“I still can’t believe our parents let us come here by ourselves,” Deucalion said as he flopped down on his seat next to Ivan and immediately began rummaging through his backpack. “Have you brought an extra quill? Everything’s so so hard to find with my stupid robe in here. I’ve brought the charts, but it looks like I forgot to pack my — oh, thank you.”
“It took some convincing, I’ll tell you that much,” Ivan said, taking a few crumpled Quidditch charts from Deucalion. He was still breathing heavily from the never-ending flights of stairs to their seats. “You know my dad’s much more keen on me getting into wandcrafting than, well, whatever it is I’m doing now.”
“But what we’re doing now is very official business,” Deucalion replied, dismissing Ivan’s sour remark about his parents’ expectations. Ivan was forever complaining about those sorts of things. “Here, you can keep track of all of Sweetwater’s plays — I heard their Chasers can pull off the Porskoff Ploy pretty well. I’ll make it harder on myself and pay attention to the Wasps. Maybe we’ll learn a few things to win the House Cup by an even wider margin this year.”
“I pity our opponents, then,” Ivan answered in his most serious tone. Last year, Slytherin had defeated each House team by two hundred points or more. No one was as prepared for the matches because no one ran formations with the same precision as Deucalion’s squad. He and Ivan made certain of that.
The two of them sat quietly for a few minutes, listening to the excited hum of Wasp fans as The Meadow’s seats continued to fill. Night was fast approaching and the stadium lights magically illuminated the dusky sky just as the rim of the sun touched the horizon. Deucalion could hardly believe the view. Wimbourne officials had given him the pair of tickets earlier in the summer, hoping of course that a few seats might sway him into signing a contract with the Wasps. While the free tickets were unlikely bring about a career decision, he did admit that the seats were fantastic and located in what was surely the most expensive box.
Deucalion looked down at his new broom, turning it over in his hands for a few moments. He could almost see his see his reflection in the polish and not a single twig was out of place at the tail. Of course, the broom would look new for long. He couldn’t wait to try out the Super Eagle, although that would probably have to wait until he arrived at Hogwarts.
He began reflecting once more on the revelation that had struck him shortly after leaving Seeker Imports. Could a couple sixth years possibly build a working broomstick? Would it hurt to try? The two of them surely had enough brilliance to pull it off. Enough Quidditch brilliance, that is.
“Hey, Ivan, I got this wild idea while we were walking up the stairs.”
“And what might that be?” Ivan asked. “Just tell me it doesn’t involve flying out onto the pitch during the match to teach Bradley Carrigan how to properly catch the Snitch. I don’t think Carrigan wants you pointing out that he’s the worst Seeker in England.”
Deucalion laughed. “No, this might be more crazy than that.”
“More crazy?” Ivan said, a look of mock surprise stamping his features. “So you’re saying you’d rather insult the Beater? He’s holding a weapon, you know.”
“Well, I was thinking that we ought to try to build our own broomstick,” Deucalion said.
“Hmmm, yes, that is pretty crazy, even for you,” Ivan said as he sunk into a thoughtful silence for a brief moment, poking his glasses back up the bridge of his nose out of habit and staring out at the still-empty pitch.
Deucalion always felt uncomfortable during Ivan’s lapses into quietness, especially when he wanted an immediate, favorable reaction.
“So, what do you think?” Deucalion asked, standing up as a witch wearing a mismatched yellow outfit to squeezed past him to reach her seat. He thought it looked as if she had actually charmed her hair to become a living, buzzing beehive, which made him wonder if someone had actually bothered to create a spell for that. He shook off the momentary distraction when Ivan looked like he had prepared an answer.
Ivan turned back to Deucalion. “I know you don’t want to build just any broomstick, Duke. No, that would be far too shortsighted. Too easy. What you’re really suggesting is that we should build the perfect broomstick.”
There was that word again. Perfect. Decualion knew Ivan was right; they simply would not settle for a sub-par project. After all, the two were not satisfied by merely beating their opponents in the House Cup. They destroyed them. Deucalion had long ago realized he couldn’t bear being anything less than the best.
“You’ve got me on that one,” Deucalion grinned. He could feel the excitement suddenly building, and his salesman’s voice was returning like it had at Seekers Imports. “But what’s wrong with perfect? We’ve fashioned our own water-resistant goggles for bad weather and those fantastic Chaser gripping gloves! What stops us from taking the next step? Sure, we’ve never done it before, but we ought to be the ones to build that perfect broomstick.”
Deucalion could tell he was winning Ivan to his newly realized cause. Ivan, the son of wandmakers, loved to create things by nature. On top of O.W.L.s and Quidditch, he was the one who had developed his own Gripping Charm for the gloves last term. That was some pretty advanced magic.
Of course, building a high-end racing broom was probably far more advanced than that.
“All right, I’m in,” Ivan said. “I’ll admit I am attracted to the impossible. But you know, we’re both complete idiots for thinking we can do it.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” said Deucalion, relieved that Ivan had agreed to the project even if he was still cynical about it.
