Chapter 3 : The Dreaded Ex
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Fitz had to steel himself for the next practice. The new reserve players were due in and he was going to have to keep his head together today. He hadn't spent a whole day with Mariah Waldman in five years.
Now he was staring down nearly every day of the foreseeable future in her presence. Six years ago, that would have filled him with happiness. Now it filled him with the urge to throw something.
At dawn he was up and on his way to roust Jinks out of bed. The lazy Seeker still hadn't made it to a practice on time without someone being dispatched to drag him there. Today Fitz did not have time to worry about that kind of crap, so he preempted it by going to Jinks himself.
He pounded on the door until Jinks appeared, wearing only his underpants and a long knitted cap.
"Och, sweet baby Jesus and all the saints above us. Why are you here in the middle of the bloody night?" Jinks squinted at him. "Is the pitch on fire? Is someone dead? Did McCormack sack me?"
"You're not sacked, nothing's on fire, it's five o'clock, and no one will be dead if you get your arse dressed and come with me to the pitch now," Fitz informed him.
A slow smile spread across Jinks's sleep-lined face. "Trying to make it there before Weasley?"
"Shut up. Got coffee in here?" Fitz pushed past him.
"On the counter. Get it started while I get dressed." Yawning hugely, Jinks wandered off.
Half an hour later, they were both coffeed up and, thankfully, dressed to boot. Jinks seemed moderately awake and aware, which Fitz felt was something of a miracle at this time of day. The only time he'd previously seen the man awake at five in the morning was when he'd been up all night drinking.
The pitch was empty when they arrived, and Fitz had to restrain a fist pump of triumph. Beating Molly to the pitch had become a matter of principle to him. This was, after all, only the second time he'd managed it. He was the coach and he ought to be there first.
"What d'you know, she's not here yet," Jinks drawled behind him.
"Shut up and go warm up."
"I'm waiting for the rest." And he sat down on the grass with his broom across his lap, watching Fitz with interest.
Fitz made a show of reading over the training notes he'd made for the day, though between thoughts of Molly and thoughts of Mariah, he wasn't sure he was actually seeing any of the words scrawled on the parchment. It wasn't long before someone arrived to give Jinks the show he was obviously anticipating.
As fate would have it, Molly arrived at the same time as the three new reserve players, along with Mackie and Preece. The rest of the team trickled in shortly after. They all seemed highly interested in Mariah Waldman, of course, because league gossip was rife and they all knew bloody well who she was.
Mariah, for her part, smiled broadly when she saw him. "Morning, Fitzie."
“Hello Waldman.” He managed to keep any inflection from his voice.
“You used to call me Mariah.”
“I used to call you a lot of things.”
She gave him her well-practiced pout. It was still as pretty as it had ever been, which annoyed the hell out of him. "Is it going to be that way?"
"The nice judge decided it didn't have to be another way," he reminded her. "Beauty of being divorced."
Everybody was listening, and nobody looked surprised at this exchange, somewhat to his embarrassment. He'd never enjoyed having his personal life so well known. Some of the star players had happily allowed reporters into every corner of their lives, but Fitz had kept them at arm's length. Mariah would have loved more media attention, but then, he thought a bit smugly, she'd never been a top player. There was a reason she was still a reservist. She was good, but she wasn't good enough.
She looked very much as she had when they'd ended their disaster of a marriage: long dark hair tied up in a loose knot atop her head, her brown eyes rimmed with dark colour. She was as slim as ever, her compact body more muscled than curvy. The stab of attraction was gone, though. No matter how prettily she pouted, she'd lost the ability to move him.
He turned to the rest of them, all watching with interest to see how he handled his ex-wife. All except Molly Weasley, who merely looked impatient. Her full lips pursed a bit as she eyed the paper in his hands, and he smothered a grin. She was probably dying for a look at his training schedule. It wasn't as extensive as hers had been, but he'd mapped out the next three days. He was rather proud of that.
And nothing in his list matched up with the colour-coded outline with which Molly had presented him.
"We're going to push through a lot of formation drills today," he began.
"I was always very good at formations," murmured Mariah.
Fitz flashed on a vision of some of the more acrobatic parts of their past, followed by the familiar flash of rage that accompanied most of those sorts of memories of his ex. He went on, ignoring her, "The reserve players need to run Quaffle drills today, since you weren't here earlier. Time to play some catch-up."
Mariah pouted prettily at that, and Fitz went on talking, doing his best to ignore her as she batted her lashes and pouted at him while he tried to explain the day's drills to the team.
Why the hell was she doing this? They were divorced, for God's sake.
