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The Fastest Yet by Racing Co
Chapter 7 : Before Tryouts
 
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“Why didn’t we see it before?” Ivan mused again as he turned the Super Eagle carefully over in his hands, his face so close to the broom that his glasses were almost resting on the shaft. He rubbed his thumb carefully the high-gloss finish before picking up his Comet off a nearby table for comparison. “That Clio Bridges must be right on this one. It has to be Quodpot.”

Deucalion had not fought off the shocking discovery he had learned from Clio after History of Magic class. A vendor had unknowingly sold him a racing broom for a completely different sport. Then again, did it matter? For Quodpot or not, the Super Eagle was probably the best broom he had ever flown.

“The Eagle has some sort of resin on the shaft . . . hmmm . . . and it looks like the manufacturers treated the twigs with something as well,” Ivan continued. He then paused and the Berdahl frown of seriousness appeared on his face. “Did you check the rule book?”

“What’s that?” Deucalion asked.

“Do the rules say anything about using Quodpot brooms in regulation matches?” Ivan restated. “Because — I’ll be perfectly honest — I like the Comet you gave me today, and I’d hate to give it back just because you bought an illegal product.”

Worry rushed over Deucalion as he dove into his bag, throwing about books, loose parchment, and quills in his mad search of his Quidditch rule book, which never left his side. He knew he surely looked foolish beyond belief to everyone else in the Slytherin common room, but he had to know: had he wasted one hundred Galleons for a broom he could not use in competition?

He had to know. But did he want to know?

At last, Deucalion produced his copy of The Official Quidditch Rules and Regulations: Well, Most of Them Anyway. He had once read the book from cover to cover, but he mainly used it when designing match strategy. There was a certain art to getting just to the edge of rule-breaking without toppling over the cliff.

“Let’s see, let’s see,” Deucalion muttered, flipping quickly to the table of contents. “Laws of the Pitch, no . . . Laws Pertaining to the Uniform . . . Laws and Guidebook to International Matches . . . Laws Prohibiting Referee Damage and Disfigurement — Dad loves that one! Aha! Chapter Thirty-Six: Broomsticks and Equipment.”

“Why is that covered near the end of the book?” Ivan said. He was reading from his own, equally battered and note-riddled copy of the rule book. “Law Thirty-Five is about how far food vendors must stand from dangerous mascots during Wold Cup events.”

Deucalion responded with a nervous laugh, still unable to shake his concern as he quickly turned to the chapter. He rarely spent any time reading these pages, so they still looked relatively new compared to the rest of the book. No bookmarks. No scribbling in the margins. Now he was reminded why he had not wasted his time memorizing the broom section: the chapter was full of useless photographs and charts on how to properly mount and ride a broomstick. There was no strategy there.

“Listen to this: It is unadvisable to ride a broom that has difficulty remaining in flight,” Ivan marveled. “Honestly. Can common sense even be considered advice?”

“Do you see the rule anywhere?” Deucalion said in an irritated tone, not in the mood for snide remarks at the moment. “I don’t even know what I’m looking for exactly.”

“Broom tampering,” Ivan said flatly.

“But I haven’t been tampering with any —”

“Here,” Ivan interjected, his face growing into a knowing smile as he handed his rule book over to Deucalion, pointing to a paragraph midway down the page. Deucalion instantly began reading in rapt silence.

Broom modifications are part of the game. If that weren’t the case, we’d still be riding uncomfortably atop knotted branches with no Cushioning Charm. There have been many important modifications in the last century, in which we have seen the dawn of the true racing broom.

Adjustments through magic are considered perfectly legal provided that the broom: 1. does not emit any sort of projectiles or bursts of fire, and 2. does not hinder or endanger other players or their broomsticks. Brooms with spell and potion modifications are acceptable, provided proper safety measures are observed. Quidditch officials will inspect every broom before international matches.

Also, using mechanical Muggle devices to enhance performance is not allowed. Imagine broomsticks with motors! Though the very thought is laughable, David Herring of Canada attempted to use such a contraption in 1937.


