Chapter 9 : The Beautiful Game
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“This year is going to be a year where we have to work hard. Harder than any other year, and not because of the Cup. But because this team is in an unusual position, and one which is going to require us to look towards the future.”
The four members of the Slytherin Quidditch team looked at their Captain with slightly bemused expressions, until Bletchley raised a hand curiously. “But we’ve only got to recruit two more players,” he pointed out.
“Correct,” Jack Urquhart confirmed, nodding. He was hovering on his broom in front of the stands, on which the rest of his team were lounging, watching, and listening, the empty pitch dragging out behind them. Soon enough, there would be dozens of hopeful Slytherins filling the field to try out for the team, but beforehand, they had to sit and talk strategy for the year. Decide what they wanted from the potentials. And, it seemed to Cal, all acknowledge that Urquhart was boss.
The burly fifth-year hovered down a little closer to the stands. “One more Chaser, one more Beater. We also want some possible substitutes for each position. But that’s not all. How many of you sitting here with me this time next year?”
A pause as the three seventh-years exchanged glances, and Malfoy languidly raised a hand. Urquhart nodded grimly. “Exactly. This is an old team. And we don’t want to be in a position next year where we have to fill half of the ranks with completely inexperienced players because you all finished school. This was why I was made team Captain, and not one of you. Because Slytherin team need to prepare for the future.”
Cal noticed that this didn’t give much explanation as to why Malfoy, with two more years of possible play ahead of him, hadn’t been given the captain’s job – but he didn’t over think the issue, just glad that they instead had someone who wanted to win more than they wanted to play politics.
“So I don’t just want us looking for people who can fill the holes we’ve got this year. I don’t want the substitutes to just be people who couldn’t quite make the cut. I want the substitutes to be considered team members-in-training. I want Bletchley to be teaching the substitute Keeper himself, getting them ready to be the replacement. I want our substitute Chaser to train with Pucey, myself, and our new first-string player. I want Brynmor not just learning how to work with a new Beater, but making sure the new Beater and the substitute will make a good partnership in a year’s time.” Urquhart paused, scratching the back of his head as he seemed to consider his words for a moment. “I also want you, Malfoy, to work with a substitute Seeker.”
Malfoy straightened up indignantly. “I’m not leaving school next year,” he snapped. For most of the morning he’d looked incredibly weary and drawn, but it seemed that he could tap into new levels of energy reserves the moment he was challenged or questioned.
“No,” Urquhart conceded, “but your health has been low so far this year. Have you even got yourself down to Madam Pomfrey’s?”
“I’m fine,” Malfoy snapped, standing up straight, though undermining his words a little with the fact that he had to lean somewhat on his Nimbus 2001 to stay completely upright.
“Really. So why the headaches getting you excused from class? How can I guarantee you’re going to be well enough to make all of the training sessions? Or even well enough on the day?” Urquhart challenged, drifting on his broom closer to the stands again, visibly bristling.
“Not to mention the fact,” the Quidditch captain continued brusquely, “that your success rate in matches has been erratic at best, and you have never, never beaten Potter to the Snitch – something I cannot overlook when Gryffindor continue to be the cup holders and the team we need to soundly beat the most.”
Malfoy’s lip curled as he straightened up. “If you’re thinking of removing me from the team…”
Urquhart again cut him off, landing on the stand in front of the Seeker and glaring down at him. Jack Urquhart had been recruited for Slytherin team by Edmund Montague himself, who had been a traditional captain appreciating certain values amongst his team. Those values often included the phrase ‘built like a brick shit house’, and there was no other way of describing the new captain. Urquhart towered over Malfoy, and though the latter didn’t quake, Cal thought him rather dull to not do so. For the burly fifth-year didn’t just have size on his side, he believed – he had also demonstrated a keen tactical mind and, most importantly, a deep, dogged determination to win.
Cal didn’t fancy himself easily scared, but he didn’t want to be someone to get in between Urquhart and a win. Like it seemed Malfoy was doing.
“You’ll what?” Jack demanded sharply. “Wail and cry? You think that I care? Or you’ll set your daddy dearest on us? I’m quaking in my boots in fear of what a man can do from a cell in Azkaban.”
Malfoy glared, bringing himself up to his full height and still standing a good head shorted than Urquhart. “How dare you speak ill of my father!”
“I’ll speak ill of anyone who happens to be a bloody criminal, and I won’t apologise for treating his son like crap because he’s unable to fight his own battles and instead has to go running behind his mother’s skirts when the going gets tough.” Urquhart folded his arms across his chest, expression stony and deeply cold.
