It was really quite surprising how easily my body would adjust when it came to matters relating to Quidditch. I was up the next morning at five thirty and out of the blissfully silent and sleeping house half an hour later, regrettably without any breakfast in my stomach. I warmed up till the team landed up and would be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised when they all turned up on time.
“’Morning everybody,” I greeted the disgruntled but still attractive looking females. “I have to say I almost fell off my broom at the sight of all of you trooping in on time. But I really appreciate it. We’ll start with some warm-up – I know you guys are accustomed to Kratzky, Gogol and Belinda so we’ll stick with those routines for the time being. In half an hour we’ll start with the individual speed tests, take a break, and then we’ll have a trial match so that we can make selections for the team that plays Manchester. Everybody follow?”
All the heads nodded sleepily.
“Alright, then. Get on your brooms.”
I sometimes doubted if I was fit for the job – the only real training I had done for wizards and witches was private home tutoring for the kids of high-profile celebrities who had type II diabetes and wanted someone cheap to at least teach them how to mount a broom without breaking a nose. I had written numerous strategy-related articles for various unheard-of papers in England for all the little derby teams people liked to call ‘nuggets’, but that aside, I had no real credentials for the job at all.
“Oh come on! Nobody’s team captain at Hogwarts for three years at Hogwarts unless they’ve got some amount of talent!” Alfred told me later the same day over lunch. “And Gryffindor won all three years, didn’t you? You haven’t dabbled in the business much recently, I’ll agree, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t got any talent, old boy.”
I shrugged and thanked him, feeling marginally better upon recalling the memory of lifting up the Quidditch Cup three times in a row. Alfred dabbed his extensive forehead with his handkerchief and folded his arms across his chest.
“How’s the team coming along then?”
“Good,” I said, and I meant it. “I’m going to tell them who’s made the team and who has to sit it out – for the Manchester match, I mean – after lunch.”
“And what do you think about the girls?” he asked curiously and I raised an eyebrow at him.
“How do you mean?”
“Oh, what’s their game like?” he asked and I realized he wasn’t talking about their likeability.
“I have to admit that some of the girls on the Hogwarts team were much better. But they’re really young, right? They just need to be pushed in the right direction. I don’t think they’re used to any extensive training, so what I’m putting them through seems a bit harsh at the moment, and they’ll hate me for it. But it’ll be worth it, when we get into the Premiere League.”
“Ah, big dreams, James,” chuckled Alfred and I glowered at him.
“It’ll happen. Have a little faith in me, Mr Prewett,” I said, tossing my salad around.
“I have plenty of faith in you, James,” he said honestly, with a sad smile. “But the Wigan Veelas have not won a single game since Doris Harper – who was their captain and strategist – left to have a family. I don’t even remember the date because it was so long ago!”
Later that afternoon, I sat down with the girls on the pitch and ran them through on their individual weaknesses and strengths. I reviewed the Manchester Muggle Eaters’ standard strategy with them and gave them the usual we-are-better-than-them-and-can-beat-them pep-talk ritual I had mastered in the locker rooms at Hogwarts.
“I’ve watched the Manchester team and in complete honesty, they are nothing extraordinary. The Slytherin team could beat them with their eyes closed! And I mean no disrespect to any of you who are Slytherins. But that’s not the point – the point is this: You have played Manchester before and lost to them – quite shamefully, might I add. They might think they have a mental edge. Mental edge my arse. There is nothing emotional or mind-boggling about Quidditch – unless any of you have ex-boyfriends on the team, in which case I might be wrong. It’s just pure skill and strategy. More strategy than skill, to be honest. It’s no mystery as to why Ravenclaw was reigning champion at Hogwarts for so many years. Their strategies were incomparable and they had so much variety. But their skill level was on equal footing with all other houses. Of course, then Slytherin upped the game and became the team to beat. That’s all it comes down to – game plan. You need to know how you’re going to attack. You need to be intuitive, instinctive and intelligently presumptive. Just because you haven’t done it before it doesn’t mean you can’t do it, or you don’t have it in you. You have an advantage now – you have absolutely nothing to lose. Let’s be honest, how many people are betting on us to come out the winners? You have this advantage, and I hope you will not have it for a long time.”
