Many thanks to Ara Kane for beta-reading.
Battles with Bludgers
The oppressive heat of the August day finally began to abate as the sun sank towards the horizon. Twelve-year-old Molly Prewett kept stealing glances over her shoulder as she ran down to the clearing behind the barn; she had been trying to shake her pesky younger brother Fabian for the last hour. At least Gideon wasn’t around; he had Flooed to a friend’s house for dinner.
As soon she was safely out of sight from the house, she headed straight for her favorite hiding place. Nobody ever looked in the old henhouse since the new one had been built two years before. After one last check to make sure she was unobserved, Molly recovered the tools she needed for this evening’s exercise: Gideon’s broomstick and a small log that she had fashioned into a makeshift Beater’s bat.
Oh, she knew her brothers would fall over laughing if they guessed the ambition that she had nursed since seeing the Holyhead Harpies soundly defeat the Wigtown Wanderers three years before. Female Beaters were scarce; wielding a bat would be her ticket to playing professional Quidditch. First, however, she had to make the Gryffindor House team.
As she mounted the broom, she mentally reviewed the advice she had memorized from The Beaters’ Bible. “Two - grip your broomstick with your legs, using the non-bat hand for balance only. Three - concentrate on swinging the bat with your shoulder, not the wrist or elbow. Oh, I left out One - Take out the Seeker!”
The evening shadows grew longer as she methodically circled the pasture above the grazing sheep. So intent was her concentration that she nearly slipped off the broomstick when a voice shouted, “So here’s where you are, Squirt! Wait a minute, is that my broom?”
Molly groaned; she’d been found out. She came to a hovering stop just out of Gideon’s reach. “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.” Sixteen - Divert the opposition from the original target. “So, how was supper at the Eltons’? Does Joe’s little sister still follow you all over the place?”
Gideon blushed but was not deterred. “It was fine, and yes, she does. Now, about my broomstick…” He lunged at Molly, missed, and landed flat on his face. She stuck her tongue out at him as he rolled onto his back. He glared back, and they both broke down laughing.
“All right, Squirt, you got me fair and square. Now, you have to tell me what you’re doing hiding with my broom. And what are you holding behind your back?” He stood up and held out his hand.
It was no good; she couldn’t hide any longer. Reluctantly, she held out the homemade bat and braced herself for the teasing that was sure to follow. Gideon turned it over in his hands and then said with a smile, “You know, Mum and Dad would’ve bought you a bat if you’d just asked.”
Molly narrowed her eyes in suspicion. Since when had Gideon been kind and understanding?
He smirked at her reaction. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m all for Gryffindor finding some decent Beaters. It’s no fun to play you when there’s no challenge.”
“Hey! They weren’t that bad!”
“Yes, they were. As an intelligent and rational Ravenclaw, I’ll not sugar-coat the issue, even for the sake of your House pride.”
Molly made another face at him and was trying to think of a suitable retort when she heard a voice yell, “Molly! Gideon! Where are you? Mum’s looking for you!”
Ten-year-old Fabian came crashing around the barn. “Oh, there you are. If you don’t go up to the house right now, you’re going to be in trouble.”
“Me? In trouble? I think not! You’re the one who’s looking for trouble.” Gideon laughed and threw his protesting younger brother over his shoulder like a sack of flour. Molly giggled at Fabian’s predicament but quickly left both of them behind as she flew home with her long red plait streaming behind her.
The evening before the Gryffindor Quidditch team trials, Molly walked through the Hogwarts corridors, again reciting The Beaters’ Bible to herself. Completely oblivious to her surroundings, she turned a corner and ran headlong into an obstacle. The next thing she knew, she was kneeling on the floor, rubbing her head.
“Are you OK?”
Molly looked up into the face of a skinny, red-headed third-year. After a second, she was able to put a name to the face. “Yes, thank you, Arthur.” She gratefully accepted Arthur Weasley’s offered hand as she scrambled shakily to her feet.
He let go of her hand but leaned in to get a closer look at her. “You’re sure?” After she nodded, he took a step back and continued in a lighter vein. “So, where are you off to in such a hurry?”
Molly hesitated a second before telling the truth. “I’m going out to the pitch to practice before Quidditch trials tomorrow.”
“Oh, good luck. I’m not trying out, but we could use all the help we can get. What position? Chaser?”
“Er, no. Beater.” She blushed a bit when his eye swept over her in a critical glance.
“Aren’t you a little, er, small?”
“Oh, you think I can’t do it, do you?” she snapped, her temper triggered by the raising of this sensitive subject. Even at almost-thirteen, she was still shorter than many of the first-years. When she had whined to her mother about her diminutive stature, she had merely received the cryptic reply, “Well, your great-grandmother was a Marchbanks,” as if that settled the matter.