Deucalion felt his insides lift as he read the last few words. The Super Eagle could fly the Quidditch pitch after all. Of course, even if it weren’t legal, the referees at Hogwarts matches rarely knew any rules beyond the basic laws of the game.

“You know what else this means?” Ivan said as he took his book back and answered his own question. “This means we should be able to build our broom without breaking rules. Well . . . Quidditch rules at least. We could even get practice improving our own brooms.”

“Would you want to risk that?” Deucalion could imagine accidentally shattering his broom’s shaft with a poorly executed spell. From near-death experience, it was disappointing enough to break a broom while riding one, let alone when the broom would be idling on a table.

“You’re right,” Ivan agreed. “We can’t go around destroying everything we own — at least not yet. When do you think you’ll get a reply from your dad?”

“Who knows?” Deucalion answered. He knelt down on the cold, stone floor and began repacking everything he had thrown from his bag a minute before. “Dad’s probably going to work the tournament through the very end because they usually pick him to officiate the finals. And then there’s another problem.”

“Which is?”

“Oh, what if my brother Aeson gets ahold of the letter?” Deucalion sighed as he siphoned ink from the cover of his Potions book. Apparently, he had broken a bottle in his haste. “He’s ten years old, you know, so he’s pretty much bound to lose it before Dad even gets home.”

“I’d forgotten he was ten,” Ivan said and paused with a look of realization. “That means he’ll be joining you on the train next fall. Two Wilcotts at Hogwarts.”

“Don’t remind me,” Deucalion said.

“Your mum will expect you to watch him at all times,” Ivan said.

“How can I forget?” Decualion replied, feeling exhausted at the very thought. “And what if, I dunno, ends up in Hufflepuff or something? My dad was a Slytherin too, but that’s hardly the case for every Wilcott to slip on the Sorting Hat.”

Ivan nodded and looked over at the faraway study table just as Edgar Selwyn broke out with loud, crass remark about a Mudblood in his Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Lucius Malfoy, apparently playing the role of loyal puppy to critical acclaim, laughed along with the older students. Driven by the applause, Selwyn began miming wand gestures, and Deucalion could only assume his second Beater was explaining exactly how he’d punish bad blood.

“I have to say, Duke, I think it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if Aeson ended up in another House,” Ivan said. The Berdahl scowl had reappeared on his features in full.

“Slytherin’s not bad,” Deucalion said.

“Yeah, but Selwyn is,” Ivan replied, his voice hard. “He’s really . . . developed his pure-blood mania this summer. And to think that I called him intolerable before.”

“Look, Ivan, you’ll have to put up with him for two more years,” Deucalion said warningly. “Selwyn an idiot for sure, but he’s almost certainly going to make the team, unless Nyles Cooper has improved some kind of fantastic over the holidays.”

“I know, I know,” Ivan said. “I’ll try to hold my tongue so long as he attempts to do the same. Speaking of Coop . . . do you really think he’s going to try out at Beater again? Why does he keep doing that?”

Deucalion shrugged and pulled out his over-the-top mystical voice. “Who can fathom the mind of Coop?”

He was hoping he could somehow convince Coop from setting his sights on a position that had no realistic openings. When Deucalion advertised “open tryouts,” it was technically true for most positions, but not at Beater. He did not like to brag, but he believed Slytherin had the best left-handed Beater pair to come around Hogwarts in some time.

Ivan already had three full years of experience as a starter, and Selwyn had played most of the last two years as a Beater. They somehow ignored off-field dislikes long enough to shatter bones and create general havoc for opponents during matches. Ivan was a deadeye when it came to aim and had developed an unusual, two-handed backhand that would surely make many professionals jealous. Everything about his game was unconventional, yet he had perfected it. He fully understood the angles of the pitch and seemed to always know where the Bludger would turn next.

What Selwyn sometimes lacked in consistency, he made up for in the power he could generate and his “general brutality” on the field, as a reporter once penned. Selwyn kept meticulous track of the injuries he had caused, which both alarmed and pleased Deucalion. Keeping injury statistics was socially horrifying, yet that was the “Way of the Beater.”