He was having a hard time concentrating, and had to keep glancing at his notes, short as they were, to remember the training plan he'd drawn up. "Then we'll, erm, send the Beaters up to drill their aim. You're a bit off, blokes, and erm, you need to-"
Mariah pouted and licked her lips.
"Uh," said Fitz, swallowing his anger at her. He tried to regroup. "Look, you lot, you've got a lot of hard work ahead of you. Training season's already halfway gone. Just, erm, get on up there and start running through formations, and I'll call you down here again when it's time to change up."
Molly was watching him in a way that he understood meant she was paying attention to more than just his words. Then her eyes slid to Mariah and a tiny frown knit her ginger brows, and Fitz had to suppress a thrill of alarm.
The lot of them took to the air finally, but Molly hung back. She stood silently beside him as the team started to fly, and then cocked her head at him, her red hair falling to the side in a cascade of curls, showing off the close-cropped sides.
Fitz steeled himself for her to question his coaching schedule or try to find out the details of his divorce, but instead she asked quietly, "You all right?"
"I'm fine," he said, attempting to cover up the bristling annoyance.
She didn't say more, just gave him a long look that left him with the unsettling feeling that she was closely examining his soul, then nodded and stepped onto her broom, kicking off with the same grace she had on the ground. A lot of players were graceful in the air and awkward or clumsy on hard soil, but Molly always moved like a dancer no matter where she was.
He watched the team fly, and wondered how long it would take him to get used to Mariah's annoyances again, and if he'd ever get used to looking at Molly.
She was going to do something about Mariah. That look in her eyes when she'd watched Mariah distracting him had been obvious, at least to him. He knew he ought to tell his ex off himself, but he didn't know how to do it without causing problems for the team. He was her coach, yes, but he was also her ex-husband. He couldn't erase that from their past, and he knew she wouldn't separate the two aspects of their relationship.
Maybe Molly could get her to behave. She'd been Head Girl. She was probably an expert at telling people off. Hell, she was a Weasley. There were about a hundred of them, each more badly behaved than the last, for the most part. All except Molly, and apparently Molly's sister, the one who'd married Hilarion Winston-Fisher, because he didn't remember ever hearing about any of their exploits. He'd managed to land the one well-behaved Weasley on his team.
Molly would handle his ex-wife. He was happy to let her do it. At least this one responsibility he ought to be shouldering could be left to someone else. And though his annoyance at her attempts to micromanage the team hadn't entirely faded, he was quite confident that if Molly stepped in, Mariah Waldman would be dealt with.
She was going to wind up team captain if she could keep the other players in line. Getting everyone under control was going to be her first step. So long as she kept to captaining and not coaching, he decided, he would let her get on with it.
Watching Fitz's already dodgy coaching skills devolve even further was painful. Molly had to restrain herself from throwing her grandmother's patented Silent Stare of Death at Mariah Waldman. It was the stare that could stop any Weasley in their tracks, and Molly had used it to great effect as Head Girl at Hogwarts, to cow prefects and students alike. Not even her cousin James Potter was immune to its power. Somehow she suspected Mariah Waldman would shut up under the Stare, but Waldman was too busy distracting and needling Fitz to glance at Molly.
The pouty flirts were worse after practice. Fitz stuttered his way through instructions for Monday while alternating glances at Waldman and at Molly, who wondered what he was thinking when he looked at her. Nothing good, probably. She could guess what he was thinking when he looked at Waldman, based on the anger in his expression.
It was clear that Fitz needed a hand in handling his ex-wife. Molly had very little patience with Waldman's antics. It was beyond childish. They'd both taken jobs at Portree and now they had to work together, divorced or not. The pouting had to stop, because while Waldman was evidently enjoying herself immensely, she was a liability to Molly's plan for a champion season so long as she kept messing the coach about.
Besides, it was obviously bothering Fitz a great deal, and Molly didn't like that.
Molly made up her mind immediately to do something about it. What to do specifically was clear, of course.
"Oi, you lot," she called as soon as the team was all back in the dressing room out of earshot of Fitz. "Drinks at my flat tonight, nine o'clock."
A small cheer went up. Declan Preece and Duff Gittins, who'd already been out boozing together three times this week unbeknownst to their coach, clapped her on the shoulder as they left.
Molly had always kept a well-stocked liquor cabinet, relic of throwing a great deal of parties when she'd lived in Wales. Having family or friends over for drinks was one of her favourite activities. She blamed her love of playing hostess on her namesake. Gran liked her home full, so there was almost always someone hanging round the Burrow when Molly went to visit. There wasn't much to do to prepare for the small party beyond setting out bottles and glasses. Her house was in its usual state of spotlessly perfect organization, right down to her liquors. She hid the colour-coding on the lids by replacing them with pour spouts, though.
No point everyone knowing her private neuroses just yet, after all.
The team arrived nearly all at once, which Molly reckoned meant she'd been right about them all needing a drink to relieve the tension of the week's practices. The team hadn't found their footing yet and their playing was still rough. Still, Molly felt there was potential in the lineup. If there weren't, she thought ruefully, she would've jumped ship by now and gone back to the Harpies.
"Thanks for this, Molly," said Beathan MacDougald as she poured herself a glass of firewhiskey. "Bloody brilliant idea."
"I thought the team could use a way to relax after the week we've all had," Molly said with a smile. "Besides, I love throwing parties. Used to have a lot of them when I was with the Harpies."
"Well, I'm glad we've stolen you away from them," MacDougald responded, lifting her glass in a brief toast before wandering off.
Molly spent the next hour making sure everyone's glass was always full and the conversation was flowing, all the while keeping one eye on Mariah Waldman. An hour later, Zara Mackie and Bram Carmichael were doing shots of tequila at the counter while Sid Whittlemore was somehow still sober enough to keep their supply of lime wedges full. He tucked his wand over his ear between spells, and Molly didn't have the heart to tell him that wasn't safe. Preece and Gittins were halfway into a bottle of whiskey and singing inappropriate folk songs at her dining room table, and Molly joined them for a while, singing along with the choruses and nursing her vodka gimlet, watching Flint and MacDougald dancing to the melody and giggling at the risqué lyrics.
Eventually she made her way over to the couch where Waldman was sitting with Jinks and flirting heavy-handedly with the Seeker. Molly gave Jinks a glance and he cottoned on at once. He excused himself and fled to the kitchen with Mackie and Carmichael, leaving the couch empty beside Waldman. Molly sat down with a pleasant smile.
"Enjoying your free evening?" she asked mildly.
"Very much," Waldman answered with a cheerful smile. "Don't think I needed it as much as you lot did, though. I only just got here, after all."
"True, but everyone deserves a good kick-off to their weekend."
"Cheers." Waldman lifted her glass to Molly and took a long sip.
Molly settled back into the tailored red couch, enjoying the comfort of her familiar furniture. "Settling in all right? Found a place to stay yet?"
"Not yet. I'm at a B&B at the mo. Looking for a cottage up in the hills. Although I do like this place, I have to say." She waved her glass to indicate Molly's flat. "More than I thought I would. Bit modern for me, really."
Molly smiled. The building was very new, with a lot of glass and steel and a minimalist garden up on the roof. It had suited her much more than any of the quaint little Scottish cottages she'd seen. "Building's full, I'm afraid."
"S'all right. I've got plenty of time to look for a place." Waldman finished off her drink.
"Like it here well enough to stay, then?"
Molly gave her a carefully neutral yet friendly smile. "Ex-husband coach notwithstanding?"
"Oh, I'm not bothered by Fitz. We split a long time ago." Waldman waved this off.
"You seem to know him very well still," Molly observed.
"He hasn't changed as much as I'd thought he would. I still know how to push his buttons." Waldman chuckled a bit and took a drink.
Aha. Molly's smile sharpened. "You seemed to be having a right lot of fun pushing his buttons today."
"Nice to know I still can."
"Is it? Why is that?" Molly gave her an inquiring glance, putting just a touch of concern in her voice.
"Well." Waldman didn't appear to know quite how to respond. "He used to be my husband."
"Do you feel you need to get back at him for the divorce?"
Waldman looked strangely rueful at that. "No, he doesn't have that coming at all."
Interesting. It was a strange way to put it. Molly filed that away for later. League gossip normally gave all the details on things like that, but no one knew for sure why the two had split after only six months of marriage, since they'd broken up just as his star was starting to rise, before a great deal of spotlight was on him. Maybe she could get the whole story later, but for now Molly had an endgame in mind.
"But you did say you liked it here. Messing him about like that seems a bit counterproductive, then, doesn't it? After all, he is the coach. And we do want a winning season finally."
Waldman appeared struck by this, as if she hadn't considered this aspect before. "That's true."
"Getting some sort of juvenile kick out of messing with your ex-husband doesn't seem as important as getting your own career ahead, I would think."
"Now that is true." Waldman took a long drink, nearly draining her glass.
"Maybe it's time to move on from mistakes of the past," Molly said carefully. "Let things go. My cousin got divorced not too long ago, and she worked through her feelings about it and is much happier since."
Her cousin Dominique had worked through her divorce by writing a tell-all book about her ex-husband's perfidy, but Molly didn't want to share that and give Waldman any ideas.
"You're too right. Honestly, Weasley, you're better than my bloody therapist." Waldman gave her a friendly, if somewhat inebriated, smile.
