All my friends knew that I was never the best at running. All of us never were, but when I left to Hogwarts, they were stuck at the Muggle primary and secondary school running sixteen hundred meters every Friday.
So as I snuck into the kitchen to take food from the house-elves every Friday, my friends were running.
And it was obvious that I could not run long distance.
The first eight hundred meters had been fine, and I had run them pretty quickly.
But running two laps was not enough for Emily.
We were running six laps. Twenty-four hundred meters. As a warm-up!
“Hurry your fat arse, Sarah!” shouted Emily, who was running ahead of me. “My hundred ten year-old great-grandmother can run faster than you!”
“I haven’t been running in the past four years!” I shouted back at her. “What’s even the point of running in rounders?”
“I can tell. Besides, in rounders running is the second most important thing. There’s no point in playing rounders if you can’t even run to the first post without getting out.”
That was true. However, I was pretty sure that you only had to run about fifty meters at maximum.
After a horrible eternity, I finally finished all six laps.
Laying on the grass, I didn’t care that some of the people scattered on the bleachers were staring at me weirdly. Emily plopped down next to me, water bottle in hand.
Squinting, I tried to block the sun with my hands. Of all days the sun had to be in the sky with no cloud in sight.
“Get up,” said Emily, “we need to practice batting.”
Grunting, I stood up and followed Emily towards the rounders field. Grabbing Emily’s rounders bat, I stepped into the batsman’s square; Emily stepped into the bowler’s square with a container of rounders ball.
This was what I was waiting for.
The rounders bat was much slimmer and longer than a Beater’s bat. And it was also much lighter.
“You’re holding the bat wrong,” yelled Emily, at me.
“I don’t care.”
Shaking her head in disbelief, Emily threw a ball at me. Staring in concentration, I swung the rounders bat. Hard.
The rounders ball was much easier to hit than Bludgers. Rounders balls were much lighter and it flew much, much farther than Bludgers usually did. Loosening my grip on the rounders bat, my gaze followed the ball.
Turning around in the bowler’s square, Emily’s gaze also followed my ball.
“Wow,” said Emily, clearly impressed.
I was definitely going to get into the school rounders team.
The weekend finally came after four confusing days of school and four painful days of rounders practice with Emily.
Today was the day I would get my first rounders bat, and for some reason, I felt more excited than when I was going to buy my very first broom, Quidditch Beater’s bat, Bludgers, and Quidditch gloves.
The Muggle supermarket my mother and I went to was, quite weird. The fact that everything seemed to sit very still and how nobody was using any magic was very strange compared to the hustling, bustling people using magic at Diagon Alley.
The potted plants that didn’t try to snap at the children poking them.
The empty jars that would have looked better if they were full of eel eyes and other strange things found at Diagon Alley.
The brooms left unattended on the floor, and nobody caring that they were there.
Everything was completely different from Diagon Alley.
As my mother and I walked past the book section of the supermarket, I was surprised that nothing out of the ordinary happened to the people flipping through the books.
No face popped out, screaming.
No cover moved.
All was silent.
Three more painful and confusing weeks had passed since that week, and the school rounders team tryouts were being held. To be honest, I was even more nervous than I was my first day of Broom Flight Class and my first time trying out for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team.
After school, I literally ran all the way to the gym from my English class. Almost half-way across the school.
Although I was extremely nervous, I was also extremely excited. If I got into the school rounders team, I would be able to play a game that had to do with hitting a ball with a bat, just like a Quidditch Beater would, for the rest of the school year.
Not knowing what to do, I dropped my bookbag along with the others’ and followed some girls into the locker room. Inside I changed into my gym uniform along with the others who were trying out for the rounders team.
I was a bit scared, and the last thing I wanted to do was leave the locker room by myself. So I waited for Emily to finish fixing her hair. I nervously asked Emily, “What do you think we’ll do today?”
“Well,” started Emily, “last year for rounders tryouts, we did a timed kilometer, and then we practiced batting and catching balls.”
“A timed kilometer?” I mentally groaned.
“It’s only two and a half laps, much less than what we practiced.”
Grunting, I left the locker room, Emily laughing behind me.
Sitting on the main gym floor, other people, Emily, and I waited for the tryouts to begin. As I mindlessly fiddled with my shoes, Emily was greeted by many people, who I assumed were on the previous year’s rounders team.