Malfoy looked at his broom for a second, then tossed it to the floor of the stands in disgust. “I don’t have to stand here and listen to this rubbish,” he declared haughtily, before turning on his heel and storming towards the exit.
“Did I give you permission to leave this training exercise, Draco?” Urquhart bellowed, making the three seventh-years jump and Malfoy freeze in his tracks. “You leave now, you leave the team, and everyone will know that Draco Malfoy is a quitter who can’t stand it when he doesn’t get his own way.”
Malfoy turned around slowly, and the expression on his face made even Cal blink. For there was no petulant glare, no sneer of irritation. Just a blank, controlled look, devoid of haughty presumption or childish tantrums. But as he fixed his gaze on Urquhart, the captain didn’t falter.
“…Fine,” Malfoy declared at last, quietly, stiffly, walking back towards where he had been seated and plonking himself down, drawing his broom to him. “You want me to find a substitute I can train as a possible replacement. I’ll do that.” His voice sounded cold, but empty.
“Good.” Urquhart padded back to his broom, bringing it to the ground and leaning against the front of the stands as he turned back to the rest of the players. “If we can’t win the cup this year,” he continued, brisk and firm and as if nothing had happened, “then we need to put everything in place so we can win next year, or the year after. Still, I know that the last time Slytherin lifted the Cup, the only players still on the team now were second years then. I know you want to lift the Cup again before you leave. I know I want to lift it once at all before I leave.
“This is not going to be a year where we fight dirty. This is not going to be a year where we value size over ability. We aren’t going to give fouls, we aren’t going to try to bulldoze opponents. We’re going to play it smart, and we’re going to play it tight. We are resourcefulness, we are cunning, we are ambition. Three qualities which equal victory on the playing field when combined with tactics, with knowing when to hold back, with teamwork. And I promise you… if you listen to me, if we stick together, if we strive to be all we can be, then we will lift that Cup in the summer term. I promise you.”
Cal had heard this speech before, from Flint, from Montague. But back then it had always been a case of “there is no price too high for victory”. And he didn’t know where Urquhart would draw the line if defeat became a possibility, didn’t know how far this ambitious young captain would drive his team.
But the funny thing was, for the first time, Cal actually found himself believing the promises made, and when Bletchley gave out a whoop of enthusiasm and began to clap loudly, Cal was the first to fall in line with the cheering.
When the wannabes filtered out onto the playing field, it was to meet a Slytherin team who stood tall and proud, and put them through their paces with inspiring enthusiasm and unapologetic judgement. Urquhart was polite, but firm, and within thirty minutes half a dozen prospective players were resoundingly dismissed just for plain not being good enough.
It was obvious who had been training in the summer and who hadn’t, especially amongst those still in the team. Pucey demonstrated himself to be a little rusty as a fifth year named Vaisey, who had subbed on the team before and had a match or two under his belt, ran rings around him as they tested a Chaser’s ability to beat a defensive formation – but one would have never believed Vaisey to be one of Urquhart’s best friends when the captain swept in with a vicious, but legitimate tackle that sent Vaisey almost off his broom but left the Quaffle in Urquhart’s bulky hands. Still, Vaisey made it through to the next round of tests.
Bletchley was particularly on form, being practically impossible for the prospective Chasers to beat – only the aforementioned Vaisey and a fourth-year girl named Strickland got any past him, and the latter just barely. Cal knew his classmate well, and knew that the Keeper had been genuinely inspired by Urquhart. He could also see that it was clear he’d been training hard over the summer, and it was no secret he had expected to receive the Captain badge after Montague was dropped unceremoniously from the team. That he was still playing his utmost was… encouraging, and though Cal didn’t know the somewhat podgy third year who still had grace on a broom, it looked as if Bletchley had put sincere thought into his decision on a substitute Keeper.
For Seeker selection, Malfoy had taken a genuinely inspired approach. Grabbing a dozen Snitches, he had unleashed them into the midst of the selection for the other positions and hovered above it all, looking down. Those who wished to be selected as Seeker substitute need only bring him the most Snitches. Any who dropped out before all Snitches had been selected were excluded from selection. And by the time the selection was over, the new Slytherin team substitute Seeker was a wiry fifth-year named Harper, clutching his four Snitches.