Last season? Selwyn’s Bludger attacks broke seven arms, dislocated ten shoulders, shattered untold fingers, ruined two kneecaps, and cracked one unlucky Gryffindor skull. Not to be forgotten, of course, was the time he caught on of his Chasers, Ro Malfoy, flush in the face with the backswing of his bat. That was a complete, messy disaster.

“What’s that face for, Duke? Are you still trying to fathom Coop’s mind?”

Deucalion had not realized he had contorted his features into a grimace. “Wha — no, I was just thinking about when Selwyn hit Ro straight in the mouth. I swear the referee almost fainted, and he’d surely seen much worse. Well . . . maybe it looks worse when it’s the bat dealing the damage instead of the Bludger.”

“But it turned out all right in the end, yeah?” Ivan grinned. “Once she woke up three days later in the Hospital Wing, she put such a hex on Selwyn that he couldn’t sit properly for the better part of a week!”

***

The Common Room took on a festival-like atmosphere as Deucalion crossed off the days before Slytherin Quidditch tryouts. Whenever he walked through the Great Hall, the chatter at every table always seemed to be about the upcoming spectacle on Saturday. Would students from other houses be in attendance? Perhaps. Fill the stadium for a glorified practice! He was never secretive about his team’s practices or tryouts, which always caused Selwyn to complain.

The interest was not surprising; last year’s tryouts came highly anticipated because the team was destined to be frighteningly good. Now in his fourth year as captain, Deucalion suspected his team would be even better.

Crisper flying. Improved passing. More lopsided scores.

The lone eyesore for the squad last year was at Seeker. While Slytherin easily rolled up the score because of unbelievable work at Chaser (thanks in large part to Deucalion himself), the Seeker had actually failed to catch the Snitch in two matches during the season. No real harm done as far as winning or losing was concerned, but it was always difficult to celebrate a team victory after failing at the end.

During the holidays, he had discussed Slytherin’s struggles with at Seeker for hours on end with his father while they were on a long train ride toward a junior international tournament in Germany. After a while, March Wilcott had folded his arms and gave Deucalion that knowing look, the expression of wisdom that only came from watching so much Quidditch in his years as a referee. “Duke, you can probably teach a Muggle how to dodge and weave, maybe even perform the Sloth Roll without dying. Any decent instructor can do that. But! When it comes to Seeker, there are two intangibles that can’t be taught.”

“Luck and build?” Deucalion had guessed. Josef Wronski had established the size standard of the modern Seeker decades ago when he was flying for Poland’s national team: short and wiry.

“Eh, that’s on the right path, but a small frame isn’t necessary because I’ve seen a few decent Seekers built like giants,” his father had responded and he held up two fingers. “Two intangibles. The first is you have to have good eyesight. If you can’t see, you’d sure better be the luckiest player on the pitch. Or at least have some decent glasses. Second is the ability to pay attention. You can’t underestimate that.”

If his father’s Quidditch theories were correct, all Deucalion needed to do was find someone who could notice details under pressure and see clearly. Training could eventually take care of the rest.

At least there was hope.

Preparations for the tryouts left precious little time over the next few days for racing broom design, let alone schoolwork. Honestly, Deucalion marveled at how Ivan kept his life in balance, given the difficulty of his course load and the mundane, time-consuming duties of a prefect. Unless he had to monitor the hallways, Ivan was the first asleep at night and often the last to wake up in the morning. All that work and all that sleep, yet he had every assignment completed and his back packed for the next day’s subjects. He even told Deucalion that he was making a preliminary list of components and potential charms needed for the racing broom.

“See, Duke, I’m not like other people,” Ivan explained over breakfast as he poured himself pumpkin juice, looking very awake and well rested.

“Yes, I’m well aware that you are the different sort,” Deucalion replied in banter and stifled a yawn. He had wasted precious hours of sleep working on some dull report for Potions class. He might have skipped the assignment all together, were it not for the fact that he needed to remain permanently in Slughorn’s good graces.

