Chapter 2 : two.
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[Present: 23 years old]
Three times a year, all of the departments from the Prophet came together in the tenth floor conference room for a meeting where important things like quarterly revenue and changes being implemented, are discussed. Of course it was a well known secret that no one actually goes to listen but for the free breakfast provided. At least this was the case for the Sports department.
“Oi, grab me a muffin.” When I turned to look at my supervisor, Cormac, I saw that he was already filling his dirty messenger bag with donuts and packets of sugar. “Blueberry, oh and a poppy-seed.”
“Preparing for the apocalypse?” I asked as he carefully placed the muffins on top before snapping his bag shut and smiling like a child on Christmas. On the other side of the table I’ve already watched several of my colleagues pile grocery bags with containers of juice and snacks, never losing sight that all of the fruit goes virtually untouched by them. Because he’s our editor, Cormac has attempted to practice some class by bringing his large satchel instead of the usual paper or plastic option the rest of our floor opted for.
“Daddy is eating good for the next week,” he whispered. “Is that all you’ve got?” He pointed to my cup of coffee before shaking his head in disbelief. “Have we taught you nothing?”
“Au contraire,” I replied with a slight nod towards the large purse on my shoulder. He peered inside and did a quick inventory of the four or five large bags I had filled and neatly arranged with breakfast food and fruit. “My side pockets have tea and sugar.” Cormac looked at me with an impressed gaze before we discreetly gave each other high-fives and went in search for seats.
After getting a regular feature in the Prophet with my “Player of the Week” segment, things started to get a lot better quickly. Cormac assigned me to cover local minor league games and I met Adam Ogden, coach of the Charming Cannons – an all-girl Quidditch team for nine to ten year-olds. He was everything I had been told I should want in a man; reliable, kind, loved children, and was off-handedly handsome with a tall, lanky body, crystal blue eyes that shrunk to thin lines when he laughed, and a smile that seemed to take up his whole face.
Almost immediately, my mum began to dream of our wedding and how our children would look like, despite the fact that Adam hadn’t so much expressed interest in me past the Charming Cannons. As for me, I suppose I was still stuck in the moment my world stopped when I saw James for the first time. Never mind that it was completely illogical and pathetic to continuously compare every potential romantic encounter with a single second that happened when I was eleven years old, I could easily recognize that. I was past my dreams of marrying James one day. I just wanted that same, life-stopping moment.
As my mum planned our wedding day, Adam and I bonded over our love for Quidditch and like every other time before; I joined the “one of the guys” club. After a year of reporting locally I was promoted to a junior report for off-certain games, which to put it crudely, were games the public didn’t care about as much as say, Puddlemore or the Cannons. Around the same time, Adam got offered a new job as an assistant coach to England’s Wimbourne Wasps and recommended me as his replacement.
Just like that, I went from a girl with nothing to do, to being a mentor, friend, and supporter for fourteen girls; constantly racing back and forth between covering games and making practice, thinking of plays on the loo, and human emergency kit. Because one never knew when a tissue, sew kit, bandage, or Merlin forbid – pad and “So you’re Now a Woman” pamphlet, would be needed. I’d been coaching the Cannons (the Charming ones) for about a year now and was beginning to feel the madness settling into a manageable routine.
My promotion and second job allowed me enough income to move out into a tiny, but homely flat with my best friend, Rachel. It seemed I was now a full-blown “grownup” with a home of my own, job(s), and bills. But no man, as I was constantly reminded by oh, my mum, sister, every couple in England, the hostess at the Sundown Café that always asked me – “Table for two?”, despite that never once had I come with anyone else, and all of my players on the Cannons.
It was all horrendous, really. As if to say, “What’s that, Payton? You’ve got a good career, friends, family, and your own flat but you haven’t got a man? Well then your life is completely and utterly meaningless. Now you were granted a uterus, so get to using that thing!”
Cormac and I sat down at the end of the first row and watched as Elizabeth O’Malley, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Prophet, walked to the podium and began to shuffle her paperwork. Elizabeth O’Malley spent a majority of her time at the main office in Diagon Alley with the other important people of the Prophet. She seemed nice enough, although she did little to hide her views on the Sports department and the journalism they provided, or rather – failed to provide. For whatever reason, this made Cormac love her all the more, and since she had become editor-in-chief a year and a half ago, he had made it his mission to have her fall in love with him.
“When our Sports department has had their fill of groceries, I invite them to take a seat so we can begin.” The chuckles resounded over the already-quiet room as I looked around obliviously in an attempt to pretend that I wasn’t a part of the group she was referring to.