That left Beater selection, and when the Chaser selections were done, Cal insisted the four players put together some small two versus two play for him to disrupt. Then it was just a case of assigning a prospective Beater to either side and letting them loose – who could damage the other side while protecting their own. It was a delicate balance playing Beater, impossible to allow one of the pair to be defensive with the other offensive, for no one person could protect the whole team, nor could Bludgers be sufficiently anticipated.
Before long he had about five potential Beaters, and each of these in turn he paired up with to take on an opposing team, for Cal knew that not only did they have to be a competent Beater, they had to be someone he could stand to play with and work well with. That simple case of incompatibility quickly eliminated a competent fourth year, and before long he had picked another fourth year, Waddell, as his new partner. Surprising even Urquhart, though, was the candidate for Beater substitute, a small, scrawny second year named Rosewood who made up for his size with unerring accuracy and speed, and Cal knew needed to be developed from an early age.
The try-outs thus began to wind down, and the Slytherins started to filter off, heading back to the castle for lunch, or to the dungeon, or off to saunter the grounds and enjoy some of the last rays of the dying summer. The balls were gathered up, and just as Cal and Waddell wrestled the second Bludger back into the case, Malfoy let out a curse.
Cal looked up at the scrawny sixth-year irritably, sighing deeply. “What is it? Broke a nail?”
“There’s a Snitch missing,” Malfoy said, shaking his head. He looked even paler after the morning’s exercises, and there was a thin sheen of sweat across his forehead. “It must not have been brought in.” He looked up, eyes scanning the pitch for a few moments before he pointed at the Hufflepuff stands. “Yes, there it goes – and gone again.”
Cal had been following his gaze, and thought he might have seen a flicker of gold, though it could have just been a trick of the light. But there had been no doubt in Malfoy’s voice, and he had to concede that, much as he might not like the other boy, they were in their respective positions for a reason.
The Seeker was shouldering his broom again, straightening up and looking tired, but resolute. “Leave the box out, Ravenclaw have the pitch next for the try-outs. I’ll go fetch the bloody thing…”
“Leave it out, Malfoy, you look knackered,” Cal told him in no uncertain terms, laying a large hand on his shoulder. “Go get some food, maybe some kip. Otherwise you’ll just fall off your broom and land on your head up there, and then you’ll be no use to nobody. I’ll go fetch the Snitch.”
Malfoy looked at him quizzically for a few moments. “You’re a Beater,” he said weakly, with confusion but not much argument.
“Doesn’t mean I’m blind, does it now? Get your arse out of here.” Cal waved a hand dismissively, turning to pick up his broom, eyes scanning the pitch and most certainly not on Malfoy. If the Snitch had been by the stands before, it wasn’t there now.
Malfoy shifted his feet a little, giving Cal a dubiously appraising look. “Alright,” he said grudgingly at last, lowering his broom. “Thanks, Brynmor. See you later.”
Cal said nothing, hopping onto his broom as Malfoy and the rest of the Slytherins headed back to the castle, leaving him on his own.
Usually, he would have relished the opportunity to fly high, look down at Hogwarts, and enjoy the peace, enjoy being alone with his thoughts. But these days his thoughts had not really been very good company, and so he kept his focus on the Snitch, looking down for the small golden orb rather than taking in the view of the castle. Below him he could see a couple of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team heading out towards the pitch…
…and there, by the Keeper’s third ring on the left hand side, the Snitch hovered in the air, glinting.
Cal allowed himself to just fall from the sky, letting gravity do the work rather than the broom, dropping like a dead weight towards the Golden Snitch below him. It seemed to hang there for a long moment, oblivious to him until he was almost on top of it – then it shimmered slightly, and began to plunge.
Then he kicked in the power of the broom to propel himself more rapidly towards the ground, and the Snitch didn’t get more than ten feet before he was close enough to reach out and snatch it. It was hardly as smooth or as effective a move as a Seeker would employ, and he would doubtless have been beaten to the catch by an opponent in a match, but for just retrieving a rogue ball, it did the trick.
Cal hovered back towards the ground, and squinted down at the two Ravenclaws as he drew nearer, seeing them bending over the case of the balls. One of them, a girl in his year he only knew dimly whose name he thought might be Lockett, glanced up as she saw him approaching, and gave a small, cheerful wave. But the other, a fifth year, was still bent over the case and, as Cal looked, pulled irreverently on the strap holding one of the Bludger's down to let it loose.
