she was speaking, but something about the tenor of her voice or the volume she spoke at or something else made it stand out and feel subtly inappropriate.

"What do you mean?" Sakura asked nervously. She regretted it almost immediately.

"It's pretty obvious," Luna firmly declared without explaining. "What are you two up to? Are you going to banish all the ghosts in the castle? Is that why Peeves is so scared of you, Sakura?"

Yet another surprise declaration from the girl full of surprises. Sakura had no idea how Luna had figured that out. It had only been three weeks since the term had started, and several older students who had been around for months since Sakura's encounter with Peeves the previous term and not yet noticed that connection.

Sakura quickly looked around, seeing if anybody had taken notice of what Luna had said. She wanted to keep that particular escapade a secret. If people made that connection and started investigating Peeves's aversion to Sakura, keeping it a secret could quickly become rather difficult. Fortunately, though, it seemed like nobody took any notice of Luna's declaration.

It appeared like nobody had heard Luna. Or people had heard her but had paid her no attention. After only a couple of weeks of talk of wrackspurts, conspiracies, and the various weird ideas that the girl was becoming known for, dismissing Luna was rapidly becoming second nature to everybody within Ravenclaw.

Her secret was safe for now, although if Luna continued making her chance comments, Sakura wasn't sure how long that situation would last.

Hogwarts Castle was immense by the standards of Tokyo, which meant it was perfect in that there were numerous disused classrooms, nooks, and crannies in which students could find space to practice whatever magical endeavors they sought to improve. The particular room that Sakura, Syaoran, Anthony, Lisa, and the newly joined Gloria and Keroberos selected for this round of charms practice was an old and somewhat disheveled classroom in the basement of the castle.

They had managed to lose Luna along the way. She had continued to follow them after the hectic shuffling after dinner had ended, but as the group had been walking through the hallways Luna had announced that she thought she had seen a Blibbering Humdinger and had veered off into one of the rooms they had passed by.

Nobody else in the group even knew what a Blibbering Humdinger was. Nobody else wanted to find out.

Once they were in the classroom, Sakura quickly chanted from memory in Japanese, "Key which hides the powers of stars, show your true power before me. Under the contract, Sakura commands you. Release!"

Fed by the magic within Sakura, the Key grew from a small charm into a larger form. Once it reached size, out of habit she flipped it and swung it down towards the ground with a flourish that would have met with Tomoyo's approval.

"What did you summon that for, Sakura? I thought that we were going to be practicing our charms," Lisa asked her.

"I am, with this," Sakura explained.

"That works?" Syaoran asked. "I thought that Eastern and Western magic don't mix like that."

"Of course you can," Keroberos scoffed at Syaoran, causing him to bristle a bit. "You don't even need a wand to cast charms. The wand just makes it not take much of the caster's power."

"Are you quite sure?" Lisa asked. "Little children can do accidental magic, but it is not like they can intentionally cast magic without a wand."

"Of course I'm sure. All a wand does is give another source of power. It's not like you really need a it or anything else at all if you're strong enough," Keroberos said with confidence.

"How does that even work?" Anthony asked.

"It... it just does," Keroberos said, much more hesitantly than before.

"Are you sure about that? I've never heard of that before," Gloria said.

"If Kero-chan says it's possible then it's possible," Sakura supported Keroberos. Still, she wondered how that topic had never come up before. Now she was curious as to what, if anything, she could do on her own unaided. She certainly wasn't going to try in front of an audience for the first time, though.

"Why are you using the Key then instead of using your wand?" Syaoran asked.

"It's easier to use," Sakura said. "I figured it out over the summer. It's a lot easier to feel the charms when I use it."

"Oh, it is?" Gloria asked. "Can I try?"

"Hoe?" Sakura asked. She was a bit hesitant, but she couldn't think of a good reason not to. It wasn't like it was one of the cards she kept in her pocket. The Key didn't have a history of acting up. Besides, she would be right there in case anything went wrong. "I guess so."

Sakura held out the Key to Gloria and let the girl take hold of the handle. When Sakura let go of it, the Key shrank back into its smaller form.

"Hey. What happened?" Gloria asked.

"The Key changes form to channel more or less magic through it. You don't have enough magic in you to support it," Keroberos said, nodding twice to himself.

"Are you certain? Sakura always say something quite long whenever she makes the Key expand. Might it be related to that?" Lisa asked.