“Chang, you’re staying as captain,” I said as I informed them on who would be on the final team and who wouldn’t. “Rogers, Monroe, Dupont, Bruni, Pierre, Vermont, you guys keep your original positions. The rest of you are going to have to sit out the first match. Vermont I want you as Seeker, by the way. For those of you who haven’t made the team – you know it doesn’t make sense to have all thirty one of you playing on the main team, not to mention it’s against the oldest rules in the book. This doesn’t mean you’re not ever going to have a shot. We might need to substitute during the game, depending on how it goes, so all of you need to practice equally hard. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” they repeated in a military-like fashion and I nodded.
“Good work today, team. I’ll see you all tomorrow at six-thirty, and I’m bringing a new diet plan with me,” they groaned unhappily.
“You should have left a note, I thought somebody had kidnapped you,” Mum said over tea, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “How’s it coming along then?”
“Alright,” I said, taking a bite out of a crumpet and sitting back in the chair. “They’re all good players. They’ve just had such rubbish strategists and coaches in the past, though. I really want to get them into the Premiere League. Alfred Prewett laughed at me when I told him that earlier.”
“Oh James, I’m sure you can do it,” she reached over the table and gave my hand a pat. “Besides, he’s a middle-aged tosser who knows nothing about new age Quidditch. I’ve read his editorial in the Quibbler – absolute buttocks
. His game plans are as old as Dumbledore.” Mum snorted and I laughed. I felt a sudden wave of guilt wash over me as I realized what a twit I had been over the course of the week.
“I’m sorry I’ve been such a prat lately,” I sighed and she nodded, patting my hand again understandingly. “It’s just been hard, you know? I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall. I don’t know where I’m going.”
“You don’t worry about where you’re going and all that,” Mum said sternly. “Just focus on getting these girls into shape. If you want help, I’m glad to be of use, at any time. If they’re a talented bunch getting them into the League shouldn’t be hard, James. You can do it.” She squeezed my hand and gave me a reassuring nod and I gave her a thankful smile. We talked about the team for a while, till Dad got home and Lily and Ruby came down the stairs.
“Mum thought you had been kidnapped,” Lily said, ruffling my hair. “Jean-Pierre is back from Newcastle and is coming over for dinner tonight, so be nice, would you?”
“I’m actually really offended that you’re marrying off some bloke I have never even met before,” I commented dryly and Lily rolled her eyes at me.
“You always lived in another city, never bothered to phone me or keep in touch, and said ‘oh, great’ when I told you I was engaged,” she snapped and Ruby let out a low whistle. I raised my eyebrows at her and she shrugged, but I decided not to pursue it, not wanting to be lectured on my poor brothering skills.
“I’m a wizard, I don’t know how to operate a phone,” I said stupidly and Lily made a face at me.
“Anyway, how did it go with the caterer?” she asked, turning to Ruby.
“He had everything you wanted on the menu for a reasonable price,” she said with a smile. “I think that means you can stop cooking so many batches of canapés, Mrs Potter.”
“Well Mr Potter happens to enjoy eating said canapés, so please don’t,” Dad said with a grin from across the table.
“I’ve been going over designs for the dress with Ruby,” Lily began again. “I’ve also put on half a stone since coming back home,” she said, glaring at Mum who just shrugged. “I’ve got to lose all of it to fit the dress. Tell Mum about the dress, Ruby.”
“Wait,” I interrupted before Ruby could begin. “You’re trying to lose weight to fit into a dress? Why don’t you just ... buy a bigger size?”
All four pairs of eyes stared at me and I wasn’t answered. I glared at my Dad for not backing me up and pushed a scone into my mouth, not saying anything further.