His eyes widened. "No, don't do -"
Although he shouted a warning, it was too late. Bludgers needed to be released carefully, with people standing back and hopefully a few players already in the air so as to make it shoot away from people on the ground. Two people huddled over the box was just a recipe for disaster.
The fifth year boy seemed to realise his mistake at the same time Cal shouted, and threw himself back just quick enough to avoid the Bludger, which tore past the front of his face. But Lockett hadn't been paying attention, and Cal's shout only prompted the most common reaction to someone shouting and pointing - look with confusion at the direction they were gesturing in.
The Bludger smashed her in the face, producing a sickening crunch, a small spray of blood from the nose and sending her flying onto her back. The fifth year just let out a huge yelp as he threw himself away again from the Bludger, which whirled around in the air and seemed to be looking for new targets.
Cal leapt off his broom and ran forward, retrieving the bat he had abandoned on the ground and whirling it around to give the Bludger a good hard whack, sending it spinning up into the air and far away. He watched it for a few moments, bat still raised, until he was satisfied that it was just going to remain hovering over the pitch.
When he lowered his bat and turned back, it was to face half of the Ravenclaw team, who had appeared seemingly from nowhere and were glaring at him. Except for Lockett, who was by now sitting up with her head between her knees, blood dripping from her face, and another girl kneeling next to her and rubbing her back.
"Uh... you're welcome?" Cal lowered the bat, looking at the assembled with more than a touch of confusion at the air of hostility he was receiving.
"What did you do, Brynmor?" demanded Boot, his opposite as a Beater. From the set of his jaw and tone of his voice it did not sound as if he was asking exactly how Cal had saved two of the players from being hammered by a rampaging Bludger.
"Uh..." The fifth-year who had released the Bludger danced from foot to foot vaguely, wringing his hands together, but didn't quite speak up.
"What the... Oh, Jesus!" Cal threw his hands up in the air as realisation sank in, not quite figuring that this meant he was waving a large bat around the air in a manner that could be construed as threatening. The gathering took a step back. "You think I hammered one of your Chasers with my bat or a Bludger? You self-righteous pricks!"
"What's going on?"
All turned to see the Ravenclaw captain, Theron Howlett, striding over towards the gathering. The seventh-year Howlett was tall and apparently good-looking, with scruffy brown hair that somehow managed to seem 'ruffled' rather than messy, and a winning, if unbearably smug smile. Cal couldn't stand him, but the fact remained that he was looking just as dubiously at his own team as he was at the offending Slytherin.
"One of your idiots didn't know how to release a Bludger properly, and Lockett got hit in the face," Cal explained calmly, though with an audible, simmering anger. "Then the rest of your idiots decided to accuse me of attacking her. Like I'm that much of a fuck."
"It's true, Theron," Lockett said thickly, getting to her feet. A sleeve was held up to her nose, the blue material already showing some soaking from the blood. "Brynmor stopped the damn thing from swatting us more."
Howlett raised an eyebrow, looking mostly appeared. "Really." He glanced back at the crowd of the team. "And which 'idiot' released the Bludger?"
There was a silence of shuffling feet, before the offending fifth-year raised a hand slowly, sheepishly. "Sorry, Theron," he muttered.
Howlett sighed, shaking his head. "Like we have time for this rubbish. Primsby, take Lockett up to Madam Pomfrey's, get her seen to. The rest of you, hit the pitch, I'll be with you shortly."
Lockett shook her head, waving the younger girl leaning over her away. "I'm okay, Theron." The fact that she was having trouble pronouncing 'Theron' rather killed this argument, however, and Cal grinned despite himself.
"I'll take her up," he offered. "If you don't mind, that is. Let the team get to the practice, I know try-outs are a pain."
Howlett glanced over at Lockett, who sighed. "I don't need to go to Pomfrey's, let alone an escort, but... fine, fine. Thanks, Brynmor."
The Ravenclaw captain nodded. "Yeah, thanks. Alright, Primsby, hit the field. Lockett, don't come back until you're alright. Brynmor... do us a favour and make sure she actually gets as far as Madam Pomfrey, instead of doing a runner?"
Brynmor chuckled, nodding. "I'll do that," he promised, then turned to Lockett and nodded to the castle. "Come on, trouble."
"Trouble? It's not my fault Farrer doesn't know how to release a Bludger. I thought he was just going for the Quaffle," Lockett replied as briskly as one could through a face-full of sleeve and a streaming of blood. She was a rather small girl, slight of build and whom he knew to be quick on her feet and with a broom. Her brown hair was moderately short and a little wild, her green eyes flashing with merriment despite the pain. Her features were pointed, but more pixie-like than particularly sharp, and might have been cute were it not for the injury both marring her face and prompting her to obscure it.