"It won't do any good," Keroberos said half-heartedly.

"Still, worth a shot. No reason not to. What is that you say all the time, anyway?" asked Anthony.

"Oh, in English too. I don't think I could repeat all of that in Japanese," Gloria added.

"Hoe..." Sakura said thoughtfully. She had said her ritual chant so frequently that it had lost all meaning to her, becoming merely a sequence of words she automatically spoke. She had to actually repeat the words in her head to figure out what she had been saying.

"Key which hides the power of the stars, reveal your true power to me. Under the contract, I command you. Release," Sakura said in the best translation she could come up with on the fly.

Gloria repeated her words, more or less. Despite them the Key remained inert in her hand.

"Are you sure that's the right thing to say?" Gloria asked. She handed the small Key back to Sakura.

"I think so," Sakura said.

"Maybe it doesn't work in English. Why don't you try it in English and see what happens?" Syaoran suggested.

"Okay, Syaoran-kun," Sakura said. She repeated her words yet again in English, and literally like magic the Key grew within her hand just as easily as if she had said the chant in Japanese.

"Can I try?" Anthony asked.

"Sure," Sakura said. She handed the key over. Once it left Sakura's possession, the Key once again shrank in size just like it had for Gloria.

"What is that about a contract?" Lisa asked as Anthony tried his hand at making the Key expand. He had no more luck than Gloria had had. "Magical contracts can be quite serious things."

"It had more to do with the cards than the Key. It's a long story," Keroberos said.

"A very long story," Sakura agreed.

"A very, very long story," Syaoran agreed, shaking his head.

"It doesn't matter for any of this," Keroberos finished.

"If you are quite certain," Lisa hesitantly said.

"Do you want to give it a try?" Anthony asked Lisa. He held the Key out to her.

"No, no, that is quite alright," Lisa said quickly, shaking one of her hands to ward the Key away and taking a small step back.

As Anthony handed the Key back to Sakura, Gloria asked, "Oh, what about Syaoran? Can he make the Key get all big then too?"

"That squirt? He'd be lucky if the Key didn't shrink even more in his hands," Keroberos taunted the boy.

"Pfft..." Syaoran scoffed. "Yeah, right. I can handle it no problem. I heard it wasn't too different than my sword."

Syaoran put words into action and pulled out a small orb from his pocket. Sakura and Keroberos had seen it countless times before. Lisa, who hadn't been there for the incident on the train, watched carefully as he let the orb drop from his hand, whereupon he held it by a loop of string. Thereupon the string magically lengthened, a sword appearing at the other end of the orb in Syaoran's hand. At that point he let go of the string to let the orb fall and hang from the hilt of the now fully-formed jian in his hand.

All of the British students took a step back from the impressive looking blade.

"Do you actually know how to use that thing?" Anthony asked.

"Of course I do," Syaoran said.

"Syaoran-kun's a really good swordsman," Sakura agreed. Not only had he been able agile enough to avoid the expert marksmanship of The Shot, he had managed to save Sakura that time when The Sword had possessed Rika. He had then been confident enough to face Rika afterward, despite the fact that The Sword turned its wielder into a master swordsman. That Sakura had actually stopped him from fighting Rika was beside the point.

"That was far quieter than what Sakura does. Is it really the same thing?" Lisa asked.

"Why don't you try using her Key thingy then, or Sakura use your sword," Gloria suggested.

"Do you want to try it, Syaoran-kun?" Sakura asked. For some reason the idea of switching tools had never come up in the past. She looked at Syaoran.

"I don't see the point, but if you want to we can," Syaoran said.

Sakura had to admit to being at least slightly curious about Syaoran's jian, as well as to whether or not he could really use the Key. She said, "Sure, let's try."

Syaoran let his jian revert to its orb form and the two exchanged items. Then, without any ceremony or fanfare, the Key expanded to size within his hand.

"How did you do that?" Anthony asked.

"I already told you. The same way I did with my jian," Syaoran answered.

"But you didn't chant or flip it or anything like Sakura does," Gloria explained.

"I didn't really see the point," Syaoran said casually.

The three British students turned to look at Sakura questioningly.

"It's more habit. My best friend likes the ceremony when she videotapes it, and it doesn't really feel right if I don't do it anymore. See?" Sakura nervously answered the unspoken question.

