Chapter 1 : Snitch Weekly
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Chasers run the game, relentlessly passing the Quaffle as reliable as the passing of seconds. Each one is enthralling, and necessary to keep the pace of the game up.
Periodically, your Keepers are brought in to the gameplay and they play their roles wonderfully, like a guest appearance to appease the spectators. Every pass adds up to their saves and misses, like seconds to a minute.
Alarm bells ring as the focus shifts to a Beater – unplanned and unexpected, quite shocking too. They can bring about good and bad during games, dictated by which team you support.
Then you have Seekers. You can watch the time ticking towards their moment during the game, never the focus as all this background work is going on, but waiting. It can strike any time, building and threatening at various moments... there’s a tipping point, a point of no return where they tighten their grip on the broom and make that decision-
And the clock stops.
05:00. No, you can kindly fuck off.
Oh-five? Not even a simple five? That makes it possible for me to have misread the clock, meaning a lovely ‘PM’ is tacked on the end.
AM means war. A war that must be fought with verbal abuse and/or pillow-bashing my captain.
“OUT OF MY ROOM, WEASLEY!”
Roxy lifts her arms as my bedding is launched at her face. A pillow sails into her waiting Keeper hands, and she raises an eyebrow as if to say ‘was that your best shot?’.
No Roxanne, my best shot is an excellent left hook. Want to see it?
She tosses the pillow back like a failed goal attempt. “King’s warming up, and the Woods are flooing over once Alfie has eaten his breakfast.”
“I don’t care.”
“I’ll make Jack vice-captain,” she threatens effectively. I sit upright and glower at her.
Roxy was never a morning person. A year ago, I’d have to chisel her out of bed with the promise of bacon, coffee and a few difficult goals for her to have a go at saving. She’d thank me with death-threats and the silent treatment whilst I carried her kit down as a lure.
I’d be climbing up the walls in anticipation of being on a broom, desperate to be the first in the changing room. Now? Well now, the captaincy’s been decided and I no longer have to arse-kiss our old captain Lily Potter to within an inch of my life so I’ll get her recommendation.
Instead, I chose the unorthodox route of duelling my competition for the role during a heated Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson, and Longbottom decided that neither of us ‘had the maturity required for a captain’.
So Roxy got it. A sixth year, over two excellent sevenths.
She’s good, Rox – one of the best in the school, in fact. This doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never missed a Snitch, and that this is my final year coming up. I’ve been a reserve player since first year, and then in second year, I secured the Cup for us after Albus Potter received a Bludger to the shoulder and the matron dragged him off the pitch before he could get back in the air pursuing the Snitch.
I caught it within fifteen minutes of leaving the ground. You tell me that’s not an impressive feat for a thirteen year-old girl to achieve.
But now I’m closing in on eighteen. There are two offers for me to join the reserve squads of lower-league teams already under my belt, plus there’s the interview due out soonish, where a Quidditch magazine thought ‘Blonde? Young? Seeker? Perfect!’ and did an article.
They only got nine questions in there about my dead mother too, so that’s a bonus.
But I’m spending my day not surrounded by professional Quidditch players, agents and journalists, but with the remnants of the Gryffindor team from last year. We’re practising as a five-piece today, it seems.
“Can I at least eat some toast?” I groan, squinting at my captain through painfully dry eyes.
Roxy looks at me, sitting in bed and twitching my eyes awkwardly. She must feel a tiny bit of pity because she says “Fine. So long as you’re at mine in ten minutes.”
And then she disappears, probably to sneak back through the fireplace before Tom, Annette or their little cretins (read: devil children) realise that Roxy frequently ‘breaks and enters’ into our home via floo.
We should probably step up the security around here.
My Quidditch robes are too heavy for this bright, misty morning, so I leave them hung up and opt for a loyal red shirt with black leggings. Personally, I’d much rather wear my navy vest with mouse-chewed holes at the hem, but things are a little tense with the Ravenclaw team at the minute; Roxy would rather redden my shirt with blood before letting me fly in the enemy’s colours.
Picking a broom is rather difficult too. I have eight to choose from.
When I was four, Tom got me my first proper broom. Not one of those namby-pamby infant models, the type that doesn’t let you get further than three feet away from your parents without coming to a halt, but an actual Quidditch broom.
Sure, it was a petite model made for short women, but that didn’t make it any less impressive. I could barely read, and yet Tom (doing his duty as a stand-in father) had me pulling hairpin turns, the occasional dive and let me do most of it one-handed.