“Lily said she wanted something simple but classy,” began Ruby and Mum nodded. “We’ve eliminated the possibility of a short dress – I know they’re very trendy at the moment, but they can look so tacky at times and honestly, where’s the beauty in a wedding dress if it doesn’t cascade along the floor?” she questioned and everybody nodded in agreement. “So what we’ve got at the moment is an ivory dress, full-length lace sleeves, well-fit from the bust and up, and a floaty skirt with a long train. Yes?”
“Goodbye,” I said, standing up and walking out of the room, back up the stairs. I could hear my mother’s reprimands, before she justified my behaviour with a ‘poor thing, he’s had a long day. It’s probably all going over his head’ and Ruby hollered out to remind me that we had to see the florist at seven. I collapsed onto my bed face down, the exhaustion finally taking over.
“I’m not paying seventy galleons for a sample! What are they made of gold or something?” Ruby argued with the florist, inside a quaint little boutique a little beyond Godric’s Hollow.
“Had ter find them to yer specifications, dinn I?” the florist, a stubby old man wearing a name card that read ‘Green Thumb’ yelled back.
“Well you’re a florist, that’s your bloody job!” she cried, looking at the florist like she was going to bite his head off. I nudged her out of the way and gave the old man a small smile.
“I don’t think a sample should cost us more than twenty five,” I said politely and he grunted.
“Ten!” cried Ruby and I shut her up.
“We’ll settle for thirty five,” I rationed and Green Thumb let out a growl.
“Fine,” he snatched the flowers from Ruby’s hand and wrapped it in newspaper before practically throwing it back at her, snatching the galleons that I placed on the counter top as well. “Be gone!”
“Have a nice day,” Ruby said snidely, walking out of the boutique behind me.
“You have some serious anger management issues, Miss Crowne,” I said and she huffed.
“He was being downright unreasonable! The market price is ten galleons. How can he sell it for seventy?” she cried and I shrugged.
“It’s a big boutique. If you wanted something for ten dollars you should have gone to Diagon Alley and picked up some Touch Me Nots,” I snapped and she glared at me.
“That’s bollocks,” she muttered angrily, before letting out a sigh. “How was work?”
I looked at her from the corner of my eye, understanding that she was probably desperate to change the topic.
“Productive,” I said truthfully. “I’m trying to get the team into the League.”
“The Premier League?” she asked and I nodded. “I haven’t watched a Quidditch match in something like a decade.” She mumbled.
“Quidditch is the only
thing I’ve been keeping track of for the past decade,” I said with a small smile. “When did you leave to the West?” I asked suddenly and she looked at me, surprised.
“Soon after Hogwarts. Why?” she asked quietly, looking away and I shrugged.
“You kind of disappeared after Hogwarts,” I said slowly. “Nobody knew where you were. And then a year later or something, at a reunion in the Hog’s Head, Toby told me you went to America.”
“Yeah,” she trailed off, looking lost. “There was nothing here for me to stay for.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, genuinely surprised at her comment.
“My parents were getting a divorce, and I wasn’t interested in any of the conventional, wizard-y career options they wanted me to choose from. So I talked to Professor McG and she helped me out. I applied to university there, met Rosie a few years later, started working. I never thought I’d come back. Ever.”
“Sorry about your parents,” I mumbled, feeling like an idiot for not knowing. “Are you going to see them now that you’re here?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a shaky laugh. “They were really angry when I said I was going to leave the country. And my Dad was all ‘what do you want to make clothes for? You’re not a tailor!’. I made a short trip a few years ago, actually. It was for two days and I stayed in London for the most part, but I went to Surrey to see them. It was ...” she shook her head, still smiling.
“What?” I egged on, staring at her.
“They were so unhappy! My brothers are sisters are all Healers and Aurors with children on the way or already with big, happy families and I – I work for a magazine!” she cried, letting out a small laugh but evidently upset. “Then they tried to talk me into getting married – called up some long lost old friend of theirs and tried to get me to meet their son. I wasn’t having any of it.”
“When was this? When did this happen?”
