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The New Pride of Portree by momotwins

Format: Novel
Chapters: 25
Word Count: 123,284
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Contains profanity, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse

Genres: General, Humor, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Percy, Ginny, Hugo, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: OC/OC

First Published: 08/21/2013
Last Chapter: 10/18/2014
Last Updated: 10/18/2014

Summary:



 Molly Weasley has spent her professional career as reserve Keeper for the Holyhead Harpies, her dream team - but her dream hasn't panned out the way she'd hoped, and she rarely gets off the bench. She accepts an offer to join the all-new lineup at Pride of Portree as the star Keeper. She might even be team captain, if she can just get along with the new coach, Riordan Fitzroy.

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Chapter 1: The Harpy With the Mohawk
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 Molly Weasley stood in front of her bedroom mirror, giving herself a once-over. Tight black leather trousers, tall dragonhide boots, and a silky top in a rather glaring shade of green. Her hair was the darker green of the Holyhead Harpies, and cut in a mohawk held aloft with liberal use of hair potion. It wasn't what one would normally wear to a job interview, but this wasn't exactly a normal job. It was about as professional as she ever managed, anyway, and really, her interview today had not been one she'd requested but rather one she'd been invited to, so they had to be prepared for her showing up all mohawked out and dressed in leather.

Hell, she was a professional Quidditch player, not a businesswoman. She was famous for her unusual hairdos. The Harpy with the green hair. The Harpy with the mohawk. Of course, she thought disgruntledly, since she was merely a reserve player for the Harpies, it was basically the only thing she was famous for. She had spent nearly all of the four years since being hired to the team warming the proverbial bench while the Harpies' lead Keeper, Lyra Brownyard, played every game.

The season before last, Lyra had sat out two games with an injury, and Molly had finally got to play. But it hadn't lasted; Lyra was back to full form and Molly hadn't got off the scrimmage pitch since. The worst part was, Lyra was genuinely talented and nice to boot, so Molly couldn't even dislike her for it.

Still though, Molly missed actually playing the game. Playing in front of a crowd, hearing the cheers and feeling the adrenaline of the game were some of the best times of her life. She missed the junior league when she'd been the star Keeper for her team, and she even missed her student days at Hogwarts and playing Keeper for Gryffindor. As much as she loved the Harpies, she was growing dissatisfied with her spot on the roster. Stepping up to the major leagues was starting to feel a lot like stepping down.

So when she'd received an invitation for a private interview with the manager of Pride of Portree, she'd accepted, though it felt a bit disloyal to the Harpies. The Holyhead Harpies were taking good care of her, it was true: she had a wonderful flat in a good part of town, plenty of free time and money to do as she pleased, and the training schedule was rigorous without being gruelling. It was just that she never got to play in a game. A year ago, she wouldn't have even considered interviewing with another team. Now she was starting to feel itchy for a change. This wasn't the change she'd been hoping for, though.

The Prides had slipped in the rankings last season, falling to the bottom of the league alongside the perpetual last-comers, the Chudley Cannons. The team was a mess, and there were rumours flying everywhere about what would happen to them. She wasn't so sure even entertaining an offer from the Prides was a good idea. Moving from one reserve team to another held no interest for Molly, but she'd take a free dinner any evening. If nothing else, she might find out some good gossip from this interview, and the restaurant they were meeting at was unlikely to be patronized by any of the other Harpies, so the meeting should stay under the radar. Molly's stomach fluttered.

“Deep breath,” she told herself aloud. “All you have to do is hear them out.”

If she didn't like what they said, she could go back to her life with the Harpies and cross her fingers for game time this season.

The restaurant was nearly empty, but it would have been easy to pick out the Prides' manager even in a crowd. Meghan McCormack was a retired Keeper for the Prides, daughter of a famous Quidditch player and sister to a famous rock star, a fabulously talented player in her day. She was in her early fifties now, but her hair was still the same reddish blonde, her fireplug build only slightly thickened with age. She had taken over management of the team ten years ago, shortly after she retired from active play. Molly had kept a poster of McCormack over her bed at Hogwarts, idolizing the Quidditch star who played her favourite position for her favourite team. She kept the note of star-struck awe out of her voice as McCormack stood and shook her hand.

“Nice to meet you.”

“Thank you for coming,” McCormack said warmly, a Scottish burr flowing like honey in her words.

Glasses of red wine were brought out, and Molly was surprised to find it was a vintage she was very fond of. McCormack had done some homework on her.

They placed their orders, and as the waitress bustled off, McCormack leaned forward, elbows propped on the table.

“You've probably guessed why I wanted to speak to you,” McCormack began. “I'm sure you've heard the rumours about Pride of Portree.”

“I heard you sacked the coach, if that's what you mean,” Molly said cautiously.

McCormack chuckled. “That's a fact. I sacked half the line-up and our entire reserve team as well.”

Molly blinked in surprise. She'd been prepared to believe the Prides had a new coach, and perhaps a few new players, but half the line-up and all the reserve players? It was unheard of. It was probably making Quidditch history. She didn't think half a team had got the sack for a few hundred years.

“I need to fill in the line-up,” McCormack went on, still leaning on the table with unabashed bad manners. “I saw you two seasons ago when the Harpies went up against Puddlemere. You were good. Damn good. Too good to waste sitting backstage to indestructible old Brownyard. I'm offering you the starter position as Keeper to the Prides.”

Molly stared at her, at a loss for words. She'd been waiting for a chance to move up from the reserves, but she hadn't expected it to be for a team trying to break a losing streak, with an entirely fresh and untried line-up. With over half the team being replaced, they would be starting from a lot further behind than the rest of the league. Possibly too far behind to catch up. The training season was already halfway over. This wasn't how she'd wanted her next big break to happen. It could be something wonderful, or it could sink her career.

It was a big gamble. She ran a hand through her hair, sending the mohawk fluttering.

“I also need a new captain. I'll be choosing from the new line-up. I hear you've got a history of leadership. Hogwarts prefect and Quidditch captain and then Head Girl? Twelve Outstanding N.E.W.T.s and not a hint of a mental breakdown? Seems like you can handle the pressure, and you've got the experience.” McCormack was watching her closely. She had definitely done her homework, if she'd bothered to check Molly's school record aside from sport.

“Who've you brought in so far?” Molly asked, delaying an answer. Normally joining a new team, she'd already know who all the players were. This time it could be anyone.

“Zara Mackie out of Ballycastle and Sid Whittlemore from the Wasps for Chasers. I still need a new Beater. I'm going to speak to Virgil Gittins tomorrow.”

Three other reserve players, then. Gittins played for Falmouth, who were known for rough play. He'd be a damn fine Beater, actually. And the other two would make an interesting combination for Chaser, if they could get along. Mackie was driven and hard-nosed; Sid Whittlemore was known for being class clown. Molly found herself intrigued by the possibilities.

“And who've you kept?”

McCormack smiled slowly. “Jinks, MacDougald, and Preece.”

The three most consistent players on the team. Not a big surprise there, now she thought about it. The other two Chasers from the Prides' old lineup had been better than Beathan MacDougald when they were on their game, but that had been spotty at best, and one had failed to turn up for games on two occasions. Declan Preece's opposite as Beater had the record for most fouls last season, including over two hundred counts of bumphing, but Preece played a fairly clean game, as Beaters went. And Evander Jinks's abilities as Seeker had been the only thing keeping Pride of Portree above the Chudley Cannons in last season's rankings.

McCormack had kept the best of what she had and jettisoned the dead weight. Mackie and MacDougald would do well together as Chasers, and probably keep Whittlemore in line between the two of them. Mackie would probably be a serious competition for captain as well. The thought of the challenge of bringing a team together almost entirely from scratch gave Molly a bit of a thrill. If she could pull it off, it would be brilliant. She'd be a shoo-in for the national team at the next World Cup, if the British managed to make it there again.

If, if, if. Molly didn't normally make decisions this big when there were this many ifs on the table. But her last sure decision, to play for Holyhead, wasn't turning out as well as she thought. It was probably time to roll the dice.

“So what do you say?” McCormack asked, breaking into her train of thought. “Ready to move to Scotland?”

Molly smiled at her. “When do you want me to report?”

McCormack looked triumphant. “We start training next week.”

Molly stretched a hand across the table and they shook.

“I can't wait to see you in Prides purple. Going to change your hair?”

“Can't keep it Harpy green if I'm in Portree,” Molly responded. The waitress had returned with their meals, and as she set the dishes on the table, Molly added, “One last question, though. Who's the coach?”

*

“She's insane,” raged Riordan Fitzroy. “Bloody insane!”

Max Halligan was stretched out on the purple velvet-upholstered sofa in the Pride of Portree changing room, tossing a golden golf ball into the air above him and catching it lightly in the same hand. “Tell me something I don't know.”

“I'm supposed to find a way to bring an entirely new line-up together with only half a training season? It's completely mental!”

“Preaching to the choir, brother.”

He kicked the gold-painted lockers. “She's out of her mind! No one sacks half the lineup! Where is she even going to find us enough players?”

“Don't I know it.”

“She hasn't even got any top talent! Bunch of second-stringers, couldn't make it to the main teams- are you even listening to me?” Fitz, as he was universally known to friend and foe alike, snatched the golf ball out of the air before Max could catch it.

“Look mate, you've got to pull it together,” Max told him. “She's already done it, you can't get the old team back now. No point crying over spilt butterbeer.” He hauled himself upright, planting his long feet on the gold carpet. “Besides, all the players she sacked are the ones you said needed a good kicking and a reduction in pay until they pulled their heads out of their arses and remembered how to play properly. And she did sack that incompetent old bastard Rodan as well, and made you the team's head coach.”

“Head coach,” muttered Fitz, falling heavily onto the couch next to his friend. “I'm the only bloody coach now.”

“No one knows the game better than you. What the hell do you need an assistant for?”

Fitz rubbed a hand over his eyes. He certainly didn't need an assistant coach. He knew for the most part what an assistant coach needed to do, because up until two days ago it was what he'd been, at least for two months.

Before that he'd been an angry, unemployed ex-Quidditch player.

Up until the attack – “injury”, as everyone insisted on calling it – that had left him permanently unable to play the sport he loved, not to mention unable to lift his left arm above his shoulder, Fitz had been the star Chaser for the Montrose Magpies. Team captain. And then at the age of twenty-seven, he'd been forced into retirement. He knew he shouldn't blame the Magpies manager for giving him the sack; he couldn't play any more. Knowing it and doing it were two different things, though.

When McCormack had approached him to help her failing old coach Rodan get the team back in shape, he'd told her to go to hell. Twice. What the hell did he know about coaching? He was a player who couldn't play. That didn't make him coach material. The third time though, he'd finally agreed. If he couldn't play, at least he could be around the sport. And after all, he was only going to be the assistant coach. He wouldn't have to know what the hell he was doing. He could be assistant for a few years and learn the job until Rodan retired. But his luck was terrible as always, because McCormack had turned around and sacked nearly the entire team roster, including Rodan, a month after she'd hired Fitz.

Admittedly, the team had performed terribly last year. They'd been steadily declining for the past five years, with Rodan's incompetence and the general disinterest of their last team captain. Replacing the coach and captain had made sense. Replacing nearly all the players with poached reservists from the rest of the league, on the other hand...

Meghan McCormack had gone completely round the twist, that was all there was to it. The other managers were going to kill her when they found out she was stealing their reserve players a month before the season began. At least they would just replace the reserves and carry on with their starting lineup as usual. The Prides would have to start their training over completely, and with only half the training season in which to do it.

Untried players cobbled together from the other teams, and an untried coach. At least the players knew their jobs. Fitz hadn't been able to learn a damn thing from Rodan before the old man had finally been forced into retirement. What the hell was McCormack thinking?

“I'm going to bollucks this up,” Fitz informed his friend matter-of-factly. “I have no idea what the bloody hell I'm doing.”

“You were captain. You know Quidditch inside and out,” Max pointed out. “You played professionally for over five years.”

“I know how to play Quidditch. I don't know how to teach anyone else to play.”

“Can't be that hard.”

“What the hell do you know, you own a pub.” Fitz slumped down into the purple velvet. It crushed beneath him, pushing his dark hair up at odd angles. “I'm screwed. She's going to sack me next.”

“Why'd you take the job if you didn't think you could do it?” Max asked, still not looking convinced of his friend's imminent career implosion.

“Thought I'd pick it up from Rodan.”

Max snorted. “The incompetent old bastard?”

Fitz sighed. “I didn't realize he was that incompetent when I took the job. McCormack was the one who hired me, not the old bastard. I think he was getting a bit barmy in his old age. He was good in his day. The Prides won the league twice in the 60s, you know.”

“Sweet Hairy MacBoons,” said Max. “That's nearly seventy years ago. The old bastard was older than I thought.”

Fitz cracked a grin despite himself. “Ninety-five if he was a day.”

“No wonder he started wearing his underpants on his head, then. Look Fitz, you're just gonna have to make the best of this. Like ordering ten barrels of Hebridean Black Lager and getting ten barrels of Porlock Red Ale instead.” Max gave him a solid punch to the shoulder.

Fitz shot him a look. “You're no help whatsoever.”

“Learn to sell what you've got, even if it's not what you wanted.” Max got to his feet. “See you at the pub later?”

“Yeah, off with ya, then.” Fitz waved him out with a rude hand gesture.

As Max's footsteps faded, Fitz stared up at the ceiling and laced his fingers together across his chest. The ceiling was nearly the only thing in the room that was neither purple nor gold, and looking at it was almost a relief for the eyes, even though it was dingy and had a few cracks from overenthusiastic Bludgers.

Learn to sell what you've got. He didn't even know what he had, much less how to sell it. He couldn't show them half the things he wanted to, because his bloody shoulder was wrecked. The spell damage was permanent, even after a solid eighteen months of remedial potions and charm therapy. If he couldn't show them his skills, how was he supposed to teach them?

How the hell was he going to prove to McCormack that she shouldn't sack him while she was replacing everyone else?

“Thinking about your strategy for the rest of the training season?”

Fitz sat up straight at the sound of Meghan McCormack's smoky voice. He turned to see her strolling in with a smug expression.

“Who've you got now?” he asked warily, avoiding answering her question.

“Got us a Keeper. Molly Weasley.”

Fitz's brain shuffled through the rosters of the British and Irish League and flipped up a picture to his mind's eye. “The Harpy with the mohawk?”

“That's the one,” McCormack agreed gleefully. “Did you see her play Puddlemere two seasons ago when Brownyard was out with an injury? She's good.”

Fitz remembered the game. Weasley was good, he'd give her that, but she wasn't as good as Brownyard. Of course, Brownyard got a lot more game time than Weasley did. That made a big difference. Weasley'd been a top player in the junior league. His mind's eye was still examining the image of her. She was also very good-looking, despite the green mohawk, and sat her broom with a lanky, long-legged gracefulness. He shook that off and refocused. “The Harpies are going to kill you for poaching their players. Assuming the rest of the league doesn't get you first. First the Wasps, then Ballycastle-”

“I'm going to Falmouth tomorrow.”

'Duff' Gittins, no doubt. The Falcons had three reserve players for every position, so they could afford to lose one, but that wouldn't make them any less annoyed about it. McCormack was assembling a team and pissing off the league in one fell swoop.

At least the Arrows would still be friendly enough. They'd be gloating that she'd gone for the Wasps first and that none of their players had defected. Appleby's reserve Chaser Lizzie Keen had turned the offer down flat when McCormack had offered her a spot in the Prides' reserves.

“Word's going to get around,” Fitz warned her. “They'll keep their players from meeting you.”

“They can all go suck eggs,” said McCormack. “Gittins is the last one.”

Fitz raised an eyebrow. “Found a few to play reserve for us, have you?”

She nodded, the smugness still all over her face. “Deimos Flint agreed this morning.”

She'd already locked down Bram Carmichael from the Kestrels when Keen had refused. Adding Flint out of Wigtown only gave them two reservists, since McCormack had sacked all their old ones. That wouldn't be enough if someone was injured. His shoulder twinged just at the thought, and his lips tightened. “We're going to need more reserve players.”

“I've also hired Mariah Waldman,” McCormack said then.

Fitz turned slowly to stare at her.

“Is that going to be a problem?” she asked smoothly, the devil that she was.

Fitz didn't hesitate. “Absolutely not,” he told her evenly.

“Funny, that's exactly what she said.”




A/N: This story takes place within the Midnight Run universe, so the characters here are the same as in the Midnight Run trilogy and its one-shots, and more importantly in Sparks. And yes, Lucy and Hilarion will be appearing. Can't have a Quidditch story without Hilarion. :) If you haven't read any of those, you should still be able to follow along no trouble. Please review and thank you for reading!


Chapter 2: The New Lineup
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“Why are you doing this? I thought you loved the Harpies.” Roxanne Weasley was stretched out on the bed in Molly's flat, allegedly helping her cousin pack but actually just sitting around watching Molly get on with the work.

Molly waved her wand at her dresser, and the clothes began to fly out and stack themselves on the bed beside Roxanne, still neatly folded. “I thought you were here to help me, not pester me with stupid questions.”

“I can't do that like you do.” Roxanne waved vaguely at the folded clothes. “Pestering you with questions is helping you, since you won't go to therapy for your obvious raging personality disorders.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “I do love the Harpies. I always wanted to play for the Harpies. But that's the thing. I'm not playing for the Harpies. I'm watching Lyra Brownyard. I've played two games in the last four years. That's not what I wanted.”

“You played in that one match that went on for eighteen hours,” Roxanne pointed out.

“Only for four hours for Lyra to have a sandwich and a nap,” Molly retorted. “Fine, two and a half games. You see my point though.”

“Your life isn't going how you'd thought it would. I know that feeling all too well.” The sympathy in Roxanne's voice was sincere.

Molly started on her closet next. The clothes were precisely spaced and on colour-coordinated hangers. The skirts flew off first, folding themselves as they joined the stacks on the bed. “I know you do. But you did something about it. You went out there and you made a change, even though it wasn't your original dream. Well, that's what I'm doing. So be supportive.”

Roxanne held up her hands in surrender. “I'm being supportive! I just want you to be sure it's what you want.”

“I won't know until I try it.”

Roxanne had to scoot over to make room for more clothes stacking themselves. “Maybe it'll be for the best. I'm much happier now than I ever was, and I would have sworn up and down two years ago that I could only be happy if I married Hilarion.”

Molly smiled at that. Roxanne had been so certain that Hilarion Winston-Fisher, the star Seeker of the Appleby Arrows, was her true love. Then she'd actually met him, and it had turned out they were completely incompatible. He was now married to Molly's younger sister Lucy, and Roxanne was married to his best friend.

Well, possibly married. There had been a wedding on a beach, but whether or not there had been a marriage license seemed an entirely different question.

“Well, I won't be trotting off and marrying any musicians like you or professional Quidditch players like Lucy. I'm still chasing the same dream. Star Keeper. I'm just going to do it for another team, that's all.” Molly tossed a pair of socks at her cousin, who cringed and covered her head with her hands rather than attempting to catch them.

“Don't throw things at me, I'm not all sporty like you!”

“Go in the kitchen and box up the liquor bottles for me, you twit.”

Roxanne stuck out her tongue, but she went off to box up the liquor, and Molly sat down on her bed as her clothes swirled through the air around her, organizing themselves in neat stacks behind her.

It's going to be all right, she told herself. She'd been trying to focus on the possibilities for future success instead of the immediate upheaval she was walking into. Four new players on the team, and a new coach. McCormack had told her about him, but Molly already knew who he was. Riordan Fitzroy had played Chaser for the Montrose Magpies, and he'd been bloody brilliant, one of the most talented players in the league. And one day, in the middle of a match, when the Magpies had been solidly trouncing the Tutshill Tornadoes to the point it seemed nothing could beat them, someone in the stands had sent a spell rocketing onto the pitch and hit Fitzroy, knocking him off his broom. The game had been called, Fitzroy had spent a month in St. Mungo's, and the perpetrator had never been found. And Fitzroy's career had been cut short, the damage to his shoulder irreversible.

Molly hadn't been at the game, but she'd seen the newsreels for it. The sight of the Chaser plummeting to the pitch with his shoulder trailing purple flames as he fell still made her breath catch. Quidditch was dangerous, everyone knew that, and injuries happened regularly (unless you were Lyra Brownyard, who had the devil's own luck with avoiding Bludgers and was rarely injured). But no one expected it to come from the fans.

Now Riordan Fitzroy was coaching the new Prides lineup. He'd had two months' experience as assistant coach to senile old Rodan, but McCormack must have seen something in him because she didn't seem at all concerned that she not only had a team half full of untried reserve players moved up to be starters, but she also had a green coach.

He'd been a Ravenclaw, Molly remembered. Not a prefect or Head Boy, no, he'd only cared about Quidditch at school. But he was a Ravenclaw. She could only hope it meant something. They were all smart, weren't they? He must have been very good in those two months for McCormack not to sack him when she'd been on such a roll, slashing her roster.

It didn't matter anyway. Molly straightened her shoulders. She was going to be captain of the new Pride of Portree, no matter who was coach.

“Why are your liquor bottles colour-coded, you neurotic bint?” yelled Roxanne's voice from the kitchen. “I'm boxing them up in pretty rainbows!”

Molly jumped to her feet. “Don't muck up my system! Yellow is for tequila, red is for vodka- wait, I'm coming!”

*

The team were supposed to report Monday morning for training. Fitz was pacing the field at six in the morning, alone on the pitch. He had thirty minutes to figure out what the hell he was going to say to them.

He'd meant to have something prepared before now, but every time he'd tried to come up with some sort of pep talk, his mind drew a blank. He knew the basic exercises Montrose had done to prepare for the season, but when they'd hired him, they'd already had a well-trained lineup of players, and the coaches hadn't done much aside from keeping everyone focused on their training, and occasionally rousting the Beaters from the local pub the night before a game so they actually got some sleep.

This was completely different. Half the players hadn't even met each other yet, much less played together, and the rest hadn't done a proper day's work in months or years. Fitz ran a hand through his dark hair and kicked the grass. This was going to be a mess. They didn't even have enough reserves for a proper scrimmage. They'd have to play five-a-side and hope for the best. The reserve players weren't arriving until tomorrow anyway, for which Fitz was devoutly thankful. One more day without Mariah Waldman back in his life was one more day breathing the sweet air of freedom.

“Good morning,” said a voice behind him.

Fitz spun around to see the now ex-Harpy but still mohawked Molly Weasley. The green was gone, and her hair was now a bright, brassy red that looked like a natural colour. He remembered Weasleys at school, all of them ginger. She was prettier than he remembered any of the Weasleys being at school, with a heart-shaped face and long eyelashes.

She reached out to shake his hand, and Fitz introduced himself.

“I know who you are,” she told him with a smile. “I'm pretty sure all of us will at least recognize each other, even if we've never officially met. You were amazing with Montrose. Shame about the arm.”

Fitz's lips pressed together, and he managed a tight smile in return. “Thanks. I saw you play Puddlemere when Brownyard was injured. Good game.”

“Thank you.” Molly glanced around the empty pitch. “First one here, I take it.”

She didn't sound surprised. Fitz wondered if she was the punctual type. “Jinks is always late. He'll probably turn up around eight.”

“We were told to report at six-thirty,” Molly stated, looking surprised.

“The Prides have spent five years with a coach who was increasingly more senile and a captain who didn't show up to half the training sessions,” he told her frankly. “They got in the habit of turning up whenever they felt like it.”

“Time to break them of that habit, then,” she said briskly.

Fitz eyed her. McCormack had said she planned to choose a new captain from the new players, and it looked like Molly Weasley had her sights set on it.

“I always like to arrive at least ten minutes early,” Molly went on. “If I'd arrived at six-thirty, I'd have felt tardy.”

Definitely had her sights set on it.

They both turned at the sound of footsteps behind them. Zara Mackie, the Chaser lately of the Ballycastle Bats, was walking toward them, followed by Virgil 'Duff' Gittins, who still wore his Falmouth Falcons robes.

“Robes are in the changing room,” Fitz remembered. He'd meant to bring a box of them with him. “We've got new ones for each of you on order.” McCormack had taken care of that as soon as she'd hired the lot of them. It hadn't even occurred to Fitz they would need new uniforms until the manager had mentioned it.

Molly was already heading over to introduce herself to the others, though, and gave no indication of hearing him.

Sid Whittlemore turned up five minutes late, and Beathan MacDougald, the only remaining Chaser from last year's Prides lineup, arrived ten minutes later. Beathan had always been the best at keeping to the assigned schedule out of the old guard. There seemed no sign of Jinks or Preece.

“We'll just, erm, give them another fifteen minutes,” Fitz announced.

Twenty minutes passed, and then thirty. Fitz wasn't sure what to do. Having never been a recalcitrant player himself, he'd no idea how coaches were meant to handle them. The thought of owling McCormack briefly crossed his mind, but that seemed a cop-out. He ought to be able to handle it himself.

Molly walked up to him, her gold robes swirling around her long legs. “I'll just go roust them out of bed, shall I? Where do they live?”

“I'll do it,” he assured her. “I'll go. Just, erm, keep everyone here, all right?”

As he hurried off the pitch he heard Zara Mackie saying, “Sort of a mess, isn't this?”

Fitz tried not to groan.

Declan Preece was eating breakfast when he arrived, so Fitz sent him on to the pitch and went to fetch Evander Jinks. Jinks had turned up at least two hours late to every training session this season, and had only kept his spot on the team because he'd saved them from being bottom of the league last year. Taking the bottom spot from the Cannons might have been a low point from which the team could not recover, so McCormack had some residual feelings of gratitude for the lazy Seeker. He was fine in a game; it was only that he was unreliable in training.

Jinks must have been in bed still, because it took five minutes of banging on the door to his flat before he finally answered it, yawning hugely and dressed in a pair of pajama bottoms printed with purple Snitches.

“Morning, Fitz,” he said on another yawn. “What brings you here so early?”

“You were supposed to be at the pitch an hour ago,” Fitz bit out. “The new players are all there. They were on time.”

Jinks chuckled. “New blood. Bunch of reserve players.”

“They're your new lineup. Better get used to them. Get dressed, we're going now.”

“All right, all right, keep your robes on.”

By the time they got to the pitch, he found the three Chasers were running Quaffle passing drills in the air, while the Beaters had been set up with bats and tennis balls for target practice. Molly Weasley was floating on her broom in the middle of the pitch, supervising the lot of them. Fitz could feel his feathers ruffling. It was his job to set them drills, not hers. She might want to be captain, but she damn well wasn't going to be the coach.

Molly caught sight of him and immediately returned to the ground, stepping off her Firebolt 7 and propping it loosely beside her on its tail twigs. “Thought I'd get our blood warmed up while we waited on you,” she told him cheerfully.

“You're not the bloody coach,” Fitz snapped at her without thinking.

A hurt look crossed her face so briefly that he almost wondered if he'd imagined it. “If you want to be coach, start acting like it,” she snapped back, swinging one long leg over the broom as she shot back up into the air.

“I like her,” said Jinks.

“Shut up and get up there.”

Fitz ran them through every drill he could remember from his days with Montrose, trying to get a feel for the various talents of the players. Zara Mackie and Beathan MacDougald were going to work well together with some practice, Fitz could already see, but Sid Whittlemore had such an opposite style that he wasn't gelling as well and was dropping more passes than he caught. Beathan's aim was off, and she nearly hit Sid in the face with the Quaffle twice. Luckily he had fast reflexes and managed to duck. The Beaters were playing completely independently of each other, and Jinks wasn't even bothering to pretend to practice any Seeking. He sat up on his broom at a high altitude and had probably dozed off. If anyone could manage a nap on a broom, it'd be Evander Jinks.

Only Molly Weasley was consistent, blocking every shot the Chasers threw her. Not that they were throwing anything that difficult, of course. For some reason, it irritated Fitz to see her guarding the hoops from the erratic penalties.

She shouldn't have set them to drills. That was his job. It had made him feel even more unqualified than he already did. He didn't care for the feeling.

He knew he was being unfair – it wasn't Molly's fault he didn't know how to be a coach, and after all, he'd set drills as captain, and the team needed every moment of practice they could get.

It appeared Zara Mackie was giving a few orders of her own. He couldn't hear what she was saying, but he could see her speaking to the other Chasers, and from her gestures it looked as if she were about to run them through a few flight formations.

Molly Weasley had a bit of competition for the position of team captain.

They kept at it until mid-afternoon, and finally, sweaty and breathing hard, the team assembled around Fitz. A few had their brooms slung over their shoulders, and some propped themselves against them. Jinks was the only one who didn't appear winded.

“Good job, everyone,” Fitz told them, trying to think of what his old coach at Montrose would have said. “Meet back here tomorrow at seven. And I mean seven, all of you.”

Everyone looked at Jinks, who rolled his eyes.

“Want me to come round and make sure you're up, Jinks?” Mackie asked with poisonous sweetness.

“I'll set an alarm,” he muttered.

The two Beaters went off together, making plans for a pub crawl, evidently having found a kindred spirit, even if they hadn't managed to play the same game during practice. The others set out one by one for the changing room. Fitz heaved a deep breath, thinking longingly of the solitude of his office, but someone gave a quiet cough behind him.

He was not surprised to find Molly Weasley had hung back.

“I wanted to talk to you about the training schedule,” she began, and he had a sudden sense of dread. “I had some thoughts on it, particularly regarding the Chasers.”

He didn't want to talk about training schedules. He still had to figure something out for that, and he needed to do so on his own. Using her schedules would be cheating at his job. “Why don't you worry about getting up to speed as Keeper?”

Her lips tightened. “I am up to speed. I'll come by your office tomorrow after training.”

Fitz watched her leave, her broom slung over one shoulder and hips swaying side to side as she walked. He was going to have to come up with something by tomorrow, apparently. So much for a quiet evening relaxing.

*

Molly was early to practice the next morning as well. Once again she was the first one there, finding Fitzroy on the field with a single piece of parchment. She could see a few formation diagrams drawn on, and some scribbled notes. That must be his idea of a training schedule, she thought, trying not to be disappointed by his haphazard approach. Yesterday he'd been just about useless, and she'd been the one to get the team actually up in the air. He'd set some drills once he'd managed to roust the missing players from their beds, but he'd done little to no actual coaching, even in the face of players who clearly needed it. Zara Mackie had done some work with the Chasers that Molly had approved of, though Sid Whittlemore had spent half the time clowning around as per his usual. Not a peep out of Fitzroy about that, of course.

His management style, if you could call it that, did not impress her.

The Harpies' coach had given them training schedules for the entire year on the first day of practice. Everyone's duties were mapped out for them from day one. Molly found that far preferable to the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-trousers approach that Fitzroy seemed to be taking. Since she still had her copy of the Harpies' schedule, she'd used it to map out a plan for the Prides. The training charts were rolled up in the pocket of her robes. After today's training session, she planned to go over them with Coach Slapdash whether he liked it or not.

Based on his expression yesterday when she'd mentioned it, he wasn't going to like it one bit.

That was his problem. Molly was damned if she'd be on a losing team. She had every intention of leading the Prides to a decent season, kicking and screaming if she had to.

Fitzroy was pacing a bit, and Molly tried not to admire the leanly muscled shoulders and powerful legs. He was handsome, she admitted to herself. It was a shame he didn't seem to be a very good coach. And he didn't seem to like her much. She could live with that, she thought. So long as she made captain.

He must have heard her approaching, because he stopped in midstep and turned around. His face looked wary rather than welcoming, and Molly held in a sigh.

“Good morning, Weasley.”

“Morning, Coach Fitzroy.”

His face twitched a bit at that. She was close enough to see the fine lines at the corners of his eyes. She couldn't tell if it was anger or pain. She'd heard, since gossip was rife in the league, that his shoulder still pained him. Spell damage injuries were sometimes known not to heal fully. Her heart gave a small tug, and she ignored it.

“Call me Fitz,” he told her.

“All right. You can call me Molly. I'm used to answering to a first name. My family's rather large and 'Weasley' is so non-specific.”

The corner of his lip quirked up, as if he wanted to smile but didn't want her to know. “I remember. There were rather a lot of you when I was at school. Any relation to the Weasley who married Hilarion Winston-Fisher?”

Of course he'd heard about that. Hilarion's marriage had been big news, since he was not only a top-drawer talent Seeker, he was also considered the best-looking player in the entire league. There was even a book just of photos of him, which embarrassed him to no end. Molly quite enjoyed teasing her brother-in-law over that. She wondered how Fitz had missed the most famous Seeker in the league marrying a Harpy's sister, and then remembered Lucy's wedding had been roughly the same time that Fitz had been injured. League gossip had probably been the last thing on his mind at the time.

“That was my little sister, actually,” she told him. “Lucy.”

“Right. I think I met her once at a game. I'm not sure.” He ran a hand through his hair and changed the subject. “It's nearly seven. Reckon Jinks is going to turn up on time?”

“I wouldn't put money on it, but you never know.” Since he seemed to be in a good mood, she decided now was as good a time as any to bring up the training schedules. She pulled the parchment roll from her pocket and stepped a bit closer.

“What's all this?” he asked suspiciously before she could say anything.

“I told you, I had some ideas for our training.”

“This is a lot of ideas. What is this, an entire year's worth?” His brows snapped together as he shuffled through the sheets. “And it's colour-coded.”

“It makes it easier to read. Look here-”

He shoved the parchment back at her. “I'll set our schedules. We'll work weekly until we get our footing. It's too soon to plan out that far in advance.”

Molly scowled at his recalcitrance. “No it isn't, if you'd just look at it, you'd see-”

“I don't need you to micromanage the team for me,” Fitz informed her testily.

Micromanage?

“I'll fill you in on today's training when the others get here.”

“And what about tomorrow?”

“We'll see how today goes.”

Molly spluttered a bit. “You're going to do this one day at a time? The lineup is brand new! We need to plan ahead!”

“I know what I'm doing. I've got a plan.”

Somehow she didn't entirely believe that. His face was set, dark eyes flashing with defiance. Molly wanted to shake him hard.

“Good morning!” called a voice from behind them.

Molly and Fitz turned as one to see Sid Whittlemore approaching, looking cheerful as ever. Behind him were Duff Gittins and Declan Preece. Molly stuffed the training outline back in her pocket and glared at Fitz, who was ignoring her now.

It was probably too late to shake him, now there were witnesses.
 


Chapter 3: The Dreaded Ex
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Fitz had to steel himself for the next practice. The new reserve players were due in and he was going to have to keep his head together today. He hadn't spent a whole day with Mariah Waldman in three years.

Now he was staring down nearly every day of the foreseeable future in her presence. Five years ago, that would have filled him with happiness. Now it filled him with the urge to throw something.

At dawn he was up and on his way to roust Jinks out of bed. The lazy Seeker still hadn't made it to a practice on time without someone being dispatched to drag him there. Today Fitz did not have time to worry about that kind of crap, so he preempted it by going to Jinks himself.

He pounded on the door until Jinks appeared, wearing only his underpants and a long knitted cap.

"Och, sweet baby Jesus and all the saints above us. Why are you here in the middle of the bloody night?" Jinks squinted at him. "Is the pitch on fire? Is someone dead? Did McCormack sack me?"

"You're not sacked, nothing's on fire, it's five o'clock, and no one will be dead if you get your arse dressed and come with me to the pitch now," Fitz informed him.

A slow smile spread across Jinks's sleep-lined face. "Trying to make it there before Weasley?"

"Shut up. Got coffee in here?" Fitz pushed past him.

"On the counter. Get it started while I get dressed." Yawning hugely, Jinks wandered off.

Half an hour later, they were both coffeed up and, thankfully, dressed to boot. Jinks seemed moderately awake and aware, which Fitz felt was something of a miracle at this time of day. The only time he'd previously seen the man awake at five in the morning was when he'd been up all night drinking.

The pitch was empty when they arrived, and Fitz had to restrain a fist pump of triumph. Beating Molly to the pitch had become a matter of principle to him. This was, after all, only the second time he'd managed it. He was the coach and he ought to be there first.

"What d'you know, she's not here yet," Jinks drawled behind him.

"Shut up and go warm up."

"I'm waiting for the rest." And he sat down on the grass with his broom across his lap, watching Fitz with interest.

Fitz made a show of reading over the training notes he'd made for the day, though between thoughts of Molly and thoughts of Mariah, he wasn't sure he was actually seeing any of the words scrawled on the parchment. It wasn't long before someone arrived to give Jinks the show he was obviously anticipating.

As fate would have it, Molly arrived at the same time as the three new reserve players, along with Mackie and Preece. The rest of the team trickled in shortly after. They all seemed highly interested in Mariah Waldman, of course, because league gossip was rife and they all knew bloody well who she was.

Mariah, for her part, smiled broadly when she saw him. "Morning, Fitzie."

“Hello Waldman.” He managed to keep any inflection from his voice.

“You used to call me Mariah.”

“I used to call you a lot of things.”

She gave him her well-practiced pout. It was still as pretty as it had ever been, which annoyed the hell out of him. "Is it going to be that way?"

"The nice judge decided it didn't have to be another way," he reminded her. "Beauty of being divorced."

Everybody was listening, and nobody looked surprised at this exchange, somewhat to his embarrassment. He'd never enjoyed having his personal life so well known. Some of the star players had happily allowed reporters into every corner of their lives, but Fitz had kept them at arm's length. Mariah would have loved more media attention, but then, he thought a bit smugly, she'd never been a top player. There was a reason she was still a reservist. She was good, but she wasn't good enough.

She looked very much as she had when they'd ended their disaster of a marriage: long dark hair tied up in a loose knot atop her head, her brown eyes rimmed with dark colour. She was as slim as ever, her compact body more muscled than curvy. The stab of attraction was gone, though. No matter how prettily she pouted, she'd lost the ability to move him.

He turned to the rest of them, all watching with interest to see how he handled his ex-wife. All except Molly Weasley, who merely looked impatient. Her full lips pursed a bit as she eyed the paper in his hands, and he smothered a grin. She was probably dying for a look at his training schedule. It wasn't as extensive as hers had been, but he'd mapped out the next three days. He was rather proud of that.

And nothing in his list matched up with the colour-coded outline with which Molly had presented him.

"We're going to push through a lot of formation drills today," he began.

"I was always very good at formations," murmured Mariah.

Fitz flashed on a vision of some of the more acrobatic parts of their past, followed by the familiar flash of rage that accompanied most of those sorts of memories of his ex. He went on, ignoring her, "The reserve players need to run Quaffle drills today, since you weren't here earlier. Time to play some catch-up."

Mariah pouted prettily at that, and Fitz went on talking, doing his best to ignore her as she batted her lashes and pouted at him while he tried to explain the day's drills to the team.

Why the hell was she doing this? They were divorced, for God's sake.

He was having a hard time concentrating, and had to keep glancing at his notes, short as they were, to remember the training plan he'd drawn up. "Then we'll, erm, send the Beaters up to drill their aim. You're a bit off, blokes, and erm, you need to-"

Mariah pouted and licked her lips.

"Uh," said Fitz, swallowing his anger at her. He tried to regroup. "Look, you lot, you've got a lot of hard work ahead of you. Training season's already halfway gone. Just, erm, get on up there and start running through formations, and I'll call you down here again when it's time to change up."

Molly was watching him in a way that he understood meant she was paying attention to more than just his words. Then her eyes slid to Mariah and a tiny frown knit her ginger brows, and Fitz had to suppress a thrill of alarm.

The lot of them took to the air finally, but Molly hung back. She stood silently beside him as the team started to fly, and then cocked her head at him, her red hair falling to the side in a cascade of curls, showing off the close-cropped sides.

Fitz steeled himself for her to question his coaching schedule or try to find out the details of his divorce, but instead she asked quietly, "You all right?"

"I'm fine," he said, attempting to cover up the bristling annoyance.

She didn't say more, just gave him a long look that left him with the unsettling feeling that she was closely examining his soul, then nodded and stepped onto her broom, kicking off with the same grace she had on the ground. A lot of players were graceful in the air and awkward or clumsy on hard soil, but Molly always moved like a dancer no matter where she was.

He watched the team fly, and wondered how long it would take him to get used to Mariah's annoyances again, and if he'd ever get used to looking at Molly.

She was going to do something about Mariah. That look in her eyes when she'd watched Mariah distracting him had been obvious, at least to him. He knew he ought to tell his ex off himself, but he didn't know how to do it without causing problems for the team. He was her coach, yes, but he was also her ex-husband. He couldn't erase that from their past, and he knew she wouldn't separate the two aspects of their relationship.

Maybe Molly could get her to behave. She'd been Head Girl. She was probably an expert at telling people off. Hell, she was a Weasley. There were about a hundred of them, each more badly behaved than the last, for the most part. All except Molly, and apparently Molly's sister, the one who'd married Hilarion Winston-Fisher, because he didn't remember ever hearing about any of their exploits. He'd managed to land the one well-behaved Weasley on his team.

Molly would handle his ex-wife. He was happy to let her do it. At least this one responsibility he ought to be shouldering could be left to someone else. And though his annoyance at her attempts to micromanage the team hadn't entirely faded, he was quite confident that if Molly stepped in, Mariah Waldman would be dealt with.

She was going to wind up team captain if she could keep the other players in line. Getting everyone under control was going to be her first step. So long as she kept to captaining and not coaching, he decided, he would let her get on with it.

*

Watching Fitz's already dodgy coaching skills devolve even further was painful. Molly had to restrain herself from throwing her grandmother's patented Silent Stare of Death at Mariah Waldman. It was the stare that could stop any Weasley in their tracks, and Molly had used it to great effect as Head Girl at Hogwarts, to cow prefects and students alike. Not even her cousin James Potter was immune to its power. Somehow she suspected Mariah Waldman would shut up under the Stare, but Waldman was too busy distracting and needling Fitz to glance at Molly.

The pouty flirts were worse after practice. Fitz stuttered his way through instructions for Monday while alternating glances at Waldman and at Molly, who wondered what he was thinking when he looked at her. Nothing good, probably. She could guess what he was thinking when he looked at Waldman, based on the anger in his expression.

It was clear that Fitz needed a hand in handling his ex-wife. Molly had very little patience with Waldman's antics. It was beyond childish. They'd both taken jobs at Portree and now they had to work together, divorced or not. The pouting had to stop, because while Waldman was evidently enjoying herself immensely, she was a liability to Molly's plan for a champion season so long as she kept messing the coach about.

Besides, it was obviously bothering Fitz a great deal, and Molly didn't like that.

Molly made up her mind immediately to do something about it. What to do specifically was clear, of course.

"Oi, you lot," she called as soon as the team was all back in the dressing room out of earshot of Fitz. "Drinks at my flat tonight, nine o'clock."

A small cheer went up. Declan Preece and Duff Gittins, who'd already been out boozing together three times this week unbeknownst to their coach, clapped her on the shoulder as they left.

Molly had always kept a well-stocked liquor cabinet, relic of throwing a great deal of parties when she'd lived in Wales. Having family or friends over for drinks was one of her favourite activities. She blamed her love of playing hostess on her namesake. Gran liked her home full, so there was almost always someone hanging round the Burrow when Molly went to visit. There wasn't much to do to prepare for the small party beyond setting out bottles and glasses. Her house was in its usual state of spotlessly perfect organization, right down to her liquors. She hid the colour-coding on the lids by replacing them with pour spouts, though.

No point everyone knowing her private neuroses just yet, after all.

The team arrived nearly all at once, which Molly reckoned meant she'd been right about them all needing a drink to relieve the tension of the week's practices. The team hadn't found their footing yet and their playing was still rough. Still, Molly felt there was potential in the lineup. If there weren't, she thought ruefully, she would've jumped ship by now and gone back to the Harpies.

"Thanks for this, Molly," said Beathan MacDougald as she poured herself a glass of firewhiskey. "Bloody brilliant idea."

"I thought the team could use a way to relax after the week we've all had," Molly said with a smile. "Besides, I love throwing parties. Used to have a lot of them when I was with the Harpies."

"Well, I'm glad we've stolen you away from them," MacDougald responded, lifting her glass in a brief toast before wandering off.

Molly spent the next hour making sure everyone's glass was always full and the conversation was flowing, all the while keeping one eye on Mariah Waldman. An hour later, Zara Mackie and Bram Carmichael were doing shots of tequila at the counter while Sid Whittlemore was somehow still sober enough to keep their supply of lime wedges full. He tucked his wand over his ear between spells, and Molly didn't have the heart to tell him that wasn't safe. Preece and Gittins were halfway into a bottle of whiskey and singing inappropriate folk songs at her dining room table, and Molly joined them for a while, singing along with the choruses and nursing her vodka gimlet, watching Flint and MacDougald dancing to the melody and giggling at the risqué lyrics.

Eventually she made her way over to the couch where Waldman was sitting with Jinks and flirting heavy-handedly with the Seeker. Molly gave Jinks a glance and he cottoned on at once. He excused himself and fled to the kitchen with Mackie and Carmichael, leaving the couch empty beside Waldman. Molly sat down with a pleasant smile.

"Enjoying your free evening?" she asked mildly.

"Very much," Waldman answered with a cheerful smile. "Don't think I needed it as much as you lot did, though. I only just got here, after all."

"True, but everyone deserves a good kick-off to their weekend."

"Cheers." Waldman lifted her glass to Molly and took a long sip.

Molly settled back into the tailored red couch, enjoying the comfort of her familiar furniture. "Settling in all right? Found a place to stay yet?"

"Not yet. I'm at a B&B at the mo. Looking for a cottage up in the hills. Although I do like this place, I have to say." She waved her glass to indicate Molly's flat. "More than I thought I would. Bit modern for me, really."

Molly smiled. The building was very new, with a lot of glass and steel and a minimalist garden up on the roof. It had suited her much more than any of the quaint little Scottish cottages she'd seen. "Building's full, I'm afraid."

"S'all right. I've got plenty of time to look for a place." Waldman finished off her drink.

"Like it here well enough to stay, then?"

"Oh yes."

Molly gave her a carefully neutral yet friendly smile. "Ex-husband coach notwithstanding?"

"Oh, I'm not bothered by Fitz. We split a long time ago." Waldman waved this off.

"You seem to know him very well still," Molly observed.

"He hasn't changed as much as I'd thought he would. I still know how to push his buttons." Waldman chuckled a bit and took a drink.

Aha. Molly's smile sharpened. "You seemed to be having a right lot of fun pushing his buttons today."

"Nice to know I still can."

"Is it? Why is that?" Molly gave her an inquiring glance, putting just a touch of concern in her voice.

"Well." Waldman didn't appear to know quite how to respond. "He used to be my husband."

"Do you feel you need to get back at him for the divorce?"

Waldman looked strangely rueful at that. "No, he doesn't have that coming at all."

Interesting. It was a strange way to put it. Molly filed that away for later. League gossip normally gave all the details on things like that, but no one knew for sure why the two had split after only two years of marriage. Maybe she could get the whole story later, but for now Molly had an endgame in mind.

"But you did say you liked it here. Messing him about like that seems a bit counterproductive, then, doesn't it? After all, he is the coach. And we do want a winning season finally."

Waldman appeared struck by this, as if she hadn't considered this aspect before. "That's true."

"Getting some sort of juvenile kick out of messing with your ex-husband doesn't seem as important as getting your own career ahead, I would think."

"Now that is true." Waldman took a long drink, nearly draining her glass.

"Maybe it's time to move on from mistakes of the past," Molly said carefully. "Let things go. My cousin got divorced not too long ago, and she worked through her feelings about it and is much happier since."

Her cousin Dominique had worked through her divorce by writing a tell-all book about her ex-husband's perfidy, but Molly didn't want to share that and give Waldman any ideas.

"You're too right. Honestly, Weasley, you're better than my bloody therapist." Waldman gave her a friendly, if somewhat inebriated, smile.

Molly lifted her glass to the woman. "I think I'm a little bit bartender, with all my party hostessing experience. Practically gives me a license to practice."

Waldman laughed and finished her drink. "I'm off for a refill. Can I bring you anything?"

"I'm good for now, thanks."

Molly watched her go and couldn't keep a smile of satisfaction off her face. That had gone well. Hopefully Waldman would turn over a new leaf, but if she didn't, Molly was ready to come at her more directly next time. The main purpose of the party taken care of, she returned to her hostess duties with fresh enthusiasm.

*

Duff and Preece were the last two to leave. Molly had to hint heavily that they ought to carry themselves on home before the two Beaters finally got out of her flat at half past two.

Molly surveyed the damage, hands on hips. Glasses were everywhere, and pretzels and crisps had been crushed into the white carpeting in some spots. She could see crumbs on the red sofa and chairs. The countertops were sticky with lime juice and salt. With a sigh, she raised her wand to straighten the place up. She'd never be able to sleep with the flat a mess like this.

It only took her a quarter of an hour to get things back in order. She was sorting through the liquor bottles, replacing their caps and putting them in order in the cupboard, when someone knocked at her door.

She drew her wand and went to check the peephole warily. When she saw who was at her doorstep, she whispered, “Bloody hell.”

Molly paused with her hand on the door, debating the wisdom of letting him in, and decided she had to see what he wanted at this hour.

She opened the door and leaned against it. “What are you doing here so late?”

“Saw your lights were on, so I knew you were still up. Thought I'd see how the party went.” Fitz smiled a bit. He did not look embarrassed in the least to have not been invited. He had an expression she couldn't quite place, actually. He was dressed more casually than he did when coaching, in jeans and a battered old Weird Sisters t-shirt. His hair was messy, as if he'd run his hand through it a moment ago. She wondered if it felt as soft as it looked.

“Come on in.” She waved him inside.

He sat on the couch, and she noticed he sat to the right edge so that he didn't have to lift his injured arm to lean on the arm of the couch. Molly deliberately chose a chair opposite him, across the coffee table, and sat back, waiting for him to say whatever it was he'd come here for.

Nobody turned up at nearly three in the morning without a reason.

After a few minutes' silence, he finally said, “I know why you did this.”

“To help the team bond so they can work together better?” Molly suggested.

“That, and so you could tell Mariah to shut the hell up,” Fitz volleyed back. “I saw you looking at her at practice today.”

“I didn't tell her to shut the hell up,” Molly informed him evenly.

“Wish I could have,” he muttered.

Molly ignored that. "Mariah Waldman is the sort of person where if I told her flat out to knock it off and leave off pestering you, she would have got even worse.”

Fitz blinked. "You figured her out fast, didn't you?"

"I'm good at reading people. And her reputation precedes her."

"I bet," said Fitz. "Reckon that's true for all of us. Sometimes the League is a small world."

She wondered how much he knew about her. She was well aware that she was known by virtually everyone, if only superficially. The Harpy with the mohawk. The pro Weasley player. And everyone knew him. He'd been famous even before the injury. Star Chaser, signed to Montrose at a young age, and good-looking in a dark and brooding way. There was a lot more brooding since the injury, though.

"I suppose it is," she agreed.

"Well, thanks for the help," he said, and to his credit he only sounded a little grudging. "If I'd said anything to her, she would've reacted like an ex-wife, not like a player.”

“I think you're right.” Molly laced her fingers together in front of her. “Is there anything you want to discuss about that?”

“About her being my ex-wife? God, no. That's over and done and the nice judge made sure I never have to deal with that woman again.” He rubbed a hand over his eyes. “Of course, then I took a job where my sadistic team manager decided to hire my ex-wife and make me deal with her again...”

“You could quit,” Molly offered.

“I don't want to quit. I don't have anything else to do.”

Molly was somewhat surprised to hear him admit that. He looked tired and frustrated, and she had the urge to wrap her arms around him and hold him until his face lost that drawn look, or possibly kick him and tell him to stop feeling sorry for himself. But she couldn't do either, so she asked instead, “Want a drink?”

“I'd better not. Meetings first thing in the morning. I'm already going to regret the late night.” He got to his feet and held out a hand to help her up.

As soon as she put her hand in his, Molly knew it was a mistake. Her already fluttery stomach flipped, and their eyes met. He was slow to release her hand, though they were both standing now. She drew in her breath, and that was a mistake too because she could smell his cologne, something grassy and woodsy, like cedarwood.

“Raincheck on the drink?” His eyes were intense, holding her gaze.

Molly nodded slowly, and he finally let her fingers slip from his. She followed him to the door and he left without another word. She closed the door and leaned against it, blowing out a slow breath and listening to the erratic beat of her heart.
 


Chapter 4: Flight and Family
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After staying up long into the night Friday and spending most of Saturday in a series of increasingly boring and uncomfortable meetings with the team owners, Fitz's shoulder was protesting strongly. McCormack had been at his side all day, doing most of the talking to the owners. She was far better at fast-talking them into believing in the new lineup, but it was unclear whether this was because of natural ability, actual confidence in the motley lot of them, or self-preservation because she was the one who'd chosen them. In any case, it left Fitz mostly along for back-up.

Occasionally someone asked him a question, but mostly they were all focused on Meghan McCormack and her smooth words. She had them all snowed into believing a winning season was imminent when it was far from a certainty that they'd win even one game. She was a born politician, Fitz decided. It was not something anyone had ever accused him of.

By the time the last meeting finally let out, he was desperate for some pain potion and remedial therapy spells. The League kept a small battalion of Healers on retainer for just this purpose, and Fitz managed to dig one up who was actually on call on a Saturday during the off-season.

His shoulder was burning with pain, the ache sliding in waves down his arm to the elbow, following the trail of rope-like scars left by the spell damage. The scars formed a starburst pattern that a Healer shortly after the attack had tried to convince him looked like some sort of cool body mod. Fitz had not found this encouraging and had avoided that particular Healer ever since.

The on-call Healer was already in the Pride of Portree therapy room when Fitz got there. He was a tall young man with bright red hair, dressed casually in a white t-shirt with the crossed wands of his profession blazoned on the front. Fitz didn't recognize him.

“Thought I knew every Healer and medi-wizard in the League by now,” he remarked as he strolled in, trying to ignore the pain in his shoulder. “I don't think we've met, though. I'm Riordan Fitzroy, I'm the new coach here at the Prides.”

It still sounded strange to him to introduce himself that way. Coach instead of Chaser. He didn't quite know how to interact with the League's Healers as a coach, only as an injured player.

The Healer stuck a hand out, and Fitz shook it. “Nice to meet you, Coach Fitzroy. I'm Hugo Weasley. What can I help you with today?”

“Weasley?” Fitz repeated, startled. “Any relation to our Keeper?”

Healer Weasley smiled. “She's my cousin, actually.”

Good God. Every time he turned around, there was a Weasley. There must be hundreds of them. Fitz wasn't keen on the idea of a relative of Molly's treating him. Usually Healers kept their mouths shut about injuries they saw, but this was her cousin. He wasn't sure he ought to trust the man. And he definitely did not want Molly or any of the rest of the team knowing exactly how bad his shoulder was. “I see. I trust you can keep this appointment in confidence, then? Even from your cousin?”

He smiled easily, not offended at all. “Oh, believe me, I take my professional duties seriously, particularly the in-confidence ones.”

“All right.” Fitz looked him over and decided the pressing needs of his shoulder outweighed any concerns for privacy for now. It was throbbing insistently. “It's this damn shoulder. You've probably heard about what happened?”

Healer Weasley nodded. “Let's have a look, then.”

Fitz slid out of his shirt, wincing and trying not to move his bad arm any more than he had to. He'd become something of an expert at taking off his clothes without use of his left shoulder. Taking a seat on the purple leather-padded table that the team used for both exams and massages, he turned to show the scars to the Healer. “It's been bothering me more than usual the last few days, and today it's absolute hell.”

“When was the last time you came in for some spell therapy?” Healer Weasley asked, leaning in to examine the ropes of scar tissue trailing from Fitz's shoulder down his back and arm.

“A few months ago, I think.”

“Too long, I reckon. Tell me when it hurts.” And the Healer grasped Fitz's elbow in one hand and his shoulder in the other and pushed his elbow first down and then up.

Fitz gritted his teeth and tried not to cry out, but he couldn't stop a hiss of pain when his elbow was level with his shoulder. Fortunately, Weasley seemed to take the hint and stopped before raising Fitz's arm any higher. Above the shoulder was excruciating.

Weasley stepped back then, and pulled his wand from his pocket. “I'm going to cast something for the inflammation, and see if we can't do something for your pain as well, all right? I'll send along a series of potions for you. Please make sure you read thoroughly the list of side effects. You're to take all of them exactly as directed. No skipping doses, eh?”

“Yeah, I know.” Fitz hadn't skipped a potions regimen since a month after the injury, when he'd thought he could tough it out. He'd been wrong. Asking for help put him in a bad mood, but it was better than living in agony.

Half an hour later, his shoulder was much improved but his mood was not. Lying on the table having spells and potions and a Healer looming over him made him feel helpless, childish. Chronic illness didn't sit well with him. At least Healer Weasley had maintained a very professional detachment in his bedside manner. Too much sympathy always left Fitz feeling angry and wanting to lash out. He knew he had a reputation among the League Healers for his attitude about the injury and treatments, and wondered if Weasley was reacting to that or if he was always this way.

He sat up and slid back into his shirt while Weasley scribbled some notes into a file, then tucked it into a folder labelled with Fitz's name.

“Thanks,” Fitz said grudgingly. “Feels a lot better now.”

“The potions will help keep it that way. I'll arrange to have more sent along when these run out, but you'll need to schedule another therapy to keep your range of motion.” Weasley tucked the folder into a black dragonskin satchel.

Fitz nodded. As much as he hated them, the therapy sessions did help. They hurt worse at first, but afterward he always noticed the improvement. It never lasted, though, and even the improvement didn't take him back to full strength.

“I'd like to look into your injury further, if you don't mind,” Weasley said then, looking down his long nose at Fitz.

He immediately tensed up. “What the hell for?”

Weasley blinked at the sharp tone. “I think there might be better ways of managing the residual effects. It might help your quality of life.”

Whenever a Healer talked about quality of life, Fitz wanted to sock someone in the jaw. “They know what curse was used on me. It isn't going to kill me, and the effects have been removed. It's just the damage that can't be healed. I've been through this a hundred times with a hundred Healers.”

“I know,” Weasley said, to Fitz's surprise. “I looked over the medical records of everyone in the League when I took the job, including yours. I still think further research is warranted.”

“Fine. Do whatever the hell you want.”

Healer Weasley gave him a long look that reminded him uncomfortably of Molly's soul-searching stare. Fitz knew he ought to feel bad for snapping at the man, but he was tired of the pain and the constant reminder of the attack. It had ruined his life and kept ruining it every day. The last thing he wanted was to look into it further than he already had.

Eventually Weasley said in his quiet, calm voice, “I'll send the potions this evening. Please feel free to call on the British and Irish League Healing Service at any time should you require further medical care. If my aid today has been satisfactory, please indicate so on the comment card and return it to our offices via owl at your convenience.”

Fitz took the small, lime green card from him, feeling rather as if he ought to apologize but damned if he would. He managed a brusque nod, and watched Molly's cousin leave with his dragonskin satchel and his Weasley-red hair.

It was the same shade as Molly's, the same curls.

The room was silent but for the ticking of the purple clock on the gold-painted walls. It seemed too oppressive to stay in and think, too full of the ghosts of injured players and the echoes of their screams of pain. Fitz slid off the table and left quickly, heading home to collapse in his bed, finally free of pain, if only for now.

*

Fitz woke early the next morning. The batch of potions from Healer Weasley had arrived last evening as instructed, with a lengthy list of instructions and side effects. Fitz skimmed these and then crumpled the parchment into a ball and tossed it aside. The first two potions were red and tasted of lingonberries, and the third had a very sour taste and smelled of dirty socks. He finished them off with two cups of strong tea to get the taste out of his mouth.

Thus far Sundays were a dead zone for the team, with everyone off doing their own thing, living their personal lives separate from each other and the team. None of them were in the habit of coming in on a Sunday, so Fitz had the day entirely to himself. He headed into the Pride of Portree home pitch, first to his office to check if any paperwork had arrived, but it appeared McCormack had all that under control. Fitz looked over his desk and decided he wasn't going to work on any training schedules today. Today he was going to fly.

Since the attack and his removal from Montrose, he hadn't liked to let anyone see him fly. Compared to his former ability, he was awkward and clumsy, unable to steer with his old precision. It was downright humiliating. He flew like his grandmother, for God's sake. He hadn't been on a broom since the new players had arrived a fortnight ago. It would probably do to coach from the air, as he remembered his coach at Montrose doing, but he didn't want to see the looks of sympathy from them when they saw how he flew now.

The pitch would be empty at this hour on a Sunday, so he'd be able to feel the wind on his face without anyone seeing. Fitz liked when the pitch was empty. It felt welcoming at all times, a home away from home, but when it was empty it seemed to belong entirely to him, awaiting his visits with open arms. Even the pitch where he'd been injured felt warm and welcoming, as if it wanted to make up for the attack.

The morning was clear and cool, the sky frosted with grey clouds and pale sunlight as Fitz jogged out onto the pitch with his broom slung over his good shoulder. He stopped short halfway onto the field.

For crying out bloody loud. He could not get a moment's peace from her.

Molly Weasley was up in the air on her own broom, soaring high above the goals in a graceful arc, turning barrels in the air. She was too far away to see her face, but her movements were as elegant as ever in the tricks and turns. She wasn't wearing her Quidditch robes, just a pair of skin-tight black trousers and an equally skin-tight black t-shirt. Her broom spiralled and she held on effortlessly, then made a sweeping loop completely upside down.

Hell, she could be a world-class stunt flier. She was almost wasted as Keeper, the position least requiring of difficult flying, good as she was at it. Keepers didn't get the opportunity to fly in formation the way Chasers and Beaters did, or to do the difficult and dangerous stunts that Seekers so often pulled. Protecting the hoops didn't generally call for trick flying, just short bursts of speed and an almost preternatural ability to tell where a Quaffle was going to come from.

But there she was, flying with her red hair streaming behind her and an ease of movement that came as much from years of practice as it did from natural talent. He'd had that once, and someone had taken it from him.

Swamped with jealousy that she could do what he no longer could – and then some – Fitz turned to stomp away.

A shrill whistle and far-off yell of “Oi!” made him turn back. Molly was headed his way.

Trying not to feel angry with her, since he was well aware she hadn't done anything wrong, Fitz stood his broom on its tail twigs and leaned into it, trying to be casual despite the roiling emotions.

She alighted gently, stepping off her broom just as it landed in one smooth motion that made him feel even more bad-tempered. The fact that her tight clothes showed off every line of her body made it worse. He simultaneously wanted to swing his broom into the ground until it broke into satisfying smithereens, and to kiss Molly breathless.

She swept her windblown hair to one side, where it curled around her cheekbone, and smiled at him. Her face was open and cheerful. “I didn't think anyone would be here today. Thought I'd get a bit of practice in. And, well, a bit of recreational flying as well. Are you here for the same?”

“I thought I'd have some privacy at seven on a Sunday morning. Didn't intend to find anyone on my bloody pitch,” he said grumpily, and immediately regretted it when her smile vanished.

“Well, I'll leave you to it, then.” Her voice was brittle now. “I'll be back at ten. Please clear the pitch before then if you don't care to share it.”

And with that, she stalked off, leaving him angrier than before.

He thought about calling her back and apologizing, but he couldn't do it. It wasn't her fault, but seeing her fly like that had made him want to tear his bad shoulder out altogether. He was angry with himself for taking it out on her, and angry with his shoulder, angry at the faceless attacker who'd stolen his ability to do what he loved.

When Molly was out of sight and he was alone in the damp morning air, he vented some of his rage by kicking his broom away, cussing a blue streak at it.

Fitz stared at it as it landed a few feet away, breathing heavily. His shoulder gave a twinge. Bloody shoulder had ruined his life. He'd been a good Chaser, enjoyed his life, and then that damn attack. It wasn't fair.

He sucked in a breath, rubbed his shoulder resentfully, and walked over to pick up the broom. He knew he anthropomorphized the broom, as many players did, attributing it with feelings and thoughts of its own, and told himself it was stupid to do so, but he muttered a small apology to the broom nevertheless.

Getting in the air wasn't as easy as it had been before, but he could manage it without more than a small protest from his shoulder. He ignored the pain and flew on, hoping to let out some of his boiling anger in the wind.

Bloody shoulder.

Bloody team.

Bloody ex-wife.

Bloody Molly in her tight trousers.

Fitz couldn't make the same trick flights she'd done. His shoulder didn't have the strength. But he could fly fast and high, and that would have to do for now.

Molly stood hidden in the shadowed recess of the corridor that led out of the pitch, her broom held loosely by her side, watching Fitz.

He'd kicked his broom away as if it had personally insulted him, and she'd wondered what had set him off. Perhaps yesterday's early meetings with the team owners hadn't gone well. But then his wince of pain had changed her mind, and she saw him take flight and knew why he was angry.

Before the injury, he'd been athletic and almost ferociously elegant on his broom. He was still ferocious now, but he was rough. The ease was gone, and he sat stiffly and banked slowly. She reckoned he'd lost at least half of his ability.

A more sensitive steering charm might help, now he didn't need to fly competitively, but he wouldn't want to hear that from her. He would probably never be back where he had been before the injury, and it was obvious to Molly that was at least part of why he always seemed so angry.

She tried not to take it personally that he'd been such an ass. But really, being frustrated with his injury was no excuse for taking it out on her. She hadn't done anything to him.

Except show him everything he'd lost.

Molly pursed her lips as she watched him soaring past the hoops, and wondered if he would even accept her help if she offered it. He didn't want her help with the team, and she couldn't imagine he did with his flying. He didn't even want anyone to see him fly, obviously, since he hadn't once got on his broom during a team practice. She'd thought it odd that he never did, since coaches normally flew round shouting instructions at everyone, but she'd assumed his shoulder was too damaged to fly.

He could still fly well enough to coach. He'd have to swallow his pride and let the team see him do it.

*

Sunday evening, Molly had a standing dinner date with her parents. She hadn't been to see them in a fortnight, what with the move to Scotland and her time commitment to her new team. Her father had sent her two owls this week asking when she'd come to see them next, and she'd finally agreed to Apparate down there for dinner.

Her parents lived in the same house they'd lived in since before Molly had been born, in Devon not far from her father's childhood home. It was small and cosy, with three bedrooms and a single small bathroom. This had been a huge problem when she and her sister had been teenagers, but it seemed perfect for her parents now that both girls were living on their own.

Molly didn't bother going inside her parents' house first thing on arrival. She headed straight for the backyard, to the hill that her father always hated to mow. It had been a magical fairyland of tall grasses and wildflowers when she'd been a girl, and a refuge of solitude since reaching adulthood.

Her sister Lucy was already there, stretched out in the unmown grass and staring up at the clouds with her hands stacked on the gentle swell of her belly. Molly smiled as she hiked up to her little sister, and laid down beside her.

They stared at the sky for a while, and Molly listened to the sound of Lucy's breathing. It was peaceful, the quiet inhale and exhale against the faint sounds of nature. She almost wished she could just lie here and take a nap, if only her head didn't feel full to bursting with thoughts churning about the team and feelings she wasn't sure she should examine closely about the coach.

Then Lucy said, without turning her head, “You first.”

“My new team is a damn mess, and the coach hasn't a clue what he's doing, but he's so nice to look at. I think I fancy him a bit.” Molly sighed, her gaze still on the clouds. “Now you.”

“I can't seem to drop this baby weight. I think I've got Gran's bad genes.” Lucy blew out a breath. “I'll turn into Victoire if I have any more.”

They lay there in silence a moment, then Lucy added, “Don't tell Victoire.”

“I won't.”

“She's adorable,” Lucy went on swiftly. “It's just, well...”

“She's not married to the handsomest player in the British and Irish League and in the public eye,” Molly finished for her.

Lucy let out a tiny gasp. “Oh thanks very much, that helps loads. I was just going to say it's just I don't want to exactly weigh what Victoire weighs. Now I'll be thinking about the public eye and people saying I'm too fat for such a handsome husband.”

“Sorry.” The newspapers were bound to say it eventually. Journalists weren't known for their kindness where celebrity gossip was concerned, and now Lucy had married a celebrity, she counted for gossip. They would bring up Uncle Harry, because they always did, when they said who she was, and then they'd talk about Hilarion Winston-Fisher's wife getting chubby. Of course, you only had to be around Hilarion for thirty seconds to see he had eyes for no one but his wife. Personally, Molly thought her sister looked just fine, though it was true she was a stone heavier than she had been before the baby. “You know Dad would go round to the papers and shout at them if they said anything like that.”

Lucy smiled a bit. “True.”

“Besides, Victoire's had four children and you've only had one. It may not be too late.”

“Easy for you to say, you got Granddad's tall and thin gene.” Lucy tilted her head so it rested on her sister's shoulder. “Who's your coach?”

“Riordan Fitzroy. He used to play for the Montrose Magpies before someone hexed him and messed up his shoulder.”

“Oh, I remember him,” Lucy said thoughtfully. “He is good-looking. Hmm.”

“Don't get any ideas,” Molly warned her. “He's the coach, and he can't seem to bang two thoughts together in his head when it comes to planning. We're running drills randomly right now with no plan in place.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about with your drills. If you want to talk about Quidditch, go talk to Hilarion. I was just thinking of how Fitzroy looked, that's all. I wasn't going to suggest anything. I know how you hate stupid people.”

“He's not stupid, he's just... disorganized.”

An infant's cry made them both sit up, and Lucy's husband waved to her from the back door, their five month old daughter in his arms and a helpless expression on his face.

“Oh dear,” said Lucy as she rolled over and got to her feet.

“He looks a bit scared to be alone with her. I can't blame him,” Molly added. “I would be too. She might turn out like Rose.”

“Oh, stop. He's not scared. He just jumps to attention at her first cry. She's already got him wrapped around her tiny little fingers.” Lucy led the way down the hill.

“Time to go in anyway. Dad will be eager to get us all to the table.” Their dad, like every Weasley, loved his food and hated for dinner to be delayed.

“He can't wait to talk about your new job,” Lucy told her.

“And about Hilarion's job. The only thing Dad likes as well as having a professional Quidditch-playing daughter is having a professional Quidditch-playing son-in-law,” Molly quipped.

“Flora's hungry,” Hilarion said as soon as they reached him.

Flora let out a gurgling cry and reached for her mother. No wonder Hilarion had looked so helpless, Molly reflected as her sister carried the baby off to nurse. Until the baby was on solids, her doting father was rather useless when it came to food.

Hilarion was smiling faintly now, relieved and happy that his daughter was no longer crying. He was a simple bloke, really. So long as Lucy and Flora were content, he was happy. He wasn't the sharpest crayon in the box, but Lucy loved him, and he was nice enough. He was also extraordinarily handsome, but Molly had got used to him as a brother by now. When she thought of handsome Quidditch players now, Fitz's face immediately popped into her mind's eye, and she tried to shake it off.

“How's the new team?” he asked, breaking into Molly's reverie.

“Oh, it's...” She'd been about to say fine, but it wasn't really, and out of everyone she could talk to in confidence, Hilarion was nearly the only one who might understand and help. “Actually, could I talk to you about it for a moment? Off the record. Don't tell anyone in the League, all right?”

He pretended to zip his lips shut, and Molly smiled.

“I heard it was a bit of a mess up there,” Hilarion remarked. “The Arrows have been talking about it since Meghan McCormack offered Lizzie Keen a spot on the Prides reserve team and she turned it down.”

“It's a lot of a mess,” Molly confirmed. “The lineup is almost all former reserve players from four different teams, so you can imagine how well they're meshing so far. They need help but the coach hasn't a clue what he's about. I have a lot of ideas but he won't listen to me. You know Riordan Fitzroy is our coach now?”

He nodded.

“I offered to help arrange the training schedule and he refused point blank to even consider my suggestions. He accused me of micromanaging the team, can you believe that?” Molly could feel her cheeks growing red with her rising temper and wished for the millionth time that she didn't flush whenever she got angry. Stupid ginger complexion.

Hilarion made a sympathetic face, which Molly knew he often did when he didn't have anything useful to contribute. She tried to stifle a pang of irritation. It wasn't his fault he wasn't a strategic genius. He had a gift for Seeking but no head for dealing with people. He and Lucy were both loners.

“Fitz went drinking with me once after a game, a few years ago,” Hilarion offered. “He seemed like a decent bloke.”