We progressed onto quicker ones, with racing brooms amongst the training ones filling up the shed, as he bought back the latest models from work for me to try out. The Hurricane Five has been my favourite since last March, convenient seeing as Tom and Annette own the company that makes them.
Here's a golden nugget of wisdom: if you ever want to get anywhere in the world of Quidditch, opt for a having a parent (or in my case, parental figure) in the world of equipment production. An ex-player means that you have expectations to live up to, and a manager or coach means that an offer from their club will instigate more outcries of 'favouritism' than you could shake a broom at.
Roxy has a mum who played as a reserve for the Catapults after the war, and our remaining Beater, King, is of muggle parentage. The last two players are brothers, and much to my own delight (and their misfortune) their father is none other than Montrose Magpie’s manager, Oliver Wood.
The Magpies are my team, just to make things clear.
I met these brothers, Jack and Alfie, when I was seven and a half, as the Carradale Chaffinches battled Bassenthwaite Bees for an underwhelmingly small cup and bragging rights. These were two junior clubs where children are taught about the values of sporting participation, and where I could annihilate the competition on their training brooms.
As a Chaffinch of three weeks, I was raring to go in my temporary position of Keeper (some nine year-old had sobbed to their mother about wanting to have a go at Seeking, so I’d been ousted from my beloved role). But despite my prowess at all things Quidditch, protecting the goals from Jack Wood and his freakish Chaser skills seemed a step too far. We battled, he scored, I swore, and that nine year-old twit of a Seeker didn’t catch the Snitch as it literally tried to fly up his nose.
Jack’s little brother Alfie was barely five, but even he found an opportunity to try rubbing their win in my face, waggling his tongue from the sidelines.
Anyway, six months later I’m stood on the pitch at our club, screaming at the coach because there is a certain Chaser warming up and wearing Chaffinch kit. The Wood family had relocated north after Mr Wood was gifted the role of Magpie manager, meaning that their kids were now part of our Quidditch battalion. I went mildly bonkers.
I snap my head around, toast hanging out of my mouth and jam on my chin. Jack and King are stood by the kitchen counter in my house with brooms in hand and a magazine under Jack’s arm.
“Furmph,” I answer, buttering my second slice and tearing the toast in my mouth away. Having put up with me for a few years each, they understand my lack of ladylike grace in their presence – resembling a bread bin is probably a better look for me than the sweaty, pink mess passed out in mud-pools that they’ve seen at practices, where I’ve Wronski-feinted myself to death.
King takes a guess that my slurred words mean ‘what the fuck are you doing here?’ and answers my question with “Roxy says you’ve been twenty minutes and if Alfie can finish his breakfast while jogging laps, so can you.”
“Bitch,” is my response.
“Me or her?”
I shrug and swallow my breakfast painfully, “Both, to be fair.”
King and Roxy are both sixth years, but unlike our new captain, King has a very relaxed attitude to Quidditch. Mainly because if he was as manically obsessed as the rest of us, I’d be scared of him actually battering me for being late to practice.
He’s built like a brick-house, massive and with such powerful back-swings that I almost feel sympathy for the poor Slytherins on the receiving end of those Bludgers. Almost. And he can hit a Seeker on a decent broom when they’re in pursuit of the Snitch, which makes me really happy he’s a Gryffindor.
King doesn’t quite look so care free this morning; Jack appears to be trying hard not to fly across the room and stab me with the bread knife.
“What’s this, Lennox?” he thunders, brandishing a magazine bearing the legend ‘Snitch Weekly’ and an image of a shirtless Sergei Ivanovitch who’s holding his broom suggestively between his legs. Oh my.
“That,” I glance back at my toast only to watch myself spread jam over the back of my hand, “is a sexual god of the Quidditch field in a pose designed to make me want to drop my knickers.”
“Explains this then,” and his slams the magazine on the worktop next to my breakfast, open on a page with ‘Is this the new face of the Seeking world?’ emblazoned across the top.
My exposed shoulder is visible in this picture, result of an overly large Quidditch shirt that they gave me to wear for the shoot, along with a sultry expression on my face and my gloves grazing my cheek ever so slightly.
And that’s the most conservative of the set. The rest are of me in shorts that would be highly-impractical for playing Quidditch, and vests that make my boobs look like they deserve the rights to be separate legal entities to the rest of my body.
Sports bra or push-up bra? You can guess which one they wanted me to wear.
And in every photo, I’m staring at the camera or off into the distance with that same pout and ‘fuck-me expression’ as Jack’s now calling it.