Standing up, I stretched my back and then flexed my fingers. A habit of mine before every Quidditch game or tryout.
Trying to get all the nervous energy out of me, I threw a rounders ball against the wall over and over again.
All the aimless chattering stopped when a man entered the gym. The man was a large chested man with many tattoos on his left arm.
It was one of the school rounders coaches.
Holding a clipboard and pen, the man pointed at the practice jerseys laying on the ground in chronological order. “I am one of the school rounders team coaches. When I call your name, put on the practice jersey I tell you to. Abad, Emily; number one.”
Emily gave me an encouraging as she stepped forward and gave the coach a fist bump before grabbing the practice jersey with the number one on it.
“Ayling, Kylie; number two… Alexander, Emily; number three… Aly, Lana; number four… Bjork, Beryl; number five…” As the coach called each name, a person came out and grabbed the practice jersey they were assigned to. Once in awhile, someone responded to the coach with an action or comment, and I immediately put them on my list of people to beat.
Emily had told me that only eighteen people got into the school rounders team. There were about eighty people, and more than three-fourths would be rejected by the coach.
Was I really nervous?
Not really. Most Muggles didn’t really care about rounders, especially in places like the United States of America. Most people in Britain cared about football. However, in the Wizarding World, everyone cared about Quidditch.
But more importantly, while you could die in Quidditch, the worst thing that could probably happen in rounders is to get knocked out or somehow find yourself in a Muggle hospital. If I ever find myself in a rounders accident, I could easily go to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries to get fixed up in matters of minutes by the Healers.
The coach continued to call out each name and number until he got to mine.
“Williams, Emily.” The coach’s eyes widened and voice quivered the slightest bit. “Number seventy-six.”
Brushing that aside, I stood up and got practice jersey number seventy-six.
After everyone got their practice jersey, all eighty-three of us girls followed the coach out onto the track. Although two and a half laps seemed nothing compared to the six laps I ran every day in the past three weeks, I was still dreading the run.
Most people tried to get to the front of the group to get a head start, but I stayed in the back. In the past two weeks in gym, we had to run four laps every Friday, and I had learned that standing in the back had no severe consequence to the run time.
Holding his clipboard and pen in hand, ready to write our kilometer time right when we finish them, the coach blew a whistle and everyone began running.
From many hours of research in the library, I had learned that the fastest way to run, while on a track, was to run the first lap as fast as you can, then push yourself to run the rest. Sprinting the last ten seconds.
Sprinting as fast as I could, I quickly passed a lot of people in front of me. However, people like Emily were still in front of me.
On my second lap, I slowed down a little to a more comfortable pace. And when I got to the last half of a lap, I ran for my life.
In my head, I was imagining that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was chasing after me and that he did not know that spells could easily hit victims no matter how far away.
Heart pounding, legs burning, and breath ragged, I passed the coach, who wrote my time on the clipboard. It wasn’t impressive, but it was fast enough to get onto the rounders team.
Joining Emily, who gave me a thumbs up, and sixteen others, on the grass, I watched others finish the kilometer as I tried to catch my breath.
Observing the other girls, I was surprised about how many people played rounders. But I was even more surprised on who had bothered to try out. People like Riley Hite, who passed out back in year six, during gym, while playing dodgeball; and Lauren Yurko, who was the last to finish running with a time of thirteen minutes and forty-nine seconds.
After Lauren Yurko finished, the coach, whose name I just learned, Coach Woyan, let us have a five-minute break. But for the ones who finished faster than others, we had more like a fourteen-minute break.
Rolling around on the grass, tired, I waited for the five minutes to finish up.
“Line up in numerical order,” said Coach Woyan, “and follow Abad to the rounders field. We’re going to practice catching balls now.”
This was what I was worried about. As a Quidditch Beater, I wasn’t supposed to catch the Bludger unlike the Quaffle and the Golden Snitch. Emily and I had spent most of our time tossing a rounders ball back and forth. I couldn’t throw a ball very fast, but I could catch almost any ball that was thrown to me.
Wearing the practice jersey numbered one, Emily went first.
Standing in the batter’s square, Emily positioned herself to catch the balls, while in the bowler’s square, Coach Woyan loaded up a machine with rounders ball, and the first ball spewed out quickly.
Emily caught it.
One ball down, four more to go.
Tossing the ball back at Coach Woyan, Emily positioned herself again to catch another ball.