"Hang on, I can't understand a word you're saying." Cal shook his head as they went up the steps to the entranceway to the castle, letting her go first so he could be ready to catch her if she stumbled or fell, aware of how blood loss and sheer shock could bring dizziness. As they got inside he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, extending it towards Lockett. It bore a small Slytherin House crest in the corner. "Here. It's better than your sleeve."
She took it, squinting at the design for a moment. "I can't take this, I'll get it covered in blood."
"And covering your kit in blood's a better option? I'll just Scourgify it later." Cal shook his head as she attempted to pass it back to him.
He grinned as she gingerly pulled her sleeve, stained with crimson, away from her face and gently put the handkerchief to her nose instead. "Anyway, didn't know how to safely release a Bludger? I thought you Ravenclaws were supposed to be smart?"
"And I thought Slytherins were supposed to be evil?" Lockett countered, much more audible with just the handkerchief across her face, though it was already beginning to stain.
"That is a scandalous lie and exaggeration." Cal smirked as he waggled a finger at her. "Cunning, yes. Resourceful, yes. Ambitious, yet. Does that mean evil incarnate?"
"It's in the sub-text, like Hufflepuffs being duffers, Gryffindors with more brawn than brains, and Ravenclaws seeing their intellect overshadowed only by their egos. So I'm just trying to figure out where you fit in with the Slytherin ethos."
Another chuckle. "Well, ambitious? I'm a Beater who was trying to catch a Snitch. Resourceful? I had a handkerchief on me exactly when it was needed."
Lockett grinned. "And cunning?"
"I did offer to walk you up to the hospital wing, didn't I?" Cal pointed out, the words escaping before he could properly assess and consider them. And as she laughed, he realised he was unwittingly flirting. This was new - the unwitting part, at least, for he usually knew exactly what he was doing, and it was normally to annoy some third party rather than for his own satisfaction.
That could be problematic.
Lockett cleared her throat slightly, also clearing the air a little in the process. "So you're back on the Slytherin team. That's good."
"Not from your perspective, I know which end of a bat to hold," Cal pointed out.
"I don't know. Someone needs to stop Gryffindor's streak, and it's not going to be us. And Urquhart getting Captain instead of it staying with Montague or going to Malfoy suggests the House is taking it seriously."
"I'm amazed someone wants us to win. I thought all you other Houses were meant to band together in the face of evil Slytherin?" Cal wondered aloud.
"Now that's another slanderous stereotype," Lockett pointed out, and grinned a grin that would probably have been charming if she didn't have a handkerchief across her nose and blood down her lower face.
The rest of the walk back up to the Hospital Wing was filled with mostly minor chit-chat about the state of Hogwarts Quidditch, mostly with the agreement that at this point it was preferable for anyone to win the Cup so long as it wasn't Gryffindor, and by the time they got there Cal found himself guiltily wishing the walk was longer.
"Well, here we are. I should be fine from here," Lockett declared as they stopped by the doorway.
Cal hesitated. "I did promise Howlett I'd make sure you went in and were actually seen by Madam Pomfrey, instead of you doing a runner."
She chuckled at that. "I'm in an honest dose of pain here, I think I'll take whatever Madam Pomfrey has to offer. No more Quidditch for me today." Lockett gently peeled the handkerchief away from her nose. The flow of blood had mostly stopped, and she looked gingerly at it as she extended it towards him. "Sorry about the mess... and thanks for the loan."
Cal half-extended his hand and opened his mouth to accept just as a voice shouted in his head ‘Tell her to keep it!’, and he snatched his hand back just as quickly, as if burnt in mid-air. "Oh, no," he said at last, his voice speeding up a very little. "You keep it, there might be a wait in there or something. Don't want you bleeding all over the place. I'll collect it from you later."
"Right. Thanks, Brynmor. I'll see you around." Lockett grinned at him, nodding her thanks, before pushing open the door to the Hospital Wing and stepping inside.
Cal stood there for a few moments, watching the closed door and telling himself he was hanging around to make sure she wasn't going to bolt. But when he couldn't quite justify it to himself he turned back, heading down the corridor in the direction of the dungeon.
And for the first time in a good few weeks there was a spring in his step, and a whistle on his lips.
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