“I’m happy to see someone not participating in their floor antics,” Elizabeth said with a polite smile in our direction. I kept my face unreadable, disliking how the tight bun sitting on top of her head pulled her face back harshly. The longer I stared at her the more she appeared like one of the witches I had read about as a child in muggle fairytales.
But Cormac smiled brightly at her praise, swinging his arm easily over the chair to his left. “I apologize for their behavior,” he crooned, sighing dramatically for effect before beginning to go into a story of meeting a famous Quidditch player when she raised her hand to interrupt him.
“I apologize if you thought I would be interested in a story. I think Quidditch is like believing in the Tooth Fairy. It’s something one should outgrow, Mr. McLaggen.” She shuffled her papers again and cleared her throat, hushing the room and preparing to start the meeting. From the corner of my eye I watched Cormac huff impatiently, his arms crossed and over his chest in a similar posture to a scorned child before he raised his hand in the air.
“We’re saving questions for the end.”
“This won’t take long, Miss O’Malley. I was just wondering what the Tooth Fairy is, exactly? It sounds potentially horrendous if you ask me.”
I slouched lower in my seat, hoping that Cormac’s string of questions wouldn’t result in the disbanding of the sports department and floor entirely.
“Does this fairy pull teeth? What does it need them for?”
I think it was time for a new job.
I was preparing to head home for the weekend later on that day when a snitch flew into my office, circling my desk several times before dropping a folded piece of parchment onto the floor. It was Cormac’s infamous delivery system for an impromptu request or meeting, although in my five-plus years, I had only ever received two of these. Written inside was the same message as before, “My office, five minutes”, in Cormac’s bold print to give no indication for the motives. Cormac probably just had more questions about the Tooth Fairy.
When I entered Cormac’s office he was nowhere to be found, so I entertained myself with the shelves of Quidditch memorabilia that lined his shelves in an organized mess. My fingers passed over the Quidditch balls and jerseys as I passed them until I came to the center of the second shelf where I was face-to-face with a familiar red leather ball with black stitching, Puddlemore's old Keeper -Rufus Theodori and his replacement, James Potter's signatures in the center.
“Merlin,” I breathed, extending my fingers shakily before the slamming of the door forced me to jump back and place my hands behind my back quickly. “Cormac,” I said, attempting a normal posture and tone of voice.
He eyed me strangely before making his way around his messy desk to sit and indicated that I did the same. “What are you thinking of Puddlemore this season?”
“Well, I think they’ve been consistently strong and this season should be no different.”
“Ahuh,” he mumbled. I watched as he swiveled his chair in the opposite direction to his cabinets lining the wall. A series of slamming followed suit as he opened and closed them hastily in obvious search for something. With another push, his chair was facing my direction once again. “What about the Cannons? They’ve got that new Seeker, Dylan Murphy.”
I scoffed, already annoyed at another mention of Dylan Murphy. The Chudley Cannons were known in the Quidditch world for two things: their amazingly loyal fans and they’re amazingly bad team. Year after year the fans get through with promises of next year as the rest of the Quidditch world watched their team put less and less effort into each game.
Enter Dylan Murphy, straight from a year of playing reserves and now their star player – without anyone off the team seeing him play a single game yet. He had set the sports world abuzz with potential and excitement for the Cannons and was already receiving comparisons to Quidditch’s Golden Child – my very own, James Sirius Potter.
Just last week Witch Weekly had released Murphy on their June cover. It was with that that I realized that talented or not, half of the attention he was getting had to be because he was so bloody handsome. Not that it was uncommon to find attractive faces on the Quidditch field (see James Potter), but the nasty truth was that the average retiring age for Quidditch players was 35 years old and James was a hearty twenty-five while Murphy was a young, bustling twenty-one year old. In the quidditch world, four years made a big difference and people were already beginning to plan for the eventual day that James would retire.
“I think I’d like to see Murphy perform before hearing any more declarations that he’s the next Potter. And suppose he is half as talented as James, we all know it takes more then a talented Seeker to make a team.”
“I agree.” He declared, seemingly satisfied with my response. “I’m sure you know Sunday is the first game of the preseason.” I nodded along in response. “The headlining games are Puddlemore versus the Falcons and Cannons versus the Arrows.” He suddenly fished two laminated passes out of a smaller pile to his right and threw them on the space in front of me. “You’re up, Carter. I want you to cover a game.”
I held the press pass between my fingers, watched the players zoom within one another in search of the ball, before putting it down on the kitchen counter in front of me. I still felt slightly ill from the entire thing. Choosing between finally watching a Puddlemore game from the press box and interviewing James afterwards or watching the game of the season with the already famous, Dylan Murphy.
