Lesson 5) Flight of the First Year
Today we’re taking to the skies for the first time, students! Or, well, the first time for some of us. I know many of you are impatient and others are terrified, but both groups, bear with me. We have a few instructions to go over, stretched throughout the lesson in order to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing. Even if you’ve flown before, listen up. There’s a lot you can learn from a professional instructor on the subject. I’ve run into quite a few students whose siblings have given them horrible advice (whether on purpose or completely accidentally).
Getting off the Ground
The first thing we have to do is get your broom off the ground. No, don’t lean down! You’ll actually be calling the broom to your hand with just a spark of magical ability. You remember our last lesson where I talked about how brooms need to be “started” by magic to work properly? Well that’s exactly what we’re going to do now! First, take your right hand (even if your wand hand or “dominant hand” is different) and hold it parallel to the broom in front of you. Obviously, you’ll want to be standing to the left of said broom for the best likelihood of catching it when it flies up and also ease of mounting.
Once you’re in position, confidently say “UP!” directing your attention to the broom. It can also help to think clearly about what you want your broom to do (namely, fly up to your hand). If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! After all, I assume many of you didn’t cast Lumos or Wingardium Leviosa on your first try, and this is no different. We’re all still getting used to making our magical ability work consistently, after all.
As a note, once you’ve gotten the hang of flying and of your magical ability in general, you won’t have to go through this process each time you mount a broom; you’ll simply do it automatically. We’re only doing so now as it helps you focus your magical ability enough to activate the broom’s magic. There’s nothing more embarrassing (or with a higher potential for sprained ankles and broken brooms) than a First Year without an activated broomstick. They push off the ground, and promptly fall right back on their rears! Keep that in mind in case you have trouble with this next step and are tempted to just grab the broom in your hand and pretend you called it! If it doesn’t respond, it won’t fly in the next step! Good, I see you’ve all managed to get your brooms airborne. Now, swing your right leg over it and stand astride, but do not lift off the ground just yet.
A Firm Hand
Now that your brooms are above ground, let's talk about how to hold them. This may seem like a silly detail, but brooms are very responsive. An overfirm grip will make it almost impossible to steer or slow down, which is obviously not ideal, and a loose grip is equally problematic. If you’re not holding on tight enough, you may well fall right off if your broom does something unexpected or you lose balance! Take a moment to practice. Yes, yes, I know it feels silly, but try a grip on your broom and we’re going to stand here and hold the brooms for a solid minute. Why, you ask? The answer is simple. If at any time during or after the full 60 seconds your knuckles are starting to feel sore or your hand starts to tire, your grip is too tight! Nervous fliers pay particularly close attention. You’re likely to grip your brooms too tightly once you’re in the air out of fear, so memorize what a sure but gentle grip should feel like before adrenaline gets in the mix. As for those who may be gripping too loosely, I’ll be walking around tapping your brooms, if there’s too much “give,” we’ll be able to tell then. Your broom should stay firmly in hand and not be able to be jostled about. Have we all found a good happy medium? Excellent.
After all that, it’s time to hover a bit and get a feel for the broom’s responsiveness. When I blow my whistle, I want you to kick off from the ground, aiming for just a few feet in the air. Don’t worry, there’s always one that aims way too high and a few that don’t even get off the ground the first time, so you won’t be the only ones in the history of Hogwarts, I promise. If it helps, push with your legs as if you were going to jump (not necessarily as hard or as high as you can, but somewhere towards the top). However, be sure to keep the idea of “hanging around” mid-jump in your mind, or your broom will possibly continue to skyrocket! If you end up coming back to the ground, push off again with a little more force. Once we’ve all made it to the right height and have practiced hovering in place for a few moments (you’ll find it can be a bit difficult not to move around at first, as your brooms will respond to your thoughts), I’ll blow my whistle once more, which will be the signal to touch back down.
Very good! Yes, just a touch more spring, Mr. Puckle. Oh, uh-oh, come down a bit, my dear. Yes, that’s better! Good, good. Now everyone hold your brooms steady. That’s it… It will all feel a little wobbly at first, but I assure you a fall from this height will do you no harm. I see some of you are already quite the naturals. Yes, I think that’s enough. On my whistle, then! Back to earth. Just angle your broom handles down slightly to bring your brooms back down.
To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn
Alright, good, good. Now that I have you all back on the ground, we’re going to do that again, but go a little bit higher this time and spread out so we have some room to maneuver. We’re going to be doing some things like taking the broom from a dead stop to a slow flying speed, then back to a stop. Then we’ll talk about turning left or right, and exactly how responsive a broom is to your intention (or concentration). It’s different per model and even per individual (age, use, etc), so you’ll need to feel out your broom each time, but it’s a thing you should quickly adjust to. When trying out a new broom, especially one we’re using in class, it’s a good idea to put it through the basics to see how it reacts, that way you’re prepared and know how to handle it.
Before we go up again, let’s talk very quickly about how to make your broom do those things we mentioned. First, to make your broom fly in a straight line, simply lean forward a bit and focus your intention on making the broom move. The farther forward you lean (and to some extent, how fast you imagine going), the faster your broom will go. If you’re a bit unsteady, best to err on the side of caution. I don’t want anyone taking off like a jinxed Jarvey! Crucially, to stop or slow, relax your grip and lessen the incline so that you and the broom are perpendicular again. This is achieved by leaning your body back so it is perpendicular to the broom once more, and be sure to accompany the gesture with the corresponding thought. Often, new broom riders will also accompany this lean with pushing down on the broomstick, but this is both unnecessary and usually results in your broomstick dipping low and losing altitude, which can be problematic if you’re not expecting it.
Turning is easy, and you may have already guessed how it works. To turn, move your broomstick in the direction you want to go. Additionally, some people feel that leaning with the movement helps as well, though this is more important when turning at speed. So, let’s give all that a try, shall we? On my mark, you’ll kick off in the air -- staying about the same height as before -- and take off in a straight line. Let’s all aim for the Quidditch pitch off in the distance so we don’t run into each other, hm? Then, slow yourself down to a stop (by leaning back until you’re straight again) and turn your brooms back around to face me. Repeat the process and when you get back to me, feel free to land and dismount, or have another go.
Well, that’s about enough for today, I think! If you’re one of the lucky ones that doesn’t have a class scheduled in the next period and would like to stay, I will be here in the courtyard to supervise if you want a bit of practice or would like to try something a little more challenging. With a sweep of Madame Fox’s wand, a series of glowing hoops appear over the lawns. Ah, I see that’s caught some of your attention. As I said, this is not mandatory, but feel free to stay and practice if you’re so inclined! [As a note, the activity associated with this practice has not yet been uploaded to the hosting site, but will be later on]
If not, just grab a worksheet on your way out and don’t forget to return later in the day for your midterm! Fortunately, that means you have time to study or ask me questions in the meantime. Also, be sure to come prepared to fly again next week, as we’ll be taking to the skies once more. Until then!