“My mother noticed my ability very early in life,” Ivan said in a dramatic storytelling voice, which was much too early in the day for that sort of thing. “Yes, yes, she knew I was a special one.”

“She noticed you were a wizard, yeah?” Deucalion asked. “Must’ve been a special day for the whole Berdahl clan.”

Ivan continued in the storytelling. “It’s like being a wizard of time itself. You see, I am constantly productive. Every afternoon, I sit down in the library and finish everything at once. No distractions. I don’t waste time.”

“Arguably, you’re wasting time right now by having this conversation,” Deucalion said, feeling his face turn into a grin as he reached for the pumpkin juice himself.

“Well, I’m not denying that,” Ivan said with a laugh before moving seamlessly to one of his serious explanations of how he saw the world. “The common room is full of people who’d rather talk or play games than actually finish assignments. Even that Lockhart kid can discuss this and that all evening — and he doesn’t have anything to say or anyone to talk to!”

“I can’t disagree there,” Deucalion said, suddenly thinking back to the Slytherin tryouts, the near-constant topic on his mind. “Oh, I just hope that Lockhart can at least stay on his broom for trials Saturday.”

“That’d be an improvement from last year, but at least he landed safely in the lake.”

Deucalion laughed at the recollection of that hopelessly awkward boy veering well away from the pitch and splashing into the lake. It took Lockhart the better part of a year to live down that event, and maybe he never really escaped that moment of embarrassment at all. Who knew? Deucalion never really made it a practice to keep up with the social lives of first and second years.

The morning owls burst into the Great Hall for deliveries, and Deucalion looked up instinctively for Quaffle, who still had not returned with a reply from his father about broom charms. Although his red owl was nowhere in sight, he was certainly not going to leave the table empty handed. Five or six — possibly more — owls descended in his direction, a few of them carrying small packages. Selwyn remarked loudly (either in jealousy or sarcasm) that only Deucalion could receive that many owls in one morning.

“Unbelievable!” Ivan marveled as he moved a few breakfast dishes away from the landing owls. “I’d been wondering where all your fans had gone. You’ve not had any owls for a few days. Any professions of love?”

“Hmmm . . . no, I think I’m safe this time, and thankfully most of this stuff is from clubs by the looks of it,” Deucalion replied with a hopeful tone. Whenever his name appeared in the Daily Prophet, he would almost always receive an impassioned letter or two. One older witch told him he was the savior of the English Chasers and mentioned how much her granddaughter adored watching him play. He later discovered that girl was actually Rita Skeeter, some nosy, blonde-headed fifth year in Slytherin.

Deucalion could feel that many eyes in the Great Hall were on him, and who could blame the stares? He had all but disappeared behind a cloud of feathers. With great difficulty, he began untying his letters and parcels from the owls, which were helping themselves to the remains of his breakfast.

As he suspected, most of the post was from professional teams urging him to leave school and start flying immediately. Typical business from the Arrows, Catapults, and Falcons, three teams with deep pockets and not a lot of discretion. The Arrows had all but guaranteed him a swimming pool full of Galleons. It was momentarily tempting, but Deucalion knew he had better stay at Hogwarts. The potential wrath of his mother was all too real if he packed his trunk for Appleby.

In another letter, someone in the Wasps organization had written to thank Deucalion again for attending the match and sent along a nice gold-and-black striped scarf. The Kenmare Kestrels had sent along a nice miniature harp autographed by the starting seven, which was a nice -- albeit useless -- gift.

Ivan read the discarded letters on the table with interest. “Well, they don’t value education much in the Quidditch industry, do they?”

“My dad says most players are real idiots, and I’ll believe it,” Deucalion said as he gently prodded the lingering owls away from his seat to clear room for his elbows on the table. “Almost every player on England’s side never had proper schooling, you know? Forget Hogwarts. Quidditch officials try to find the best young players and pay to have them trained at flying academies.”

“But your parents would have none of that?”