“-would possess you to do this?!! It’s so desperate I can’t even believe you’d actually even consider – if you think this is going to get you any offers, you can forget it completely – total laughing stock.”
I’ve rendered him incapable of forming coherent sentences. I’ve also rendered myself incapable of forming coherent sentences, because I’m staring at the article and trying hard not to vomit my toast into the sink.
“Oh, I’ve always known Seeking would be my profession one day”... “I hope my mum is proud of me, because I know she’s watching”... “Getting my hands on a broom – especially if it’s new – such a thrill”.
I don’t talk like that. I especially don’t talk like that about my dead mother, and I also don’t make casual innuendos when trying to give myself a public profile. This is slander, completely and utter bollocks that I can’t protest against because this sort of reputation is better than no reputation at all.
Jack knows this – that’s why he’s doing his nut in.
We both need offers from good teams at the end of this year, and I’m the only one with a ‘rising star’ profile being broadcast (even if it’s the profile you’d expect of a ‘desperate, laughing stock’ as Jack put it). He’s got a famous dad – but don’t we all in this business.
He shuts up and glares at me. I realise that my two words have set me on an offensive path, and I’ve got to commit to it; no u-turns or apologetic explanations, just a swearing defence of my actions.
“If I want to get scouts to look at me, I’ll do a pervy magazine article.” I flick the page with my jammy fingers and suppress the bout of nausea instigated by the further pictures of me pasted next to photos of my mum back in her hey-day for a comparison. “You’re only annoyed because Witch Weekly hasn’t asked you to take your top off for them and talk about your ‘ideal date’, with questions about Quidditch squished in there so it’s considered vaguely on-topic.”
King shuffles awkwardly and rolls his broom around in his grip. He’s probably annoyed that I didn’t mention my interview to him – and that I didn’t go fully topless like the photographer suggested.
He may be a mate, but he’s a boy and I have breasts; perverted banter is a given during practices.
Jack’s about to spit out an acidic response, but a creak on the staircase silences us all, and I become painfully aware how loud we were being just now.
“Lottie,” calls Tom, wandering in wearing a dressing gown and bags under his eyes, “what’s going on – Jack? Christopher? It’s not even half five yet.”
He’s going to find out about it sooner or later, but I prefer later, when he’s not delirious with early-morning fatigue and there aren’t two of my friends in the room.
But Jack looks pointedly at my article. And Tom’s perceptive nature leads him to pick up that magazine with grave disappointment all over his features.
He contemplates it for a few seconds, turning the page and visibly wincing as he’s greeted with the image of my deceased mother acting as an ambassador for ‘Chesty Girls’ in the world of Quidditch, simultaneously with photos of her daughter doing similar things. Then he puts it back down and fixes me with an expression that causes my stomach to squirm.
“I thought we agreed,” he says softly, “that you weren’t going to be a spokeswoman for sports bras.”
“But-” I stutter, “that’s not-”
He shrugs and massages his temples with a weary hand. “That’s the best offer you’re going to get with this article – there’ll be more that’ll promise to make you a star, but for all the wrong reasons.”
My cheeks feel warm, and I have to divert my gaze to the floor. “Tom,” there’s a hoarse note in my voice that wasn’t there before, “I didn’t want my first article to be like this-”
“-And if you’d agreed to have me come with you, then I could have put a stop to these silly poses.”
“They kept bringing Mum up, I didn’t want you to have to put up with that.”
There’s a ‘whoosh’ noise from the living room, and Roxy materialises behind King and Jack seconds later, shaking ash from her hair. “What the hell you lot doing? Practice is offic- oh, hi Mr Murdoch,” she says, doing a bit of a double take as she views the scene before her, “erm, what’s going on?”
“Lottie’s done an interview.” Jack still has a sharp tone, and I notice the furious, white knuckles gripping his broom.
“With who – oh,” and she spots the pictures on the worktop, “which magazine is that?”
“Next week’s Snitch Weekly – my cousin’s an editor, so he sent me this because he knows she’s on my team.”
I bristle with anger again. “Our team, Wood, you’re not captain.”
“And neither are you.”
Roxy’s words cut through the air like a knife, completely unexpected. I see the stony expression mingled with disgust on her face, and feel my breath catch. A lump forms in my throat when I realise that not even my sole female teammate is showing any inclination of supporting me on this one.
“Well,” I say quietly, swallowing the urge to cry and staring at my toast, now oddly unappetised. “Forgive me, but I think I might just go back to bed.”
It’s only as I’ve left the room and have one foot on the stairs that I hear Jack’s comment.
Yes I am. Tell me what to do.