Sakura still mentally went through the same chant in her head out of habit as she focused on the orb held in her hand. It felt very much like the Key did as it expanded in size. Unlike when Syaoran had formed the jian, the sword appeared pointing downward, hanging by the string which connected it to the orb Sakura was holding. In fact, the point of the sword was close to one of her feet. Syaoran quickly reached over and grabbed the sword by its handle.

"Careful," Syaoran said. "It's sharp."

"Hoe," Sakura exclaimed. She let go of the orb and let Syaoran take firm possession of the sword. In turn she turn took the Key back from him. The tools might be similar, but Sakura decidedly liked the nice, safe Key far more than the dangerously sharp sword. That was what Clow had intended when he had fashioned the Key way back when, of course. It was such a nice shade of pink, too.

"Okay, enough of that. We were going to practice some charms, right?" Anthony asked. He looked annoyed for some reason.

"What should we practice first?" Sakura asked.

"I would think the Incendio charm would be most appropriate, although that is a second-year charm so I do not know if that would be good for Syaoran," Lisa said.

"It's fine. It's got to be more interesting than that Ventus charm. I've been doing wind since I've was six. What's the Incendio charm do?" Syaoran asked.

"It lights things on fire," Anthony said like it was obvious common knowledge.

"Right..." Syaoran said. With a sigh he said, "Well, why not? So how does it work?"

"It's pretty similar to a Lumos charm. You just need to twist the wand a bit differently and say 'Incendio' instead of 'Lumos,'" Gloria said.

"Okay. Then what's a Lumos charm and how do I cast it?" Syaoran asked.

"Great..." Anthony said with a drawl.

"I can show you how to cast a Lumos charm. I have that one figured out already," Sakura said.

"You had best not teach him. He may end up casting it strangely like you do," Lisa said. "It may be better if Anthony demonstrated the charm. He is the best charms caster of us here."

"Strangely?" Gloria asked.

"She created some glowing, floaty, blocky thing in class," Anthony clarified for Gloria. He was obviously beaming from Lisa's off-hand complement. "Actually, maybe you should practice it too, Sakura. Here. To cast a Lumos charm, you need to hold you wand like this. Now you flick it like this, and say 'Lumos.'"

The end of Anthony's wand started to glow brightly as he finished the loop with his wand and finished saying the word.

Sakura and Syaoran both followed suit, following the motions and chants that Anthony had demonstrated moments earlier. The only difference was instead of using their wands, Sakura used the Key, and Syaoran used his jian.

As Sakura did so she could feel the currents of her power shaping up. It felt so much cleaner and clearer than when she used her wand, which made her feel like she was trying to sew while wearing oven mitts or something. She could feel how the turn of the Key along with the spoken chant twisted and connected her flows of magic into a particular shape which they didn't quite want to follow. The tip of the Key started glowing, making the star on its end appear similar to the celestial bodies it was supposed to represent. As it did so, she once again felt the feeling of slight wrongness that she had felt during her practice in the summer. It had been that sense of wrongness, and trying to correct it, that had resulted in her creating her version of the Lumos charm that Professor Flitwick had criticized at the start of classes.

Syaoran's effort, on the other hand, seemed to have no effect. No visible effect. Sakura could feel some amount of power coming from him, and in particular from his sword, but the bright light characteristic of a Lumos charm refused to appear.

Anthony suggested that Syaoran and Sakura switch to using their wands at that point as he didn't think he could help very much with what they were doing. Gloria and Lisa were quick to nod in agreement with his suggestion. Sakura didn't protest the idea either. As much as she trusted Syaoran, having him wave his jian around in their near vicinity was more than slightly intimidating.

Sakura, Gloria, and Anthony then went back to their original plan of practicing their Incendio charms while Syaoran tried to get the end of his wand to glow with a Lumos charm. Sakura felt a bit bad that Syaoran was being left out, but he said he didn't mind finally learning a charm which he couldn't already do a better version of.

The rest of the practice session went by quickly. It was far from the most productive session ever, even with Keroberos occasionally chiming in with his usual inscrutable yet somehow surprisingly useful advice. Then again, it was far from the least productive practice session either. Throughout the session, Sakura was tempted to use the Key to see what she could figure out about the Incendio charm on her own, but she stuck to using her wand for the entire session. She could experiment with the Key some other time when she was alone or with Syaoran only.

Last Updated: July 4, 2014