Once he and Ivan reached the crackling flames of Diagon Alley’s regulation Floo powder fireplace, Deucalion suddenly realized he was still wearing his robes, something that had to change. And soon. Wizarding clothes were becoming less and less acceptable at Quidditch matches, presumably because it was becoming more difficult to maintain secrecy from all the prying Muggle eyes. His father often joked that pretty soon, the league regulators would start forcing the players to wear T-shirts and jeans.
The last time March Wilcott had been home, he ended his Muggle-dress rant by pretending to be a ministry official, which meant he’d speak in his most pompous, greasy-sounding voice. “Never mind the flying broomsticks, folks. Those are completely normal, non-magic people up there.”
But Deucalion was suddenly struck with an important question: what was he wearing beneath his robes? He couldn’t remember; after all, he had dressed hours ago.
Ivan already had a fistful of powder and was preparing to shout the name of the pitch (“The Meadow!”), but Deucalion wasn’t budging. “What are you waiting on, Duke? The folks behind us are usually pretty decent people, but they get impatient in a hurry when someone holds up the line.”
“My clothes!” Deucalion blurted out.
“What about your clothes?” Ivan’s face morphed from his have-you-gone-mad to I-understand-but-you’re-still-crazy expression. “Just take the robes off. Hopefully you’re wearing something underneath, Duke.”
With that, Ivan tossed the Floo powder into the fireplace and vanished into the green light. Deucalion struggled awkwardly out of his robes, only to discover that he was wearing some of his school things, including his green and silver Slytherin necktie. Clearly, he had selected his outfit that morning based on whatever was jammed at the top of his Hogwarts-bound trunk.
Ivan’s going to have a field day with this, Deucalion thought to himself as he jammed his robe — his new one, the one his mother bought after he had taken the OWLs — into his backpack and reached for the Floo powder.
After flying through a blur of colors and shapes, Deucalion stepped out a crackling bonfire in the middle of a large, empty field. Other witches and wizards were milling around the fire, waiting for friends or family members to arrive and talking excitedly to one another before walking down a narrow pathway that led to the pitch. The Wasps hadn’t played a home match in ages, so Deucalion guessed the crowd would be even larger than normal even though the team was playing a pretty average American team.
Deucalion spotted Ivan a few steps away. Not surprisingly, his serious face was holding back a snicker. After a few moments, Ivan could suppress it no longer and let out a full-smiled chuckle.
“Starting school a day early, are we?” Ivan asked as the two of them began walking down the path.
Rolling his eyes, Deucalion began loosening his tie and rolling up his sleeves so he could look a bit more casual. And a bit more like he was sixteen years old. “I just grabbed from the top of my trunk. Apparently, I’m a pretty sharp dresser when I’m only half awake! I really should try this more often.”
“Forgive me, but I’ll avoid wearing my uniform for as long as possible,” Ivan said, looking very comfortable indeed in his jeans and light rain jacket.
“Perhaps the vendors will take me as a serious, young investor just off a long day of work,” Deucalion said as he and Ivan pushed through the growing crowds. “I certainly hope they do and give me a discount. My ‘flying funds’ took a cut when I had to buy all my school stuff.”
Ivan smirked. “I trust you’ll be able to plead your way into a bargain. Or blackmail. Whichever.”
Once they had passed through a thicket of rather scrubby-looking trees, the Quidditch stadium was in full view, its massive stands rising clear into the sky like castle towers. Deucalion couldn’t help but suppress the skip in his step as they approached the pitch, brushing shoulders with the hundreds of fans treating the day like some sort of pilgrimage. Nearly everyone had yellow and black buttons penned to their shirts or hats. A few had even painted their bodies in charmed, moving ink that rotated between phrases like “Go Wasps!” and “Sting the Stars!”
The Meadow, as the fans had started calling it until officials pretended the name was their idea in the first place, was one of oldest professional fields in England. While The Meadow contained all the modern benefits like luxury box seats and advertising boards, the pitch had gathered its share of lore over the years. The Meadow was, after all, the site of England’s spectacular runs for the World Cup twice during the 17th century. The Meadow also hosted a memorable game in 1947 when the Smyth Beater brothers knocked all their opponents unconscious at the same time with a few well-aimed Bludgers (needless to say, the Smyths’ Apple Arrows team won by a stunning 1,080 to 30).
After a few minutes of walking behind a pair of torturously slow-moving witches gossiping about whether or not the Wasps’ Seeker, Bradley Carrigan, had a love interest, Deucalion finally found what he’d been waiting for all summer: Quidditch vendors. Most of the wares were just for fans, like a set of black-and-yellow gobstones that emitted a faint buzzing noise, but some shops were guaranteed to have useful stuff for Quidditch players.
Deucalion elbowed Ivan to get his attention, and the two of them squeezed past the women to the shops ahead. Dozens of vendors had set up in a clearing in the shadows of The Meadow. Some were just selling handmade Wimbourne crafts from a kitchen table they’d just summoned from home, but others were obviously professionals that had packed all their goods into small, colorful tents.
By experience, Deucalion and Ivan were excellent shoppers when it came to anything Quidditch. Neither one owned anything with team crests or players’ names, and that saved loads of Galleons. Deucalion figured that the only uniform he would ever wear was his own, and once he became world renowned, people could by clothing with his name on the back. It was that simple.
“See anything good?” Deucalion craned his neck down a row of tables, nearly all of them were crammed with yellow-colored Wasp merchandise.
“Maybe we’re just out of luck, Duke,” Ivan sounded disappointed. “I mean, what’s the point of coming if we can’t — look there!”