“Well, he's not a decent coach. And that was before his injury. He's different now.” She remembered the feel of his hand holding hers and the look in his eyes, but it didn't entirely erase memories of him brushing off her help as if she were useless, kicking her off the pitch this morning, or his inability to arrange a competent practice schedule. His drills might have been fine for a team running at top form, but they were far from top form.

He didn't even want anyone to see him fly a broom. Molly sighed. The old Fitz might have been fun at the pub, and he might still be a decent bloke, but the new Fitz was prickly, sensitive, and angry. And not a very good coach. That was the Fitz she had to deal with.

“Dinner!” called her mother's voice, and Hilarion perked up.

“Thanks, Hilarion,” Molly said, because he obviously wanted to leave. He was no help anyway, except as someone to listen and not spread rumours.

“Yeah. Sorry, I'm not very good at this,” he said disarmingly, and Molly immediately felt bad for being uncharitable.

“That's okay. I appreciate the sympathy.”

Their family table had been expanded to fit the new addition to their small group when Lucy had married. Before, the four of them had each had their own side, but now the square was extended, sitting Lucy and her husband on one side and Molly by herself across from them. It made Molly feel very aware of being single and nearly thirty. It was not a particularly enjoyable feeling.

Her father sat at the head of the table, as always, and smiled fondly at the lot of them. Percy Weasley was a doting (if rather pushy) father, and had recently discovered a propensity to utterly spoil his first grandchild. Molly liked to joke that this was the Weasley brother competitiveness - after all, he couldn't very well let Uncle Bill and Uncle Ron spoil their grandchildren more than he did. Her mother, Audrey, looked on this with the long-suffering patience of a saint, as she had done with virtually everything her husband did so long as Molly could remember.

Audrey was slender and had thin, greying brown hair and kind brown eyes. She had produced two daughters with extremely red curls and blue eyes, who looked far more like their father than they did her. Molly often wondered what it must be like to marry into a family with such dominant genes. You could always tell a Weasley. At fifty paces, usually.

Percy watched his wife and Lucy setting the food on the table. "Is Flora asleep already? I didn't get to hold her but a minute or two."

"She passes right out after a feed, Dad, sorry," Lucy told him cheerfully. "I put her down in the travel cot in the living room."

"Oh." Their dad looked disappointed but rallied quickly, picking up a serving spoon and heaping mashed parsnip onto his plate. "Well, plenty of time later, I suppose. Molly, how's your new job going?"

Molly managed a pleasant smile. "Just fine, Dad, thanks."

Hilarion frowned, pausing in mid-helping of pot roast. "I thought you said-"

Molly kicked him under the table, and he shut up, but it was too late. Percy zeroed in on her, looking down his long nose over the rims of his glasses.

"Now, Molly. Is something wrong? You've not even been there a month yet. Are they not appreciating your talent properly?"

Bless him for not thinking it was her fault. She smiled, this time a real one. "Not that, Dad. It's just a bit chaotic right now, with an almost entirely new team and a new coach. We're not very organized yet."

"Well, that shouldn't be a problem for you," Percy said briskly, forking up some stewed greens. "You've always been perfectly organized. Time to show off those leadership skills that made you prefect and Head Girl, I should think."

"I'm trying to." Despite much opposition from the bloody coach, who didn't seem to want anyone to lead, himself included.

"Take a more active role. If they haven't made you team captain by the time the season starts, I'll be very surprised."

"Thanks, Dad."

"I'm serious," Percy insisted. "You've always been under-appreciated in the league. I always said that when you were with the Harpies. Putting you as a reserve player. You're at least as good as my sister was, and she wasn't on the reserves."

"I'm not married to Harry Potter, though," Molly joked dryly. Saying she was as good or better than Aunt Ginny was a bit difficult to argue. Aunt Ginny had been very good in her day, but she'd played a different position. It was apples to oranges, really.

Lucy chuckled. "Maybe you should've found a famous bloke to marry, and then they would've made you a starter."

"At least you'd be married," their mother muttered.

"That didn't work for Mariah Waldman," Hilarion pointed out. "She married Riordan Fitzroy when he was a star Chaser and she was only on the reserves. She never made it off the bench. Still hasn't."

"Isn't he your coach now? Fitzroy?" asked Percy.

Molly nodded. "I don't think he had any coaching experience, though."

"Well, if he's not pulling his weight, you can show him how it's done." Percy winked at her. "Maybe he can have a few lessons, eh? Show him the Weasley way. We're good at Quidditch and good at leadership. Just look at your uncles. And your old dad."

Molly wondered how the conversation had got so out of control. She hadn't meant to talk about it this much with them. Bloody Hilarion. At least Lucy could keep her trap shut about Molly's admission that she fancied Fitz. Lucy was an excellent secret keeper. Shame her husband didn't always think ahead.

"Must we talk about sports at the dinner table?" Audrey said then, sounding more resigned than irritated. She was not a Quidditch enthusiast and often complained about discussing it nonstop. Molly privately thought this was a losing battle. They'd been discussing Quidditch in some way at every family meal since she'd made the Gryffindor team at fourteen.

"We're not talking about sport, we're talking about Molly's job," Percy objected.

Audrey rolled her eyes and diverted the conversation. "Lucy, how's your shop coming along?"

Molly ate in silence for a bit as her sister discussed the finer points of running a small bookstore with an infant daughter in tow. As much as she appreciated her father's confidence that she could get the team in shape - and she rather thought she could, at that - it wasn't possible without overriding the coach. Not that he was doing terribly well with coaching. She wanted to alter his drills every time he presented them. He wasn't bad with the Chasers, but he seemed to have no idea what to do with the Seeker or Keeper and only a rough idea that the Beaters ought to be able to aim. Having been a Chaser himself, she wasn't entirely surprised by this. A lot of them felt their position was the most valuable and therefore most worthy of focus.

Maybe she would just ignore him for her own drills and see what happened. Then maybe she'd set some new drills for Jinks, who mostly floated on his broom and napped out of eyesight in training. He needed a good swift kick in the arse. And Preece and Gittins, they both needed more direction to prop them out of their beer-swilling evenings. They'd been to six practices now with hangovers. Molly had been keeping track.

It might not be such a bad idea, actually. It was sure to royally piss off Fitz, but weighed against the possibility of winning some games, perhaps that wasn't so important. Besides, he might come around. He wouldn't sack her, because they didn't have a reserve Keeper. She doubted McCormack would let him even if he tried. Really, short of annoying a man she was attracted to, there wasn't much wrong with the plan.

And besides, she rationalized, it wasn't as if she planned to do anything about the attraction. He might make her skin tingle when he touched her, but he was pricklier than a knarl and she did not have time right now for a high-maintenance man.


Chapter 5: Drills and Defense
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 The Rowan Mansion was the most popular pub in Portree, at least for the wizarding citizens of the town. The sign on the door still said 'closed', but Fitz pushed it open anyway.

Max's pub was darkly lit as ever, warm and peaceful on the inside no matter what the weather was like. This part of Scotland got cold as all hell, but the Rowan Mansion always had a fire in the grate and a cosy air to it. Most of the décor was wooden: wood bartop, wood stools, wood benches round the tables. There were dozens of racks of antlers on the wall, mostly from non-magical creatures. Max's great-grandfather, who had founded the pub, had been a hunting enthusiast and utterly fascinated by Muggles and their ways. Max had once confided that he'd like to change the décor, but his great-grandfather had apparently put some sort of spells on the antlers to prevent their being removed by his wife, who had not been as enamoured of hunting.

Fitz took a seat at the bar and waved a hello to his friend, who was behind the bar, re-stocking kegs of locally-brewed beer under the taps.

“You're here bright and early this morning,” Max said cheerfully.

“It's not morning, Max. It's one in the afternoon. I need a drink.”

“We're not open yet, so I can't sell you a drink,” Max informed him, then pulled out a bottle of Scotch firewhiskey and poured a shot.

“That's all right, I wouldn't have paid you for it anyway,” Fitz responded, picking up the drink. He held it up so he could smell the oak and the faint smokiness of the malt. “Ever make a really stupid mistake?”

“Did you mean, my entire love life?” Max grinned at him and folded his arms across his barrel of a chest, leaning back against the bar. “What'd you do now? I heard Mariah's in town. You didn't sleep with that barracuda, did you?”

Fitz groaned. He'd nearly forgot about Mariah. His head had been completely full of thoughts of Molly, of her soft skin and the musky floral scent she wore, and how her curls fell across her cheeks. Damn, he needed to get a hold of himself before Monday. “Hell no. It's nothing to do with her.”

Word of the new line-up was bound to be all over town. The thought of the entire magical population of Portree speculating on his interactions with his ex-wife made him feel itchy all over.

“Completely different her, eh?”

Fitz downed the shot of whiskey in one swallow. “Yeah. Molly.”

“Molly Weasley? The Harpy with the mohawk?”

“The Pride with the mohawk now. Although she's been wearing it down lately.” She hadn't coloured it Prides purple yet either. She'd always kept her hair green and blonde for the colours of the Harpies when she'd played for Holyhead. Fitz hoped that didn't mean she was planning to jump ship on Portree.

Because it would utterly mess up the team and destroy any chance they had of winning if they lost her as Keeper, not because of a personal reason.

He wasn't sure Max would believe that, so he didn't mention it.

“How'd you mess up with her, then?” asked Max, shoving another keg under the bartop. He had always done this by hand, under the superstition that too much magic around alcohol soured the brew. Fitz, who had been raised by a Muggle-born mother, rather liked seeing the non-magical ways of doing things now and then.

“I wanted to get out on the field this morning and fly, and she was already there. So I made her leave.” Fitz covered his face with one hand. “I came off a complete git. She probably hates me now.”

“And you don't want her to hate you because she's on your team?”

He thought for about two seconds about lying and then gave up. Screw it, at least he could tell someone.

“And because she's really pretty,” Fitz mumbled.

Max grinned widely. "Is she, now? Och, she's known you a fortnight already, I'm sure she already thought you were an arsehole."

"Thanks, that's very encouraging. And true," Fitz admitted.

"If she's so pretty, why don't you ask her out?"

"Remember how I just said I acted like an arse in front of her?"

"Listen mate, if you're waiting for a girl who's never seen you behave like a Yeti, you're never going to get a date."

Max poured him another shot. This time Fitz just stared at it in silence, and Max went back to stocking the bar.

He didn't want Molly thinking he was a tosser, but he couldn't seem to stop being one. Around everyone, really. His temper had been sharp before the injury, but he was angry all the time since then. And now trying to feel his way through coaching with no apprenticeship to learn the ropes, well. His temper was shorter than ever.

"Preece and Gittins were here last night," Max said, and Fitz looked up.

"Were they?"

Nodding, Max grabbed another keg and hefted it. "And Beathan. Pretty sure she went home with Gittins. Drunk as lords, the pair of them."

"Huh." He hadn't expected that. Beathan MacDougald and Duff Gittins? He wondered how that was going to play out. Duff was famously a ladies' man and Beathan, since he'd known her, had been the quietest member of the team. He hoped it wasn't going to implode in his face.

Teammembers dating was rarely just a little unfortunate. It was usually at one end of the spectrum: either perfectly fine or spectacularly bad. Fitz pulled a face. This seemed unlikely to be perfectly fine. He didn't have that kind of luck.

"Having a premonition?" asked Max.

"Yeah." Fitz knocked back his shot.

*

McCormack turned up to practice Tuesday afternoon while the team was running passing and throwing drills. Fitz stepped back from his usual vantage point on the edge of the centre line of the pitch to speak with her.

"Had a spare moment, thought I'd drop by. How are things going? Honestly this time, not what we told the owners. Give me a good assessment." Meghan McCormack waited expectantly, arms crossed.

"They're not the Cannons, but they're not great either." Fitz glanced up at the team in time to see Beathan peg Gittins with the Quaffle. She was not supposed to be anywhere near him. Both of them looked angry, and he remembered what Max had said about seeing them going home together. He hoped McCormack hadn't seen. "The Beaters are all right, not at top form. Chasers need more work. Jinks is the same as ever. Keeper is the only one I'm fairly confident in, but we can't win with just a decent Keeper and halfway decent Seeker."

"Nearly two weeks before the first game, not much time left," she murmured, then looked up in time to see Gittins hit the Bludger at Beathan, probably in retaliation for whacking him with the Quaffle. The two of them flew closer, shouting at each other. McCormack looked up and scowled. "What the hell's that about?"

"I heard they went home together after a night at the pub this weekend," Fitz admitted gruffly, wishing he didn't have to say anything. "Looks like it didn't go well."

"Damn teenage nonsense. Where's your whistle? That's ridiculous." McCormack stuck two fingers in her mouth and let out an ear-splitting whistle, no magic required.

The team looked round. Most of them had been watching the scene unfold between Beathan MacDougald and Duff Gittins. Fitz caught Molly's eye and jerked his head toward the ground, and she did the same whistle-through-her-fingers that McCormack had done and pointed to the ground. He couldn't hear what she was saying, but he could see her lips moving. A few minutes later, the team was on the ground, gathering around their manager.

Meghan McCormack gave them all a stern look. It reminded Fitz uncomfortably of his Head of House, a crotchety old Arithmancy professor who'd never seemed to like any of them, and he shifted his weight even though he was technically part of the authorities and not the misbehavers.

The stern look seemed effective on everyone else as well. Even Mariah looked a bit abashed. Only Molly and Jinks seemed unaffected. Jinks he knew wasn't bothered because Jinks was never bothered by anything. Molly's reasons for looking unperturbed, he could only guess. Moral certitude? Lack of authority issues?

"What the hell was that, you two?" McCormack barked, pointing at Beathan and Duff. "You're supposed to aim at the other team, not your own. And don't say it was a drill because it was clearly some sort of revenge. You may not like each other, you might've had a bad roll in the sheets-"

Duff had the grace to look embarrassed. Beathan was bright red.

"-but you'll damn well keep it professional on the field. And for God's sake, everyone keep their trousers on, all right?" McCormack shook her head at them all, then stalked off the field, muttering and cursing under her breath.

Fitz sighed and turned to the lot of them. "You heard her. Keep your pants on if you can't keep it together afterwards. Now get back to work."

The team dispersed. Beathan, still blushing fiercely, was the first one back in the air. Fitz kicked the grass when no one was looking. Bloody ridiculous, honestly. He shouldn't have to tell anyone to keep their knickers on. This was not the job he'd signed up for, dammit.

In fairness, keeping the players on track was his job, and if that included keeping them from hopping into bed together, he supposed he'd have to get used to it. His eyes tracked Molly without intending to. She was floating in front of the centre ring, her red hair braided tight to her scalp, corralling her unruly curls. Her trousers under the purple Prides robes were black and skin-tight, as always.

As if she felt his eyes on her, she looked down straight at him, locking eyes. Fitz turned quickly to the rest of the team, watching the Chasers. Beathan was ignoring the Beaters now, and Mackie and Whittlemore were flying loops together, sweeping figure eights through the air. Beathan caught up and they split in opposite directions.

Eventually Fitz decided the Chasers were doing well enough with what he'd told them to do, and he tried to spot both Beaters. Neither was where they should be. At first he thought they were avoiding Beathan, but after watching them a while he realized they were actually flying with purpose, in an attack pattern.

He hadn't set them any drills for attacks.

Dammit, he thought, still watching them. They were doing their own thing instead of what he'd told them. They seemed to be working well together, but he didn't want them ignoring instructions. A twinge of remorse tugged at him. Had he been paying too much attention to the Chasers, so that the Beaters had thought up something on their own to stay on track? Even if that were true, they should have said something to him, respected his authority as coach. He let the lot of them finish out another hour in the air, then blew his whistle to call them all down.

Molly was first down, followed by the three Chasers and the trio of reservists. Jinks came down shortly after, and Gittins and Preece last. They were trying to look nonchalant.

Fitz stared them down, and eventually Preece's chin went up, a small token of defiance.

"What the hell did you think you were doing up there? You had your instructions for the day. You don't get to do whatever you bloody well want up there, swanning about on your brooms like a pair of ballerinas."

Gittins spoke up first. "Seemed a good use of our time."

Fitz grunted. "I'll be the judge of what's a good use of your damn time. Go get cleaned up, all of you, and be back here tomorrow at seven sharp. Seven, Jinks," he added, pointing at the Seeker.

The lot of them headed off for the locker room, and he heard Sid Whittlemore saying as they walked off, "Two arse-chewings in one day. Is that a record for the Prides or business as usual?"

Probably both, thought Fitz sourly.

As it turned out, it seemed arse-chewings were going to be business as usual after all. Friday afternoon found Fitz in his usual spot on the ground, hands on his hips and simmering slowly.

The damn Beaters were at it again. Whatever they were doing up there, it wasn't what he'd told them to do.

Yelling at them had had no effect. They lacked respect for their coach. He wanted to punch each of them in the jaw, but he knew that wouldn't solve anything – though since Gittins was from Falmouth, he probably would feel right at home with some good old-fashioned violence – so Fitz tried to breathe through it until he could speak to them without hitting anyone.

And that was when he saw it.

Jinks was flying a pattern over the top of the pitch, obviously searching for the Snitch.

For a moment, Fitz forgot his rage at the disobedient Beaters and stared up at the Seeker in shock. Jinks hadn't done a damned thing in a training session the entire time Fitz had been in Portree, except nap on his broom at what he thought was high enough elevation to be out of sight. Flying a search pattern was completely out of character for him.

Fitz's eyes narrowed. He could buy that Gittins and Preece had felt neglected, decided to go rogue and set their own training, but Jinks? Jinks was lazier than a cat. Fitz hadn't managed to motivate him to actually practice yet. Neither had Rodan when he'd been here. Jinks was impervious to bribery and threats of bodily harm, and nothing short of McCormack threatening to sack him would get him to work. Since McCormack hadn't been here to threaten him...

He looked over at Molly suspiciously. She was not looking at him, in mid-save of a penalty throw from Zara Mackie, but as soon as she'd tossed the Quaffle back to Sid, she glanced up at Jinks. Fitz was sure he saw an expression of satisfaction in her blue eyes.

Goddammit. She'd gone behind his back and changed the training schedule, undermining his authority and making him look like an idiot in front of the team. She was trying to take over coaching from him, his one purpose with the Prides. Hell, his one purpose in life right now.

Seething with rage, he blew his whistle hard and waved them all down. It was half an hour early, so they seemed a bit surprised, but relieved at the respite. He could see their expressions change as they got close enough for a good look at his face. One by one they landed, gathering round. Molly didn't look at all frightened, though she was intelligent enough to know she was probably caught. She stood there calmly next to Beathan, supremely unconcerned.

Fitz almost choked on his rage and pointed toward the locker rooms. They all trooped off, and he heard Duff mutter to Declan Preece.

"Busted."

This time, Fitz didn't just kick his unused broom away. He grabbed it by the handle and slammed it into the earth. The handle gave with a sharp crack and a small puff of red sparks. It wasn't as satisfying as he needed it to be. He stared at the now useless broom in silence for a few moments before stalking off the field, tossing it in a rubbish bin as he left.

Ten minutes later, he was standing outside the locker room. There was not enough fear coming from inside to cool him off. If anything, they all seemed to have expected this. No one volunteered Molly for the slaughter, but no one was protecting her, either.

Fitz stuck his head inside. "Weasley. A word."

Molly was still in her Quidditch robes, sitting on the purple velvet sofa with her long legs stretched out in front of her. She rose gracefully, her face expressionless, and followed him into the hall.

Fitz closed the door behind them and turned to face Molly. She had crossed her arms in front of her chest in an unconscious defensive posture.

"Did you countermand my drills?" he demanded without prelude.

"Your drills weren't working," she informed him evenly. "Someone had to do something. The Beaters weren't improving. Now they are. And Jinks actually did something up there."

"You have no authority to set drills for them or anyone else. You'll damn well follow instructions or you can find another job."

It was an empty threat and they both knew it. There was no reserve Keeper, and only a week left to the official start of the season. McCormack would sooner chew off her own arm than give Molly the sack. To her credit, Molly didn't point this out.

"Your drills are ineffective. They might be fine if we'd been playing together for ages, but we're all new at working together and we're behind-"

"I'll be the judge of whether the drills are working," he interrupted her, his voice rising on the words. "I'm the damn coach here, not you!"

"Then act like it," Molly snapped. "Get on your broom and see what's going on, like every other damn coach in the league. If you didn't see it wasn't working your way, it's because you spent all your time standing a hundred feet below us."

"I can see just fine. My eyesight is perfect. I saw you trying to take over the damn team today-"

"We've been running my drills all week!” she shouted, apparently pushed beyond her ability to stay calm. Her eyes were flashing blue fire at him, and she poked him in the chest with one finger. “If you'd get on your damn broom and get up there, you'd have noticed before!”

Fitz opened his mouth to retort, but the door swung open behind him, drawing him up short. He and Molly stepped back, standing to either side of the door, and waited silently while the team filed past them. It was obvious from the uncomfortable silence that the team had heard everything they'd said. Embarrassment roiled up, blending with the anger, and Fitz looked away from Molly.

He could feel her eyes on him. The silence was louder than her words had been, and it seemed to press on his vocal cords, on his heart. She was right, he should've been on his broom. He hadn't noticed how long they'd been following her lead instead of his. And he hadn't been paying enough attention to the rest of the team, too focused on the Chasers, where he felt more secure with training. He knew what to do with them. The rest of the team he could only guess at.

The anger boiled over and evaporated, leaving a thin thread of shame behind. Hell, he thought miserably. He was a worse coach than senile old Rodan.

After a few moments of oppressive silence, Molly turned on her heel and walked away.

*

An hour after the team had left the pitch, Fitz knocked on McCormack's open office door. "You wanted to see me?"

She looked up briefly and waved him in. As soon as he sat down, she handed over a sheet of parchment. "Game schedule."

Fitz glanced at it and saw with horror that their first game was against Montrose. His old team. He wasn't ready to see them yet. His team didn't respect him as a coach. Hell, he didn't respect himself as a coach either. And they sure as hell weren't ready to take on the Magpies, one of the top teams in the league.

"I'm choosing the team captain," McCormack went on, oblivious to his distress. "Spoke to the players. Three for Mackie, five for Weasley."

"Weasley's a better choice," Fitz said, keeping his voice carefully neutral. "Mackie can lead the Chasers, but Weasley leads everyone."

"That's what I thought," McCormack agreed. "I'm surprised to hear you say it though, after this week. From what I've heard, you've butted heads with her pretty hard."

Fitz's stomach flipped. She already knew about the argument outside the locker room?

Before he could muster a defense, McCormack said gruffly, "Pull your head out of your arse, Riordan. We don't have much time, and I want to win this season. Get your act together so you can make the rest of them get theirs together. And let Weasley know she's team captain now."

He left in silence, walking quickly out of the suite of offices in the base of the pitch, down the gold-painted corridors and outside to the violently purple exterior of the building, where he stopped and breathed again. His stomach was still churning, and he drew a long, shaky breath.

A drink. A drink was probably in order. But he didn't move to Apparate to Max's pub and the friendly oblivion of firewhisky.

He ought to tender his resignation, but that would leave the team with no one to coach. Even an incompetent one must be better than no coach at all, or McCormack wouldn't have hesitated to give him the sack as she'd done to Rodan. She still seemed to see something in Fitz that he did not.

He thought over the past week. It had been disastrous for him, but when he tried to look at the team objectively - head out of his arse, he thought wryly - he knew there was some improvement to the Beaters since they'd been running Molly's drills in the afternoons. And she'd got Jinks to actually work. Molly saw things differently than he did, that was clear. He thought he knew her well enough to know she wanted to win as badly as McCormack did. She'd been trying to help the team, even if it had been by undermining him.

Dammit, he thought. He was going to get his act together.

Fitz turned over his shoulder, feeling his way into the crushing darkness with his destination firmly in mind.

*

Molly lay stretched out on her red sofa, a glass in hand. The pleasantly sour taste of vodka gimlet wasn't helping, though. Her brain was still in just as much turmoil as it had been since she'd left the pitch earlier, after a screaming match that the entire team had overheard.

She balanced the cup on her abdomen, breathing carefully so as not to dislodge it, and closed her eyes, throwing one arm over her head.

Maybe she shouldn't have left Holyhead. She wasn't going back, though. It was too late to change her mind; she'd have to stick out the end of the season, do her best to play well. If they lost the season, her career would be shot. The thought that she'd torpedoed her career when she took a chance with the Prides gave her a pulsing headache.

And bloody Fitz made her want to hit someone. Preferably him. Screaming at her in the corridor outside the locker room as if she were twelve... Hmph. She had known he'd be angry if he noticed Duff and Declan running her drills, and when she'd got Jinks to actually Seek during practice, but she still thought it had been worth it. The fact it had taken so long for him to notice only proved her right, anyway.

Molly was used to being right. It was a hollow victory this time, though.

A knock sounded at her door, and Molly lifted the cup from her stomach and took a drink before getting up to answer it.

She nearly slammed the door in his face when she saw who was on the other side.

"Go away," she told him. "You don't want to hear what I have to say to you."

"McCormack made you team captain," Fitz told her.

Molly gaped at him. That had been the last thing she'd expected him to say to her, given that the last time they'd spoken had been the blowout fight.

He offered a small smile. "Congratulations."

"Thanks." She rallied then. "Bugger off now, why don't you."

"Can we talk?"

"I don't know," she returned. "Can we? Sure as hell didn't seem like it."

"Would it help if I admitted I need your help?"

Okay, that was the last thing she'd expected him to say. Speechless, Molly motioned him inside.

Fitz sat in the black leather armchair Molly normally favoured, and she went back to her seat on the sofa. He nodded to her glass, and asked ruefully, "Don't suppose you've got another of those somewhere, have you?"

Unnerved by the entire situation, Molly blushed. "Sorry, yes. I should've offered you a drink. I'm a better hostess normally. What would you like?"

"Whatever you're drinking is fine."

Molly returned a moment later with another vodka gimlet, and he drank gratefully. "I had a meeting with McCormack," he told her. "Got the game schedule. We're up against the Magpies first."

"We aren't ready," Molly said bluntly.

"I know. How ready d'you think we can be in a week? Cause that's all we've got." He ran a hand through his hair, and she saw lines of stress and fatigue around his eyes.

He'd said he needed her help and was actually asking her opinion. Earlier today he'd shouted at her in front of everyone because she'd helped, admittedly against his wishes. It was such an abrupt about-face that Molly wasn't sure what to make of it.

"This is what I was going to have us do next week," he went on, pulling a sheet of parchment from his pocket.

Molly scooted to the end of the couch, closer to him, and took the list wordlessly, looking over his brief and sketchy notes. Before she'd finished reading, he asked her, "Got any suggestions?" and sat back in the armchair, sipping his drink.

She picked up a pencil from the coffee table, but then paused. "Where did this come from? Suddenly you want me helping set the training? Because McCormack made me team captain now?"

"Because McCormack suggested that I pull it together." He rumpled his hair again. She was starting to recognize it as a gesture of embarrassment. He didn't like admitting he was wrong, or asking for help. She didn't much either, so she understood it when she saw it in someone else. He hadn't apologized as such, but she knew a peace offering when she saw one.

Molly jotted down some additions to his outline, filling in more for the Chasers and changing his Beater drills altogether. Preece and Gittins could aim; it was working in tandem when not drunk that eluded them. And Jinks needed more specifics than what Fitz had for him.

When she was finished writing, she handed the sheet back to him silently. He'd finished his drink, and set the glass down on her coffee table. They stared at each other for a moment, then Fitz looked down at what she'd written. She waited for him to comment, and eventually he said, "You really think this will help Preece and Gittins?"

"Yes. And you're not using Waldman to best advantage when she plays. She's better than you think she is."

"She's not as good as she thinks she is."

"Neither is Carmichael, but you're not letting that stop him. Forget she's your ex-wife and think of her as a reserve Chaser only."

"Easier said than done. How'd you get Jinks to actually practice his Seeking?" Fitz asked with grudging admiration.

She paused, wondering if she really ought to tell him. She wasn't embarrassed; it had worked. Jinks's buttons had been easy enough to find and push. Preece and Gittins hadn't even needed a push. They'd done as ordered, and she'd been a bit surprised when they hadn't sold her out the first time they'd been caught not following Fitz's orders and been chewed out. Jinks was much lazier. He'd needed a reason to follow orders. "I told him to fall in line or I'd make sure every woman in town thought he had something virulent and contagious."

Fitz grinned briefly at her tactics. "Nice."

She studied him, and his grin faded. Molly wished he would smile more, and then frowned at herself. Don't soften. "You haven't done right by him. He could be better if you pushed him."

"I didn't know. He was the best one out of the old team. I don't know exactly how to coach the Seeker and Beaters, really." It seemed to cost him a lot to admit that.

"Didn't you watch any old training footage for ideas? Holyhead's got loads, Portree must have a vault of reels somewhere."

Fitz looked surprised. "Do they? How d'you know?"

Molly sighed. She'd never been interested in coaching as a post-professional future, but she had spent enough time on the bench at the Harpies pitch to know what the job entailed. Evidently the star players didn't need to bother with that. Somehow she wasn't surprised. At Holyhead, the only people who'd watched the old training and games reels had been the coach, herself, and occasionally her aunt Ginny, who was a sports journalist now and liked to visit her old team. "Just go look. There should be records from before."

"Before Rodan went senile? He was good a long time ago. Might be nice to see his old planning notes, if he kept them. Thanks." He was silent a moment, and then asked, "Have we got anything like a chance?"

"Against Montrose? No. They're more prepared, more cohesive as a team. We need another month of training at the least. But we don't have it, so we'll have to cross our fingers and hope we don't show too badly against them. And bloody well practice better until then."

He nodded, and she realized he was well aware of their chances against his old team. "That's not what I meant," he said quietly.

Molly stared at him, and suddenly he was too close and the air was too hot. She couldn't draw a full breath. His eyes locked with hers, the brown depths laced with the pain that never really went away, and a spark of something else. She wondered if that spark was in her own eyes too.

"McCormack said to keep it professional," she managed eventually.

Fitz nodded. "Yeah. Professional."

It occurred to her that she should have said no because he was an arse, because he didn't know how to handle the team or his anger or his injury, because he'd shouted at her and not apologized. She wondered why she hadn't thought of that. Instead she'd only thought of the electric current that had passed between them when he'd held her hand the last time he'd been in her flat.

"It's late, and I'm an arse," Fitz said so artlessly that Molly let out a snort of laughter despite herself. "I'll go." He rolled up the parchment and saluted her with it. "Thanks, Madame Captain."

"You can still call me Molly," she told him grudgingly. "But it doesn't mean I forgive you yet."

"No," he agreed, his face growing serious. "Don't forgive me until I deserve it."

She went to bed still thinking about his brief smiles. He should smile more often. She wished he'd show the team a little more of the side of him she sometimes saw, when he wasn't angry and shouting and setting useless drills to waste everyone's time. Sometimes he seemed to be the old Fitz, the one Hilarion had said was a decent bloke and fun at the pub.

Shame that wasn't what the team saw.


Chapter 6: Magpies and Mistakes
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 Fitz beat Molly to the pitch Monday morning. Once again he was accompanied by Jinks, who looked half asleep, leaning on his broom and sucking down coffee from a bright purple travel mug bearing the Prides logo.

Molly wasn't sure what to say to him, and since Jinks was there she wasn't sure she ought to say anything at all. Fitz smiled at her, and she smiled back, still feeling uncertain. She noted with approval that he had a new broom. It wasn't a racing broom but it was professional-level. If Molly recalled correctly from Which Broomstick, it was one with a steering charm that was renowned for its sensitivity. He'd picked a good one for his injured shoulder.

The team began to arrive, starting with Zara and Beathan, and as the rest of them trickled in, Molly stood to one side of the clump of players. It occurred to her that while she was friendly with her entire team, she didn't have a close friend among them yet. Beathan had latched onto Zara, and Sid was usually with them. The Beaters were practically inseparable by now, and the trio of reserve players were always together as well. She and Jinks, as the players whose position did not have a partner, were solo more often than not. Factions, Molly thought with a bit of unease. She didn't like factions within a team. Holyhead had been more cohesive. The Prides weren't even close to that point yet.

Once the team had gathered, Fitz cleared his throat and they all fell silent.

“Morning, all. I have a quick announcement and then we're getting to work. McCormack and I discussed the matter and have selected Molly Weasley for team captain."”

Declan and Duff clapped, and the rest of them joined in with various levels of enthusiasm. Zara had a sour look on her face; Molly was well aware that she'd wanted to be captain as well. Mariah Waldman didn't seem too enthusiastic either, but Molly didn't know how to interpret that, as she hadn't had any run-ins with the woman that might make her harbour any dislike.

“Congratulations, Molly,” Fitz said then, and she looked over to see him looking directly at her with a small smile, more emotion than he had shown in front of the team (barring anger) since they'd begun training. She smiled back at him, but he looked away then, announcing the training schedule for the week.

“This is our last week before the season starts. Our first game is Saturday, against the Montrose Magpies. They're a tough team to beat, and we've got a lot of work ahead of us this week. Expect late hours through Thursday. Friday afternoon you'll have off to rest up. Now, for today...”

Molly tuned out after that. She already had the week's schedule memorized, since she'd helped to write the thing in the first place, so she let his voice wash over her without sinking in as he explained it to the rest of the team. He hasn't shaved that morning, and the stubble on his cheeks was dark. She wondered if it felt as rough as it looked. It gave him a scruffy sort of bad-boy look that suited him well.

He really was very fit, she thought on a silent sigh of appreciation. She wanted to run her fingertips over the stubble and into his dark, wavy hair and hear his voice go deeper the way it had when he'd given her that intense look and asked for a raincheck, or told her not to forgive him when he didn't deserve it.

McCormack had said to keep it professional. Molly wasn't feeling very professional toward Fitz at the moment. It had been a while since she'd had a boyfriend, not since that accordionist friend of her cousin's, and she was remembering all the reasons she liked keeping a man around.

They broke for training then, and Molly had to refocus on her job. Professional, she reminded herself as she kicked off the ground, aiming her broom toward the hoops.

Once the team was up in the air, starting their drills, Molly glanced down and saw Fitz on his broom, actually getting into the air. She smiled proudly at that; it was about goddamn time.

Six hours later, when they finally broke for lunch, she was no longer smiling. She'd known the training would be gruelling when she'd helped set the week's schedule, but it didn't make her any less wrung out to have known it was coming. Fitz had barked orders the entire time, shouting at everyone and making corrections. He seemed to know what he was talking about when he was yelling at the Beaters, and Molly wondered if he'd actually gone and watched the training films as she'd suggested. After lunch was another six hours of hard work, but she thought through the fog of exhaustion that there was some improvement in the team.

The rest of the week went about the same as that first day. The team arrived at dawn, worked hard through lunch, and then came back for more torture until it was dark outside, and all the while Fitz shouted at them, his tirades ever more harshly worded as the week wore on. On Tuesday evening he got into a shouting match with Sid over the way he threw the Quaffle, and on Wednesday he drove Beathan to tears when she let the Quaffle fall, then spent ten minutes yelling at Jinks for not catching the Snitch fast enough.

Though she was glad he was up in the air and more involved with the team's training, Molly wanted to whack him over the head with her broom for not dealing better with what was obviously fears over facing his old team. They hadn't spoken since that night he'd come by her flat, only a few words about training while they were both on the pitch. She could see the stress over facing his old team written all over his face, but she didn't think he'd want to talk about it. She didn't have the energy for that kind of conversation anyway. By the time the long days of training were over, all she wanted was to crawl in bed and sleep for days.

The original Prides members seemed to take the long days the hardest, since they hadn't come from other teams and had got used to the half-assed schedule that their senile old coach had barely managed, but even the players from teams who'd set a heavy schedule themselves were dead on their feet by the time Thursday afternoon rolled around.

“Ye gods, I'm bloody exhausted,” Duff muttered as the team trudged off to the locker room. “Half tempted not to come back after lunch.”

“You better not abandon me,” Declan told him. “I don't want to be out there with the taskmaster alone. When the hell'd he get so bloody tough?”

Molly, walking right behind them, murmured, “He was always tough,” but they didn't seem to hear her.

Zara and Sid collapsed onto the couch in the locker room, and Mariah stretched out on a bench across from them. Molly did her best to remain upright, sitting down on the bench in front of her locker and stripping off her leather gloves. Her fingers were numb from blocking the Quaffle so many times. Her legs felt rubbery, and she tried to shake them out but only managed a weak jiggle.

“He's been a bit of a git,” noted Deimos Flint, their reserve Beater. “Seemed nicer at the start of the training season, didn't he?”

“Oh, it's just nerves,” Mariah said airily, still lying on her back on the bench. “He's always this way when the pressure starts getting to him. Turns into a screaming arsehole. You should've seen him the week before our wedding. I nearly called it off.”

No one seemed impressed by this pronouncement. The entire team was feeling the pressure, Molly thought. She gave Mariah a surreptitious look of distaste. She didn't care for the way Mariah talked about Fitz; her insights to his character were a little too personal to share with the team. It gave Molly an uncomfortable feeling to hear it.

Quidditch teams always abused the coach good-naturedly behind his or her back. But the Prides were so new, they lacked the affection that ought to be behind the teasing. Having the coach's ex-wife taking part didn't help matters. In fairness, they weren't wrong: Fitz really had been acting like a screaming arsehole all week.

“Well then he must get a case of nerves pretty often,” quipped Sid. “Not sure I'd recognize him any more if he weren't red-faced and shouting about what an idiot I am.”

“Maybe it's not nerves,” came Beathan's quiet voice from the gold-upholstered chair in the corner of the room. She'd pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, curled into a tight ball on the chair with her chin resting on her knees. “Maybe it's because he doesn't think we're any good.”

There was a general round of murmurs of assent at this statement, and Molly's heart sank. They all agreed, that much was obvious. Bloody men and their inability to deal with their emotions appropriately.

She waited until everyone was distracted with a new subject before slipping out.

Fitz's office was at the end of the hallway, and he'd left the door ajar. Molly pushed it open and found him sitting behind his desk, his head resting on the chair as he stared at the ceiling. He looked up as she closed the door behind her.

“We need to talk,” she said, and his expression grew wary.

“I hate when people say that,” he muttered.

Molly ignored that comment. “You're nervous about playing the Magpies on Saturday, and you're taking it out on the team.”

He bristled. “I am not-”

“Yes, you are, and you know it. You've been a complete arse all week.”

Fitz put his face in his hands. “I know,” he mumbled.

He had caved quicker than she'd expected, which in her opinion confirmed that he really did know what he'd been doing. “This is the last week. The plan we made for training is going to have to be enough, because there's nothing more we can do.”

“I know, I know.” He sat back, blowing out a long breath. “I'm just nervous about going to Montrose. I had hoped we'd play someone else first. Anyone else.”

“Have to play the cards you're dealt.” She leaned against the doorframe and crossed her arms over her chest. “Breathe through it. You have to keep the team together. You're coach. They think you don't have any faith in them as a team.”

He gave her a look that clearly said they weren't entirely wrong.

Molly arched an eyebrow. “Even if you don't, it's your job to make them believe you do.”

“Dammit. All right, I promise not to shout at them tomorrow.”

She nodded. “I invited the team over to my place tomorrow night to let off some steam before the game. It's been a long week.”

“Good idea.” Fitz sat back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair. “Just don't let them get too drunk. No hangovers for Saturday.”

“You should come too,” Molly suggested.

He frowned a bit, and she went on, “It would do you good to relax a bit before the game, too.”

“I don't know if that's a good idea.”

“At least stop by and be social for a bit. So they know you don't think they're completely hopeless.”

“I don't think that,” he said quickly, and the way he was looking at her made her think he might not be talking only about the team.

“Come by my flat tomorrow night and have a drink, then.”

Fitz nodded slowly. “All right.”

*

The party was in full swing when he arrived. Fitz had deliberately waited until he was fairly sure they'd all be there before he'd turned up. He'd have one drink, remind them all to practice moderation so they weren't completely useless on the field tomorrow, and then he'd leave.

He was afraid if he had more than one drink around Molly, he might do something stupid.

She opened the door almost as soon as he knocked, and he glanced down at her clothes without intending to. Her dress was black, leather, and tight enough to reveal every line of her body, the short skirt showing her mile-long legs above black patent leather stilettos. Fitz swallowed.

Now he really wanted to do something stupid.

Molly grabbed his arm and pulled him inside, seeming to realize he was a bit stunned and wasn't going to move on his own power, and he caught her scent as he passed, brushing up against her. Her hair was spiked up in the familiar mohawk, but now it was dyed in the purple and gold of Portree. Seeing this bit of team spirit made him smile.

“Nice hair,” he said, trying to get a hold of himself. It was hard to focus on anything but that dress and those legs.

Molly patted the close-cropped hair on the sides of her head, giving him a cheery smile. “Game time. I reckoned it was time to update my 'do. What do you want to drink?”

Her. He couldn't say that, though, she'd probably kick him with her stilettos. “Whatever that was you made me the other day.”

“Vodka gimlet, coming right up.”

She abandoned him to make his drink, and Fitz made his way into the living area of her flat, where half the team was gathered around the coffee table, drinks and crisps scattered around the table and cards in their hands. He leaned against the arm or the couch and watched while Sid Whittlemore won a round of poker, Texas Hold 'Em style. There was a huge round of cheers when the last of Sid's opponents folded.

“Ha! Hand it over,” Sid crowed, holding out a hand to Bram Carmichael.

Carmichael groaned and pulled a key out of his pocket. “Be good to her, all right?”

“What the hell are you gambling?” Fitz asked, trying not to grin at them.

“My baby,” Carmichael said mournfully.

Sid kissed the key. “My baby now.”

“A 1965 Royal Enfield Crusader,” Carmichael added. “I bought her when I first got hired to to the Kestrels. Cherry red and cherry condition.” He looked as if his dog had just died. Fitz half-expected him to burst into tears.

“This is a vehicle of some kind?” Fitz asked, directing this at Zara, who nodded.

“Motorcycle.”

“Ah.”

Molly was back, handing him a glass, and Fitz tried not to stare at her in front of the team. No one seemed to notice, though, because Molly had just seen the key in Sid's hand.

“I said cash in hand, no getting too deep,” she told them sternly, hands on her hips now. “Hand it back, Sid.”

“I won fair and square!”

“I don't care, I said no deep play in my house. Play that hand over with whatever money you have on you, and don't make me set a bet limit on you lot. This isn't a bloody casino.”

Sid groaned and tossed the key back to Carmichael. Fitz left her to finish policing the team. She was stricter than a Las Vegas pit boss, apparently, and just as able to command obedience. Making her captain had been a damn good decision, he thought with a chuckle.

Half an hour of meaningless chit-chat with the team later, Fitz wasn't sure he was actually accomplishing anything. They were a little stiff with him, probably because he'd spent most of the week screaming at them for being effing morons. He didn't know how to apologize for it without losing some of his authority as their coach, and went for his usual pretending-nothing-happened. It wasn't working very well.

He escaped into Molly's bedroom for a breather. She was still hovering around the gambling den that was her living room and didn't see him, so he felt free to relax and do some snooping.

Her bedroom was as spare and modern as the rest of her flat, done in shades of cream and black. The bed was made up with military precision, the black bedding smooth as ice, several pillows stacked against the cream twill upholstered headboard. A black leather club chair sat in one corner, with a pile of books on a glass and steel table beside it. There was a tall mirror in a black enamelled frame on a door that must be her closet, and another door that led to her private bathroom, this one open. He peeked inside.

There was a claw-foot tub, gleaming a shiny black down to the tips of its clawed toes. It had to be custom; he'd never seen a black claw-foot tub before. An image of Molly in the tub came to his mind and he had to close the door to distract himself.

Still trying to wipe the image of Molly in her black bathtub from his mind, he opened the closet door and stepped inside.

There was patterned red tape encircling the closet rod, marking a space that was filled with red hangers. All of them held trousers. He blinked and looked further. Blue for skirts. Purple for shirts and vests. Green for dresses. The hangers were spaced neatly in their section of the rod, all a precise distance apart.

Fitz was visited with an almost overpowering desire to see it all smushed against one end of the closet rod.

“What are you doing in here?” demanded Molly from behind him.

He turned and found her standing in the doorway, her arms crossed tightly so that her breasts swelled above the neckline of her skintight black dress. His mouth went dry, but he managed to ask, “Does your closet always look this way?”

She glanced around warily. “How do you mean?”

He gestured wordlessly at the colour-coding.

She understood immediately, and if anything looked even more defensive. “I like things neat, all right?”

“What else do you keep colour-coded?” he asked, giving her a sly grin, unable to hold in the curiosity.

To his delight, her face flushed, and she drew in a squeaky breath. “Get out of my closet!”

“I saw your bathtub,” he said as he slid past her, out of the closet. “Very sexy.”

Molly shut the door behind her, leaning back against the mirror. “Shut up. Why are you skulking around in my room?”

“Why d'you think? I didn't look at your underwear, if that's what you're worried about.”

This time instead of blushing, her eyes narrowed. “Of course you didn't. I don't wear any.”

“Jesus Christ.” He couldn't stop himself from looking down at her hips, hoping for sudden onset x-ray vision.

But she was already shooing him out of her room. “If you're not going to make nice with the team, then go home. Get some sleep before the game.”

He didn't want to think about tomorrow's game. He wanted to think about her comment about not wearing underwear. “Molly-”

They were in earshot of the team now, though, so he didn't finish his remark. No one seemed sad to see him go, but Molly's eyes were sparkling as she closed the door on him.

At least she still liked him, even if none of the rest of them did.

*

The morning air seemed to have ice in it when Molly arrived at the Montrose Magpies' pitch with the rest of the Prides. Everyone seemed to have a case of nerves, despite the get-together Molly had hosted the previous night, intending to help the team relax. It hadn't even helped her relax, though she was tempted to blame that on finding Fitz snooping around in her closet. That had been many things - provoking, a little titillating - but not relaxing.

“Saints above us,” murmured Jinks as they trooped out to the tunnel leading to the field. They would fly out from here and make a loop of the pitch to greet the fans before the game began. Molly wasn't expecting a warm reception from Montrose, and wished their first game had been a home field game.

The three reserve players hung back, since they weren't to take the field unless someone was injured. No introductory loop for them. Most of the Prides current starting lineup was used to hanging back, Molly included. This would be her first time flying out onto the field as a starring player. Her stomach turned over and she swallowed hard.

Everyone was shuffling nervously, even the three original Prides who'd been starters from the get-go. Molly could just hear the announcers talking about the game, about the rosters of each team and what the fans could expect from them. She didn't want to hear the speculation on her new team and tried to tune it out.

“Just start already,” Zara muttered. She was standing in front of Molly, shifting her weight back and forth.

Molly closed her eyes. Everything felt wrong. It had felt wrong ever since she'd had her first cup of coffee. She had a bad feeling about today.

After what felt like only moments, and before Molly felt ready, the whistle sounded and they were on their brooms, flying out onto the pitch. The crowds were screaming; it didn't sound like cheers, and Molly tried to smile and wave at them. She hoped she didn't look as nervous as she felt.

They circled the field once, then fell into position. The Magpies were already on the field, waiting, and as soon as Molly took her position in front of the centre ring, the Quaffle was released and the game began.

She missed the first throw, and the Magpies scored. It was like a cascade after that: Zara dropped the Quaffle, and next thing Molly knew the Magpies had scored again, and then twice more. Beathan managed to put the Quaffle through the left hoop, scoring ten points for the Prides, but it wasn't long before Montrose had regained possession of the Quaffle.

The game was mercifully short, with the Magpies scoring seventeen goals to the Prides' ten, and the Montrose Seeker ended the game by grabbing the Snitch right out from under Jinks' nose an hour and a half into play. Molly's stomach felt like a ball of lead as they left the field, defeated in their first game. The Prides returned to the guest locker room of the Magpies' stadium in dejection.

No one had performed to the best of their ability, or even to a quarter of the best of their ability. Losing so spectacularly to Montrose was almost unsurprising, given how she'd felt all day, but still completely humiliating.

Her first game as a starting Keeper and she'd totally mucked it up. Molly wanted to kick someone, and settled for kicking her locker shut.

The Prides sat in silence in the locker room for nearly ten minutes, staring at their feet, before Jinks finally hauled himself upright.

“Screw it,” he said. “I'm going to go get drunk.”

“Can we just start this day over, please?” Zara moaned, putting her head in her hands.

“I think I threw up a little when Flock caught the Snitch,” said Beathan, and she did look a little green around the gills.

“Someone Obliviate me and put me out of my misery.” Sid slid off the bench to the floor, stretching his legs out in front of him. “I feel like I got run over by a truck. Pretty sure that Bludger in the second half broke one of my ribs.”

“I knew it was going to be like this.” Declan kicked his Beater's bat away. “I need to drink until I forget about today.”

“You'd think you'd be used to it,” Sid said from his spot on the floor, glancing up at Declan. “Didn't you lot lose every game except the Cannons last year?”

Declan gave him an ugly look. “Thanks for reminding me. Now you're a loser, too. Joined the loser team.”

“Shut up, Preece,” Zara said loudly.

The three reserve players, who looked pristine next to the sweaty starting line-up, looked just as depressed as the rest of the team. None of them had played today, but apparently they were taking the loss personally anyway, because Mariah Waldman piped up, “Our training was crap. Those schedules were worthless. We might've done better if-”

“Training can only go so far,” Molly snapped. “If the team doesn't put in the effort-”

Zara bristled at that. “I put in plenty of effort. You and your damn training schedule-”

“It was Fitzroy's schedule,” Declan put in. “If he hadn't-”

“Weasley set the schedule, everyone knows it. Thinks she's running the damn team-”

“Oh, shut up, Mariah,” Molly said angrily.

Things degenerated from there. Declan and Duff sided with each other, of course, blaming Fitz for the day's loss. Zara must have still been stinging from not being made captain, because she seemed happy to swing her weight behind Mariah Waldman's accusations against Molly. Sid and Bram were with Zara, and Deimos Flint threw his weight behind his fellow Beaters. Beathan put her hands over her ears as the shouting got worse, but she wasn't speaking up in defense of either her captain or her coach.

Molly was on her feet, shouting back at Zara and Mariah, when the door banged open. Fitz stood there, scowling at them.

“What the hell's going on in here? They can probably hear you all the way in the stands.”

“Oh, screw you, too,” Zara said, and shoved past him and out into the hall. Sid and Beathan, still in their robes, followed behind her, with Bram and Mariah in their wake. Mariah did not look Fitz in the eye as she passed him.

The Beaters gathered up their bats before leaving, but none of them would look directly at Fitz. Jinks only shook his head.

“I'm going home to drink myself into a stupor,” he informed Molly and Fitz. “Don't wake me on Monday, I'm not coming to practice.”

Fitz seemed speechless at the total mutiny of the team. Molly crossed her arms over her chest defensively, waiting for him to blame it all on her the way the Chasers had, thanks to Waldman.

Instead he stared at her for a few moments and then asked, “Want to hit the pub?”

“Yes,” Molly replied with feeling.

They took a Floo back to Portree, heading straight for the pub. The bartender must have already heard about the loss to Montrose, because he gave them a sad shake of his head and poured four shots, setting the lot in front of Molly and Fitz before leaving them to it.

Molly downed both shots back to back and then put her head in her hands, elbows on the bar top. “If this day gets any worse, the MLEs will probably have to get involved.”

“I take it that lot decided it was your fault we lost today.” Fitz knocked back his shots as well.

“Oh, don't worry,” Molly said acidly. “There was plenty of blame to go around for you, too.”

“I figured they'd blame me. I didn't reckon on them blaming you, too.”

The bartender returned to pour them each two more shots. Fitz nodded to him, and Molly asked, lifting one of her shots, “Friend of yours?”

“Max. He owns the place.”

“Does that mean these are free?” She drank both shots, feeling the warmth flooding her body. They weren't making her forget the horrible match yet, though.

Fitz let out a short bark of laughter. “No, but he'll put it on my tab. I'm pretty sure I owe him a kidney by now, or maybe my firstborn.”

“Well, obviously not your liver,” Molly observed as he downed his shots.

“Nobody wants that old thing.”

She smiled, and he returned it, tilting his head in a way that told her the alcohol was starting to affect him.

“You played like crap,” he said, and she let out a helpless laugh, almost choking on her fourth shot. “What the hell happened?”

“I don't know, it was an off day or something. Stop talking about it, I'm trying to drink until I can pretend today didn't happen.”

“Yeah, that's a good plan.” Fitz waved to the bartender, who returned to lean against the bar, giving them a friendly smile.

"Don't need to ask how your day went," he said, glancing meaningfully at the shot glasses in front of them.

Fitz waved a shot glass vaguely at the two of them. “Molly, this is Max Halligan. Max, Molly Weasley.”

“A pleasure. Drowning your sorrows?” Max asked mildly, pouring more whisky.

“Memories, more like,” Molly answered. “Trying to kill off the synapses that remember today's match.”

“Half of Portree is doing the same,” Max commented over his shoulder, already off to another customer.

After the sixth shot, the memory of the day's humiliation started to go fuzzy around the edges, and Molly closed her eyes for a moment, letting out a long, slow breath.

“I think this might actually be the worst day I've ever had.”

“You've obviously never been divorced,” Fitz replied with fake cheer.

“I've never been married, so no, no divorces.”

“Not my best moment.” He reached over the bar top to grab a bottle of firewhisky. After checking that it wasn't empty, he poured another shot for each of them. “Not my best year, hell.”

The year he'd been divorced was the same year he'd been injured, Molly recalled hazily. She didn't want to bring that up, though. The whisky was starting to get to her, and she didn't fight the warm clouds, letting her brain sink into them instead. She leaned on the bar, her head propped on one hand.

“This year's not so bad, though,” Fitz said then. He still had the whisky bottle in hand, holding it at his side so if Max glanced over, it wouldn't be visible.

“Oh yeah?” She thought it was pretty bad, but maybe that was residual embarrassment from today's defeat. Her synapses were obviously still firing, cause she was remembering the match again. “Pour me another, my brain keeps trying to think and I don't want to think.”

He refilled the shot glass in front of her and his own as well, and Molly asked, almost as an afterthought, “What's so great about this year?”

He cocked his head at her as he set the bottle down rather unsteadily on the bar top, and answered, as if it were obvious, “I met you.”

Molly blinked, wondering if she'd heard him correctly. “What?”

He propped his head up on one hand, mimicking her posture. “I met you this year. And I like you.”

“You do?” Right now, she couldn't imagine why. She'd completely embarrassed herself today on the pitch.

He gave her a lopsided smile. “When I'm around you, I don't feel angry.”

“Do you usually feel angry?” she asked softly.

“All the time,” he said, his eyes turning serious. “From the moment I wake up, every time I see my shoulder, every time I feel my shoulder. I'm always angry. But not with you.”

Her heart skipped a beat and she covered it by retreating into logic as best she could through the fog in her brain. “Sometimes you're angry with me. I've seen you. You shouted at me outside the locker room.”

“Yeah. I'm sorry.”

They both looked surprised that he'd apologized. Fitz leaned closer, so their foreheads were almost touching. Molly's insides filled with butterflies. She could feel her heart beating faster, the blood rushing through her veins. Up close, his irises were a coffee brown flecked with gold, and a faint green at the edges. She didn't move away, just stared into his eyes, and fought the urge to press closer and taste him. He smelled good, she thought drunkenly.

“Y'know,” he said softly, “you didn't forgive me.”

“You said not to until you deserve it,” Molly retorted in a low voice.

“I don't deserve it yet.”

“No, you don't.” And she leaned in and kissed him.

His lips were soft, and he tasted like the whisky he'd been drinking. Molly put a hand to his cheek, feeling the sandpaper-y growth of beard, and his arm snaked around her waist, pulling her tighter against him until she was nearly in his lap, all the while kissing her as if his life depended on her response.

Belatedly Molly remembered they were in public, and there were still a few people in the pub. She broke away, glancing around, and relaxed a bit when no one seemed to be paying them any attention.

Fitz's arm was still holding her up against him, and his eyes hadn't left her face.

“What was that for?” he asked in a whisper.

“I-I don't know.” She didn't move to pull away from him, though she knew she should. She wasn't ready yet to let go of the feel of being in his arms, so close she could feel his heart pounding. Her head was spinning, and she knew it wasn't from the liquor.

What the hell had she done? She hadn't meant to kiss him. She hadn't even thought. Kissing him had felt as natural and as necessary as breathing.

“Dammit,” she whispered, and Fitz's hold on her loosened, but his eyes never left hers, their dark gaze warming her to her toes, better than firewhisky. She sat back down and grabbed her drink, downing it in one swallow, but the cool whisky didn't help. “I should go home. It's getting late and I need to sober up.”

“Sobering up is always a mistake. You'll start overthinking again.”

“I overthink everything. It's one of my charms.” She needed to get away from him so she could start overthinking what had just happened between them. “Night, Fitz.”

“Night, Molly.”

She could feel his eyes on her as she walked out, and once she was outside in the cold night air, she stared up at the stars and tried to make her lungs draw a full breath again. The world felt unsteady, and she wasn't sure if it was from the alcohol, the kiss, or maybe both.

She was too drunk to Apparate, so she walked home, hoping it would sober her up and make things clearer. Maybe in the morning she'd wake up and this day wouldn't have happened at all. Just a dream.

The taste of his kiss was still on her lips, and she didn't want that to be just a dream.


Chapter 7: A Pack of Wild Dogs
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 Fitz woke up with a groan. His head was pounding. The sunlight streaming in through the window felt like it was stabbing him in the eyes. He turned to check the clock and his stomach protested the motion.

It was two in the afternoon.

“Arrrghhh,” he grumbled, stretching out flat on his back.

He'd lost count at his eighth shot of whisky. He didn't even remember getting home. Max must have shoved him into the Floo, and possibly into bed. He didn't need to glance down to feel that he was still fully dressed. He wiggled his toes. Yep, even his shoes were on.

Hell of a day yesterday. Watching the team lose spectacularly to Montrose had been an eye-opener. He hadn't thought he cared quite so much, but with every missed save and every dropped Quaffle, he'd felt more for his team than he had for his own ego. Yes, being the coach of a team who messed up was embarrassing, but he'd been more concerned with why they'd all played so badly when he knew they could do better. He'd seen them do better on the practice field. Maybe it was a case of opening-day nerves. Maybe the next game would be better.

His brain dredged up whisky-soaked memories from the pub then, and presented him with a picture of Molly, her eyes slightly unfocused from matching him shot for shot, leaning forward and kissing him.

Fitz stared up at the ceiling and replayed the memory to make sure he hadn't dreamed it. She'd definitely kissed him, hadn't she? He had way too clear a picture for it to be a dream. He could remember the feel of her lips on his, the whisky on her breath, her lithe body in his arms. He wanted very badly for that to be a true memory. That had been real, hadn't it?

He wasn't sure. It seemed like something he might have dreamed up. His entire body felt hammered flat, except his stomach, which was still threatening mutiny with every movement, every blink.

He needed Hangover-Curing Potion to fix this. It wouldn't fix what had happened yesterday with the team, but it would let him be upright and functional.

Fitz tried to sit up and his stomach heaved. Ten minutes later he'd managed to stumble into the kitchen, squinting against the sunlight, and started digging through the cabinets for a vial of potion. He had a small stash of them tucked behind the bottles of firewhisky and vodka.

“Looks like you had a good morning,” said Max's voice behind him.

Fitz downed the vial of Hangover-Curing Potion in two gulps. “Gaghhh.”

“Articulate.”

“Go to hell,” Fitz managed. The potion was starting to kick in. He threw himself onto a couch next to where Max was sitting. “What the hell happened? Did you beat me with a whisky bottle or something?”

Max grinned. “No, you beat yourself with it. And neither one of you paid me before you left, after you drank an entire bottle of firewhisky. I had to drag you home. Reckoned I'd make sure you were still breathing today.”

“Put it on my tab.”

“I could probably repossess your house by now,” Max said conversationally. “Pretty sure you might owe me your eternal soul by this time next year.”

Fitz grimaced. “Probably I should go sober, quit drinking.”

“Probably. But it seemed to be working for you last night.”

Fitz's heart leaped. “What d'you mean?”

Max gave him a sly look. “That was the very pretty girl on your team last night, wasn't it? You two seemed very friendly.”

“How friendly did we seem?” Fitz asked cautiously.

Max appeared to be greatly enjoying himself. “Och, having some whisky-induced memory loss, are we? I think that's what you two were shooting for last night, from what you said.”

“I remember some of it. Some of it I'm not sure I'm really remembering correctly.”

“If you remember kissing her in the middle of my pub, you're remembering correctly.”

A feeling of elation spread through Fitz, and he smiled slowly. It hadn't been a dream. “I didn't kiss her, she kissed me.”

“You were both kissing when I saw you. Then she left double-time. Without paying her tab,” Max added.

“I'll pay it. Send me a bill.” She had left right after the kiss. But it had been a good kiss, hadn't it? It had felt very good from what he could remember. She probably left because of what McCormack had said about keeping things professional.

Fitz groaned then. McCormack.

“It's not that big of a tab,” Max assured him.

“Not that. Bloody McCormack told us all to keep our trousers on and keep it professional. And there I am kissing our Keeper. Dammit.”

“Everyone makes mistakes.” Max didn't seem as concerned about it as Fitz thought he should be. “She's very pretty. I would've kissed her too, if she'd looked at me like that. Not so keen on the mohawk, but still-”

“I better go make sure she understands it was just... just a kiss.” And that she wouldn't mention it to the rest of the team. Or McCormack. It would be better if no one knew what had happened, he thought regretfully. “Keep that whole thing last night under your hat, would you? I don't want word getting round.”

Max shrugged. “Sure. I'm going home. See you later.”

Max let himself out, and Fitz hurried off to get showered.

There were no lights on in Molly's flat when he arrived, but he knocked on the door anyway. A few minutes later she appeared, dressed in a plush black bathrobe, her purple and gold curls floating around her face, swept to one side. She blinked at him a bit, as if she weren't sure he was real. She was holding a mug in one hand. It looked like Hangover-Curing Potion inside.

Suddenly he wasn't sure what to say. He knew they were better off pretending that kiss last night hadn't happened, but now he was here in front of her, he wasn't sure if she even remembered it. Maybe he shouldn't have come, should have just pretended nothing had happened. His eyes fell to her lips, and he knew he couldn't pretend. Putting it behind them, he could probably manage, but pretending he'd never kissed her – not happening.

“Hi,” he said, feeling a little stupid.

“Hi.” Her voice was throaty. She must have just woken up. “Want to come in? I was about to make coffee.”

He stepped inside, and followed her over to the kitchen. She waved her wand at the coffee maker and it started to bubble, the scent of dark roast wafting out.

“I think if I try to eat breakfast, my stomach won't make it,” Molly said. “I should have stopped at about five shots.”

“I'm pretty sure we drank twice that. Max had to help me get home.”

Her eyes met his. “How much do you remember?”

She knew what had happened, he was sure of it. “If you mean that you kissed me, I remember that.”

Molly's eyes closed briefly. “Dammit. I can't believe I did that. I'm sorry, I didn't really intend to, it just sort of happened.”

The apology didn't sit well with him. Their drunken kiss had been one of the best of his life. He didn't want to hear that she was sorry about it, even though he'd come over to tell her it was better to move past it. “Look, about that-”

“I think we should just pretend it never happened,” Molly said over his words.

He stared at her. She grabbed two mugs and poured coffee for each of them. Fitz took his, sipping it black and hoping the caffeine would clear up the last of the hangover fog in his head.

“Look, McCormack said everyone should keep it professional. I shouldn't have kissed you. Can we just go back to having a professional relationship? Just friends again. And we should keep it to ourselves, you know. Don't let the team find out. Or McCormack.” Molly drank her coffee black as well. He watched her swallow, saw how her eyes didn't entirely meet his.

He hadn't felt just friends toward her for a while. But she was right. Somehow hearing her say it made him a little disgruntled, though. It was exactly what he'd intended to say, so it made no sense to be annoyed by it. He tried to swallow the feeling with his coffee.

“I hope that's all right,” Molly said, and he looked up at her. She was looking straight at him now, and her blue eyes were a stormy greyish colour, her expression troubled.

“Yeah. It's just what I was going to say.”

“Oh. That's a relief.”

She didn't look relieved. He didn't feel it either. “Yeah. A relief.” He set his mug down and pushed it away a few inches. “I'd better go. I'll see you on the pitch tomorrow.”

She nodded, and he let himself out, glancing over his shoulder at her as he left. She was holding the mug so tightly her knuckles had gone white.

*

Molly hovered in front of the centre hoop, watching the team practice. No one was throwing any penalties at her or even trying to put the Quaffle through a hoop. She'd been hovering for nearly an hour.

The Chasers were still angry with her, she thought with a sigh.

It wasn't entirely surprising, given their row after the Magpies had defeated them, but it was still disheartening. Molly wasn't enjoying the feeling. Being ignored like this was extremely unsettling.

None of them had spoken to her in the locker room that morning, either. Only the Beaters, who'd blamed everything on Fitz, had even looked at her.

Preece and Gittins had attempted to ignore Fitz and spent the morning targeting the Chasers repeatedly before their coach, his face brick-red, had flown at them and shouted for ten minutes. It was difficult to ignore him when he was five inches from their faces and screaming.

Maybe she ought to try it.

Sighing, Molly flew in a lazy figure eight, covering all three hoops. At least she was moving, even if she had nothing to do.

Fitz was currently having a screaming fit at a scowling Jinx, who'd had to be rousted from bed and brought forcibly to the pitch this morning and had promptly refused to do anything. He'd been napping on his broom until Fitz caught sight of him.

Molly closed her eyes briefly. She was still having a hard time believing she'd been so stupid at the pub. Clearly drinking that much firewhisky was a huge mistake. It hadn't felt like a mistake at the time.

Despite the raging hangover, she'd spent most of yesterday thinking about that kiss. It had been hard to take her mind off of it today, for that matter. Every time she closed her eyes, she remembered his lips on hers, and his crooked, drunk smile. She needed to stop thinking about it so she could work with him. He was her coach, not a potential boyfriend, dammit.

The object of her thoughts flew by, and she stopped her figure eight.

“No one is throwing the Quaffle at you,” he said, and she rolled her eyes at him for stating the obvious.

“You're joking. I hadn't noticed.”

His eyes flicked to her mouth, and it made her think of that kiss again, which made her toes curl a bit.

“Stop that,” she told him.

“Stop what?”

“Looking at me like that. Go coach.”

He looked at her mouth again, then said, “Dammit,” and flew off.

The next day didn't go any better. Once again, no one threw penalties at Molly, so she did her own speed sprint drills, pretending there were Quaffles flying at the hoops and hoping this would actually help her technique. She'd be damned if she went and enchanted a spare Quaffle to make up for the team ignoring her. The Beaters weren't speaking to the Chasers, the Chasers weren't speaking to anyone, and Fitz seemed to have lost his temper completely and was only communicating by shouting abuse at everyone.

Except her. He was still looking at her like he wanted to kiss her again. It was very distracting.

By Thursday, Molly wanted to scream with frustration, both at Fitz for making it impossible for her to stop thinking about that kiss, and at the team for making any sort of practice impossible. They were playing the Caerphilly Catapults on Saturday and Molly was having a great deal of dour thoughts about their chances. The team was even less cohesive now than they had been before playing the Magpies.

No one spoke to her in the locker room Thursday afternoon, and she sat listening to the lot of them grumbling and generally whinging about their shoddy coach, shoddy team, and shoddy pitch. Molly sat on the bench in front of her locker, still wearing her robes, and wanted to shout at the lot of them just like Fitz did.

But it wasn't helping things, and since she couldn't pick up and go back to Holyhead – not without breaking her contract and having to embarrass herself at admitting failure, not to mention leaving the Prides in the lurch with no Keeper – she was just going to have to make the best of things.

She slipped out of the locker room, sure that they were grumbling about her as soon as she was out of earshot, and walked down the hallway to Fitz's office.

He had a bottle of firewhisky on his desk. It was still corked, the red wax seal intact. Fitz was resting his chin on his hands, contemplating the bottle.

Molly leaned against the doorframe and gave him a look.

“This week is crap,” he mumbled without moving.

She sighed and sat down in the chair opposite him, curling her legs up underneath her. “Shouting at everyone isn't gaining their loyalty back.”

“I never had their loyalty.” His eyes closed briefly, and then he looked up at her again, his gaze burning into her. “I think you did. I'm sorry about that.”

“There you go, apologizing again. I'll start to think you're ill if you keep it up.”

He gave her a half-smile, but the levity didn't stick. “I have an overpowering urge to hex everyone on the team.”

No kidding. “You've been an arse again this week.”

“I know. I can't help it. They could have played better and they didn't. And instead of suiting up and shouldering the responsibility, doing better next time, they blamed it on you and spent this week wasting all of our time playing worse than ever.” Fitz sat up. “It's pissing me off.”

Molly watched him put the bottle of firewhisky on the shelves behind him, setting it carefully beside an old Quaffle that had been signed in gold paint by all the Magpies who'd been on Fitz's team before his injury.

He hadn't mentioned that the Prides had blamed him for their defeat as well. Either he thought he deserved it, or he was only angry that they were blaming her. She told her body not to get too excited about this, but her emotions weren't listening. Shut up, she advised her hormones.

“We don't have time to do anything. We play the Catapults the day after tomorrow. There's no time to get better or to stop them hating either of us.”

“I know.” Fitz ran a hand through his hair, ruffling the dark strands so they stood on end, and blew out a long breath. “A party at your flat isn't going to fix this by some miracle, is it?”

Molly shook her head. “Unless you've got some sort of Miracle Potion up your sleeve, probably not.”

“Is there such a thing?” he asked hopefully.

“No. If there were, it'd be a banned substance by the League anyway.” She watched him in silence for a moment, then said, “We're going to lose to Caerphilly.”

“We can't think like-”

“Riordan,” she interrupted in a quiet voice. He subsided at her use of his first name, and she went on as clearly and gently as she could, “We are going to lose to Caerphilly.”

He didn't argue any further. He was probably well aware of it. “McCormack's going to sack the lot of us.”

“This week really is crap,” Molly remarked, her tone almost wistful.

*

Despite the overall crappiness of the week's training, Molly wasn't feeling as dour as expected Saturday afternoon as they arrived in Caerphilly to play the Catapults. She hadn't been back to Wales since she'd left Holyhead, and it was nice to return to familiar lands. Oh, she was still certain they were going to lose to the Catapults, but somehow she felt it wouldn't be so bad this time. Maybe they'd lose by a smaller margin, or in a less embarrassingly short time. Maybe they'd show up well even in defeat.

Maybe she was getting used to failure, she thought ruefully as the team pulled on their robes in the Catapults' guest locker room.

No one spoke, and they all shuffled to the pitch in slightly uncomfortable silence. Fitz joined them as they lined up in the small tunnel from which they would make their flying entrance, and after the familiar glance at Molly, he cleared his throat. The Beaters didn't look him in the eye, but the Chasers seemed to be paying attention. Jinks was staring off into space, probably hung over and contemplating when his contract ended.

“Just do your best today, all right?” Fitz said gruffly. “Try not to get flattened.”

Molly rolled her eyes at this pep talk, and Fitz slouched off to the box where the coaches and managers watched the game. He didn't seem optimistic, but then neither did the team.

The whistle blew, and Molly, as team captain, led the way onto the field, doing her best to smile and wave at the crowd, just in case anyone was still supporting them.

The Catapults were not as highly ranked in the league as the Magpies, but they were still a good team. Molly reckoned her block rate at the hoops was over seventy-five percent, and Zara managed several goals in the first half. Whenever Molly glanced up, Jinks actually seemed to be looking for the Snitch. She had to concentrate on the Chasers too much to keep an eye on what the Beaters were up to, but her inattention cost her.

Halfway through the game, Molly had just zipped over to the left hoop to block the Quaffle, and when she turned her broom, a Bludger hit her in the upper arm, the impact spinning her around on her broom. The pain shot up her neck, radiating out in waves, and she gritted her teeth. There was no one to relieve her, and they couldn't play with no Keeper, so she drew a deep breath in and tried to ignore it.

The referee blew the whistle, and both teams drew to a halt in the air. Molly looked down to see the ref had the Quaffle, and was flying toward her with Fitz behind him.