“Oh, I never had a chance of going there,” Deucalion said. “A national coach came by my house once to discuss the possibility of sending me to an academy. I was only . . . let’s see . . . seven or eight years old at the time maybe. I’ll never forget Dad’s reply: ‘No son of mine is going to end up helplessly stupid and dim-witted like all the boys you put on broomsticks.’ Slammed the door in the literal face of that possibility.”

Ivan laughed. “I can’t believe you’ve never told me that story! Only your father would tell off a national coach so bluntly.”

“So true!” Deucalion said. “Then again, my dad’s in a profession where it’s his job to tell people off! But don’t get me wrong, though. The flying academies look absolutely amazing. Just think of it: sitting on a broom for hours a day.”

“That’d probably start to hurt after a while,” Ivan said distractedly. He had started his daily routine to be sure he had everything for Transfiguration. It was a useless activity; Ivan had probably never forgotten any class assignment or textbook in his entire life.

Deucalion gathered up his letters, scarf, and useless, and wedged them carelessly into his bag with all his books, including his faithful Quidditch rule book. He could not wait to ride his officially match-legal broom later. Nothing was better than darting around on a pitch, weaving past defending Chasers with their arms raking about for the Quaffle or taking an off-balanced shot at the hoop and knowing without-a-doubt that it was going in cleanly. He could almost hear the eery, rhythmic serpentine hissing sould that would emanate from the Slytherin crowd after each goal.

“Did you not notice we just passed Sigrid?”

“Wha — we did?” Deucalion was jerked abruptly from his daydream and back into a crowded hallway in Hogwarts.

“Yeah, she even smiled and waved,” Ivan replied, sounding almost offended that Deucalion had not paid attention to his sister. “First time she’s probably ever waved at us in front of her friends. She usually adopts a strict policy of pretending I don’t exist when she’s with them. There was your chance to impress Sigrid with one of your infectious ‘king-of-the-pitch’ grins! You know, the smile that gets you out of half your Herbology assignments?”

“I’m well aware of that smile,” Deucalion said before he whirled around briefly to catch a glimpse of Sigrid’s golden, twisting braid trailing behind her. He nearly ran into a Ravenclaw boy in front of him as he turned back around. “Hey Ivan, since when did you think I could impress your sister? It’s never worked before.”

“It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try, Duke,” Ivan said, elbowing Deucalion in a playful way. But still maybe a little harder than usual. “Effort’s half of that losing battle. Besides, I just want to remind you that my sister is countlessly better than that Clio Bridges. More beautiful, more intelligent and far less clumsy.”

“Why are we suddenly comparing Sigrid to Clio?” Deucalion asked. He could tell his voice was growing irritated. “Have I professed my love for Clio Bridges recently? No! She’s still a clumsy Gryffindor with ink perpetually all over her face. Pretty much the only thing we know about her — outside her habit of spells going horribly wrong — is that she knows an awful lot about racing brooms.”

“Don’t be swayed by the knowledge of Quidditch,” Ivan reminded. “Clio’s still the girl who almost killed Flitwick with flying toads. Twice!”

“Oh, I know!” Deucalion said. “Still . . . Clio has an obsession with Silas Fincher’s writing, and that has to count for something.”

“She has good taste in Quidditch reporters, then,” Ivan said. “We can at least give her credit for that. Duke, I swear Sigrid would be the greatest if she had the tiniest respect for Quidditch or Silas Fincher.”

Deucalion and Ivan grew quiet as they continued toward Transfiguration. What game was Ivan playing anyway? They both knew Sigrid would never in a thousand lifetimes fall madly in love with him. It had been their running joke for years, something they had even laughed about on the train a few days ago. Deucalion could only guess Ivan wanted him to at least notice and respect the near-flawlessness that was Sigrid Berdahl.

Girls. When was he ever going to figure them out? He could not even figure out Ivan half the time, and he saw him practically all day, every day. All Deucalion had learned was that girls were rarely impressed for long by autographs or newspaper clippings detailing his heroics on the pitch.

With a sigh, Deucalion sat at his table, pulled his book free from his crowded bag, and resolved to put the last few minutes behind him. After all, he had a Quidditch team to assemble.


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