Molly lifted her glass to the woman. "I think I'm a little bit bartender, with all my party hostessing experience. Practically gives me a license to practice."
Waldman laughed and finished her drink. "I'm off for a refill. Can I bring you anything?"
"I'm good for now, thanks."
Molly watched her go and couldn't keep a smile of satisfaction off her face. That had gone well. Hopefully Waldman would turn over a new leaf, but if she didn't, Molly was ready to come at her more directly next time. The main purpose of the party taken care of, she returned to her hostess duties with fresh enthusiasm.
Duff and Preece were the last two to leave. Molly had to hint heavily that they ought to carry themselves on home before the two Beaters finally got out of her flat at half past two.
Molly surveyed the damage, hands on hips. Glasses were everywhere, and pretzels and crisps had been crushed into the white carpeting in some spots. She could see crumbs on the red sofa and chairs. The countertops were sticky with lime juice and salt. With a sigh, she raised her wand to straighten the place up. She'd never be able to sleep with the flat a mess like this.
It only took her a quarter of an hour to get things back in order. She was sorting through the liquor bottles, replacing their caps and putting them in order in the cupboard, when someone knocked at her door.
She drew her wand and went to check the peephole warily. When she saw who was at her doorstep, she whispered, “Bloody hell.”
Molly paused with her hand on the door, debating the wisdom of letting him in, and decided she had to see what he wanted at this hour.
She opened the door and leaned against it. “What are you doing here so late?”
“Saw your lights were on, so I knew you were still up. Thought I'd see how the party went.” Fitz smiled a bit. He did not look embarrassed in the least to have not been invited. He had an expression she couldn't quite place, actually. He was dressed more casually than he did when coaching, in jeans and a battered old Weird Sisters t-shirt. His hair was messy, as if he'd run his hand through it a moment ago. She wondered if it felt as soft as it looked.
“Come on in.” She waved him inside.
He sat on the couch, and she noticed he sat to the right edge so that he didn't have to lift his injured arm to lean on the arm of the couch. Molly deliberately chose a chair opposite him, across the coffee table, and sat back, waiting for him to say whatever it was he'd come here for.
Nobody turned up at nearly three in the morning without a reason.
After a few minutes' silence, he finally said, “I know why you did this.”
“To help the team bond so they can work together better?” Molly suggested.
“That, and so you could tell Mariah to shut the hell up,” Fitz volleyed back. “I saw you looking at her at practice today.”
“I didn't tell her to shut the hell up,” Molly informed him evenly.
“Wish I could have,” he muttered.
Molly ignored that. "Mariah Waldman is the sort of person where if I told her flat out to knock it off and leave off pestering you, she would have got even worse.”
Fitz blinked. "You figured her out fast, didn't you?"
"I'm good at reading people. And her reputation precedes her."
"I bet," said Fitz. "Reckon that's true for all of us. Sometimes the League is a small world."
She wondered how much he knew about her. She was well aware that she was known by virtually everyone, if only superficially. The Harpy with the mohawk. The pro Weasley player. And everyone knew him. He'd been famous even before the injury. Star Chaser, signed to Montrose at a young age, and good-looking in a dark and brooding way. There was a lot more brooding since the injury, though.
"I suppose it is," she agreed.
"Well, thanks for the help," he said, and to his credit he only sounded a little grudging. "If I'd said anything to her, she would've reacted like an ex-wife, not like a player.”
“I think you're right.” Molly laced her fingers together in front of her. “Is there anything you want to discuss about that?”
“About her being my ex-wife? God, no. That's over and done and the nice judge made sure I never have to deal with that woman again.” He rubbed a hand over his eyes. “Of course, then I took a job where my sadistic team manager decided to hire my ex-wife and make me deal with her again...”
“You could quit,” Molly offered.
“I don't want to quit. I don't have anything else to do.”
Molly was somewhat surprised to hear him admit that. He looked tired and frustrated, and she had the urge to wrap her arms around him and hold him until his face lost that drawn look, or possibly kick him and tell him to stop feeling sorry for himself. But she couldn't do either, so she asked instead, “Want a drink?”
“I'd better not. Meetings first thing in the morning. I'm already going to regret the late night.” He got to his feet and held out a hand to help her up.
As soon as she put her hand in his, Molly knew it was a mistake. Her already fluttery stomach flipped, and their eyes met. He was slow to release her hand, though they were both standing now. She drew in her breath, and that was a mistake too because she could smell his cologne, something grassy and woodsy, like cedarwood.
“Raincheck on the drink?” His eyes were intense, holding her gaze.
Molly nodded slowly, and he finally let her fingers slip from his. She followed him to the door and he left without another word. She closed the door and leaned against it, blowing out a slow breath and listening to the erratic beat of her heart.
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