“Probably three years back. What were you doing three years back?” she asked with a smile and I chuckled.
“Finish your story first,” I said and she laughed.
“Well, I turned down the bloke, obviously. Archie Plum, his name was. My parents went bonkers, saying I wasn’t making any money, that I was fooling around, blah blah blah. Except they were wrong – I was making a decent amount of money, and I knew that I’d get promoted sooner or later. And I did. The only thing my parents ever agreed on was about how I was such a massive let down, and they always felt the need to interfere and clean up my mess. But then my Mum said she was wiping her hands off of me, that I was twenty four and she couldn’t spoon feed me anymore. And they told me not to bother coming back.”
Ruby chuckled sadly, shaking her head as if she couldn’t believe it. “So I guess I’m not going to see them. The end. What about you then?”
“Three years back I was teaching a bunch of rich kids how to play Quidditch,” I said lamely. “I was living off my Dad’s money, hardly getting by with my own. I finally feel like I’m going somewhere with my career, you know?”
She nodded and shrugged. “I guess you had family and friends sorted out and mucked up in the career department. It’s the opposite for me. Since moving to New York – I could be whoever I wanted, you know? I didn’t have to be that girl from a family of Claws who got sorted into Gryffindor, perpetually being compared to her ridiculously talented siblings,” she sighed. “That’s why I didn’t want to come back. London makes me hate myself so much, you know? The old me. The stupid me that wasn’t good enough for anything or anybody.”
“Are you crazy?” I exclaimed. “You were one of the brightest witches in our year. And everybody – I don’t know, respected
She looked taken aback but smiled, shaking her head.
“No, seriously, Ruby you have no idea – ”
“I know, James,” she cut across. “Thank
you? But it’s different. Rose tells me the same thing, and whenever I bump into someone from Hogwarts they always go ‘oh gosh, Ruby you were such a star!’ and I appreciate people thinking that, really. But now I realize that I made myself out to be very different? I don’t know, gosh it’s complicated. Never mind. Sorry.” She waved her hands around, closing her eyes and shaking her head.
really different,” I argued and she gave me a small smile.
“We should go. Jean-Pierre’s coming for dinner, remember?” she said and I nodded, throwing my hands up in the air. We walked towards the car in silence and didn’t say another word till we got home.
Jean-Pierre was not half as dim-witted as I expected him to be. He was an alright looking bloke with a sharp nose and a steady bank account, who enjoyed caviar and Moet de Chandon. He had to make do with my mother’s beetroot juice though, and managed to compliment her on her excellent culinary skills.
Dinner was – well, dinner. We didn’t see the Weasleys that night, so it was just Lily, Ruby, Mum, Dad, Jean-Pierre and me. I was too caught up in my own thoughts to bother being rude or snarky, and every once in a while I would catch Ruby taking in a deep breath and playing with her fork.
Everybody pitched in to clean up the dishes and it was half-past eleven by the time I was back in my room, lying on my back, completely and annoyingly wide awake. I replayed my conversation with Ruby over and over again in my head, till I genuinely couldn’t comprehend any of it anymore.
I found myself walking through the corridors of Hogwarts one more time, searching the familiar faces all around me till my gaze landed on the girl in the far corner, beside the statue of the gargoyle. Ruby looked remarkably different, with a trail of long brown hair that was sometimes tied into a messy bun when she was reading. Her eyes were a warm hazel, but decidedly less bright and less happy, and made you feel like she lived in her own world. This wasn’t entirely true though, I reminded myself. Ruby and I were both in the Magic Union, and she was assertive, powerful and still had a lot of friends. She had always been irritable and sharp, but in a more mild manner. She always had a quick repartee ready for anybody who dared question her, and always walked around with a book in hand, probably in some vain attempt to escape the idiots around her. Misanthropic but magnanimous. Lost but level headed. She was some kind of an enigma.
Just when I thought I had her all figured out
, I thought with a sigh, turning over and closing my eyes.
Amazing chapter image by Bear&Fox