The conversation was cut off when the announcer’s voice came booming across The Meadow, urging fans to find their seats. Deucalion glanced at his watch: five minutes until the match. The crowds obeyed the announcement almost as if it were some Ministry decree, and the Top Box began filling in a hurry, causing Deucalion and Ivan to spend most of their time standing up to avoid the steady stream of witches and wizards eager to reach their locations in time. Deucalion recognized a few of them as Ministry officials from the photographs he’d seen in the Daily Prophet, but he spotted a familiar figure at the same time Ivan did.
“Get ready, Duke, looks like Lucius Malfoy’s dad is on his way,” Ivan whispered urgently. “He’s going to try to buy his son’s way on the team again.”
Deucalion sighed. “Isn’t it enough that we had his two nieces on the team last year? Okay, let’s deal with him. Watch as I attempt to be polite, yet firm.”
“I’ll watch the show with great anticipation,” Ivan said, rolling his eyes so obviously that Deucalion couldn’t help but notice.
Abraxas Malfoy was climbing the stair towards them, pausing occasionally to wave stiffly at a Ministry head or some other well-to-do wizard. Like Lucius, Mr. Malfoy had a thin, angular face; long, blond hair; and a voice that became more or less arrogant depending on who he was addressing.
Unlike most others witches and wizards in the Top Box, Mr. Malfoy appeared to be alone at the event. Deucalion’s father, who had attended Hogwarts with Abraxas, had mentioned Mr. Malfoy often attended public events by himself; it was a well-known fact that his wife was suffering from an unsightly — and perhaps incurable — case of spattergroit. A person as refined as Mr. Malfoy was surely not going places with a woman who was doubtless covered in purple sores, not to mention that she was contagious.
“Ah, well if it isn’t Deucalion Wilcott, our young Quidditch captain, out at a match the night before school,” Mr. Malfoy said, shaking Deucalion’s hand delicately before turning his attention to Ivan. “You must surely go to Howarts as well. And you are?”
“Ivan Berdahl, sir,” Ivan bobbed his head slightly and also shook hands with Mr. Malfoy.
“Ivan is on the House team ... he’s our top-notch Beater,” Deucalion explained, knowing that Mr. Malfoy was pausing to briefly discuss the Slytherin team, one of his favorite conversation topics with Deucalion now that Lucius was a second year and could legally take a broom to Hogwarts.
Mr. Malfoy crouched down on the steps to speak to Deucalion, who was sitting on the end of the row. Deucalion thought it was a very undignified-looking position for someone so extraordinarily pompous by nature. In his experience, Malfoys were all alike in this regard.
“Now, Deucalion, I wanted to you know that my son has been working very hard on his game during the holidays. Very hard, indeed. I realize —” Mr Malfoy moved himself out of the walkway to make room for a frantic-looking wizard wearing a Wimbourne scarf, who was taking the stairs three at a time. “—Again, I realize Lucius will only be a second year, but I am sure there would be some, ah, benefits for him being on the team.”
“Benefits?” Deucalion asked, trying to sound unknowing though he knew exactly what was coming. Mr. Malfoy was preparing to spend a small fortune in equipment if that’s what it took to get Lucius on the pitch for the House Cup. It was hardly a new plan; Mrs. Goyle had offered to buy the Slytherin team uniforms that were charmed to scream the players’ names every time they made an exceptional play.
“Yes, all sorts of benefits,” Mr. Malfoy said quickly, acting like the match would begin at any moment. “I know Hogwarts does not spend a good deal of money on the teams. It doesn’t help that all the students must furnish their own brooms, so if you wanted, I could perhaps buy new Comets for the whole team. I’ve seen the new model that isn’t even out on the market. It pays to have friends in the business, Deucalion.”
Deucalion paused greedily at the thought of a brand-new set of Comet brooms, especially a model he had never seen before. He had always preferred Comets to Cleansweeps anyway; maybe taking the offer wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. He imagined his entire team whirling around the pitch on identically excellent brooms. Maybe putting Lucius on the squad was worth it.
Ivan, perhaps sensing Deucalion’s inner conflict, jammed his elbow sharply into Deucalion’s ribs, and the spell of Comet broomsticks was suddenly broken. Order returned as Deucalion looked down at his feet, where he had placed the Super Eagle. He’d just bought a brand-new broom and certainly didn’t need Mr. Malfoy’s contribution to further his already near-perfect team. And didn’t he and Ivan agree a few minutes earlier to build the best broom in history?
“Mr. Malfoy, your offer sounds very tempting, I assure you,” Deucalion said as Ivan cleared his throat loudly. Apparently, Ivan thought his jab had not knocked enough sense into Deucalion. “I’d love more than anything to have a new broomstick —”
“But—” Ivan cut in hurriedly, his expression reading worry.
“But, Ivan is right,” Deucalion continued. “I hope you understand, sir, that I simply choose my team according to who is best. For integrity’s sake, I can’t let Galleons cloud my selections. And, well, it also doesn’t help that I bought a new broom in the last hour.”