They both hovered on their brooms next to her. The lines of stress around Fitz's mouth had deepened.

“Are you able to continue play?” the referee asked, just a hint of concern tinging his voice.

“I'm fine,” she told him brusquely.

“You can see the Healer if you need it-” began Fitz.

“We don't have a reserve Keeper,” Molly interrupted. “If I leave the pitch, play continues without me, and that means our hoops are unprotected. I'm fine. I'll go to the Healer after the game.”

Fitz stared at her for a moment, and for once he kept his eyes on hers. After a few beats of silence, he nodded, and jerked his head sideways to the ref, who followed him off the pitch before blowing the whistle to resume play.

Playing through the pain wasn't easy, and her block rate suffered. She let in more goals than she stopped, and ignoring it grew harder and harder to do as the hours passed and the game continued. She lost count of how many saves she'd missed. The Prides were scoring as well, with Zara making some excellent penalty shots, but it wasn't enough, and the Catapults drew further and further ahead of the Prides.

Molly's bicep protested as she scraped a save by a hair's breadth, and tossed the Quaffle sideways at Beathan, who tucked it under her arm and flew off. Molly pressed her lips together and took a moment to rub her arm, wishing someone could have taken over for her. It would be a quick Healing spell, but in those fifteen minutes she was with the Healers, the Catapults could make a dozen new goals. She didn't want to take the chance.

Four hours into the game, Jinks flew straight into the knot of Chasers fighting over possession of the Quaffle, sending them scattering, and as the Quaffle fell, Molly saw a flash of gold in the air beside it and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Jinks's capture of the Snitch put them only seventy points behind Caerphilly. They left the field, and the pain in Molly's arm distracted her from feeling too defeated. A Healer was waiting in the locker room and took her off to fix her arm up.

By the time she got back in the locker room, Fitz and McCormack were standing just inside the door while the team sat around the benches, still in their robes. No one was speaking. Molly took a seat next to Jinks and wondered if she'd come in time for Fitz's shouting fit or had just missed it.

“Arm all better?” McCormack asked, nodding to Molly.

“Good as new.”

Fitz had his arms folded across his chest, staring down at the floor. She could see the muscles in his jaw clench, but it looked like nerves, not anger. It dawned on Molly that this locker room visit hadn't been his idea.

McCormack, on the other hand, was red-faced. Whether that was from anger, embarrassment, or both, Molly had a feeling they were about to find out.

“You're all playing like crap,” McCormack barked. “Better than last time, but not good enough. And I think I know why. Dissension in the ranks isn't good for a healthy unit, and you lot need to act as a unit. So with that in mind, I've booked you lot into the Silver Skies Sorcerer's retreat next week. You'll spend a week living together and developing trust in a healthy environment.”

Molly's brows drew together. That hadn't been what she'd expected to hear. It didn't sound like the sort of thing she wanted to do, either. A week in even closer proximity was bound to make the team degenerate into outright anarchy.

No one else seemed to have expected it either, because the team immediately stated grumbling under their breath, all except Jinks, who groaned loudly.

“Why do we have to go to a bloody retreat?”

“So you can learn to be a team,” McCormack snapped. “You're like a pack of wild dogs right now, all growling at each other instead of working together. The retreat is mandatory. If you don't like it,” she went on over a chorus of even louder groans, “there's the door. Good luck finding a team to hire you after your performance at the last two games.”

The room was silent now. Molly could feel her cheeks flaming. She glanced around; everyone else looked embarrassed as well. They were all too aware that they'd played badly. No one would hire a player from the Prides team, not now.

McCormack stalked out, leaving the ringing silence behind her. Molly looked down at her feet, trying to stop her blush.

“You heard her,” Fitz said quietly then. His arms were still crossed, but he was looking round at the team now. “Report Sunday evening at six at the pitch, we'll Floo together.”

Zara spoke up then. “Are you coming too, Coach?”

He nodded. “All of us. See you tomorrow.”

His eyes met Molly's briefly, and he walked out of the locker room, leaving the team to look at each other in embarrassment.


Chapter 8: A Sabotaged Sorceress
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 McCormack was standing outside the Prides' pitch when Fitz arrived Sunday night with his suitcase in hand. His heart sank a bit; he supposed he hadn't entirely let go of the hope that they could somehow get out of this retreat. If McCormack was escorting them, there was no hope left.

“Evening,” she said pleasantly as he approached.

He nodded to her. She seemed in a better mood today. Probably because they were all bowing to her wishes. Her face was set in a contented smile that uncharitable people might call a smirk.

Not that anyone had any choice about obeying her, really. Not unless they wanted to quit professional Quidditch.

None of them did, apparently, because they all turned up within the next fifteen minutes, all toting luggage and looking as if they dreaded the week ahead. Molly arrived with a round, acid-green valise, her hair hidden under a black knitted hat. Purple curls peeked out from under the cabled yarn. He tried not to pay more attention to her than he had the others, but he found himself watching her anyway. She looked over at him as if she couldn't stop herself from catching his eye, but she stood next to Jinks. The Seeker was very nearly the only member of the team who would still speak to her.

“I've arranged a Portkey to take us,” McCormack announced when they had all gathered. She glanced at her watch. “About five minutes until departure. I'll check you into the retreat and then leave you to it, and come back to collect you on Saturday.”

Jinks let out an almost inaudible groan. He'd probably been hoping to escape before check-in.

McCormack held out an empty beer bottle, and they all gathered round and laid a finger on it. A few minutes passed in uncomfortable silence while everyone looked down at their feet, and then the Portkey activated.

It let them off on a rocky coastline next to a deep blue lake. The wind was bitingly cold, and the sky hung low with grey clouds. Something roared in the distance, and everyone looked round.

“Did that sound like a dragon?” whispered Beathan, her eyes huge in her pale face.

“We're right on the edges of the MacFusty clan lands,” McCormack said calmly. “They keep track of the dragons round this area, don't worry.”

“It'll be Hebridean Blacks up here,” Molly spoke up. “They're very interesting, I wouldn't mind having a look. My uncle works with dragons in Romania. We go visit him now and then. I've always loved seeing the dragons.”

McCormack gave her a big smile. “Charlie. He was at school with me. Loved dragons even then, though he did play some damn fine Quidditch.”

Fitz heaved a sigh. Of course she'd gone to school with a Weasley. Everyone had bloody gone to school with a Weasley. McCormack and Molly walked together, reminiscing about her uncle Charlie, while the lot of them trailed along behind. Fitz brought up the rear to make sure no one wandered off and got eaten by a dragon. He didn't entirely trust the MacFustys to keep track of all the beasts.

“She chose this place on purpose, didn't she?” muttered Declan as they trooped along in a haphazard line. “Bloody dragons, I tell you...”

“They're in cages, though, aren't they?” Zara asked. Her blonde hair, tied up in a knot atop her head, bobbed around with each step.

“We don't have that kind of luck,” Sid told her.

Fitz agreed with him, but didn't comment. At least some of the team was able to get along, and if he tried to contribute to the conversation, they were likely to shut up altogether.

The retreat was blessedly close, just up the hill. The large stone building was set on the edge of a small valley, with a green meadow of a lawn around it. Leading up to the house was a path bordered by rows of magical topiary, forming centaurs, kelpies, and even a pair of disproportionately large pixies.

As they approached, a woman in flowing red robes and blood-red lipstick appeared in the doorway and waved to them. McCormack waved back, and the woman hurried down the path toward them. The breeze didn't ruffle her perfectly coiffed brown hair in its French twist.

“I'm so pleased you all made it here safely!” she cried, a huge smile pasted on her face.

“Wonder if any of her other guests have been eaten by dragons,” Sid said under his breath.

Fitz saw a few grins breaking out among the team, and for the first time he thought that maybe the retreat wouldn't be so disastrous after all.

The witch who ran the retreat introduced herself as Risa Lefoque, and McCormack waved them inside before strolling back to the Apparition point. The team gave her a few dirty looks as she left.

Risa Lefoque clapped her hands to get their attention, and the dirty looks were turned on her. Either she didn't notice, or she was used to clients giving her dirty looks upon arrival.

“Welcome to the Silver Skies Sorceror!” she chirped. “I'll get you all settled in right away. Tomorrow is an early start for us, lots of team-building to do!”

Fitz wondered idly if he could get away with Silencing her.

Lefoque handed out packets of parchment to each of them. Fitz broke his open while she was still passing them round; it contained room assignments and schedules, down to the minute with each day packed full of activities with names like Running Free and The Take-Away Game. He didn't want to know what either of those were. He scanned the room assignments.

Molly's room was only two doors down from his.

“I've got a buffet laid out in the dining room,” Lefoque was saying. “You can all go in, I'll take care of your luggage.”

They all set their things down, some with more alacrity than others. Declan and Duff made a beeline for the food, with Deimos Flint and Bram Carmichael on their heels. Zara hung back a moment, then set her bag down to follow them. Fitz waited until they were all in the drawing room before turning to Risa Lefoque.

“I'm Coach Fitzroy,” he said, extending a hand.

She gave him another pasted-on smile and shook his hand weakly. “So nice to meet you. I do hope you enjoy your stay here. I know the team will learn a lot this week.”

“Yeah, about that.” He wasn't sure how much McCormack had told her when the manager had booked them here. “The team's not exactly chuffed to be here. You're probably going to have a rough go of it.”

“I'm up to the challenge, never fear,” she assured him. He didn't entirely believe her; she didn't look too certain of it herself.

“Right. I hope McCormack isn't giving you payment on results.”

The dining room had a long buffet table set against the wall, and two tables of the same size set with chairs around them. The team had already served themselves for the most part. Fitz loaded up his plate, sampling as he went, then went off to sit with Jinks and Molly.

“This is actually not bad,” Jinks told him, shovelling a forkful of mashed parsnips into his mouth. “Needs beer, though.”

“Tequila,” murmured Molly. She was building sandwiches out of the roast beef and rolls, carefully not looking at Fitz.

“We're going to need the strong stuff to get through this week,” he agreed. “Did you look over the schedule?”

“I refuse to look at it. I'm pretending it's not real,” Jinks assured him.

Molly unfolded her schedule and laid it beside her plate. “Six a.m. wake-up call tomorrow. And what the devil is a trust fall?”

Fitz had a pretty good idea what one was, and he was sure it wasn't going to go down well with the team. “Best not to ask.”

*

Molly woke to the sound of bells tinkling. Two silver bells sat on a small shelf beside the doorway, and they were ringing themselves gently but insistently. They might have sounded pleasant if it weren't still nearly dark outside her window. She blinked groggily at the clock. Six a.m. She grabbed her wand and aimed for the bells. A Freezing Charm shut them up, but she could hear activity in the hall. Everyone must've had a bell wakeup.

She stuck her head out the door and looked round. Zara, her blonde hair mussed and tangled, was standing in her doorway with a crushed bell in hand, and Sid leaned against the wall beside her, yawning hugely.

“This is bloody ridiculous,” Zara was saying. “It's not even dawn yet. This is a retreat, not boot camp.”

Sid nodded, and his eyes drooped shut.

“It's far too early in the morning to be awake, unless we're on the pitch,” Zara added, disgruntled.

Sid let out a snore.

Molly glanced down the hall and saw Fitz standing in his own doorway, dressed in a purple t-shirt bearing the Prides logo and a pair of red plaid flannel shorts. He looked sleep-rumpled, his dark hair standing on end, and an image of him in bed flashed through Molly's mind. Her cheeks flaming, she ducked back in her room before he saw her, and hurried to make herself presentable. If Fitz was up, there was no chance of sneaking back to bed. He'd make sure everyone was on task.

Normally Molly would never consider skiving off, but this wasn't school or Quidditch. It seemed like a week of bollocks, frankly, and time that could be better spent on the pitch, training. She showered quickly and then pulled on a pair of black stretchy trousers and a dark red v-neck shirt, corralling her purple curls into a ponytail. At least she could be comfortable if she couldn't get out of the inanities.

By seven, the team was beginning to assemble downstairs, and Molly sidled up next to Jinks. The Seeker was still wearing a ratty old set of pyjamas in a glaring shade of acid green printed with the Slytherin crest. Molly eyed them.

“Nice jammies, Jinks.”

“He refused to get dressed,” said Fitz's voice behind her. She turned swiftly; he was dressed now, in dark blue jeans and a white pinstriped button-up shirt. Business casual looked much better on him than his usual coaching robes or beat-up t-shirts.

He didn't seem to notice her giving him a once-over. Probably this was because he was staring at the low neckline of her shirt.

“Eyes front,” she whispered, and he looked up at her face with a grin.

“I don't see why I should get dressed,” Jinks said then, apparently oblivious to their exchange. “We're not playing Quidditch, are we? If we're not going to play Quidditch, I'm not at work.”

“Your contract is non-specific about required training,” Fitz told him. “This falls under training, in McCormack's world. So you are at work.”

Jinks made a face. “I suppose you think I should've showered, then, too.”

Molly stepped back from him a bit, wrinkling her nose. Fitz didn't even look surprised, just clapped the Seeker on the shoulder.

“I would never ask you to do something you're uncomfortable with, Jinks. If you start to stink, I'll just hose you off with an Aguamenti and call it a day.”

“I need really strong tea right about now,” Molly murmured.

“Breakfast is in the dining room, and there was a teapot,” Fitz said. “I wouldn't lay odds on it being strong tea, though, from the looks of that Silver Skies witch.”

Molly made her way to the teapot, and found that he was quite right: the tea was so weak, she could have fed it to her infant niece. Zara was just pouring herself a cup as well, and Molly shook her head.

“Don't bother, it's bloody awful.”

Zara stared at the contents of the tea. “I've never seen proper tea this light before. Is this green tea?”

“I don't think so.”

“Ugh.” Zara lifted the lid of the teapot and poured hers back in. “Disgusting. Is there any chance of coffee in this wretched place, if she hasn't even got decent tea?”

“Doubtful. Where the devil did McCormack find this retreat?” Molly sighed. “Maybe we can sneak into town and buy our own tea.”

“I'll go in on a box with you,” Zara agreed.

Molly smiled at her. This was their first civil exchange since the argument in the locker room, and she was afraid to jinx it by saying too much.

But there was no time to go hunting for a decent cuppa, because Risa Lefoque appeared in the doorway, dressed head to toe in pastel pink, to announce the day's activities would begin in ten minutes. Zara hurried off to load up a plate with eggs, toast, and beans, and Molly grabbed a pastry from the tray and wondered briefly if she could Transfigure the weak tea into a nice French roast.

Outside the air was crisp, with the scent of approaching snow on the wind. The sun had risen now, but the sky was still overcast, bathing the mountains in anaemic light. Molly huddled into her coat as the team straggled into place one by one, grumbling under their breath. When everyone was present, Lefoque clapped her hands to get their attention. She had a red tote bag at her feet. Molly was fairly certain no good could come out of that bag.

“Our first exercise this morning is an easy one. It'll get us all wide awake. Such a brisk morning.”

Molly shivered as a gust of icy wind slid over her.

“Brisk,” snorted Jinks from behind her. “I'll show her brisk, the stupid-”

“Jinks,” Molly said sharply, and he subsided. She didn't want to be there any more than he did, but outright hostility wouldn't help the situation.

Lefoque was pulling black cloths out of the bag, and Molly had a sinking feeling she knew what they were.

“We'll pair off, then one person in each pair will be blindfolded. The sighted partner will lead them from a walk to a run. Then, the pairs will switch who wears the blindfold.”

She was beaming at them, seemingly oblivious to the mutinous expressions on the Prides' faces. It was clear no one wanted to participate. But only one person would be able to avoid it. Molly didn't need to do a head count: there were ten Quidditch players and one coach.

Jinks appeared to have noticed the uneven number as well. “Fitz is getting out of this one, isn't he?”

“Probably. Be my partner,” Molly suggested quickly. Since no one else on the team was likely to want to partner her, if she didn't snap Jinks up, she'd be stuck trying to force someone. That sounded horribly embarrassing.

Fortunately, Jinks agreed, and then allowed himself to be blindfolded when Lefoque came past, handing the black cloths round. Molly spent the next quarter hour leading him from a walk to a trot, running beside him with her hand clutching his forearm. She could see the rest of the team leading each other in pairs; Zara and Sid, the Beaters together as usual, Beathan and Bram, and Waldman with Flint. No one was falling over at the moment, and Molly was fairly assured of her own abilities to guide Jinks. Fitz was standing to one side with Risa Lefoque, his arms crossed over his chest. He did not seem impressed. Molly reckoned that was more due to the apparent uselessness of the exercise rather than the team's abilities.

“Now switch! Pass the blindfold to your partner,” called Lefoque.

Jinks tied the blindfold on Molly with a wide grin. It occurred to her that she probably should have tried for anyone else as a partner, embarrassment notwithstanding. But he managed to get her to a running pace with only a few stumbles, so she thought things had gone rather well, all in all.

Lefoque seemed to agree. She called the lot of them together twenty minutes later, smiling encouragingly. Her teeth were very white but a little uneven behind her bubblegum pink lipstick.

“That was excellent! You all did very well. Now, how did that make you feel?”

“Incredibly stupid,” Jinks volunteered.

“Like a prat,” agreed Duff.

“Like I need a drink,” put in Sid.

Lefoque looked taken aback, but regrouped quickly. Her voice was a little fluttery as she went on, “Our next- next activity will be, er, an exercise in social support.”

“Is that something we can do indoors?” demanded Fitz gruffly. “The entire team is freezing their arses off.”

“Oh, er-” Lefoque glanced around at everyone, and then nodded. “Yes, I suppose we could do that-”

Fitz had already started stalking toward the house, and the team followed him. Lefoque gathered up the discarded blindfolds with a wave of her wand before following them.

Molly fell into step beside Fitz. “You could've done a blindfold run with Lefoque,” she teased him.

“I wouldn't trust that woman as far as I could throw her,” he retorted, but he winked at her.

Before she could respond, Lefoque was once again giving directions. This time she grabbed Beathan to demonstrate their activity, and since she was standing beside Fitz, Molly wound up paired with him.

“Start out a comfortable distance apart,” Lefoque was saying. “Then take a step or two closer to feel the difference, then a few paces away. Then we'll all switch up so everyone has a turn to work together. You'll notice as you change your physical proximity-”

Molly stopped listening. Fitz's idea of a comfortable distance apart was less than two feet, and after staring at her for a moment, he took a step closer, so they were nearly touching.

“I don't think you're supposed to be this close,” Molly said breathlessly.

“She said a comfortable distance. I thought that was a pretty good socially acceptable distance from you.” His voice was quiet, but the corner of his mouth pulled up in a crooked grin.

“You thought that was socially acceptable, did you?”

“Compared to how close I'd rather be, yeah.”

Molly's heart skipped a beat. She raised an eyebrow at him. “I thought we agreed, just friends.”

“And co-workers,” he agreed with a nod.

“Friends and co-workers don't flirt with each other.”

“I flirt with everyone.”

“No,” Molly said quietly, “you don't.”

The smile faded, but he didn't move back away from her. “No, I don't. Neither do you.”

Molly glanced around. Everyone else had moved on to pacing away from each other, so she took a large step back from Fitz.

“I definitely prefer the social support being closer,” he said dryly.

“Yeah, I bet.”

A prickling feeling between her shoulder blades made her turn. Mariah Waldman was staring at the two of them, and Molly gave her a pleasant smile. Waldman smiled back, but it didn't reach her eyes.

Molly turned back to Fitz just as Lefoque told them to switch partners. “We have to stop.”

“Yeah, it's time to switch. You should go grab Jinks before Beathan does.”

“You know what I mean.”

He gave her the crooked smile again. “I know, but I don't want to.”

Molly shook her head at him and left to find Jinks.

*

After an annoyingly short lunch break, Risa Lefoque had them back in the drawing room for another trust exercise. This time it was something she called 'anonymous positive feedback', and as soon as it was explained, Fitz knew it was going to go badly.

“Each of you will have a piece of parchment stuck to your back, and we'll all take turns writing something kind about the person. Then I'll read them off, so it stays anonymous.”

She was beaming at them. Fitz let out a snort of disbelief. Apparently she'd missed the round of silly faces at the social support load of Kneazle dung that morning, not to mention Duff and Declan tripping each other deliberately during the blindfold run. Something kind. He couldn't wait for this one.

“I like how she says we, as if she were on the team,” murmured Zara from a few seats down. “Bet she doesn't have to write anything.”

“The only thing I'm writing is a drink order,” agreed Sid.

Either Risa Lefoque didn't hear them, or she did a good job pretending she hadn't. Once everyone had a scrap of parchment stuck to their backs with a Temporary Sticking Charm, she handed out pencils. Fitz watched over Zara's shoulder as she wrote on Sid's back.

Firewhisky and soda.

He stifled a chuckle and glanced around as the team began wandering around, writing on each other's backs. They apparently had heard Sid and Zara, because the lot of them were following suit: Declan was writing his favourite type of beer on Beathan, and she was placing an order for a rum cocktail on Mariah.

Wondering how long it would take for Lefoque to realize what the team was doing, Fitz made his way over to Molly, expecting her to be taking the exercise seriously. Instead, he found her scrawling vodka gimlet on Bram Carmichael's back, and he let out a bark of laughter despite himself.

“Here I thought you were one of the two well-behaved Weasleys,” he teased her.

“I'm a thirsty Weasley, that's what I am,” she retorted as Bram moved off to write on Zara.

“You are all going to be in trouble when Herself sees what you're doing.” Fitz grinned at her. He didn't much care if Lefoque got annoyed, so long as she didn't tattle on them to McCormack; the team was obviously having fun and getting along for once. Maybe the ridiculous social support exercise had helped a bit after all. The team certainly seemed more relaxed around one another this afternoon.

Molly didn't look concerned. “Oh please. Here, have my pencil, you can add your drink order to my back.”

“Oh, who wrote dirty martini?” called Sid from across the room. He was peering at Declan's back. “I'm changing my mind, that's what I want.”

“Excuse me?” Lefoque looked closer at the nearest piece of parchment, which happened to be on Deimos Flint. “Pimm's Cup? What on earth-” She seemed to realize that no one was following instructions and her face flushed puce. “Please, everyone! Let's try this again.”

With a wave of her wand, the parchment disappeared from everyone's backs. Fitz tried not to laugh at their expressions; clearly the team had been enjoying themselves entirely too much.

“An hour wasted, my goodness,” Lefoque was mumbling to herself as she went past Fitz, pinning fresh scraps of parchment with a wave of her wand. “Now, you lot,” she went on in a louder voice, sounding much less airy-fairy than she had all day, “I want you to write something heartfelt about your co-workers. Really dig deep, please, and share something honest.”

“Oh, I don't think she wants that,” Molly murmured from beside Fitz. “God knows what Jinks would come up with.”

He grinned at her, his arms folded across his chest. “Pretty sure she's wishing she'd doubled her normal fee by now.”

The team seemed to be working much harder this time, and in silence they went around to each other, writing something on the scraps of parchment before moving on. Fitz stood to one side, leaning against the wall and waiting for them to start acting up. Lefoque looked a bit trepidatious as she waited for them to finish. Eventually she stepped forward, selecting the nearest Pride and using a Summoning Charm to remove the parchment from Declan Preece's back. He gave her an innocent smile.

“All right,” said Lefoque bravely, trying to appear cheerful and failing miserably. “Let's see what you've got, Mr. Preece. 'Bollocks to... this...'”

A round of snorts went through the room. Fitz shook his head. They all seemed highly amused by their own cleverness. Even Molly was biting her lip to keep from laughing, her cheeks red. Duff looked proud of himself, and patted his fellow Beater on the shoulder.

“It's from the heart, mate,” he said, completely straight-faced.

Lefoque didn't seem to know what to do. She glanced at what Zara had written on Duff's back - Fitz could see the words clearly from his vantage point: Bugger all this for a lark - but she didn't read the message aloud. It was probably time to call a halt to the day's activities, Fitz reflected, before the team started behaving even worse.

“You could read mine,” Sid offered, turning around.

“Allow me,” Fitz said to Lefoque, and Summoned Sid's parchment. He cleared his throat and read it with extreme gravity. “Sid, 'Bloody hare-brained bint.'”

“That's very helpful,” Sid answered with a serious nod. “I think you called Zara that during training once, actually.”

“I think we've all learned a lot about ourselves today,” Fitz went on, ignoring him. “I can see the team-building is happening, so why don't we call it a day? Don't want to overwork ourselves. We can start back fresh tomorrow. Thank you, Ms. Lefoque.”

“To the pub!” Jinks called out, and the team started whistling and cheering as they stood.

Lefoque was left looking rather bewildered as they all shuffled out. Fitz brought up the rear, closing the door on their forlorn retreat guru behind him. The team was all grinning when he turned to them.

“Quick, let's head to town and look for a pub before she tries to get us back,” he said, shooing them toward the front door.

No one knew the terrain well enough to Apparate, so they followed the path leading away from the retreat, up and over the foothills and down to a small cluster of buildings sitting in the middle of the next valley. Smoke curled up from the local pub, tinged green and occasionally forming an amorphous shape resembling a dragon.

“Oh, thank the Lord and all his saints,” said Jinks fervently as they came down the hill into the village. “Beer!”

The pub was small, and filled with a small crowd of what were obviously locals. Everyone looked up and stared as the Prides came in. Nobody looked welcoming, though. Clearly they weren't used to outsiders. The bartender, a burly older man with grey hair and a salt and pepper beard, watched them shuffle into place at the bar, but didn't look too eager to take their order. Fitz sat down next to Molly and Jinks, sliding onto a roughly hewn wooden barstool.

“Round of drinks for this lot, please,” Fitz said, gesturing to the team. Buying the first round was the least he could do after spending an entire day watching them jump through the world's stupidest hoops. “Whatever you've got on tap.”

“It's a local brew, nothing fancy,” the bartender said gruffly.

“So long as there's alcohol in it,” Fitz told him.

He started drawing pints for them. “We don't get a lot of strangers round here. Ye've come from that damned retreat, have ye?”

“Unfortunately, yes. Got away as soon as we could.”

“And we're all in desperate need of booze,” added Jinks. “Can I get a shot of whisky as soon as you're done with the beers? I'm gonna need you to keep them coming, by the way.”

The bartender's beard twitched. Fitz thought that was probably a smile.

“Not enjoying your retreat, are ye?”

Jinks grabbed a pint glass and took a long gulp before answering. “It's completely bloody stupid. This is not what I'm getting paid for.”

“What do you get paid for?” the bartender asked, glancing sidelong at the buzzed sides of Molly's hair and her purple curls.

“This is the Pride of Portree Quidditch team,” Fitz told him. He wasn't surprised that they hadn't been recognized; the line-up was mostly new, and this was a very isolated spot. He doubted the locals got out much to watch Quidditch games.

The bartender looked at them again, more closely. “Right. Don't get your sort in here too often. Usually it's Ministry blokes and business types at that place.”

“She's probably wishing we were those types by now,” Molly said, accepting a pint.

“We weren't terribly cooperative,” Fitz admitted. He hadn't exactly encouraged anyone to be, but he'd just managed to avoid joining in the sabotage of the trust exercises.

Once the team was all settled with a pint of dark, coppery ale in front of them, Fitz turned toward them with his pint in hand and began, “Well, you lot.” Everyone turned rather warily toward him. He nodded slowly and then said, “That was the most ridiculous load of dung I've ever heard.”

The team relaxed, and most of them chuckled as they started on their own drinks.

“Didn't learn a thing today,” Sid called out. “Can we skive off tomorrow?”

“That woman would call McCormack on us if we skipped out altogether,” Fitz told him. “We'll be lucky if she doesn't report back about what we all did today. We have to go. No choice.”

No one seemed surprised by this pronouncement, but they didn't look angry, either. The rest of the team settled into their own conversations then, and Fitz sat down next to Molly.

“Can't believe McCormack paid for this crap,” he said in a murmur, and Molly chuckled.

“Seems to be working though, don't you think? That was the most together I've seen them behave in weeks, even if it was at Lefoque's expense.”

“Don't count your doxies before they hatch,” he warned her. “There's bound to be a blow-up once they're all liquored up.”

She shot a sidelong look at the team. The knots of cliques they had formed into seemed to be loosening; Zara was buying shots of whisky for the Beaters, and Sid was laughing with Jinks about the round of creative swearing they'd done that afternoon.

Molly turned back to look at Fitz, looking far more cheerful than he thought was justified. “I have a good feeling about this week. I think it's going to work.”

Fitz eyed her. “You're a damned optimist.”

“Sometimes.” She patted him on the shoulder and went off to join Jinks and Sid. Fitz knocked back half his beer in a few gulps, watching her.

He must have been staring too hard, because the bartender was watching him.

“Is that yer girl?”

“No.” Fitz set his drink down firmly, but he couldn't meet the bartender's eyes. “No, she's not mine.”


Chapter 9: A Fine Line
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 As if Risa Lefoque weren't irritating enough of her own self, she also didn't keep any Hangover-Curing Potion stocked at her retreat. Fitz was trying to watch her through slitted eyes, because of course when he was hung over and there was no cure to be had, the day was bright and sunny, and Lefoque had an outdoor activity planned.

“What a perfect day!” she was chirping. She had the bag of blindfolds at her feet again.

The team looked, to a man, as if they would happily kill her. They were also hung over, with the notable exception of Jinks, who had the annoying ability to only get mild hangovers from which he could recover merely by eating a slice of toast.

“I'd pay good money for a decent cuppa,” murmured Beathan. “I swear I'm going to Apparate to town during lunch and beg door to door if I have to.”

“You know what I need?” put in Duff. “Some really greasy, salty chips. And tacos. Lots of tacos.”

“Shhh,” Fitz told them both, though the chips and tacos sounded pretty good to him, too.

Lefoque had started describing their activity for the morning, waving a blindfold about in one gloved hand as she spoke. “... then we'll all line up, and everyone puts a hand on the shoulder of the person ahead of them. I'll help you stay together with a Temporary Sticking Charm on your hands-”

Fitz had to suppress a chuckle. Maybe she wasn't as stupid as she seemed.

“- and then we'll go for a hike. After we're through, there will be another discussion evaluating how we felt during the blindfold hike, and everyone needs to participate. This exercise builds trust and teamwork.”

“And irritation,” said Bram Carmichael, not quite under his breath.

“Let's get started!” Lefoque said, her face still wreathed in a determinedly cheerful smile. Fitz wondered if they were starting to get to her. The thought made him feel a bit cheerful as well.

But Lefoque zeroed in on him then as if she could sense his burgeoning good mood.

“Let's have the coach lead the way,” she cooed, grabbing his hand and tugging him forward. The team immediately let out a round of catcalls and whistles.

“Oh yes, jolly good idea there,” Jinks called out.

Fitz gave him the evil eye over his shoulder. Jinks smiled innocently.

“And now our team captain, here, good, and now the Chasers-”

Lefoque was still organizing the team into a line, the Beaters next, then Jinks, and the reservists bringing up the rear, but Fitz's attention was divided now. Molly had fallen into the queue behind him, and she gave him a raised eyebrow and a smile that was more of a smirk. He wondered how many times he could stumble so she'd bump into him before she cottoned on to what he was doing.

“This is so ridiculous,” Zara was muttering behind Molly. She looked rather angry, and had been all morning. The tea had been just as sub-par as yesterday, and Zara was taking it hard that she didn't even have caffeine for her hangover. She had complained volubly during breakfast until Sid, a cold, wet cloth over his eyes, had told her to be quiet or get Silenced.

“If she doesn't come with us, let's hike into town and get some proper tea,” Molly suggested in a murmur. “And some Hangover-Curing Potion if they've got it.”

“That bloke who owns the pub must know how to brew it strong,” Zara said. She squinted down at the end of the line. “Oh, she really is doing a Sticking Charm, for crying out bloody loud...”

“I'll bet you ten Galleons she's coming along,” Fitz said, trying not to sound dour. “She's ready to blindfold the lot of us. Bet she wants to be our sighted leader.”

Sure enough, once everyone was Stuck to the person in front of them, Lefoque positioned herself next to Fitz. “I'll just give you gentle hints if you're steering toward anything you shouldn't.”

He felt her hand at his elbow, and heaved a sigh. There would be no Apparating to town for potions and tea this morning.

They set off slowly, bumping into each other as they moved. Fitz felt hyperaware of Molly's warm hand on his shoulder, her fingers resting lightly against the collar of his shirt. She'd made sure to put her hand on his uninjured side without being asked, and he was grateful that his injury hadn't needed to be brought up this morning. He'd been taking his potions regimen faithfully while at the retreat, so the shoulder wasn't bothering him more than usual this morning. For once, he was more concentrated on his uninjured side.

The Sticking Charm held her palm in place, and her fingers were free to spread out on his shoulder, digging in a bit when they stumbled. The warmth of her palm seeped through the fabric of his shirt. He could feel her fingertips gripping now as he adjusted their path at Lefoque's sudden hand at his elbow, guiding him left. Molly suddenly bumped into him with greater force, the full length of her body pressing into him for a moment before she recovered.

“Ouch,” Zara's voice came from behind.

“Sorry,” called out Bram. “That was me, I tripped over something.”

“Probably your own big feet,” said Mariah.

“Actually, I think you tripped over MY big feet,” Duff told them.

“Focus on the experience,” Lefoque said over top of the team's snickering. “Let your mind go blank and feel your partners in the line.”

“She means shut up,” Fitz called.

The team laughed even harder at that, and he heard Lefoque sigh beside him. He didn't bother to hide his grin; nobody could see him except Lefoque, and she already thought they were a load of idiots anyway.

“Stop grinning,” whispered Molly behind him.

“How'd you know I was grinning?” he asked, turning his head unconsciously toward her, though he couldn't see a thing.

“I just know. Knock it off and focus, before you lead us into a bog or a dragon's nest or something.”

The blindfolded hike lasted three hours. Fitz was fairly sure Lefoque was dragging it out because she was annoyed with them, but if she thought she could wear out a Quidditch team with a few hours of relatively easy hiking, she was dead wrong. These were athletes, not her usual Ministry bureaucrats. The hike hadn't tired them out, though it seemed to have cured the hangovers of at least half of them. They were cracking jokes nonstop at the back of the line, and there was more stumbling happening that Fitz knew had to be deliberate. He'd been whacked into by Molly about half a dozen times now as the team fell like dominoes with each stumble.

Eventually Lefoque seemed to admit defeat, and led them back to the retreat. The Sticking Charms were wearing thin, and it didn't take much effort for the lot of them to pull free. Lefoque took the blindfolds back, and Fitz blinked into the sun. It seemed brighter than ever, stabbing into his retinas.

“Och, God Jesus,” said Jinks from beside him. “It's bloody blinding. Maybe I'll have that blindfold back and go have a nap.”

“No time for naps, we've got more activities,” Lefoque told him with her usual manufactured cheer. “We've an hour for lunch and then it's back to work!”

“What new hells do you plan to perpetrate on us?” Jinks asked. His face was set in a sincere smile, and Lefoque didn't seem to know what to make of this.

“Well... We'll, erm, work on that after lunch. Now though, let's, erm, talk a little about how we felt during-”

The team groaned, and a few of them threw their hands up in protest.

“I think it made us feel a lot of teamwork, right you lot?” Fitz said loudly, his arms folded across his chest.

“Oh sure, loads of it,” agreed Jinks. “Is that all, can we go now?”

“I felt something, not sure it was teamwork,” said Sid. “Seemed more like idiocy, but you're the expert here, Ms. Lefoque. I reckon it must've been teamwork, like the coach said.”

“There's a fine line between idiocy and teamwork.” Fitz clapped his hands. “Right, then. Seems like we've had enough discussion. Lunch?”

Lefoque had the same confused look she'd had yesterday when he'd overridden her at the end of the afternoon activity. “Oh, well, I suppose-”

“Lunch!” cried Declan, pumping his fist in the air. The team gave a small cheer and followed him down the hill to the retreat.

Fitz brought up the rear with Molly and Zara in front of him. He tried not to stare at Molly's derrière in her usual tight, black trousers as he listened to the two of them chuckling together.

“A fine line between idiocy and teamwork,” Zara was saying. “Honestly.”

“Glad you liked that,” he said, and Zara shot him a grin over her shoulder. He smiled back. It was nice to have someone on the team look at him with a smile instead of a scowl. Now he thought about it, until this retreat, he hadn't seen Zara smile in weeks. No one on the team had smiled at him on the pitch, for that matter.

He thought back to his time playing for the Magpies. Yes, he'd definitely had some laughs during training, with his teammates and with their coach. Maybe he'd been too hard on the Prides, but they could have worked harder as well. He dismissed these thoughts; he'd have to consider them later. For now, he wanted a large glass of water and something greasy for lunch.

*

There was no escaping during lunch after all. Ms. Lefoque appeared to have realized that her control and authority over the team was slim at best, and stayed in the dining room with them as they ate to prevent wholesale mutiny.

“I feel like I'm at school again. No chance of Apparating to Hogsmeade on the sly,” Zara said. She had sat with Molly at lunch, alongside Jinks and Sid. Molly was enjoying the tentative rapport, and was rather glad that Fitz had stayed away. He seemed to be taking one for the team and was seated across from Lefoque, chatting with her about who knew what. Molly had a feeling Sid and Zara wouldn't be talking so openly if their coach was sitting with them.

“Obviously you weren't enough of a troublemaker at school,” Molly told her. “I know of at least five ways to get to Hogsmeade without being seen.”

Sid gave her a look of surprise. “You weren't a troublemaker, though.”

“She was Head Girl, of course she wasn't,” said Jinks.

“True,” Molly agreed. “I was just related to so many of them that I got very good at catching them.”

Zara laughed. “You learned to think like a troublemaker without being one, is that it?”

Molly smiled. “I might have done.”

“Well then,” said Sid around a mouthful of roasted potatoes, “Think of a way to get us out of here before whatever that Lefool woman is doing this afternoon.”

“One by one to the bathroom and Disapparate from there?” suggested Zara.

The others seemed to like this idea, but Molly shook her head. “Only gets a few of us away before she notices. If you want everyone out of activities, you need a distraction.”

“I could start a fire,” offered Jinks.

He probably would do just that, Molly thought wryly. “That probably won't be necessary. Maybe as a last resort.”

“Someone could suddenly become violently ill,” Sid suggested. “Personally, I'd like it to be old Lefool there...”

Zara perked up at that plan. Molly had sudden visions of Lefoque being poisoned by the Chasers. She wondered if any of them had any Weasley's Wizard Wheezes products on hand. Her uncle made any number of products that could make someone sick at the drop of a hat.

Fitz rounded them all up before anyone could start any trouble, though, and they trooped reluctantly into the drawing room for the afternoon activity.

A long table with benches on either side was set up in the center of the room, and down the middle of the table were several piles of Knuts. Molly's first thought was of the team's beloved poker games. She was starting to miss having the lot of them around her house for the games.

Apparently she wasn't the only one thinking of poker. Sid took one look at the piles of Knuts and exclaimed, “Oh, bloody marvelous! Are we gambling?”

Fitz, leaning against the wall behind Lefoque, let out a low chuckle that warmed Molly to her toes. His white button-up shirt stretched across his shoulders, showing the muscles she'd felt earlier during the blindfolded hike. She tried to ignore this and listened to Lefoque's explanation of the game, which she assured them was not gambling but a game of strategy. Sid didn't look deterred and sat down opposite Beathan at one end of the table. Molly sat beside him, with Jinks across from her. Strategy games had always come easily to her, and this one was no exception.

After playing ten matches against Jinks, Beathan, and Duff, Molly was undefeated. Beside her, Sid had also soundly beaten all his partners. The game started out easily enough, but by a few rounds in it grew more and more complex and required a great deal of planning to win. Molly was thinking ten moves ahead, rather like playing chess with her uncle Ron.

She won her next match against Deimos, and looked down at the rest of the table. Zara had just beaten Jinks, who was taking it about as well as ever.

“I haven't bloody won once,” he was whinging, slumping back into his chair. “This game is stupid. I'm not learning a thing. Can't we play something else?”

“Like what? Checkers? Or would you prefer jacks or marbles?” Zara taunted him with a grin.

“Go soak your head,” he told her. “And play Molly next, she's undefeated too.”

Zara glanced down at her, and Molly gave her a little wave. Zara smiled.

“Remember, this activity is meant to build teamwork by showing that planning ahead can help you win,” Lefoque called out. “And it's fun as well!”

“Maybe for her,” muttered Beathan, who had only managed to win against Jinks so far.

“You know what this game needs?” said Declan, turning to Duff. “Whisky.”

Duff seemed to like this idea. “Yeah. Instead of taking a couple of Knuts when you guess heads or tails, you do a shot. Nice.”

“No no no,” Lefoque cried, looking alarmed. “It isn't a drinking game!”

“Everything can be a drinking game if you try hard enough,” remarked Fitz. He was still leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest and looking amused.

“We certainly know that from experience, don't we, Fitzie?” Mariah called out to him, her lips curving in a calculated smile. She added a wink as well, managing to look completely inappropriate. Molly had a sudden urge to slap her.

Fitz ignored his ex-wife completely. Lefoque's eyes were a little wide, and she tried to hurry them back to the game, fluttering over to Deimos and Beathan.

Molly leaned back in her chair and reached across Duff to tap Mariah on the shoulder. “I thought you had decided to put your career ahead of messing about your ex-husband?” she murmured as quietly as she could.

Mariah shot her a glare. “Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?” she snapped, and then scooted her chair down a few inches away.

“Mariah. Mariah.” Molly gave her an impatient stare, but Mariah wouldn't look at her again. She glanced up and caught Fitz's eye, but he only pressed his lips together and gave a tiny shrug.

They managed to stay on task for the rest of the afternoon, dividing into teams to play a few rounds as well. Molly joined up with Zara and Sid, and despite having the utterly useless Jinks and Bram on their side, they managed to win the match. Jinks, it was clear, was not trying, but their opponents had almost as little interest in the game: Beathan had pulled out her wand and was charming her nails in an argyle pattern, and Duff and Declan were miming doing shots with each coin toss.

“You'd give yourself alcohol poisoning if you drank that many shots,” Molly told them between rounds.

“Nah,” Declan assured her. “I know a charm for that.”

She shook her head at him in mock dismay, and he grinned.

Finally Lefoque let them go for the day, though it was apparent she was reluctant to leave them to their free time. Molly was rather enjoying being part of the incorrigible group for once. It was a lot more fun than trying to keep them in check. She could see why her cousins had always loved to cause trouble at school. Hell, a few of them still hadn't outgrown the urge to be a troublemaker.

The team didn't bother to stay for whatever Lefoque had planned for dinner and instead headed straight to the pub, much to Lefoque's obvious chagrin. Fitz led the way, so she didn't bother to stop them, only standing there forlornly as they all left, the bag of coins dangling from her fingertips.

The pub had the usual smattering of locals, and there were some smiles as the Prides arrived. Molly hoped the town was getting to like them, since they were probably going to spend every night this week sitting in the pub until closing time. The barkeep grinned at them and started drawing pints as the team bellied up to the bar.

Declan and Duff, as promised, began turning the team building activity into a drinking game. The rest of the team circled round to watch. Mariah was still studiously avoiding Molly, who decided she didn't want to see the Beaters actually getting alcohol poisoning, charm notwithstanding, and took her pint down to the other end of the bar where Jinks and Fitz were sitting. Molly plopped into the empty seat between them.

“You're ruining my buffer space,” Fitz noted. He didn't look concerned by this though, working his way steadily through a plate of chips and a pint.

Molly snagged a chip off his plate, dipping it in ketchup before she popped it in her mouth. “What d'you need a buffer for? Don't want to listen to Jinks slurping his shots?”

“Don't want to smell him, more like.” Fitz winked at her.

“Showering is bad luck,” exclaimed Jinks from Molly's other side. “I've decided I'm not going to do it any more.”

Molly wrinkled her nose at him. “You're disgusting.”

“I don't have to take this abuse.” Jinks got up, shot glass in hand. “I'm going to go see if Duff is still conscious.”

“Good, go. And then take a shower,” she called after him.

“I think he's hoping if he smells bad enough, Lefoque won't make him participate,” observed Fitz.

“Works for me,” Molly agreed. “It makes me want him to not participate, that's for sure.”

They drank in silence for a while, watching Duff and Declan getting Deimos Flint to join their game. The rest of the team wasn't paying their coach and captain any attention. Molly turned in her seat to look round the pub. A few seats down from Fitz, an old man in plaid robes and a black cap was nursing a large pint of dark beer, and at the table across from them, two middle-aged witches sat cackling over their knitting and a bottle of elderberry wine. Molly smiled at them; it gave the place a lovely rural sort of atmosphere that she enjoyed.

The bartender bustled past them to the old man in the plaid robes and refilled his pint, then told him gruffly, “I hope ye choke on it.”

“Away wi' ye, ye son of a harpy,” retorted the man in plaid.

Molly snorted, and Fitz let out a chuckle. The bartender came over to them, sliding a shot of firewhisky in front of Fitz.

“Who's that?” he asked curiously.

“He's a damned bastard who slept with my wife, God rest her,” the bartender informed him. “Bloody cuckolding old-"

“She were my wife first, God rest her,” piped up the plaid robes. “You stole her from me.”

“Pah.” The bartender spit on the floor. “To hell wi' ye.”

“To hell wi' you, too.”

Molly and Fitz exchanged a glance. The bartender tapped a finger against the side of his nose.

“The old bastard won't go away. He sits here every night, drinking up all my whisky.”

“And he won't even pay his tab, isn't that right, Donald?” One of the witches who'd been knitting leaned against the bartop. Her hair was a blend of steel-grey and orangey-red, her face covered in freckles, skin worn down by too much time spent outdoors.

Donald the barkeep gave her a dark glare. “One day I'll poison him. You wait and see.”

“Back to work. You will not. He's your cousin, you know.”

Molly snorted her drink out her nose. While she was mopping up the mess from her face (with Fitz grinning at her), Donald set a fresh bottle of wine in front of the red-haired witch and said gruffly, “Second cousin.”

The witch set her knitting on the bartop and held out a weathered hand to Fitz. “I'm Gormla MacFusty.”

“Riordan Fitzroy,” Fitz said, shaking her hand.

Molly reached over his shoulder to shake hands as well. “Molly Weasley.”

“He's all talk, that one,” she said, nodding to Donald. “The two of them have been at it for years. Pay them no mind at all.”

“How long has this been going on?” Fitz asked, waving his shot of whisky at the two old men. “The drinking and not paying the tab, arch-enemies thing.”

Gormla MacFusty rolled her eyes. “Going on forty years now.”

Molly had to hide her face behind Fitz's back to cover her laughter. Fitz was grinning and shaking his head.

“No one can hate you like your family can hate you,” Gormla told them. She was eyeing them speculatively. “Heard you lot are out at that bloody corporate retreat place. Doing trust falls and other nonsense, are ye?”

“No trust falls yet, but there's always tomorrow,” Fitz assured her.

“Don't seem the usual types she gets over at that place.” Gormla sat on the empty barstool beside Fitz, her serviceable black robes hiking up over her hobnailed boots, revealing knitted woolen socks in a tartan pattern.

“That's what Donald told us yesterday,” Molly put in, managing to get her giggles under control.

“For one thing, ye're here in the pub with the locals, they don't normally do that. And ye're talking to us. Well, that lot is probably beyond talking at this point,” she added, nodding toward the rest of the team.

Molly looked over her shoulder in time to see Deimos fall heavily off his chair, then struggle back to his feet to the cheers of the team.

“I'm okay,” he was saying. “I can keep drinking.”

Molly turned back. “They're still upright. Mostly.”

“Being in the Outer Hebrides really loosens you up,” Fitz said, giving her a sidelong glance.

“I'm off duty,” she told him cheerfully. “I'm taking in the local colour. Maybe I'll go look for a dragon or two.”

“Oh, you don't want to be doin' that,” said Gormla seriously. “The buggers'll have you for lunch.”

Molly suddenly remembered she was one of the responsible parties present and hurried to reassure her. “I wouldn't really. I know better, honestly. My uncle studies dragons in Romania. I like to see them, but only with a dragonologist present for safety, and never in the wild.”

Fitz chuckled and remarked, “There's the Molly I'm used to,” but Gormla appeared impressed.

“Your uncle, eh? Well, I think I can show you a few. We've got a few of them up over the mountain in pens, sick ones and nesting mothers, and an old drake who was injured in a dominance battle and lost half his right wing. Can't fly any longer. You can come along,” she added to Fitz. “And I reckon the rest of them can come, too.”

“We'll sober them up first,” he promised.

Gormla was looking over at the team with a raised eyebrow. A few of them had gone back to the retreat to sleep, but everyone remaining was standing around Deimos, almost falling over with laughter. He was on the floor, rolling about like an overturned turtle and laughing his head off.

“Why me?” Fitz muttered.

Molly gave him a little push. “Better go check on him.”

Donald the barkeep was already there, and between the two of them they decided Deimos just needed to sleep it off. He was too drunk to walk or Apparate, and no one else was sober enough to take him Side-Along. Donald went to fetch the wheelbarrow he kept for these sorts of situations, and the prospect of bringing Deimos Flint home in a wheelbarrow was enough to get the rest of the team to cart him home. Duff and Declan, who were the largest and most muscular after Deimos, volunteered to do the heavy lifting. Since the drinking game had been their idea in the first place, Molly felt this was only fair.

“Are they always like this?” Gormla murmured, watching the Beaters hauling Deimos outside, dragging him by the legs.

“Not always...” Molly hedged. “I think they've decided they're on holiday and can behave how they like.”

“They remind me of my cousin Findlay.”

“They remind me of my cousin James.”

Once the Prides were on their way, Fitz returned to the bar and took his seat again.

“Bloody hell,” he groaned, picking up his unfinished drink. “That man weighs as much as a troll.”

Gormla laughed. “I'll see you lot later, all right?” And with a wave she returned to her friend, her knitting and wine in hand.

Molly wasn't laughing, though. Fitz looked more serious now than he had earlier. She had a fairly good guess why. He was sitting stiffly, his injured arm held at his side instead of leaning against the bartop. “You helped lift him, didn't you? Even with your bad shoulder?”

“That lot was so drunk they could hardly stand themselves upright, much less anyone else. And the barman's too old,” he added in a whisper.

She wanted to give him a good whack for being stupid, but she didn't want to hurt him even worse. Up close, she could see the lines of pain deepen in his face. “Drink your whisky, you idiot. Hopefully it'll dull the pain a bit. Did you bring any potions with you?”

“Healers gave me a potions regimen,” he answered shortly. “I've been taking them as directed.”

“Will you be all right with just those?” she asked warily.

He gave a one-shouldered shrug on his good side. “I'll probably have to get in to see a Healer when we get home.”

She didn't like the sound of that, and from his tone, neither did he. “Don't do anything else to hurt yourself, all right?”

“Don't boss me around.” He finished off his drink and waved to the bartender for another.

“I'm only looking out for you. Stop being an arsehole about it.”

Fitz's head snapped around. “I'm not-” he began hotly, but then he stopped. “I am being an arse, aren't I? I don't mean to.”

“I can always tell when you've been drinking, because you actually apologize to me,” Molly said with a fake sigh.

“You're the only one I apologize to,” he told her, and Molly felt her cheeks go red.

They were silent then while Donald refilled Fitz's whisky. After he'd walked off again, Molly slid off her barstool.

“It's getting late.”

“I'll walk you home,” he offered, moving to stand up, but she shook her head.

“Stay and finish your drink. I'll Apparate. I'm sober, really.”

“Are you? Stand on one leg.”

Molly balanced on one leg and then the other, and Fitz seemed to accept that she was steady enough.

“All right. Just checking. Have to be responsible for all you drunkards, after all, I'm the coach.” He picked up his glass and drank half the contents in one gulp.

“Right, because you're the head of all the drunkards.”

“Nah. You're the head drunkard. I'm Coach Drunkard.”

Molly smiled at him. He was trying to be light-hearted, but she could still see pain on his face. Her face grew serious, and she asked quietly, “Are you sure you're all right?”

He nodded. “I'll live. Good night, Molly.”

“Good night.”

The cold night air sobered her even more when she left the warmth of the pub. Blowing out a long breath, she pictured the retreat's distinctive ornamental shrubberies and turned over her shoulder, Disapparating with a crack.


Chapter 10: Surprising Depths
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 “Honestly, I think I'd actually kill someone for some Hangover Potion right about now,” said Zara. She was sitting beside Molly in the dining area, a cup of tea in front of her on the table. Sid was stretched out on the floor next to the them, and the rest of the team slumped over the table in various states of nausea. Nobody was eating breakfast except Jinks.

“Maybe we should quit drinking,” Beathan suggested.

“No,” Duff said firmly, his forehead resting on his folded arms. “I'd rather die. I feel like I want to die, anyway.”

“I'm going back to bed,” whispered Declan. “Go on without me. Tell Lefool I died.”

“No one is dying,” came Fitz's voice from the doorway, and most of the team turned to look at him. Zara let out a small groan as she moved.

“Someone cut off my head,” she requested. “It'll be an improvement.”

Fitz set the tote bag he'd been carrying on the table. “No need for that yet. I've a gift for all of you. Except Jinks.”

Jinks looked offended. “Why not me? Where's my gift?”

“Shut up, Jinks,” Fitz told him, and started pulling bottles of Hangover-Curing Potion out of the bag.

“Oh gods,” moaned Zara, popping hers open. “You're a lifesaver.”

Molly was only feeling mild effects, but she drank the potion anyway. It tasted slightly of mint and chased her headache away instantly. Feeling human again, she looked round at the team as she sipped more of the potion. Zara had downed hers in few gulps, and was now opening Sid's for him. Sid drank while lying flat on his back, eyes closed. The rest of them were beginning to perk up, and the relief was palpable.

Jinks, who hadn't had a hangover in the first place, continued to shovel sausages and fried bread into his mouth. “I hope you brought enough for tomorrow as well,” he said to Fitz between bites.

“I bought a case of this stuff. The rest is in my room.”

“Now if only you could get us out of the activity today,” Molly remarked.

“No help there. She's out in the hall already, waiting by the door. Gave me a dirty look when I came downstairs with the potions.” Fitz slid into the seat across from Molly.

“We should mutiny,” suggested Declan. “If we all just left, she couldn't stop us.”

“McCormack paid for the retreat. If we walk out, we don't get a refund. I checked,” Fitz added. “Suck it up, you lot. It's only until the day after tomorrow. Then we're done.”

The team grumbled an agreement.

“I'm getting something to eat, then,” grumbled Sid, getting to his feet. “I think I can hold it down now.”

Lefoque came in to collect them after breakfast, and led them outside.

“We'll be playing a game called Willow in the Wind today,” she began, and Deimos perked up.

“Whomping Willow?”

Lefoque looked mildly horrified, and shook her head. “No, no. This is a trust exercise, to help you develop as a team.”

“Have we finally got to the trust falls, then?” asked Zara under her breath.

Molly let out a snort. As it turned out, it was merely trust leans. Lefoque arranged them in circle, facing inward, and they took it in turn to get in the centre and lean against each teammate. Somewhat to Molly's surprise, no one seemed to want to drop each other. Even when Duff and Declan were leaning against each other, they didn't let go just to be funny. Lefoque seemed overjoyed that they were taking the exercise at least a little bit seriously and kept them at it well into the afternoon.

Fitz was sitting this one out, watching from the sidelines beside Lefoque. Molly wondered if his shoulder was still bothering him from helping lift Deimos into the wheelbarrow last night. The wheelbarrow had been standing outside the door to the retreat when she'd returned last night, but it was nowhere to be seen now. Fitz must have returned it before going to bed. He'd been the last one to leave the pub.

Once everyone had had a go as the Willow, Lefoque stepped into the circle, her face set in a smile more sincere than Molly had seen since the day they'd arrived. “That was wonderful. I'm so proud of you all. Now, let's discuss how we felt during as the Willow and as the Wind.”

Sid groaned. “Can't we just do it? Why do we have to talk about it too?”

“I felt like dropping Duff on his arse would be hilarious,” volunteered Deimos.

Declan grinned at him. “Me too! I nearly did it.”

“I was sort of surprised you didn't drop each other, to be honest,” said Fitz gruffly. He had moved to stand just behind Molly and Beathan. “Showing surprising depths of good behaviour.”

“Can we have a reward, then?” Duff asked hopefully.

Fitz looked suspicious at that. “What sort of reward?”

“Not talking about feelings,” Deimos said immediately.

“The rest of the day off,” suggested Sid.

“The rest of the week off,” piped up Bram.

“I have an activity planned for you this evening,” Lefoque told them. She had crossed her arms over her chest at the suggestions of taking the day or week off. Her face was pinched. “You'll have a few hours to yourselves this afternoon, and we'll meet out here at dusk.”

“Nighttime trust falls?” Zara asked suspiciously.

“Stargazing.”

“Oh.” Zara looked surprised. “That doesn't sound too horrible.”

“Doesn't sound too useful either,” muttered Sid.

“No pub tonight?” Jinks exclaimed, looking crestfallen.

Lefoque let them go after that with a promise to return at dusk. Left to their own devices, the team milled around for a moment outside the door.

“I'm going to go have a nap,” Mariah announced. She still wouldn't speak to Molly. She hadn't tried to drop her during Molly's turn as the Willow, but she had passed her off quickly to Bram.

“Me too.” Jinks followed Mariah inside, leaving the rest of the team staring at each other.

“Anyone want to play a pickup game?” offered Sid. “I brought a Quaffle.”

The retreat had a handful of ancient brooms, enough to field four-a-side Quidditch. The brooms barely moved fast enough to outpace Fitz, who was on foot below them, refereeing. To a team accustomed to professional-quality brooms, the slow speed was hilarious. The small sparrows in the glen behind the retreat were out-flying all of them. The game eventually degenerated into sprints across the little valley to see whose broom was slowest.

After losing to Sid, Molly returned to the ground and watched with a grin while Duff taunted Sid, his broom struggling its way to a speed approximating a Knarl's trot. Duff's ancient broom was just behind him, sputtering puffs of gold sparks as it struggled to carry his weight. Molly let her broom fall to the ground and sat down, cross-legged.

Fitz was stretched out in the grass beside her, with the rest of the team on his other side. Zara was chuckling over the race, her elbows propped against her knees.

“I think I had a broom that slow when I was about five,” she remarked.

“Me too,” agreed Fitz. He was facing the race, his head propped on one hand, but his eyes flickered to Molly.

“I bet mine is slower,” said Beathan thoughtfully. She scrambled to her feet and then onto her broom in one smooth movement, kicking off the ground and flying toward Duff and Sid.

“Good to see her getting along with Duff again, isn't it?” Molly noted.

The two hadn't spoken much after their brief night together and subsequent argument on the pitch, until the retreat had put them in close proximity this week. Molly didn't see any signs of a rekindled romance, but she was pleased to see them getting along.

“Yeah. She never should've slept with him,” Zara commented. “They don't suit each other at all.”

“That doesn't always stop people,” said Bram.

“True. Look at Fitz,” Zara said, and he looked up at her in surprise.

“What about me?”

“I can't believe you were married to Waldman.”

“Oh, her.” Fitz settled back to his former position. “Yeah, I can't believe it either.”

Molly sat quietly, not wanting to talk about his ex-wife. Mariah was annoyed with her for some reason she didn't understand, leaving her with the uneasy feeling that she didn't understand people as well as she liked to think she did. Usually she could suss out someone's motivations quite quickly. If she didn't know better, she'd think Mariah was jealous, but there was no reason for her to be. She couldn't know about Molly and Fitz's kiss, and even if she did, why would it matter to her? They'd been divorced a while now. Mariah was known in the League for having a string of boyfriends post-divorce (and a few rumours of a string of them pre-divorce as well), and surely she'd seen Fitz with someone else after their divorce.

Something would have to be done about Mariah, but Molly wasn't certain what just yet.

“Well, what about this stargazing tonight, then?” asked Deimos. “Are we really going to do that?”

“She'll come find us if we don't,” said Fitz. There was no question who 'she' was. Lefoque was keeping a tighter rein on the team. Molly was rather surprised they'd been given the afternoon off, for that matter. It must've been in the schedule, but she hadn't looked at that all week.

“What's the point, though? I haven't stargazed since I was at Hogwarts. And I only did it then because Astronomy was mandatory,” Deimos added.

“I haven't either,” put in Zara. “Usually in the pub after dark, to be honest.”

“I liked Astronomy,” Molly mused. “Got an O on my Astronomy O.W.L. Maybe stargazing will be fun.”

“I bet you got all O's, didn't you.” Bram grinned at her. “Nerdy type, weren't you?”

“She was Head Girl,” Fitz spoke up. “Course she was nerdy.”

Molly stuck her tongue out at them. “There's nothing wrong with being Head Girl and getting good grades. And yes, I got all O's on my O.W.L.s.”

“Why am I not surprised,” Zara said, but she was smiling.

Molly wasn't bothered. She'd been teased by her cousins too many times over her academic success to let a little ribbing from her teammates get to her. Besides, she knew for a fact that Zara had been a prefect.

They stayed there, racing the shoddy old brooms and playing Quidditch, late into the afternoon. When dinner time rolled around, the team trooped back to the retreat, breaking off into clumps as they walked. Duff, Declan, and Deimos led the pack, with the Chasers behind them. Molly volunteered to put the borrowed brooms away, and Fitz offered to help. The rest of the team split off toward the retreat, while Molly and Fitz went to the broom shed.

“The team seems to be getting along pretty well,” he remarked. “Maybe you were right to be optimistic.”

“I told you,” she said with a wink as she leaned the brooms against the wall of the shed. “We should let them skive off tomorrow. Go see the MacFusty dragons.”

“We?” he echoed, and Molly felt a blush crawl up her cheeks.

“We. The coach and captain. That's all I meant.”

“Was it?” His expression was unreadable, but then he went on, “Well, I might be willing to let them off for the day. I wouldn't mind seeing a few dragons. Dunno how Beathan would feel...”

Molly laughed. “Happy to not be doing trust falls, that's how she'll feel.”

“You might be right at that,” he agreed with a grin.

It occurred to Molly that they were completely invisible to the retreat, with the doors of the shed blocking them from view. Fitz was leaning against the door, his good arm above his head on the door jamb. She wondered if his shoulder was still bothering him, but couldn't quite bring herself to ask; he looked as if he weren't thinking about it at the moment and she didn't want to remind him. In fact, he looked as if he were thinking about something entirely different. His eyes had gone dark, and his gaze rested on her mouth.

“We'd better go, if we want to make it to dinner on time,” she said in a rush, feeling her nerves get the better of her.

“I suppose so.” He still looked rather intense, but he let her lead the way back to the retreat.

*

Fitz had no intention of stargazing all evening. Neither, apparently, did anyone else: The team was recalcitrant to a man as they stretched out on blankets on the small hill behind the retreat.

“Look up at Orion, see how his bow pulls back...” Lefoque was droning, but no one was listening to her.

Muttering under their breaths, her captive audience half-heartedly looked up at the constellations and kept up their own low-voiced conversations.

“Is there going to be a test later?” whispered Sid, making Duff and Declan snigger into their scarves.

“Better not be,” Bram whispered back. “I failed my Astronomy O.W.L.”

Fitz hushed them half-heartedly. He didn't give a flip about the constellations either, but they could at least fake paying attention. Molly was doing a good job of that, from what he could see. She'd put Beathan between them as a buffer. Fitz knew he should be glad for that since they were supposed to be maintaining some professionalism, but instead he wished she was beside him. Her long body was stretched out, arms folded across her belly. The rise and fall of her breasts with each breath was almost hypnotic. Her breathing was very even, maybe a little too even. He looked closer; her eyes were closed.

He gave Beathan a nudge. “Poke Weasley and wake her up.”

“I'm awake,” came Molly's voice. She didn't open her eyes, though. “Just relaxing.”

A faint tinkling sound drew his attention away from her. He glanced over and saw Jinks pulling a bottle out of some hidden pocket in his robes. Jinks put a hand to his mouth to shush Fitz.

“Oh, what's that?” whispered Sid with interest. “Firewhisky?”

Jinks nodded. “Not just any firewhisky. This is Speyside single-malt firewhisky.”

Sid was not impressed. He waved a hand for the bottle. “Don't care, pass it over.”

The bottle made the rounds of the team a few times without Lefoque noticing a thing. She was staring up at the sky, babbling on about legends of the centaurs and other such nonsense.

“I reckon stargazing isn't so bad after all,” Deimos remarked, taking a long swallow of whisky.

“Whisky makes everything better,” Molly murmured. Her eyes were still closed. She'd taken a few healthy swigs from the bottle as well, and her cheeks were rosy.

They lay there, passing the bottle around and looking at the stars, for another hour before Lefoque dismissed them with a promise to rejoin her at eight in the morning for the final day's activities. She stayed behind on the hill, looking despondent, as the team trooped off to the retreat. Fitz reckoned she'd noticed their complete lack of interest in her stars lecture.

When they reached the hallway to their rooms, there was more milling about than Fitz had expected. He could hear snippets of conversation down the end of the hall where Jinks' and Zara's rooms were.

“What's going on down there?” he asked.

“Mutiny,” called Jinks.

“We're talking about skiving off tomorrow,” Zara said, her chin set as if she expected him to yell at them. “This whole thing is a ridiculous waste of time, and I want a day off.”

“Good, let's do it,” Fitz agreed. “I want to see a dragon before I leave. The MacFustys invited us to come for a visit.”

“What about the nonrefundable deposit?” Molly asked. She was leaning against the door to her room, arms crossed over her chest, but her expression was mild. Since she'd suggested skiving off earlier, he knew she didn't really mind. “And McCormack?”

“It's the last day. We've built enough bloody teamwork,” he responded, and a small cheer went up through the hallway. Everyone was grinning at him, and it felt rather good. While the rest of them started chatting about their plans for tomorrow, Fitz added to Molly, “I'll deal with McCormack. We might as well have a day off.”

“Protecting the team from her wrath?”

“Part of my job as coach.”

This got a smile out of her. It lit her entire face, and he smiled back without thinking. She was even more beautiful when she smiled. The team made arrangements to sneak out at dawn, before Lefoque came to collect them, and for once the lot of them went to bed before midnight. Fitz waited until everyone was in their rooms before turning in. He fell asleep hoping to spend most of the day with Molly smiling at him like that.

*

Six hours of trudging around the MacFusty lands and two elderly Hebridean Blacks later, the team split off to do some sightseeing in smaller groups. Molly hung back to continue chatting with Gormla MacFusty. They'd been bonding cheerfully all day, having extended conversations about the dragons and the islands and everything under the sun, so that Fitz had hardly said a word to Molly since that morning. It was nice to see her find a kindred spirit, and he was surprised at how much she knew about dragons, but he was still feeling out of temper about not talking to her.

Jinks jogged over while he was waiting for her.

“We're going to town to see the shops, Coach,” he said. “You coming along?”

“I'll be there shortly.” He jabbed a thumb at Molly, who was laughing at something Gormla had said. “I'll make sure Weasley knows where you lot went.”

Jinks smiled innocently. “Right then. See you.”

Fitz watched, eyes narrowed, as he trotted off to catch up with the others. Jinks was always a bit of a git, which made it hard to tell when he was up to something or only messing you about for fun.

It took Molly another ten minutes to realize everyone had gone on ahead and that Fitz was standing there, scuffing the toe of his boot into the heather. She hurried over to him with an apologetic expression.

“Sorry, did they all leave me behind? You didn't have to wait.”

“I wanted to,” he said, and a faint blush crept into her cheeks.

“Well, let's catch up, then.”

They walked side by side toward the village, silent for a while.

“How'd you learn so much about dragons?” he asked eventually. “That uncle you mentioned?”

She nodded. “Uncle Charlie. He loves to talk about dragons. My gran used to tell us he would turn into one soon.”

“Nice,” he chuckled. “Did you buy that?”

“No, but my cousin Fred did. He was afraid of Uncle Charlie for a while when he was four, thinking he turned into a dragon every night.”

Fitz laughed. “Poor kid. Didn't his parents tell him the truth?”

“Are you kidding?” Molly rolled her eyes. “His dad, my uncle George, is a complete joker. Uncle George told him Uncle Charlie could fly and breathe fire like a dragon, and slept on a pile of gold.”

They were both laughing now. When she talked about her family, her face was filled with affection. She obviously was very close to them. Fitz decided he wouldn't mind listening to her talk about her family all day, just so he could watch her while she was relaxed and happy like this.

“Eventually poor Fred told his mum,” she went on, “and Aunt Angelina told him it wasn't true. Uncle George got in trouble for that one.”

“Is this the one who owns Weasley's Wizard Wheezes?” He wasn't entirely sure where all the Weasleys fit in relation to Molly. There were so many of them, he couldn't keep track. He knew someone close to her owned the joke shop, though.

“Yeah, that's Uncle George.”

“So Uncle George owns a joke shop, Uncle Charlie works with dragons, and I know who your Uncle Harry is. Who else?”

Molly gave him a look. “You're very interested in my family.”

He shrugged, unwilling to reveal any motives behind his interest. “Just curious.”

“Well. Uncle Bill works for Gringott's, my aunt Ginny works at The Daily Prophet, and my uncle Ron is an Auror. Uncle Harry is Aunt Ginny's husband. She used to play for the Harpies.”

He remembered Ginny Potter. She'd been an excellent Chaser with the Holyhead Harpies when he'd been a kid. He had seen a few games she'd played in. She didn't much resemble Molly, except the hair colour. Ginny Potter had been compact and sturdy where Molly was long and lean, with brown eyes instead of Molly's piercing blue. “Is that why you went for the Harpies, because of your aunt?”

“A bit, yeah. I liked the team a lot as well.” She gave him a nudge, elbowing him lightly in the ribs. “So what about your family? Got a lot of uncles and aunts as well?”

“Me? Nah. There's just my mum and her sister, but they don't get on. Haven't seen my aunt in a few years.” Not since he'd gone professional and she'd tried to hit him up for money. He'd given her a thousand Galleons and told her not to come back unless she invited his mum round for tea sometime. She never had.

“What about your dad?”

“He's an only child. He's retired now, putters round the garden, feeding the gnomes. Bit of an amateur anthropologist with them, actually. He's written a book on the little buggers. My mum hates it, says they ruin her herbs.”

Molly laughed. “My grandparents' garden is always overrun with gnomes. They do ruin the herbs, your mum's not wrong.”

They spent most of the afternoon walking around and chatting, eventually winding up in the pub around suppertime. Donald was behind the bar as usual, and half the team was sitting at one end of the bar, playing blackjack and drinking beer. They smiled a greeting at Fitz and Molly but didn't wave them over.

“Reckon we should join them?” Molly asked.

Fitz slid into a seat right where he was. “Not sure they're ready for that much socializing with the dreaded coach yet.”

Molly gave him a pat on the shoulder, and he pretended it was only friendly, though the electricity in his veins made a liar of him. He could have sworn he could feel the heat of her skin through his coat, and the scent of her, blackcurrant and roses, seemed to swell over him. He tried to ignore it. It was in both their best interests if they stayed professional.

“Oh, I think they're warming to you again,” she was saying. “Especially after you let us all skive off today.”

“That was your idea. You let me have the credit.”

“No one will believe you. I was Head Girl. I would never skive off.”

Fitz gave her a look. “Right. Didn't you say you come from a long line of troublemakers?”

“I think I said I was the only well-behaved Weasley,” she informed him loftily, then broke into a grin. “Well-behaved is relative, I suppose.”

“With your relatives, I'm not surprised.”

She let out a sharp bark of laughter, and Fitz couldn't hold back his grin. Making her laugh was far more fun than anything else in his life right now. He forgot about everything that was annoying him, everything that he'd lost, when Molly was smiling and laughing with him.

A few hours and several drinks later, Fitz had almost completely forgotten that half his team was sitting at the other end of the bar. Molly was telling stories of her cousins, each more unbelievable than the last, though she insisted they were all true.

She was in the middle of a tale of her cousin James throwing a lamp through a window when something behind him attracted her attention. Her voice trailed off, and he turned around to see the team gathering up their coats. Jinks was leading the way, and he was headed directly at them, looking more serious than Fitz had ever seen him.

They gathered around Fitz, with Jinks in the centre, Zara and Duff on one side and Beathan and Declan on the other. The main team, Fitz thought. The reserve players had disappeared already, back to the retreat or who knew where.