Ivan took off quickly for a broad, weather-beaten table that was squeezed in between two, colorful tents. Deucalion followed quickly behind, jostling his way through a rare group of Sweetwater All-Stars faithful. As he got closer, he was able to read the sign above the table: “Seeker Imports: The Fantastic, Unmatched Collection of Quidditch Goods from Around the Globe.”
Although Deucalion knew the claim probably stretched the truth, he was impressed as he examined the table. Seeker Imports had all sorts of racing brooms he had never seen before, as well as gloves promising everything from better Quaffle handling to a special charm that would attract the flittering Snitch right into the user’s hands. He even saw a few boxes beneath the table that looked like full sets of Quidditch balls that were probably priced well out of Deucalion’s range.
“Fantastic,” Ivan mused as he carefully picked up a box that bucked and trembled beneath his fingers. A small sign on the box claimed that the Bludger inside had been responsible for the death of eight rather unlucky Seekers during the 15th century. “Though I can’t imagine what you’d do with it. You can’t display it without having to carry around a bat at all times.”
“Just set it loose in the Gryffindor common room if one of them starts bragging about how good they’re going to win the House Cup,” Deucalion laughed, taking the box from Ivan to inspect it himself. Although there were very few people he truly disliked at Hogwarts, he secretly wouldn’t mind seeing a few Gryffindors get their pride taken down a few notches, even by way of wayward Bludger.
A few moments later, the owner of Seeker Imports approached, and Deucalion immediately put the Bludger box down, fearing that the owner would get upset with two students handling potentially dangerous wares. Instead of becoming angry, the owner, a hefty, middle-aged man, belted out a laugh that shook his whole body.
“It’s okay to pick up the box, so long as you don’t let out what’s inside — that’s a mistake I’ve only made once,” the owner said, pointing to the side of his bald head, which looked slightly dented. He then placed both hands, businesslike, on his table. “Anything in particular you’re looking for? I can tell you boys mean business.”
Deucalion relaxed. The owner was the jolly sort, but more importantly, he was the kind who would take teenagers seriously. “You knew I meant business when you saw how well I was dressed, right?”
“Maybe a little,” the owner chuckled. “But I mainly noticed how you two look like you know what you need. But what is it? A special broomstick perhaps?”
“Precisely,” Deucalion said and began to put on his salesman airs that his mother hated so. “I’m looking for the perfect Chaser broom. Cleansweeps and Comets just can’t do the job. It’s got to be fast. Maneuverable in any weather. Excellent at stopping.”
The owner began digging through a large chest marked “Unusual Brooms” and continued the conversation. “You realize there isn’t a perfect broom, right? A perfect broom for a Chaser is the perfect broom for any position on the pitch. To my knowledge, perfection hasn’t been invented yet.”
“Something has to come close to perfect,” Ivan said confidently, before admitting, “It had better, because if Duke buys a new broom, he’s promised me his old one.”
With a great sense of showmanship, the Seeker Imports owner removed a highly-polished, thin-handled broomstick from its box and set it out on the table. Deucalion picked it up eagerly, immediately impressed with its balance and streamlined tail. It was more light-weight than anything else in his collection, yet there was a stability to it. He saw the meticulous writing etched in gold on the handle and felt a smile spread across his face.
“No, seriously? This broom is called the Super Eagle?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” the owner said. “Despite the name, it’s a great broom. Better than most ... maybe one of the best brooms I’ve ever sold. Super Eagles are crafted by an obscure American company. They’re probably never going to be internationally renowned but —”
“Is that broom made of ash?” Ivan interjected. “No one does that.”
Deucalion was surprised he hadn’t noticed the wood, but when he turned the light-weight broom over in his hands, he saw that Ivan was right. Then again, unlike Ivan, he wasn’t the son of wandmakers and was not always concerned with the ingredients of things.
“This is one of the first brooms I’ve sold to use ash for the handle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes the gold standard,” the owner answered. “Oak is just too heavy for Quidditch anymore. It’s all about getting faster and more controllable, and the Super Eagle is proof of that. The Super Eagle is a touch slower than a Comet or Cleansweep, mind you, but it’s much more reliable. A Chaser would never notice the speed difference.”
“Can I try it out?” Deucalion asked, although he was pretty sure he knew the answer already.
The owner’s eyebrow arched. “With all these ministry officials out? No. But do we have a deal? Since you can’t fly it, I’ll let it go for one hundred Galleons.”
All things considered, it seemed like a fair price for a new broom; he’d paid more than that for his newest Comet. Deucalion turned to Ivan, who was always acted as his consultant when it came to purchasing. Ivan was a good judge of money because he was never afraid to call Deucalion an idiot, but on the other hand, he also understood Deucalion’s sometimes irrational love for Quidditch.
Ivan took a deep breath; his dark eyes narrowed in concentration.
Grinning, Deucalion began counting coins out of his bag. “That was the answer I wanted to hear!”
“Oh, I know,” Ivan replied as he checked his watch. “We’ve really got to find our seats, Duke, or we’ll miss the beginning of the match.”
The owner used his wand to sweep all the Galleons into a box and thanked the two of them for their business, especially since it looked as if the man had not sold much all afternoon judging by how much of his stock remained on the table. Deucalion hated to see that much of his gold leave his hand at once, but he was much more thrilled to be carrying a brand new broom with him to Hogwarts.
Someone needs to build a better broom, Deucalion thought as he threw the box over his shoulder as he and Ivan left Seeker Imports. The world needed a perfect broom. Something fast, yet controllable. Something that can start or go in a single motion. As he followed Ivan up the flights stairs to their seats, a sudden, all-important question struck him: