Quidditch in school was hardly what I'd call a manly, physically athletic sport. It can be rough, even dangerous, but flying around on a broomstick is so not the sort of thing to leave you with toned abs and looking all around hot. If you think for a second that it's a sport that does that, that that's the reason to play, you should turn around and walk away right now because you're entering the wrong profession.
No boy in Hogwarts looked good because of Quidditch.
They looked good because they worked for it. And to each their own, I don't care why the guys think they need to look as good as the celebrities they follow and secretly idolize as much as girls do.
Which leads me to the professional Quidditch players. When they say they're in training, they don't mean lifting weights and running laps - although, I know they do things like that to keep fit and all - no, they mean actual Quidditch training; flying on brooms, throwing balls into hoops and catching snitches while their coach keeps track with their watch, so they know they're beating times. Those abs that a fair few, though not all, guys have? Yeah, that's to sell the team. It's to make teenage boys look up to them and women want to watch, it's to attract more people... It's to sell tickets.
And boy does it work. I will not lie.
It's mostly the stars the coaches push to sell their teams - Xavier Sinclair, Cody McIntyre and Danny Gilbert, from the Falcons, just being three of them (for the girls, it's Olivia Parker, the Harpies Keeper who is still Chris' favorite poster, and Natalia Thomas, who is an admittedly beautiful chaser on Xavier's team). Each one looks just as amazing in their own ways and is probably the reasons why a fair few kids want to play nowadays, having the completely wrong idea when it comes to why they all look so good.
I imagine long workouts I could never do and diets I could never follow, but I do love to watch them play. The guys for, well, obvious reasons, but all of them because they are really good players and Quidditch can actually be fun to watch once you get into it. To be honest, there are times when I think I still don't completely understand the appeal this game has and wonder if I'll always watch it just for the players, but then I'll see something, a goal or a foul move, and it interests me enough to focus more on the game, maybe even shout out along with the rest of the fans.
Albus may have grown to hate playing the game, but even he can admit that watching it is not so bad. Fun even, once he stops moaning about it - it's not the game's fault he can't fly.
So, I'm glad he said yes to coming with me. I would have asked Emmett, but he stares at the players more than I do, and after him it would have been Scorpius, but he's been really busy with school lately - he's putting his scribbles to good use, as Uncle Draco joked, and wants to be an architect. His grandfather kinda wanted Scor to go into the family business, something to do with finance, but Aunt Astoria fully supported his career path and Uncle Draco couldn't say anything because he works in the Ministry. So, now he'll be the one who builds my dream home. I don't know where yet, but it'll be amazing and there'll be plenty of room, both inside and out. Which is why I'd be okay with him not coming here with me.
There'll definitely be room if the kid becomes a Quidditch fan for the right reasons.
Albus pulls on my hand, bringing me back to the real world with a jolt, and flashes our badges to the security guard, so we can get inside. He's a big guy, intimidating until he smiles at us, then I doubt he could hurt a fly. The back of the stadium, this time at Bodmin Moor, is the perfect way to go in if you have every intention of meeting a player or two before the game. Whether or not we actually do is another matter, but it's better to get in this way and try straight away than to go through the front entrance and have to push your way through crowds, only to miss your chance because you've spent so long trying to get in and the game has already started.
It's also easier to get to the box we'll be watching the game in.
"So, what were you thinking about?" Albus asks, leading the way.
"Scorpius becoming an architect and building the new house, with a garden big enough for our kid to play Quidditch if he wants to," I reply, grinning because I know he'd rather the kid not want to play, so he and Hugo aren't alone. Not that he'd think of stopping the kid from playing if he or she wanted to.
He groans, as I thought he would, but says nothing.
Probably because the Magpies manager just walked past us, turning left in front of us.
The Magpies changing room must be there.
Cody McIntyre is so close.
I start to move left. Al pushes me forwards and up the stairs.
"But -" I start, practically heartbroken. I turn to him, letting him see exactly how I'm feeling right now. "Cody."
"We are here to see Xavier, because we know that he'll be in the little lounge on the floor we're currently heading to, before the box," Albus says, continuing to push me up the stairs. "Now if we happen to see Cody McIntyre in there, then you can go nuts. I'll even let you hug him."
"Really?" My eyes light up. "Anything else?" I joke.
"Don't push it when this relationship is still so new," Albus murmurs, sounding like he's joking with me, but we both know his imagination is running wild right now.
"I promise," I say, my hand on my heart, still keeping my teasing tone, even if my promise is serious. "No pushing."
I stop trying to force myself backwards, instead I relax and continue to walk, giving Al the okay to let me go. He can trust me not to turn and run to my favorite celeb, one who I don't already know. Xavier doesn't really count, since I went to school with him, even if I never actually spoke to him. Cody McIntyre, however, went to Beauxbatons.
The lounge is empty, no Quidditch players in sight, but that's not what has me running inside - it's the buffet table; plates of little sandwiches and mini sausages and Bertie Box in a bowl, among other things. I've already bitten into a cheese sandwich when Al reaches me.
"The food is for the players," he reminds me.
"But we're allowed in here," I counter. "And the food is in here."
"The passes may allow us access to here, but it's still the players' lounge. We came to see Xavier, who is obviously not here, so we can go." Al slowly drags me away, I feel like he'll be doing so a lot today, and I let him. "There'll be food where we are," he promises.
"Just eat it," Xavier says, rolling his eyes as he enters the room. My eyes light up again, but Al doesn't let go. Xavier goes to the buffet table and takes a cake just to spite me, I bet. He refers to the other players. "They rarely do."
"Just you," Al points out.
"Obviously, I didn't include myself," he says with his mouth full of the dessert. Now I'm not so hungry. "I figured you'd come here."
I bite my lip to keep my comments to myself, shake my head and try again. "Could you try swallowing your food before you speak?"
"Why?" he asks with a cheeky grin and a thankfully food-free mouth. "Does it ruin the image you have of me?"
"A little bit," I answer honestly. "The more I know you, the more I see you as a normal guy rather than a desirable celebrity. And I don't have the patience for most normal people, Albus being... Well, he's not even an exception, he drives me crazy most of the time. Don't you, Al?"
"I've given up trying to stop it," he shrugs, playing along. "Nothing I do works."
I agree with Al, feigning sympathy for him and pouting at Xavier. This could be our fun, new game; confusing people with our relationship, not that anyone has ever truly understood it anyway. We're enigmas; it's Craig's reason for thinking that Al and I are so good together. But he doesn't know us all that well, so I'll accept his answer.
It's better than Rose Weasley calling us crazy.
"At least I'll always have Cody McIntyre," I continue with a dramatic sigh.
"Ah, Cody," Xavier murmurs, his tone sounding very dreamy and wistful. I can't tell if it's real or faked. "One day he'll love me as much as I love him. One day he'll be mine."
"He just doesn't know it yet," Al pretends to whisper, snickering.
"Oh, he does," the blond counters with a slight grimace, definitely looking more annoyed than upset by the fact that his make-believe plans are known by the guy he's make-believe going to fall in love with. "I'm not allowed to talk to Cody anymore. Apparently, going to see him in their changing room and shouting that he secretly loves me as he walks away is bad."
I give him a disapproving look, elbowing Al in the side until he stops laughing and joins me.
"Hey, we were joking around," Xavier defends. "It was the Magpies manager who wasn't happy about it. Cody doesn't need distractions, he said."
Oh. See, now I understand. I stop with the stern look, changing to more of a sympathetic one. "You are pretty distracting."
It's meant to be a compliment; I look him up and down as I say so, and while I think he understands my meaning - he glances down at his own body - he still frowns. "That manager is more paranoid than mine, I swear. I did not think that was possible."
"Oh, how is Oliver?" Al asks, referring to Xavier's boss and an old family friend, Oliver Wood, in an effort to change the subject.
"S'alright," Xavier shrugs. "Or he will be when we beat the Magpies."
"Good luck with that," comes a new voice.
He's leaning against the door frame, still in his regular clothes, and smirking at Xavier like he's heard the funniest thing in the world and doesn't want to hide how far from true he thinks it is. Which I understand completely; he hasn't been named one of the best Chasers for nothing. Even if Xavier were to catch the snitch, there is always a chance that it may not be enough.
He looks way better in real life than he does on my poster. No picture seems to do his stylishly messy brown hair and his dark green eyes justice; lovestruck girls would swear they get lost in those eyes. But while I can't help the huge smile and the inability to not be excited to finally meet him, the dream of holding the man in front of us and never letting him go that I had at twelve years old when he was an eighteen year old, just noticed reserve player, the dream I swore would stay forever, has indeed gone.
I must really want this thing with Albus to work.
Either that, or I'm just growing up. Maybe both. I hope it's both.
"Hello, Cody McIntyre," I say simply.
That's when he chooses to acknowledge the other two people in the lounge. Cody's answering smile is natural and friendly, so different to Xavier's cheeky, flirty smirk when we first met properly. It's his words that get to me more. Only a little.
"I read about you in the paper. And the magazines," he adds. "Hello, Alexa Nott. And you're Albus Potter?"
Al nods hesitantly.
"I admire your decision to stay together through this," he says, still smiling. "Plus, I've been hearing whispers from my journalist friend about what the Minister's daughter is saying and, well, I don't like her."
Screw what he said about reading our story in the paper, not that I'd ever really hate him for that when everyone has read the story; I genuinely love him now. Finally, someone who can publicly admit to not liking her.
"Boy or girl?" he asks, obviously sticking to the baby subject.
"We don't know," Al replies. "We want it to be a surprise."
"What do you want, though?"
"We say we don't mind, but it's no secret that Al wants a boy because he's afraid of girls," I smirk.
He denies it quickly and with enough assurance in his voice to convince himself, but the pink tinge in his cheeks tell everyone else otherwise.
"So is Sinclair, that's why he's gay," Cody jokes with a wink.
"That is true," Xavier nods mock-seriously. "Girls scare me to death, there's just so many rules about what to say and do etc. And, my God, the mood swings. I mean, make up your mind. Tell us what you want."
Cody prods him in the cheek. "See, fear." He claps his hands together then and steps backwards. "Anyway, I just came here because I'm hiding from my coach, but I do have to get ready. Maybe I'll see you two again. Come on, Sinclair, I can't beat you if you're not playing."
"I don't need to rush to get ready, so I'm in and out before my coach sees me," Xavier snorts. "We still have at least half an hour before we need to get ready. Well, fifteen minutes," he amends. "Oliver will find me eventually and he likes to be prepared, which means early in his head."
Cody shakes his head and starts to walk out, shouting that the 'smartass blond' had better be on the pitch on time, so Cody can kick his ass. I don't understand how it's meant to have any effect, Cody is a Chaser not a Seeker, and Xavier doesn't even blink.
"When you talk to me like that, I know we're meant to be."
"Stop it," Cody growls.
"I think it'll be a traditional wedding."
"You're pushing it," he's warned.
"Or outside," Xavier muses. "I see you as more of the outdoor type."
"You don't know me well enough to come to that conclusion," Cody tells him, finally stepping outside. Before he walks away, he adds, "And you wonder why you've been told to stay away from me."
"He's gotta point," Al whispers in my ear. I try not to laugh, putting my finger to my lips; we can't have Xavier asking questions about why we're laughing.
"Definitely more of a traditional boy," he mutters dejectedly. He pulls a face. "Wants kids and everything."
"Speaking of kids," Al says as Xavier goes back to the buffet table.
His back stiffens visibly, he almost seems to freeze, and he doesn't say a thing to stop Al, as though he really can't. I nudge Al, glaring; he talked of getting Xavier to talk about that night and his thoughts on the kid and, well, kids in general, so that he has an idea of where to go in his 'let's tell Xavier' plan. A plan I fully disagree with, thinking he shouldn't be telling Xavier himself, he should be talking to Tasha with Chris and getting her to tell him herself.
"Do you talk to the girl you were with at all?" he asks, ignoring me.
Slowly, Xavier turns. "No. Subtly is not your strong suit, Al. Now why do you want to know?"
"You were sad when you talked about not getting to be a dad, I wondered if you wanted it. Because you're openly gay now, what happened won't happen again," Al tells him softly. "Do you blame her for what happened or would you talk to her?"
Xavier looks like he thinks Al is insane, or needs some sense knocked into him - I have different reasons for agreeing with him.
"Of course I was sad. Not feeling ready to be a dad didn't make me heartless," he tells Al softly. "My baby essentially died. It's not something I'd want to go through again. And no, I don't blame her; she miscarried, it's not something she could stop. But I haven't seen her since. If she's ever passed me in the streets, she's ignored me. That's okay, though; I wouldn't want to talk to the person who rejected me either."
I can't help but feel incredibly sorry for him and it takes everything I have not to let it show; it's not fair what Tasha did, no matter why she did it.
"It's not like you could live a lie; you're gay," I point out kindly, pushing my feelings about Tasha's lie to the back of my mind.
"I thought about it," he answers quietly, biting into another little cake. "Pretending I was straight and being with her. But that wouldn't have been fair on either of us. I'm not that cruel. Now I'm going," he tells us, getting up suddenly. "Oliver will have my ass if I'm not in the changing rooms. Enjoy the game and the tickets; you have no idea how many people I had to suck up to to get those for you."
"Xave!" Al calls just as he gets to the door. "Would you have been there?"
There's barely a pause, Xavier's answer is almost immediate, even a little automatic, as though he's thought about it over and over in his head to prepare himself for this very question.
"Every terrifying step of the way."
We leave the lounge for the box as soon as Xavier leaves, me quietly scolding Albus for asking him personal questions about a part of the man's life that he didn't even need to tell us about before his game. Xavier doesn't need to worry about Al and his past and why he's being asked questions right now. If his strayed thoughts lead to an accident, he may never get to see his son. Al may want to help, but he really could have picked a better time. In the privacy of our house, for example, if he could manage to get his friend - our friend - to come back.
That and my opinion that Tasha should be the one to tell him causes our little argument - well, more of a disagreement about the how, since I kind of agree with him on the why - to last even as we're sitting in our seats. I imagine it could have lasted well into the game, but I hear my name being called. I turn, mouth still open and ready to speak, then shut it quickly when I recognize the little person who must have shouted me running in my direction.
The little boy stops next to me and sits in the chair on my right, leaning back into the couch and swinging his legs rapidly. He pushes the square lenses of his blue-rimmed glasses up his nose and smiles up at me. I haven't seen him since I babysat for the Minister, but I can see subtle differences since then, even though it wasn't that long ago. His skin has more color than before, his cheeks are rosy and his eyes are a bright and clear green, still lighter than Cody's. He looks so different to the sickly pale boy I first met.
"You are looking so much better," I smile.
"My new medicine works," he whispers shyly, noticing that Al is here. "I can eat properly without being sick now and my chest doesn't hurt much anymore."
"I'm glad, soon you'll be playing sports and eating as much junk food as you want," I promise. "Do you wanna meet my friend?"
Jason nods slowly and I sit back, lightly pushing Al forwards. "Jason, this is Albus Potter. Do you remember what I told you about him?"
"You're gonna be a daddy," the little boy answers, which is not what I told him, but whatever. "Jessie knows now. She's not happy."
He whispers the last part, turning to the entrance to the box. I stop breathing. I knew he hadn't come alone, he's only nine years old, but I figured that he'd come with Rich or another family member. Not his dad and his mum and his sister. I hear Al's shallow intake of breath and Jason looks very apologetic.
"Hello again, Alexa," the Minister says warmly.
"Hello," I croak, standing up to shake his hand as they move to sit in the seats right behind us. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"Jason is feeling much better now and he's never seen a Quidditch game before," Mrs. Shepherd replies, giving her son a warm smile. "This was his idea."
"Yay," Jessica mutters sarcastically, staring at me. If looks could kill.
"Oh, hush, Jessica," her mum scolds. "We're here as a family for your brother and we're lucky your dad was able to come. Don't ruin it."
"I'm sorry, Jason," she says and I'm glad it sounds sincere. Then she turns back to me and the sincerity has gone. "Looking forward to having a baby, Alexa?"
Albus turns around. "We are, thank you."
"You could have told me it was you, rather than lie about a boyfriend when we spoke," she spits, glaring. She's making her parents awfully uncomfortable. Her dad tries to step in, but I shake my head. It's not a secret that she likes Al, it's that she hates me that Minister Shepherd doesn't, or didn't, know. I'm not so sure anymore.
"We weren't telling anyone," Al answers her patiently, even a little sympathetically. It calms her dad. "It just wouldn't have been fair to tell you and not everyone else. Oh, and I didn't lie, I am her boyfriend," he kind of lies. He wasn't when they spoke.
She just doesn't need to know that.
He smiles politely and turns back to the Quidditch game just as it's announced and the players fly onto the pitch. Jason is fascinated and watching him fall in love with the game distracts everyone enough to not say more about the pregnancy. Jason doesn't take his eyes off the game as he asks us questions; I tell him about the rules and the players, pointing out Xavier and Cody and the others.
"You know them?" he asks excitedly.
"We know Xavier," Al says. "He's our friend."
"Wow," he murmurs. "Can I see him?"