“We wanted to talk to you for a mo, Coach,” Zara began.

Fitz set his drink down, turning around in his seat to face them fully. He wasn't sure what they were up to, but he was feeling rather nervous now.

“It was our own fault we lost the game,” Jinks said, then over his shoulder added, “Shut up, Duff.”

Duff, who had opened his mouth to argue the point, shut up quickly.

“There was no way we were going to win,” Jinks went on in the silence following his announcement. “The other teams had a head start on us. Some of them have been together for years. They all had a full training season. We had half of one, and we're brand new. It was never going to happen. I'm sorry we blamed you, Coach. And you, Weasley.”

Fitz was rather stunned by the apology, not to mention Jinks's unexpected grasp on reality. He glanced at Molly. She wasn't saying anything, but she she was watching Jinks, her face expressionless. Fitz couldn't tell what she was thinking.

“Yeah,” said Zara then, and she pressed her lips together for a moment before adding, “That wasn't fair.”

The rest of them began muttering apologies, and Fitz drew a deep breath, feeling something inside him release. “I'm sorry too. I could have been a better coach. I didn't know what I was doing.”

“You've got a bit better now, Coach,” piped up Beathan. “Except for the yelling. I could do without the yelling.”

He had to rein in his temper. Shouting was one thing, but he had been cursing them and calling them idiots and the like. “We'll all do better. Training when we get back home, I mean. We've got the potential. We could win our next game if we get it together. All of us.”

They were starting to smile now, nodding at him.

“Go on and get some sleep,” Fitz said, waving them out. “McCormack is picking us up in the morning. If you're hung over, she'll notice, and probably think up some way to stop us drinking.”

The team shuffled out, much more upbeat now. They were laughing and chatting as they slid into their coats and scarves and headed back to the retreat. Molly set her glass down with a firm thunk. He glanced down at her whisky neat before looking up again and meeting her eyes.

“That was well done of them,” she remarked, leaning closer to him. “And you.”

“For once I wasn't an arsehole,” Fitz said, tossing back his firewhisky. The liquor didn't help his already heated body; being this close to her was making his blood race.

“I'm sure you'll be back to that tomorrow. Try not to mock Ms. Airy-Fairy to her face tomorrow morning, though.”

Fitz grinned. “No promises.”

Molly was watching him with that soul-searching gaze that she had, only with the whisky in him it didn't make him nervous as before. It made him want to bend her backward and kiss her until the fire was in both of them.

“It's late. I should go,” she said then, and he nodded.

“Me too. I'll walk you back.”

He half-expected her to tell him she could make it on her own, but she nodded and finished her drink. “Let's go, then.”

*

They walked to the retreat in silence, the blackness pressing in on them. The sky was overcast again, no stars and no moon to light the night around them. Fitz lit his wand to illuminate the ground in front of them. Molly was still feeling tipsy, and the uneven path to the retreat felt less steady than usual. She nearly tripped going up a hill, and grabbed at Fitz to steady herself before she remembered she was standing on his left. She'd just fallen against his bad arm.

“Sorry,” she gasped, and let go at once. “I didn't mean to hurt you-”

He held out his arm. “Hang on, drunkard. If you fall and hit your head on a rock, we don't have a reserve Keeper.”

“Oh, thanks very much,” she said, rolling her eyes, but she slipped a hand into the crook of his arm anyway. It felt good to walk so close to him, to feel his body next to hers. He felt strong and solid, and she had a sudden urge to run her hands up and down his arms, feeling the muscles. I've got to stop drinking until I get this under control, she thought, but she didn't let go of him.

“Nearly there,” Fitz said then. He didn't seem as affected by being close to her as she was. She wondered if she did run her hands over him, if he would kiss her again.

The retreat was over the next rise, and she held tighter to his arm as they walked downhill. The boxwood topiaries were hulking, dark shapes in the night. Molly could almost believe the animals were real.

“Bit spooky in the dark, isn't it?” Fitz noted, surveying the menagerie of shrubberies. He took her hand, giving her a tug toward the boxwood dragon.

She went willingly, letting him pull her close so the carefully trimmed bushes hid them from the retreat's windows. The night didn't feel so cold once she was pressed up against his warm body. She slid her hands inside his coat, feeling the firm muscles of his chest.

“I know we said just friends,” he murmured, but his hand was trailing down her back and around to her waist, and it didn't feel at all friendly. Her pulse leaped. Maybe he was more affected than he'd let on.

“Professional,” Molly agreed. His hand was on her waist now, and she reached up to brush the dark hair back from his temple, letting her fingers tangle in it.

“That's the one.”

He was staring into her eyes. They moved at the same time, lips meeting in a long kiss. Her hand curved around the back of his neck, pulling him closer. His hands were on her hips, holding her tightly against him, and suddenly the night felt on fire.

Molly nipped at his lips, and he deepened the kiss, then broke off to trail kisses down her neck and into her cleavage. She drew a shuddering breath and pulled him back, her hands on his bristly cheeks. He let out a low groan that was almost a growl, hauling her tighter against him, and kissed her again.

“Would it be professional if you came back to my room with me?” he murmured against her lips.

“Not at all. Let's go.”


Chapter 11: Tentative Hope
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 The bright morning light peeking through the curtains woke Molly. It seemed sharper than usual, and something felt different about the mattress beneath her. Disoriented, she blinked a few times as realization settled in.

First, that she was hung over. Second, that she was naked. And third, that there was an arm draped around her waist.

Wincing against the sunlight, she rolled over. Fitz was stretched out on his stomach, sound asleep, his face relaxed and hair mussed. Since they'd already made the worst mistake possible, she ran her fingers through his hair again, feeling the soft strands, and then stroked down his arm from shoulder to elbow. The smooth muscles bunched, and his eyes opened slowly.

“Good morning,” she whispered.

“Hi.” He turned over onto his back, and this time he was the one to wince. “Goddamn shoulder.”

In the morning light, the scars she'd felt last night stood out faintly purple against his skin, forming a starburst on his shoulder at the point the spell had made impact, the tendrils trailing down his arm and upper back. She touched the bumpy strands of scar tissue on his bicep. “Does it hurt?”

“Yeah. Too much strain.” He reached over and pulled her closer, so she was resting against his chest. “Worth it, though. I'll have to schedule a visit to the Healer when we get back.”

She was torn between feeling guilty that he'd hurt himself last night and the thrill that he thought she was worth aggravating his injury. Idly, she ran her fingertips over his chest, feeling the crisp hairs and the firm flesh. “I should go, before someone sees us together.”

He turned onto his side, facing her. “Are we back to being professional, then?”

She wasn't sure what to say. He must have known they couldn't take this anywhere. They shouldn't have taken it as far as they already had. “You know we have to. We shouldn't have-”

“Don't say we shouldn't have,” he interrupted, his eyes intense. “You can say we shouldn't do it again, but don't say we shouldn't have.”

Molly stared at his fierce expression, and wondered what he was thinking when he looked like that. She wasn't quite brave enough to ask, though. Talking about it would be even more of a mistake than actually doing it had been. She couldn't quite bring herself to regret it, though she knew damn well they shouldn't have spent the night together. “I should go,” she said again. “McCormack's going to be here soon.”

“Damn.” He glanced over at the clock on the nightstand. “In half an hour. Everyone else is probably downstairs.”

“You go down first. Make sure the coast is clear, and I'll sneak into my room.” She slid out of bed and started pulling on her clothes.

Fitz sat up in the bed, the sheets and quilt tangled around his legs. “I hate sneaking around.”

“Suck it up,” Molly told him. “We don't have much choice. Put your trousers on and see if anyone's in the corridor. And where are you hiding the Hangover-Curing Potion?”

Five minutes later, Molly was in her room and Fitz was heading downstairs with his bag slung over one shoulder and the remaining potion bottles in his other hand. The team, bleary-eyed as usual, was gathered in the dining room, and he passed the bottles round.

He did a head count while they drank up. “Who are we missing?”

“Jinks and Weasley haven't come downstairs yet,” said Zara. She had drank her Hangover-Curing Potion as if it were a shot, something Fitz thought was rather impressive. “And Beathan is outside getting some fresh air.”

Thank God for the lazy Seeker. Fitz hadn't liked the idea that he and Molly were the last ones downstairs. It was sure to look suspicious, and while he didn't regret going to bed with her last night, he didn't want the team to know about it. Jinks still being asleep diverted attention a bit. Zara didn't look as if she saw anything amiss about it. “I'll go roust them out of bed,” he said. “McCormack should be here with a Portkey home in about twenty minutes.”

“No need to roust me, I'm awake,” Molly's voice came from behind him. “Is Jinks the last one?”

He turned to look at her, feeling hyper-aware of his movements and expression. It was hard not to give away that he'd seen her naked last night, had spent hours kissing every inch of her lithe body. He wanted to get her naked again immediately, but she was right: they shouldn't do it again. He didn't know how he was going to go back to being professional with her again. Sex changed everything.

It wasn't just sex, his heart whispered to him, but he ignored it. “I'll go get him.”

Fitz left his bag on the table and went upstairs, pounding on Jinks's door. Jinks answered wearing nothing but his Slytherin pyjama bottoms. He yawned and stretched, leaning against the door. “Is it morning? Are we sacked?”

“Yes, and not yet. Twenty minutes until McCormack shows up. Get dressed and packed.”

“Bloody hell.” Jinks closed the door, and Fitz waited until he heard the sounds of movement inside to make sure the Seeker hadn't gone back to sleep.

He trotted back down the stairs in time to catch Meghan McCormack coming in the front door with a muddy sock in one hand.

“There you are,” she said, giving him an appraising look. “You seem to be in one piece. Where's that woman, what's her name. Lefoque?”

“I think we broke her,” Fitz admitted. “Last I heard, she'd locked herself in her room with a load of wine.”

“Good, she was annoying,” McCormack said, to his surprise. “And the team's working together now?”

He hadn't wanted to admit it, but apparently this wasn't going to come as a shock to the team manager. “Sabotaged her every activity like a well-oiled machine.”

“Excellent. Let's go play some Quidditch.” McCormack turned and put her wand at her throat, amplifying her voice so that it boomed through the building. “Everyone out front! Portkey in five minutes!”

Jinx nearly collided with Fitz on the stairs. “Have you come to save us?” he asked McCormack. “I want a pay raise for this.”

She ignored that and pointed to the front door. “Get out front, Jinks, it's time to go home.”

“Oh, good.” Jinks slipped past Fitz and headed outside. The rest of the team was on their way outside, and Molly came up to hand him his bag.

“You left this in the dining room.”

He took it and made sure not to look at her too long. McCormack didn't seem to notice anything, and shooed everyone outside, the muddy sock still in her hand.

They all gathered round, talking and laughing as they waited with one finger on the muddy sock. A few minutes later it glowed and activated, pulling them back home to Portree. At the pitch, the team went their separate ways, Disapparating to head home. There was a lot more laughing and joking than when they'd left for the retreat, and most of them even waved and said goodbye to Fitz. Molly's farewell was casual, and her eyes gave nothing away as she left.

“Meeting with the owners on Friday next,” McCormack said when there was no one there but the two of them. “Enjoy your weekend off. Monday it's back to work.” And she gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder before pirouetting, disappearing with a crack.

Fitz stood alone outside the pitch, feeling his shoulder throb, his insides strangely empty. He wished for a moment he was back at the bloody stupid retreat, where he saw Molly all day and every evening. He'd see her at the pitch on Monday, but it wouldn't be the same. He stood in silence a moment before telling himself to snap out of it, and Apparated home to his empty flat.

*

Molly was in the shower, trying to drown out the images in her head from the last night of the retreat, when she heard her front door open.

“Moll?” came a familiar voice. “Where are you?”

“Back here,” she called.

She stuck her head round the curtain and a moment later her cousin Roxanne appeared in the doorway. “Oh good, you're home,” Roxanne said, and turned to the mirror over the sink to examine her face. “I haven't seen you in forever.”

Molly ducked back into the shower and began rinsing the soap suds off. “I was only gone a week.”

“But I haven't seen you in three weeks. Too busy to spend time with your family. You know Dominique had a dinner party Friday.”

Molly groaned. Their cousin Dominique's dinner parties were rarely enjoyable experiences, though occasionally she used them to drop huge bombshells on her unsuspecting family members. She almost always invited Molly, though. “Was I supposed to be there?”

“Apparently. She likes to bring you out, Ms. Pro Quidditch. Lucy and Hilarion went. Lucy said it was a waste of a perfectly good baby-sitter. Dommie didn't invite me, of course. Struggling writer. Not famous enough. And she doesn't like Perry.”

“You're better off,” Molly muttered, her face in the stream of water.

Roxanne didn't seem to hear her. “Lucy said Uncle Harry was invited as well, but he didn't turn up. Dommie's showing off her famous relatives right now, cause she's got some new bloody boyfriend. He's a baron of someplace or other. Dutch or Belgian or something.”

“I suppose that's not a surprise. Hand me that towel.” Molly shut off the water. The towel landed on top of her head, and she wrapped it around herself before drawing back the curtain. “Dommie was bound to look for someone titled for her next husband.”

“I'm only surprised her first husband wasn't an aristo, to be honest.” Roxanne turned to face her, leaning her hip against the sink. “Right up Dominique's alley, that is. Something's different about you.”

“Nothing is different,” Molly said, and slipped past her. Roxanne followed her to the closet, still looking at her with appraising eyes.

“Yes, there is. I can tell. Your 'I'm Head Girl' halo looks like it slipped.” Roxanne snapped her fingers. “You got laid!”

“Go away, Roxy.” Molly gave her a gentle shove, but Roxanne didn't budge.

“You did. Who did you sleep with? Go on, tell me. Or I'll start poking around and find out for myself.”

Molly grabbed blindly for clothes, avoiding her cousin's eyes. “You're such a reporter, honestly.”

“Fine, fine, keep your secrets. I hope it was good sex. Was it one of your ex-boyfriends?” Roxanne was grinning obnoxiously.

“None of your damn business. Go away.”

“You're no fun, Molly.” Roxanne went over to flop on the bed while Molly got dressed. “How was the retreat, by the way?”

“Completely idiotic yet surprisingly helpful. I don't think the team hates me any more for losing our last two games.”

“Well, that's nice of them. Bunch of twats. As if it were your fault.”

Molly stretched out on the bed next to her cousin. “They were upset, that's all. It's not fun to be on the losing team.”

“You're not used to losing,” Roxanne remarked. “You usually manage everything you set out to do. It's one of your more annoying qualities. Probably this experience is good for you.”

It didn't feel good. She wanted the Prides to win the League, but that seemed unlikely at this point. She'd settle for finishing in the top five. Even that seemed optimistic. “We'll be back to practice tomorrow. Hopefully everyone gets their act together.”

“I hope so. You play Ballycastle next, don't you? How d'you think your chances are?”

“They were in the bottom of the league last year. Tentatively hopeful, but don't quote me.” Molly elbowed her in the ribs. “You're asking because you're concerned about me, not because you're writing an article, aren't you?”

“You're my favourite cousin. I'm always concerned about you. I won't quote you, I don't want to lose my inside source in the Quidditch world.”

“You could always try Hilarion,” Molly suggested.

Roxanne chuckled fondly. “He never knows what's going on except with Appleby. He keeps to himself too much, bless him.”

“Well, if you quote me, I'm not telling you anything again.”

“You could bribe me to keep quiet by telling me who you had sex with.” Roxanne's obnoxious grin was back in place.

Molly elbowed her in the ribs. “Oh, shut up.”

*

Fitz was stretched out on the exam table at the Prides' pitch, staring at the ceiling with his teeth gritted while Hugo Weasley cast spells on his shoulder. There was a water stain directly above the table, and he focused on its shape, the changes in colour as its edges met the pristine ceiling around it, like a coffee spill on paper.

“All done,” Weasley finally said, and Fitz gave a cautious movement of his arm. The sharp, fiery stab of pain had faded to a faint ache. Relieved, he sat up and ran a hand over his tired face.

“Thanks, that's much better.”

Weasley leaned against the table beside him. “You shouldn't have been in that much pain that quickly after your last treatment. Did you take your potions?”

“Yes. It's from hefting one of our drunken Beaters into a wheelbarrow this week. He weighed a solid tonne. My shoulder's been killing me ever since.” This was certainly true, but he had exacerbated the injury by having acrobatic sex with Molly shortly afterwards. He didn't want to mention that to her cousin, though.

“You lifted him into a wheelbarrow,” Weasley repeated, staring at him.

“No one else was sober enough to do it.”

Weasley shook his head. “You lifted him. Are you a wizard or not? Why didn't you use a Hover Charm?”

“Well, because... I, er...” Fitz drew a blank. There was no logical reason not to have performed a Hover Charm, except that he had no idea what the incantation was for the damn thing.

“You don't remember the spell, do you.” It wasn't a question, but Weasley looked more exasperated than annoyed. “I'll make a list of spells you can do to help yourself around the pitch, and apparently around the pub as well, to avoid future incidents like this. Honestly, everyone leaves Hogwarts and forgets half of what they learnt.”

This was true. Fitz knew who had won the Quidditch World Cup for the last two hundred years, but he had only hazy memories of what he'd learnt in most of his classes at school. He had never been that great at Charms, anyway.

Hugo Weasley pulled a notebook from his pocket then. “I've been doing some research on Muggle treatments for injuries similar to yours-”

“Muggles get spell damage injuries?” Fitz interrupted, scepticism colouring his voice.

“No. They get injuries that are perfectly non-magical but with similar effects to what the spell damage did to you. And they do something called physical therapy to help regain strength and range of motion. Those are two things you need most for your arm.”

“I'm not doing any bloody Muggle medicine,” Fitz told him brusquely. “They cut people open and take things out, I'm not doing that-”

“That's surgery you're thinking of,” interrupted Weasley. “This is-”

“I'm not interested. I'll stick with magical healing.”

He expected the man to keep arguing, but Hugo Weasley only tucked his notebook back in his pocket with a calm, “All right.”

“Thanks for the help,” Fitz added grudgingly, sliding down off the exam table. “Shoulder feels much better.”

It was running away, but he did it anyway. The last thing he wanted to do was discuss his shoulder even more than he'd already had to. He could feel the Weasley penetrating stare on his back as he left the room.

In the corridor, he bumped into Molly. She grabbed his arms to steady herself, then immediately let go.

“Oh, sorry,” she gasped.

“No, it's all right.” He didn't know what to say to her. There was a pretty young woman standing behind her, with extremely curly dark hair and tawny skin scattered with freckles, and he felt on the spot with the unexpected audience.

They hadn't spoken since they'd been back from the retreat, but anything he wanted to say seemed inappropriate standing in the hallways of the pitch, not to mention in front of their audience.

She didn't seem to know what to say either. Her gaze was focused off to his side, as if she didn't quite want to look him in the eye. “Did you need to see me?” he asked, trying not to show that he'd been hoping to see her.

She shook her head. “No, I was just-”

Her cousin appeared behind them. “Right, you two, I'm ready whenever you are.”

“Hi Hugo,” Molly said, and her expression softened. She was obviously fond of her cousin. And then she looked back at Fitz, meeting his eyes this time. "We're off to lunch. I'll see you later?"

“Oh. Right.” Fitz stepped back, and watched as Hugo fell into step beside the two women.

They walked off, and before they turned out of sight, Molly looked back over her shoulder at him. She wasn't smiling, but he thought he saw something in her eyes.

*

“I know who you slept with,” Roxanne said in a sing-song voice as soon as they got outside.

“Shut up, Roxy,” Molly told her, giving her a small shove.

“I don't want to hear about this, do I?” Hugo asked rhetorically.

Roxanne was grinning obnoxiously, and skipped a few times just to be even more irritating. “It was him, wasn't it – when you bumped into him, I was sure, and then you didn't even remember to introduce me-”

“Roxanne,” Molly interrupted. “Seriously. Shut up. And keep anything you might be speculating off the record or I'll hex you into next week. Hugo, pretend you didn't hear anything.”

“All right,” Hugo said easily. “Should I pretend I didn't see how Coach Fitzroy was looking at you as well?”

“Yes. Do that.”

Molly carefully avoided the subject all through lunch, but Roxanne kept smiling smugly, and Hugo was looking studiously impassive, so she knew one or the other of them was going to bring it up again.

Her family was annoyingly predictable that way.

Roxanne eventually stopped looking smug and started talking about her husband, who was composing an operetta based on the fairy tale The Fountain of Fair Fortune, and Roxanne was bubbling over with enthusiasm at writing the libretto for him. She monopolised the conversation while Hugo placidly worked his way through an enormous amount of food and Molly tried to occasionally add something to Roxy's monologue while thinking about Fitz.

She couldn't get images of their night together out of her head. She didn't know how she was going to shake it off in order to work with him. Professionals, she thought derisively. Normally that wasn't a problem for her, but this time it was. That night was permanently etched into her brain, the feel of him impressed in every cell of her body. It was never going to work being professional when she kept thinking of him naked.

Molly was in the middle of replaying the evening at the retreat again, imagining Fitz's hands stroking down her legs, when Roxanne suddenly said, “You're not really listening, are you?”

“I was,” Hugo volunteered, waving his fork.

“I was too,” Molly assured her. “It's your favourite fairy tale, collaborating with Perry is wonderful, the music is brilliant, et cetera. I was listening.”

Roxanne pursed her lips. “You were daydreaming. Probably about your sexy coach.”

“I'm telling Perry you called another man sexy.”

“Oh, please.” Roxanne dismissed this threat with a wave. “He knows I think Quidditch players are sexy. That's not the point. What happened with you two?”

Molly set her fork down and sat back in her chair, folding her arms across her chest. “I don't want to talk about it. Nothing has changed, so it doesn't matter if anything happened.”

Roxanne gave her a penetrating stare. It seemed to drill into her conscience, and Molly looked down at her plate. She could feel Roxanne's and Hugo's eyes on her.

“You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to,” Hugo said quietly.

“But-” began Roxanne.

“Shut it, Roxy.”

Molly gave him a grateful smile. Roxanne narrowed her eyes, still watching Molly, but after a moment she went back to talking about the operetta as if nothing had happened. Molly did her best to keep up with the conversation more actively this time.

After lunch, they returned to Molly's flat so her cousins could Apparate home. Roxanne left first, promising to come to a game very soon. Once she was gone and the green flames had died out, Molly offered the steel canister of Floo powder to Hugo.

He didn't reach for it, looking at her instead with a small frown. “You don't have to talk about it, Molls. I just want to say one thing.”

She sighed, but there was no diverting Hugo. There was less danger of Hugo letting the secret out than her reporter cousin anyway. Hugo was excellent at keeping his mouth shut. It was undoubtedly part of his Healer training, but also his natural inclination. If he could get by without letting on that he knew anything about what his sister was up to (and Rose was always up to something), he could certainly keep his mouth shut about what his cousin might be doing.

“You've obviously got some chemistry with him,” Hugo said. “Honestly, the air was practically on fire when you were together. I just don't want to see you get hurt.”

Molly smiled fondly at him. “I appreciate the concern, Hugo. Although it's a bit rich coming from the bloke who's got a new girlfriend every week.”

“Hey, I'm settling down in my old age.” He grinned. “It's about every other week these days.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “I'm sure they appreciate the extra week with you.”

“Yeah, they do.” His grin faded then, and he said quite seriously, “I'm concerned, that's all. He's your coach, and he's an angry sort of man. I'm not sure it's a good idea to get involved with him.”

Her brows knit together. “Is he all right? Was his shoulder-”

“You know I don't discuss patients. Just be careful, will you?” He hooked an arm around her neck and pulled her close to drop a kiss in the close-cropped hair on the side of her scalp. “I'll see you at the Ballycastle game. I'm one of the League medics on duty.”

“I'll try not to get hurt so you don't have to heal me.” Molly hugged him briefly and then pushed him away with a playful shove. “Go on, get out of here.”

“Bye, Moll.” Hugo smiled and then grabbed a handful of Floo powder and stepped into the fireplace.

*

A fortnight passed after the retreat, with days of training dragging on from dawn until nearly dark, leaving Molly both sweaty and exhausted every night. She was too tired to do much of anything after training, too tired even to overthink her life as she usually did. The entire team was worn out: even Duff and Declan admitted they'd been too wrung out after working hard all day to go drinking after. Privately Molly thought that wasn't such a bad thing, but she didn't bother to tell the Beaters that playing hung over wasn't their strong suit.

“After the next game, there'll be more time for the pub on weekends,” she told them instead. “We've got to catch up the time we lost at the retreat. You can all come over to celebrate after we beat Ballycastle. I'll crack open a bottle of the good stuff.”

They grinned at this, and agreed to come by her flat after the match with Ballycastle was over.

The rest of the team was settling into a friendlier routine as well. All their previous animosity toward Molly seemed to have dissipated. Even Mariah Waldman was friendlier now since they'd been back and working hard. She was not, in Molly's private opinion, getting much better at playing, but at least she wasn't behaving with open hostility, and she'd let off on her calculated and annoying flirting with her ex-husband. It all came as a relief to Molly.

She hated being a failure. Roxanne might be right about it being good for her character, but Molly didn't care for the experience. She much preferred being a leader that the team looked up to than being the pariah who'd made them lose a game with bad training tactics.

When the team arrived to practice one morning, they found Fitz waiting at the entrance to the pitch.

“No brooms today. We're going to set our strategy for the Bats. I've got footage of their last few games. We're going to study it and find ways to counter their favourite moves.”

Molly perked up. This was the most proactive he'd been about devising strategy. The fact he'd done it on his own was encouraging: maybe he'd settle into coaching after all. She thought he'd be good at it if he got some more experience, and besides, she didn't want McCormack to sack him.

If he wasn't her coach, she wouldn't see him every day.

She deliberately sat next to Jinx at the front of the room, not only to keep the Seeker from napping through the game films but to put some distance between her and Fitz. Without a heavy day of movement to keep her occupied, she was afraid she would stare too much at him and let on what had happened. No one on the team was aware their captain and their coach had got involved, and she wanted to keep it that way.

Fitz was at the back of the room, next to the ancient projector. There was no sound on the films, so he was narrating the games and pointing out the Bats' favourite plays. His deep voice washed over her as she stared at the players on the screen, watching Ballycastle get their arses handed to them by her brother-in-law's team.

“The Chasers rely too much on the Hawkshead Attacking Formation,” Fitz was saying then, and he came forward, brushing past Molly's arm, to point out on the screen. “Gittins, Preece, if you aim a Bludger at them right here, they'll have to scatter. Before they can re-form the Hawkshead, our Chasers have to get the Quaffle from them.”

Sid was nodding, his expression more serious than Molly was used to on him. “A little Parkin's Pincer so they don't expect it.”

“Never been a big fan of that move, but it'll probably work,” Zara agreed.

“They're not as big foulers as the Falcons are,” Fitz began, and Duff interrupted with a chuckle.

“Average four hundred twenty-seven fouls per game didn't get us out of the League.”

Molly rolled her eyes at him. Zara turned around in her seat to give him a little shove.

“It's not your team any more. No fouling for the Prides.”

“But the Bats have a habit of snitchnipping in some of the matches where they're coming off worse,” Fitz said loudly while Duff faked a hurt look at Zara. “One of their Beaters hit the Snitch off course just before Wimbourne's Seeker could grab it last season. I couldn't get footage of the foul to show you. It was damn fine aim, but that Beater was benched the rest of the game. Had to bring out their reserve. And it added a few more hours onto the game before Wimbourne got the Snitch again.”

“I've never snitchnipped in my life,” Duff assured him. “In Falmouth, we let the Chasers do that.”

“Shut up, Duff. They're not likely to trot out dirty tricks against us at first, because they don't think we're real competition.” Fitz walked back to the projector and grabbed another reel. “I've got a bit of them playing Tutshill that I want to show you next.”

Four hours of footage and strategy discussion later, Fitz finally dismissed them for the day with instructions to rest up and be back at dawn to practice their tactics. Molly followed the team outside and watched them Disapparate, but she hung back. After they were all gone, she stood alone outside the pitch and looked up at the building.

Fitz was still sitting in the projector room, running footage of a match old Rodan had filmed four years ago, the Prides against the Magpies, back before the injury had taken him permanently out of professional play.

His younger self soared across the sky in the footage, grinning as he tossed the Quaffle in a reverse pass in the middle of a Sloth Grip Roll.

These days he couldn't do a Sloth Grip Roll to save his life. And damn but he missed it. It had always been one of his favourite moves, so much fun to do. He would spiral through the air with the Quaffle under his arm, rolling over and over as he accelerated through a turn. It had been exhilarating.

Faint footsteps sounded behind him, and he looked up as Molly sat down in the seat beside him. She was watching the screen, her beautiful face in profile to him.

“I think I remember this game. The Magpies won by a margin of over three hundred, didn't they?”

“Three hundred and forty,” he said, keeping his attention carefully on the screen again.

“You were very good.” She let out a tiny sigh. “Is it hard to watch?”

“Yeah.”

Onscreen, the Magpies were scoring handily against the old Prides Keeper, who wasn't a patch on Molly's talent. This was the old team as it hit the worst of its downward spiral. The only thing that had saved the match for them was that Jinks had got the Snitch. They'd lost hugely, but he'd been faster than the Magpies' Seeker. Jinks had been nearly the only saving grace on the old team. He was lazy and lacked dedication to the sport, but he was fast and had good eyes.

“Preece is improved now he's got a better partner, isn't he?” Molly observed.

Fitz nodded. “He was strong, but they didn't work his aim hard enough. The other one aimed. He was brute strength. Having Duff up here from Falmouth is good for him.”

“Falmouth is all brute strength, but damn good aim, too.”

“Damn good fouls, too,” Fitz put in.

He could see Molly smiling out of the corner of his eye. Making her smile made his heart feel light, even while watching himself on the old reels. He'd avoided doing that for the past year, not wanting to see how things had been before now that he could never have it back. Finding footage of his time with the Magpies amongst the old Prides reels had jolted him at first, but it was less painful to see than expected.

“I've been watching these a lot since we got back from the retreat,” he said then. He hadn't told her about it before. It had been her idea, but he'd never liked following anyone else's advice. “You were right, there are stacks of them back there, going back almost fifty years. Nothing from last year, though. I think Rodan really was senile. Forgot how to do his job.”

She didn't look surprised. “The Harpies have footage back to 1905, archived and indexed. Years ago, they hired someone to keep up with them. She films games and training matches, then she goes over the footage making notes about what tactics are used, so if you want to look up a certain move, it's easy to do. Like if you wanted to see all the footage of Wronski Feints, you just go to the index and look it up, then pull the footage it lists.”

“That's bloody brilliant. I wonder if McCormack would hire someone for that.”

“Can't hurt to ask.”

They watched in silence for a while, as onscreen the Magpies scored over and over. The Prides limped along, Beathan making most of the scoring shots for their team. Jinks caught the Snitch, shooting along like a rocket underneath the Montrose Seeker just as Fitz remembered, and the footage ran out as the Magpies took a victory lap of the pitch.

As the screen went white, Molly asked quietly, “How's your arm?”

“Fine. Your cousin fixed it right up. And reminded me I should've just used a Hover Charm on Deimos,” he added ruefully.

“I can't believe we didn't think of that before,” Molly agreed. “Never drink and cast spells, though. You might've given him an extra ear or something if you'd tried it.”

He liked hearing her say we, small as that was. “I wouldn't have remembered the incantation anyway. Weasley's giving me a list.”

Molly chuckled. “Not a bad idea. Having a list of spells you can do to keep from straining your injury is probably a wise thing.”

“He wanted me to do some sort of Muggle therapies as well.” Fitz wasn't sure why he was telling her about it, but suddenly he needed to know what she thought of the idea. “To help my range of motion and strengthening the muscles.”

“I see.” She was watching him seriously now. “And are you going to do them?”

Fitz gave a one-shouldered shrug. He'd become an expert at that since the injury. “I told him I wasn't interested.”

“Why?”

She was still watching him with that penetrating stare, and it made him unsure of his answer. Anything with his shoulder was bound up in the fear and pain and rage of the day he'd been injured, and he had a hard time saying any of that out loud. But he didn't have any logical reason to turn down Healer Weasley's ideas.

He was silent long enough that she added gently, “Hugo wouldn't suggest it if he didn't think it had the potential to help. Did he explain any risks?”

“I didn't let him get that far.”

“Maybe you should hear him out,” Molly suggested. “Hugo's very smart. And if it might help, isn't it worth a try?”

“Maybe.”

She was right, but he appreciated more that her gentle tone wasn't coddling. He hated being coddled. He looked up at her, tried to smile reassuringly but couldn't do it. Instead he nodded and said, “Thanks, Molly.”

She didn't question it, only nodded back and changed the subject. “Do you have any footage of the Harpies?”

“Nothing with you in it, I already looked,” he said without thinking, and wanted to take it back immediately, but she only smiled.

“I hardly ever played, so that's not surprising. Let's watch some of the really old stuff, then.”

“I found a reel from when McCormack was Keeper,” he said, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder.

Molly smiled brightly at him, warming his insides again. “Put it on, let's see.”

*

The stands were surprisingly full. The Prides still had a large following, despite their back-to-back defeats so far, and their supporters were out in number this morning. The Ballycastle Bats had arrived half an hour ago and were in the guest locker room getting into their game robes. Fitz paced in the corridor outside the home team locker room, listening to the sounds of them as they changed into their own robes.

They sounded cheerful enough. He didn't feel very cheerful. His stomach was in knots.

If they could beat Ballycastle, it would give them the morale boost they needed to play better. They needed this win. Ballycastle had finished ahead of last place by only two last year. They weren't looking any better this year. Fitz estimated the Prides had about even odds of beating them. Better than even if they played as well as they could instead of as well as they had done.

The locker room door opened and Molly was suddenly right in front of him, looking startled.

“I didn't know you were out here,” she said, closing the door behind her. “Everything all right?”

“Let's talk strategy,” he said brusquely, waving a hand down the corridor toward his office.

“The Snitch will be released in less than thirty minutes,” Molly pointed out, but she followed him anyway. “If you have anything to add, it's too late now.”

He closed the door behind them and started pacing in front of her. “Ballycastle's Beaters are slow. If we can-”

“Duff and Declan know all about the Ballycastle Beaters. Those two have been gunning for them all week long. Honestly, we know what to do.” She smiled. “Stop worrying. Think positively.”

“I'm not an optimist. I'm not very good thinking positively.”

“Learn,” Molly told him. She was smiling, but there was no sympathy on her face. “You're the coach. You need to go in there and tell them they're going to win and look like you mean it.”

“Right. I can do that.” He was too close to her. Bringing her into his office had been a mistake. He could barely remember what they were talking about.

She cocked her head at him. “You don't look like you can do that.”

“Right,” he said again, and then bent down and brushed his lips against hers.

She didn't hesitate in kissing him back, and it ignited like wildfire. Before he knew it, they were both up against the wall, and her arms were wound around his neck, and his hands were pressing her hips against his.

They broke apart after what was both an endless moment and not nearly long enough for him, and he stepped back and drew in a ragged breath. Molly was breathing heavily, and adjusted her robes.

“The game's about to start. Come and give us a pep talk before we take the field.” And she slipped out of his office.

Fitz ran both hands through his hair, wondering when he'd got so very stupid. They were never going to stay professional if he couldn't stop himself kissing her every time she was in his office. Somehow, even knowing he was being stupid on a grander scale than he ever had been before, he felt like laughing with glee.

She'd kissed him back.

He went down the hall to the locker room. The team was standing in the centre of the room in their purple and gold robes, their brooms in hand, and they all turned to him. Fitz's eyes met Molly's, and she smiled at him. The feeling bubbled over inside his chest, and he put his hands on his hips and grinned at the team.

“I have a good feeling about today,” he told them. “We're better than bloody Ballycastle, aren't we?”

They nodded. Duff and Declan were starting to grin back at him.

“We're going to win. I can feel it. Jinks, keep your eyes open and your broom ready. Get us that Snitch. Preece, Gittins, knock them off their brooms. Weasley, keep those hoops clear. And you three...” Fitz nodded to the Chasers.

“Score us some goals,” Sid said confidently.

“Damn right. Go on, get out there.”

They nearly ran out of the room, pumped up for the game, and Fitz watched them go with his hands on his hips. Molly was last out, and she turned as she left to give him another smile, this one so brilliant it nearly blinded him.

He jogged up to the box where the coaches and managers watched the game. McCormack was there already with the Ballycastle coach. Fitz shook the man's hand and then stood at the railing to watch the game.

He watched Duff send one of the Ballycastle Beaters flying off his broom, forcing the referee to catch him with a Cushioning Charm, and Sid and Zara made more than a few good goals. And all the while, he watched Molly. Her saves were excellent this time, but more than that, he watched how her legs looked on her broom, the cape of her robes flying behind her in the breeze.

And then he watched as Jinks caught the Snitch, with McCormack screaming and waving her arms in the air beside him, and the Pride of Portree got their first win of the season.


Chapter 12: Spiralling Self-Control
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 From a hundred feet up in the air, Fitz's screaming fits took on an interesting appearance. His pacing made a series of circles and X's on the ground. Whatever he was saying, the wind was blowing his words away, though from the stomping, fist-waving, and tossing of his broom, she was guessing he wanted to strangle the Chasers about now.

After a few more minutes of pacing and waving his arms around (and probably cursing everyone on the team to hell and back), he got on his broom and flew at Beathan, who had missed half of the reverse passes she'd been thrown today. Molly tried to pretend she couldn't hear him chewing her out. Beathan looked close to tears, but she got back to work. As Fitz flew past Molly, he barked, “Weasley! Eyes on the Quaffle!”

She nodded to appease him. The Quaffle was nowhere near her.

Jinks pulled up next to her on his broom, floating in midair with the lazy grace of a large cat. “I'm starting to like the screaming, actually. I don't even miss old Rodan sitting and ignoring us while he drank his beer. At least with an arse-chewing, you know he's paying attention.”

“I think Beathan could do without them,” Molly said.

“She's a gentle soul. Now me, I can take it. He can call me an idiot all he likes. I know he secretly likes me.”

“Jinks!” came Fitz's shout. “Get to work, you bloody idiot!”

“See, it's a sign of affection.” Jinks winked at her as he flew off again, leaving Molly grinning after him.

She rolled on her broom as a Bludger flew past her ear, and Duff passed by, bat at the ready, calling out, “Watch it there, Weasley!”

Doing a Sloth Grip Roll made her think of Fitz back in the projection room before the Ballycastle game, watching old reels of himself playing for the Magpies. His injury had left his shoulder too weak to hold his entire weight, hanging from the broom.

If he would just give Hugo's idea a try... As far as she knew, he hadn't seen her cousin since the day he'd suggested Muggle healing, not that Hugo would tell her anything. Hugo was annoyingly close-lipped about patients.

“WEASLEY! PAY ATTENTION, GODDAMMIT!”

Molly gave him a brief glare and then dragged her mind back on task.

At the end of the day, the team gathered on the ground around Fitz. Molly stood with Zara, who'd been the most recent recipient of an arse-chewing from their coach and was glaring daggers at him.

“Don't get cocky,” he told them all, leaning against his broom with one hand on his hip. “We beat Ballycastle, but they're not that good. It's Appleby next and they're a top five team.”

“Any insider hints, Molly?” asked Sid. “Your brother-in-law plays for them.”

Molly shifted her weight, feeling a bit uncomfortable. She wanted to be loyal to her team, but Hilarion was family. Telling them anything he had said about his team in private seemed like foul play.

“They're damn good,” she said slowly, choosing her words carefully. “We ought to watch the reels and look for weaknesses. Hilarion's fast and has eyes like an eagle.”

“And a body like a Greek god,” murmured Zara.

Beathan giggled, and most of the male players started shuffling their feet and muttering. Hilarion was so well-known as the best-looking player in the League that he'd once had a book of photos published so witches all across the British Isles could sigh over his handsome face. Entire issues of Witch Weekly had been devoted to him. Quidditch posters featuring Hilarion always sold out first, even in areas that didn't traditionally support the Arrows.

“Lord, he's beautiful,” sighed Beathan.

“I hit on him once,” Mariah said dreamily. “I don't think he noticed, though.”

He probably had been too embarrassed to respond. Hilarion was extremely fit but not very bright, so it was possible he actually hadn't realized Mariah was coming onto him. He was always a bit embarrassed about his looks, though.

“That was before he married your sister,” Mariah added, and Molly gave her a long look.

She was lying.

It wasn't the first time a woman had tried to pick up Hilarion since he'd been married, and it wouldn't be the last. Lucy never seemed worried by it, so Molly brushed it off.

“All right, then,” said Fitz, and Molly glanced over at him. He was looking at his ex-wife with his lips pressed together. He knew she was lying, too. “We'll meet on Monday for films. I'll dig up everything I can get on the Arrows. You lot, rest up this weekend.” He waved them off. “Go hit the showers.”

He still looked angry as they all trooped off. More angry than he usually did when coaching, that is. Molly wondered if he didn't like hearing about his ex with someone else.

She lingered in the shower, and was still drying her hair when the last of the team left. After the door closed behind Beathan, Molly set down her wand, letting the charm for warm air taper off, and stared at the empty locker room.

She'd been in Portree for four months now. It still didn't entirely feel like home, but then, she'd been in Holyhead for years. It was bound to take more time to adjust. She liked it here, despite their losses, liked the loyalty of the Prides fans, liked her teammates.

She wanted it to start feeling like home.

Running a hand through her still-damp curls to fluff them out, she stood and pulled on her jacket.

Her feet took her to Fitz's office without thinking, and she found herself half-hoping he wouldn't be there. Seeing him alone was stupid when she couldn't seem to control herself.

She really wanted to kiss him again.

He was there, and her pulse leaped. Apparently her body was full steam ahead for being stupid, even if her brain had reservations. The door was open, so she leaned against the jamb and gave the wood a brief knock.

He looked up from the papers he'd been reading and smiled at her.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” she said. “Thought I'd see if you decided to try Hugo's ideas for your shoulder.”

“I haven't seen him to talk about it, but yeah, I think I have.” He sat back in his chair, his dark eyes locked on her. “How are you?”

“Good.” She shrugged. “You sound a bit hoarse. Too much shouting?”

“Maybe,” he admitted. “I'll have to practice that Sonorus charm. Save my voice.”

Magically amplified shouting. The team would just love that. “Or you could, you know, try not screaming at everyone.”

“I think it's my coaching style.”

She rolled her eyes at that. “Oh, please. Having a bad temper is not a coaching style.”

“Lifestyle, really.” He got up and went to the door, leaning against the jamb opposite her. “You haven't been to my office in a fortnight.”

The last time she'd been here, he'd kissed her. Her eyes flickered to his mouth and back up to his eyes. He would kiss her again if she encouraged him at all; she could feel it in the way he was looking at her. So she stepped closer and gave him a slow smile.

“It seemed wiser.”

“It probably was.”

“I don't seem to have very good self-control in here.”

He took her hand and pulled her into the office, closing the door behind them. “Neither do I.”

“It's for the best, then.” She backed up against the desk, blood racing and breath faster. “So we can keep it professional.”

“Yeah, professional is good.”

He was leaning over her, and his eyes were hooded and she could see his pulse beating in his neck from this close. She grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him closer, pressing her body up against his. His mouth found hers, and he stepped between her legs, his hands fisted on the desk on either side of her hips. She tried to unbutton his shirt without breaking their kiss, and felt a button pop off as she tugged too hard.

The button hit the window with a sharp clack, and she smiled, but Fitz didn't seem to notice. He had her shirt off and was tugging at her bra clasp.

“I've been wanting to do this for weeks,” he murmured, his lips on her throat.

Molly's head was thrown back, and she buried her hands in his hair. “I haven't stopped thinking about you since the retreat...”

Her bra clasp gave way, but a loud sound from in the corridor made them both freeze. Molly felt her heart miss a beat, holding her breath in fear that someone was about to burst in on them.

“Holy shit,” Fitz muttered, pulling away from her and attempting to right his clothing.

She snatched up her shirt with one hand and tried to re-hook her bra with the other. “Is someone there?”

He was peeking out through the closed blinds, pulling them apart with one finger, and shook his head. “I don't see anyone.” He buttoned up his shirt, except the missing one on his chest. The shirt gaped as he ran his hands through his mussed hair, trying to smooth it back down, and she saw a flash of skin.

“I nearly had heart failure just now,” she said, still holding her shirt against her chest, and tried to smile at him. She wanted to pick up where they'd left off, but from the look on his face, the moment of insanity had passed for him.

“We can't keep doing this,” he said then, giving her a plaintive look. “It's got to stop. This was the last time, Molly.”

She pulled her shirt on, hiding the stab of disappointment cutting through her heart. Leave, leave, get out, her brain urged her. “You're right. Last time.”

She kept her eyes lowered as she left the room, closing the door softly behind her.

*

“You look bloody awful,” Max said as Fitz slid onto a seat at the Rowan Mansion. “Not sleeping well? You've got bags under your eyes big enough to backpack across Europe.”

“This is just how my face looks.” Fitz reached over the bartop to grab a bottle of butterbeer.

“You still have to pay for it, even if you serve yourself. You seem different.” Max was looking closely at his face, a small frown on his face. “You all right, mate?”

“I'm fine.” The last thing he wanted was to talk about it with Max. “Just stressed out.”

“Your shoulder?” Max asked quietly.

He'd hardly thought about his shoulder since Molly had been in his office yesterday, topless on his desk. That had been an excellent distraction for his brain (and his hormones) to focus on. “Not the shoulder.”

“Ah.” Max leaned in with a knowing look. “Women trouble?”

“Go serve some customers, you lazy sod.”

He drank the butterbeer and watched Max serving other customers for a few minutes, thinking about his inability to keep his head together whenever he was alone with Molly.

Even knowing it was tantamount to blowing holes in his own job prospects, he hadn't been able to stop himself. She'd been there, she'd been smiling at him, and he'd been thinking about how she'd kissed him back the last time they'd been alone in his office, and next thing he knew they were on his desk and she was ripping his shirt off. He'd had to use a Summoning Charm to find the damn button.

She was so beautiful. And he was so very stupid.

It had to stop. McCormack would sack him for sleeping with a player and messing up the team, and he didn't think he'd be able to get another job in the League after that. He didn't know what he'd do if he wasn't working for the League. Sit in his house in Angus, rotting away slowly and cursing his shoulder, probably.

He would much rather be in Portree, where Molly Weasley tempted him every day.

Having sex at the retreat had been bad enough. Having sex in his office was over the line. They hadn't crossed it, but only because they'd been interrupted.

Max had returned, and Fitz looked up and told him, “I'm going to hell.”

Max grinned and leaned against the bar. “All the best company does. What will you be in for?”

“Criminal stupidity.” He took a long pull of his drink.

“You look like you could use something stronger.” Max grabbed a bottle of Scotch firewhisky and poured two shots, pushing one toward Fitz and picking up the other. “Slàinte.”

“Cheers.” Fitz downed his shot and then rubbed a hand over his face. “I didn't get much sleep last night.”

“Two shots should do it, then.” Max poured him another and waited for him to finish. “Is it that witch with the mohawk, then?”

“Yeah.” The whisky was flowing through him now. He could feel it heating his veins like magic.

“Done anything stupid yet?”

He could only nod, and Max grinned rather obnoxiously.

“Ah. I thought you might've.”

“Nearly did it again yesterday, too. I can't seem to stop being stupid about her, actually. I'm going to lose my job if McCormack finds out,” Fitz added in what he hoped was a whisper. “Every time we're alone, we wind up kissing.”

“Try not being along with her,” Max suggested sarcastically.

“I have. She keeps catching me alone.”

Max's grin was extremely obnoxious this time, accompanied by an eyebrow raise. “Does she, now? Och, but that's interesting.”

“I don't want her to stop catching me alone,” Fitz told him, and reached for the bottle of firewhisky. “But I have to. Because McCormack said for everyone to keep their pants on.”

“You've already had hers off, so what's the harm in doing it again?”

“You're no help.” Fitz poured himself a shot, and Max took the bottle away.

“If you drink any more, you won't be able to Floo home properly. And you'll probably do something really stupid instead.”

“I know where she lives,” Fitz offered up, saluting Max with his shot glass.

“See what I mean? Stupid. Go home, drunkard. You've got to work tomorrow.”

“I know. She'll be there,” he added. “What do I do?”

He thought he saw sympathy in Max's eyes now. “Don't be stupid.”

The next morning, Fitz was at the pitch before any of the team made it there. He caught Hugo Weasley coming in as well, somewhat to Fitz's surprise. Weasley's hair glowed a fiery red in the morning sun, and Fitz felt uncomfortably aware that he was Molly's cousin, and might know by now that Molly had slept with her coach. He tried to hide his discomfiture.

“Is someone injured? We didn't have an appointment, did we?”

Weasley shook his head. “No, just restocking the potions cabinet.” He held up a black satchel. “Our appointment is in a fortnight. I haven't forgot.”

“About that...” Fitz cleared his throat a bit. He hated to initiate a conversation about his injury. It was bad enough having to talk about it at Healer appointments. “Look, can you tell me a bit more about the Muggle treatment you were talking about?”

A flash of surprise went across Weasley's face, but he nodded firmly. “Absolutely. Come with me, I'll talk while I shelve potions.”

In the treatment room, Fitz leaned against the exam table and listened as Weasley described physical therapy techniques. It didn't sound dangerous, but Fitz wasn't sure how well he trusted them: his mother was Muggle-born, but she had never had much truck with Muggle healing methods. If a Muggle-born preferred magical healing methods, surely that meant they were better?

“Are you sure it's safe, all this?” he asked when Weasley paused in his explanations.

The young Healer gave him a reassuring smile. “I'll show you how to do the exercises correctly. At worst, it will have no effect. But best case scenario, you see some benefit from this. It won't get you back where you were before the injury, but it might get you increased movement in the shoulder, less pain, and greater muscle strength. It's worth a try.”

Fitz was silent for a moment, considering. “How long will it take?”

“Before you see results? Muggle methods are slow. Give it at least a month, doing the exercises every day, and we'll evaluate after that.”

“All right,” Fitz agreed slowly. “I'll try it out. Show me what to do.”

*

Being in the Appleby Arrows' locker rooms was sort of like floating in a clear blue sky. Like most of the other teams, the Arrows took their colours seriously: everything that could hold still long enough had been painted in the Arrows' shade of blue. Molly had been to Appleby many times since her sister had married their star Seeker, but today it seemed like the colour was brighter, more overwhelming.

It was a bloody lot of blue.

She focused on getting strapped into her padding. The comfortably worn leather felt soothing under her fingertips, cool and smooth, as she did up the buckles. The rest of the team was getting ready as well, buckling into protective gear and lacing up their robes. Jinks had a cup of coffee next to him that smelled absolutely awful. Molly was tempted to pour it down the drain in the shower room.

A knock sounded at the door, and the pre-game butterflies in Molly's stomach amped up their fluttering. She looked round, expecting Fitz for one of his pep talks, but instead a familiar red head peeked into the locker room.

“I don't know if I'm supposed to be here,” said her sister, “but I wanted to say hello before the game.”

Lucy was wearing sky-blue robes in support of her husband's team, and had her daughter in her arms wearing a smocked dress in a matching shade with Snitches embroidered across the smocking. Molly recognized their mother's handiwork. She went over to them and Flora immediately held out her arms for her aunt.

“Oi, you lot,” she called to the team as she took Flora from her mother. “This is my sister, Lucy Winston-Fisher, and my niece, Flora. Say hi, love,” she added to Flora, who didn't speak yet but loved to wave hi and bye-bye.

Flora waved enthusiastically, and the team called out a chorus of greetings, smiling at the baby. Lucy added a small wave and hello of her own. She'd always been shy in front of new people.

Lucy's daughter had not inherited either parent's shyness, and was basking in the attention of the team, smiling and making cooing noises and vamping with her chubby little hands pressed to her mouth. She was a beautiful baby, and with her father's famous good looks, probably destined to be a stunner when she got older. Molly hugged her close, burying her face in Flora's red-gold hair, and Flora lost interest in her audience and wrapped her arms around her aunt's neck.

“I'm going to buy her a Prides purple dress,” Molly told her sister.

“Absolutely not,” Lucy retorted with mock sternness. “Her daddy is an Arrow, she has to wear Arrows colours. When you have kids of your own, you can dress them all in purple to your heart's content.”

“Maybe I will,” Molly murmured, giving Flora another snuggle. She decided to buy her niece a purple dress anyway. Flora could wear it on game days when the Arrows weren't playing to support her auntie as well as her daddy.

“We'd better get out there,” Zara said then, and Molly passed her niece back to Lucy.

In the corridor, the Prides queued up with Molly at the lead. Lucy closed the door behind them just as the Arrows came out of their own locker room. As the home team, they would take the field second, so they shuffled into a queue of their own behind the Prides.

Hilarion was the last one out of the locker room, and he stopped to shake Molly's hand. “Good luck.”

“You too,” she said, smiling at him.

Hilarion nodded to the rest of the team as he passed them, then stopped again in front of his wife and gave her a kiss while Flora tried to climb into his arms. As he walked to the back of the Arrows' queue, Flora let out a wail of frustration.

“I'd better take her off,” Lucy said, hustling away so Flora couldn't see her father. “She doesn't understand why Daddy can't hold her right now.”

As they rounded a corridor, the baby still crying, Molly closed her eyes and took a few long, slow breaths.

“Two minutes,” came Zara's voice from behind her.

“You lot ready, then?” responded a deeper voice, and Molly opened her eyes. Fitz was standing directly in front of her, hands on his hips.

“No pep talk today, Coach?” called Jinks.

“Play well, no more fouls than you can help, and don't screw up,” said Fitz. “Now go.”

“That was cheerful,” muttered Sid.

“I'm inspired,” said Jinks cheerfully. Molly glanced over her shoulder and saw him skipping along at the back of the queue, shaking one fist in the air. “I'm pumped.” Jinks turned, skipping backward now, and pointed at the Arrows. “I'm pumped! I'm getting that Snitch before you, Winston-Fisher!”

“Dream on,” one of the Arrows Beaters, Gavril Groundsell, called back with a grin.

“Get your head in the game, Jinks,” barked Fitz.

“Excellent, Coach is yelling at me. It's good luck when the coach yells at me.”

“Shut up, Jinks,” half the team said in unison.

Jinks was still grinning obnoxiously. Fitz looked as if he wanted to strangle the Seeker. Molly was bubbling over with laughter as they flew out onto the pitch.

*

“Well,” Jinks said optimistically, lifting his pint in the air. “We were never going to win that one, I reckon.”

“I thought you were pumped.” Beathan made a face at him. “You said you'd get the Snitch before Winston-Fisher.”

“Damn, that bloke was fast.”

“If you'd been a little faster, we might have won.”

The bartender handed Molly a glass, and she took a long gulp of the vodka gimlet. The game had gone rather well, all things considered, though they'd been defeated. Hilarion had been too fast for Jinks to catch up with, and their Chasers were better trained. A few years ago, the Arrows had been a solid middle-of-the-pack team, but they'd got much better. She hadn't really expected to win against them, but she was happy not to be soundly thrashed by a top five team. If the game had gone on a bit longer, if Jinks had caught the Snitch, they might have won, as Beathan had said, and that was something they couldn't have hoped for a few months ago.

Molly had got distracted a few times during the game, watching Fitz in the coaches' box. She'd let in two goals because of it before making herself ignore him. He'd been having one of his screaming fits; she didn't know what he'd been shouting, but she had a good bet it had been to make the Chasers fly faster already, dammit.

They hadn't lost as badly as they might have. Molly felt they'd done quite well, though a few of her teammates seemed to disagree. Beathan, for one, was taking it hard. She had laid her head on the bartop, one hand wrapped around the half-empty glass of firewhisky in front of her.

“This sucks,” she was mumbling. “Sucks, sucks, sucks.”

Zara patted her on the back as she passed by. “Keep drinking, you'll feel better. Oi there, Molly.”

Molly lifted her glass. “Some great scores today.”

“Thanks. Saw a few excellent saves your way as well.” Zara looked much happier than Molly would have expected from a Chaser whose successful scoring rate had been below sixty percent that game. The drink in her hand probably wasn't the first.

Or maybe Zara was just happy that they hadn't gotten completely flattened this time, much as Molly was.

“Molly!”

She turned to see her sister waving to her. Lucy was short enough that it was hard to see her through the crowd, though Hilarion was visible beside her. His tall blonde head rose above the crowd, drawing attention from all the women in the room.

“Lord, he's fit,” sighed Zara, taking a seat at the table behind Molly. “I want one of those.”

Molly laughed. She wouldn't really, since Zara loved to go out and Hilarion was a homebody. He looked uncomfortable being the centre of female attention, even though he ought to be well used to it by now. He had an arm wrapped around Lucy's shoulders as if his wife were a shield.

Lucy's round cheeks were rosy from the chill in the evening air, and she gave Molly a hug as soon as they reached her.

“The team is out celebrating, so we dropped the baby with Mum and Dad,” Lucy said cheerfully. “You lot are here as well? Funny you picked the same pub.”

“Well, we're all in Lincolnshire until tomorrow. This is the nearest wizarding pub to Appleby.” It wasn't really a surprise that both teams had chosen to booze in the nearest town to Appleby, Scunthorpe. The Copper Cauldron was the likeliest candidate. Now she looked around, she could pick out the entire Arrows team. Their Beaters were standing at the pub near Duff and Declan. Molly hoped they were drinking peaceably.

“I suppose that's true. I'd forgot. We don't go to the pub very often.” Lucy saw Zara sitting at the table behind Molly. “Oh, hello. You're Zara Mackie, right?”

Zara smiled. “Yes. Nice to meet you.”

“I'm going to go get a drink,” Hilarion said to his wife, and leaned down to kiss her before he headed to the bar. “I'll bring you back some pumpkin juice.”

Zara had her chin propped up on the palm of her hand, watching him go. She sighed. “You're so lucky.”

Lucy just smiled. Molly rather admired her sister's ability to be secure in her relationship. Lucy didn't seem to worry at all about how women fawned over her husband. If anything, she simply looked a bit smug whenever it was brought up.

“Are you the D.A. tonight?” asked Zara.

“Well, sort of. I don't really like to drink,” Lucy admitted.

Molly threw an arm around her sister. “She's almost always the designated Apparator. It's quite handy, really.”

“Oh, shove off,” Lucy said, but she was smiling.

“Me, I like to go boozing,” Zara remarked. “I'm out at the pub pretty regularly. We're lucky in Portree. There's a pub in stumbling distance from the pitch. And the couch in the locker room is comfortable enough if you can't make it home.”

“I don't think I've ever been that drunk,” Lucy told her. “I never liked the feeling much. I'm not a very good drinker, I suppose.”

“Speaking of people who are not expert drinkers,” Molly said as her brother-in-law returned with two glasses, and handed Lucy her pumpkin juice. “What is that, Hilarion?”

He looked down at his drink as if he'd forgotten what he'd ordered. “Um. It's, um, a rosé wine?”

Molly shook her head in mock dismay, and Lucy gave him a kiss on the cheek. “He doesn't like whiskies, you know that.”

Hilarion only drank the sort of cocktails normally favoured by teenage girls, which Molly found endlessly hilarious. Anything sour or strong, he didn't care for. Lucy was the same way when she ordered a drink. Mostly they both stuck to butterbeer.

Honestly, every time Molly thought her sister had found the most unexpectedly perfect husband, there was a new way in which the two of them were ideally suited. They didn't really drink. They read fluffy novels. They rarely went out, preferring to sit at home drinking tea and watching their baby play. Any day now, Molly expected to hear that they were both fans of the late Celestina Warbeck.

Hilarion's cheeks were red from her brief teasing, and he took a gulp of his rosé. “Good game today, Molly.”

“Thanks. You as well. I didn't even see the Snitch in front of the spectator stands until you grabbed it.”

“That was pretty lucky,” he agreed.

“It wasn't luck. It was eyesight like a bloody hawk,” Zara put in.

Lucy had set her pumpkin juice on the table beside Zara and was leaning against her husband, her head on his chest. “It's nice to get out now and then,” she murmured contentedly.

He smiled down at her with such affection that Zara sighed again and Molly rolled her eyes.

“Sometimes it's really annoying how happy you two are.”

Lucy only smiled smugly at her.

“I'm going to go catch up with the team,” Hilarion said then, and it occurred to Molly that she could get her sister alone for a bit. She hadn't wanted to talk about Fitz with Hugo, or even with Roxanne, but if anyone could keep it a secret, it was Lucy. She was nearly the only Weasley who didn't gossip.

“Yeah, you go have a drink with the fellas, Hilarion. Lucy, come outside for a mo, I've been wanting to talk to you.”

Lucy looked surprised as they split off and went outside, standing under the painted sign of the Copper Cauldron. The cold night air had driven almost everyone else inside, but Molly cast a quick Muffliato anyway so they couldn't be overheard. Lucy added a warming spell, giving the air around them a pleasant temperature, and then asked, “What's going on?”

“Remember my coach?” Molly blew out a long breath and rubbed the close-cropped purple hair on the side of her head.

“The one who's handsome but a total mess at running the team?” Lucy's eyes were sharp. “You said you think you fancy him.”

She definitely fancied him. “I sort of went beyond that now.” And Molly brought her sister up to speed on the entire situation. Lucy listened quietly, wide-eyed, as Molly told her what had happened at the retreat and what had nearly happened in his office.

“Wow,” she said softly. “You really like him, don't you?”

“I can't seem to stay away. I want to see him all the time, and I want to get him naked again, and it's going to get me in trouble with McCormack.” Molly slumped against the pub's stone walls. “I don't know what to do.”

“What does he think?”

“That we should stop. But then he kisses me again. And I make sure he kisses me again if he doesn't seem like he's going to.”

Lucy quirked her lip. “At least you're in a downward spiral of self-control together. I didn't think the League had any non-fraternization rules. There's that husband and wife team of Beaters, after all.”

“It's not that. Two of my teammates slept together one night and were taking it out on each other at training, so McCormack told us all to keep our pants on. I don't think she'd be happy that the coach was sleeping with the team captain.”

“I suppose not. Well then, put an end to things.” Lucy's clear blue eyes were sympathetic.

Molly bit her lip. She didn't want to end it. It was still too real and present for her, and her feelings were stronger every time she got near him. Even if it was for the best, she didn't care. She wanted to be near him, to feel his hands on her body.

“You don't want to end it, do you.” There was no question in her sister's voice. Molly gave her a plaintive look, and Lucy sighed heavily. “Oh, Molly.”

“Tell me what to do, Luce.”

“I don't know what to say. I don't know him at all. Is he in there? Introduce me to him so I can see what he's like.”

“I didn't see him earlier.”

A loud crash sounded from inside, and both women looked through the smoky glass windows. There was a lot of movement inside. Far too much for what was normal.

“Oh my God, are they brawling?” Lucy gasped.

Molly was already dashing toward the door.

Inside, the knot of bodies at the bar scuffled, and Molly picked out Declan Preece with one arm around one of the Appleby Beaters' torso, punching him in the gut while the other man tried to get Declan in a headlock. The other two Beaters were throwing punches as well, and a few of the Appleby Chasers were facing off with Sid. Zara was standing on a chair, screaming at the lot of them. Molly couldn't tell if she was trying to get them to stop or egging them on.

Beathan had abandoned her spot at the bar and was flattened against the wall beside the front door. “It's all right, I sent for Fitz. He'll stop them.”

“He'll bloody kill them,” Molly said.

Two loud cracks sounded, and next thing she knew, Fitz was standing beside the fireplace with the Appleby coach beside him. His face was set in a deep scowl.

“What the hell is going on here?” he barked.

Since it was obvious what was going on, no one bothered to answer him. The two coaches waded in and managed to break up the fight with a few defensive spells and a Body-Bind Curse, dragging their teams away from each other. Molly didn't have a chance to get a word in to Fitz in all the chaos.

Lucy, meanwhile, had found her husband and pulled him outside, away from the fighting. Molly caught up with them once the perpetrators had all been rounded up and taken off by their coaches.

“Did you see what happened?” she demanded of her brother-in-law. The night had got even colder, and her breath puffed in the air.

Hilarion shook his head. “I was just talking to Wilford, and then they were down the bar, hitting each other. All four of the Beaters, ours and yours.”

Duff and Declan would never hear the end of this one. Molly wondered if Fitz would try to restrict them from going to any pubs after a game. Hopefully the rest of the team wouldn't be punished as well.

Molly scowled. “Dammit. Try to talk to your team, see if everyone will just let it go so we can all be allowed to go to a damn pub after a game next time.”

“I'll talk to Wilford about it. What a mess. Let's go home, love.” Hilarion put an arm around Lucy's waist.

“Come round Portree tomorrow,” Molly said to her sister. “I'll introduce you then.”

Lucy nodded. “I'll Floo to your place in the morning.”

The two sisters hugged while Hilarion blinked in confusion beside them. As Lucy took her husband off, Molly could hear them talking softly.

“What's going on?”

“Don't worry about it. I'll tell you another time.”


Chapter 13: Stamp of Approval
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 Normally, the Prides didn't work on weekends. Given the previous evening's brawl, Molly wasn't entirely surprised that upon arriving back in Portree from their overnight stay in Appleby, Fitz gruffly called them together.

“Look, you lot,” he began, arms crossed over his chest. His dark brows were drawn into a scowl. Molly was starting to think of it as his normal expression.

“Before you say anything, Coach, I just want you to know that they started it.” Declan was practically radiating innocence.

Fitz scowled at him. “They swear that you started it.”

“It was sort of mutual,” said Duff.

“Hilarion said he'd talk to their captain about letting it drop so we can all just forget it happened,” Molly put in, hoping to derail the approaching lecture. She didn't want to stand there and have to listen while the team got chewed out about something she'd had nothing to do with and had no intention of ever doing herself.

“I talked to their coach about that, too,” Fitz told her. “Hopefully they'll forget about it, because they don't want their owners finding out, and so will we, because we don't want McCormack finding out. Or the League, for that matter.”

Given the rampant gossip in the Quidditch world, the League probably already knew. If they were going to punish either team for the brawl, there would probably be an owl about it by the end of the day.

Duff let out a snort. “D'you have any idea how often Falmouth gets nasty owls from the League because of rough play and fouls? It's just a bar brawl. We didn't even damage any property. It'll be fine.”

“Strangely enough, you're probably right,” said Fitz. “It wasn't what I was going to say before I was interrupted, but-”

“Sorry,” interrupted Declan.

Fitz gave him a glare. “I want you lot upstairs. I've got a reel of game footage from yesterday and I want to go over it so we can see where you went wrong.”

The team groaned and shuffled their feet. “We only just got back,” whined Sid. “Can't we do it on Monday?”

“We went wrong because Jinks didn't get the Snitch,” Zara pointed out.

“Thanks for that,” said Jinks, giving her a salute.

Fitz was not amused. “Oh, I know a few other places you lot went wrong. Come upstairs, I'll show you.”

There seemed little choice, so they trooped upstairs after him, depositing their baggage in the locker room before heading into the projector room. Plopping into a seat beside Zara, Molly hoped her sister slept late. Lucy was due in this morning for a visit, and now Molly wouldn't be home to let her in. She hoped the game footage wouldn't last too long. He couldn't possibly have the entire game's reels.

An hour later, it turned out he probably did have the entire game, but he wasn't making them watch it. Instead it was a highlight reel of the team's mistakes. Molly sat uncomfortably when the attention turned to her, hoping the film didn't show her staring at Fitz in the coach's box. Surely he would have cut that?

The film showed her distracted, but it was impossible to tell if she'd just been looking at the stands. No one seemed to see anything amiss. A few of them had stopped paying attention when their critique was over, disinterested in critiques of the other players.

“Can we go now?” Jinks demanded as soon as they'd watched Hilarion get to the Snitch before him. “We'll do better next time, we promise. Who do we play next?”

“Falmouth,” Fitz told them. “In three weeks. You have a schedule for the season, Jinks.”

“I don't read those.” Jinks twisted in his seat to look at Duff. “Feel free to foul them all you like.”

“Right on,” said Duff.

“Don't foul anyone on purpose,” Fitz said firmly. “Unless you have to. All right everyone, go on home and get some rest. Bright and early Monday morning, we're back to work.”

The team shuffled outside, heading out far enough from the pitch to escape the Anti-Apparition spells, and Fitz stayed at the building, watching them go. Molly called the team round, bringing them to a stop just before the point of Apparition.

“I know I invited you lot over for celebratory drinks, and we don't really have a reason to celebrate,” she began. “But I think we should still get together. We played well yesterday, dammit. I'm proud of us. Screw it, let's celebrate anyway.”

“Hell yeah,” Duff exclaimed. “Drinks at Molly's place!”

“Coach,” Jinks called, turning around and waving at Fitz. “Party at Molly's tonight! You should come too!”

Fitz gave them a wave in return. Molly wasn't sure if he was accepting or declining.

“It's rude to invite people to a party that's not yours,” Zara told Jinks.

He was unperturbed. “What? He's part of the team, isn't he?”

“You're an idiot, Jinks.”

“Aw,” he said, putting an arm around Zara's shoulders. “You sound just like the coach.”

*

The party was in full swing by nine o'clock, with nearly the entire team, reservists and all, sitting around Molly's living room or milling about around the dining room bar, drinking and laughing and listening to the Wizarding Wireless Network. Only Mariah Waldman hadn't turned up, but Molly couldn't bring herself to care.

Fitz was there, and she hadn't even had to invite him. Jinks could be surprisingly helpful, even though he was now drinking all her vodka.

Molly was in the kitchen, refilling bowls of crisps and peanuts and enjoying the feel of a home full of guests, when a familiar voice behind her said her name.

She turned and saw her sister. “Hi Luce!”

Lucy looked slightly uncomfortable. “I didn't realize you were having a party tonight.”

“It was sort of impromptu. I'm glad you're here.” She took her sister's arm and led her over to the bar area, depositing the snack bowls on the table as they went. “Come have a drink.”

“Oh, just a butterbeer is fine...”

Molly chuckled and found a bottle of butterbeer for her. “You and Hilarion, honestly.”

Lucy drank and looked around. “I meant to come by this morning, but I couldn't get away from Mum and Dad's after I picked up Flora. You know how they are.”

“Well, come and meet everyone,” Molly said, nodding toward the team.

“Oh, your coach is here too.” Lucy's eyes were sparkling. “How convenient.”

“Shut up, Luce.” But since she'd wanted Lucy to meet him, she dragged her sister over and introduced her to the team. The rest of them had briefly met her at the Appleby pitch already so they were more interested in their card game than they were in Molly's little sister. This suited Molly well, since no one was paying them any attention when she got round to Fitz.

“This is my little sister, Lucy,” she said putting an arm around her sister. “Lucy, our coach, Riordan Fitzroy.”

Fitz reached out to shake Lucy's hand. She tilted her head as she smiled up at him, eyes speculative. “Nice to meet you.”

“My husband says he remembers you from your time with Montrose,” Lucy said. “Something about going to the pub together?”

Fitz's face froze at the mention of his old team, but his expression relaxed again so fast that Molly almost thought she'd imagined it. “Yeah, I remember,” he said easily. “Nice bloke. Didn't get a chance to talk to him yesterday while we were in Appleby.”

“Oh, I'm sure you'll see him again soon,” Lucy responded with a smile. “Now you're on the same team as his sister-in-law and all.”

“True.” He was looking down at Lucy, and then glanced over at Molly. “You two look very much alike, you know.”

Lucy's cheeks turned a bit red. She'd always been rather sensitive about her appearance. “No, Molly's taller than me, and-” But she cut herself off before finishing. Molly had a disheartening feeling her sister had been about to say thinner.

“I meant your faces,” Fitz said with more kindness than Molly had heard from him before.

Lucy smiled at him, a sweet curve of her lips, and Molly had the urge to throw her arms around Fitz's neck for making her sister smile like that. She took a long swallow of her drink instead, because the entire team was present.

“Oi there, Coach!” called Jinks from over on the couch, waving one long arm at them. “We need an impartial dealer for blackjack.”

“What, you don't trust me not to cheat as dealer?” Duff demanded.

“Not really,” Jinks told him.

“Sorry, mate,” agreed Deimos.

“Go deal them cards, and remember not to let them play too deep,” Molly said, giving Fitz a little push on his good shoulder.

“How deep is too deep?” Fitz asked as he walked off.

“Nothing over two hundred Galleons!”

He was already sitting down with the gamblers and gave her a wave as he picked up the deck of cards.

Lucy's eyes widened. “Do they normally bet higher than that?”

Molly rolled her eyes as she led her sister away. “That lot would bet their kidneys if I let them.”

Once they were in her bedroom, Molly closed the door firmly. Lucy sat down on the bed, curling her legs up underneath her and running a hand through her hair.

“I see why you like him,” she said as Molly stretched out on the bed beside her. “He's very appealing.”

“He was nice to you,” Molly retorted, unsure why she felt the need to say it. “He's not as appealing when he's shouting at everyone.”

“Really?”

Molly closed her eyes. “All right, he's still appealing when he's shouting.”

She pictured him stalking around the grounds of the pitch, angry and shaking his fists at the team, smashing his broom in a fit of misplaced rage. He needed to control his temper, but yes, he was still appealing. Probably that meant something was wrong with her.

“You've got it bad,” her sister said sympathetically. “You even think he's proper fit when he's shouting at everyone?”

“Oh, shut up.”

Lucy chuckled and lay down on the bed beside her. “Oh, Molly. I think he likes you very much. He has a soft look in his eyes when he's looking at you.”

A warm feeling spread through her at that. She smiled happily. “D'you think so?”

“I do.”

Molly lay there, looking up at the ceiling in companionable silence for a bit, a faint smile still on her lips. It felt good to have someone to talk about Fitz with, someone she could be sure wouldn't spread rumours. Much as she loved Roxanne, her cousin sometimes let a story get the best of her. She loved all her cousins, but she knew Roxy's faults too well to trust her with the whole tale. The temptation might be too great. Roxanne would probably think she was doing her a favour by writing a story. She could picture her cousin's face earnestly talking about publicity and the fans.

Lucy, on the other hand, might tell her husband, but otherwise would keep it to herself. Molly trusted her brother-in-law to stay silent as well. He barely talked to anyone except his wife. It was sort of a relief to have someone else's opinion on Fitz. It was beginning to dawn on her that she couldn't look on him impartially.

She turned on her side. “Tell me what you think of him.”

Lucy laughed. “I only spoke to him for a minute, Molly.”

That hardly mattered. Lucy wasn't a Weasley for nothing. They all made snap judgments of people. “But what did you think?”

“I thought he's handsome. I saw his expression change when I brought up his old team, but he didn't get angry. I thought he might,” Lucy admitted.

She must've heard some things about Fitz around the League. Molly was somewhat surprised her sister had thought of poking that particular wound. “You're more devious than you look, Luce.”

“I liked him,” Lucy said simply. “I don't know. I just did. And it's not because you like him. There's just something about him.”

“Well, you can't have him,” Molly said, poking her sister in the ribs. “You're already married, and besides, he's mine.”

She rolled her eyes. “I don't mean it that way. I like him for you, Molly.”

“I do too,” Molly whispered, smiling, and then smiling wasn't enough, and she giggled. “I feel like a proper idiot about this.”

“You're acting like a proper idiot. It's sort of cute.”

The bedroom door opened and there was Fitz in the doorway. He looked surprised to see the sisters lying on top of the blanket together, but he didn't comment on it, only jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “You're out of firewhisky. I reckoned you wouldn't want that lot to see how you keep your supplies, so I didn't let them search your cupboards.”

“Wow, he really does know you,” Lucy remarked.

Molly scrambled to her feet and slipped past Fitz to fetch more whisky, leaving him with her sister. He watched Lucy sitting up, wondering what they'd been talking about alone together. He had an uncomfortable feeling it had been him, but wasn't sure if that was just ego. Something about Lucy's tone of voice, though...

He was afraid to ask, in case it hadn't been anything about him and he looked like an idiot in front of Molly's sister. “Did the Arrows report that brawl to the League, do you know?”

Lucy took the change of topic in stride. She shook her head. “No. No one would admit who threw the first blow, and Pendry thought the League might punish everyone, so he told them all to keep their mouths shut and not to do it again.”

That was a relief. Fitz blew out a breath. Nigel Pendry, the Appleby coach, hadn't committed to anything at the pub, and Fitz hadn't been sure if it would get back to the League what had happened. Both teams might have been sanctioned. Although as Duff liked to point out, no one had thrown Falmouth out of the League, and they regularly behaved much worse on the field. Still, he didn't want to have to explain the fight to the team owners. “That's good. Best to keep it quiet.”

“Best to keep a lot of things quiet, it seems,” Lucy agreed, and Fitz's stomach flipped.

“What do you mean?” he asked cautiously.

“Oh, nothing.” And she gave him a bright, sunny smile that was somehow very different from her sister and yet reminded him strongly of Molly.

They really did look alike, though Lucy was shorter, curvier, and lacked Molly's sharp edges. Lucy wore a floral skirt and a drapey sort of pink top that looked like the complete opposite of Molly's wardrobe. Everything about her was softer than her sister. He liked her, though. She was sweet.

Molly wasn't sweet. He liked that even better.

Molly appeared again beside him. “Thanks for letting me know,” she said quietly. “I can't believe how quickly that lot drank the first bottle.”

“Next time you'll have to set out extra.”

“True. I didn't want to encourage them to drink everything I have. I don't have a wheelbarrow handy to cart anyone home.”

Fitz smiled at that, and Lucy echoed, “A wheelbarrow?”

While Molly told her sister the story of Deimos being brought back to the retreat in a wheelbarrow, Fitz watched her face. She was turned to her sister so her profile was to him, giving him an excellent view of the small row of narrow silver hoops piercing her ear. Her hair hadn't been spiked up into the mohawk, and the purple curls floated around the nape of her neck, swept to one side.

He hadn't thought she'd want the team to know about her colour-coding of her flat, and somehow he'd known that her liquor would be colour-coded as well. It was, after all, arranged alphabetically on the narrow table she used as a bar during parties. No one else seemed to have noticed that, or that she periodically set the bottles back in order when they got disarranged.

She flashed a smile at him then, and motioned to her room. “Want to come have a chat with us?”

His eyes went straight to the bed, then flicked to her sister. He wanted to be in her bedroom, but not with company present. It was probably best not to give the team anything to wonder about, anyway. “I'd better keep an eye on that lot out there. Carmichael was ready to put his motorcycle up again, trying to beat Whittlemore.”

“Sid is a card sharp. Don't let them get in too deep. I'll be out shortly, I just want to talk to my sister for a mo.” She smiled at him, and he stepped back, closing the door on the two of them.

They were definitely talking about him. He stood for a moment in the corridor outside her bedroom, listening to the team shouting over a hand of poker and hoping Lucy Weasley had liked him, before returning to police the gambling.

*

The Rowan Mansion was busy Sunday night. Fitz could hardly even get near the bar. Eventually he pushed his way through and managed to signal one of Max's employees. It was another ten minutes before he had a pint in hand. The evening wasn't boding well, he decided. Anytime you couldn't even get a seat at the bar in the local pub, it was probably time to go home.

He looked around, hoping for an empty spot somewhere, and saw a flash of purple hair down the end of the bar.

Molly.

She was paying more attention to her drink than her surroundings, and didn't seem to notice anything until he slid in beside her, positioning his back against the wall.

“Hi,” he said, setting his pint glass down beside her whisky sour.

She cocked her head as she looked up at him, so the purple curls swung down, bobbing against her jawline. “Hi. Fancy seeing you here.”

“I know, Quidditch players in a bar? Shockingly unusual.”

She laughed. “I'd invite you to sit, but there's no room. I've never seen this place so crowded.”

He glanced down at the middle of the bar. Max was looking harassed as he drew pints, trying to avoid being stepped on by the two bartenders on duty with him. “I don't know what's going on, I've never seen it this crowded either.”

“I asked a witch by the door. Apparently there was a Morris dancing festival at Castle Dunvegan and they all came here afterward for a pint.” Molly sipped her whisky sour. “No pubs in Dunvegan, I reckon.”

Fitz only vaguely knew where Dunvegan was. Somewhere west of Portree. “Must not be. Everyone get home all right last night?”

“As far as I know.”

Fitz had left her party shortly after her sister had, leaving the team to enjoy themselves without the coach around. He still felt that they would be more comfortable without him there, though Jinks and Zara had both told him to stay.

He'd also wanted to make sure it wasn't possible for him to be the last to leave.

“Duff was pretty drunk when he left, but Sid said he'd make sure he got home all right.” Molly gave him a sly smile. “What did you think of my sister?”

“She seems nice. I know I've met her husband a few times. Good man, sort of thick but he's a decent sort.”

Hilarion Winston-Fisher wasn't the sharpest quill on the Knarl, but then you didn't need to be a genius to be good at Quidditch. Hilarion was indisputably very good at Quidditch. He'd certainly got to that Snitch faster than Jinks, Fitz thought, trying not to feel disgruntled about that.

“Lucy liked you,” Molly told him.

“Did she?” That gave him rather a warm feeling. Molly was clearly feeling friendly, and having her sister's endorsement counted in his favour, since she was so close to her family. He smiled down at her. “I liked her too. She's not as pretty as you are.”

She gazed up at him through her lashes. “She's very pretty.”

“She is. But I like you better.” Unable to resist, he reached out to brush her curls aside. They felt soft under his fingertips, and he wondered how she got them that shade of purple.

“Thanks for not letting the team go through my cupboards,” she said, and he pulled his hand back, picking up his pint again.

“I knew you wouldn't want them to.”

The wizard sitting behind her got up, and Fitz slid past Molly to take the empty seat, brushing up against her as he did. She turned to face him again, smiling.

“Lucky there.”

“I thought he'd never leave,” Fitz quipped.

They sat at the end of the bar, drinking slowly since refills seemed unlikely until the pub quieted down again, talking and laughing until close to midnight. Eventually Molly seemed to realize how late it was getting, and to Fitz's dismay, announced that she was going home.

“You're the one who told us bright and early Monday morning,” she pointed out when he protested.

“Hoisted by my own petard, is that what you're saying?”

She grinned and grabbed his hand. “Come on, you should go too. It's very late.”

“Midnight is hardly late.” He didn't move, not wanting to give up his evening alone with her. He would have stayed out all night if he thought she'd stay with him.

“It is when you have to be at work by six,” she told him, still holding his hand.

At her next tug, he got to his feet, and they left the pub hand in hand. Outside the air was cold enough that he could see his breath, and most of Portree was dark, the pavements dimly illuminated by the stars. Only the pub was open this late in such a small town. She let go his hand as soon as they were outside, and he stuck his hands in his coat pockets, feeling the wand tucked safely inside.

He missed the feel of her hand in his. Even more, he missed the feel of her body against his.

They walked down High Street in silence. Only a few people were out on the pavements, Muggles from the looks of them. They were coming up on a narrow alley between two storefronts, and he reached out for Molly's hand, pulling her between the buildings.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, though she didn't pull away. Her hand was still firmly in his. “Someone might see.”

He leaned over her, touching his forehead to hers. “Right now, I don't care. I need to kiss you.”

She put her free hand on the lapel of his coat, pulling him close. “Go on, then.”

“You like tugging on my clothes, don't you? Ripping off buttons and such-”

“Kiss me, you arsehole.” She tilted her face up to his.

He started slow, feeling the softness of her lips and tasting the whisky on her breath, one hand cupping her cheek. Her skin felt incredibly soft and smooth. The purple curls brushed against his fingers like a whisper of silk.

“You have no idea what you do to me,” he whispered when they broke apart.

She chuckled. “It'd better be the same thing you do to me.” And she curved one hand around the back of his neck, pulling his mouth back down to hers.

He forgot where they were, how late it was and how early they had to be on the pitch, forgot everything except the feel of her in his arms and the way she kissed him. She fit with him so perfectly, her lithe body pressed against the harder planes of his own. Everything about her felt right, from the top of her purple hair down to the tips of her black leather booted toes. He felt on fire when she kissed him, out of control. He didn't care if his career, his entire life was destroyed. He would burn it all to the ground for more of Molly.

That thought made him break off the kiss and step back, breathing heavily. He couldn't think straight. He hadn't felt this way about a woman before, not even his ex-wife. It was disorienting to realize.

Molly's lips were red from their kisses, and her eyes were dark. She seemed confused by his sudden need for a bit of distance. “What's wrong?”

“You should go home and get some sleep.” He straightened his coat, taking a deep breath. Maybe his brain needed some oxygen. He obviously wasn't thinking clearly, if he'd kissed her right in the middle of Portree for God and country to see them.

Love will make you do stupid things, his brain told him helpfully.

“God damn,” he said aloud.

Molly ran a hand through her hair. “I know.”

She must have thought he meant the kiss. He was glad she couldn't hear what he was thinking. It was even more stupid than kissing her had been. He was falling for her hard.

That wasn't good. It left him feeling a little panic-stricken.

“I'll see you in the morning.” She smiled up at him before Disapparating.

Fitz ran a hand through his hair. “Damn,” he said again.

There wasn't anything else to say, really. He went home and tried to sleep it off, hoping the morning would bring clarity that the stars hadn't given.


Chapter 14: Colour-Coded and Perfect
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Despite the lack of sleep being out at the pub with Molly, Fitz managed to beat everyone to the pitch Monday morning. He felt rather triumphant about that, though it had taken three extremely strong cups of tea to make it happen.

He smiled at Molly when she arrived. Her hair was in a braid again today, the purple fading to red around her scalp. She smiled back, and he felt warm to his toes despite the chill morning air, because that wasn't the smile she gave everyone else. That smile was just for him.

Once Jinks finally arrived, late as usual, he set them running drills into the afternoon, ending the day with a five-a-side scrimmage match. The team seemed extremely cheerful about running to a draw with this after an hour's play.

“That was a good practice,” Sid remarked cheerfully as the Prides walked off the pitch, heading for the locker room.

“Yeah, you lot weren't as crap as you could've been,” Fitz agreed gruffly.

“Thanks for the rousing endorsement, Coach,” Beathan said, giving him a pat on the arm as she passed him.

“Play that way for the next three weeks, and maybe we'll beat the Falcons!” he called after them.

A few of them waved without turning, still walking off. He chuckled. They had played very well today, working as a team. The progress was encouraging.

He'd been spending most of his evenings in the labyrinthine underbelly of the Portree pitch, finding coaching notes, film reels, and game strategies in storage boxes and reading everything he could, learning how to be a coach. Maybe it was working.

Now if he could stop shouting at them, like Molly wanted. He didn't have a good grip on his temper. Flying to coach them made his shoulder ache, and that made his already short temper even shorter. He was still shouting, but they seemed to mind it less now, even Beathan.

Meghan McCormack was walking toward him as the last of the team went inside, and he didn't like the look on her face.

She must have heard about the brawl with Appleby.

He was thinking fast about how to explain it when she reached him. No one was around to overhear, but she waved her wand above her head to cast a muffling charm anyway. As soon as the faint buzzing from the charm began, she started yelling.

“Why the hell are you hanging round the pub kissing our only Keeper?”

Fitz's stomach dropped into his shoes. His mouth fell open, and it took a moment, blinking in shock, before he could close it again. “I...”

“What the hell were you thinking?” McCormack glanced over her shoulder as if she thought the team might be creeping back to try to listen in. “Have you lost your bloody mind? You know better than to fraternize with the team! Things are precarious enough with all these new players without you sleeping with them.”

“Who saw us?” he asked, unable to think of a defense. His brain felt sluggish, as if his body had stopped working.

“Does it matter?” She scowled at him. “Mariah Waldman came to me this morning and told me she'd seen you outside the pub with Weasley.”

Mariah. Goddamn her. Wrecking their marriage hadn't been enough, she had to find new ways to destroy his life.

He didn't have time to get angry about his ex-wife tattling, though, because McCormack was pacing back and forth in front of him, ranting. “You're insane if you thought this was acceptable behavior. You saw what happened when MacDougald and Gittins had a one-night stand.”

“We're not Beathan and Duff, that's not going to happen,” he began, but McCormack waved him into silence.

“I don't want to hear it. You bloody well get your jollies on somewhere else. There are plenty of women on this island that you can sleep with. Don't sleep with the goddamn team!”

“I'm not getting my jollies on,” Fitz said quietly, rubbing a hand over his face. “I love her.”

McCormack looked taken aback. It took her a moment to respond, and when she did, her tone had changed. Shock had replaced her anger. “I had no idea there was a real relationship starting there. I thought it was just sex. But you've already got one ex-wife on the team, Fitz.”

That was hardly his fault. If it had been up to him, he never would have hired Mariah to play for them. Comparing the two women seemed the height of unfairness to him, though, and he tried to defend Molly. “She's not going to be my next ex-wife. Look, it's only me getting caught up in feelings, Molly is just having a good time. I'm the one that might mess things up for the team, not her. She can keep her head together no matter what, you know her. It's not going to be like Beathan and Duff.”

McCormack didn't look convinced. She was frowning at him, her eyes narrowed. Fitz had a sudden jolt of fear that she was really going to sack someone over this. Last night he'd had an epiphany while kissing Molly that he'd rather have her than his job, but he didn't know if she felt the same. Somehow he didn't think McCormack would wait while he went and asked. And dammit, Molly was talented. She ought to use that talent. It was better that he was the one fired instead of her.

But... In the cold light of day, faced with the decision between Molly and his job, uncertain of her feelings, he was afraid. If he screwed up with this job, would anyone in the League offer him another? If he gave up coaching to be with Molly, would she still want him later on, or would things fizzle out and leave him stuck with nothing?

If, if, if. He wasn't sure he wanted to take the chance.

“I'm sorry,” he added, managing to sound perfectly sincere, though he wasn't sorry for any of the time he'd spent with Molly. “I'll resign if you think that's what's best. But don't sack Molly. She deserves to play. She's a first-rate Keeper.”

McCormack was silent for a few moments, contemplating him with her brows knit together. “No,” she said eventually. “I'm not replacing you as coach. The team's finally coming together, we've got a few wins under our belts and it's looking good for Falmouth. You have a contract, and so does Molly. You can damn well finish out the season at the very least. Just put a stop to this, all right? It can't go on while you're coach. There's too much at stake here.”

Fitz's stomach sank into his shoes. He was going to have to break things off with Molly. He didn't want to think about a future where he saw Molly nearly every day and never got to kiss her again, but that future was staring him in the face.

He'd already had to face one terrible future with the injury to his shoulder, and he was surviving it somehow. He'd survive this somehow too. At least she wouldn't have her career destroyed. She was going to be brilliant, and he knew how terrible it was to have a brilliant career taken away. Molly should play.

“It's for the best,” he said aloud. “We want a winning season.”

“Of course we do.”

McCormack was watching him as he turned and walked off, and if he didn't know better, he'd think her expression had turned thoughtful.

It was better to get it over with immediately, he reckoned. The locker room was empty, so he Apparated to Molly's house to talk to her. He didn't know what to say, and hoped something would occur to him when he got there.

She answered the door with her hair still damp from showering after practice, wearing a loose black sleeveless top and her usual skin-tight black trousers. This pair laced up the sides, showing a narrow line of freckled flesh down her legs.

This did not help his brain to come up with something to say.

“Oi, you,” she said when she saw him, giving him a sunny smile. “Good day today, wasn't it?”

He smiled back without thinking, because she was so beautiful and she looked so happy, and his heart squeezed just looking at her.

“Come on in, sit down.” She waved him over to the couch.

The coffee table that normally was cleared for use in card games at her parties had several books on Quidditch stacked neatly in the center of it now, and he focused on those as he sat down. The one on top was about the history of the Holyhead Harpies.

He wondered if she missed her old team. If she was still with the Harpies, he could have dated her. But then, if she was still with the Harpies, he never would have got to know her. They'd played in the same League for years without ever meeting. She was a good Keeper. She deserved to move up off the benches and be a star player.

Ifs again. Goddammit.

“You look a bit odd,” Molly observed, sitting down beside him. “Is everything all right?”

She put a hand on his arm, and he shot to his feet at the contact. If he touched her now, he'd never be able to break things off.

“D'you want something to drink?” she asked, concerned.

“Yeah, anything.”

She gave him a wary look and got up to go to the kitchen. He walked through the living room, looking at her spare furniture and décor, hoping for inspiration to land on him. He didn't know what to say to her, how to end things when he didn't want it to end.

He stopped in front of her shelf of family photographs and smiled despite his dour mood at the images of her at various ages with her cousins and her parents. There really were about a hundred of them. One photo drew his gaze. One man looked so much like her that he must be her father, standing next to another tall red-haired man, but it was hard to see a resemblance between the two of them. The other man's face was torn and scarred, as if the claws of a large animal had raked across his skin, tearing flesh and leaving a mountainous topography behind. Fitz did his best not to show his horror on his expression. He'd never seen scars like that before.

“That's my uncle Bill,” said Molly from behind him, and Fitz drew back quickly, embarrassed to be caught staring. “He was mauled by a werewolf while fighting to defeat Lord Voldemort.”

Fitz's eyes widened. “I didn't-”

“Do you really think you're the first one to stare at Uncle Bill?” Molly smiled a bit as she set a glass on the coffee table. “We've all learned to explain his scars. It makes things easier when people know he's a hero, not a monster. He just has some scars.”

Not like Fitz's own scars, then. They were nothing on the order of Bill Weasley's, and could be hidden under his clothes. Bill's were there for the world to see, all the time, horrific and frightening. And Fitz had nothing like as heroic a reason for his scars. It gave him an uncomfortable feeling. “Did he have residual effects? He's not a werewolf, is he?”

“No, he's not, and any scars that deep leave their mark, don't they?” She gave him a look that stated clearly she was including his own scars. “He likes his steaks practically still mooing, but that's about it.”

Fitz glanced back at the photo. “And that's your dad, isn't it?” She nodded, and he asked, “Did he look like your dad? Before?”

“Mostly. All my dad's brothers resemble him to some degree. Uncle Bill was handsome. Probably the best-looking of the lot of them. I've only seen photos, of course. It happened before I was born. Here,” she added, plucking a photo from the shelf of an extremely beautiful blonde woman holding a red-haired little girl. “That's his wife, my aunt Fleur. And that's me when I was seven, on her lap.”

She was so close to her family. He wished he had that. He saw his parents a few times a year, and they loved each other as best he knew how, but they weren't really close. He didn't know how to be a part of a family like Molly's.

Fitz set the photo down. It didn't matter, because their relationship wasn't going that far.

“McCormack came to see me,” he said.

Molly nodded, her expression concerned now. “Yeah, I saw her as we were headed for the showers. She looked pissed. Did she find out about the Appleby pub brawl?”

“She found out about us,” he told her dully.

Molly's face drained of colour. “Oh, my God.”

“Neither of us is sacked,” he assured her. “But it's time we stop this.”

“What did she say?” Molly demanded. “The League doesn't have anti-fraternization policies-”

“No, it's up to each team to set those.”

“Portree has nothing on the books.”

She'd probably looked it up, knowing Molly and her love of orderliness. She would want to make sure they weren't officially breaking a rule. Head Girl and all that. Molly was a rule-follower. But knowing that McCormack would disapprove hadn't stopped her...

“It doesn't matter,” Fitz said. “We needed to end this anyway.”

She looked hurt and a little confused. He hadn't really expected that, nor how much her pain would affect him. He didn't want to see her expression, so he turned back to the photo of her uncle and his heroic scars.

“It was time,” he went on, his voice sounding rough even to his own ears. “Past time, and we both knew it.”

“Last night you told me you needed me, and now you're saying it's past time to break things off?” She sounded angry. “Bit of an about-face. You got in trouble and now it's over between us?”

He kept his back turned to her so she wouldn't see his eyes. “I thought that would make it over for you.”

“No,” she said stubbornly. “It's not over.”

“Molly, we were having a good time, but it was only a good time. We knew if McCormack found out, we'd be in trouble. So, now she's found out, and it's time to put a stop to things.”

“It's not that simple.”

“It has to be.”

She came over to stand next to him, putting a hand on his arm. “Riordan. Why are you doing this?”

He shrugged her off. “It's done, Molly, there's nothing else to say.”

“It's not done,” she insisted. He should have known she'd come over all stubborn. “We are good together. We're good for each other.”

“Are we?” He turned to look at her, crossing his arms over his chest. His injured shoulder twinged at being pulled forward; his entire body felt tense and the damn arm was locking up. It made his already shortened temper feel ready to snap.

“But you said you don't feel angry when you're with me. And your shoulder is getting better, isn't it? With Hugo's Muggle therapy.” She sounded less certain now.

“Stop doing that,” he told her, sudden and sharp. The doubt he'd been feeling since he'd spoken to McCormack crystallized into something cold and hard inside him. “Stop trying to square me away! I'm not going to fit into your neat little boxes, colour-coded and perfect like you. You can't fix me, Molly.”

Molly looked as if she'd been kicked in the gut. “I-I'm not-”

“We knew we could never do this anyway, it just... It doesn't work.”

“It does. It works for me.”

“I'm a mess, Molly. You don't want that. My messed-up shoulder, my ex-wife, my tanked career, my temper, it's all a mess. You don't want all this. That's why you keep trying to fix me. I'll still be a mess and you won't want it. You like everything so perfect and neat and orderly. I'm not any of that.”

“That's not true,” she said, ashen-faced.

But it was true, and he knew deep down that she might want him now, but when his shoulder didn't heal, and the chronic pain was part of her daily life too, she wouldn't want him forever. Eventually she'd be done with all of his bad temper and messy life, and she would go back to her perfectly organized life, and it would hurt so much worse then than it did now. If she was inextricably linked with his life and soul, and she left him... He'd been divorced once, because he'd married the wrong woman, and it had damaged him deeper than he'd realized. Marrying the right woman and having her leave him would damage him beyond repair. It would break him.

McCormack was right. He never should have got involved with her.

“I can't do this,” he told her softly. “I never should have started anything with you when I knew it couldn't last.”

She closed her eyes, her face set in pain. “Don't- don't say any more. You've said enough. I thought... I thought this was...” Her voice trailed off, and she pointed to the door. "I think you should go. Now.”

“Molly,” he began. He hadn't known what to expect, but somehow it hadn't been this.

“Just go,” she said, her voice harsh.

Molly watched him as he skirted around her, careful not to let himself brush against her. She was holding onto her control with her fingernails. He wasn't saying anything now, but he wasn't looking at her either. She couldn't breathe. There was no air; the room was suffocating her.

Those things he'd said about her, it wasn't true, she wanted to scream. She wasn't fixing him so she could want him. She'd wanted him from the beginning. She'd wanted him when she already knew about his injury, his ex-wife, and when she'd already seen his bad temper. She didn't care. It was all still there, and she still wanted him.

But he didn't want her enough.

She couldn't breathe to tell him, though, and he was already walking away. He wouldn't listen, hadn't listened. Maybe he was right, then.

Maybe they'd never had anything real at all.

As he closed the door behind him, she covered her face with her hands, and as she finally drew a choked breath, half a sob, the glass tables all around her shattered.


Chapter 15: Something Real
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 Molly pounded on Lucy's door, tears streaking her face, trying to hold in her sobs. She had Disapparated without a destination firmly in mind, only her sister's face. She'd wound up in the gardens of Lucy's home in Lincolnshire, nearly on top of one of Lucy's lilacs.

After a few minutes, the door opened, but it wasn't her sister standing there. It was her brother-in-law, still in his pale blue Arrows robes. He looked sweaty; he must've just come from training.

“Molly?” Hilarion's eyes widened in alarm. “Is everything all right?”

She didn't want to talk to him. She couldn't stop crying, and she only wanted her sister. “Where's Lucy? I need to talk to Lucy.”

“She's at your parents'-”

Molly started to turn away, but Hilarion grabbed her arm to stop her. “Wait, wait, you shouldn't be Apparating like this, it isn't safe. I'll take you, come on.” He pulled the door closed behind them, still holding Molly's arm, and then turned over his shoulder.

They reappeared in the overgrown grass of her parents' lawn, and Hilarion let her go at once. Molly stumbled inside, with her brother-in-law trailing behind her, and found her sister sitting at the kitchen table with their mother, cups of tea and a plate of biscuits on the table. Audrey was holding Flora, and they all looked round at her, their expressions changing to worry at the sight of the tears streaking Molly's face.

“Molly, what's wrong?” Audrey said at once, getting to her feet.

But she didn't want her mother, either. She couldn't tell her mother about Fitz. Lucy had jumped out of her chair and rushed over. Molly grabbed her sister by the hand and tugged her along to the bathroom, locking the door behind them.

“What on earth is going on?” Lucy demanded, sitting on the edge of the bathtub. “Why are you crying? You never cry.”

“It's Fitz, he came over and... and he said...” Her voice broke on a sob, and she sat down on the floor, burying her face in her hands.

“What did he say?” Lucy sounded outraged. “I'll go and kick him. Dad will go and kick him. Roxy will slap him in the face if you want her to.”

“No, it's not like that.” She wiped furiously at her tears. “He said that I only wanted to fix him, that I didn't want the real him. But it's not true. He wouldn't listen.”

Her sister frowned. “Fix him? What does that mean?”

“Because I tell him not to shout and swear at the team, and I encouraged him to work on getting his arm better, the one that was injured. He – he said he didn't feel angry when we're together, and before that he felt angry all the time. I mentioned it and he... He told me I was trying to fix him up so he would be perfect like me.” His face as he said it, drawn tight with pain, swam in her memory. He really believed she didn't want him unless she'd straightened him up. And she hadn't been able to find the words to tell him he was wrong. A fresh wave of anguish rose up in her.

Lucy looked angry on her behalf. “What a prat. Oh, I could just slap him myself. Do you want me to have the boys get him? Remember what they did to Andrew?”

Molly managed a teary smile. She didn't have brothers, but she did have five male cousins. After her cousin Dominique's husband's cheating and illegal activities came to light, the boys had tracked him down. Whatever they'd done to Andrew, he'd turned up on her uncle Ron's office doorstep, unconscious and covered in green tentacles. The boys had tied him up hand to foot and pinned a sign to him that said Cheating Bastard, Ought To Be Locked Up. Uncle Ron and Uncle Harry were still pretending they didn't know who'd done it.

“I don't think that's necessary,” she told her sister, sniffling. Lucy's outrage had helped her catch her breath, so at least she could speak around the despair choking her.

“I thought he really liked you,” Lucy said then, putting an arm around her. “I don't understand why he would say that.”

Molly understood only too well. Fitz had been willing to toy around with her while no one knew about them, but as soon as their manager had found out, he'd chucked her straight away. Meghan McCormack had brought the truth out of him. “McCormack found out we'd been seeing each other.”

“And he broke up with you because she disapproved?”

“He said it was past time to end it anyway. But I wasn't ready, I don't...” Molly's voice trailed off, and she sniffled, feeling fresh tears gathering. “I still want to be with him. Just last night, he kissed me outside the pub and it didn't feel like he was tired of us. I'm not tired of us, dammit.”

“Oh, Molly.” Lucy gave her a hug. “Are you in trouble with your manager because of this?”

Molly shrugged. McCormack's anger had been the last thing on her mind, but now she thought about it, the silence from the team manager probably meant Molly was not about to get the sack. “She would have come to see me by now, or owled for a meeting or something. McCormack doesn't exactly keep it to herself when she's angry with someone.”

“Well, that's good, anyway,” Lucy said lamely. She didn't seem to know what to do.

“McCormack must have threatened to fire him.” Molly rubbed at her tear-streaked face. She knew Fitz wanted to keep his job. He had nothing else to do, that was what he'd told her. He needed Portree.

“So he chose his job over you?”

She pushed her hair back from her face. She hadn't thought of it in quite those terms. “I never asked him to choose me, I wouldn't expect... It wouldn't be fair. He might not get another coaching job. It's just... I really thought we had something real.”

“You thought it was love,” Lucy whispered.

Molly started crying again, nodding to her sister while she tried to stifle the sobs. Lucy put an arm around her, drawing her close and making soothing noises.

The door clicked open, and through her tears, Molly saw her father step into the room.

“Is that an Extendable Ear?” Lucy demanded, looking outraged. “Dad!”

Percy turned a bit red and stuffed the long, flesh-coloured string in his pocket, but he didn't bother explaining himself. "Come outside, Molly, let's talk."

Still sobbing, she followed him blindly as he led her out the back door and up the hill. Halfway up he sat down, and Molly collapsed beside him, leaning her head on his shoulder.

"So you're in love with your coach," Percy said quietly, and Molly drew in a shuddering breath.

"How much did you hear?" she managed to ask.

Her dad adjusted his glasses. He didn't look embarrassed any more at having been caught eavesdropping. "Well... Did you only want to fix him?"

He had heard everything, it seemed. She would normally never have talked to her father about something like this. It was too embarrassing to contemplate. But now here they were, and he was sitting quietly beside her, knowing everything she'd told Lucy and keeping both the parental judgment and wrath from his face. He looked like he empathized with her, strangely enough. It was comforting, and she found herself answering him honestly instead of dodging the question.

"No, I..." She hadn't, she wanted him, not some perfect version of him. "I just wanted to help him. It wasn't fixing him. He said he was happier when he was with me, and I liked that. I didn't mean for him to think I was trying to change him. I like him." It didn't sound quite right, even to her, but she didn't know how to explain it.

Percy was silent for a few moments while Molly mopped up her tears and tried to push her hair out of her face. She hated crying, hated this sniveling feeling. She never let herself get bogged down by emotions this way, always focusing instead on being proactive, changing what didn't suit her in her life. Sitting around crying about it wouldn't make it better, but this time she couldn't help herself. The tears would not be squashed down, would not let her avoid them.

"It's hard to be the leader," her dad said quietly then. "You get used to feeling you know what's best for everyone. And sometimes you're just so bloody wrong... You've always been so smart and capable, it seemed only natural for you to take charge. With your sister, with your cousins... You were so good at it, and I was so proud. Maybe I spent too much time encouraging it. It's all right not to know how to handle something, Molly. It's all right to make mistakes, and to make amends. Before it's too late." He pulled her close, kissing her on the top of her head while she buried her face in his robes.

"Thanks, Dad."

She stayed there, wrapped in her father's protective embrace, until her tears were spent. Exhausted, she let Percy draw her to her feet and take her inside, his arm still around her shoulders.

"I haven't seen you cry like this since you were a little girl," he said as they went inside.

Molly gave him a watery smile. "How very helpful of you to say."

"Just thought I'd mention it."

Hilarion was still in the kitchen with Flora in his arms. Lucy was beside him, and from the way their heads were bent toward each other, they seemed to be deep in a hushed conference. They both fell silent when they saw Molly, watching her with worried expressions.

"Here," said Hilarion, thrusting Flora at her. "Hold the baby."

Molly took her automatically, and Flora gurgled at her. She was chewing on one chubby little fist, drool running freely onto her pink embroidered dress. Molly smiled at her niece without thinking, and hugged her close.

"See, holding the baby always works," said Hilarion, looking relieved that Molly was no longer crying hysterically.

"You can't help but smile at such a beautiful baby," Percy agreed, reaching over to tickle Flora's round cheeks.

"Are you all right, Molly?" came Audrey's voice from behind her. She felt her mother's hand on her arm and turned, still hugging Flora tightly, and managed a small smile. Reassurances were in order, even if they didn't feel entirely justified just yet.

"I'll be fine, Mum."

They were obviously all worried for her. Maybe she ought to let some emotions out more often, so it didn't cause this much uproar when she did.

*

Lucy and Hilarion went home, and Molly slept in her old bedroom at her parents' house. The Quidditch posters that used to line the walls were gone now, but the furniture was the same. Her old prefect badge was still pinned to the lampshade beside the bed. It felt comforting in its familiarity.

The next morning, Molly was up before her mother, making tea and toast for her father while he read the Daily Prophet.

“I need to be back in Portree by seven,” Molly said, handing him a fresh cup.

“Are you sure you want to go?” asked Percy, frowning. “Maybe you should take a sick day.”

“Everyone would wonder what happened to me,” she hedged.

“Let him wonder,” her father said, drinking his tea.

Molly leaned her hip against the counter, considering it. It sounded nice to hide for a day, to put off the inevitable a bit longer. But it was only putting it off. She'd have to see him eventually, and it wouldn't be any easier later than it would be now. She didn't like hiding, didn't like putting off unpleasant things. It was better to deal with them head-on and get it over with. Time to rip off this particular bandage: she was going to the pitch today.

“We don't have a reserve Keeper,” she said aloud. “No one to replace me. I'd better go in.”

Percy drained his tea and got to his feet. “There's my brave girl.” He kissed the top of her head. “I've got to go to work. Will you come home for dinner tonight?”

“Probably not. I'll try to come round on Saturday.” Molly gave her father a kiss on the cheek. “Have a good day, Dad.”

Back in Portree, she hurried to the locker room to put on her robes. The room was empty; for once, she was the last one on the field. She took a few minutes to breathe deeply, staring at her reflection in the mirror, before leaving the locker room. Her face showed nothing of her crying jag from yesterday. It was a hollow victory, but she felt a bit better for it.

She didn't care if the team saw anything, but she didn't want Fitz to see how badly he'd hurt her.

If she didn't care so much for him, she might have hated him for yesterday. She couldn't bring herself to, though she wished she could. Things would be so much easier if she could hate him now. She was angry, yes, but she didn't hate him.

Love, it's love, her heart whispered, and she checked her reflection one last time before heading down to the pitch. She hated being pathetic. It didn't show in the mirror. Her hair was perfect, not a strand out of place. That made her feel a bit better.

The team was already in the air, flying round the pitch at top speed. Fitz was on the ground below them, his broom lying at his feet and his arms folded across his chest. He turned at the sound of her footsteps.

“I didn't think you were coming in today,” he said quietly. His face was expressionless.

“I work here,” she said coolly.

“You were late,” he pointed out. “You're never late.”

“It was five minutes, tops.”

She swung one leg over her broom and kicked off.

Fitz watched her shooting toward the hoops, her hair braided tight to her scalp, and sighed. It hadn't been five minutes, Molly was over half an hour late. He'd been sure she wasn't coming in at all. He wouldn't have blamed her for skiving off today. If he'd had anywhere to go, he might have done the same.

But the Prides were all he had. His eyes tracked Molly as she took up position in front of the hoops. She didn't seem upset. A little paler than usual, maybe. Her face was in profile to him, her chin held high and her eyes clear.

She was all right, he hadn't hurt her too much, he told himself. He hoped it was true.

Mariah flew past, and Fitz's eyes narrowed. She didn't look concerned about the fallout from telling McCormack about the kiss outside the pub. There was no satisfaction on her face, only concentration as she tossed the Quaffle to Sid.

Once again, she'd screwed up his life just because she could. Every time she'd cheated on him, she'd cried and apologized and promised never to do it again. By the fourth go-round, he had stopped caring about her promises. Whatever she'd wanted out of him in their marriage, she had clearly not got it, because she'd gone looking for it elsewhere over and over.

Apparently torturing him during their marriage hadn't been enough. She had to torture him some more now. For the thousandth time, he wished he'd never met Mariah Waldman, much less married her.

His attention was drawn then by Deimos Flint nearly falling off his broom to hit a Bludger that kept dodging away from him. “No,” he roared. “Don't reach like that, you twat, you're going to lose control of your broom, goddammit!” He held a hand out over his own broom, and it leaped into his hand. With much less grace than Molly, he was up in the air and flying toward the Beaters.

Molly blocked a Quaffle from Beathan, tossing it toward Sid as he flew past, and then resumed floating in front of the hoops. Fitz was off shouting at Deimos, not paying her any attention now.

The angry urge to shout at him was mixed with a hopeless feeling she wasn't used to. It sat in the pit of her stomach like acid. He needed his job. No one would hire him to coach if he quit halfway through, when the Prides hadn't shaken their old reputation. There weren't that many coaching jobs to begin with, the League being relatively small. He'd be coaching in the junior leagues, and that would never work. He swore at the players too much, and he'd make them all cry, and get sacked all over again.

She was damn well not going back to her old team. Lyra Brownyard had years to go, decades probably, before she retired. There was no chance of moving up to starting Keeper for the Harpies. That was why she'd left in the first place. The reputation of the Prides was colouring her career now too: if she left to try another team, she might not find anyone willing to take a chance on her. She'd rolled the dice with Portree, and it was time to hold fast to her cards, to mix a metaphor.

Nothing had changed. They both needed their current jobs if they wanted to stay in the League. The relationship had to be over, before it got in the way. She hadn't thought they were doomed to failure together, but apparently he did.

“Dammit,” she whispered, still watching Fitz.

“All right there, Molly?” called Jinks.

She looked up to find him hovering over the center hoop, his face worried. “I'm fine, Jinks.”

“You look a bit pale.”

“I'm a ginger, remember?”

He gave her a look, but flew off anyway. Jesus, she thought. Now even Jinks was worried about her.

*

After training, Molly finally returned home. The broken glass was still lying under the tables in her living room. She'd left in such a hurry for Lucy's house that she hadn't touched it. It was probably the first time in years that she'd left a mess untidied for longer than a few minutes. It was definitely the first time since she'd been a little girl that she'd lost control of her magic like that.

She sat on the couch, pulling her feet up underneath her, and stared at the shards of glass under the coffee table. Fitz's face was in her mind, telling her all the things she didn't want to hear. I'll still be a mess and you won't want it. I never should have started anything with you when I knew it couldn't last.

“Reparo,” she whispered, and the glass in the coffee table jumped up, sealing back together again into a sheet of glass, good as new. She fixed the side tables as well, still sitting cross-legged in the center of the sofa.

It was so easy to fix these sorts of broken things. Having everything perfectly in order in her house had always made her feel better when she thought of the things she didn't have. Her career had never been exactly what she wanted, but her clothes were perfectly clean and sorted. She hadn't found someone she could really love, but her kitchen was arranged and organized, her bedroom was spotless, and her home was beautifully decorated.

It all seemed so empty now.

The silence ticked in her head, reminding her she was alone again, in her spotless flat with her colour-coded life that left no room for anyone else's imperfections. She wanted Fitz there beside her on the sofa, slouching with his feet on the coffee table and leaving glasses around with no coaster and setting her liquor bottles out of order when he poured a refill.

She had the urge to smash the coffee table's glass top again, to see it shattered all over the floor in sparkling shards. Maybe if she fixed it a few more times, it would make her feel better.

She needed to feel different. She needed to be different. The way she felt now was miserable. Anything had to be better. Her fingers itched to change something, to make things better, more perfect.

Her flat was already immaculate. There was nothing to clean.

Molly went in the bathroom and stared at her hair. The shorn sides were starting to lose their purple, turning back to the characteristic Weasley red. She hadn't bothered to spike it up into a mohawk that morning, instead braiding it into a tight French plait to keep it away from her face while she flew. She pulled the braid out and looked at the purple curls. The tips were turning red again as the spell wore off.

She'd been the Harpy with the mohawk, and the Pride with the mohawk, and she hadn't been entirely happy as either of those things, though for a while there, she'd thought happiness was finally within reach.

Time for a change.

 


Chapter 16: Strength of Will
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“Anyone home?”

Fitz twisted round at the sound of Max's voice, but didn't get up. “Out here.”

A moment later Max appeared at the balcony door. “Are you sitting out here in the cold? Have you gone mad?”

“It's not very cold. I've got a fire going, anyway.”

Max sat down in the lawn chair beside him and put his feet up, near the stone fire pit. “Is that allowed up here?”

“No,” Fitz admitted. “The landlord doesn't know. I only use magical fire. Much safer.”

The small, narrow balcony was made of concrete, plenty strong enough for the small pile of stones where Fitz cast his campfire spells. He liked to sit out here, even in winter: the balcony overlooked the water, and the view was worth the chill. The gray waves were almost hypnotic. On clear days, when the water was still, it was unbearably beautiful. One of Fitz's favorite things about coming to Portree was living in Skye.

“Storm's a-brewing,” Max observed, his eyes on the thick bank of dark clouds that was inexorably rolling toward Portree. “Looks like you'll get a day off work tomorrow. Going to come by the pub?”

Fitz had already been watching the weather reports. Two days of heavy rain, high winds, and lightning were expected. It wasn't worth the danger to practice in those sort of conditions. “Dunno. Might go in anyway. I've got a pile of coaching notes from the 1990s to read still.”

“Hoping for more alone time with Molly, are you?” Max grinned at him, but it only made Fitz feel even more dour.

He shook his head. “That's all over with.”

Max's expression changed in a flash. “What happened?”

Sighing deeply, Fitz stared off at the stormclouds in the distance, wondering how to explain it. “I kissed her outside the pub, and apparently Mariah saw us and reported it to McCormack. She told me to put a stop to it, so I did.”

“I didn't think the League cared about that sort of thing. After all, you married a teammate once.”

“McCormack cares,” Fitz said shortly.

“I thought you were serious about Molly. I got the distinct impression-”

The conversation was giving Fitz an itchy feeling. He pulled his feet down from the fire, hunching forward over his knees. “You were wrong.”

“Oh, mate, I've been wrong about a lot of things in my life, but I know you pretty well, and I know this wasn't your normal run at a girl.” Max's voice was serious, and Fitz stared at the fire, watching the flames leap, pretending he couldn't hear. “Did you try to talk her round? McCormack, I mean.”

He gave a one-shouldered shrug. “I tried. It didn't work. I've got a contract, I've got to finish it out. No one's like to buy it from the Prides unless the season pans out.”

“And if someone bought it from the Prides?”

“I wouldn't be in Portree any more, but at least, maybe, things...” He shook his head. “There's no point, Max. It wasn't going to work out long-term anyway.”

“Why the hell not?”

Fitz tried to make light of it. “You know me. Yeti around women.”

“Yeah, you are,” said his friend. “But she already knew that about you and she seemed to like you anyway. Didn't you get into it a few times with her when you first met because you can't keep your temper?”

“Yeah, and she kept trying to knock that out of me.”

Max gave him a small kick, knocking his elbows off his knees and forcing Fitz to look up. “So what? You didn't mind it at the time.”

“You don't understand.”

Max was frowning at him now. “Oh, I understand bloody fine. You're a goddamn coward.”

“Screw you,” Fitz retorted, heat rising in him that had nothing to do with the fire. He wanted to tear his friend apart. A fight might make him feel better.

“This is the same sort of shit you did with Mariah when you got injured,” Max snapped back. “I didn't say anything at the time because she was a terrible person and I knew within five minutes of meeting her that it was going to end in divorce, but Molly isn't like Mariah. She isn't going to trot off to the next bloke within five minutes of you leaving her.”

Mariah had been trotting off to the next bloke long before he'd ever left her, but Fitz wasn't able to get a word in edgewise before Max went on.

“You were so sure Mariah would leave you when you got hurt that you left her first. You're so sure Molly will leave you that you're leaving her first.”

“Bullshit.”

Max gave him a look that bordered on disgust. “You could have fought for her, and you didn't. You were afraid. Well, enjoy your alone time, mate, you've earned it.”

Rage bubbled up inside Fitz, and he balled his hands into fists, ignoring the sharp jolt of pain in his shoulder. “Are you looking for a fight?”

“You are, but I'm not fighting you. Some of us have to work. I think you're an arse, though.”

“Join the club.”

Max left soon after that, leaving Fitz alone again in his flat to watch the storm roll in, the thunder booming and echoing over the water.

He had never been a man much given to introspection, before the injury. He'd spent all his energies in Quidditch, and hadn't worried much over feelings. While he'd been laid up after the attack, he'd spent all his time thinking about that. The enforced downtime had put him more inside his own head. Sometimes that wasn't a pleasant place to be.

And now... Now he couldn't stop thinking, couldn't stop playing it over in his head, wondering if he should have done it differently.

If he'd told McCormack that he was taking a stand, holding out for both his coaching job and Molly, would he still have had to make a choice? Should he have resigned after all, bet on a love she might not even feel?

And did she really love him enough to stay? Would she love him if he didn't change, bad temper, bad shoulder and all? Was it cowardice not to try?

Probably. He would rather not know if she didn't feel the same way he did. Asking seemed awful, as awful as not knowing, but preferable to hearing her say that she didn't love him.

Dammit, he thought savagely, rubbing a hand over his face. He needed a drink. He needed to punch someone in the face.

He probably shouldn't hit anyone, or he might be fired, and his job was all he had left. He went to the kitchen for a beer instead.

*

The storms lasted three days. Fitz buried himself in work, reading coaching notes back into McCormack's mother's days on the team. It was starting to give him ideas. There were a few things the League had moved away from, maneuvers that had gone out of fashion that he had visions of reviving and changing. He would have to explain it all with words and hope the team caught his drift, because he couldn't fly well enough any longer to demonstrate what was in his head. He could see it in his mind's eye, though, the Chaser formations and the Beater patterns.

When the team was finally able to fly again on Monday, they met in the soggy grass of the pitch, gathering around Fitz. He was so focused on his new ideas that it took a moment to register that Molly's hair had changed.

Gone was the famous mohawk, replaced by a mass of platinum blonde and purple dreadlocks, piled into a bun on top of her head. A purple scarf threaded through it, holding everything in place.

“I like the new 'do, Molly,” Zara was saying.

Molly gave her hair a pat. “Still Prides colours. It seemed time to change it up. I had that mohawk forever.”

“I liked the mohawk,” said Jinks. “It gave us distinction. Everybody remembered the mohawk. I mean, this is okay too-”

“Thanks,” she said dryly.

“-I'm just saying,” Jinks went on as if he hadn't heard her. “The mohawk was memorable. And totally wicked. Maybe I'll grow one now.” He ran a hand over his buzz-cut brown hair.

“You could rock a mohawk,” Molly told him with an affectionate smile.

Fitz scowled at them. “Get focused on work, you lot. Enough hair talk.” He sneaked a glance at her. She didn't have on a speck of makeup that he could see, and the blonde hair made her freckles more obvious against her pale complexion. He didn't think the dreadlocks would be quite as silky soft as her natural hair felt, and found himself missing her red curls from when she'd first turned up in Portree. She was still beautiful, no matter what she did with her hair. He wondered what the dreads looked like down, how long they were.

He shook those thoughts off, pulling out the sketches he'd drawn to show the new formations and patterns for the team. After an hour's explanation and enchanting a couple of wristwatches to fly for a demonstration of one of the more complex maneuvers, he sent the team up in the air to drill the new moves.

Molly hadn't looked directly at him once. He watched her flying toward the goal and sighed.

He liked coaching. The past few days in particular had brought that home for him. He was starting to think he could be good at it, too, with some more practice, and maybe wasn't so bad at it now. But as much as he liked coaching, he wanted Molly even more. Coaching felt a little empty when she wasn't beside him, laughing with him and calling him out for being an arsehole.

"Goddammit," he whispered to himself, kicking a clod of dirt.

He spent the day alternately wondering what Molly was thinking and watching his ex-wife fly, feeling angry all over again every time he saw Mariah. He'd resolved not to bring it up to her, uncertain if revealing the extent of his feelings for Molly would bite him in the arse later and fully aware that if he talked to his ex about it, she would know he was in love, but it was gnawing at him. Why had she done it? She couldn't possibly have felt jealous, after all the times she'd cheated on him. She'd barely wanted him when they were married, so he doubted she suddenly wanted him now.

Was she still angry because he'd gone through with the divorce? Was she punishing him because he'd finally reached the end of his rope with her cheating and left her?

Eventually he decided to take the risk of Mariah finding out he loved Molly. He had to know why she'd done it.

After practice, as the team headed for the locker room, Fitz grabbed Mariah by the arm to stop her. "Can I have a word?"

Mariah looked genuinely confused. "What's wrong?"

He waited until the rest of the team had left the field before speaking. Molly passed by without comment, her gaze straight ahead. Fitz made sure he didn't look at her, keeping his eyes on Mariah.

"What the hell were you trying to do?"

Mariah frowned. "What are you talking about? I caught every pass today-"

He wanted to tear his hair out. "Not that, dammit. McCormack. You told McCormack I was kissing Molly outside the pub."

"Oh, that." Her expression changed, her mouth twisting sourly. "Well, she did tell us all to keep our pants on, didn't she? You don't think the rules apply to everyone? It's not fair if you get to do what you want and nobody else does."

Suddenly it all seemed clear, and he shook his head slowly as the realization dawned. “And who did you want to do, Mariah?”

Her chin went up a notch, and her expression turned defensive. “What the hell do you care?”

“I really don't,” he told her with perfect honesty.

She seemed to see that in his face, because she admitted, “Duff. And maybe Jinks.”

He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. She had ruined everything with Molly for him because she wanted to have a roll in the hay with her teammates. For her, it meant nothing. It had probably never occurred to her that it meant everything to him. “God frigging dammit.”

Mariah scowled at that. “Can you not with the blasphemy? It's bad enough how often you use it on the pitch, I'd rather you didn't say it to my face.”

She'd always hated when he took the Lord's name in vain. Mariah's father was a rabbi, which Fitz had always thought was hideously ironic considering how she'd turned out. "Cheating on your husband is fine, so long as I don't say God?"

"Have we not had that argument enough already? We're divorced, thanks to you, so you lose the right to be angry with me for all that. You're not my husband any more. Besides, I apologized over and over-"

"You are unbelievable," Fitz bit out. "It wasn't enough to destroy my life when we were married, you've got to keep doing it now?"

Mariah gave a derisive snort. "You can't fool around with the female teammates, so your life is ruined? That's a bit overly dramatic."

He gave her a dark look, and Mariah raised an eyebrow, cocking her head at him. The faint air of disgust she'd had since he'd brought up the topic faded from her face.

"Or was it not just fooling around?"

And there it was, he thought. She still knew him too well. He'd let on too much, and as expected, she had guessed about his feelings, but he was damned if he'd discuss that with her. He turned on his heel and stalked off the pitch.

"I didn't know, Fitzie! I'm sorry!" Mariah called after him.

Fitz saw red. Sorry. He'd heard that word from her one too many times. He stopped, turned around and walked back to her, boiling over with rage. Mariah's eyes widened as he pointed a finger at her, and she took a step back.

"You're always sorry, Mariah. But you've got all the forgiveness out of me you're ever going to get."

This time when he left, she didn't say another word.

*

Falmouth was far enough away that the team was making a long weekend of the trip. They arrived two days before the match was scheduled to begin, settling into a small wizard-owned bed and breakfast near the Falcons' pitch. McCormack, somewhat to Fitz's surprise, had not turned up. He hadn't seen her at all in the past three weeks, in fact. She'd kept her communications to owl post ever since she'd confronted him about Molly, updating him on her meetings with the team owners and the Prides' standing in the League.

Though it was a relief not to sit through those meetings, he was a little leery of McCormack's sudden distance. He was trying not to think too hard about what it might mean, though late at night when he hadn't anesthetized his brain enough with alcohol, he wondered if he ought to update his resume.

The bed and breakfast was a rambling old house with enough rooms to house four Quidditch teams, decorated with blue toiles and chintz, crocheted doilies on the backs of the chairs, and had a musty smell permeating most of the beds.

"Smells like my grandmother's house," Sid had muttered as he set his bag in his room.

Fitz's room overlooked a conservatory attached to the back of the house. He could see orange trees through the glass roof, and narrow paths through the thick vegetation of whatever else was growing inside. Past the conservatory there were gardens pleasantly overgrown with bushes and flowers, winding paths of stone with wooden benches scattered here and there, and a small bridge over a shallow stream.

Beathan was in transports of delight over the gardens. “I love the back gardens. It makes the horrible old lady decor worthwhile, doesn't it?” she was saying when Fitz came downstairs for supper. The team was sitting in small clumps around the round tables scattered around the dining room. There was more toile and chintz in here, all in blue and cream. Beathan was sitting with Molly and Zara and, to his surprise, Mariah.

Molly's dreads were tied up in a bun at the nape of her neck, and Fitz stared at her, overcome with the urge to pull out the hairstick holding them in place and find out what they looked like down. She didn't look at him, though she must have felt his eyes on her. She appeared friendly enough with Mariah, though. He reckoned she didn't know Mariah was the one who'd told on them.

He hadn't told her. Mariah must not have said anything either. Maybe she really was sorry for it after all.

"It is pretty," Mariah agreed. "I don't think it makes up for the smell. My room hasn't been aired in years, I'm sure."

"I don't even care, I just want to sit in the gardens all day." Beathan leaned back in her chair. "When we get home, I'm going to start planting new stuff in my backyard. I want it to look just like this."

"It is really nice out there," Molly said. "Not really my style, but it's pretty. You'll have a hard time getting some of those plants to grow back in Portree. It's a lot warmer down here."

Fitz made himself stop staring at her, and cleared his throat to get their attention. “We've got the pitch booked for four hours tomorrow, from ten until two. You lot can have a lie-in if you want, just be there by ten so we can get our time in.”

They all nodded. Molly was focused on her food now, carefully not looking him in the face, but she nodded too.

“Oh, I can have a long breakfast in the gardens tomorrow,” Beathan said with a smile.

Fitz took a seat next to Jinks and Carmichael, hurrying through his meal so he could get away again. The last thing he needed was to sit in the oppressively grandmother-ish dining room and stare at Molly all night while she ignored him.

They had barely spoken in the last three weeks, only on the field. She hadn't called him an arsehole in that time either, even when he'd yelled at her one day more than was necessary. He had let his temper get the best of him, a tiny part of him hoping it would goad her into yelling back, but she'd just flown off. He was starting to feel a bit desperate for her to talk to him, to really talk.

God, he was an idiot.

The next morning, he tried to sleep late so he'd miss Molly at breakfast, but of course fate didn't love him enough to let that happen. As soon as he looked out his window, there she was.

Beathan and Molly were sitting on the bridge with their feet dangling in the water. Molly's black buckled trousers were rolled up to her knees, revealing slender calves and ankles. He couldn't see her freckles from here, but he knew they were there, over her entire body. Today she had wrapped a purple silk scarf around the knot of dreadlocks, covering them neatly. Beathan had rolled her trousers to the knee as well, but Fitz found that view much less interesting. Sighing, he turned away from the window and went to get dressed.

Molly glanced up in time to see Fitz in an upstairs bedroom, his back to the window. He was shirtless, and the scars from his injury seemed darker in the shadowed room, spreading from his shoulder down his back and arm like the tentacles of some sea creature. He pulled a shirt on, and disappeared from view. With a sigh, Molly turned her attention back to her teammate.

Beathan hadn't seemed to notice anything. She had her eyes closed, her face tipped up to the sun, smiling beatifically. Molly had rarely seen her look quite this happy. She smiled at the Chaser fondly.

“Don't laugh at me, I'm happy,” said Beathan, as if she'd felt Molly's attention on her.

“I'm not laughing. We ought to go in, though. It's nearly nine-thirty.”

“You go on. I'll be in shortly.” Beathan stretched out on the bridge, her toes still trailing in the stream.

“If you fall asleep out here, you're going to miss practice.”

She groaned. “Then I'll get screamed at. Come and wake me if I'm not inside when it's time to leave.”

Molly made her way inside through the conservatory, picking an orange off a tree as she went. The rest of the team was in the main rooms of the B&B, some of them eating breakfast and some waiting for their scheduled time on the pitch. Zara was dressed in her practice robes, curled up in a chaise with a book, and Jinks was stretched out on the sofa sound asleep. Molly tried to nudge him awake.

“Is it time to go? Five more minutes,” he mumbled and rolled over. When he let out a snore, she rolled her eyes.

“Might as well leave him, we've still got twenty minutes,” Zara said, and Molly went to sit at the foot of the chaise, peeling her orange and breaking it in half to share.

“Has the coach been down yet?”

Zara shook her head. “Haven't seen him. Is Beathan still out in the garden?”

“We may have to pry her loose with a crowbar. What's that you're reading?”

Zara held up her book, and Molly saw her cousin's face beaming up from the cover under the title Bewitched and Betrayed. Dominique Weasley had written a book about her divorce, and nearly every witch in the country had read it by now. Molly snorted, smiling ruefully.

Why are you reading that?”

“My sister sent it to me. This is your cousin, isn't it?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” she said dryly.

They passed some time discussing the dramatic and now annoyingly public breakup of her cousin's marriage. Molly had not bothered to read the book, since she already knew what had happened, and she didn't care to hear Dominique's carefully crafted version of events in the book. Roxanne had already filled her in on all the fine details, anyway. Roxanne, who was a writer, was still not over Dominique, who was not a writer, getting a book out before she had, and harped about it regularly.

Footsteps sounded behind them, and then a deep voice said, “Goddammit, Jinks.”

Molly turned to see Fitz, carrying a box marked 'Caution: Contains Bludgers', giving the Seeker a solid shove to the torso. Jinks was still snoring.

“We already tried to wake him up,” Zara called. “You might need a bucket of water.”

Jinks snored one final time and then coughed. “Someone say bucket? I'm up, I'm up.”

“Jesus Christ.” Fitz checked his watch. “We're supposed to be there in ten minutes. Gather up, you lot. Where the hell is Beathan?”

They made it to the Falcons' pitch with only seconds to spare. Fitz seemed to be in a bad mood, but for the past three weeks, he was almost always in a bad mood. Molly had been trying to avoid being alone with him, so she hadn't said anything, but his screaming fits were getting over the top again. She probably ought to take him aside and tell him to get a grip before the Beaters took their bats to him.

The Falmouth Falcons, in the grand tradition of the British and Irish League, had taken buckets of paint in their team colours to everything in sight around their pitch. Most everything was a dark grey, with the occasional white falcon head or stripe of white breaking up the rather dismal effect. There was a carved falcon, wings spread wide and painted white with grey eyes, above the door to the team entrance. Underneath the falcon, a white marquee bore the team motto: Let us win, but if we cannot win, let us break a few heads. Duff reached up as they walked over the threshold to pat the marquee.

Inside was more grey and white, and a very large infirmary. Molly took a look inside as they passed. She had never played Falmouth when she was with the Harpies, only sat and watched the games feeling torn about whether or not she wanted Lyra Brownyard to get injured so she could jump in, but she remembered the ice baths in the infirmary. The Holyhead Beaters had raved about them. Falmouth played hard, and it left its marks on their opponents.

“I'm getting in one of those as soon as we're done,” Duff said behind her. “At first it's misery, and then you just sort of float off and you can't feel a thing.”

“That's cause you're freezing your nerve endings, not to mention your arse,” Fitz said gruffly.

“Who needs nerves anyway?”

They made their way to the pitch, and Fitz set the crate down at his feet.

“Right you lot,” he began. “We don't have much time today, so we need to hit it hard and fast-”

“That's what she said,” murmured Declan.

Fitz did not look impressed by this, though Duff was grinning. “Shut it, you. Five a side for an hour, then we run drills, got it?”

By the time their four hours were nearly up, most of the team was dripping with sweat, muscles aching, and at least four of them were checking their watches to see if their time was up. Molly was sore from head to toe, breathing hard from exertion, when she glanced down at the ground.

Three of the Falcons players were standing on the pitch, watching the Prides train with obnoxious grins. Molly recognized two of their Chasers, Michael Boardman and Pasco Rakes, and one of their Beaters, Jory Spargo.

Fitz was hovering below her, watching the team, and caught her gaze. He looked down and saw the Falcons, then stuck two fingers in his mouth and gave an ear-splitting whistle to get the team's attention.

"Och, Jesus God, did McCormack teach him that?" Jinks pulled up on his broom beside Molly. "I've gone deaf now. I'm actually deaf."

"Let's call it a day," Fitz was saying. "Hit the showers, you lot. Nice work."

They flew toward the ground, landing one by one on the grass, and most of the Prides headed for the locker room, waving to the Falcons as they passed by. Rakes gave a long, slow smile to Mariah as she went past, and winked at her. She rolled her eyes, smiling, and kept walking.

Duff slung his broomstick over one shoulder and went up to his former teammates with a grin, bumping chests with Spargo. Declan was right behind him, and Fitz landed a few feet away, standing beside Jinks, who had stretched out full-length in the grass and was moaning as if he were dying.

"How's it feel to move up to starring position?" Spargo asked with a grin.

"Feels good. It'll feel better when we trounce you blokes tomorrow." Duff gave Boardman an affectionate cuff on the arm. "How's your wife? Does she miss me yet?"

"She doesn't even know your name," Boardman assured him.

"She barely knows his name," joked Rakes.

Declan moved to stand next to Duff, reaching out to shake hands with the three Falcons. "Ready for Saturday?"

"Ready to kick your arses you mean?" Rakes was grinning at Duff, but his eyes slid over to Fitz and his face seemed to harden. "Hell yeah we are."

Fitz was not paying them any attention, focused on Jinks. Molly couldn't decide if he was ignoring the Falcons or actually focused on Jinks' melodrama. Then he glanced over at her and she saw the look in his eyes. He was definitely trying to ignore them, by the skin of his teeth. She stepped closer and tried to distract him.

"Jinks, get up, you lazy sod," she commanded him.

"I'm dying," he groaned, throwing a hand over his eyes. "Levitate me to the infirmary."

"Unbelievable," Fitz muttered.

Molly gave Jinks a gentle kick. "You look completely ridiculous."

"Did you break your Seeker?" called Rakes behind them. "You're in Falmouth now. Can't be delicate or we'll crush you like baby birds under a troll."

Fitz finally turned to him, his face set in a scowl. "You can go-"

"Fitz," Molly murmured before he could finish. "You're coach."

He gave her a scowl too, then turned back to Jinks. "I'm going to kill him."

She wasn't sure if he meant Jinks or Rakes. She gave their Seeker another nudge with the toe of her boot. "Evander Jinks. Get up right now."

Duff and Declan didn't seem to notice anything amiss between Fitz and Rakes, and were still grinning cheerfully. "Come to the pub, we'll buy the first round," Duff said, clapping a hand on Spargo's shoulder. They set off, and with one last venomous glare at Fitz, Rakes followed them.

Jinks hauled himself to his feet, adding a melodramatic moan as he straightened up. "I think I pulled a muscle. Tell McCormack I need a pay raise."

Molly rolled her eyes. "Go find a Healer. You'll live."

Jinks set off for the locker rooms, and Molly turned to follow him, but then glanced back at Fitz.

She held back, hating herself a bit for worrying about him now, but she couldn't shut off the emotions that easily. His entire body was tense, and she could tell he was holding himself in check by sheer strength of will. He might have hauled off and punched Rakes otherwise.

She took a step closer and caught his eye. “Are you all right, Fitz?”

He frowned at her. “Oh, now you want to talk to me? You've barely said a word to me in weeks, but now when you think I need help-”

The urge to kick him was almost overwhelming. She stomped her foot instead, and her cheeks flushed red with rage. “You stupid, stupid arsehole. That is not what – it was your idea to break things off. I don't owe you any explanations, but if that's what you think of me, then you can just bugger off.”

She started to walk off, and he ran both hands through his hair. She had just turned away when he called out, “That was Mariah's last boyfriend. Before we got divorced.”

Molly stopped and turned back. He was staring down at his shoes, kicking at a divot in the grass.

“I didn't think I would care any more. It was years ago, and he wasn't the first one I caught her with. I was going to file for divorce, finally, and she apologized like she always did, and it was a mess. It was right before I got injured. It's just... I didn't know it would still bother me.”

“She was your wife, and he knew it and slept with her anyway,” Molly said quietly, reeling with surprise that he'd actually opened up about this. “Of course it bothers you. You wouldn't be human if you didn't feel something about that.”

“She's not my wife any more. I'm not in love with her. I haven't been in years.” His expression changed, becoming faintly bewildered. “Why do I give a damn if I see some bloke she slept with back then?”

“It's not that easy. You break things off, but you can't just shut your feelings off because you don't want to feel them anymore. Wouldn't that make things so much easier if you could?”

He let out a mirthless laugh. “Yeah, it would, wouldn't it?”

They were still standing a few feet apart, and the distance felt endless. Molly didn't move closer, though. It seemed like a bad idea.

“I'm sorry,” he said then. “For being an arsehole.”

“You're always an arsehole lately.”

“I know.”

She didn't say he'd been being an arse since they'd broken up. He was probably well aware of it. “Will you be all right?” she asked tentatively.

He gave a one-shouldered shrug. “I'll survive. Go on and rest, Molly.”

She wasn't sure she ought to leave him alone, but her body was screaming at her to have a dip in the ice bath and then a nap, so she left him there on the pitch, glancing over her shoulder as she walked off.

He was watching her go with a bleak expression.


Chapter 17: Let Us Break A Few Heads
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The local watering hole beside the Falcons' pitch was packed. Since it was the night before a match, Fitz had expected this. He made his way to a sliver of space at the bar and managed to get a few shots of firewhisky poured within five minutes. There was nowhere to take them, so he stood there at the bar and downed the first shot, setting the empty glass beside the other two.

They were playing in roughly twelve hours. After the game ended, there was no further reason to stick around in Falmouth, and he wouldn't have to see that jackass Rakes again until they played in Portree in three months. He drank another shot in celebration, setting the second glass upside down and lining up the third.

“Oi, Fitzroy!”

He turned to find Ferris, one of the Falmouth Beaters, waving to him with a grin as he pushed through the crowd. Behind him, threading through the crowded room, was Rakes.

Swearing under his breath, Fitz turned back to the bar to drink his third shot. Honestly, he had the worst luck in the world. Maybe there was something to Mariah's insistence that he not take the Lord's name in vain. “I'm being punished,” he muttered to himself.

Ferris shouldered his way up to the bar beside Fitz, waving to the bartender. “Haven't seen you in ages. How's coaching treating you? It's good to see you back in the sport.”

“Thanks, mate,” Fitz said, trying to keep the wariness out of his voice.

Rakes had taken position beside them, away from the bar, and had his meaty fists on his hips. The bloke had always been bigger than Fitz, built like a damn troll, which had tempered his desire to kick Rakes's teeth in for sleeping with his wife. Mariah sure could pick them, he thought sourly. And he'd married her. Whatever that said about him, he didn't want to know.

Ferris ordered a round of drinks for them, handing glasses of whisky to both Fitz and Rakes, then settled in for a friendly round of trash-talking. “Hope you've got them ready for tomorrow. We're planning to crush you like bugs.”

Fitz snorted. “Good luck with that. Not so easy to crush us.”

“Some of you crush more easily than you might think,” Rakes rumbled, downing his shot and then waving the empty glass at the bartender.

The team was undoubtedly well known in the pub, since it was a half kilometer from their pitch and full of wizards. The bartender was quick to bring another round, and Rakes pounded back a double. Fitz set his beside the four empty glasses, playing with it instead of drinking. The synapses that were still functioning through the whisky were on high alert. Rakes looked to be spoiling for a fight.

Ferris was chortling as he drank his next shot. He hadn't picked up on the undercurrent between Fitz and Rakes. No one had ever accused any of the Falcons of being sensitive souls. “I've seen your lineup, remember? We know how Duff plays, he learnt it here.”

“He might've learnt a few new things since he left Falmouth,” Fitz remarked, ignoring Rakes completely.

“Not from you,” Rakes said. His expression had turned nasty, dropping his thin pretense of friendly banter. “From what I've heard, you don't have any moves left.”

Fitz leaned back against the bar with his good arm, going for barefaced arrogance, and gave Rakes a smile that matched his in nastiness. “I've got moves you've never seen, Sonny Jim.”

Rakes' face was gradually turning bright red. “Maybe you did on the field when you could still play, but you sure as hell got nothing else.”

Fitz tamped down the urge to break his jaw and smiled instead. “She told me how sorry she was she ever went near you. Doesn't sound like she was impressed with your moves.”

Rakes snarled. Fitz got some satisfaction out of pissing him off. Mariah had always been sorry when she got caught, but not sorry enough not to do it again, so he doubted she really regretted any of it longer than an hour or two. No need to let Rakes in on that, though.

Ferris finally cottoned on to what they were talking about. “Oh right, because you and- oh,” he subsided lamely.

There was an ugly silence for a few moments, while Fitz twirled his glass on the bar as if he hadn't a care in the world and Rakes breathed hard through his nose, nostrils flaring. He reminded Fitz of a bull. He only needed a ring through his nose to complete the picture. And maybe some horns. Idly Fitz wondered if he could hex him with some.

“That was years ago,” Ferris said uncomfortably. “No hard feelings, right?”

Fitz gave him a dirty look, and Rakes ignored his teammate.

“She was in love with me,” Rakes snarled.

“Obviously not, since she stayed married to me until I left her.” Fitz downed his whisky, setting the glass carefully down in a neat line with the other four.