Arthur looked flustered by the sudden attack. “No, no. I didn’t mean tha-”
“Poor little girl.” She raged on while trying unsuccessfully to blink away tears. “She’s too weak to play with the big boys. Go back to your dollies.” She swiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her robe. “I’ll show you!”
She stomped off, leaving a stunned Arthur standing alone.
“OK, the final team is Smith, Arkwright, and me at Chaser. Robbins is Seeker, Bennett is Keeper, and the Beaters will be Johnson and-” Molly allowed herself to cherish a sliver of hope for one more second, but disappointment settled in when Rosalind Macmillan announced the final name, “Pole.”
Dejected, Molly looked up into the stands where Gideon had miraculously arrived to give her some moral support. She saw him mouth “Tough luck” to her before heading back to the castle for lunch. She gave him a quick wave while inwardly grousing that he could afford to be generous because he had already secured his spot on the Ravenclaw team.
She was gloomily trudging over to the broom shed to put her borrowed equipment away when a hand touched her arm. She turned around in surprise to see Arthur Weasley. “What’re you here for? To laugh at my pathetic showing?” she growled.
“No, no, of course not.” He held up his hands in a placating gesture. “I thought you flew very well. Better than me, actually. I always get dizzy when I don’t hold onto the broom with both hands,” he added sheepishly.
Molly snickered. “That would be a drawback in playing Quidditch, wouldn’t it?”
He smiled and nodded. “Yes, I definitely make a better spectator.” He paused, apparently uncertain about her reaction to his next words. “If you don’t mind my saying so, I think your problem isn’t strength, it’s aim. You kept missing the Bludgers, but when you made contact, they went a long way.”
Arthur’s compliment on her flying had made Molly receptive to criticism. “Well, at home, I didn’t have anything to use as a practice Bludger,” she explained. “Dad won’t let us have one because it might get away.”
After a second of thought, Arthur’s eyes brightened. “I’ve got just the thing.” He began digging through the rucksack he had been carrying. “I just started taking Muggle Studies this year; it’s brilliant. Professor Edwards started out by talking about sports, to get us interested, you know. Ah, here it is.” He showed her a fuzzy yellow ball. “It’s for a game called tennish. See, it bounces really well when you throw it against the wall, so you can practice hitting it when it comes back. I’m not sure why it works so well without magic, but it won’t run away from you.” His eyes glazed over for a moment while he contemplated the ingenuity of Muggles, but he quickly came back to himself. “Go on, take it. You can practice for next year. In fact, why don’t you give it a try right now?”
At his encouragement, Molly readied her bat while he launched the ball. She missed on the first swing, but soon she could hit the broom shed wall five times in a row. Chasing the ball after a miss, she grinned up at her new friend. Who would’ve thought that hitting the living daylights out of an inanimate object could be so satisfying? To Arthur, she merely said, “Thanks.”
Many years later…
Molly sighed as she surveyed the damage in the orchard caused by the storm the night before. With Arthur and the children all at work or school, she kept looking nervously around her as she walked steadily through the rows of trees, levitating the downed branches into a pile for burning. She periodically checked the watch in her apron pocket to ensure she would not be late for the six o’clock Order meeting at Headquarters.
Although the dark clouds had gone, the wind was still so unusually strong for September that Molly’s attempts to keep the graying hair out of her eyes were less than successful. Suddenly there was a loud bang. Startled, she turned in a quick circle with her wand further outstretched, searching for intruders. Her racing heartbeat slowed back to normal when she realized that the unfastened door to the broom shed was merely blowing back and forth in the stiff breeze.
Laughing weakly at this outbreak of paranoia, she stepped over to re-latch the door. She peeked inside and frowned at the cobwebs covering nearly every surface. “Honestly, you’d think Ron at least would want to keep the spiders away from his broomstick. Scourgify.”
With all but the most stubborn bits of dirt gone, Molly could now see Ron’s now-abandoned Shooting Star lying in a haphazard pile with several broken toys. Rolling her eyes at the irresponsibility of teenagers, she set to sorting the good items from those beyond repair. At the bottom of the stack, she came upon a Beater’s bat that either Fred or George had apparently left behind.
Afterwards she couldn’t have said from where the impulse had come, but the stress of maintaining “constant vigilance” was surely a factor.
She carried the load of trash over to the burning pile and then Summoned the bat. She caught it with her left hand while using the wand in her right to levitate a badly bruised apple from the ground. She couldn’t help smiling as the bat hit the target with a satisfying whack.
So she did it again. And again. And again.