"Maybe, if he comes back to see us after the game," I tell him without actually promising.
It doesn't matter to Jason, though. He turns around. "Mum, I might have a Quidditch friend."
He doesn't wait for a reply, he goes back to the game.
I get up almost two hours into the game, really needing a drink and just needing to move in general, and I leave Jason to talk to Al. I just pick up the jug of water when I feel a presence behind me.
"Drink?" I ask, knowing exactly who it is. It could only be her.
Jessica grabs the pumpkin juice instead and pours her own; I take a sip of water and wait for whatever it is she has to say. She won't do anything, not with her dad here, so I'm not worried. Well, I wouldn't be worried anyway. Jessica is a talker, not a doer. She uses words to fight and people to actually fight for her.
"You and Al won't last," she sneers.
"And you'll be there when it happens, waiting for him," I finish with a dream-like sigh. My sigh rivals Xavier's.
"I'm not an idiot, I know Al doesn't want me," she snaps. "But I also know that you don't feel the same way he does. You'll leave him just like you've left everyone else."
"You don't know a thing about me and how I feel," I say softly, with enough venom in my voice to catch her off-guard. "Al is my best friend and nothing will change that. We'll always be together."
"And when did you admit to him being your best friend?" she asks, looking smug. "You didn't say that once in school."
"I never said it to any of my five friends," I mutter honestly. "Neither did they, we always knew. Are you done?"
"The other's aren't like Al. Albus used to ask, used to wonder and worry about it, wonder if you'd stop being his friend and leave him because you never said," she says quietly, glancing at his direction. He looks up every so often, nervously watching us, then goes back to Jason. "How long before he starts to worry about how long you leave him now? How much worse will it be? Maybe it's already started."
I don't watch her leave, I fear I might lash out and hurt her if I do. Instead I go back to my seat and focus on the game.
"Are you alright?" Al asks quietly.
I nod, but I think he knows I'm lying. "Later," I whisper.
I cheer with Jason when Xavier catches the snitch.
We go back to the lounge after the game, Jason pulling his family with him, and wait for Xavier to come in. We know he won't be staying as long this time, it'll just be to congratulate him, then he'll be off with his teammates. Jason jumps up and down, hardly containing his excitement, and doesn't stop until he starts coughing. It's nothing like when I babysat, or times before that I've only heard about, but it's enough to panic his mother and have her grab his inhaler. He takes it, uses it and promises to calm down, but swears he's fine.
"Wow, more people," Xavier says, stopping at the door.
Jason seems to forget his promise completely, as well as his shyness, and runs over. "You were awesome," he says.
"Thank you," our friend replies, kneeling down so they're closer in height. "And what's your name?"
"Jason Shepherd," he answers proudly. "My dad is the Minister."
"I know, I recognize him. That must be so cool." Jason shrugs and Xavier laughs. "Did you enjoy the game?"
"Which team do you support?"
"Yay!" Xavier holds up his hand and Jason high-fives him enthusiastically, barely hitting his hand. Xavier then stands, promising he'll be back in a minute. When he does, he's carrying a cap, a quill and his wand. He writes something quickly, mutters a spell I can't quite hear and puts the cap on Jason's head. "There, now you can tell everyone you proudly support Puddlemere."
Jason pulls it off and reads out loud. "'See you at the next game, Jason. Xavier.' Wow." He turns around to show us, pointing to the message next to the team's emblem that Xavier charmed to be readable on the blue cap, probably unable to be washed off as well. "Are we friends now?"
"Sure," Xavier chuckles. "I have to go now, I just came to see if my friends enjoyed the game."
"We did," I answer.
"Well done," Al finishes. "How did Cody take losing?"
"I haven't seen him," he says. "But he's not usually one to hold a grudge over losing. I'll see you soon maybe."
"At Christmas, we're having a little party at the Burrow on Christmas Day, just a few drinks after dinner and stuff. You could come," Al tells him. Oh no.
"Maybe. Bye Jason, Minister, family."
As soon as he leaves, the Minister and his wife give their own good byes, taking away their very excited little boy and stilling glaring daughter. I wave and wait till they're all gone, too. Then I turn on Albus.
"You're inviting Tasha, aren't you?"
"No," he says, shaking his head. "Chris will."
Oh, he so deseerves the dead arm.
A/N: New chapter. Big things happen at Christmas in the next chapter. ;)
Hope you enjoy. Please let me know what you think.
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