People around them were starting to stare, whispering behind their hands. Ferris glanced around and set his glass on the bar.

“Maybe we should take this outside.”

Fitz followed the pair of them out of the bar, with everyone staring after me as they left. It had gone too quiet for such a big crowd. They probably felt the fight coming. Rakes practically tore the door off its hinges as he slammed it open, and Fitz kicked it shut behind them.

Outside, the night was black, with no starlight to leaven the darkness, and the cold bit into Fitz through the whisky and rage that still heated his blood. They moved a few paces away from the bar, standing on the cobblestone path. The grey behemoth that was the Falcons' pitch loomed in the distance, looking almost ominous as it squatted over the landscape.

Ferris stood between them, clearly uncertain if he ought to put a stop to things before they got out of hand, but Rakes was less inhibited now, removed from their audience, and put one large hand on Fitz's chest, giving him a shove.

“She didn't want to be married to you, you bastard,” he growled, his hand up, ready for another shove.

Fitz knocked his hand away and shoved him back. “That's not what she kept telling me. She begged me not to leave her.”

“She didn't want you, she wanted me,” Rakes insisted.

“She wanted everyone, you twat,” Fitz told him in disgust. It was ridiculous to fight over Mariah with this idiot, he knew, but the whisky had his brain in a fog, and all the pent-up rage he'd never been able to let out every time Mariah had cheated bubbled over, and suddenly Rakes was every bloke she'd slept with. Fitz shoved him with both hands. “You knew she was married to me, what the hell did you think you were doing?”

“She came at me,” Rakes taunted him, giving him another solid shove, this time to his bad shoulder, and Fitz reeled from the pain. He gritted his teeth, determined not to show it.

“You and everybody else.”

“Maybe if she'd left you like she said, you wouldn't have gotten that curse to the shoulder,” Rakes said then, his face contorted with rage.

It was as if the world froze. The street slowed to slow-motion around him as the words burned into his brain. “The hell did you just say?”

“He doesn't mean anything by it,” spoke up Ferris, but both Fitz and Rakes ignored him.

Rakes's eyes narrowed. “I think you heard me.”

“You son of a bitch.” Fitz was seething. The bastard had hexed him because Mariah wouldn't leave him. Their twisted, screwed up marriage had gotten him permanently incapacitated, his career destroyed. If she'd just left instead of constantly cheating, or if he'd got the courage to leave her earlier, he might still be playing for Montrose. “Did Mariah know?”

The look on Rakes's face told him she hadn't. That was some small relief. At least his wife hadn't set him up. Only her boyfriend.

“Son of a bitch,” Fitz said again.

Rakes set his jaw, giving Fitz a challenging look, and spread his arms wide. “Gonna do something about it? Or are you too busted up to throw a punch?”

Fitz hauled back and hit him right in the face.

He didn't remember much after that, just a flurry of punches thrown and received, and his ribs were aching and his breath felt like knives in his chest in the cold night air, and he tasted blood, and then he was being pulled away from Rakes, and as he landed on the cobblestones, there came two cracks of Disapparating. He blinked, and Rakes and Ferris were gone, but two men wearing Magical Law Enforcement robes were running toward him up the street.

He rolled over just as they reached him, lying on his stomach on the ground and trying to breathe. “Dammit,” he managed to say, spitting out a mouthful of blood.

They sat him up and asked him who he was, why he'd been fighting, all the usual sort of questions, but he only sat there silently. If he told them his name, it would get out about the fight, and McCormack would go ballistic, and the job he'd given up Molly to keep would be gone. For half a moment, his whisky-soaked brain thought this would be a good idea, because he'd have Molly then, but he remembered that she barely even talked to him anymore and kept his trap shut.

“You're hurt, mate,” one of the MLEs said eventually, after he hadn't answered their questions for the tenth time. “Isn't there anyone you'd like us to call for you?”

Molly, he thought, but he shook his head.

The MLEs looked at each other, then back at him. “We'll have to take you in, then, and check your identity with your wand. That takes time. You'll sit in a cell all night. Is that really how you want to spend your night?”

He wanted to spend his night drinking until he could forget the vindictive rage in Rakes's eyes, forget that his shoulder was ruined by his ex-wife sleeping around, and forget that he didn't even have anyone to call to pick him up after a bar fight without further damaging what remained of his life. Despite the horrible evening, he gave a short bark of laughter. “Got nothing better to do.”

They brought him to the Ministry, his wrists bound behind him in some sort of Incarcerous Curse, hauling him through the atrium and down a long corridor with marble floors and wood-panelled walls to another, smaller atrium. MLEs bustled through the round room, their footsteps echoing into the high ceiling, busy even though it was now well past normal working hours. He'd lost track of time, sitting in the pub drinking and then sitting outside the pub being questioned.

At the far end of the room was a desk with another MLE behind it, this one roughly Fitz's age, who looked up and saw them coming and started prepping paperwork. The Ministry lived for paperwork. The MLE who had asked him if he could call someone steered Fitz toward a door beside the desk.

An older man with grizzled hair was leaning against the desk, and straightened up as they approached. “Oi,” he called out to the officer pulling Fitz along. “Hang on a tick. What's this, then?”

“Bar brawl, sir. He refused to give his name, won't let us Floo anyone to pick him up, so we'll have to look him up by wand.”

“Did he?” The older man waved off the arresting officer, still watching Fitz closely. “I don't think you'll need to do that.”

The MLE who'd arrested him looked uncertain. “Sir?”

“Put him in a cell, but don't trace his wand's ownership.” It was obvious the older man was used to being in command. He wasn't in an MLE uniform, instead dressed in simple black robes, but he had an air of authority and issued orders with ease. “I already know who he is.”

Shit. If word of his arrest got out, McCormack wouldn't just sack him. She'd bury his body in the middle of the pitch. Fitz eyed the older man warily.

The older man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I remember seeing you play. Watched you in one of your last games, when you beat my favourite team.”

“Who's your team?” Fitz asked, wondering which game he'd seen. Not the one he'd been hexed in. That had been his very last game.

“The Cannons. You beat them in only thirty minutes. They didn't even score.”

“Oh Christ, you're a Cannons fan?” Fitz felt a laugh bubbling up despite his situation. Everyone defeated the Cannons. They were bottom of the league every year. Nobody got angry over a Cannons defeat, that was insane. Their victories required an act of God.

“Lifelong. They're just having a bad streak right now. Take him to a cell,” he said to the arresting MLE, who snapped back to attention.

Fitz's stomach clenched. This was not good.

*

Molly woke to the sound of tapping at her window. Groggily, she lifted her head and pushed a few dreadlocks away from her face. A glance at the clock showed it was nearly three a.m., and she frowned as she looked back at the window.

There was an owl on the ledge, tapping the glass impatiently with its beak.

She padded across the room to open it. The owl stuck its leg out for her to remove the parchment tied there, then waited expectantly for a tip.

“Sorry, I haven't got any treats for you,” Molly told it.

It looked hurt and then flew off, leaving a pile of droppings on the windowsill. Molly grabbed her wand to clean up after the owl, then unrolled the parchment. As she read, her heart dropped into her shoes.

Molly,

One of the MLEs brought in your coach this evening. Apparently he was doing some Muggle-style brawling in the pub. I've got him in a cell right now. He refused to identify himself, so I assume your team wants this kept quiet. You'd better come pick him up.

Love,
Uncle Ron


Molly groaned softly. Fitz being arrested now was the last thing the team needed. McCormack had put up with a lot, but this might push her too far. Thank God for Uncle Ron, then – he'd saved Fitz's arse without even realizing how much he was helping. She didn't like the sound of Muggle brawling, though. Much as she wanted to not care any more, she still hated the thought of him in pain.

She sighed, looking at the clock again. Everyone else was sound asleep at this hour, so hopefully it would stay a secret. She changed clothes, wrapped her hair in a bun quickly, and headed for the MLEs.

Fortunately, partly thanks to her cousin Louis, she knew exactly where to go.

The MLE headquarters inside the Ministry of Magic were familiar grounds to Molly. She walked to the desk where the booking sergeant waited for criminals to be put in the holding cells while their paperwork was processed, and saw the familiar form of her uncle, leaning against the desk and eating a pastry.

He saw her approaching and waved the pastry at her. “Molly! You changed your hair.”

“Hi Uncle Ron. Thanks for owling me.” She stood next to him, smiling affectionately, and lay her head on his shoulder for a moment.

“I reckoned you'd want this kept from the press,” he said easily. “Portree's coming along nicely this season. Don't need any bad publicity. Want an Eccles cake? I think there might be some macaroons left in the box somewhere.”

“No thanks. Where is he?”

Uncle Ron nodded toward the cells. The desk sergeant rose, grabbing the keys, and led Molly into the corridor that led to the holding cells.

“Give me a minute to talk to him, please?” Molly asked softly, and the sergeant nodded, his eyes kind, and stood back at a polite distance while she approached the cell.

Fitz was sitting on the wooden bench at the back of the cell. He looked so forlorn, with his elbows resting on his knees, hunched over and staring at the floor. He looked defeated. She didn't like that.

“Oi, Marquis of Queensberry,” she said, leaning against the cell door.

He looked up in surprise. Molly winced at the sight of him. One of his eyes was blackened, and his lip was split on one side. The cut on his lip was still oozing blood.

“Molly,” he said, sounding shocked.

“Busy night?” she asked solicitously. “Ready to leave now?”

He looked toward the desk warily. “Will they just let me go? Why are you here, anyway? How are you here?”

“I have some family in law enforcement,” she reminded him. “Got an owl from my uncle, saying you'd been arrested for fighting in the pub, and that you wouldn't let them call anyone for you.”

“I didn't want it to get out,” Fitz muttered.

“Well, it probably won't, since it's three in the morning. The team's all sound asleep by now. Game tomorrow.”

“Goddammit. You should be asleep too. You'll be too tired to play-”

“Oh, shut up.” She glanced over her shoulder and gave a nod to the desk sergeant, who smiled pleasantly and came over with the keys.

After the cell door was unlocked, the man returned to the desk, leaving the two of them standing in the open cell door, staring at each other. Molly reached up to touch Fitz's bruised eye, and he didn't flinch away from her, meeting her eyes steadily until she pursed her lips in disapproval and dropped her hand back to her side.

“Who were you fighting?”

“Rakes, that Falmouth Chaser,” he admitted.

She shook her head. A coach fighting the opposing team's players the day before the game was a whole new level of inappropriate behaviour. “What the hell did you do that for?”

“He's the one who hexed me.” Fitz gestured at his injured shoulder, and Molly stared at him, taken aback.

“He admitted that to you?”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Not directly.”

“D'you want me to get my uncle? Maybe he can do something-”

“No. There's no proof, and he'll only deny it. There was a huge investigation when it happened, and they couldn't pin it on anyone.”

She frowned. “I really think it would be best.”

“No, Molly. Besides, it won't change anything. My shoulder is wrecked either way. What's the point?”

She stepped closer, forcing him to meet her eyes again. “The point is that he shouldn't be playing in the League when he did this to another player. That's the point, Riordan.”

He gave her a long look. Eventually he said, “I can't prove it. I hit him first. He was sleeping with my wife back then, and half the Falcons knew it. No one will believe me.”

“I believe you,” she said simply.

Fitz reached up to stroke her cheek gently. “Let's go, so you can get some sleep before the game.”

She'd rather lose a lot of sleep with him, but it didn't seem like fair play to say that. She didn't understand how he could look at her like that, and touch her so softly, and then say they were over. It didn't feel over when they were near each other.

“He was sleeping with your wife and then he hexed you?” she asked, determined to get the whole story out of him.

He heaved a sigh that said he didn't want to talk about it, but he did anyway. “Apparently Mariah promised to leave me for him, and wasn't doing it fast enough. Come on, Molly. You need to sleep.”

She blew out her breath. “Fine. Let's go.”

They stopped at the desk for Fitz to retrieve his wand, and Molly went over to where her uncle was leaning against the counter, eating another pastry. She kissed him on the cheek, resting a hand on his arm as she stood on tiptoe to reach him. “Thanks, Uncle Ron.”

“Any time, love.” He smiled fondly at her, then gave Fitz a stern look. “No more fighting, you.”

“Yes, sir.” Fitz managed to look contrite, though Molly was willing to bet this was neither his first nor would it be his last bar brawl. “Thanks for not contacting the press when you recognized me.”

“Well, I knew you were coaching my niece's new team. Reckoned Molly would get you sorted out. She's very good at that.” Uncle Ron patted Molly on top of her head. “Nice hair, by the way. No more mohawk?”

“I wanted a change. We'd better get going. Good night, Uncle Ron.” And then, because she couldn't seem to stop herself, she added, “And you shouldn't be eating those this late at night, you know you'll get heartburn.”

Uncle Ron rolled his eyes as he popped the last of the pastry in his mouth. “You sound just like your aunt. My wife is always bossing me around,” he told Fitz, still chewing.

Fitz glanced at Molly, and she threw him a look that said he ought to keep his mouth shut. “Good night, Uncle Ron,” she said again, and turned to leave. Fitz fell into step beside her.

They were halfway to the door that led back into the main part of the Ministry when a loud hoot sounded behind them.

“Bloody effing hell!” exclaimed Uncle Ron.

Molly turned to see what had got his attention and then immediately ducked her head, darting around to walk on the other side of Fitz where she was less visible.

Her cousin Rose was trudging in, covered in something sticky and oozing that looked like treacle, with a man in an Incarcerous Curse beside her, equally coated with goo. They were leaving a trail behind them as they walked, rather like a slug's trail, and drawing the attention of everyone in the room. A few of the MLEs clapped.

Fitz had seen her too. He was gaping a bit – people often did around Rose – and then said, still staring, “She sort of looks like you.”

“No, she doesn't,” Molly said firmly.

“Oh, yes!” cried the desk sergeant, pumping his fist in the air. “Is that treacle? Let me get my camera-”

“Shut up, Jack,” said Rose grumpily. She dragged her prisoner to a halt in front of the desk.

Molly grabbed Fitz's arm to tug him along. “Come on, let's go.”

“She really looks like your uncle there...”

Uncle Ron, still standing at the desk, was grinning hugely as he looked down at his daughter. “Merlin's pants, Rose. Get your camera, Upchurch. My wife is never going to believe this.”

Aunt Hermione would probably believe it only too well, unfortunately. Molly managed to drag Fitz down the corridor and out into the atrium. He seemed much more chipper now at the sight of Rose covered head to toe in treacle.

“Was that another of your cousins? It was, wasn't it.”

“It's Rose,” Molly said, resigned to familial embarrassment. If it wasn't her cousin Louis, it was her cousin Rose. “Don't ask.”

“You hid behind me,” he said, grinning at her.

“No I didn't.” He gave her a look, so she rolled her eyes and said, “Fine. I hid behind you.”

“Didn't want me to meet your cousin, eh?”

“Let's go before anyone sees you here.”

His smile dimmed. “Right. Got arrested. Can't let anyone find out.”

She slid him a glance. “That's not why I didn't introduce you to Rose.”

“I can see how picking a bloke up from a jail cell would make you not want your family to meet him.”

“Are you joking? I've picked up my cousin Louis from a jail cell half a dozen times now. They wouldn't care about that. Besides, my uncle Ron already knows you were arrested.” Uncle Ron wouldn't tell the press about the arrest, but he was bound to mention it to her dad when they saw each other. Molly didn't want to think of her father's reaction to the latest news about Fitz. Uncle Ron wasn't bothered, but then he didn't know Molly had been involved with Fitz.

At least, she hoped he didn't know. With any luck, her dad had kept his mouth shut and not told his brothers anything. Normally Percy kept things under his hat fairly well, though all the Weasley brothers were big gossips when they got together.

Fitz's expression changed then. “I suppose I don't have a reason to meet your family.”

She threw him a look. “No, I suppose you don't.” She didn't want to argue over that, though, so she distracted herself by taking her dreads down and redoing the bun she'd had them in. She'd been in a hurry when she'd put her hair up, and the dreadlocks were starting to slide out of the precarious bun she'd had them in. She tightened it up, pushing the pair of silver hairsticks back through the bun, and then looked up to find Fitz's eyes tracking her movements.

“I wondered what they looked like down,” he said, still looking at her hair.

She didn't want to go there either, so she folded her arms across her chest. “Are you all right to Apparate, or do you need me to bring you Side-Along?”

He seemed to shake off his fascination with her hair. “I can make it.”

They reappeared outside the B&B, the night air silent around them, and hurried in through the conservatory, slipping in through the doors Molly had left unlocked on her way out.

“Did you at least kick his arse?” Molly asked in a whisper as they passed an orange tree.

Fitz stopped so abruptly that she walked right into him and had to take a step back. He turned to look at her and she saw that he was grinning. The split lip oozed with fresh, bright red blood from the movement.

“I gave as good as I got.”

She reached up to touch his mouth, right beside the cut. “You always do. Do you want ice for any of this? I can probably do a spell to fix your lip.”

“There'll be a Healer at the pitch tomorrow morning for the game. I'll get it fixed then.” He stretched a bit, wincing. “And fix up my ribs, too.”

“Did you break a rib?” Molly pulled up his shirt, and he didn't resist. The skin around his torso was mottled with purple bruises. “You idiot, look at you. You probably did.”

“Feels like it.” He pulled his shirt out of her hand, tugging it back into place. “I'll be all right until morning. Go get some sleep, you've got to play tomorrow. Today, actually.”

She stared at him, and he cocked his head to one side.

“What?”

“I don't like you getting hurt,” she whispered.

He shrugged, and then hissed a bit, putting on hand on his side. “I'm used to things hurting.”

Molly shook her head. “Get some ice from the kitchen. Maybe you'll sleep better.” It occurred to her that he probably had some pretty strong pain potions on hand, given his chronic pain from his shoulder, which would help more than ice.

“I will.” He leaned down and kissed her with delicate care, his lips gentle against her mouth. “Thanks for coming to get me, Molly.”

“Try not to make it a habit,” she said lightly, uncertain of herself. “Good night.”

“Good night.”

She didn't want to leave him, but she really did need to sleep if she was going to play at top form against Falmouth, so she hurried off to her room, making sure she didn't look back. She might have turned around and taken care of him all night if she had, and that would be a big mistake for several reasons.

As she climbed the stairs to her room, she touched her lips lightly, still thinking of that kiss.

*

Molly overslept the next morning. She must have turned off her alarm without really waking up, because she didn't remember it going off. She came awake groggily, her brain finally nudging her that she ought to wake, and realized Fitz was pounding on her door and bellowing, “Weasley!”

“Shite,” she muttered, and slid out of bed to open the door. “I'm awake.”

He looked down at her, and the annoyance slid from his face. “Jesus.”

She looked down at herself, belatedly remembered she was only wearing the sports bra and underwear she'd fallen asleep in after picking him up from the Ministry, and closed the door in his face.

“I thought you said you didn't wear underwear,” he said through the closed door.

“I just wanted to see your face when I said that,” she admitted, digging her team uniform out of her bag. “I'll be down in five minutes.”

“Hurry it up, we need to be on the pitch in twenty minutes.”

She threw her Quidditch robes on, grabbed the bag of protective padding, and hurried down the stairs while wrapping her hair up into a bun, tied up with a purple scarf. The rest of the team was already in their robes as well, sitting around the dining room. Only Declan was still eating, and Fitz slid a plate of toast and eggs in front of Molly as she sat down.

“Eat fast. You have two minutes.”

She started shoveling in food, and realized both Duff and Sid were grinning at her. “What?” she asked around a mouthful of toast.

“You overslept,” said Sid. “You're one of us after all. Just like the regular people now, Ms. Perfect.”

She rolled her eyes. “I didn't hear my alarm.”

Fitz was checking his watch. “Hurry up, dammit.”

They made it to the Falmouth pitch with five minutes to spare, though Molly wished she'd had time for a coffee as they rolled into the locker room and started putting on padding.

Fitz was lecturing them all about the strategy for the day's game as they suited up, but she knew it by heart already so she spent the time watching him instead. He still had a black eye, and his split lip was scabbed over now. He must have told the team something to explain it while she was sleeping late, because no one was questioning his injuries. He didn't look as if he'd got any sleep at all last night.

They were interrupted by her cousin Hugo sticking his head in, dressed in Medi-Wizard robes. “Just wanted to say good luck, Molly-” His eyes widened as he took in Fitz's face. “What happened to you?”

“Shaving accident?” Fitz suggested.

“I thought we were going with 'ambushed by pirates',” Jinks stage-whispered.

“He was fighting off a troll,” Zara volunteered.

Fitz nodded judiciously at that. “Somewhat accurate,” he admitted.

Hugo shook his head at the lot of them, and slid into the room. “Come here, I'll heal it.”

After he'd fixed the split lip and spread some sort of yellow paste around the black eye, Fitz grabbed the hem of his shirt and pulled it up. “Don't suppose you can do anything for this?”

The team had obviously not seen that part of his injuries, because there was a round of whistles and catcalls. The bruising around his ribs had blossomed overnight into a huge mess of purple, tinged green around the edges. It looked much worse in daylight than it had in the darkened conservatory. Molly winced at the sight of it.

“Whoa,” Sid said appreciatively. “That's a hell of a bruise. It's the size of a Quaffle.”

“It's the size of two Quaffles,” Bram corrected him.

Hugo was prodding gently at Fitz's torso with his fingertips. “I'm pretty sure this is broken. Pirates and trolls, eh?”

“Something like that.”

There was no time just then, though, because a loud whistle sounded in the corridor outside the locker room.

“Saddle up, you lot,” Fitz told them, dropping his shirt.

“Come see me after the game,” Hugo said to Fitz, then waved at Molly and gave the rest of the team a nod as he left.

They took the field, flying out to make a lap around the Falmouth pitch and wave to the crowd. Molly spotted a few patches of purple in the sea of grey in the stands, and waved to their supporters. The Falcons came out to a much bigger roar of applause, and Molly took up her position in front of the hoops.

The game was as fast and rough as she's anticipated. The Falcons always played as if they'd just as well kill their opposing team as defeat them. She kept the hoops defended but paid more attention to their fouls than she normally did. Rakes seemed more aggressive than usual, or maybe that was just because now she knew how far he was willing to go to injure another player.

Fitz had been a special case for him, she told herself. That had been about a woman, not about the game. They weren't really in any more danger from the Falcons than usual. But she watched him anyway, whenever she could spare her attention from the hoops.

The Falcons scored a few on her, but mostly she was able to block their throws. Fitz's new versions of the old tactics he'd found in Rodan's coaching notes from forty years ago were working well: the Falcons Chasers weren't able to keep possession of the Quaffle long as the Prides out-flew and out-threw them.

Three hours into the game, Molly blocked a throw from one of their Chasers, threw the Quaffle to Sid, and turned back just in time to see Rakes slam into Beathan, knocking her off her broom.

"OI! You bastard!" she screamed at him as the referee and two Medi-Wizards flew toward Beathan's falling form, catching her before she hit the ground.

Bram Carmichael flew out to take Beathan's place as she was carted off the pitch, and Portree was given a penalty shot. Zara threw the Quaffle into the left hoop, inches past the Falmouth Keeper's outstretched hand, and then gave Rakes the finger before she flew off.

After that, the gloves were off. Duff and Declan started fouling the Falcons, their faces set in scowling determination. Duff in particular seemed especially vicious as he sent Bludgers at his former team. He seemed to have taken their foul against Beathan personally.

Four hours and scores of fouls by each team later, Jinks caught the Snitch as it was hovering just above Sid's head, looking completely at ease, and the match was over. Relieved that they'd won and no one else had been hurt, Molly landed on the field and didn't bother with the usual "Good game" acknowledgments to their opponents, heading straight to the infirmary to check on Beathan with Sid and Zara on her heels.

It had not been a good game. It had been rough, vicious even, and more fouls than they'd had all season.

Beathan was lying on an examination table in the infirmary with an ice pack on her head. Hugo was standing over her, making notes on a chart. He looked up as they came in.

"Concussion," he said briskly. "Fixed her broken radius. She just needs rest, and she'll be fine."

"Did we win?" Beathan asked eagerly.

"We won," Zara told her, and Beathan let out a whoop, grinning.

Hugo smiled and gave Molly a pat on the arm. "Congrats, cuz."

Fitz burst in then with the rest of the team behind him, took in Beathan on the table, and turned to Hugo. “Is she all right?”

Hugo gave him a reassuring smile. “Broken arm, concussion. The arm is fixed, and she'll be all right tomorrow from the concussion. All healed up, just needs some rest. Come here and let me heal those ribs.”

“Galloping gargoyles,” Sid said on an exhale. He went to sit beside Beathan. “When he knocked you off your broom, I thought my heart stopped. Effing Falmouth. Always has to play rough.”

“We keep four Healers on staff for Falcons games,” Hugo volunteered, not looking up from his examination of Fitz. “Lots of fouls today, but only minor injuries.”

“Effing Falmouth,” Sid said again, and the rest of the team nodded.

“Go get cleaned up, you lot,” Fitz said, grimacing as Hugo prodded his battered ribcage. “Let's get the hell out of here and go home.”

 

 


Chapter 18: Underdogs
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The next morning after the team arrived back in Portree, Roxanne Weasley turned up on Molly’s doorstep. As usual, she sailed right in without knocking.

“All right there, Molly?”

Molly was sitting at her dining room table with a cup of tea and the Daily Prophet, trying to enjoy a quiet morning without thinking about Fitz, his arrest, or Falmouth Falcons Chasers who attacked people. She didn't bother to look up. “You really ought to knock. What if I'd been naked?”

“Oh, who cares.” Roxanne looked gloriously unconcerned at invading her cousin's privacy. She set her handbag on the table and slid into the seat beside Molly. “Put that away, I've got news.”

“God, what is it now?” Molly asked with a teasing grin.

Roxanne was grinning too, but hers didn't look teasing. She was bubbling over with happiness, almost giddy. “I'm pregnant.”

“Are you joking?” Molly reached over to give her a little push, grinning widely. “Oh my God, Roxy!”

“I know.” Roxanne laughed. “It's true, I really am. I'm so excited, and Perry is just over the moon. He's already planning which musical instrument the baby should learn first.”

Molly laughed. “Of course he is. Congratulations and all that. Did you tell your parents yet? What are you going to name it?”

“I haven't told them, I wanted it to be a big announcement. Fred is helping me alter some of Dad’s fireworks so they'll spell out 'you're going to be grandparents' as an announcement. It's going to be hilarious.”

Uncle George would get a huge kick out of that, Molly thought. Although knowing Fred, the fireworks were more likely to spell out 'Roxanne is knocked up'.

“Hopefully Fred can keep his mouth shut about it long enough, so it'll be a surprise,” Roxanne went on, still smiling. Molly had a feeling Roxanne had probably been smiling nonstop since she'd found out. She was having a hard time wiping the smile off her face herself.

“Good luck with that,” Molly teased her. “I've never known Fred to keep his mouth shut about anything.”

Roxanne rolled her eyes. “I know, he's an idiot. I’ve been reading some baby name books and looking for good names, but there's plenty of time for that still. I've got some lists going. I suggested Peregrine Algernon Chilcott the Second, but Perry said he'd divorce me,” she added with a mischievous smile.

Molly laughed. Roxanne’s husband famously despised his given name. He hadn't wanted the family to know what it was, but Fred and James had found out and that had put an end to the secret. “What if it's a girl? Name it for me?”

“Too many bloody Mollys already. No, I was thinking Gwendoline or Naomi. I really like Athena, but I'm not sure I can convince Perry of that one. He likes boring names. He actually suggested Mary, if you can believe it.”

Molly couldn't imagine Roxanne with a daughter named Mary. “Yeah, that's not going to work. How about Natasha?”

“Oh, that's not bad, but I need ugly names to get Perry on my side about Athena. Like Agnes.”

“Ophelia.”

“Too pretty. Edna. Maude!”

They were both laughing now. Molly's cheeks were aching, but it felt good to smile and be happy again, so she didn't mind. Roxanne's sheer joy at her impending motherhood was contagious.

“You're godmother, of course,” Roxanne said then.

“I'd better be, you bloody bint,” Molly told her, but then she threw her arms around her cousin and gave her a squeeze. “I'm really happy for you.”

“You'd better be,” her cousin said with a laugh. “I'm really happy for me too. Is that tea?” And she picked up the teacup and drained it.

Molly went to make a pot of tea for them, leaving Roxanne to poke at the newspaper, distracting her from talk of the baby.

“Reading Aunt Ginny’s column? It was very good this morning,” Roxanne commented as she peered at the sports page. “I didn't go to the Kenmare versus Wigtown game, but it felt like I had. She's such a good writer, I'd hate her a little for it if I didn't love her. When do you play them?”

“Kenmare or Wigtown?” Molly asked as she pulled a teacup out for her cousin.

“Either.”

“Wigtown is in three weeks. Kenmare’s the month after, with the Harpies in between.”

Roxanne folded the paper up and tossed it aside as Molly returned with the tea. “Oi, so I'm doing a column for Witch Weekly about how your team is turning itself around from the muck they've been wallowing in for years now-”

“I hope you're not going to phrase it like that,” Molly said dryly.

“I'll be tactful,” promised Roxanne.

Molly wasn't so sure her cousin would know tact if it bit her on the arse. “Sure you will.”

Roxanne ignored her sarcasm. “I wanted some quotes from you about it. And if you can get me in to talk to any of the rest of the team, that'd be really helpful too. Or Meghan McCormack, I'd love to have a bit of an interview with her.”

Molly gave her a look. “You could come visit the pitch, but I can't promise any of them will speak to you. Not everyone likes reporters. What exactly are you hoping to write?”

“Oh, it'll be a positive spin on it,” Roxanne assured her, apparently seeing Molly's reticence. “A real human interest story, you know? Plucky underdog team pulls themselves up by their bootstraps and manages to not suck this season – I haven't entirely decided how I'm going to phrase that part, but you get the idea. With a new coach and an all-new lineup-”

“It's not all-new,” Molly corrected her. “Jinks, MacDougald, and Preece were all here already.”

“Fine, with a mostly all-new lineup,” Roxanne said. “No one believes they have a chance, and bam! They come out of nowhere to start winning matches – if you could win your next one before I publish this, it would really help me a lot – and suddenly they're not the Scottish Cannons any longer. I was going to go with ’Chudley Cannons of the North’ but it didn't fit as well.”

Molly shook her head, more in resignation than dismay. “If you do a hatchet job on us, McCormack will have you banned from our pitch.”

“It’ll be good, I promise. You'll love it. So, you'll have to introduce me to Coach Hottie now after all.” Roxanne wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. “How's that going, by the way?”

And just like that, most of Molly’s good mood evaporated. She poked at the teapot in front of them and pulled her legs up to sit cross-legged on her chair, looking away from her cousin. “It's not going anywhere.”

“No more dirty sex escapades? You wouldn't even tell me about the last ones,” Roxanne needled her. “What happened?”

Molly hesitated. With her love of gossip and her continual hunger for a story, Roxanne was a dangerous person to tell a secret to. As much as she complained about her brother’s inability to keep his mouth shut, with Roxanne it was that she couldn't keep her pen off her notepad.

Roxanne saw her hesitation and her face grew serious. “Molly, what happened with you two?”

“Promise you won't write an article about it?” Molly asked warily.

“Molly Weasley,” Roxanne exclaimed. “We are family. I would never write an article about you that would hurt you.”

Molly rubbed the bridge of her nose with her fingertips, feeling a headache coming on. “I know, it's just...”

Roxanne pushed her teacup aside and leaned forward. “Tell me what happened.”

“I thought we... had something more than what he turned out to have in mind. I'm all right now,” she added. “I just... misread him, I suppose.”

“What, you? You usually have a pretty good bead on people.” Roxanne raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean exactly?”

“I thought he was serious about me,” Molly said miserably. “But he said he'd known all along we were never going to work out together, that I just wanted to sort him out.”

“Oh.” Roxanne regarded her in silence a moment, then in typical Roxanne fashion, baldly asked the question no one else had asked her directly. “Do you love him?”

Molly sighed heavily, thinking of that gentle kiss in Falmouth, and that despite a broken rib or two, he'd been more concerned that she was losing sleep. That kiss hadn't felt like it was over between them. It had made her feel more confused than ever. “Yes, I do. I was so sure he felt something for me, too. I still think that when he's around me. I just don't know if I'm only convincing myself of it because I don't want to be wrong.”

Roxanne rolled her eyes. “Wrong? You? Are you sure you're not convincing yourself he has feelings for you because you have feelings for him?”

Molly gave a helpless shrug. “I didn't think so. Maybe. But McCormack already yelled at him about us seeing each other. I don't want us to lose our jobs over this. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.”

“And do you want him back?”

“He doesn't want me. But then he kissed me this weekend. I don't know.” She pushed the teapot, lining up its handle to point north, matching the teacups to the same angle.

Roxanne was watching her, and reached over to move her teacup, rotating it so it was out of alignment. “Are you more upset that you don't think he wants you, or that you were wrong?”

“Neither. Both. I... I don't know. I didn't think I was wrong.”

Roxanne seemed nonplussed by her cousin's uncharacteristic indecisiveness. “The League doesn't have anti-fraternization rules,” she pointed out. “There've been plenty of famous Quidditch couples. That husband-and-wife Beaters team in Wigtown, then there were those wizards who played for Tutshill. Never married but they're still together thirty years later. Oh and there was a couple playing for the Heidelberg Harriers a while back as well. It happens. I know it was frowned upon by old biddies of all genders, but there's no rule against it. You're not doing anything wrong.”

Molly didn't bother to reiterate that McCormack disapproved, since Roxanne had glossed right over that, and merely nodded her head, though she thought 'plenty' was overstating things. She knew about the Wigtown Beaters, and the couple from Tutshill who'd played in the 1980s, maybe a handful of couples who'd played professional Quidditch. She wondered what exactly McCormack had said to Fitz that day. Surely McCormack knew about all those successful romances as well, and about the League's lack of official policy.

Of course, none of those teams had been in quite as precarious a season as Portree had been in, trying to rise from the bottom of the League, with a team that had never played together before a few months ago. Those romances had all been in established lineups, or had come to the League already married, as in the case with Wigtown.

“You ought to go and tell him how you feel,” Roxanne said encouragingly. “Just say it, put it out there. You'll feel so much better for having the words.”

“I thought about that,” Molly admitted. Since he'd kissed her in Falmouth, she had played a hundred scenarios in her head where she told Fitz she loved him. In at least half of them, he did not say it back. “What if... What if he really doesn't love me back, though?”

“Then you know. If he doesn't feel the same, you move on. But you know. One way or the other. You always like to know instead of wait in limbo. Rip off the bandage, isn't that what you always say? So it's time to rip it off.”

Molly pursed her lips, looking down at her teacup. Roxanne stretched one leg out and gave her a gentle kick in the calf.

“I told you being prefect and Head Girl and coming over all perfect during school was bad for you,” she said. Her voice was light and airy, but the words hit Molly hard. “It's made you too afraid of failure. You should've got in trouble with me and Rose and the boys a few times. You should go and get yourself in trouble with your coach now. It'd be good for you.”

“Don't call me perfect,” Molly groaned, slouching down in her chair. “I'm not perfect, I'm... I think I'm a mess, Roxy.”

“Oh good, you're a Weasley after all,” her cousin remarked cheerfully. “Get it together, godmother. I want you to pop out a kid pretty soon so mine's got someone to play with.”

Molly shook her head ruefully. “I'm not popping out any kids anytime soon. Go tell Victoire to have another.”

“She already is, didn't you know? As long as Dommie doesn't do the same. She beat me to publishing a book, the little brat-”

Molly tuned out. Roxanne's rant about their cousin Dominique publishing a book before she'd managed it was a long-standing one that Molly had heard at least a dozen times. She could have recited it by now.

Should she just go and tell Fitz that she loved him? Roxanne was slightly mad, but she was very clever also, so listening to her advice might not be bad. Molly tended to think of herself as the smartest one of the group, and rarely asked her cousins for advice, always relying on her own judgment and preferring to offer advice rather than take it. Her father’s words about being a leader came back to her, making her feel less sure of herself than ever.

Maybe she ought to try it Roxanne’s way. Roxanne had managed to find love, after all, even with one of her insane plans. Admittedly, it hadn't been with the man she'd set out to get – that plan hadn't worked out at all for Roxanne, but when life had taken away her fantasy future with Hilarion Winston-Fisher, it had given her Perry instead. And she was blissfully, annoyingly happy, just as Lucy was with Hilarion.

Molly wanted to be annoyingly happy too. And she wanted it with Fitz.

“... and then she offered to introduce me to her agent who might give my manuscript a read, can you believe that? You should've heard her say it, too, so condescending, like my book wouldn't be as good as hers – are you listening?”

Molly looked up. For once, she didn't bother to dredge the half-heard details from her memory, and instead told her cousin the truth. “No, I wasn't.”

“I knew it!” Roxanne crowed triumphantly. “I knew you don't listen, you brat. Finally you admit it. Hang on, I'm getting it in writing to show Fred and James.”

“I don't know how to tell him how I feel,” Molly confessed, completely ignoring Roxanne’s remark. “I'm not good at expressing my feelings.”

“No kidding,” said Roxanne. “Just tell him you love him. Men don't need it to be all flowery. In fact, if you say you want to jump their bones, it's largely the same thing to them.”

“That's very helpful. Is that what you tell Perry?”

“Yes. And I tell him I love him, because I'm not repressed like you, from too many years trying to be perfect. Tell him how you feel.” Roxanne gave her a pat on the hand. “Give it a go, and if you don't like it, you never have to have a feeling again.”

“I have feelings,” Molly exclaimed, a bit stung that Roxanne would say such a thing.

“I mean other than sarcasm and annoyance.”

Molly stuck out her tongue. “I hate you sometimes.”

“No you don't, you love me. By the way, fair warning, I was at Aunt Ginny’s last week, and she said she was coming to your game with Montrose next weekend. And Uncle Harry as well.”

“You'd think she would let me know,” Molly grumbled. “Especially if she's bringing Uncle Harry. There'll be a big uproar about him. I like to forewarn the team.”

“It's meant to be a surprise,” Roxanne told her, completely oblivious to this further proof that she could not keep a secret any better than her brother.

“Bloody brilliant.” Molly took a sip of her tea. It had gone stone cold. She set the cup down again. Warming it back up seemed more effort than it was worth, so she pushed it aside. “We’ll have to beat Montrose this time, with Aunt Ginny watching and writing about us.”

“Also because my dad’s got twenty Galleons riding on it against Perry, and I want that money.” Roxanne smiled cheekily.

*

On a stormy Thursday, Fitz called the team in with instructions to meet in the projector room at ten. He'd sent the owls round late enough to let them have a lie-in, since officially storms meant no training, but early enough to catch them before they made plans. As they gathered, there was a great deal of grumbling.

“It’s raining, that’s supposed to mean a day off,” Jinks was saying when Fitz came in with a box in his arms. “My contract says I don’t fly when there’s lightning. Unless it’s a game.”

A crack of thunder sounded, interrupting Jinks in mid-complaint.

“Shut it, Jinks, we’re not flying,” Fitz told him as he set the box down.

“Why is the couch from the locker room in here?” asked Zara.

Molly raised an eyebrow. “And where’d you get the second couch?”

Fitz looked round at them, putting his hands on his hips. He had moved the purple velvet couch in from the locker room, taken a gold brocade one out of McCormack’s office, and arranged the two in front of the projector screen so that everyone would have a good view and be able to sit more comfortably than in the usual wooden folding chairs. It had taken hardly any time at all to steal McCormack's couch, thanks to a levitation spell from Hugo Weasley's list.

“Have a guess,” he said, waving a hand at the projector.

“Going to make us watch game footage all day and tell us why we suck?” Duff asked suspiciously.

Molly was looking at the box he’d brought in, craning her neck a bit to get a look inside it and unintentionally giving Fitz an excellent view of the cleavage produced by her tight-cut black leather vest. “What’ve you got there? That's not team footage.”

“Chariots of Fire, Rocky, and Slap Shot.” He grinned at the looks of confusion on their faces. “Films. Muggle sport movies.”

Jinks perked up. “We’re going to watch Muggle sports? Have you got popcorn?”

It didn’t take long for them to decide they were all in on the plan. By the time Fitz had Chariots of Fire out of its container and begun loading it into the projector, they had all sprawled out onto the couches together. Jinks had taken charge of the popcorn Fitz had brought, and they were all passing round a tub of it.

“Where did you get these?” Molly asked, and he glanced over his shoulder to see her looking at the cardboard box containing the Rocky reel.

“Max’s cousin.” He lowered his voice a bit, although no one on the team was paying them any attention. “He’s a Squib. He knows everything there is to know about Muggles.”

The film reel caught and Fitz stepped back to check its position on the screen. The Beaters were cheering now that the opening to the film was playing, excited for a film that didn't include a critique of their abilities afterward. Fitz turned to Molly with a triumphant smile. She was looking at the box still, focused on the print of Rocky's face on the lid. His heart tugged watching her; she had such a quizzical look on her face and it seemed somehow so quintessentially Molly that it made him smile.

“He’s a bit bloody, isn’t he? What happened-” She looked up, catching him looking at her, and her face looked a bit wary now. “What?”

I love you. “What?” he echoed, trying to stop staring at her. Her lips were a dark red today, and it was making his hormones throw dirty images into his brain. He wondered if the ruby colour would rub off if he kissed her.

“You’re staring,” she said softly.

He didn’t apologize, since he didn’t think he would be able to stop, and she probably wouldn't believe the apology anyway. “Let’s go watch.”

She put the box down and followed him to the purple couch. Zara and Sid budged over, making room for them. Beathan was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the couch. On the other couch, the three Beaters were taking up most of the available space, with Bram and Mariah sitting half on top of each other at one end. Jinks had stretched out across the back of the sofa, perched like a cat and stealing popcorn from Deimos.

They watched the movie about as quietly as Fitz had expected. Conversations and mockery continued throughout the film so that he had a hard time following the plot, but listening to the team mock the scenes was probably more entertaining anyway. They were a witty bunch, laughing loudly at each other's wisecracks.

After the reel ran out on Chariots of Fire, Fitz went to switch reels and a few of the Prides got up to stretch and get more popcorn. He watched them goofing around out of his peripheral vision while he put the first film away. It was good to see the team enjoying themselves, even if it was at the expense of what Max's cousin had assured him was one of the best sport films of all time.

Sid pretended to run in slow motion, pulling faces and mugging, while singing the Chariots of Fire theme music. “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch... Duh dun dun duh dun dun... Ch-ch-ch-ch... Duh duh dun duh duh...”

The three Beaters were lined up on the couch, falling over each other with laughter, and Bram was laughing so hard he could hardly stand. Zara got up to imitate Sid, adding her alto to the a capella version of the anthem.

Fitz watched them with a grin while he changed the reel to Rocky, the only one of the three movies he’d actually seen. He was fairly sure it would go over well with the Beaters, since the fights were nice and bloody, and had a feeling Beathan wasn't going to like it much.

“I’m not sure you should’ve shown them this movie,” Molly said from beside him. She pulled her wand out to conjure a purple bowl, and filled it with popcorn. “You may never hear the end of the slow-motion running.”

“Absolutely worth it,” he told her firmly. “It’s a classic. Max’s cousin says it’s iconic.”

She slid him a sideways look as she tossed a handful of popcorn in her mouth, then rolled her eyes. She didn't look impressed by this rationalization.

“Dun duh duh duh duh dun…” He made as if to run in slow-motion at her, and Molly almost choked on her popcorn.

“You idiot,” she managed, laughing, and went back to the sofa.

Fitz grinned and flipped the switch to start Rocky, then went to sit beside Molly again on the couch. Beathan sat sideways, her legs stretched out over Sid's and Zara's laps, and Mariah had taken her place on the floor. Beathan was still giggling at Sid’s antics. After a moment of watching the Rocky opening, he said, “Ch-ch-ch-ch...” and Beathan broke into giggles again.

“What’s this one about?” called Bram from the other sofa. “More running?”

“Is there going to be more slow-motion?” Sid asked with a grin.

Fitz shook his head at them. “Not runners this time. Just watch and see.”

As expected, the Beaters were completely entranced by halfway through the movie, barely even blinking as they watched. Bram, who was likewise impressed by the movie, cheered every time Rocky Balboa hit a side of beef.

“Muggles are completely bonkers,” he said appreciatively during one of the boxing matches.

Fitz looked over at Molly, beside him. Her thigh was pressed firmly against his, since the seating was so tight, and she was watching the screen with a tiny frown on her face, her eyebrows drawn together. He liked having her sit so close to him. Briefly he pictured her throwing those long legs over his and wished the team wasn't around so he had her to himself.

It was time to let go of thoughts like those, he knew, but his brain wasn't obeying. His shoulder twinged as if to remind him why he'd broken things off between them and he adjusted his position, trying to get comfortable. She would've got sick of you eventually, he told himself firmly. Hell, she hadn't even been upset since that day at her flat. She'd come in to work the next day as if nothing had happened. He wasn't going to let her step all over his heart and soul when she would only leave him in a few months, a year. She wouldn't mean to do it, but it would happen anyway, the longer she was around him.

But then Sid cracked a joke and she was smiling, and he was starting to think it would be worth the eventual emotional destruction to be with her a little longer, even if it lost him his position with the Prides. That was assuming she was willing to take him back, and that hardly seemed like a sure thing.

She seemed to feel him watching and turned to look at him. Her eyes flickered briefly to his lips, but she only asked, “Do Muggles really do this and call it a sport?”

“Apparently.”

She pulled a disapproving face. “It’s barbaric.”

Behind her, Beathan was nodding as she ate popcorn and stared at the screen with an expression somewhere between fascination and disgust.

“Playing Falmouth is barbaric,” spoke up Bram. He hadn’t looked away from the screen.

“True,” Molly allowed. “I suppose they'd think we're just as bad.”

“Shh, I can't hear a bloody thing,” called Duff from the other end of the sofa.

“Wonder if I could do that,” said Declan, watching Rocky Balboa doing some sort of one-armed push-up onscreen, switching arms in midair each time.

Fitz grinned and ate some popcorn out of Molly's bowl. He was fully expecting to see Rocky-style training out of the two of them by tomorrow.

Jinks was less impressed by Rocky than his teammates. Toward the end of the movie, he let out a loud snore and then fell off the back of the couch. The thud and subsequent swearing set everyone to laughing, and distracted them from the movie's finale. True to form, the Beaters immediately began to imitate some of the less safe-looking training scenes from the movie.

Duff stood up and motioned Declan to stand in front of him, then flexed his abdominals. “Go on, hit me as hard as you can.”

“Don't hit him as hard as you can,” Fitz advised. “We have a game next week and if you rupture something, you might still be in St. Mungo's and we need at least two of you upright.”

“Hit me,” Duff said, gesturing to Declan again, who punched him in the stomach. Deimos stood to have a turn as well.

“I'm glad I didn't have brothers,” Molly murmured, still eating popcorn.

The reel ran out shortly after Deimos knocked the wind out of Duff, and Fitz went to change it to the last film he'd borrowed. Most of the team got up to refill drinks and popcorn, and Declan made an attempt at the one-armed push-ups.

Molly came round the projector, leaning her hip against the wooden table. “How are your ribs? All healed up from your fight?”

He glanced up at her as he loaded the movie. The film was older, gone a bit brittle, making it less cooperative. “Yeah. Your cousin does good work.”

“Good. Talking of cousins, one of my other cousins wants to write about the team. Roxanne Weasley, you know? She writes for Witch Weekly and sometimes for the Prophet. She asked if I could get her in for some quotes.”

He frowned a bit. “What sort of cousin is this? One like Hugo or one like your cousin you said gets arrested?”

She wrinkled her nose. “A bit of both, really, but more like Hugo. I made her swear to write something good, no gossip and speculation. She wants to interview everyone and write about how we’ve turned the team around. It would be published in Witch Weekly. She says it’s a human interest story.”

Fitz thought it over for a moment. On the one hand, he didn’t particularly like reporters, since they so often wrote whatever they wanted and accuracy be damned, but this was Molly’s cousin, and it would be good publicity for the team if she wrote a positive article about them.

“All right,” he said finally, and went back to loading the projector as he spoke. “But if she writes something awful, I’m holding you personally responsible.”

“You can try.” She watched him with the projector a moment in silence, her eyes following his hands on the film. She seemed to hesitate a moment, then said, “This is nice, today. It was a good idea.”

He got the impression she'd been about to say something else but had changed her mind. He didn't care what she talked about, so long as she talked to him. Maybe getting arrested hadn't been all bad; it had led to real conversations with Molly again, and one last kiss back in Falmouth. He knew he shouldn't have done that, but he couldn't regret it. It had felt so right to lean down and kiss her when she worried about him.

He wanted her back with an urgency that was overwhelming sometimes. He wanted to kiss her again now, and every day after that.

He didn't say any of that, though. “I thought the movies would be fun.” The film finally caught, and they stared at each other over the reel as it flickered to life, running through the projector. Slap Shot's opening credits began to play, and Fitz cocked his head at Molly. “I'm trying to do more than shout at everyone.”

She smiled at that, her red lips curving prettily. He tried not to stare too hard, but he loved to see her smile. The film day, waste of training time though it was, was worth it to see Molly smiling and laughing, and the rest of the team as well. They could live without a day of training, and spending some of their downtime together was just as good for keeping them a unit, he told himself.

Besides, it gave him a whole day with Molly sitting beside him, talking to him, smiling at him. He was forgetting all the reasons why he'd broken things off, just wanting her next to him. She looked so beautiful, and those red lips were doing things to him.

“Oi, Molly!” someone called, and she looked over, breaking their moment. Fitz turned his head as well and let out a bark of laughter. Declan was doing push-ups with Zara, the lightest of the female players, standing on his upper back, her feet bare.

“Wait, wait,” Zara called out as Declan pushed himself to full extension. “Slow down, watch this.” Declan lowered himself slowly and Zara stretched out one leg behind her, curving up until she could grab her foot in one hand, wobbling a bit as she tried to stay balanced.

Fitz shook his head at them, chuckling. “Jesus Christ.”

Molly was grinning. “Nice. Let me have a go.”

“I'm next,” Beathan told her. She was standing beside Declan, hovering near his elbow. “Get down, Zara, it's my turn.”

“I don't know about you lot, but I'm watching the movie,” Fitz told them all, and vaulted over the back of the purple couch to stretch out.

Zara hopped down from Declan's back and he rolled over, curling up to a sitting position. “Sorry ladies, you'll have to have a go tomorrow at training.”

“What's this one about?” asked Beathan as she settled onto the sofa, pushing Fitz aside. He sat up as the rest of the team returned to their spots, and Molly sat down beside him again.

He wasn't entirely clear on the plot of the third movie. Max's cousin had assured him that the Prides would love it but hadn't gone into much detail. “Some sort of ice sport with an underdog team. It's supposed to be really funny.”

“Oh, underdogs,” Jinks said wisely, taking up position on the back of the purple couch. “Like us.”

Fitz threw a handful of popcorn at him. “We're not going to be underdogs for long. League rankings for mid-season will be published soon, and if my math is correct, we'll be seventh. We're middle of the pack now.”

A small round of cheering went up at that. Sid tossed a handful of popcorn in the air above them, and it rained down on everyone. A kernel stuck in Molly's hair, and Fitz reached over to remove it and throw it back at Sid.

“Bet the bookies have better odds out for us after that,” Declan said appreciatively.

“Now shut up and watch the movie, you lot,” Fitz told them, settling back into the sofa. Molly elbowed him in the ribs, and he looked over to see her wink at him, those red lips curving in a half-smile.

 


Chapter 19: Widdershins
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Half an hour before the match against Montrose was slated to begin, Molly was sitting on the purple sofa in the locker room with her padding on. Her legs were stretched out in front of her while she debated for the fourth time whether or not she ought to forewarn the team that The Daily Prophet's Quidditch correspondent was in the stands today.

On the one hand, they would all have to get used to the press paying attention to them again.

On the other hand, it would just ramp up the pressure for a game they were already anxious over.

And for the fourth time, Molly decided not to tell her teammates. It was meant to be a surprise for her as well, so she could plead ignorance if she had to. The Prides most likely wouldn't notice Ginny Potter among the spectators until after the game, anyway.

Except Fitz. He would see them when he went to the coach's box, since it was right next to the press box.

Molly slipped out of the locker room. The rest of the team didn't appear to notice her leaving, since they were still (quite loudly) getting dressed and into their padding for the game. Duff and Declan were hopping around each other in a circle, pretending to box in the style of the Muggle movie Fitz had shown them last week, and drawing most of the team's attention.

Fitz's office door was open, and he was standing behind his desk, looking through a sheaf of papers. He looked up when she came in, the paper still in his hand.

“All right there, Molly?”

She hadn't been alone with him since the night she'd picked him up at the Ministry after his arrest, and especially after he'd kissed her under an orange tree in the wee hours of the morning. It didn't feel as awkward to be around him in private as she'd expected. Somehow, that kiss had changed things for her. She'd believed him when he'd said he thought they were never going to work, until that kiss – now she wasn't so sure, and the uncertainty was killing her. Had she been wrong to believe him then, or wrong about him altogether? It hadn't been a kiss of simple passion, or a friendly kiss, she told herself again. He'd kissed her with tenderness, with a deep emotion. Maybe Roxanne was right and she ought to just tell him she loved him.

Not now, of course. They had a game.

“I just wanted to warn you,” she began, “before the match. My aunt Ginny is here to write up the game today. I didn't tell the team, I didn't think they needed the extra pressure, but I thought you'd want to know before you saw her in the press box.”

Fitz tossed the papers on his desk and ran a hand through his hair. “Great, just what we need – The Daily Prophet writing things up. We'd better not muck it up today, then. Try not to miss any saves, all right?”

“Don't be an arsehole,” Molly told him.

He smiled at her, a crooked smile that warmed her to her toes. She smiled back without thinking, simply because she loved to see him smile, and for half a moment she thought maybe she would say the words to him after all. But then her heart thumped heavily, so she kept quiet about that.

“At least try not to, anyway,” she said instead.

He was still smiling affectionately at her. “Can't promise anything.”

“Then I can't promise any saves,” she retorted, and left his office.

“You'd bloody well better!” he called after her, and she waved at him as she headed up the spiral staircase to the boxes in the heights of the pitch to say hello to her favourite aunt.

Aunt Ginny was already there, with Uncle Harry right beside her, standing in the back of the press box with a small knot of people Molly recognized from various publications. She'd met a lot of the reporters who covered sport over the years. Among the reporters, however, were an even more familiar and unexpected pair: her parents.

“Molly!” her mother called, waving to her, and the four of them immediately detached themselves from the press and came over to her.

“I didn't know you'd be here,” Molly exclaimed as she hugged her mother.

Her father dropped a kiss on top of her head. “We wanted to support you. What on earth have you done with your hair now, young lady?”

“Oh, it's always something with her,” Aunt Ginny said fondly, giving Molly a hug as well. “I like this. It suits you quite well.”

“Better than the mohawk, I suppose,” said Percy stiffly. He'd never cared for the mohawk and hadn't trouble to hide his disapproval whenever he saw it. Mostly she'd kept it down when she was around him.

“I noticed you didn't seem surprised to see us, only your parents,” Uncle Harry said, smiling at her. “Who spilled the beans?”

“Roxanne,” Molly told him.

Aunt Ginny gave a huff. “Honestly, nobody can keep a secret anymore.”

“How you can still expect to keep anything a secret in this family...” drawled Uncle Harry.

“Give us a good review in your article?” Molly asked her aunt.

“I'm sure I'll find something good to comment on,” Aunt Ginny assured her with a smile. “Don't expect any bias just because you're my darling niece, though.”

“I have a good feeling about today,” Audrey said then. “I think you're going to win, Molly.”

The other four all stared at her.

“Honestly, Mum,” Molly said in horror.

“You never say that sort of thing in the press box, Audrey,” Aunt Ginny explained to her sister-in-law. “It's bad luck. Quick, Molly. Turn three times widdershins and then knock on wood.”

“I'm sorry.” Audrey watched as Molly turned over her left shoulder three times and then reached for the wooden baluster behind them. “I didn't realize.”

“It's like saying the name of the play when you go to Macbeth,” Percy explained patiently.

Audrey's eyes widened. “Oh dear, I'm so sorry.”

She sounded much more sincere this time. Molly smiled tolerantly at her mother. Audrey had never held much interest in sport, but she had studied literature at a Muggle university. She took Shakespeare very seriously. Molly opened her mouth to reassure her mother that it was only superstition, but a familiar voice behind her was barking out swearwords, and she turned to find Fitz stomping up the stairs toward her.

“Weasley! What the arsing hell are you doing? Get down there, goddammit, we take the field in five minutes, for crying out bloody loud-”

“Damn,” she said, aware her mother was listening. “Right, I'll be right there. Fitz, these are my parents, Percy and Audrey Weasley, and my aunt and uncle, Harry and Ginny Potter. This is our coach, Riordan Fitzroy.”

He seemed to freeze for a heartbeat, his eyes on her parents, and then said, “Ah, hell,” under his breath. She hoped her parents hadn't heard that, but then he was shaking hands with her family and Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry were smiling at him, and her mother was giving him a once-over, and her father was looking down his nose at him, and it was too late to do any damage control.

“I'd better go,” she said then, and hurried off to rejoin the team.

Fitz smiled gamely at Molly's family, feeling like an idiot because he hadn't seen them before he'd started yelling at her. Harry and Ginny Potter didn't appear to have noticed anything amiss. Their expressions were pleasant, but Molly's father was looking daggers at him. Her mother was looking away, her gaze carefully on the field, as if she didn't want to speak to him. He surmised from this that her parents knew something had gone on between him and Molly, and her aunt and uncle did not.

“I remember you when you played for Montrose,” said Harry Potter, and Fitz made a valiant attempt not to stare at the famous scar as he met the man's eyes. Harry's black hair was liberally streaked with grey and his tall frame was heavier, but his round glasses were the same as they'd been in the old History of Magic textbooks. He looked very much the same now as he did in the old war photographs.

“You were very good,” Ginny told him with a nod.

“Shame about the arm,” Harry added.

Fitz managed a frozen smile. “Thank you. I'd better go to the coaches' box now. It was nice to meet all of you.”

The Potters waved him off unconcernedly, turning their attention back to each other, and Mrs. Weasley turned away completely to look for their seats. Percy Weasley, on the other hand, watched him walk away. Fitz could feel the man's eyes drilling into his back as he left. He felt entirely too aware of his body as he moved, unsure how to act when Molly's father was staring at him.

Unfortunately, their seats had an excellent view of where he and the Montrose coach would be watching the match from. McCormack hadn't turned up, again, and Fitz was alone in the box with his former coach.

Tavish Ogilvie had coached Montrose for the past twenty-five years. He'd never been a player, having come to the League purely as a coach. He ran the Magpies with an iron fist, knew everything there was to know about Scotch whisky, and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of League gossip from the moment he'd begun working in the sport. He had the build of a Beater, barrel-chested, and a gravelly voice that famously cracked when he was angry.

He reached one meaty fist over to shake hands with Fitz. “Good to see you. How's the shoulder?”

“About the same as ever.”

There were only a handful of people Fitz was willing to admit that to, and Ogilvie was one of them. He'd been very helpful after the attack, making sure Fitz's recovery went as well as possible, and had seemed genuinely sorry when he'd had to let Fitz go from the team.

For half a heartbeat, Fitz considered telling him about Pasco Rakes. But Ogilvie wasn't his coach any longer, and it wasn't his problem to deal with now.

“Prides aren't looking too bad,” Ogilvie remarked, breaking into Fitz's brief reverie. His eyes were trained on the Magpies as they flew out onto the field, making a lap to wave to the crowd and then taking up their positions to begin the game.

Fitz nodded. The Prides had just flown out, and his attention was on Molly now. Her hair was tied up in a purple scarf, and he missed seeing it fly in the wind, but she looked wonderful as she smiled and waved at the team's supporters, her long body stretching out on her broom.

“Their coaching could be worse,” Ogilvie added gruffly.

Fitz slid him a glance. “Could be better.”

“True for everyone.”

Fitz stared at the pitch, unseeing. His old coach thought he was doing all right coaching the Prides. All right, he should probably stop cursing at them like Molly always said, but they were getting better, and he'd been a part of that, even with his messed up shoulder. Something inside him relaxed a little more, something that had been slowly releasing since the new team had arrived in Portree.

Since Molly had arrived.

The referee flew out with the Quaffle, and Ogilvie rose, clapping his hands, to get a better view. Fitz moved to stand a few feet down to watch the Quaffle release, and quickly lost track of everything around him except the game.

He did his best not to shout and swear at the team, since they couldn't hear him anyway and Ogilvie was standing a few feet away, silent as ever. He had always, as long as Fitz could remember, watched matches with a stony expression and his arms crossed over his broad chest, intensely focused on the plays and keeping his emotions to himself.

Fitz didn't have that kind of stoicism. The Prides took his full attention, and by halfway through the game he'd mostly forgotten about Ogilvie, completely forgotten about Molly's parents, and was yelling both encouragement and swearwords at the team as they flew. Even knowing that they couldn't hear him, it made him feel better to tell them off when they made a mistake, or to call out “Nice one” when they did well.

He was in the middle of shouting at Sid for dropping the Quaffle when the commentator's words filtered through his brain.

“... but hang on, everyone, I think – yes, I think Portree has the Snitch! What a sneaky capture by Seeker Evander Jinks, I didn't see a thing-”

Fitz looked around, trying to find Jinks on the pitch, and then realized he could hear someone singing the Chariots of Fire theme. Jinks swung down, hanging upside down on his broom above the coaches' box, to give Fitz a finger-gun with one hand while still holding the Snitch in the other.

“Well done, you git,” Fitz called to him, grinning.

Jinks righted himself as he flew off, and the rest of the team began to descend, landing one by one on the ground. The crowd was wild with glee that Portree had won a home game. Their margin had been sufficiently broad – one hundred and seventy points ahead of Montrose – that Fitz was feeling pretty gleeful himself. The Prides were waving as they left the field, and the Magpies looked, even from Fitz's vantage point, quite depressed to have lost.

“Well played,” Ogilvie said, reaching out to shake Fitz's hand. “I thought we'd have you, no trouble, after that last match. Guess we were wrong. Good match.” Ogilvie made his way out to the press box, where several reporters surrounded him for a statement.

Fitz would have rather run straight down to the locker room to congratulate the team, but he decided if Ogilvie was talking to the press, he'd better do the same. Still, he stayed on in the coaches' box for a few minutes alone, savouring their win against his old team.

*

The Prides went en masse to the Rowan Mansion straight from the match. Half of Portree, it seemed, did the same. The pub was filled to the brim again, with barely any room to move.

Molly's parents, along with Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry, had made their way to the pub as well, and managed – probably through judicious use of Uncle Harry's fame – to get themselves a table. Harry and Ginny went to congratulate the rest of the team, and probably to get some quotes as well for Aunt Ginny's column, and Molly went to the bar to fetch drinks for her parents. This took far longer than she would have expected, and half an hour passed before she was able to put a drink order in. Two of the locals bought her shots while she stood at the bar, congratulating her on her performance in the game.

Her parents were deep in a whispered conference when she finally returned, and her mother looked up with a smile as she set the tankards of butterbeer down in front of them.

Her father picked up his drink and took a sip, then inclined his head slightly at where Fitz was sitting at the bar, talking to Max. “He watches you a lot, doesn't he?”

Molly glanced over. Fitz wasn't looking at her. He looked very happy to have beaten Montrose, though, and she smiled at him without thinking. “He does?”

“All through the game. He watched you more than the other players. I was watching,” Percy added.

“He was,” her mother confirmed dryly. “And talking about it a great deal. Your poor aunt heard far too much about the entire thing.”

Molly groaned. “You told Aunt Ginny?”

“Only today. I didn't tell her before that,” her father said, as if that made it all right. “She's my sister. I talk to her about these sorts of things. Get the female perspective, so to speak.”

“Can't you just get Mum's perspective? Honestly, Dad-”

“Your aunt saw it too, once I told her a bit about what happened,” Percy went on, oblivious to his daughter's annoyance. “And I've been watching him again since we've been in the pub-”

“And talking about it a great deal,” put in her mum.

“-and he spends a lot of time watching you.”

“With sad eyes,” her mother said. “Are you sure he isn't in love with you?”

“Not that he's ever said,” Molly said slowly, glancing over at Fitz.

“He isn't what I expected, from what you told me last month,” Percy remarked. He was watching Fitz again as he spoke, his eyes narrowed a bit.

Molly sighed. “Just leave it alone, Dad, all right?”

“Anything you say, my darling girl.” Percy drank his butterbeer, still watching Fitz.

Molly watched him suspiciously. She loved her father very much, but he was quite pushy when it came to pressing his daughters into getting what he thought they deserved or wanted. Her emotional breakdown in the backyard when Fitz had ended things had apparently convinced Percy that what his eldest daughter wanted was her coach.

“Try to control yourself, all right?” Molly gave him a nudge. “You don't need to get involved.”

“I would never butt into your life,” he said with a sincere expression of innocence.

Both his wife and daughter looked at him askance.

“Percy, let her handle it,” Audrey murmured.

“Yes, dear.”

Molly gave up. Nothing short of staying close and nagging him all night would keep her father from having a chat with Fitz if he wanted to. She returned to the bar, leaving them with their drinks, and found Aunt Ginny was standing next to Fitz now, with Harry beside her, her notebook on the bar next to a glass of mead. She was scribbling into it and talking at the same time. Molly arrived in time to catch the tail end of her sentence.

“... very impressed with today's match, the team is really coming along. Your ranking in the League is slowly going up. What sort of coaching strategies have you been employing to build the Prides into a cohesive team?”

“Mostly swearing and calling us idiots,” Molly quipped.

“It seems to be working,” Ginny said with a grin.

Fitz had turned in his seat so he was facing both women now. “Please don't print that. McCormack will have my arse. Don't print that, either.”

Ginny laughed. “I won't,” she promised. “But tell me something I can print. What have you been doing up here? Your team was almost all reserve players, and you've turned them into a real starting lineup. It's impressive.”

“They had the natural talent. We've just been... whipping them into shape.”

“We?” Ginny echoed, glancing back and forth between them.

“Molly's captain, so she's helped a great deal,” Fitz said, and he gave her a quick wink that she hoped her aunt didn't notice. “Pointed me in the right direction, and corrected our early training schedules. McCormack sent us on a retreat, that seemed to do a lot of good too.”

“A retreat, that sounds nice.”

“It wasn't,” Molly assured her aunt. “It was bloody awful. I think McCormack did it on purpose. She's devious like that, off the record.”

“Don't I know it. Well, it's clear you have some natural talent as well,” Ginny said to Fitz, scribbling into her notebook. “You had no coaching experience before McCormack hired you at the beginning of the season, is that correct?”

“No.” He looked uncomfortable. “Just experience as a Chaser. I've been learning as I go, though.”

“You were a damn good Chaser,” Uncle Harry spoke up. He had a glass of firewhisky in one hand, and was watching Fitz with a speculative expression. Molly wondered if he'd seen the wink. “Must be helping you coach, all that talent. Really is a shame you can't play any more.”

Fitz gave him a smile that was half a grimace, nodding.

“They never found who attacked you, did they?” Uncle Harry's eyes were sharp. “I don't remember hearing anything about a culprit.”

Molly and Fitz exchanged a glance. He didn't look happy about the turn of the conversation, but then he never liked discussing his injury. Molly, on the other hand, had wanted him to tell her Auror uncles what he knew ever since he'd been arrested in Falmouth, but she didn't want to push him too hard about it, either. Aunt Ginny seemed to sense an undercurrent between them, and quickly flipped to a new page of her notebook.

“You two know who did it, don't you?” she asked eagerly. “Oh, wouldn't that make a great story – sorry, I don't mean to be insensitive-”

Do you know who did it?” her husband asked.

“Not that I can prove,” said Fitz.

“Maybe I can prove it,” Uncle Harry responded evenly. “Did it have anything to do with your arrest in Falmouth?”

Molly rolled her eyes in exasperation. No one related to her could keep a secret, honestly. “Did Uncle Ron tell you about that?”

“Last week,” said Aunt Ginny. Her pencil was poised above her notepad now. “Well, did it?”

Fitz looked at Molly, and though his face was more closed-off than she'd ever seen him, his eyes were pleading. She laid a hand on his arm without thinking. “I told you to tell Uncle Ron when you were arrested. Maybe they can find some proof now they know who to look into. And he shouldn't be playing in the League.”

Uncle Harry nodded solemnly. “I'll do what I can.”

Fitz stared down at his drink in silence. Eventually he said quietly, “Pasco Rakes.”

“The Falmouth Chaser?” Aunt Ginny asked sharply.

“Ginny, you can't print it if Ron and I are going to investigate, you'll tip our hand.”

She gave her husband a frown, but she closed her notebook. “I'll print it after you catch the bastard.”

“Why would you want to look into it?” Fitz asked Harry. “It's been a long time since it happened, and the MLEs closed the case for lack of evidence.”

But Harry didn't answer, just gave a noncommittal shrug, and Ginny smiled at Fitz and patted his hand.

They moved on before long, Aunt Ginny off to get a quote from the Beaters before they got too drunk to stand upright and Uncle Harry heading toward her parents, and Molly stayed next to Fitz, standing close because of the press of bodies in the overcrowded room.

He was quiet now that the Potters had left, staring at his drink again. Molly leaned against the bartop, managing to get Max's attention long enough for a whisky sour. When she turned back to Fitz, he was watching her. With sad eyes, she thought, like her mother had said. But that was about his injury, not about her.

“D'you think it'll do any good?”

She didn't need to ask what he meant. “I hope so. You know the League would expel him if they knew he'd done it.”

He nodded slowly. “I wouldn't mind seeing that.”

“Me too.” She sipped her drink, and for just a moment, everything seemed all right again. Standing at the bar beside him, without even touching him, she felt more content than she had in weeks.

“Why does he want to help me?” Fitz asked, looking faintly confused. “It was years ago. The MLEs gave up trying to find who did it.”

Molly glanced over at where her uncle was sitting with her parents. They were chatting easily, the three of them. A moment later Aunt Ginny joined them, throwing one arm around her husband and the other around her brother, and watching her family together, Molly knew why they wanted to help Fitz.

Because they knew she loved him.

 


Chapter 20: Friends Again
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Fitz stood on the grass of the pitch, his arms folded across his chest and broom lying on the ground at his feet. They had two days before their match against the Wigtown Wanderers, and the team was spending their last training day running drills. They were looking good today, still riding high off their defeat of Montrose. His eyes tracked the Chasers as they drilled offhand throws and catches. Zara, Sid, and Beathan flew well together, and Bram fit in seamlessly when he took a spot as Chaser.

Mariah, on the other hand… It wasn’t that she was bad: when paired with Sid she looked pretty good, and fair with Zara, but she couldn’t seem to catch what Beathan was doing until a second too late, missing passes that the others would have caught without blinking and not seeing Beathan’s intent.

She was only a reservist, but she didn’t fit as well as they needed her to. She’d been better in Tutshill.

Maybe she needed more time, he told himself halfheartedly, not entirely believing it. Or maybe he needed to talk to McCormack about replacing her. He didn't know if that was his dislike of her, or an honest evaluation of her skills. He thought it was the latter but wasn't ruling out the former.

It was hard to be dispassionate about Mariah. Even setting their disastrous marriage aside, now he knew about what Rakes had done to him, he couldn’t help letting it colour his perception of his ex-wife.

She hadn’t known about it, he was sure. She hadn’t reacted much to his injuries after the fight at the pub, no more than the rest of the team. He’d half-expected her to coo at him in that annoying way she had when she was trying to provoke him, but she hadn’t said anything. She hadn’t even tried to talk to him the day he’d brought in those Muggle films, only watching and laughing with the team. She’d dropped calling him Fitzie in the last few weeks as well. He didn’t know what she was doing, behaving so well.

They hadn’t had a word alone since he’d snapped at her for tattling to McCormack. Sometimes he thought he ought to tell her about Rakes, but couldn’t quite bring himself to do it.