“For integrity’s sake?” Mr. Malfoy repeated icily as his stood up. “Well, I am sure he will make the team regardless. Enjoy the game, boys.”
Ivan exhaled a sigh of relief once Mr. Malfoy was well out of earshot. “I was positive you were going to cave in to the brooms, Duke.”
“Thanks for the elbow — I thought I was a goner too,” Deucalion said as he picked up his charts and quill from beneath his seat. “Can you imagine if we let just anyone buy his way on the team? Granted, we graduated a few members, so Lucius might stand a chance of playing.”
Just as he had finished his words, the announcer’s voice returned to read off the starting lineups at record speeds. Deucalion and Ivan snickered when they heard more than half the Sweetwater members had colors for last names (“Whyte! Brown! Blue! Aaaand Greene!”) When Deucalion saw the All-Stars fly out onto the pitch, he could immediately see how outclassed they were about to be by the Wasps. The All-Stars, in their red-and-white striped uniforms, seemed off-balance somehow; even their supposedly famous star-shaped entry formation lacked precision.
“And now, the lineup for your Wimbourne Wasps!” The announcer bellowed as the crowd at once began to make a buzzing noise that vibrated throughout The Meadow. The rhythmic humming became increased with each announced name before breaking into a full cheer for the Seeker, Carrigan. The seven players waved to the enthusiastically to the crowd, which if possible, grew even louder.
The referee flew out to the middle of the pitch to release the four balls to begin the game. Decualion noticed the official was dressed in the alternate silver robes instead of the standard gold because the she could have otherwise been mistaken for a Wimbourne player. At home, Deucalion’s father had always complained with having to pack so many robes on officiating trips.
“There’s the gold robes and the silver robes,” March Wilcott would count off with his fingers. “But what about when the two teams are gold and silver? Well, the International Association of Quidditch answered that question. They decided we ought to wear these hideous pink ones!”
With a blow of her magically-magnified whistle, the referee released the four balls, and the match was underway. Athena Tackett proved why she was one among the best Chasers in England almost immediately. She scored a goal through the right goalpost on the first possession, and a few seconds later, she found an open Hugh Keddle, whose shot slipped through the outstretched fingers of Sweetwater’s Keeper for a second goal. Deucalion had admitted to Ivan on several occasions that if he were to own any posters of Quidditch players — besides himself — it would be of the fantastically talented and rather attractive Athena Tackett.
Deucalion’s hand was tiring quickly as he was hastily scratching down plays and flying formations, but the Wasps just kept scoring at will (“Unbelievable! Tackett loops the Keeper and scores, well, without really trying! And the Wasps lead Ninety to Zero!”). He turned an eye briefly to Ivan, who was sitting quite comfortably and watching the game, his Sweetwater charts untouched. There was not much to learn from a team that had not had a possession last longer than a few seconds.
Ivan suddenly sat at attention, his empty Quidditch charts falling off his lap.
“No way! Carrigan’s already spotted the Snitch!” Ivan shouted excitedly, pointing towards the Wasps’ end of the pitch.
“But it’s not even five minutes in!” Deucalion moaned as he watched Carrigan descend towards the ground in a blur of yellow.
Carrigan grabbed the Snitch, and he lifted both arms off his broom in triumph before accidently driving headlong into one of the Wasps’ goalposts as the crowd groaned in unison. His broomstick was immediately snapped in half, and he dropped nearly twenty feet to the grass below with a distant thud. Deucalion ripped his omnioculars from his backpack to take a closer look.
The Golden Snitch was still fluttering in Carrigan’s hand.
“What an idiot!” Deucalion marveled as the crowd shifted from groaning to cheering loudly, despite the condition of the Seeker. Deucalion stood to get a better view of Carrigan, who was sprawled out on the ground, unmoving. The mediwizards were already flying to the scene. “Do you think he’s alive?”
“I should hope so,” Ivan said as he was packing everything up. “We’ve seen worse. But what a way to go, right? I mean, Carrigan knows the risk of playing the game.”
Carrigan’s body lurched as the mediwizards quickly administered treatment. He sat up slowly, and the Wasp fans began buzzing with appreciation. Carrigan, who looked dazed, smiled vaguely to the crowd. Through the omnioculars, Deucalion watched Carrigan’s happy expression suddenly give way to tears when he saw the state of his shattered broomstick fifty feet away.
“Yeah, those are the risks of playing the game ... a concussion, broken bones, and a beaten broom,” Deucalion stood up and heaved his backpack over his shoulders. He stooped over a second time to gather up the Super Eagle. “Let’s get out of here before everyone else is in line for the Floo powder. I guess we didn’t have to worry about making it to Hogwarts on time. That was probably one of the fastest matches in history.”
“Poor Carrigan,” Ivan said, following Deucalion down the stairs. “I wonder if that broom was custom-built. I’ve heard the Comet Trading Company will sometimes do that for a star player.”
“You think Carrigan’s a star?” Deucalion asked. “He just smashed himself into a goalpost. I wouldn’t risk killing myself over a match that didn’t matter.”
“Oh, yeah you would.”
Deucalion sighed. Ivan was right again.
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