“I know you’ll do a good job, Carter. There’ll be more games.” Cormac promised after I had made my decision. Everyone’s team allegiance here was known, and Cormac knew that I would have killed and happily hid the body to cover a Puddlemore game. “You picked a good one. Puddlemore is good but the story right now is with the Cannons.”
He was right, of course, and looking back I realized easily that this had been one of his tests. Offering me the game I had coveted after my entire life or the game with the most potential to give me a good story. One choice made me a good reporter and the other made me a fan girl, and despite my love for James Potter – I had never been a fan girl.
By the time I looked up to see Rachel in front of me, a smirk is playing on her lips and she has a knowing look in her brown eyes. Merlin knew how long she’d been standing in front of me.
“I know that far-off look,” she declared with a smile. She resumed her usual activity around the flat after work, her heels sounding on the tile floor until she reached her carpeted bedroom and came out in shorts and a loose t-shirt with her short blonde hair in a low ponytail. “It’s your ‘lost-in-Potter-thoughts’ look, although I haven’t seen it since Hogwarts.”
“You make me sound so pathetic.” I stood from the stool, gathering all of my things scattered on the counter and wrapping the pass around my wrist tightly. “And, I was actually thinking of work, so – ha.”
“Your work is Potter-related, let’s not kid ourselves. Speaking of work though, how is Cormac? Still looking as yummy as ever?” Her eyebrows wiggled suggestively as she spoke before opening the refrigerator and her face fell from the lack of contents inside. I recognized that look because I had just worn it twenty minutes ago.
“He's our fathers' age, you know and you better watch it or I’m going to tell Lorcan you’re hitting on my boss and his mortal enemy.”
Rachel and Lorcan’s relationship was yet, another reminder of how single I was. The three of us had been friends since Hogwarts, although their relationship had only begun a year ago. Lorcan had made a career of Quidditch as well, writing for the new sports edition to the Quibbler. It wasn’t very popular with their readers and constantly on the verge of cancellation but being the editor’s son kept it going. Lorcan was very serious about the Quibbler’s sport section though, and addressed Cormac as his enemy and main competition. Cormac thought the whole thing was very entertaining, and truth be told – so did I, but I would never tell Lorcan that.
“What. Is. THAT?” Her voice caused a spark of terror in me and I looked down at my feet in a panic, expecting a roach or rat to be scurrying by. “No, that in your hand!” When I followed her gaze I found it was stuck on the sparkling pass hanging from my wrist. “Merlin me, are you covering Puddlemore?!”
“Are you finally going to interview James and have him fall desperately in love with you? Then you can ride off on your brooms into the sunset and get married and-”
“I’m covering the Cannons!” I finally choked out before she could continue to unknowingly make me feel worse for my decision. I was being a good reporter. I was not a fan girl. “Cormac gave me the option and I chose the Cannons because it’s a better story.”
“Oh,” her shoulders fell in a dejected manner, her lip caught in between the two rows of her teeth as she chewed on it in thought. “Well that makes sense, a better story and all. I suppose they’ll be more chances to cover Puddlemore anyway…”
“Right,” I replied, feeling worse and worse with each passing second. “Now I’m going to get ready for practice. Do you want to meet up for dinner afterwards?”
“I was going to meet up with Lorcan later, but you’re more than welcome to join us.”
Ugh. I grimaced from inside my bedroom, letting my files and notes fall in a heap on my desk before unbuttoning my work pants. “I think I’ll probably just head to Sundown, thanks though.”
“Suit yourself,” I heard her voice call, growing more distant until the light click of her bedroom door cut off all the noise entirely. Quickly, I changed into my worn Puddlemore t-shirt and mesh shorts before grabbing my satchel and getting ready to head to practice for the Charming Cannons.
Their preseason had started two weeks ago and their next game was tomorrow afternoon. Currently, the Cannons were the first in their league and as I had heard from several parents, the team to beat this season. Not to brag, but under Adam the highest standing the team ever had was third.
Practice passed quickly. The girls ran drills and played two practice games; one in their positions and another in positions I picked for them. By the end of the two hours the girls were tired, but not exhausted and in good spirits for tomorrow.
“Good job ladies,” I exclaimed. “Get some sleep for tomorrow and don’t forget to eat a good breakfast. Be in the locker room by one thirty, no excuses.”
The locker room emptied out quickly, the girls waving and calling goodbye to each other and me as they met their waiting parents. I watch their figures depart one by one until only two are left on the field and making their way to me.
It’s only when they were feet away that I realized it was Rose Weasley and Albus Potter approaching me quickly. With a moment of panic, I turned to relock the equipment door, my wand fumbling under my grasp until I forced myself to take a deep breath.