They’d been married, after all. At one time, he’d loved her. He knew she’d be horrified that his injury had been her fault, however unwittingly, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to do that to her. It was best left alone. But then sometimes he thought about all her affairs and the urge to tell her came back, to punish her for all she'd done to him. Mostly, he simply didn’t want to have to listen to her crying and apologizing for it when it wouldn’t do any good.

She always cried when she was sorry.

Above him, Beathan tossed the Quaffle in a reverse pass, and Mariah missed it completely. Zara swooped by to snatch the Quaffle before it hit the ground.

Fitz kicked the grass and ground his teeth. He was going to have to talk to McCormack about getting more reserve players for next season anyway. Maybe she could replace Mariah while she was at it. The thought of not having to look at Mariah every day filled him with a guilty sort of relief.

Molly was hovering in front of the hoops talking to Jinks, who had somehow managed to balance on his broom stretched out on his side with his head propped on his hand, one leg dangling lazily below the tail bristles. She was laughing and Jinks was grinning, and Fitz scowled, knowing he didn't have the right to be jealous.

She's not interested in Jinks, he told himself sternly. And even if she was, you all but told her you didn't really want her, so it's your own fault.

This didn't make him feel any better. He rubbed his hand over his face, wondering how he'd managed to put his personal life in the cacky when he'd finally started working out his professional life again. Apparently he could have one or the other, a decent career or a decent love life, but not both simultaneously.

When the team had gone home, he went up to his office to look through the small stack of brochures for bed and breakfasts in Wigtown, looking for somewhere for the team to stay the night before the match.

One didn’t have enough rooms even if they doubled up, one was dormitory-style and that seemed like a recipe for disaster – no one would get any sleep – but another had a large cottage garden in the back that Beathan would probably love, if they were willing to double up in some of the rooms. He could put Deimos and Bram together, that was a fairly safe combination, and Zara and Beathan…

He looked up at a knock at the door to find Molly’s father watching him down his long nose. His nerves twanged, and he tried not to look worried as he set the brochures down and got to his feet.

“Mr. Weasley,” he said in what he hoped was a casually friendly tone. “Come in, have a seat.”

Percy Weasley was tall and lanky, no doubt where Molly had got that build. His hair was thinning, and as he sat Fitz saw a bald spot on top. The Weasley-red hair was gone grey on him. He wore glasses with a thick tortoiseshell rim, which he adjusted as he sat back in his chair.

“I stopped by to let you know, my brother Ron and my brother-in-law have been looking into the attack on you a few years ago,” Percy said, watching him closely. “They wanted to update you on their progress, so I volunteered to deliver the message.”

Fitz’s body tensed up at the mention of the attack. He hadn't let himself dwell on it again since the bar fight with Rakes. He'd spent entirely too much of his time thinking about the attack when he was recovering, and he was sick to the teeth of it taking over his life. It hadn't been as difficult as he'd expected to put it to the back of his mind again, since his days were kept busy with the team, and new strategies occupied much of his thoughts. He forced himself to relax before responding.

“What’s the word, then?”

“Cautiously optimistic that they’ll get something on him. Apparently Rakes has a record, a few charges of assault and magical battery over the years, nothing that serious. They’re talking about bringing him in and seeing if they can pressure him into an admission of guilt.”

It didn’t sound like the Aurors had much yet, then, if anything. But Percy Weasley had felt he needed to come and tell Fitz this? Fitz had a bad feeling there had been an ulterior motive to this visit.

Sure enough, Percy gave a small cough and then said, “I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to you at the Montrose game. I’m sure you’re aware that Molly told me about the two of you.”

“I reckoned she must’ve said something,” Fitz said warily.

“I had assumed, from what she relayed to us about you, that you didn't think much of my Molly,” Percy said thoughtfully. “But then I saw you with her at the pub after the game, and I could see that wasn't true. And I couldn't think why, then, you would want to chuck her the way you did, when it's plain to see that you do care about her.”

Fitz's eyes had gone wide during this speech. She'd told her father a lot more details than he'd expected, it seemed. “Sir, I-”

“My sister suggested it was because you didn't realize how strongly you felt until afterward. But that wasn't my impression.”

“Your sister?” Fitz was starting to feel railroaded by the conversation. Ginny Potter knew about him and Molly as well? Please don't write an article about it, he thought wildly. “You told your sister.”

“She's my sister,” Percy said, as if this explained everything. He was so damnably calm, Fitz was almost hoping the man would take a swing at him and get it over with. If it had been him in Percy's place, he probably would have by now. But Percy seemed to have the same iron grip on his temper that Molly had.

Fitz ran a hand through his hair. “I don't know what to say.”

“You can help me understand it. Why are you making the both of you miserable when you do love her? And I know you do, I can see it on your face.” Percy waited attentively, and Fitz hoped to hell no one else could see that on his face.

“With respect, sir,” he said gruffly, “that's none of your goddamn business.”

Somewhat to his surprise, Percy smiled. Not an I'm-about-to-sock-someone-in-the-jaw sort of smile, a genuine smile, as if Fitz's rudeness had pleased him. “With respect, young man, she's my daughter. She's been my business since she was born. So now you are too.”

Fitz grimaced. He didn't know how to explain himself, and was half-tempted to tell the man to get out. He was a grown man, and he didn't owe a woman's father any sort of explanation of their relationship. The words wouldn't come to tell him off, though, because this was Molly's father. He drew a slow breath, and met Percy's eyes.

“Because she deserves better than me.”

Molly's father gave him a thoughtful look. “Is that how it is? I guessed as much.”

Fitz watched him warily and wondered if that had been the wrong thing to say. It was the best way he knew how to put it. She wouldn't want him around forever; he was a mess and she wasn't, and she didn't tolerate anything but perfection from herself. How could he expect her to tolerate less than that from him? Wasn't it better to get it over with sooner, rather than waiting for the inevitable implosion? Things like that always hurt less when caught early.

Percy was still examining Fitz's face with that piercing look Molly and Hugo both used and Fitz was starting to think of as the Weasley gaze. Whatever he saw there made him give a small nod. “You seem a decent fellow.”

“Thank you,” Fitz said cautiously.

“I hated to think you broke my daughter's heart deliberately.”

His stomach dropped into his shoes. “I didn't – I broke her heart?”

“She would kill me for saying that,” Percy Weasley admitted. “But I think, man to man, that sometimes it's what you need to hear. Words have consequences. Sometimes they aren't what you thought they would be.”

I broke her heart. No, she was fine. She hadn't even cried. All right, she'd been hurt when he'd told her they had to break things off, but she'd seemed perfectly fine the next day. And she'd been fine ever since. Hell, she'd come and picked him up when he'd been arrested. She wouldn't have done that if he'd broken her heart. He thought of her stomping her foot and yelling at him on the pitch in Falmouth. Maybe she'd only been angry and her father thought she was miserable?

Percy was watching him when Fitz looked up, and his eyes were speculative.

“Molly's very reserved,” he informed Fitz. “She keeps her deeper feelings to herself. So when I tell you that she came to my house and cried on my shoulder for half an hour, you'll understand.”

Fitz stared at him, shocked. “She did?”

But Percy didn't answer, instead looking round the office in silence, letting Fitz process his words.

He didn't like the thought of Molly crying over him. It made him feel a bit sick, angry with McCormack for forcing him into it, angry with himself for telling Molly they wouldn't last instead of admitting he was afraid. Again he wished he'd done something differently when McCormack had confronted him, wondering how things would be different now if he had.

“Family is extremely important to me,” Percy mused then, bringing Fitz's attention back to him. “It's the most important thing in life. I'd like to think my daughters will choose men who feel as strongly about family. Lucy never dated much, and then suddenly she brought home Hilarion. He's a nice bloke. Loves Lucy and their little baby to distraction.” It was obvious from Percy's voice that he approved of Hilarion Winston-Fisher's devotion to Lucy. “Molly has dated a lot of blokes, but none that loved her the way she deserves. Maybe they didn't know how. She's so clever, and she's always been so good at arranging things for everyone else, people tend to let her take over and forget about her needs. It happens with her cousins, and it happened with a lot of those boyfriends. Not that she introduced me to any of them, of course. But I make sure I hear things anyway. They're my little girls. They're older now, but I'm their dad. It's my job to take care of them, to make sure they're happy. My daughter is not happy, and you don't seem happy either.”

Fitz's heart dropped into his shoes, but he couldn't seem to speak, to say anything to excuse himself. He felt battered by the entire conversation, unable to catch his breath before Percy hit him again.

“I always thought I would kill anyone who hurt my little girl,” Percy said, watching Fitz with pity. “Not sure I have the heart for it now.”

“Thanks?” Fitz ventured.

“I do recommend you sort things out, though. Sometimes when you've talked yourself into a corner, and pride won't let you back down, you have to eat a bit of crow.” Percy's long face drew down, deepening the lines around his mouth. “It's a lonely way to live, and it gets harder to come back from the longer you wait.”

Fitz stared at him. This obviously went beyond the conversation in this office for Percy, but he didn't understand how. Those words felt deeply personal in a way that made Fitz uncomfortable. “I didn't know she was upset.”

“Didn't know, or didn't want to know?”

The pinpricks of a headache were beginning to settle in on Fitz's temples. Molly's face when he'd told her he'd always known they wouldn't last together flashed across his mind, pale with devastation. I broke her heart. “Maybe both,” he admitted softly.

Percy gave him another penetrating stare. “I suppose we’ll leave it at that, then,” he said, and got to his feet.

Feeling uncertain of himself, Fitz stood as well and reached across his desk to shake the man’s hand.

“It was, erm, nice to see you again, sir,” he said, feeling like an idiot.

Percy smiled. “Probably not, but I appreciate the thought.”

Fitz cracked a grin at that, feeling some of the tension leave him. “For a moment, I thought you were going to punch me in the face when you started talking about Molly.”

“I haven’t ruled it out,” Percy assured him. “I haven’t decided yet if I like you or not. But Molly does, and that’s what’s important. If I punch you in the face, she’ll probably get cross with me.”

“I think if she wanted me punched in the face, she’d do it herself,” Fitz said ruefully. “And she already got to see the aftermath of that fight with Rakes. He hit me in the face plenty of times.”

“I heard you had a black eye and a split lip when my brother saw you.” Percy seemed to be repressing a smile, and Fitz sighed.

“Yeah. And two broken ribs.” He wondered how many Weasleys knew he’d been arrested. Probably all of them, by now. According to Molly, they wouldn't care about that sort of thing, but he didn't want to make a worse impression than he already had.

“You seem all better now,” Percy observed dryly. “Good evening to you. I’m sure we’ll see each other again.”

Fitz wasn’t so sure of that, and wasn’t even sure it would be a good thing. “Possibly.”

Once Percy had gone, he collapsed back into his chair and covered his eyes with one hand.

All this time, he'd been telling himself she was just fine, especially now that they were friends again, of a sort. She had gone from keeping him at a distance to joking around and smiling at him like one of the team.

I broke her heart.

Molly didn't cry. He had never seen her cry, even when she'd been injured during a match. She'd gone pale, her teeth gritted against the pain, but she hadn't cried. She hadn't cried when he'd chucked her, either, not for him to see. She'd gone to her family for that.

He didn't know what that meant, but it meant something.

He'd thought he was preventing worse heartache for himself by breaking things off with her, but apparently all he'd done was shuffle the heartache onto her, and he hated himself for it. It gets harder to come back from the longer you wait, Percy had said. Fitz thought of her smiling at Jinks on the pitch, and wondered if he'd already waited too long. She wasn't ignoring him any longer, though. Did that mean there was still hope, or that it was already too late?

*

Molly went to her parents' for dinner on Sunday evening, after the Prides had defeated the Wigtown Wanderers by a margin of ninety points. Even having lived on her own for ten years, she always thought of her parents' house as going home. Her father was in his study when she arrived, and her mother greeted her at the door with a kiss on the cheek.

“Did you see the new Witch Weekly?” Audrey asked eagerly. “I've got it in the kitchen, I've read it twice now-”

“What, Roxanne's article?” Molly shook her head. “Can't believe she didn't tell me it was out.”

“Oh, she's so busy, you know Roxanne. She writes very well. Come and have a look.”

Molly followed her mother into the kitchen and found the magazine was already folded to the page of Roxanne's article. Her cousin's smiling face looked up at her from a small photograph above her byline. The headline read 'The Pride Of Portree Picks Up Prodigiously'.

“Really struggled for the alliteration on that one,” Molly said dryly, scanning through the text.

“Don't be rude,” her mother told her primly. “It's a wonderful article.”

It was pretty good, Molly had to admit. Roxanne had a lively writing style, and the informal tone she used when she wrote for Witch Weekly made it feel as if she were sitting her readers down over a cup of tea to gossip together. And the article painted the team in a very positive light as promised, something that was bound to please both Fitz and McCormack.

“Everyone was talking about it at work today,” Audrey went on excitedly. “I'm so proud of you, my dear.”

“For being in the article or for my performance with the team?” Molly teased her.

Audrey ignored this and gave her a pat on the shoulder. “It's just wonderful. Things are really looking up for the Prides, aren't they?”

“They are.” She skimmed the article again, smiling. Roxanne had described her as 'the former Harpy, Molly Weasley, who keeps the skies around Portree's goals clear'. Roxanne had always got a kick out of calling her cousin a harpy.

“Dinner won't be ready for half an hour yet,” Audrey said then. “Cottage pie, your favourite.”

Molly had never liked her mother's cottage pie, and nor had anyone else in their family. No one had the heart to tell Audrey, though, who did like it, and so she kept serving it regularly. Molly went out to the hill behind their house to lay down in the overgrown grass and watch the cloudy skies while she waited for dinner. It was so overcast there was hardly any sky visible around the clouds, but sometimes an anemic blue peeked out. She stacked her hands on her belly, crossed her booted ankles, and breathed deeply, trying to quiet her thoughts.

She was still there ten minutes later when her sister came out to join her.

“Congratulations on defeating Wigtown,” Lucy said as she stretched out beside her.

“Thanks.” Molly smiled. “Only an hour, I think it’s our shortest game this season.”

“Probably. Hilarion says Wigtown's quite good though, so you should be proud.”

“I am.”

They lay in companionable silence for a while, then Lucy heaved a sigh. “Did Roxanne tell you she’s pregnant?”

She smiled, thinking of how happy her cousin had been. “Yes. I’m godmother.”

“Of course.” Lucy paused a moment, then said, “I think I want another baby.”

Molly turned her head to look at her sister. Lucy’s expression was pensive. “So have one. Hilarion would probably love another.”

“What if I get even fatter?” Lucy made a face. “I’m still a stone overweight from Flora.”

“Then wait until you drop the rest of the baby weight.”

“If I ever drop the weight.”

Lucy's weight had always been a sticking point for her. Molly was naturally thin in a way her sister wasn't, and she knew it bothered Lucy, though it wasn't her fault she'd inherited that particular gene. “You know Hilarion doesn't care what you weigh, Luce. He thinks you're gorgeous no matter what.”

“I know. But I care.” Lucy was silent for a bit, then asked, “How are things with you and Fitz? Has he come to his senses and fallen in love with you?”

Molly stared up at the clouds blindly. She missed him terribly, even though she saw him nearly every day. It seemed like forever since she’d last kissed him. Being friends with him was bittersweet, making her heart heal and break all over again every day. “No, he hasn't. I think we're just friends now. We're talking again more, ever since he got arrested in Falmouth, but-”

“He got arrested in Falmouth?” Lucy echoed sharply. “What on earth for?”

“Fighting in the pub with one of the Falcons. One of their Chasers was sleeping with his ex-wife when they were still married, and he’s the one who hexed Fitz and ruined his shoulder.” It seemed so dry to explain it that way, but she didn’t know how to put words around the feeling of seeing him, bruised and bloody, in a cell at the Ministry.

Lucy turned her head to stare, wide-eyed, at Molly. “Are you serious?”

Apparently Lucy hadn’t seen their uncles recently for them to spill the beans about the arrest. “Sadly, yes. Uncle Ron let him off with a warning, and had me come collect him. He and Uncle Harry are going to see if they can prove anything with Rakes.”

“Oh my goodness.” Lucy looked stunned. “Arrested.”

“Don’t sound so shocked,” Molly told her. “Louis gets arrested at least once a month.”

“Yes, but you don’t date men like Louis,” Lucy pointed out. “You normally date men who are just like you.”

“I don’t,” Molly said in surprise. She'd dated men of all persuasion, from musicians to businessmen, even a few her mother had set her up with, but she'd never dated another athlete.

“Yes, you do. There was that accordion player, and before him that bloke with the motorcycle, and the one with the checkerboard hair. They were all neat and tidy and liked everything in order. Not at all the types of blokes who would get arrested in a bar fight.” Lucy waved her hands vaguely. “I don’t know how to explain it. They were a bit... unemotional.”

“I’m not unemotional,” Molly retorted, a little horrified that her sister thought that of her.

Lucy put a hand on her arm. “I know you’re not,” she said softly. “You just come off that way. I know you better than anyone, and sometimes I can’t be sure what you’re really feeling. Well, except out here on the hill.”

Molly thought about Roxanne’s joke about never having to have a feeling again if she didn’t like it. “I…” Her voice died off. She didn’t know what to say to her sister’s pronouncement.

“You never told Fitz that you love him,” Lucy went on in a quiet voice. “Did you?”

“No,” Molly whispered.

“I don’t think he had any idea,” Lucy said thoughtfully. “That might be why he thought you were trying to get his problems all sorted out, so that you could let yourself love him. He might not have minded it as much if he'd known you already did.”

“He knew I… I showed him… I’m not…” Molly suddenly felt on the verge of tears. She squashed them down ruthlessly, and cleared her throat. “I’m not good at being all emotional like that.”

“Practice makes perfect.”

Molly was getting very tired of the word perfect. “Just because I don’t always show my feelings doesn’t mean I haven't any.”

“I know that,” said her sister mildly. “Does Fitz?”

She turned to look at her sister, and saw Hilarion approaching up the hill. He sat down beside his wife and gave Molly a smile.

“Good job with the Wanderers. I watched the game on the wireless, your team did well.”

“Thanks,” Molly said shortly.

Hilarion blinked at her, evidently feeling her lack of welcome. “Did I interrupt you?”

“This is sort of a sister thing.”

“Since you’re here, though…” Lucy patted the ground beside her and Hilarion stretched out, taking her hand.

Molly laid her head back down so the sky took up all of her field of vision. She had mixed feelings about Hilarion joining them for their confessionals on the hill. She didn’t have much faith in his ability to be insightful, but she didn’t quite want to tell him to go away in case she hurt his feelings. She did like him, after all. Maybe he didn’t know that, she thought, thinking about what Lucy had said.

“I suppose you’re my brother now,” she said aloud, uncertain how to express it. “You can join us if you like.”

His quiet voice floated over to her. “Thanks, Molly.”

“Molly likes you just fine, you know, darling,” Lucy said, then turned her head to her sister. “I’ve told him, but he wasn’t sure.”

Molly could feel a blush creeping up her face and was glad Hilarion was watching the sky instead of her. Even knowing he'd seen her crying hysterically, it was still hard to say that sort of thing out loud. Easier when all she had to do was agree with her sister, though. “Yes, I do. Did you think I didn’t?”

“Well, at first. I was a bit scared of you. Before I met Lucy,” he added in a rush.

Molly digested that. Hilarion had only met her once or twice before he’d got together with Lucy. She remembered telling Rose that he couldn’t string two thoughts together and felt a bit guilty. Perhaps she could be more open with people. She hadn't thought this hard about everything she said since she'd been at school. It was exhausting.

“I’m not afraid of you now,” Hilarion said then, and she could hear the smile in his voice. “You’re worth getting to know, Molly.”

“Thank you,” she whispered.

He reached across Lucy to pat her arm gently. “Are you still upset about Fitz? Your dad told me he met him at your match against Montrose.”

“Dad was at that match?” Lucy asked.

“What did Dad say to you?” Molly demanded, turning to get a look at her brother-in-law.

Hilarion shrugged. “He asked me if I knew your coach. I said just a bit, but I liked him. He didn’t say much else after that.”

Lucy looked concerned. “Is Dad being nosy?”

“Dad is always nosy.” Molly sighed. “You’re lucky he didn’t know about that whole thing with Roxanne when it was happening, or he'd have been nosy to you two as well.”

Hilarion and Lucy both winced at the thought.

They lay there in silence a few moments, then Hilarion said, “I do like Fitz, you know. I think he’s good for you.”

“How do you mean?”

“Don’t get upset, but, you’re nicer when you’re happy. Fitz makes you happy. And he’s a sharp bloke. He won’t lay back and let you tell him what to do all the time like Cornish Dan did.”

Molly turned to stare at him wide-eyed, and he added, “Perry told me a few things.”

Cornish Dan the accordionist had been her boyfriend for several months just after Roxanne and Perry had got together. He was an old friend of Perry’s. She’d quite liked him at first, but had grown bored of him after a few months. He was too agreeable. You could never call Fitz agreeable, she thought wryly. She hadn't thought of herself as telling Dan what to do all the time, but now she thought about it, she had definitely been the dominant personality in that relationship.

“I think you’re right,” Lucy mused. “He challenges you, Molly. Cornish Dan didn’t. And I did like how he protected you at that party.”

“Protected me?” Molly echoed.

“What party?” asked Hilarion.

“You weren't there, dear,” Lucy told him, then went on, turning back to her sister. “He didn’t let the team see your colour-coding. You always try to keep that a secret, like you think people will think you're strange if they know. You didn't need to tell him to do it, he just knew you wouldn't want it getting out, so he helped keep it secret for you. And he didn’t seem to think anything of it, either. He didn’t think you were mental or anything.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “Well thanks for that, Luce.”

“We don’t think you’re mental,” Hilarion assured her. “You’re just very particular about things.”

Molly frowned up at the clouds. She hadn't really thought of things quite the way Lucy and Hilarion saw them, but she understood their point. It was all irrelevant, though, because she'd been wrong about the depth of his feelings for her. Oh, he felt something, but it wasn't the same as what she felt. I knew it couldn't last. She'd thought they were falling in love, but that had been just her. Wrong, wrong, wrong again.

“None of that matters,” she said aloud. “He was never... He said he wished he hadn't started anything with me when he'd always known it wouldn't last.”

“Maybe if he'd known you loved him, he wouldn't have said that,” Lucy said softly. “Maybe he was trying to protect himself when he thought he'd be hurt. Men say stupid things sometimes and they don't always mean them. No offense, dear,” she added to her husband.

“It's true, we do that,” he agreed placidly.

Molly waved her hands sharply, dismissing her sister's rationalization. “But he did say it. And he meant it, I could tell.”

Had he meant it? She wasn't as sure now, not after that kiss in Falmouth. Either he'd meant it, and she'd been wrong about how much he cared for her, or he really had cared about her and she'd been too upset to see whether he meant those words through her own misery that day. She made a small noise of disgust, at herself and the entire situation.

Lucy reached over to pat her hand again. “Do you want to come inside and hold the baby until you feel better?”

“I want Fitz to kiss me until I feel better,” Molly said, “but holding the baby will have to do.”
 


Chapter 21: A Chance
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It was hard knowing how to behave. Ever since she'd spoken to Lucy and Hilarion on the hill a week ago, Molly had been out of sorts with herself and everything around her. Everything felt wrong. She wasn't used to feeling wrong. She didn't care for the experience much, but she didn't know what to do to make it stop.

She tried to carry on as if everything were normal, but the week wore hard on her, watching Fitz pace and shout while she blocked the Quaffle over and over, her only respite when Jinks would fly past to crack jokes with her and make her laugh. Though she never would have believed it, Jinks was turning out to be her closest friend on the team, and had even taken her to dinner one night because he thought she needed cheering. He hadn't asked why, and for that she was deeply appreciative. Taking her mind off of Fitz for an evening was something of a relief, though she went right back to thinking about him as soon as she'd got home to her empty, quiet, spotlessly clean flat.

The team followed Fitz to the locker room on Friday after training, and he stretched out on the couch while they got changed, scribbling in his notes with his feet propped up on a chair in front of him. Molly watched him while she shrugged out of her team robes and into a clean top, trying to be surreptitious.

His face was relaxed, the stress lines around his mouth lessened, and he looked so unbearably fit that she let out a silent sigh.

It wasn't fair that he should look so delectable when she couldn't do anything about it.

Fitz seemed to have no idea she was watching him, concentrated on his notes. “Right, you lot,” he said when everyone was back in their street clothes. “Listen up.”

Molly sat on a bench beside Zara and wrapped her arms around herself while she listened to him lecturing the team about their work that week in training, rubbing her hands slowly up and down her tired upper arms.

I love you. Why was it so hard to get the words out? Whenever she thought maybe she would say it, there was someone around to hear, and when they were alone, she couldn't seem to bring the words to her lips. I love you. She'd said it before to boyfriends, but it felt so different now, so much more pressure for her to get it right this time. It had never been this strong, this consuming.

Say it and move on, she told herself. Once you get it out, and hear him say he's sorry but he doesn't feel the same, then it'll all be over.

And one day maybe it wouldn't hurt any more.

She rolled her eyes at herself. Molly hated being maudlin, even if it was only in her own mind.

“Next Saturday we play Holyhead,” Fitz was saying now, scrawling something on his clipboard. “I'm looking for somewhere for us to stay near the pitch the night before the match. Weasley, any recommendations? You used to live there, you must know somewhere good.”

Her stomach flipped at the thought of going back to Holyhead, her nerves going cold. Thinking of traveling back to Holy Island made it seem far more immediate, where thoughts of playing her old team had always come second to the immediate needs of their next match. She nodded, keeping her face calm. “The visiting teams usually stay at a wizarding hotel in Trearrdur Bay. It's decent enough for a night or two, plenty of rooms.”

He nodded, his attention still on the clipboard. “You'll probably have to spell it for me. Welsh is beyond me. Can't pronounce any of it.”

“Not enough bloody vowels,” Jinks said helpfully.

“I'll write the address for you, you can Floo them,” Molly told him, ignoring Jinks.

“Good. So. Monday it's expected to storm, which means we'll most likely lose the day for training, but try not to get too drunk Sunday night,” he added, giving Duff and Declan a stern look. “If you see any lightning, go ahead and stay home, but if the rain's light enough, we'll give it a half-day. Now get the hell out of here and have a good weekend.” He got to his feet and gave them a wave, then left the locker room, turning down the corridor toward his office.

The team shuffled out cheerfully, leaving in twos and threes until only Molly remained, standing in front of her locker and staring at her team robes hanging on their hook.

She'd got so used to Holyhead green once upon a time, but the purple of Portree seemed more familiar now. There was a small mirror attached to the back of her locker, and she looked at herself blindly for a moment, her own blue eyes staring back at her helplessly.

They were going back to Holyhead. She would have to play against indestructibly sturdy Lyra Brownyard and the rest of her former team, her old life competing against the new.

Blowing out a long breath, Molly focused on her face again, the slightly smudged navy-blue eyeliner and the blonde and purple dreads with just a hint of red growing in at the roots. She fixed the smudges as best she could, and grabbed her dragonhide jacket, shrugging into the comfortably soft red leather, but she didn't head for home as she should have done.

Instead she went down the hall to Fitz's office, and knocked on the open door, leaning against the jamb.

He looked up from the usual piles of paper in front of him and gave her a smile that was somewhere between hopeful and wary. Tentative, she settled on. He looked tentative.

“Hi Molly.” He gestured to the chair in front of his desk. “Have a seat.”

She curled her legs up as she sat down, hugging her knees to her chest. “Were you busy?”

“I was about to go home. Not busy, I've got time.” He leaned back in his own chair, and cocked her head at her. “What's wrong?”

“I'm worried about playing Holyhead,” she confessed, pulling a face. “It seems stupid. No one else has been concerned about going up against their old teams.”

“I was worried about playing Montrose both times, and I wasn't even on the pitch,” Fitz told her. “I think it's normal. The others probably just kept it to themselves.”

“Duff liked going back to Falmouth and playing his old team,” she pointed out.

“Duff is not normal.”

Molly smiled despite the fluttering of nerves running through her. “I'll give you that one.”

“I would tell you not to worry, but I think you will anyway,” Fitz said then. His gaze was focused on her with a steady intensity that made her heart beat a little faster. “I'm pretty confident about our chances against the Harpies. If we don't win, we'll at least show up well. Try not to stress too much about it.”

“No promises,” she said dryly.

He was still watching her closely. “There's something else on your mind too.”

“I'll be all right.” She hugged her knees a little tighter, and Fitz got up to come round his desk and sit beside her. He grabbed the arms of her chair as he sat down, turning it so they were facing each other.

“You don't look all right. You look... I don't know.” He reached over to brush her cheek with his hand. “Sad maybe. It's not just nerves over the Harpies, is it?”

Rip off the bandage, she told herself, looking at the concern in his eyes. But what if you have it wrong?

“I like to analyze people,” she began, unsure how to go about this discussion, but there was something in his eyes, in his expression, that was open and accepting, and she started talking. “I'm usually spot-on with it, too. I've sort of got used to always being right. I can tell what they're thinking and why they do things, and it's sort of... how I understand them and how I decide how to deal with them. My dad says it's leadership, my cousin Dominique says it's politics, and my cousin Albus says it's manipulation.”

“Maybe it's all of those,” Fitz suggested quietly.

She shrugged. “Maybe. But it's what I do. I'm good at figuring out other people's emotions. I thought I had you figured out, and sometimes I know I do, and sometimes I just don't understand you at all.”

He looked down at his hands. “I might be too much of a mess for you to figure out.”

“Don't say that.” She made a small noise of frustration. “I keep wanting to tell you – look, I'm not good at talking about my feelings. I don't like it. Sometimes people think I don't have any, but-”

“Of course you do,” Fitz responded, his voice firm. He leaned forward with a frown, resting his elbows on his arms, his eyebrows drawn together. “Who says that?”

She quirked an eyebrow. “Half of my relatives, actually.”

He didn't respond to that, only pressed his lips together with annoyance. They stared at each other in silence for what felt like endless minutes, and then Molly asked softly, “Riordan, do you think we have anything like a chance?”

He pulled back, rubbing his chin. “Molly...”

Tell him, she urged herself wildly, but he didn't look like he wanted to hear it, and she was afraid to say it and be wrong about him. He looked regretful, and rather sad.

“McCormack-”

“I know what McCormack thinks,” she interrupted him, her voice sharper than she'd intended. “I want to know what you think.”

“I don't want to hurt you,” he said in a low voice.

Molly put her feet down, leaning closer to him, mirroring his former posture. “Why are you so sure you will?”

He stared at her, and his expression was shuttered now. Her stomach fluttered. Maybe he was so sure because he knew she was in love and he wasn't. She didn't like that thought. He didn't kiss you like he wasn't in love.

“Please, just... say something.” She put a hand on his knee, trying to get through to him. “Tell me.”

He looked down, not meeting her eyes now. “I think we have a lot riding on this season, and we should concentrate on that right now.”

She wanted to shake him. “Funny thing, I'm capable of concentrating on more than just my job.”

He got up and went back behind his desk again. Retreating, she thought, and defeat was almost overwhelming, choking her. Whatever he felt, if there was anything there, he wasn't going to try.

“It's better that we ended things before it was too late,” he said then, and she looked up at him.

“Was it?”

His expression became wary, and he didn't respond, only looking down at the papers on his desk. Molly thought of that kiss in Falmouth again, and how Lucy said she didn't think Fitz had any idea that Molly loved him, and so she threw caution and her dignity to the wind, betting on her sister's advice when she couldn't trust herself, and finally ripped off the bandage.

“You know,” she said quietly, “it's already too late. I love you. With your bad temper and your refusal to apologize when you're an arsehole and your bloody damn shoulder, and even if you think we can never work out together, I don't care. I would have tried all my life to make it work. You're mine, and I'm yours. I love you.”

She rose and turned to leave, and he was around the desk so fast he might have Apparated. He grabbed her hand to stop her.

“Don't go.” He reached up, cupping her face in his hands, his fingertips gently stroking her cheek. “I love you. I love you, Molly.”

She gave him a small shove, but he didn't budge. “Now you say it, I needed you to say it before-”

“I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I should have said it the first time I felt it. I'm an arse. I love you.” He kissed her, long and sweet, his hands stroking down her arms until they wound round his neck. “In fairness though, you didn't say it before either-”

“Do you want to argue over that or do you want to kiss me?”

There was hardly a contest between those options. “Kiss.”

“Good,” she said, and kissed him, and the kiss swiftly turned from sweet to something far more urgent.

His hands settled on her waist, lifting her up a few inches to pin her against the wall, and she wrapped her legs around his hips, her hands braced on his shoulders. She tugged at his shirt, trying to get the buttons opened, her mouth still fastened on his.

He tore his lips from hers long enough to grin at her. “Don't rip it, I like this shirt-”

“Lock the door.” She gave another sharp tug on the shirt and two buttons popped off, but he didn't care really, because he was kissing her again and she was pulling her own shirt off now.

He reached over and locked the door.

*

“I hope no one was in the building, because they definitely would've heard that.”

Molly stretched languorously beside him. “You really ought to sound-proof your office.”

He was flat on his back on the floor, one arm thrown over his eyes, still breathing heavily. His face was relaxed and content, and she smiled softly at how handsome he was. She threw one leg over his thighs, enjoying the feel of her skin against his, and he gathered her closer, moving his arm to stroke her leg, his eyes still closed.

“I love your legs,” he murmured drowsily.

“We should get up and get dressed,” Molly said, but she made no move to get up or find her clothes.

“Let's be naked forever.”

“You're such an arse.”

He turned his head to kiss her. “I know. But you still love me.”

“I do love you.” She curled up against him, resting her head on his chest. “We didn't really finish talking, you know.”

“Can't talk, brain starved of oxygen. Need sleep.”

She poked him in the ribs. “I'm serious.”

He went quiet, and she took that as acknowledgment that they still needed to talk. Molly stayed where she was, closing her eyes and running her fingertips idly across his chest. “When you came to my flat that day-”

Fitz heaved a sigh. “McCormack had just chewed me out, I didn't think I had a lot of choice. I should've told her to stuff it. Wish I had.”

“You said you knew we were never going to last.”

“I know,” he said, so quietly she might not have heard him if her ear hadn't been pressed to his bare chest.

“I'm sorry if I made you feel that I... that we...” She couldn't get the words out, but he hushed her softly and kissed the top of her head.

“You didn't. It wasn't about you really, it was about me.”

Molly lifted her head to look at him. He was staring up at the ceiling with an almost pained expression on his face. “Fitz?”

He blew out his breath, but he turned to look at her. “I was afraid, all right?”

“Well, why didn't you just say so?”

“It's not that easy to just say that,” he said, nettled. “I was afraid if we got together, you’d get sick of me and chuck me in a year or so, once you’d realized how awful it was with the arm, and seeing my ex-wife at work every day.”

“And your bad temper,” she added helpfully. “Don’t forget that. You curse at everyone. And I saw you smash your broom that one time. Maybe some anger management classes-”

He kissed her to shut her up. “Yeah, all of that. I knew I was falling in love with you then, and I thought when you left me, it would probably wreck me completely. My life's already been shite the past few years, I didn't need to deliberately make it worse. And when McCormack came shouting at me for it, I... I didn't want to ruin either of our careers when it was only going to end badly anyway.”

“You should have talked to me.” Molly frowned at him, shaking her head. “And trusted me.”

“I didn't know how you felt, only how I felt and that McCormack was pissed and threatening me and I didn't have time to think, so I... chickened out and cocked everything up. I didn't want you to lose your position over it. You're good and you deserve to play.”

She knew exactly what that last bit meant: he'd been willing to take the fall for their relationship so that she could keep her job. She turned toward him, propping her head up on her hand, and dropped a kiss on his shoulder. “You bloody idiotic, sweet man. There's not going to be a when I leave you. I don't ever want to leave you.”

He smiled at that, a slow smile that gave her butterflies. “Good.”

“Let's figure this out, then.”

Fitz let out a long groan. “What, now? My brain's not even fully operational yet-”

“There's got to be a way to make us work and still have our careers as well,” Molly said over his protests.

“All right, all right.” He turned onto his side, his right arm propped up. The scars on his left shoulder and arm showed in stark relief in the artificial light of his office, and Molly ran her hand down them. He'd already lost one career over a woman, even if it hadn't been his fault or his choice, and she was determined not to let him lose another one.

“I could go back to Holyhead,” she offered.

He shook his head. “No. You'd be back on the reserve team. Not an option. I could try for an assistant coach position-”

“Assistant. That's a step down.”

“The other teams already have coaches,” he pointed out. “No one's going to chuck their current coach for me. I'm a first-year coach, I barely know what I'm doing. Might be good to be an assistant, to learn how to do the job. It's what I meant to do here in Portree.”

“You know what you're doing better than you think. You shouldn't have to be an assistant coach. Not an option. Neither of us takes a step down, career-wise.”

Fitz lay down again, his back flat on the carpet, and threw one arm over his forehead with a sigh. “I could retire. Putter around the house watching garden gnomes like my dad.”

She pulled a face. “You would hate that. You wouldn't last a week.”

“What the hell are we going to do?”

This time Molly sighed. “I don't know. Talk to McCormack together?”

“Not sure that'll get us anywhere. Except sacked maybe when she realizes we didn't stop when she told me to put a stop to it.”

“And we have matches coming up. It could mess up the team dynamic, if this gets out and McCormack disapproves. We can't let on in front of any of them unless we do try talking to McCormack.”

They both stared at the ceiling for a few moments. Fitz wasn't so sure he was thinking clearly just yet, but it seemed they weren't getting out of this without giving up something to be together. “Damn,” he said softly.

She leaned over him, resting one arm on his chest to look him in the eyes. “What?”

He kissed her, just because he could, and because he never wanted to stop kissing her. “This rots.”

“Can't have everything.”

“You're always so goddamn reasonable. It's very annoying.”

She laughed, and it made him smile just to hear her, especially since she was still naked in his arms. “It's true, though.”

“So long as I have you.”

She curled back up against him, resting her head on his chest so the blonde and purple dreads fell over his shoulder. “No more worrying about down the line when I get tired of your bullshit?”

Only a little, but he didn't want to admit that. “I'll convince you I'm still interesting.”

“What if you get tired of me?” she asked in a whisper. “I'm pretty neurotic. I might not be able to stand your things being disorganized. And I overthink everything. I've had men chuck me for being too controlling. What if I drive you insane?”

“I'm never going to be tired of you.” He turned onto his side and propped his head up on his hand again, reaching out to trail gentle fingers down her hip. “Be as neurotic as you like. You'll probably have to sort out my clothes and my cupboards how you like them, but I won't mind. And you are pretty controlling, but I can handle your bullshit if you can handle mine.”

Her eyes wary as she looked at him, pleading him to reassure her. “Are you sure?”

“If you take off your clothes, you can order me around whenever you like.”

The worry disappeared from her face, and with a laugh, she gave him a playful thwack on the chest. “You numpty.”

He kissed her again, and she inched closer, pressing the long line of her body against his. He wrapped an arm around her, pulling her tight against him, and felt her hand on his shoulder, squeezing, and a distant pain registered. Once it got his attention, it came roaring down on him with a vengeance. He'd almost forgot about his arm this evening, but it was time to pay the piper now, it seemed.

Molly seemed to realize and drew her hand back swiftly. “I'm sorry, I forgot – did I hurt you?”

“It's all right. I didn't even notice before. I might have overdid it today, though,” he admitted, wincing.

“We should get up and get you a pain potion. And not have sex standing up again, I don't know what we were thinking. You were holding all my weight.” Her eyes had gone a little wide.

He didn't want her to start regretting it. Fitz was willing to suffer through quite a lot to repeat that performance against the wall, even if now his shoulder was throbbing insistently. “Completely worth it. Let's do it again tomorrow.”

She smiled at that, but then she was up and moving, gathering up their clothes and picking up a few framed photos that had fallen from the walls. She hung the pictures again, still nude and utterly at ease with her body. He sat up, resting one arm on his knees to watch her, and she seemed to feel his gaze on her and turned as she replaced an old award of Rodan's that he'd never removed from the office.

“Get dressed,” she told him over her shoulder. “We ought to get out of here before someone sees us. We've probably tempted fate enough.”

“True.” He slid into his shirt, which was wrinkled horribly from being crumpled on the ground, and the top two buttons were gone, leaving a small tear in the fabric. “You are hard on my wardrobe, you know.”

“I can fix it.” She crouched down to draw her wand from the pocket of her trousers.

He had no doubt she could, but he had half a mind to keep the damaged shirt as a souvenir. But then, she was bound to rip more shirts off him later. One could only hope. He let her mend the fabric and reattach the buttons, and then held out her trousers to her. She put her hands on his shoulders as she stepped into them and he drew them up her legs.

“If I've never told you this before-” he paused to press a kiss to her hip “-I love your tight trousers.”

She ruffled his hair, smiling. “Hand me my bra, and put on your trousers.”

Once they were both dressed, Fitz opened the door and looked down the corridor. The building had an empty feel to it, and he was fairly sure no one knew they were there.

“Try Homenum revelio,” Molly said behind him. She was wrapping her hair into a knot on top of her head, leaning against his desk.

He cast the spell, looking down the corridor still. “Coast's clear.”

“Good. Let's get the hell out of here before someone does show up. The cleaning staff will be in the locker room soon.”

“Right.” He watched her pinning her hair in place, and wished they could stay right where they were, stretching out the evening in his office forever.

She looked up and smiled when she saw him looking at her. He smiled back, and crossed to the desk in two strides to lean against it beside her.

“What about...” Molly waved her hands vaguely. “The future? What are we going to do?”

“Table it for now, I suppose. Focus on the match with the Harpies. We can think about this later.”

“I don't want to sneak around.” She gave him a pleading look. “We shouldn't keep doing this when we know it's not allowed.”

“That's what makes it fun,” he tried, unwilling to let go of their time together, if only temporarily, but she frowned at him.

“Fitz, you hate sneaking around.”

“Yeah, I do. All right then, everything's on hold until after the Harpies game. But after that, we figure this out somehow. I don't want to be without you. If I have to quit, I will. We'll play out the season and then I'll resign and we can be together. I'd rather have you than any job.”

“We'll find a way without you resigning your position.” She cupped a hand against his stubbly cheek, smiling tenderly. “But thanks for offering, you self-sacrificing idiot.”

He grinned at her and pulled her closer, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Come back to my place and stay the night. We don't have to be at the pitch tomorrow.”

“I thought we said no sneaking around?”

“One night, Molly.” His eyes were searching, and his arms tightened around her. “Please.”

She didn't want to say no. More than anything, she wanted to sleep in his arms again. And, maybe not sleep as well. “One night. But then nothing until we get things sorted. I don't like going against the manager's rules.”

“Come on.” He glanced out the door to the open corridor, making sure it was still empty, then kissed her soundly.

They went outside past the Anti-Apparition wards of the pitch. Night had fallen completely, and the grounds were empty and dark with the lights of the pitch off. There was no one to see them, so he took her hand and drew her close before Disapparating, and she went into his arms willingly, putting her hand on his waist to hold tight as the crushing, airless darkness engulfed them.

When they reappeared, it was in a narrow alley between two stone buildings, and Fitz led her around back to a wooden staircase.

“I live on the top floor,” he said over his shoulder. “There's a Muggle bloke living beneath me, and the landlord's Muggle as well, so I usually keep pretty quiet at home.”

“We're right near the Rowan Mansion,” Molly realized, looking out over the street as they climbed.

“Stumbling distance.”

“Well, that's handy.”

He drew his wand to unlock the door, running the tip of it down the center of the blue-painted door, then pushed it open and motioned her inside.

She stepped inside, looking round at his flat. There was a small kitchen that looked fairly well-used. Somehow Molly wasn't surprised at the thought he could cook. She walked slowly into the living room, taking in her surroundings. He had a very masculine style, with heavy wooden furniture upholstered in navy blue twill and leather in a deep shade of brown, steel shelves with a collection of antique Quidditch equipment, and a great deal of plaid blankets strewn about. But the shelves were dusty, the floors and carpets needed to be cleaned, and there was an empty beer bottle on the coffee table alongside a few dirty dishes that were probably last night's dinner. She shook her head in dismay at this and repressed the urge to start cleaning, mentally calculating how long it would take to have the place spotless.

“I didn't know anyone would be coming over, so it's a bit of a mess,” Fitz said as he closed the door behind them and went to the kitchen, pulling a vial out of a cupboard that she recognized as a pain potion, and downing it quickly. “I would say it's normally cleaner than this, but you'd soon find me a liar. I tidy up for company. I'm not a slob, but I'm not neat like you. What do you think?”

She wrinkled her nose at him as he returned to her side. “I'm having second thoughts about this relationship.”

Fitz wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed her neck. “Ha ha, very funny, Miss Perfect.”

Molly laughed and tilted her head to encourage him. “It would look nice in here if you tidied up a bit.”

“Thanks very much.” He took her hand and gave her a tug. “Come and have a look at the view out the balcony. It's why I took this flat.”

He brushed the fallen leaves and dust from a lawn chair and waved her to sit in it, and started a fire in the little stone firepit while she sat and took in the view. It really was spectacular, as if all of Portree was laid out at their feet, straight to the ocean. It was late enough that most of the houses and buildings were dark, but there was enough starlight to see by, since for once the night was clear.

“Oh, I like this,” she told him, settling back into the chair. “I bet it's wonderful during the day. You could meditate out here. It would be good for your temper.”

Fitz slid her a sidelong look at that remark, but he seemed pleased that she approved, and settled into his chair as well, putting his feet up next to the fire. “I sit out here all the time. Well, not lately, actually. The last time I was out here, Max came by and told me I was a coward for not going for it with you, and I didn't like coming back out. Reminded me of you after that.”

“Really?” Molly smiled with pleasure. “Maybe I'll go by and pay some of your tab as a thank you to him.”

“It's a pretty hefty tab,” he admitted. “I'll be turning over my immortal soul soon.”

She laughed at that, setting her feet alongside the firepit to warm her toes. It felt so right to sit here beside him, even if they were going against McCormack's wishes. She couldn't bring herself to care about that at the moment, though, because she felt completely and utterly relaxed. She looked over at Fitz, his tall form stretched out in his chair, dark hair still mussed from earlier and the lines of pain on his face softened. He looks happy, she thought. Really, truly, honestly happy, and it occurred to her that she hadn't seen that look very often on him.

And she had put that look on his face.

He glanced over and caught her watching him, but he only smiled. “Want a drink?”

“Sure.”

He got up and leaned over to kiss her before going to the kitchen. He returned with two bottles of Hebridean Black Lager and handed her one, then tossed himself back into his seat, putting his feet up to the fire again. They drank in companionable silence for a few minutes, then Fitz cleared his throat.

“Your dad came to see me, you know,” he said, taking a sip of his beer. “Just before the Wigtown match.”

Her eyes widened in horror. “You’re joking. What did he want?”

“To tell me off about you.”

Molly covered her eyes with one hand. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry, he’s just awful sometimes-”

“It’s all right,” Fitz reassured her with a grin. “He's only looking out for you.”

“Honestly, I’m almost thirty years old,” she grumbled. “You’d think he could leave off meddling in my life.”

“You’re his little girl, meddling is his job.”

“You sound like him. He said that to you, didn’t he?”

Fitz laughed. “Basically. I thought he was going to hit me at first.”

She rolled her eyes. “He is unbelievable. I really am sorry he did that, I specifically told him not to get involved.”

“I wasn't sure if I ought to tell you. He didn't tell me not to, though. Actually, I sort of got the impression he was looking out for both of us,” he added thoughtfully, remembering the look of pity on Percy Weasley's face when he'd said he'd guessed why Fitz had chucked his daughter unceremoniously. “I think he felt a bit sorry for me.”

“Dad hates to see people messing up their lives unnecessarily,” Molly said, and he shot her a look. “It's one of his hang-ups. And it's why he's an uncontrollable meddler.”

“I liked him,” Fitz said, smiling at her. She looked adorably exasperated by her father and his interference. “He loves you a lot. And so do I, so we have that in common.”

She smiled, shaking her head. “He'll like you once he gets to know you. Lucy and Hilarion both like you, you know.”

“What about your mum?” he asked, taking another sip.

“She doesn't like you.”

He laughed, nearly snorting his beer. “She doesn't even know me.”

Molly winced. “I lost it a bit, when you broke things off, and I think I scared all of them. So she doesn't like you. You'll have to win her over.”

He thought he ought to apologize again, but she didn't seem to need it. She was drinking her beer with a thoughtful look.

“What about your parents?” she asked then. “Will they like me?”

He grinned, thinking of his mother's likely reaction to Molly. “You, yes. Your hair, no.”

This time she was the one who laughed and snorted her beer out her nose. “My parents don't like my hair either. Although Dad did say this was better than the mohawk.”

“I like it better than the mohawk. I liked it red and curly, too.” He reached over to stroke her hair, and she smiled.

“I'll put it back to natural before I meet them, then. Then I can put it up in liberty spikes or something,” she said thoughtfully.

“Jesus Christ,” Fitz said, shaking his head. He could hear her musical chuckle, but he didn't care if she laughed at him a bit. He leaned his head back and let out a loud sigh. “This is perfect. Exactly how I've been wanting.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Molly asked, looking over at him with a smile.

“You and me. Just... together.”

She drew a deep breath, the smile still on her face, and nodded.

They watched the town slowly darken as one by one, lights went out, businesses closed, and people went to bed. The stars glittered on the water of the bay, bouncing off the glass windows in houses and showing the sleepy little town in repose for the night.

Eventually, Molly set her beer on the floor, got to her feet, and held a hand out to him. “Show me the bedroom.”
 


Chapter 22: An Off Day
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One night stretched into two, much to Fitz's eternal gratitude. They'd slept late on Saturday, then spent the day hiking a deserted mountain trail populated only by sheep, stealing an hour behind a copse of trees before returning to Fitz's flat and falling into bed together. Neither one had wanted to risk going out into town for dinner, so they'd stayed in and cooked together, then christened the kitchen counter. That night, she climbed into his bed without hesitation, despite it being past the single night together she'd agreed on. On Sunday, the rain rolled in, growing steadily darker and stormier as the day wore on, and they sat behind an Impervious Charm that Molly conjured, watching the storm.

He'd thought he would have to beg her to stay with him, but instead she'd seemed unwilling to leave. When they'd agreed in his office that they would only have one night before returning to work and professionalism, Fitz had expected to be the one who didn't want to let her go. He was greatly enjoying the turnabout that she apparently had no intention of leaving his side until he made her go.

“We're not going to be able to train tomorrow if this keeps up,” Molly remarked between the deep rolls of thunder.

Fitz watched a bolt of lightning crack in the distance over the water. The storm was squatting over Portree as if it had nothing better to do, without enough wind to push it along. He smiled. “Jinks won't fly when there's lightning. He had it in his contract.”

“I don't have that in my contract,” Molly said thoughtfully. “I read it quite thoroughly before I signed it.”

“You should add a codicil.”

She smiled at him. “If it's thundering like this tomorrow, we don't have to go to the pitch.”

Fitz looked over at her with a grin. “Are you talking yourself into staying a bit longer?”

She blushed, and that made him laugh.

“You can stay as long as you like. I'll owl McCormack and tell her I quit, and then you can stay forever,” he offered.

“Stop that,” she chided him. “You're not quitting. I know we said one night, but I'm not quite ready to leave. I don't like to think how long it might be before I can come back over.”

“True.” He didn't like to think how long that might be either. Bloody McCormack.

“Are you going to throw me out?” Molly asked, somewhere between flirtatious and challenging.

He grinned at her. “Never. Why don't you stay again tonight? We'll just pretend the rain kept you trapped.”

“The rain is absolutely keeping me trapped,” she said quite seriously. “I simply can't Apparate home in this.”

He shook his head, enjoying her reasoning. “Absolutely not. Wouldn't be safe.”

“In fact,” Molly went on, “I'm not sure the balcony is safe either. I think we should go back to your bed.”

“Safety first,” Fitz agreed, reaching out to take her hand.

On Monday afternoon, the storm showed signs of breaking, and it became readily apparent that their time together was going to have to end. By the time night had fallen, the storm was wearing down into a steady drizzle, and it had been hours since the last bolt of lightning. Since Molly still didn't seem to want to go, it occurred to Fitz that it was probably his turn to be the one with some self-control and do the last thing he wanted to do: make her leave.

This was especially difficult to do when she was lying on his bed in nothing but the underwear she'd said she didn't wear, her hair spread out on his pillow, reading a book she'd purloined from his shelves about the history of the Quidditch World Cup. She hadn't put clothes on all day, probably to try to prevent him from telling her to go home.

He stretched out beside her and plucked the book from her hands. “Molly, it's eight o'clock. We've got to be on the pitch tomorrow at seven.”

She let out a loud sigh and turned onto her side to face him. “I know, I'm just enjoying relaxing here. I like your bed better than mine.”

“I like it better with you in it. But you know it's time.”

“I don't want to leave.” She stroked her fingertips down his chest, her nails scratching gently at him.

“You have to,” he said gently. “We have to work tomorrow. I don't want you to leave either, but this is what we agreed.”

“We've agreed to this sort of thing before,” she pointed out. “And we were complete crap at sticking to it.”

This was very true. Trying to be professional had been a total cock-up, as both of them had utterly failed to control themselves. “This time, we'll just agree no physical relationship until we work something out with McCormack. I can still tell you I love you every day. But no coming in my office and tempting me, cause I can't resist you.”

Molly's fingers traced their way down to his stomach. “I noticed. You weren't any better at keeping your hands off me than I was keeping mine off you.”

“We won't be alone together if we can help it. I'm not saying it'll be easy. But you agreed to this plan.”

“I know.”

He hated to hear the dejection in her voice. “If you'd rather, I can owl McCormack right now-” He made as if to get up, and she pulled him back to her. He drew her close again, his good arm around her waist.

“No, I don't want you to do that.” She burrowed into him, kissing his neck, and he turned so his face was buried in her hair, inhaling the clean, floral scent of her. “Just... One more time, and then I'll go.”

“One more for the road.” His breath fluttered against her neck as he spoke, making her shiver.

“One last time, and then we're done until we work something out above-board.”

His arm tightened around her waist. “We better make it a good one, then.”

*

Wednesday morning saw Fitz at the pitch at dawn to meet Hugo Weasley. The long weekend with Molly had him more ready than usual for remedial potions and spells, since he'd overworked his shoulder on more than one occasion. The pain potions he'd had in his kitchen had tided him over, but he was completely out of them now. He'd been unable to fly to coach the team on Tuesday. Getting on his broom had been too painful.

Hugo bustled into the infirmary with his usual brisk efficiency, carrying a black satchel in one hand. He was dressed in his professional robes and looked bright-eyed and alert, which was more than Fitz was feeling.

“Good morning,” Hugo said cheerfully as he set his satchel down on a chair. “And how is your shoulder this fine day?”

“You're a bloody morning person, aren't you,” Fitz grumbled. “It hurts like the blazes. I overdid a bit this weekend.”

Hugo nodded. “It's been over a month since I last saw you, so I can't say I'm surprised that you're feeling some pain. Let me have a look.”

Fitz pulled his shirt off with one hand and submitted to Hugo's prodding.

“I heard a rumour about you,” Hugo remarked as he examined Fitz's shoulder. “Normally I don't repeat league gossip, but I thought I'd check if this one was true so I can better prepare for future care of that shoulder.”

Fitz gave him a wary look. Since the man had said league gossip instead of family gossip, he was hoping Hugo hadn't got word about anything about him there. There was a whole array of things he could have heard about, from Fitz's arrest to his setting Molly into tears when they'd split up, none of which Fitz cared to discuss. “What rumour is this?”

“That Ballycastle is planning to sack their coach and hire you on to bring them up in the rankings like you did for Portree.”

Fitz blinked in surprise. That was not what he'd expected, as rumours went. Ballycastle, he thought speculatively. If they really were looking for a new coach, it could be the way out of his predicament with Molly. He did some swift mental calculations of the distance between Ballycastle and Portree. If Molly stayed and he left... He'd have to arrange for a Floo connection from Skye to Antrim or he'd only see her on weekends... But it would let them be together. Ballycastle had been top of the league twenty years ago, though now they were in the bottom three. It might be an interesting challenge to see if he could bring the Bats up to scratch.

He didn't like the thought of leaving Portree, though.

“I take it there's no comment about that?” Hugo asked mildly.

“It's news to me,” Fitz admitted. “Not bad news though, I have to say.”

“So no plans to relocate?” Hugo patted his shoulder. “Lie back, let's get started.”

“Not yet,” Fitz said as he stretched out on the exam table, “but I'll let you know if that changes.”

Ten minutes of charms and vigorously applied potions later, Hugo declared the treatment finished and allowed Fitz to sit up while he stowed a few empty vials in the black dragonskin satchel.

“You didn't seem to be in as much pain as the last time you overdid,” Hugo noted as Fitz pulled his shirt back on. “Have you been doing your physical therapy exercises regularly?”

“Every day.” He'd even managed them while Molly was at his flat. She'd watched with interest, and told him she was proud of him for sticking with it. He smiled at the memory.

Hugo didn't seem to notice that. He pulled out a clipboard and a quill from his satchel and set them on the exam table beside Fitz, then produced a measuring tape and gave it a sharp tap with his wand. The measuring tape jumped into the air and began to nudge at Fitz's arm.

“Right,” said Hugo, picking up the clipboard and quill. “Let's check your range of motion.”

To Fitz, it did not feel any different. At shoulder-height, a sharp, stabbing pain ran down his arm from the point of spell impact, just as it always had. Hugo jotted something down, looking impassive, and then drew his wand again for a few more tests, letting the measuring tape fall to the exam table and coil itself up.

Several minutes later, Hugo nodded and set his clipboard down. “I think we're seeing some encouraging results here. I don't see a change in your range of motion, but you seemed to be in less pain between treatment sessions than you've previously experienced, and I'd say you've experienced a small but measurable increase in muscle strength. Did you find that to be true?”

Fitz rubbed a hand over his chin thoughtfully. “Actually, I was just with-” He caught himself just before saying Molly and replaced it with, “... someone, and I was able to hold her entire weight. Supported a bit by the wall, too, I suppose.”

Hugo took this in stride and only nodded. “That's excellent. Did you feel any pain in your arm afterward?”

“It was sore, but not as bad as I would've expected. I drank a pain potion when we got back to my place, but it was only aching, not serious pain. A seven rather than a ten, if I had to rate it. And she must weigh-”

“Fifty-eight kilos?” Hugo supplied mildly.

That sounded like exactly what Molly weighed, which Hugo probably knew from reading her medical file as a League Healer. Fitz tried not to let anything show on his face. “Uh, yeah. But I held her. And I wasn't laid up in agony afterward. That's good, right? This Muggle stuff is working.”

The sense of relief that he was finally improving was so profound that he didn't even care that Hugo probably knew that his cousin had been having sex with her coach.

“It does seem to be helping,” Hugo agreed. He pulled out a notebook and started scribbling something down. “I'll see if I can find more for you, step things up. I have a Muggle colleague I've been corresponding with...”

Fitz listened with half an ear while the Healer talked about Muggle doctors and treatment plans, but his mind couldn't focus entirely. His shoulder was responding. Less pain, more strength. Maybe the range of motion would come back as well. The future that had been stolen from him swam in his mind's eye, hazy and indistinct, tempting him.

Maybe he could fly properly again. Maybe he could play, even if it wasn't professionally. He could do a Sloth-grip Roll again, and match Molly on her trick flights. Movement in his shoulder. Nights not spent wracked with pain because he'd attempted to use his arm as he used to.

He wanted to laugh with relief. He wished now that Molly was with him to hear this. It was working, this Muggle stuff.

“It's really working,” he said when Hugo had finished describing his contact with the Muggles. “I could get better?”

“Don't get ahead of yourself,” Hugo said sternly. “You've seen a small improvement, and while this is a hopeful sign, it's not a promise of delivery. Even if your arm continues to improve, you'll never be back to your old one hundred percent, not with the amount of damage you've had to the muscle tissue and the joint. But I think we can get you to seventy, even eighty percent, with time and hard work.”

The hazy light of possibility snuffed out abruptly, reality intruding viciously into his half-formed dreams of regaining full use of his arm. Seventy or eighty percent. Not a hundred. “Seventy percent,” he repeated numbly.

Hugo's face kept its professional mien, but his eyes turned to something resembling pity. “I'm sorry if you misunderstood the end game here. You've been told several times by several Healers that you were never going to regain your former capacity.”

“I know that,” Fitz snapped. “I thought- Nevermind. Seventy percent is better than forty or fifty, yeah?”

“It is that.” Hugo's voice was kind, but he kept the sympathy to himself, for which Fitz was grateful.

He left the infirmary with his hands in his pockets, and made it to his office, closing the door behind him, before he let himself indulge in a round of deeply felt profanity.

It didn't make him feel any better.

*

Molly missed a penalty shot from Zara by a fingertip and swore at the Quaffle as it fell. Bram flew past underneath her and caught it. “Dammit. Arsing bloody piece of-”

Weasley!” came Fitz's familiar bark. “Pay attention, goddammit!”

She scowled down at him, but she blocked the next throw from the Chasers. He'd been prickly all day, yelling at the team for even the smallest mistake, whether it was obvious they knew they'd done it or not. She didn't know what had set him off today, since yesterday he'd been perfectly well-behaved on the pitch, only doing the usual amount of shouting and stomping around in a temper.

Today, something was wrong.

When he finally whistled to the team to land, Molly was exhausted and feeling out of temper herself. She had a strong urge to kick him as she landed beside Jinks and let her broom fall to the grass. Fitz was standing nearby, leaning against his broom.

“Not your best work today,” he told her, and she gave him an ugly look.

“Nor yours.”

He scowled and ignored that barb to start in on the Beaters. After he'd chewed them out as well as the Chasers, Duff and Declan headed for the lockers, looking unperturbed. The reserve players followed them. Mariah threw a look of annoyance at her ex-husband as she left the field. His criticism of her flying had been particularly harsh.

Whatever had happened between yesterday and this morning, he was taking it out on the team. Molly interrupted him as he was telling Jinks off for flying his search pattern too slowly, since he was starting to repeat himself and Jinks looked like he wasn't paying any attention anyway.

“We've got it, Coach. Just an off day. Can we hit the showers now? We're dead on our feet here.”

Beathan gave her a grateful look, but Fitz's dark brows drew together.

“You were no better,” he snapped. “Paying more attention to the Bludgers than you were to the Quaffle-”

“I was not,” she said hotly. “You're in a temper and taking it out on the lot of us-”

His face flushed a dark red. “I am not in a temper.”

“Uh, I think you are,” Sid mumbled, but Fitz's attention was entirely focused on Molly, and she wasn't even sure he'd heard Sid.

“You were already angry when you set foot on the field, I could tell-”

He kicked at the grass, his broom still in hand. “That has nothing to do with your shoddy effing playing-”

“It was not shoddy,” she said loudly.

“It bloody well was, so get your ass together, because we don't have anyone to cover for you if you get hurt by a stray Bludger.”

“I thought I was paying too much attention to the Bludgers?” she snapped back.

“Your job is to block the hoops and not get knocked off your bloody goddamn stupid broom,” he retorted.

The urge to kick him soundly rose again, and Molly tamped it down with difficulty. “And I'm bloody well doing it, too, so you can stop screaming at me and calling it coaching.”

His hands tightened around the broom handle, changing his grip, and the image of him smashing his broom against the ground flashed across her memory. “Control your temper,” she ordered him sharply.

He looked angrier than ever at that. “Don't micromanage me, goddammit-”

“Don't you dare smash that broom, Riordan, I swear to God-”

He took the broom by the handle and, with his good arm, flung it with all his strength, stepping into the swing and sending it end over end halfway across the field, then stormed off to his office while Molly stamped her foot in a fit of temper, severely tempted to hex him with a Bat-Bogey Curse.

Belatedly she recalled that half the team was still there, watching the scene unfold, and turned to them, feeling a blush crawl up her face as her anger began to drain away.

Sid and Beathan were sitting cross-legged on the ground, watching with every appearance of enjoying themselves. Zara was leaning against Jinks, her head resting on his shoulder.

“You know,” she said, “you really should just get over yourselves and be together.”

Molly's heart skipped a beat. “Wh-what?”

Zara gave her a meaningful look. Molly tried to make herself breathe normally around the sudden panic. How the hell did she know about them?

“McCormack would fire one of us,” she managed, but Zara only snorted.

“Nah, she won't,” Jinks said. “I like you two together. You should be in love.”

“Does everyone know?” Molly hissed at Zara.

She seemed to consider it. “Well, Beathan and Sid, obviously, and Bram, and Mariah too. I don't think Duff and Declan have noticed, but those two wouldn't notice a troll if it sat on their heads. Not sure about Deimos, he doesn't talk much, does he?”

“Oh my God,” Molly mumbled, covering her eyes with one hand.

Jinks put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “No one cares, Molly. We're winning. You could start playing nude and no one would mind. In fact, I recommend it. We should all play nude. Here, I'll start-”

“Shut up, Jinks,” Zara said, grabbing his hand to stop him before he could pull his shirt off.

“How long have you known?” Molly asked, not sure to whom she was directing the question.

Zara rolled her eyes. “Since the retreat.”

“I knew before that,” Jinks bragged. “I could just tell. Wasn't sure you were doing it yet, but you were definitely arse over teakettle for each other.”

Molly thought of all the times Jinks had been unintentionally helpful – sleeping late at the retreat so she and Fitz weren't the last ones down, distracting Fitz when Rakes had tried to taunt him at the Falcons' pitch, being a distraction in general, even worrying about her when Fitz had chucked her – and wondered if maybe it had been intentional after all.

“Maybe you can stomp that temper out of him,” Beathan called over to them.

But the other three all shook their heads.

“Nah,” said Sid. “He wouldn't be the same without it.”

“Maybe stomp a little of it,” admitted Zara. “But not completely.”

“I think he might burst a blood vessel if he couldn't scream at us.” Jinks grinned. “Being an arsehole is probably all that's keeping him from a major coronary.”

“Maybe you could de-stress him,” Sid suggested to Molly, wiggling his eyebrows.

She'd de-stressed him five times that weekend, but she didn't say that aloud. Something had come along and ratcheted his stress level right back up afterward.

“Seriously, nobody minds,” Zara said then, her voice more gentle now. “He seems to make you happy, and the team's doing well. You know McCormack's been over the moon about that Witch Weekly article your cousin wrote. She may let you two have at it after all.”

“I heard her in her office the other day saying that ticket sales have spiked since the article,” Jinks put in. “She was cackling a bit over the merchandising options.”

“I've never heard McCormack cackle,” said Beathan.

“Cackling,” repeated Jinks, winking at her.

“I'm going to go change and go home,” Sid said, getting to his feet and brushing the grass from his robes. “I'll see you lot tomorrow.”

Molly went to retrieve Fitz's broom while her teammates returned to the locker room, and made her way to his office without bothering to change. He was sitting at his desk with a distinctly sour expression on his face. Whatever had set him off, he was clearly not over it yet. She leaned the broom against the wall and glanced over her shoulder to see Zara and Beathan leaving the locker room. They waved to her, and after they'd gone, the building was quiet, only the sound of a clock ticking on the wall.

For a few minutes she just watched Fitz sitting there, and eventually he looked up at her.

“Go ahead, say it,” he grumbled.

Since he clearly knew he'd been an arsehole, she didn't bother to inform him of it. “What the hell was that down there?”

He groaned, putting his forehead on his desk. “I lost my temper.”

“No kidding.” She sat down on the edge of his desk. “Why?”

He stacked his hands on the desk, rested his chin on them, and stared straight ahead. “I saw your cousin Hugo this morning. I got my hopes up for this Muggle stuff, and then he told me I was never going to get past seventy or eighty percent of what I was, no matter how hard I'm working at this. It was… disappointing.”

Molly sighed. She sympathized; he wanted his full range back, and he had put more stock into the Muggle remedy than he should have. It didn’t make his loss of temper all right, but it did make it understandable. “I’m sorry, love.”

“I should have known better. I don’t have that kind of luck.” He put his head back down. “I thought my luck had changed and the universe would stop kicking me when I'm down.”

“No such thing as luck,” Molly said, though years of being a professional athlete had given her a few doubts about that. Surreptitiously, she rapped her knuckles against the wooden desk.

“Sure there is,” he mumbled, still facedown. “I’ve got you, don’t I?”

She reached out to stroke his hair, running her fingers through the thick strands, and he turned his head to look at her. She smiled down at him, resisting the urge to kiss him.

“I love you, you numpty. Now get up, go home and sleep it off. Things will look better tomorrow. And you ought to apologize to the team for that tantrum today.”

“Damned if I will,” he grumbled, but she could see capitulation in his eyes. “Not like they’ve never seen it before.”

“Nevertheless. You ought to apologize to me, too,” she added, giving him a frown.

“I really ought to.” He picked up her hand and laid a kiss on her palm, and she decided that was close enough to admitting he was sorry. “I love you too. Come home with me and let me make it up to you?”

She smiled wistfully, thinking of their weekend. “Can’t, but I wish I could.”

“I can offer you a variety of dirty deeds done to your body.” Fitz’s eyes were darkening. “And I’ll even cook you dinner.”

Her blood was heating up already just imagining it. Turning him down was harder than she wanted to admit. She steeled her resolve to behave herself. “Raincheck. You know I want to, but we agreed.”

He didn’t look entirely surprised that she’d said no. “After McCormack. Or after the season.”

The end of the season felt like ages away. She heaved a sigh. “We’re only halfway through.”

“I know. We’ll make up for lost time.” He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it mussed. “Go home before I run out of self-control. I'm dying to kiss you and drag you off to bed. Or the floor. Or the wall.”

She wished she had less of a conscience and could stay with him. She returned to the original topic, because talking about not being able to jump his bones made it worse. “I am sorry about your arm, you know. Any improvement is good, though. Seventy percent is better than fifty.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Eighty would be really good. I just… wanted a hundred.”

The mournful expression he wore made her ache to take him home and take the sadness out of his eyes. She stuck to their agreement though, and settled for coming round behind him to kiss the top of his dark head tenderly, her hands resting on his chest. He reached up to clasp her wrist, leaning into her, and for a moment she just held him, and then he released her arm and gave her a pat.

“Go home, Molly. Get some sleep. I’ll be all right.”

I’ll make sure of it, she promised him silently. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

She left, wishing she didn’t have to. He was leaning back in his chair, watching her walk off, and waved to her when she looked back at him.

*

Meghan McCormack stepped out of her office, looked down the corridor, and swiftly stepped back. She peeked her head round the door to get a second look.

There, with the bloody door wide open, was Fitzroy in his office, sitting behind his desk with an expression more morose than ever she'd seen him, his eyes closed. Molly Weasley sat on the edge of his desk, still wearing her Quidditch robes and slowly stroking his hair, and as Meghan watched, Fitz sat up, leaning back in his chair, still unaware the two of them had an audience. She couldn't make out what he was saying, though she could see his lips moving, but then Weasley moved to stand behind him, her hands on his chest, and laid a gentle kiss on top of his head. The pain and stress that always haunted Fitz's face softened as he leaned into her embrace, and Weasley's eyes closed as she held him, her expression full of regret and longing. There was nothing sexual in the touches between them, only comfort and... love.

Meghan went back into her office, closing the door silently behind her, and leaned against it, deep in thought.

That was, without a doubt, the most content she'd ever seen Riordan Fitzroy look since he'd been injured. It was also the most emotion she'd seen on Molly Weasley's face. Whatever was going on between him and Weasley, and clearly he had not stopped it entirely despite what he'd promised, it was more than a casual fling for both of them.

She'd suspected as much from his reaction when she'd chewed him out. He'd admitted to being in love, but had assured her that Molly was not. Meghan hadn't entirely bought that, and now seeing them together in his office confirmed it. Whatever they'd been up to before, it was well into love for both of them now.

She was still not sure it was a good idea for the two of them to carry on, coach and captain, when the team was only just starting to see real improvement after so many years at the bottom of the league. It gave her a distinct feeling of unease. Fitz already had an ex-wife on the team, and while a remarriage might be the thing for a while, the thought of a future divorce hanging over the Prides gave her a severe case of nerves.