She caught the next four balls perfectly, which gave me hope. But when practice jersey number seventy-five, a year twelve student, became the very next person in line, I started feeling a tad nervous.
I adjusted my Quidditch gloves for the umpteenth time and compared them to the person on my right’s. They seemed similar, but I knew mine had a better grip because Quidditch gloves were for all positions and Chasers needed a strong grip on the Quaffles.
When number seventy-five was called forward, and I became the very next person, the nerves hit me hard like a pile of bricks. I was glad that the people who had already gone were sitting on the bench to busy talking to be bothered to watch the other people catch. And the people who were waiting in line were too busy fiddling with their fingers, hair, or gloves.
"Number seventy-six," called out Coach Woyan.
Flexing my fingers and fixing my Quidditch gloves nervously, I was slightly enlightened by the encouraging smile Emily gave me as I stepped into the batter's square.
Crouching down slightly, I glared intensely at the ball launcher, waiting for the first ball to shoot out.
BAM! The first ball shot straight at me, but it was not even close to the speed Bludgers came at you.
As each ball was launched, one by one, my confidence grew with each one, until I realized that I had caught all five balls without dropping any, although I had a very bad fumble but still ended up catching it.
It was as if I had drunk a Felix Felicis potion. Everything was going so well.
Giving Emily a high five, I sat down next to her feet.
"You're actually really good at rounders for only playing it for three weeks. What game did you play again, back in Scotland?" said Emily.
Smiling at the fond memories, with no thought whatsoever, I said, "Quidditch."
"Quidditch? Never heard of it. How's it played?"
Cursing at my stupidness, I quickly found something to say. “It's a game like rounders that my friends and I made up. But without the running. And we can hold the bat anyway we want to." I wanted to add that you could also use them however you wanted to, remembering the one game with Slytherin.
Emily nodded. "No wonder you hold the rounders bat so wrong."
I scoffed and elbowed Emily in the leg.
Watching some other people's failed attempts to catch at least most of the ten balls, it was easy to conclude that many of the girls trying out weren't born naturals at rounders.
In the four years I had been at Hogwarts, I had gone to four Ravenclaw Quidditch team tryout. I had only gone in my first year because I was so intrigued with the game and in my second year, I had failed to get in.
And in all four years, I had always seen a year seven student not get into the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, no matter how many hours I’ve seen them practicing on the Quidditch field.
I felt like telling one of the girls, who had only managed to barely catch one ball, that she had done good, but decided against it because I barely knew anything about her. Except for the fact that I saw her every day in the hall while going to maths.
After practice jersey number eighty-three finished failing at catching all five of her balls, Coach Woyan announced the thing I had been waiting for. Batting.
"Everybody has their bat from home? If not just borrow someone else's. You will get three balls launched at you, and you will have only those three chances,” said Coach Woyan, everybody listening very closely.
He continued. "Once you hit, or miss, all of your balls, gather them and place them back in the basket. Emily, you're up first."
Spitting into her hands, Emily grabbed her rounders bat and entered the batter's square once again. Swinging the bat twice, Emily got into position.
Hitting all three balls perfectly, Emily smile triumphantly and then threw her bat to the side. Emily then proceeded to sprint to all three balls she had hit.
Practice jersey number two stood up and did her own player routine while waiting for Coach Woyan to stop taking notes on his clipboard.
The one thing I didn't understand about rounders, or any other Muggle like sport, was that the batter spent literally half their time up doing a player routine. In Quidditch, Beaters had no time to do a silly arm stretch and self-pep talk before they swung their bat.
And the fact that there were three chances to hit the ball in rounders was also strange. In Quidditch, if Beaters swung their bat and completely misses the Bludger, someone was sure to get hurt.
"Number two," slowly became "number seven," which slowly became "number twenty-eight," then finally. "Number seventy-six."
Flexing my fingers and stretching my arms for the final time, I nervously entered the batter's square. Holding my bat tight in my hands, I got into position to hit the ball.
I heard a year thirteen student mumble. "She's holding the bat wrong."
Wrong or not, I still managed to hit the first ball, hard.
Watching my ball fly through the air, Coach Woyan turned back to me with an impressed look on his face while talking some notes on his clipboard.
I hit all three balls perfectly.
Smiling at Emily, I quickly ran to get all three balls I hit far away.
In seven days, we will find out who had gotten onto the team. And I knew that I had a very high chance of getting in.