Oh hell. Bloody hell, hell, hell.
“Yes?” When I finally faced them, all traces of my foolishness are gone and converted to pure professionalism. Rose looked at me curiously and I saw the wheels in her head turning as she attempted to place my face in her memory.
She looked the same as she did in Hogwarts, only slightly taller and the lines in her face were no longer of a seventeen year old girl’s. But her hair was still the same fire red and placed in a neat ponytail on top of her head, her blue eyes were still outlined in charcoal gray, and she still couldn’t remember my name to save her life.
“Payton Carter?” It was Albus that finally broke the silence as he stepped closer to me and smiled brightly. Instinctively, I smiled back at him and felt myself relax. Albus looks little to how I remembered; his black hair once kept short and trim was now a longer mess around his the nape of his neck and his face, and he had managed to overshoot Rose’s height by at least six inches. I was a dwarf among giants in this meeting. “Merlin, it is you! How have you been? Coaching Quidditch, eh? I always told James if there was anyone who could give him a run for his money, it’d be you.”
Albus Potter has spoken of me to James.
“I thought you were at the Prophet,” Rose interjected. “Weren’t you at the meeting today?”
My head was swimming in too many things to say but I chose the simplest, focusing on Rose for a second. “I was. At the meeting today, I mean, I’m still at the Prophet as well. I write for the Sports section and coach here. How do you know that?”
“Excellent! Rose is at the Prophet as well. She does the finance section. You two have never run into each other?” Albus pointed between the two of us in obvious amazement.
Rose, Albus, and I had all been in the same year at Hogwarts but since I was in Ravenclaw and they were in Gryffindor, we had little interaction. In fact, Rose and I had close to no interaction our seven years there. She belonged to the ever-growing clan of Weasley-Potters and I had a very small group of friends outside of the Quidditch team. Any words Albus and I had shared were usually about the sport or upcoming games, although I had no memories of him being anything but pleasant.
“The Prophet floors usually keep to themselves,” I replied and saw Rose nod in agreement. Obviously, considering I had no idea Rose even worked at the Prophet or what floor finance was. “How can I help you guys? Interested in joining the Charming Cannons, Albus?”
His laughter sounded slightly reminiscent of a dog barking and I began to remember the power of ease that Albus carried with him wherever he went. While the girls had loved James his brooding face and mysterious aura of silence, Albus had been equally loved by everyone. I had heard he was working at the Ministry of Magic with his father as an Auror and couldn’t picture Albus emitting the seriousness required for the job.
“Molly, our cousin, requested we get some information for her daughter. She’s eight years old and interested in joining next year.”
“Of course,” I reached into my satchel and begin to dig through in search of my folder dedicated to the Charming Cannons. The very folder I had left in a pile with my work notes. At the realization I let my satchel hit my side, “I left my folder in my flat. I could mail them to Molly if you’d like though.”
“Save your owl the flight and just give them to Rosie at work.” Albus nodded to Rosie and continued without waiting for a response, “You write that ‘Player of the Week’ segment, no? Our younger cousins love that. They always call James when he’s mentioned.”
“That thing always gives James the biggest head when he’s mentioned. It’s like he’s been awarded MVP of the season.” Rose rolled her eyes in a good-natured fashion, a bit of her flat demeanor chipping away. I suppose Albus had that effect on people.
“Really?” If it was possible, I’m sure I would’ve floated away in happiness at that moment. “I didn’t realize the players read it.” I switched my weight from foot to foot and pulled off the best nonchalant face I could manage. This news was beyond James Potter. This was indicative that the players I watched and adored actually read and took my words seriously.
“Well, Puddlemore loves it, when they’re mentioned at least.” In the distance we heard a sudden loud clap of thunder that surprised us all with a jump. “They weren’t calling for rain this weekend,” Albus said with a scowl. “Quidditch in the rain is the worst. Will you be at the game tomorrow?”
It was unspoken that he meant the Puddlemore game, although I didn’t have the heart to explain I hadn’t been to a Puddlemore game since I was nine and the seats had been the worst. “I’m actually covering the Cannon game tomorrow,” I said before another clap of thunder, this one closer and louder, interrupted our conversation again.
“I believe that’s our signal to depart,” Albus said, with eyes to the darkening night sky. “The next time I’m at the Prophet, we’ll have to do lunch.”
“Sure.” I returned their waves goodbye and watched them disappear down the field, my mind in a blur how drastically my life was now then it had been twelve hours ago.
Chapter image by milominderbender @ TDA ! ! !
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