Meghan strode over to the empty fireplace and grabbed a handful of Floo powder from a purple tin bearing the Prides logo. When the green flames flared up, she stepped into the empty grate and called, “Tavish Ogilvie's office!”

The room spun around her, and a moment later Tavish's office appeared in front of her. He was sitting at his desk, sorting through rolls of parchment, when she walked out of the fireplace. He smiled at the sight of her.

“Meghan,” he said warmly, getting up to kiss her briefly. “What brings you to my office today?”

She plopped onto the black leather sofa he kept under a wide window looking out onto the Montrose pitch, and he sat down beside her, draping an arm across her shoulders.

“Bit of a kerfuffle happening in Portree,” she said as she settled into the sofa. “They don't know I know about it, though.”

Tavish smiled. “We coaches don't like to let the managers know everything we're up to, you know that.”

“This is different.” And she told him what she'd seen between Fitzroy and Weasley, what she'd heard from Mariah Waldman, her confrontation with Fitz, and her reservations about how a potential relationship would affect the team.

Tavish's expression turned thoughtful as she finished her story. “Has anyone else said anything to you about the two of them? None of the other players have come to you about it, only Waldman?”

Meghan shook her head. “None of them. I reckon they don't know about it.”

“Oh, they know. The team always knows,” he assured her. “It's hard to keep a secret like that on a Quidditch team. And Fitz, I've known him since he began playing for the League. That man is not subtle. If he's in love with her, you can be sure the entire team is well aware of it.”

“Then they don't care,” Meghan mused. “Because none of them have brought it to my attention. Even Jinks, and he's in my office at least twice a month, trying for a pay raise or generally bothering me about his contract, bless him.”

“I don't know how he talked you into that lightning clause,” Tavish said. His ability to know League gossip was renowned, so she wasn't surprised he knew some of the terms of Evander Jinks's contract. “One of our Chasers heard about it and wants something similar added to his.”

“He doesn't even have to train if there's thunder,” Meghan told him with a roll of her eyes. “Hope your manager's able to hold out longer. He pestered me about that one until I gave in just to get rid of him.”

“Fitz seemed better when I saw him last month,” said Tavish, returning to topic. “When we played your team, he was in the box with me – since you didn't turn up-”

“I was busy,” she exclaimed.

“-and I noticed he seemed less depressed. He was drowning for a while there, after the attack. I was glad to see it seemed he'd gained some ground in his mental recovery.” Tavish stroked her arm absently. “He bottomed out when they told him the effects were permanent. Coming on as coach for the Prides has been good for him.”

“If you're waiting for me to thank you for suggesting it, you can bugger right off, you old goat,” Meghan said dryly.

Tavish laughed. “You should thank me. Your team's what, sixth in the League now?”

As if he didn't know the standing of every team in the British and Irish League. Meghan snorted. “You suggested I hire him as assistant coach, and yes, it was a bloody good idea.”

“If I'd known Rodan was as far gone as he turned out to be, I would have suggested Fitz for coach, not assistant. You should have muscled Rodan into retirement years ago.”

“He hid it well until the end. He was good in his day. He was coach when I was Keeper for the Prides. It's not easy to have to offload your own coach.”

“Did you know those two were still carrying on after you put the kibosh on things?”

Meghan followed his train of thought immediately, as she usually did. It was one of the things she liked best about Tavish. They approached things much the same way. “I suspected, but I wasn't sure. And they don't know I know. I haven't decided what to do about it yet.”

“So you knew, and you let them carry on anyway. I'm intrigued. From what I hear, you've been notably absent of late around Portree.” Tavish raised a shaggy eyebrow at her.

“I didn't believe him when he said Weasley didn't love him,” she admitted. “I thought I'd give them a bit of space and see how it played out. He capitulated faster than expected, but it was more the way he did it that made me wonder. It was all Molly should play and Don't sack her, sack me. He offered to resign and everything, but he never actually stood up for them, so I wasn't sure how serious it really was.”

“You got emotionally invested in the lad, didn't you.” Tavish didn't look surprised. “Can't blame you, but then, I've had an eye out for his welfare for several years now. He's had a rough go of it, ever since he married that miserable witch from Tutshill. I gave him some unsolicited advice when he was engaged, told him not to go through with it, but he was always bullheaded.”

Meghan nodded. She'd met Fitzroy a few times before he'd married Waldman, and a few times after, so she knew how poorly that relationship had turned out. Waldman had not been her first choice for the reserves, but her choices had been extremely limited when assembling the new team. She wouldn't have picked Bram Carmichael either. Though he'd turned out better than expected, Mariah Waldman had not. Whether or not her one-season contract with Portree would be renewed was something Meghan was still mulling over. She had been more than a little wary of putting Fitz and his volatile temper in close and extended proximity to his ex-wife, despite both of their assurances that they could work together, but that wasn't why she was thinking of offloading Waldman at the end of the season.

And Tavish was right, damn him. She was emotionally invested in her coach's welfare. She liked him, and she thought he had suffered long enough. Meghan did not have children of her own, and looked on the Prides rather as surrogates in that regard. Jinks, certainly, was like the youngest son who knew he could do no wrong in his mother's eye. It was why she'd given him that bloody lightning clause, though no one else had it.

Fitz was not a coddled youngest son like Jinks, though. He wouldn't have put up with coddling even if she'd thought to give it to him. He was more the sort who needed a sharp kick in the arse now and then but could turn up surprisingly sweet when he put his mind to it. She'd hated to see him so broken after his injury, the depths of depression he'd been in when told he would never fully recover.

Not being able to play because your body got old and worn out was one thing. Not being able to play because you'd been attacked and permanently debilitated was another.

He seemed better now, though. Working in Portree, drawing the Prides together as a team, it had helped him. And no doubt Molly Weasley had had something to do with his continued recovery as well.

“Must admit, I had an inkling something was going on there when I saw him at the last match,” Tavish said then. “He seemed rather taken with your Keeper. I nearly didn't recognize her without the mohawk.”

“I think they're good together, but don't repeat that,” Meghan confessed with a wink. “They seem to make each other happy. I remember when he and Mariah were married, and even before it started to go to hell, he didn't act like he does with Molly. And she's different with him, too. Always liked her. You know I had a thing for her uncle when we were in school?”

He groaned rather melodramatically. “Don't tell me that, I don't want to hear about it.”

Grinning, Meghan leaned over to kiss his scruffy cheek. “He was a damn fine Quidditch player.”

“Charlie Weasley? Yeah, I remember him. Could've played professionally if he hadn't fallen in love with dragons. The Weasleys are generally a good sort. Never met one I didn't like.”

“Molly's a good sort for certain,” Meghan agreed. “I know I've got a soft spot for Keepers because it was my old position, but I liked her quite a lot when I first met her. And she was damn good whenever Lyra Brownyard was out and she actually got to play. She didn't seem entirely happy in Holyhead. I was chuffed to steal her away from them.”

“You did a good thing with the team,” Tavish congratulated her, giving her shoulders a squeeze. “I read that Witch Weekly article, really turned up well for you lot.”

“That was Molly's cousin, wrote that article.” Meghan's eyes were gleaming now. “Since it was published, our ticket sales have gone up twenty percent. And merchandising, that's where it's really at. T-shirts and pennants and omnioculars with the team logo-”

Tavish gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Go home and cackle about your merchandising. I've got work to do here, can't spend all afternoon squawking with you.”

She grinned and used his chest to push herself up off the couch. “I'll see you Friday evening. You owe me a steak dinner in Edinburgh.”

“Do I? I think it's your turn to owe me.” He waved her off, and Meghan returned to the grate to Floo back to her own office.
 


Chapter 23: Therapy
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Fitz waited with arms crossed over his chest until the main team had gathered on the pitch. The reservists were due in after lunch, and he wanted to say this without his ex wife staring him down. He had to consciously stop himself from scuffing a toe in the dirt as he stood watching the team arrive.

Once they were all gathered around, he cleared his throat uneasily. He knew he ought to do it, but it didn’t make it any easier or the words feel any less awkward.

“Look, you lot, about yesterday…” He ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it. “I’m sorry I was too harsh on all of you. I was in a bad mood and I took it out on you. It was shitty of me, and it won’t happen again.”

The team stared at him incredulously, except for Molly, who looked a bit smug that he'd taken her advice. Then Sid said, turning to Molly, “That was amazing. How did you make him do that?”

“Oi, now,” Fitz began, but suddenly they were all talking at once, the noise rising abruptly, swirling around him so that his brain barely had a chance to absorb one conversation before he heard another.

“Don't go soft on us, Coach,” called Duff. “Apologizing. What's next, braiding each other's hair and having sleepovers?”

While Declan guffawed at this, Beathan took the clipboard out of his hands and started scribbling at the bottom. “This is the address for my therapist. She'd really do wonders for your anger management, you should owl her for an appointment-”

“I didn't make him do it,” Molly was telling Sid. “I did tell him he ought to, but-”

“I wonder what else you could get him to do,” Jinks mused. “Maybe he can help Beathan with her garden this spring. She already made me promise to help, but I don't want to.”

“Lazy git,” said Zara.

“He definitely seems de-stressed today, so well done there.” Sid gave Molly a congratulatory smile.

“I haven't de-stressed him since this weekend,” she told him.

“Jesus Christ,” exclaimed Fitz, going wide-eyed at her. “Molly, what the hell-”

“Oh, they all already know,” she said, brushing this aside with a wave of her hand. “I meant to tell you yesterday-”

“Don't worry, Coach,” Zara put in. “Nobody's said anything to McCormack about it. You two can carry on.”

Fitz pressed his fingertips to his temples as they all continued to babble around him, about gardens and therapists and McCormack's likelihood of sacking the entire team again. He couldn't focus on any of that, though.

They all knew. They all knew, and no one seemed to care. They were more impressed that he’d apologized than that he’d slept with the team captain.

He realized he’d started grinning, and a moment later he was laughing at all of them.

They were all looking at him in surprise. “What’s so funny?” Molly asked.

“All of you are bloody arsing insane,” he told them. “Get to work.”

No one argued with this, somewhat to his surprise. Zara was the first in the air, with Sid on her heels, and Declan took one last moment to slug Fitz in his good arm, giving him a knowing grin before he swung a leg over his broom and kicked off.

Molly winked at him as she took off for the hoops, and he dropped his clipboard on the grass at his feet so he could put both hands on his hips, his eyes following the team around the pitch. He couldn’t seem to stop grinning at the team.

They all knew, and no one cared.

It was amazingly liberating to have it out there, no more secrets and hiding. The team was on their side, barring the reservists. Now it was just down to McCormack.

*

A few days before the match with the Harpies was scheduled, the Prides were strapping into their padding in the locker room before practice when Fitz stuck his head in.

“Everyone here?” He did a quick head count and then leaned against the doorframe, a clipboard tucked under his bad arm. “Good. Listen up, you lot. We're not going to Holyhead after all. They're coming here.”

A general murmur of surprise went round at that, and Molly breathed a silent sigh of relief. Seeing the Harpies in her new home turf felt somehow safer than going back to Wales.

“Why did they change it?” Zara demanded. “The League never rearranges the schedule.”

“Apparently the Muggles are doing some sort of visit from the Prince of Wales. Security is expected to be very tight, and they thought having a batallion of wizards and witches arriving for Quidditch was too much. It was easier to switch the dates for our matches with them than to completely reschedule. So they're coming here on Saturday, and we'll be playing in Holyhead two months from now instead of vice versa.” Fitz gave them all a stern look. “Don't let it throw you. Our strategy for the match hasn't changed. Just now you'll be drinking at a pub in Portree afterward instead of a pub in Holyhead.”

“We could still drink in a pub in Holyhead if we caught a Portkey after,” Sid called out. “Or a Floo. Portkey's safer when you're drunk-”

“Drink wherever you want after the game,” Fitz told him. “Just show up sober. Now hustle up, get out to the field. We've got a lot to do still.”

He left then, and Molly leaned back against her locker, her arm padding dangling from one hand. The change in game schedule felt like a reprieve. She would see the Harpies, but they'd see her where she'd only ever been star Keeper and captain, not where she'd been only a reserve player, a second-string to Lyra's star.

The difference was small, but it was enough.

The Harpies arrived the day before the match. Fitz had already warned the Prides that they’d have to give over the pitch that afternoon to their opponents, so the Prides took a half day and were headed for the locker room as the Harpies arrived.

Molly greeted her old team happily, grinning at the women who’d been her friends and co-workers during the years she’d played for Holyhead. She hadn’t seen most of them since leaving Wales, and the awkwardness she’d worried about dissipated quickly as she shook hands and exchanged cheek kisses and good-natured ribbing with them.

“It’s great to see you, Weasley,” said Reshmi Kapoor, one of the Beaters.

“You look great,” put in Octavia Savoy, who played Seeker for the Harpies. “Hope you don’t mind if we mop the floor with you tomorrow.”

“You can try,” Molly returned playfully. “Good to see you too.”

They chatted for a few minutes, bantering about the game, and then Lyra Brownyard reached out to shake hands as the team moved on down the corridor. Molly smiled at her with genuine affection. Lyra was a likable sort in general, and even though Molly had rarely got to play as reserve Keeper in Holyhead because of Lyra’s preternatural ability to avoid injuries, she’d never been able to bring herself to resent Lyra for it. Lyra was just too nice of a person.

“It’s great to see you. How’s your wife?”

Lyra smiled. “Gorgeous as always. And you? You seem happy.”

“I am,” she agreed, feeling the truth of it down to her bones. “I like it up here.”

Lyra pulled a face. “It’s bloody cold. And rainier than Holyhead.”

Molly laughed at that. “It is, but I don’t mind it. When it’s sunny, it’s just perfect here. And rainy days have their merits.”

Lyra nodded. She looked pleased. “Glad to hear you’re doing well. You’re missed in the Harpies, if you ever wanted to come back.”

“I appreciate the thought. Think I’ll stay where I am, though.” Molly gave her a solid clap on the shoulder. “Good luck tomorrow.”

“You as well.” Lyra grinned at her again and made her way down the corridor to the rest of the Harpies.

Molly walked out of the Prides pitch feeling light-hearted. Seeing the Harpies again, particularly Lyra, had been more pleasant than expected. She had a heady sense of freedom now, feeling the weight of her old life in Holyhead finally slipping away.

Fitz was waiting for her outside, leaning against the painted stone foundation of the building.

“How'd it go with the Harpies?” he asked when he saw her.

She walked over and leaned against the wall beside him. “They were really sweet, actually. It was nice to see them again.”

“Not so bad after all?”

She appreciated that he didn't accuse her of worrying over nothing, however jokingly he put it. More than that, the fact that he was out here making sure she was all right after running into her old team in the corridor warmed her heart. She leaned against him briefly, feeling the line of his body against hers. “No, it wasn't.”

“So... Everyone knows,” he stated, his tone conversational.

Molly smiled, following his thoughts immediately. “Yeah. I didn't even tell them. They already knew. Zara said she wasn’t sure about Deimos, since he never talks much, but everyone else knows. They were actually really supportive.”

“I noticed.” Fitz held up the clipboard, and Molly could see the corner of the training schedule where Beathan had recommended her therapist. “Beathan is in therapy?”

“She likes the captive audience to talk to. I think she’s got some anxiety after her divorce a few years ago.” Molly shrugged. “I didn’t want to pry. She mentioned it once before but she didn't like to talk about it.”

Fitz looked nonplussed. “Do you think I need therapy?”

The answer to that was an immediate and resounding yes, but Molly took a moment to consider her words so she didn’t hurt his feelings. He had not dealt with the attack and his permanent impairment, only bottled up all his feelings about it, which had probably worsened an already explosive temper. And then there was the chronic pain issue shortening the fuse on his temper. As much as she'd like to give him a blunt answer, past interactions had shown he didn't hold his temper well enough for blunt answers. She pursed her lips, trying to think how to put it.

Apparently she hesitated too long with her answer, because he rolled his eyes. “I do, don’t I?”

“Most people do. Try not to worry about it.” She reached over to ruffle his hair affectionately. “I used to see someone now and then in Wales, but I haven’t found a new therapist here yet. Haven’t really had time to think about it much.”

“I’ll let you know if I like Beathan’s Healer,” he said dryly. “Maybe she can be the team therapist.”

Molly laughed. “We need one. Maybe McCormack will find it in the budget.”

“Yeah right. Want to go to lunch with me? Cat's out of the bag with the team already, we might as well.”

As much as she wanted to go to lunch with him, she didn't entirely trust her self-control. The last time she'd got him alone, she had talked herself into staying far longer than she'd intended. “We haven’t talked to McCormack yet. No dating, no relationship.”

“God, you’re a hard-ass. All right, then I’ll see you tomorrow at the game.” He pushed away from the wall and loomed over her, resting one hand against the stones beside her shoulder. “I’d kiss you if I thought you’d let me.”

“Go home and make an appointment with that therapist,” she told him, grinning.

Fitz ran a hand through his hair. “You’re killing me. When we talk to McCormack, we’re repeating that number against the wall.”

It was killing her, too. She was imagining the wall in his office right now, and it was making her go hot all over. She licked her lips. “It’s a date.”

Fitz’s eyes darkened as he watched her face. Too much of her thoughts must have shown in her expression. “If you keep looking at me like that, I may have to take you right now.”

Molly laughed. “Go home,” she repeated, giving him a push. “See a therapist. I’ll see you on the pitch. With clothes on.”

“Now there’s an idea. Clothes off on the pitch.” He grinned and brushed a finger down her cheek. “See you tomorrow, love.”

After he’d Disapparated, she blew out a long, slow breath, unable to stop grinning.

If they could just get McCormack on their side, approving or at least tolerating their relationship, she’d have everything she wanted. That was almost a scary prospect. Maybe she ought to see that therapist too, she thought with a laugh, and turned over her shoulder, heading home.

*

The evening before the Harpies game, Fitz headed to the bar to see Max. Things had been so busy with the team, he’d hardly spent any time at the pub.

Max was behind the counter, drawing pints for a crowd of young wizards with elaborately sculpted facial hair. He waved when he caught sight of Fitz.

“The barracuda is drinking my frou-frou vodka,” he said when Fitz leaned against the wooden bar top.

Fitz glanced around. Mariah Waldman was down the end of the bar, in the same spot he’d found Molly the night he’d kissed her outside in the alley. He pressed his lips together to keep from making a face. “How long has she been there?”

“Three cocktails,” said Max, handing him a pint. “Gonna go talk to her?”

Probably he should. Probably it was the mature thing to do. Dealing with Mariah never left him feeling terribly mature, though. Looking at her made him feel more aware than usual of his injured arm. She didn’t know, he reminded himself. It was only indirectly her fault. He drew a long breath and took his beer with him as he made his way down to her.

She glanced over as he got closer, and her expression closed off as she recognized him. The glass in front of her was full of something orange still, so she wasn’t down her third drink yet. He drew to a halt beside her, and Mariah’s eyes were clear as she looked up at him.

“Evening,” he said, keeping his voice neutral.

She was eyeing him as if she weren’t sure how to handle him. “Hi Fitzie.”

“You know I hate when you call me that.” He sat down beside her. “Drinking a screwdriver?”

“Still remember my favourite drinks? This one’s with cherry vodka.” She took a sip, then rolled the glass between her palms. “I heard that your bruises and black eye when the team was in Falmouth were from fighting Rakes.”

He slid a sidelong glance at her, taking a long swallow of his beer before answering. “They were.”

She wasn’t looking at him. He wasn’t sure what to make of this. In all the time he’d known Mariah, every time she’d claimed to be sorry, she’d been passionately, loudly emotional about it, and he’d never really believed her. Tonight she was quiet and had a look he hadn’t seen before on her.

He thought it might be shame.

“Why now?” Her gaze was still on her drink. “Why fight him now, when you didn’t back then?”

“It wasn’t over you,” he told her, and though he’d meant to be diffident it came out gentle. “You made the decision to cheat. I’m not punching out some bloke over something you willingly did.”

Finally she turned to look at him. “Then why?”

“He wanted a fight.” He hated to say he started it, because it sounded so juvenile, but Rakes had been spoiling for a fight. One way or another, whether Fitz had thrown the first punch or not, it would’ve turned into a brawl.

He was on the verge of telling her it was because Rakes had hexed him, that she’d promised to leave him and Rakes had believed her. But she had shame in her eyes, for the first time since he’d known her, actual real remorse, and suddenly he couldn’t bring himself to tell her she’d ended his career with her cheating.

Mariah was a lot of things, but she wouldn’t have deliberately let him get hurt this way.

She must have seen something in his eyes, though, because she picked up her drink with a shaking hand and took a gulp. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.”

They sat there in silence for a few minutes, contemplating the drinks in front of them. Fitz didn’t know what else to say. He didn’t want to discuss her cheating for the hundredth time, since it was irrelevant now, and small talk seemed ridiculous.

How did you make small talk with your ex-wife?

“I didn’t come to Portree to mess up your life again,” Mariah said then, breaking into his thoughts.

Fitz watched her with a frown. He’d never really asked her why she’d taken this job, since it was a lateral move for Mariah. McCormack had probably offered her more than the Tornadoes had been paying her, but one of Mariah’s few good points was that she wasn’t greedy. It couldn’t have been entirely about the money. “Why did you come to Portree?”

She sighed, her gaze focused on her empty glass, then looked up at him. “I wanted to see how you were getting on without me, if you missed me. And maybe a little part of me hoped we could start something up again.”

He snorted. “That was never going to happen, Mariah.”

“I figured that out as soon as I saw you again. After that I just… wanted to see if I could still get to you. I don’t know. It was stupid. I did want to play for the team, and I reckoned with so many former reserve players being starters, there was bound to be more chance for me to play a game here. I hardly ever got to actually fly in Tutshill.”

He shook his head in resignation. Mariah had her own agenda, but then, she always did. It had been more about him than he’d expected, though he hadn’t bothered to think overmuch about what his ex was up to by coming to Portree. His attention had been caught with the team, and Molly, and Mariah had been relegated to the back burner.

He bought his ex-wife another drink, and Max gave him a significant look as he delivered it, but Fitz just gave him a small shake of the head to shut him up.

Mariah seemed pensive now, contemplating her new cocktail. Fitz wasn’t sure what to say, so he kept silent and waited.

Eventually she said softly, “We were never very good together, were we?”

He shrugged. “I thought we were at first. Wishful thinking, I reckon.”

“All those times I cheated on you, you never cheated on me.”

“You were my wife.”

She gave a mirthless chuckle. “Not a very good one.”

Responding to that seemed unnecessary. She hadn’t been a good wife, that was a fact. She hadn’t been all bad, though, he allowed. In the beginning, before she’d got bored and started her wandering eye, things between them had been pretty good. Sometimes he thought he’d talked himself into thinking they’d really been in love, into marrying her in he the first place, but then he’d remember some of their better times and second-guess himself. He didn’t know if he could trust his memory, or his judgment of her character. There was too much history there.

And sometimes he thought choosing the wrong partner the first go-round didn’t mean he couldn’t trust himself. Things with Mariah had gone wrong, but maybe they could have gone right, and that meant he wasn’t a total failure.

Maybe he really did need therapy, he reflected, knocking back more of his beer. He wasn’t even sure his thought process made sense, or if the alcohol was starting to take hold.

“You don’t look as angry with me lately,” Mariah ventured.

“It gets old, resenting you all the time.”

She sighed. “I know what you mean.”

That brought him up short. He set his beer down and contemplated Mariah’s profile. It had never occurred to him that she would have complaints over their marriage as well. A flicker of anger flared at that, but it didn’t take hold. Maybe he hadn’t been as good a husband as he could have been. Memories of the tailspin their marriage had fallen into when he’d been injured made him wince.

“We probably should’ve seen a therapist,” he said aloud.

Mariah laughed. “Us? It would never have occurred to either of us. I’m surprised you thought of it now. Maybe you really have changed.”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

“You do seem calmer. I think someone’s had a good influence on you.”

He tensed a bit at that, but she went on talking before he could muster a response.

“I should leave you to it, let you get on with your life and I’ll get on with mine.” She smiled ruefully. “Can’t seem to stop messing things up for you, even when I don’t mean to. I’m going back to Tutshill when the season ends. The Tornadoes will let me back on the reserve team.”

He nodded, feeling a sense of relief swamp him that she was reasonable about leaving the team. No tantrums, no tears. “I think that’s best.”

“I really am sorry, you know. For everything. I never should have married you when I knew I wasn’t going to live up to our vows.” She actually did look regretful, for once.

Fitz spun his pint slowly in front of him, sighing heavily as he watched the foam swirl in the glass. “I should have been more honest, when I was injured. I shouldn’t have told you I forgave you when I hadn’t. I reckoned you were leaving me by cheating, so I’d better get a jump on it and leave you permanently first. That’s why I filed for divorce.”

“We’re a pair of screw-ups,” Mariah said, leaning her shoulder against his for a moment. “But you deserved better. You still do, Fitzie.”

He waved to Max for another round. For the first time in years, he was having a drink alone with Mariah without either of them shouting. It was probably a record.

“Molly’s pretty amazing,” Mariah said then, taking him by surprise.

He looked over at her, but there was no animosity on her face, only resignation and a bit of lingering regret. “She is.”

They drank in silence, and he paid the tab for her before she left.

When she’d gone home, Max sidled over to him and leaned on the bar. “Nobody yelled. I’m surprised. I was expecting bloodshed at the very least. Possibly disembowelment.”

“She’s going back to Tutshill at the end of the season,” Fitz said in a low voice.

Max’s eyebrows went up. “Well, hallelujah. And you didn’t even have to sack her to make her go.”

Fitz nodded. “Won’t be for a few months.”

“Still.” Max turned and grabbed a bottle of whisky off the top shelf, then pulled two shot glasses off the shelf. “This one’s on me,” he said as he poured.

Fitz took the glass from him and held it up. “To ex-wives.”

“May they stay far, far away.” Max grinned at him. 


Chapter 24: Leverage
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The morning of the match against the Harpies was cold and clear, the clouds wispy and uneven across the sky. Molly woke earlier than she'd intended to, overcome with nerves, and drank tea in her bedroom, going over her training notes and diagrams and attempted not to tear her hair out.

A pot of strong tea and several hours later, she showered and headed for the pitch. The Prides supporters were already out in force when she arrived. The stands were half-full, and a line of spectators was waiting out front, filing in to take their seats. Molly waved when a few of them cheered her arrival, heading for the side entrance the teams used.

She was the first one there, which came as no great shock. The locker room was empty, and she sat down on the bench in front of her locker, staring at her name on the gold plaque.

Molly Weasley, Keeper.

She wanted to take the change in venue as a sign, to tell herself that playing a home game instead of an away game was the universe making sure the Prides would win. She rapped her knuckles on the wooden bench underneath her, just in case, but it didn't make her feel any better.

Confidence was feeling extremely difficult to come by just then. She didn't know if she was better than Lyra. She wasn't so sure the Prides were better than the Harpies. Certainly the Prides had improved hugely in the time she'd been there, but it might not be enough.

“We can win,” she whispered to herself. “We can.”

And if they didn't... She pictured Fitz telling her that they would play well even if they didn't win. He'd seemed confident. Maybe his confidence would be enough. For once, she really needed him to have a good pep talk for the team. She'd never needed one before.

The locker room door banged open and Duff and Declan bounded in, full of energy and talking about their planned pub crawl after the game. Molly slid out into the corridor, past Sid. She could see Zara and Beathan approaching, but she turned the opposite way and headed for Fitz's office.

He was sitting with his feet on his desk, tossing a small foam ball into the air and catching it, dressed in a Prides jersey and a pair of jeans. As soon as he caught sight of her, he sat up and started squeezing the ball with his left hand.

“Physical therapy,” he said quickly. “I swear I'm doing it properly.”

“No, you weren't.” She gave him a look. “You were messing around.”

He didn't bother to deny it again, and looked a bit sheepish. “Don't tell Hugo.”

Molly sighed, and Fitz tossed the foam ball into the corner and gestured for her to come closer.

“You look knackered. Didn't get much sleep?”

“Nerves.” She perched on the corner of the desk beside his chair. “I know you said not to stress-”

“I said try not to,” he pointed out. “I know you will anyway.”

Molly rubbed her hands over her face. “I was up at dawn. Couldn't sleep.”

Fitz's expression turned sympathetic, and he reached out to pull her into his lap. She held back, resisting the urge to throw herself into his arms.

“The door is open-”

“Everyone already knows,” he pointed out. “And McCormack's not here yet.”

The need for comfort overrode her concerns about the team manager. She allowed herself to be drawn down, draping her legs across the arm of the chair as she buried her face in his neck. His arms held her tight, one hand stroking her shoulder.

“I feel silly,” she mumbled.

“Because for once, you're not being reasonable?” He let out a low chuckle. “You'll be fine. You know the Harpies, you know how they play. It's an advantage to play your old team, not a weakness.”

He was trying to be reassuring, but she wasn't sure she felt it yet. She sat up so they were face to face. “I need a really good pep talk today, Coach,” she said, attempting levity.

He kissed her gently, and she threaded her fingers through his hair as she kissed him back.

After a few moments, he broke the kiss and touched his forehead to hers, cradling her cheeks delicately in his hands. “You'll be brilliant. You're bloody amazing and I love you. We'll show up well, maybe we'll win, but it'll be a good day either way.”

She nodded, feeling the light touch of his fingertips against her skin, and he kissed her again, more briefly.

“Feel better?” he asked softly.

She nodded again.

“Good.” He gave her a firm pat on the thigh and then pushed her off his lap. “Go get dressed, you lazy git, you've got a match in an hour.”

Molly grinned at him as she stood and adjusted her robes. “You're an arse.”

“I know. Seriously, go get ready.” He picked up the therapy ball and gestured to the door with it. “Out.”

“I'm going, I'm going.”

She couldn't quite wipe the smile off her face as she headed back to the locker room. She caught Jinks as he was turning into the corridor and waited for him to reach the locker room door. He was dressed in a pair of plush green pyjama bottoms that were a bit too short for him and a virulently purple t-shirt bearing the Pride of Portree logo, his bag slung over one shoulder. He had obviously slept in this particular outfit, and the wrinkled t-shirt was rather tight across his shoulders.

“You look cheerful,” he noted as he drew to a stop next to her. “Good tea this morning?”

“I'm just happy,” she said, smiling. “What on earth are you wearing?”

“No point getting dressed and then having to change into Quidditch robes.” He gestured down at his clothes. “These trousers are nice and warm.”

“They're very fuzzy.” She poked at the pyjamas. “Is that the Slytherin crest?”

“I've had these since I was fifteen,” he bragged. “And they still fit.”

“They could do with a lengthening charm.” Molly eyed the bit of ankle visible at the hem.

“They're lucky trousers. I always wear Slytherin pyjamas before a game.”

Molly shook her head at him in mock dismay, and Jinks laughed and said, “We better get in and get changed before Coach comes out to have a screaming fit at us. Unless you're cheerful because you were just in his office making sure he's in a good mood?”

She slugged him in the shoulder. “No, I wasn't.”

“Ah, damn. Well, that's all right. Coach shouting at us is lucky too.” He grinned cheerfully and then tossed his bag through the open door. “Fire in the hole!”

“You twat!” called Sid's voice from inside the locker room. “That nearly hit me.”

“Evander.”

Jinks turned back to Molly, on the point of following his bag.

“Thanks for being a good friend,” she said softly, smiling at him.

He winked. “Go warm up those arms. You'd better be ready to defend the hoops.”

“Warm up your eyes, because you'd better get the Snitch,” she retorted, and slipped past him into the locker room.

The applause from the home crowd was almost deafening when the Prides took the field. As they flew in a loop around the pitch, waving to the crowd, Molly got a good look inside the coaches' box. Fahmida Akhtar, the Holyhead Harpies coach, was standing at the railing, her arms crossed over her chest and dark eyes fixed on her team, with Fitz beside her wearing an odd expression. At the back of the box, McCormack was sitting next to a man Molly recognized immediately as the Ballycastle Bats' manager.

McCormack did not look happy.

“Is that Ballycastle in the coaches' box?” asked Jinks from beside her.

Molly raised an eyebrow at him. There wasn't time to talk about what it meant that the Bats had sent their manager to watch the Prides versus the Harpies. Fitz had told her there was a rumour that the Bats wanted to hire him, but they hadn't been certain it was true, since no one from the team had contacted him. Apparently there was something to the rumour after all. “Looks like. Get up there.”

They split off, Jinks headed to the high spot the Seekers favoured to begin a match and Molly off to the hoops.

She took up position in front of the hoops, her eyes steady on Lyra Brownyard on the other side of the pitch. Lyra was perched on her broom, looking utterly at ease, waiting for the Quaffle to drop. Molly's heart was pounding in her chest, and she took a deep breath, trying to release the tension building up inside. The whistle blew, and the Quaffle was released, and Molly snapped her attention away from Lyra and onto the game.

The Harpies' style of play was familiar to Molly, and she had counted on that as part of her defense strategy. Watching them as her own team from the bench was different than playing as their enemy, however, and she let in four out of six goals before she got the hang of it. After that, she managed to keep the hoops clear more often than not. Game play moved too fast for her to calculate her save rate. She knew she'd blocked more than she'd let in, and that was all the time she had to think about it, focusing on stopping the Harpies from scoring.

The Chasers were moving too quickly for Molly to have more than a few seconds to glance around for the Seekers. She had no idea where Jinks had got to until he suddenly zoomed past, close on the heels of Octavia Savoy, directly in front of the Prides' hoops. She had to dart aside to avoid being hit by the two Seekers, and only just managed to save a penalty shot by the tips of her fingers, tossing it to Beathan before glancing down.

Jinks and Savoy were heading at breakneck speed toward the ground, then veered left at the last minute, skimming across the grass as they flew into the centre of the pitch. Molly caught a flash of gold.

Before either of them could reach for the Snitch, Savoy knocked into Jinks, locking shoulders with him. He managed to stay on his broom, but a moment later she broke away and Jinks flew off. The Snitch was nowhere to be seen now.

Molly drew her attention back to the Chasers. The score climbed higher and higher as the afternoon wore on, and Molly's arms began to ache. She took a moment to rotate her shoulders while the Chasers were down at Lyra's end, and looked around at the scoreboard.

Two hundred and seventy to the Prides, three hundred to the Harpies.

The Harpies were ranked higher, but the total points would help their standing in the League. Winning a game made the fans happy, and keeping the fans happy made McCormack happy, but it was the points overall that ranked the teams in the League. Getting the Snitch would jump them ahead of the Wasps and Kestrels.

We might rank fifth, she thought with a thrill.

The Chasers were heading back her way again, the Quaffle tucked under Abigail Baker's arm. Molly stared her down, trying to gauge which hoop the Harpies were headed for. Baker seemed to be aiming for the left hoop, but Molly stayed poised to dodge either direction. At the last minute, Baker spun on her broom and threw the Quaffle from upside down straight for the centre hoop.

Molly grabbed it with one hand and heard the spectators cheering as she tossed it down to Zara.

Six hours into the match, Octavia Savoy caught the Snitch hovering a few feet from the referee, nearly knocking the woman off her broom. The Harpies carried the day, one hundred and eleven points ahead of the Prides. The Prides had managed to score nearly four hundred points, however, securing a higher spot in the overall League rankings.

Enough of the spectators must have done the math, because the sea of purple in the stands was cheering heartily. Though she was exhausted and her arms were straining to keep her grip on her broom, the sight of the final score gave her a boost, and Molly managed to wave to the crowds, grinning, as she left the field.

The sound of the Harpies celebrating carried through the corridors as the Prides stripped out of their padding in the team locker room. Considering they'd lost, the team was surprisingly calm as they collapsed in exhaustion around the locker room. No one seemed angry or depressed over losing to the Harpies.

Zara groaned as she dropped onto a bench. “My arms feel like jelly. That game took forever.”

“You need to lift heavier weights so your arms are stronger,” Duff suggested, then flexed a rather impressive bicep at her. “I curl fifty-five kilograms.”

“I can do sixty,” Declan put in.

Duff turned away from Zara to eye his partner. “How many sets do you do?”

“Four,” said Declan.

“I do five.”

Zara rolled her eyes at them. “You are such twats.”

The Beaters continued one-upping each other about their weight routine as Molly sat down beside Zara and kicked out of her boots. Her own arms felt like jelly as well, but right after a match, the last thing she wanted to think about was upping her intensity in the weight room.

Zara lay down on the bench and threw one arm across her eyes. “It was a good game,” she mumbled. “Nap now.”

“I was thinking drink now,” Molly said.

“Drink then nap.”

Reshmi Kapoor, who looked like she could probably curl nearly as much as Duff and Declan, stuck her head in the locker room. “Oi! We're cracking open some champagne. Come and have a drink with us, you lot.”

Molly grinned and hauled herself to her feet.

The guest team locker room at the Prides stadium was painted in purples and golds like the team locker room, though with slightly more subtlety. The Harpies's green robes stood out strongly. They were gathered around a pop-up table in the middle, with two bottles of champagne open. A few of them cheered when the Prides arrived.

“Good game,” Octavia Savoy called as they approached. “Really gave us a run for our money today.”

Jinks sidled up beside her with a speculative look. Molly chuckled at this and went to give Lyra a bump with one hip. Lyra was pouring champagne into plastic flutes and passing them round.

“Champagne?”

“We thought we'd celebrate if we defeated your team,” she admitted. “So we brought a few bottles.”

Molly glanced down at the large bucket of ice beside the table where four more bottles awaited and grinned widely. “A few.”

“Well, we reckoned we might share.”

“What if you'd lost?”

“Then we would have had a lovely gift for your team for your victory, and you could have shared with us.” Lyra handed her a champagne flute with a grin.

Two hours into the locker room celebration, most of the champagne was gone. Someone had put on the wireless, and several of the Chasers were dancing to an old Spellbound hit. Jinks and Octavia were off in one corner, drinking and kissing, and the four Beaters were all trading stories of horrible Bludger injuries. Molly was sitting on the purple couch with Lyra and Beathan, laughing and chatting, when a deep voice broke over the loud music.

“What the hell's going on in here?”

Molly looked round to see Fitz in the doorway with Fahmida Akhtar beside him. Fahmida wore her formidable scowl, her dark eyebrows knit together over her hawkish nose, but Molly knew the coach well enough to recognize her sternness was feigned.

“We could hear you up in the coaches' box. Are you having a party?” Fitz eyed the empty bottles of champagne on the table. “And you didn't invite us?”

“There better be some of that champagne left,” spoke up Fahmida.

Lyra hopped up to pour champagne for the coaches.

*

The usual pile of paperwork and correspondence piled on Fitz's desk had a new addition when he returned to his office after training one afternoon. He could still hear the team in the locker room, loudly getting showered and changed. He listened to them with half an ear as he picked up the large, navy blue envelope.

It bore the address of the Head Auror on the back.

He stared at it for a moment, his eyes taking in the official seal. It looked disturbingly final, that deep shade of blue, almost funereal in its seriousness. Ripping into the envelope, he pulled out a sheet of parchment and leaned against his desk to read.

Coach Fitzroy,

Regarding the matter we spoke of during my wife's interview: My office is bringing the suspect in for questioning next week. We have determined he was present at the time of the incident, but have not found any evidence to support your suspicions. It's possible he will confess when faced with several senior Aurors, but I want to caution you against getting your hopes too high. I will let you know the results of the interview.

Harry Potter

Fitz rubbed a hand over his chin as he re-read the note, then stared, unseeing, at the framed photo on the wall of McCormack and Rodan.

Rakes had definitely been at the match, then. It wasn't proof – a thousand people had been at that match – but somehow it felt like it.

Don't get your hopes up, he told himself firmly, but his eyes traced the words again. He was present at the time of the incident. He'd been there and the Aurors knew it. And though probably no one else at Magical Law Enforcement would have believed Fitz without any proof, Harry Potter believed him.

And Molly.

He looked up at the open door, down the corridor to the locker room, and realized it had got much quieter. She didn't usually leave without a goodbye, though.

Fitz took the letter with him and went to find her.

Molly was standing in front of her locker wearing a sports bra and a pair of skin-tight black trousers, alone in the locker room as she tied her dreadlocks up into a knot atop her head. She glanced over her shoulder at the sound of his footsteps and smiled at him.

“Good practice today, wasn't it? I thought losing to the Harpies this weekend might have put us off, but everyone's looking really good.”

“I got a letter from your uncle.”

Molly grabbed a black t-shirt from her locker and shut the door. She pulled the shirt on as she walked over to him. The letter was almost enough to distract him from staring at her bare skin.

He handed her the letter and waited while she read it, her eyes moving over her uncle's words on the page. After a moment, she looked up again.

“This is good, isn't it? They're bringing him in.”

“He doesn't sound entirely confident about getting the bastard to confess,” Fitz said.

Molly glanced back at the letter. “Uncle Harry's cautious when he needs to be, but he's good at getting a confession. It's not his first time at this sort of thing.”

Fitz nodded at that as he ran a hand through his hair. She handed the letter back, and he collapsed into the purple sofa, reading the letter again.

Molly waited for him to continue. There hadn't been much to Uncle Harry's note, just a quick progress report. Her uncle wasn't going to promise results when he couldn't prove what had happened, but she had a lot of faith in his ability to catch bad guys. He'd certainly caught a lot more serious criminals than Pasco Rakes.

Fitz leaned back against the cushions, tossing the letter aside now as he looked up at her.

“What if they don't get a confession?” His expression was more worried than angry, which Molly thought was probably healthier. “What if they can't get proof?”

“Then he may never get punished. You can wait for karma to get him.”

He gave her a look. “I don't believe in karma.”

Molly say down on the couch beside him. “Okay, look at it this way: a bloke like that is bound to repeat the behaviour. Next time, he'll get caught and do some jail time because now law enforcement is aware of his history.”

“True,” Fitz allowed.

“It won't make your arm better either way,” Molly pointed out.

“Also true.” He reached down to scoop her legs into his lap, and she turned sideways, stretching out. He began kneading her calf muscles, and she let out a murmur of appreciation, her eyes sliding closed as she relaxed back into the cushioned arm of the sofa.

After a few moments of peaceful silence, Fitz said, “I talked to Mariah the other day.”

Something in his tone caught her attention. Molly opened one eye. “About what?”

“She's leaving the team at the end of the season.”

At that, Molly sat up a bit, both eyes open now. Propped on her elbows, she stared at him. “Why?”

Fitz didn't stop rubbing her calves. “Because she liked it better in Tutshill. It saves me the trouble of having McCormack sack her. She's not a good fit here.”

Molly processed this, watching him. He didn't look upset or tense over the impending departure of his ex-wife. His face was relaxed, concentrating on her legs. She knew he wasn't in love with Mariah any longer, but even the anger he usually showed over his ex had faded. Given that they're just been discussing Rakes, Molly was especially surprised.

He was not normally this dispassionate about his ex. Maybe he was finally putting her cheating in the past with their relationship.

“How do you feel about her leaving?” Molly asked cautiously.

“Honestly, other than relief that she'd going quietly and not throwing a tantrum, I don't know. Nothing, I suppose. I won't miss her, I'm not glad to see her go, it's just... done.”

It wouldn't entirely be done as long as Rakes remained free, Molly thought, but it was still progress. For once, he was more enlightened than she was, because she'd be glad to see the back of Mariah Waldman.

“I'm not looking forward to digging up some new reserve players,” Fitz added. “I suppose I'll have the entire off season to do that, though. We needed more anyway.”

“Unless you go to Ballycastle,” Molly said, and he shrugged.

“They haven't made an offer.”

“I saw their manager at the Harpies game, in the coaches' box.”

“Probably needling McCormack,” Fitz said thoughtfully. “He didn't talk to me at all. And they haven't sent me anything yet. It's still just a rumour.”

“Would you take it?” she asked, watching his face closely.

He shrugged. “I don't want to leave Portree, you know that. But if it's Portree without you or Ballycastle with you, then hell yeah, I'd take it.”

Molly smiled at that, though she still wasn't entirely sold on the idea of him leaving the Prides. “Hell of a commute.”

“Maybe we can arrange it with the Floo Network Authority. You probably have a relative there.”

She nudged him with her toe. “Don't assume there's a Weasley in every department at the Ministry, you.”

He raised an eyebrow, and she admitted, “Actually, my cousin Victoire's husband works there.”

“Can't say I'm surprised.” Fitz leaned in and kissed the tip of her nose, then pushed her legs out of his lap and stood up. “Fingers crossed the bastard confesses to your uncle and they put him away.”

Molly held up both hands, crossing her fingers.

“See you tomorrow.”

She watched over the back of the couch as he walked off, returning to his office, and then sighed heavily. She had been to Ballycastle several times with the Harpies, and though she'd enjoyed her stays there, she had never thought to live there even part-time. At the very least, she thought bracingly, it was warmer than Portree.

“Ballycastle's pretty,” she told herself in a whisper. “And you'd be with him every night.”

It wasn't as good as being with him all the time. But it would have to do.

*

The pile of paperwork on Fitz's desk was growing to alarming proportions. He hadn't done enough with it in the fortnight since the Harpies game, and when he came in to his office Saturday afternoon to tackle some of it, there were new additions to the pile. Invoices from the groundskeepers, a grievance letter from the caretakers about the state of the Beaters' lockers, a letter from Jinks regarding new concessions he wanted in his contract (attached to this was a note in McCormack's handwriting that said Deal with him!)... Underneath these was a thick packet in a large brown envelope. He slit this open and pulled the sheaf of papers out, half-expecting more navy blue Ministry ink.

Instead he found a contract offer from the Ballycastle Bats.

Fitz sank slowly into his chair as he read. Behind the salary notices were lists of the current team and reserve players for the Bats, their statistics and averages for the past few years. They were not impressive stats. The team needed help.

Once he'd skimmed everything in the packet, he set it down on top of the letter from Jinks and leaned back in his chair.

Getting the job with the Bats was a viable solution to the problem with McCormack, it was true. He could move to Northern Ireland and commute back to Portree in the evenings to be with Molly without restrictions. Or she could commute to Ballycastle. Surely they could work something out for the two hundred and fifty kilometers between the teams' home bases. He didn't care who commuted or where they lived, so long as he had Molly with him every night. And there was always weekends, when neither team had a match scheduled. Plenty of couples only saw each other evenings and weekends – or most weekends – and made it work.

Somehow it seemed like a poor substitute for being together in Portree.

He stared at the dotted line on the bottom of the contract, waiting for his signature, and then he left his office.

Molly wasn't home when he tried her flat, so he went for Max's pub next. Sure enough, she was sitting at one end of the bar with most of the team, laughing with Zara and Sid. Beathan and Jinks were beside them, arguing over a sketch of Beathan's gardens, and the Beaters were playing Exploding Snap on the bartop as they drank their beer.

“Oi, Coach!” Jinks called out, waving him over. “Come tell Beathan she's a madwoman-”

Beathan elbowed him sharply in the ribs.

“Work it out, Jinks,” Fitz told him, then grabbed Molly's hand. “I need to talk to you.”

She followed him over to the fireplace. The tables there were empty at this time of day, affording them a bit of privacy from the rest of the pub. “What's going on?”

He glanced over his shoulder at the team to make sure they were out of earshot. “I got the offer from Ballycastle,” he said in a low voice. “They want me to start as soon as the season ends.”

Molly's brows knit together. “Did you sign it?”

“Not yet.” He was watching her expression closely, waiting to see relief that they'd found a way to be together, but she didn't look relieved. She looked like she had the same misgivings he did.

“It's so far away,” she whispered, confirming this.

“But no one could restrict our relationship if I coached for another team. It's a head coach position, not assistant. Not a step down.”

“We'd see each other on weekends.” The worry on her face hadn't faded, despite the determined optimism in her voice.

“When we don't have a match,” he said, feeling the need to point this out.

She nodded. “We'd arrange a Floo connection so you could come here after work every evening.”

He nodded, but it didn't feel right.

She nodded again, then asked, “Is this what you want?”

“I want you,” he responded firmly. “I'll take whatever job lets that happen.”

“Take the offer to McCormack and use it as leverage,” Molly said in a rush. “She might agree to let us be together. And if she doesn't, you take the Ballycastle offer and we make it work.”

He wanted to kiss her, and settled for clasping her hand tightly. “Effing contracts. Is that what you want? Us in Portree?”

“Yes. Ballycastle is the back-up plan, but I'd rather have you here in Portree.” She squeezed his hand before slipping away from him. “There's nothing in the League rules against this. It's just McCormack, she's the only one we have to convince.”

Fitz blew out a long, slow breath. “I love when you say we.”

“I love when you say us. You and me, Riordan. Forever.” Molly's blue eyes were soft as she looked up at him, but then she seemed to shake off the sentimental moment and smiled cheerfully. “Now come have a drink and tell Jinks he's got to help Beathan dig a koi pond.”

“What the hell is a koi pond?” he asked, following her over to the team.

Half an hour later, after listening to Beathan explain at length what koi were and why she needed a pond for them in her back gardens, Fitz was arguing with Jinks over why he had to help with the garden if everyone else had already agreed to help as well. Max sidled over to the team while Jinks was in mid-excuse.

Max leaned across the bar toward Fitz. “Look who's here.”

Fitz turned toward the door, half-expecting to see Mariah, but Meghan McCormack was standing there, wrapped in a purple plaid coat and stomping some mud from her boots. She looked up and caught sight of him, and narrowed her eyes. She looked pissed.

“Shit,” he whispered. He'd left the Ballycastle contract on his desk. If she'd come in his office to find him, she was bound to have seen it.

“You're in trouble, aren't you?” Max asked rhetorically.

“Is that McCormack?” Jinks craned his head to see around Duff. “I sent her something about my contract this week and she hasn't responded. I don't think she took my Fizzing Whizbee request seriously.”

“You want Fizzing Whizbees added to your contract?” Zara repeated blankly.

“Bowls of them in the locker room, yeah.” At her look of astonishment, Jinks added, “What? I'd share them.”

Fitz glanced at Molly, taking in the wariness in her posture as she looked at McCormack, and then turned to Max. “Mind if I borrow your office?”

Max raised an eyebrow. “It's unlocked.”

McCormack was shrugging out of her coat when Fitz walked over to her. She gave him a scowl as she hung the coat on a peg. “What on God's green earth do you think you're doing?” she barked.

“Why don't we talk in private,” he suggested, gesturing toward Max's office door.

“Oh, I'll just bet,” McCormack seethed, but she led the way, eating up the space with her long strides. The door was indeed unlocked, and McCormack immediately leaned against Max's desk, ignoring the stacked boxes of whisky lining the walls. “You better have an explanation for why there's a contract from Ballycastle on your desk.”

“They only just sent it,” Fitz told her, closing the door behind him. “It's the first time they've made any official overtures to me.”

“Bloody Ballycastle,” McCormack muttered. “When their manager turned up at the Harpies match, I knew they were up to something. They tried to steal Jinks last year.”

That was news to Fitz, though not unwelcome news. The Ballycastle contract was both leverage and a Plan B for him, and any history of the Bats attempting to steal players from McCormack would hopefully increase her desire to win this round as well. McCormack was just as competitive as any other Quidditch player, retired though she may be. “It's a job offer. And not a bad one at that. Decent pay, challenging work, lovely countryside. It wouldn't be a step down for me.”

McCormack's scowl deepened. “Are you going to take the job?”

“I'd rather stay with the Prides,” he said baldly. “We've made a lot of progress with the team here, and I want to see it through to the top of the League. I like the team, I like Portree, I like working for the Prides. But I love Molly more.”

“Goddammit. You would really leave us for the Bats?”

Fitz threw his hands up in annoyance. “You're not leaving me much choice, are you?”

The scowl faded from her face, and she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back. It occurred to Fitz that she knew exactly what he was doing. McCormack had been negotiating Quidditch contracts since he'd been at Hogwarts. She was more experienced at this, but he had the leverage this time. She wanted to keep him in Portree, and he knew she wanted to keep Molly as well.

“You're a good coach. The team's doing well. What can I offer to get you to stay? Pay raise? I'll give you more than what Ballycastle's offering.”

“I don't give a damn about a pay raise.” He wondered how to put it diplomatically, professionally. Hell with it. He wasn't good at either of those. “I want to get back with Molly.”

McCormack did not look entirely happy about this, or surprised for that matter. “That's your terms for staying on to coach.”

Fitz nodded. “Resuming my relationship with Molly. Yes.”

“Did it ever stop?” she asked dryly.

“I haven't touched her in a week. My hand to God.” If he went by the last time he'd kissed her, this was entirely true. It probably wasn't what the manager wanted to hear, though.

McCormack threw him an exasperated look. “A week? I told you to knock it off ages ago.”

“The League doesn't have anti-fraternization policies on the books,” he reminded her, ignoring her reprimand.

“That's true. It's never been official, only frowned upon.” McCormack's expression turned thoughtful. “What happens if you break up? The team is shot of a Keeper if things go really wrong. Or a coach. Do you really want another ex-wife in the League?”

“We're not breaking up,” he assured her calmly. “This is forever. Molly's never going to be my ex-anything.”

She let out a snort and shook her head. “You bloody romantic sod. I suppose once you're in love, you can't just shut it off like a faucet, so maybe it wasn't entirely fair of me to ask that. Although you could've at least tried,” she added, shaking a finger at him.

He made an attempt at looking contrite. “We did try. It was just... too late.”

“All right, then. No more restrictions. Just stay on as coach and keep the team together. Especially Molly, she's a fantastic Keeper and I don't want to lose her, so you damn well better keep her happy. If you do break up and mess up my team, I'll make sure no one ever finds your body. But... If the League doesn't object, then I suppose I don't either.”

He grinned, relief overwhelming him that she'd actually caved in and agreed. “Really?”

She waved him off. “Keep it professional on the field, though, will you?”

Fitz reached out and took her by the shoulders, kissing her on the cheek with a huge grin. McCormack rolled her eyes at him, but she was smiling.

“Just try and get rid of me now,” he told her exultantly.

“Go on, you cheeky bastard.” McCormack shooed him away.

Fitz dashed into the bar, heading straight for where Molly was standing, surrounded by the team. She turned as he got near her, and he wrapped both arms around her hips and lifted her up off the ground, kissing her soundly. Distantly he could hear catcalls and laughter from the team, but when he opened his eyes again, he saw them all smiling at him.

Molly looked a bit stunned, her hands on his shoulders to brace herself as she slid down him, her feet on the floor again. “What happened?”

“Leverage,” he said with a grin, and her eyes went wide.

“You're not going to Ballycastle?” she asked breathlessly.

Fitz shook his head. “I'll be right here with you.” He bent his head to kiss her again. She kissed him back, completely ignoring her teammates all around them.

When they broke apart, he heard McCormack calling, “I said keep it professional!”

He glanced over to see her leaning against the door to Max's office, smiling fondly at them, and with Molly still in his arms, he called back, “You said 'on the field'.”
 


Chapter 25: Epilogue
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**two years later**

“MacDougald, could you catch a goddamn reverse pass just once?” Fitz was shouting at the top of his voice.

Molly watched as Beathan called out an apology to him, but the Chaser looked hurt as she flew off. Beathan always took it a little bit personally when Fitz yelled at her, even though she'd been working through it with her therapist for months.

“Sign of affection, Beathan!” called Jinks from fifty feet above her.

Beathan seemed to ignore that, but Molly grinned up at their Seeker. The distraction made her not notice the Bludger coming right at her until the last minute. She ducked aside with a Sloth-Grip Roll, avoiding closed head injury by inches.

“Mrs. Fitzroy! Get focused before you get your effing head smashed in!” yelled Fitz.

She stuck her tongue out at him and then yelled back, “I didn't take your name, you git!”

He looked ready to smash another broom. He'd already broken two this season. “Get back to the goddamn hoops!”

“See?” said Jinks above her. “Sign of affection. Honestly, I think the word 'goddamn' is nearly ninety percent of his vocabulary.”

“True,” Molly agreed cheerfully.

“JINKS!”

“All right, all right.” Jinks flew off, leaving Molly alone at the hoops. She wiggled her fingers in a wave to her husband, and though he was still red-faced with rage, nostrils flaring, he managed to wink at her.

After training, he gathered the team round to shout at them some more. No one, in Fitz's opinion, was working like they should be, which he attributed to the week of downtime they'd had while their coach and captain were honeymooning. The Chasers hadn't flown the pattern they'd been assigned, the Beaters were clearly hung over, the Seeker was as useless as ever, and the Keeper was distracted.

Molly rolled her eyes at this. They'd been back from their honeymoon for less than a week. Of course she was easily distracted. Her brain was still in Fiji. Apparently whatever the team had been up to during their coach's absence had them all distracted as well.

“He should be more relaxed than this,” quipped Sid when Fitz took a breath between rants. “Clearly you have honeymooned incorrectly.”

“Bugger off, Sid,” Fitz said.

Molly grinned at Sid. “Don't look at me, he was relaxed when we left the South Pacific.”

“You should go back and repeat the experience until he can stay relaxed,” Jinks put in. “Or we could get him a drink. Do you need a drink, Coach?”

Fitz tossed his clipboard on the ground so he could throw his hands in the air theatrically. “You're all going to turn me into an alcoholic.”

“You'd match the Beaters, then,” said Jinks. “Functioning alcoholics.”

Duff made a rude hand gesture at him.

Functioning,” Declan stressed. “That's the important bit.”

“Can we please work?” Fitz demanded. “Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, you lot-”

“What's a pogo stick?” Beathan asked in a stage whisper.

Sid shrugged. “It's one of those big round things Muggles jump on, isn't it?”

“That's a trampoline,” Zara stated.

“Then what the hell is a pogo stick?”

Since it was clear no one was going to listen to any further rants, Fitz dismissed them all. Molly blew him a kiss as she headed for the locker room. He rolled his eyes at her and then waved as he bent to retrieve his clipboard.

*

The boxes weren't entirely unpacked from combining their two flats into their new home. They'd bought a brick bungalow with a large garden that Molly was planning to transform into geometric designs in the plantings and perfectly symmetrical pathways. The house had plenty of guest rooms for the inevitable visits from family, whether intentional from Fitz's parents, or too-drunk-to-Apparate-home from Molly's cousins.

Molly was poring through training notes for the team, the sheets of parchment scattered over the coffee table, while Fitz stretched out on the sofa to watch the Appleby Arrows soundly thrashing the Ballycastle Bats. Molly tuned out his commentary on the two teams' performances, focusing on the word on the page so that she didn't even hear the doorbell.

“Look who's here,” Fitz called, and Molly looked up to see Roxanne standing at their front door with her arms full of notepads and books. She hadn't even noticed him getting up to answer the door, she thought ruefully. His writing style in his notes was very much like his speaking style, so it always drew her in.

Roxanne slid past Fitz and dashed in, setting everything on the coffee table as she plopped down on the sofa with Molly. She seemed very excited. Molly set aside the training notes she'd been reading over and gave her cousin a wary look.

“What's going on, Roxy?”

“I'm writing a new book,” Roxanne told her cheerfully, and began rummaging through her large orange tote bag. “About great romances among Quidditch players. So of course I want to do a chapter on you and Fitz. Aha, here it is.” And she whipped out a neon pink Quick Quotes Quill.

Molly had a feeling of dread as she stared at the quill. “What the hell-? Roxanne, absolutely not-”

Roxanne brushed off her refusal with her usual efficient and deadly single-mindedness. “Lie back and think of the book sales, dear.”

“Sure, your book sales.”

Fitz was frowning as he sat down in his favourite armchair beside the couch. “Roxanne, please don't. I don't want our personal life dredged up for display for the entire wizarding world.”

“Oh don't worry, I'll leave out mention of your ex-wife. Makes the love story better, and I don't have to worry about implying anything salacious.” She gave him a bright smile.

Molly's brows drew together. “Since when do you care about implying anything salacious?”

“Since my editor said it was actionable,” Roxanne admitted. “So, care to give any statements now? I haven't time for a complete interview but I was in the neighbourhood talking to that husband and wife Beaters team at Wigtown-”

“Wigtown is nowhere near here,” Fitz told her sternly.

“Nothing is anywhere near here,” retorted Roxanne. “You lot are in the middle of nowhere up here. I have to Apparate in three legs, it's so far out up here.”

Roxanne felt anything more than ten minutes outside of London was the middle of nowhere, reflected Molly, watching the Quick-Quotes Quill writing down everything her cousin said. In Roxanne's lexicon, however, 'in the neighbourhood' actually translated into 'I wanted to see you'.

Fitz was watching the quill as well, frowning. “I'll break that damn quill if you don't put it away.”

Roxanne snatched the quill out of the air and hugged it to her chest. “I love this quill. It cost me twenty Galleons. Perry will yell at you if you break it.”

Fitz rolled his eyes at her. “Perry told me he broke your last one himself.”

Roxanne gasped. “He didn't. Ooh, I'll get him for that-”

“Roxanne,” Molly began pleadingly.

“Don't be a twat, Molly,” Roxanne said as she tucked the quill away and pulled out a pencil stub instead.

“Please don't call my wife a twat,” Fitz said, looking pained.

“You called me a twat earlier today,” Molly pointed out.

“Yes, well, you'd let in four penalties in a row-”

Roxanne waved them both silent. “Look, I won't publish anything without you reading it first, I promise. It'll be brilliant, you'll love it.”

Molly doubted this very much. Most of what Roxanne wrote was carefully calculated to get more readers. Sensationalism sells, she always said. However, she wrote positive articles often enough that McCormack hadn't banned her from the Prides altogether, though only by the skin of her teeth, so Molly tried to think positively about her book idea. “How much of this book will be about us?”

Roxanne gave them an encouraging smile. “A few chapters. Everyone will love it. I won't write anything invasive, and like I said, you can read it first. It's the perfect time for this. Now you're married, it's a better story, and we want to capitalize on the timing. Everyone is interested in you two right now because you just got married. In a few months, no one will care any more.”

“One can only hope,” said Fitz.

Molly frowned. “Hang on, why is it a better story now?”

Roxanne rolled her eyes impatiently. “Because now there's wedding photos, you twat. Readers love wedding photos.”

“You are not publishing our wedding photos in your book.” Fitz was scowling at her cousin now as well.

“I'll pick flattering ones.” Roxanne was back to scribbling notes.

“Can't you do something about her?” Fitz asked Molly.

She shrugged helplessly. “You know what she's like.”

“So, can I interview you now or would you want to wait until the weekend?” Roxanne picked up a different notepad and flipped a few pages, apparently looking for something. “You can come to dinner on Friday, Perry's making curry. You'll love it, he's brilliant at it.”

“Can't on Friday,” Fitz informed her. “Parole, then dinner at Percy and Audrey's.”

Roxanne rolled her eyes. “Oh, right. Can't believe they might let him out. Also can't believe no press is allowed. Tell me everything?”

“Absolutely not,” Molly told her, but Fitz's lips quirked at the corners. Molly rolled her eyes at him. He was going to tell Roxanne everything about the hearing, because he loved to discuss Rakes's conviction for magical assault and causing permanent spell damage. It had been the highlight of last year, and Roxanne had managed three articles about it (Aunt Ginny had written one as well, not to be outdone by her niece).

Roxanne smiled at them, obviously interpreting his expression as a victory. “All right then, curry on Saturday, and you can tell me everything about how Rakes is staying in Azkaban for his full sentence. And give me that interview for the book.”

Fitz shook his head. “Look, I'll come over for curry, but I'm not doing any interviews.”

Roxanne set her pencil down and clasped her hands together, giving him a serious look. “Fitz, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you're an arsehole.”

“That's not news,” Fitz assured her. “My wife tells me I'm an arsehole at least once a week.”

“Once a day, more like,” Molly said dryly.

“Come on, be a lamb,” Roxanne wheedled. “Let me interview you. If you don't give me any quotes, I'll just have to make something up.”

“She really will,” Molly told him with mock regret. “She has no class.”

“Class doesn't sell papers.” Roxanne grabbed her pencil and scribbled something down. “Come round on Saturday, you can eat curry and see how enormous Athena is now, and we'll do the interview.”

“We saw Athena last month, she can't have grown that much,” Molly remarked. Her goddaughter was tall for her age, but willowy thin. Enormous was not really the right word for her.

“There better be booze with this curry,” Fitz said suspiciously.

Roxanne left in a flurry of assurances that she'd only write good things, and after she'd gone, Molly slumped back into the couch cushions. Fitz sat down beside her and heaved a sigh.

“There's going to be a book about us whether we like it or not, isn't there?”

“A few chapters of one, anyway,” Molly agreed. “Knowing her, she's probably already got most of it written and only wants the interview to add flavour.”

Fitz groaned.

*

On Friday evening, they went to dinner at Molly's parents' house. Lucy was already up on the hill around back when they arrived, so Molly headed straight for her sister while Fitz went to say hello to his in-laws. Stretching out beside her sister in the overgrown grass, Molly stacked her hands on her abdomen and stared up at the pale blue sky. It was unseasonably warm, reminding her of the hazy warm skies of Fiji. As much as she'd enjoyed her honeymoon, she'd been glad to get back to the bracing chill of Scotland.

“I told Fitz to join us up here after he says hello to Dad,” Molly remarked to her sister.

“That'll be nice,” Lucy said calmly. “Hilarion will come up, too.”

Fitz had always left them to it before, and Hilarion only rarely joined them, but Molly wanted to expand their little sisterly twosome to include their husbands, at least some of the time. Today seemed like a good day for it.

They lay in companionable silence beside each other as they had done since they'd been little girls, staring up at the sky, until footsteps drew her attention. Molly lifted her head enough to see her husband jogging up the hill toward then.

Fitz sat down beside her and leaned down to drop a brief kiss on the tip of her nose. “Your dad needs to mow the lawn, it's a foot high up here. Hilarion says he's on his way, as soon as Flora settles down. She was screaming her head off. I don't know what it was about, couldn't make out a word.”

“She's jealous because Mum and Dad pay attention to Josephine so much,” Lucy said without opening her eyes. “She asked us if we could take the baby back and get a new dolly instead.”

Molly grinned. “Ooh, she's terrible. Could be worse, though. Remember Uncle Harry said that James used to try to wrap Albus up like a parcel and send him away by owl?”

Lucy was chuckling, nodding her head, and Fitz let out a loud laugh. “You're joking.”

“You're lucky you're an only child,” Lucy told him.

Fitz was still sitting up, arms propped on his knees, and so he was the first to notice their new addition. “Here he comes. Guess Flora got over herself.”

Hilarion trudged up to them and collapsed next to his wife. “She fell asleep in mid-tantrum. Your mum thought it was sweet.”

“Mum is completely mental now she's a grandmother,” Molly remarked.

Lucy eyed Fitz. “Lie down, Fitz, you're doing it wrong.”

He rolled his eyes at his sister-in-law but lay back on the grass anyway, flat on his back beside Molly. “There, happy now?”

“Now you're getting the hang of the hill. Give us a confession,” Molly encouraged him.

“I already tell you everything, I don't have any confessions.”

“Not confessions, but we do have news,” Molly said, turning to face her sister now. “We went to the parole hearing today at the Wizengamot, for Rakes.”

“Back in Azkaban, is he?” Lucy didn't look at all surprised.

“How'd you know?” Fitz asked.

“Because you're not completely ballistic right now.”

He grinned widely. “Well, you're not wrong. He's got to finish the full four years.”

Lucy punched the air in victory, and Fitz gave his sister-in-law a fond smile. Lucy had followed Rakes's trial avidly, both because she wanted to see him put away for what he'd done to Fitz, and because she never wanted her husband playing on the same pitch as Rakes again.

“That's fantastic,” she was saying. “I knew they wouldn't let him out if you turned up and trotted out your injury.”

“Trotted out, eh.” Fitz turned to Molly. “It's always the quiet ones.”

“No such thing as a quiet Weasley,” she said. “Lucy just hides it better than the rest of us.”

That made him chuckle. Out of all the Weasleys he'd met since he'd known Molly, he had yet to meet one that was truly quiet. He'd thought Lucy was at first, until he got to know her better. Comparatively speaking, she was the most normal of the lot, but that wasn't saying much when you were comparing Weasleys. “Which reminds me, Roxanne is completely round the twist. I thought you should know.”

“What did she do now?” Lucy asked, stacking her hands on her abdomen. She didn't sound at all surprised that Roxanne had finally lost it.

“She wants to write a book about Quidditch love stories, and feature us,” Fitz told her.

Lucy looked delighted. “Oh, that's sweet.”

Molly pulled a face. “It's not sweet, it's annoying. She wants to interview us. You're lucky you're not a Quidditch player or she'd be coming after you and Hilarion too.”

“She already knows how we got together,” Hilarion pointed out. “She wouldn't even need an interview to write about it.”

“True,” Molly agreed. “I hate when she gets like this. I never like doing press interviews, they always take you out of context. It's worse when it's your cousin doing it.”

“Roxanne just needs a book to out-sell Dominique's, and then she'll relax,” Lucy remarked optimistically.

“I dunno,” Molly said doubtfully. “She's always been a bit mental. And I say that with love, cause she's my best friend. Totally bonkers, though.”

“So is this what you do out here, complain about your cousins?” Fitz asked. He turned his head in time to catch his wife nodding her agreement.

“Well, you brought it up, and we do that everywhere, but yeah. And share secrets and confessions.”

Lucy nodded at this as well. “Secret confessions are traditional on the hill.”

“I have one,” Hilarion volunteered. “I think we should have another baby.”

Lucy groaned loudly. “Already? I only just had Josie-”

“Maybe you should wait and see if Flora kills this one first,” Molly suggested.

“Maybe we should wait and see if I get thin again first,” Lucy added.

Fitz pursed his lips, staring at the sky. Admittedly, he didn't really remember meeting Lucy before her wedding and before she'd had her first child, but since he'd known her, she'd always been pleasantly rounded. He hesitated to say chubby, since Lucy took offense to that word when the press used it, but he'd never seen her actually thin.

Hilarion leaned closer to his wife. “I think you're beautiful. Fat, thin, pregnant, all the time, you're beautiful.”

“You think I'm fat,” she responded in annoyance.

“Stop talking, Hilarion,” Fitz advised him.

“Victoire is fat and Teddy doesn't care,” Hilarion pointed out despite this sound advice.

Lucy huffed loudly. “Are you saying I'm as fat as Victoire? She's had five and I've only had two. She weighs at least two stone more than I do.”

“Well, you only just had the second one. You've still got pregnancy weight around your middle.” He gestured vaguely at her belly.

“Seriously, shut up,” Molly told her brother-in-law.

“He thinks I'm fat,” Lucy exclaimed to the world in general.

“That's not what I meant to say,” Hilarion said, frustration evident in his voice, but then he finally saw the light and stopped talking.

“Kick him,” Molly suggested to her sister. “It'll make you feel better.”

Lucy punched her husband in the arm instead. “I can't help it if I'm not thin instantly like Dominique after I have a baby. I didn't get that gene.”

“She did lose that baby weight in a hot second,” Molly said thoughtfully. “I wonder if she saw a cosmetic Healer for that.”

“Probably,” Fitz agreed. He wouldn't be at all surprised if Molly's least favourite cousin had cosmetic enchantments done.

Lucy was frowning bad-temperedly. “No, you know Dominique. She probably just skipped pudding for a fortnight and lost it all. She's always got the luck. It's not fair. Everything works out for her. Everyone loves her.”

“I don't,” Fitz and Hilarion said in unison.

“No one likes Dominique, not really. They obsessively love her, like a celebrity. She doesn't have friends, she has admirers. Dominique has followers and minions. And people who hate her.” Molly let out a dramatic gasp. “Oh my God, she's Johnny Lupin.”

“Are you sure you want to combine your genes with this family again?” Fitz asked conversationally.

He blinked owlishly. “Well, yes.”

Lucy reached over to punch Fitz in the arm. “Don't tease him.”

“Notice she didn't actually defend Weasley genes,” Molly remarked.

“Was he teasing me?” Hilarion asked, sounding bewildered.

Lucy scooted closer to her husband, cuddling up against his side and murmuring something Fitz couldn't make out. Beside him, Molly tilted her head closer, so he leaned in.

“Want to chance combining your genes with the Weasleys?” she whispered.

“What, mixing a horrible temper with insanity and a double dose of poor self-control? That sounds like a recipe for success.” He winked at her and then answered with perfect honesty, “Yes. But not yet. I want a little longer of just us.”

Molly grinned and kissed him.
 


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