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Chapter 5 : Drills and Defense
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Max's pub was darkly lit as ever, warm and peaceful on the inside no matter what the weather was like. This part of Scotland got cold as all hell, but the Rowan Mansion always had a fire in the grate and a cosy air to it. Most of the décor was wooden: wood bartop, wood stools, wood benches round the tables. There were dozens of racks of antlers on the wall, mostly from non-magical creatures. Max's great-grandfather, who had founded the pub, had been a hunting enthusiast and utterly fascinated by Muggles and their ways. Max had once confided that he'd like to change the décor, but his great-grandfather had apparently put some sort of spells on the antlers to prevent their being removed by his wife, who had not been as enamoured of hunting.
Fitz took a seat at the bar and waved a hello to his friend, who was behind the bar, re-stocking kegs of locally-brewed beer under the taps.
“You're here bright and early this morning,” Max said cheerfully.
“It's not morning, Max. It's one in the afternoon. I need a drink.”
“We're not open yet, so I can't sell you a drink,” Max informed him, then pulled out a bottle of Scotch firewhiskey and poured a shot.
“That's all right, I wouldn't have paid you for it anyway,” Fitz responded, picking up the drink. He held it up so he could smell the oak and the faint smokiness of the malt. “Ever make a really stupid mistake?”
“Did you mean, my entire love life?” Max grinned at him and folded his arms across his barrel of a chest, leaning back against the bar. “What'd you do now? I heard Mariah's in town. You didn't sleep with that barracuda, did you?”
Fitz groaned. He'd nearly forgot about Mariah. His head had been completely full of thoughts of Molly, of her soft skin and the musky floral scent she wore, and how her curls fell across her cheeks. Damn, he needed to get a hold of himself before Monday. “Hell no. It's nothing to do with her.”
Word of the new line-up was bound to be all over town. The thought of the entire magical population of Portree speculating on his interactions with his ex-wife made him feel itchy all over.
“Completely different her, eh?”
Fitz downed the shot of whiskey in one swallow. “Yeah. Molly.”
“Molly Weasley? The Harpy with the mohawk?”
“The Pride with the mohawk now. Although she's been wearing it down lately.” She hadn't coloured it Prides purple yet either. She'd always kept her hair green and blonde for the colours of the Harpies when she'd played for Holyhead. Fitz hoped that didn't mean she was planning to jump ship on Portree.
Because it would utterly mess up the team and destroy any chance they had of winning if they lost her as Keeper, not because of a personal reason.
He wasn't sure Max would believe that, so he didn't mention it.
“How'd you mess up with her, then?” asked Max, shoving another keg under the bartop. He had always done this by hand, under the superstition that too much magic around alcohol soured the brew. Fitz, who had been raised by a Muggle-born mother, rather liked seeing the non-magical ways of doing things now and then.
“I wanted to get out on the field this morning and fly, and she was already there. So I made her leave.” Fitz covered his face with one hand. “I came off a complete git. She probably hates me now.”
“And you don't want her to hate you because she's on your team?”
He thought for about two seconds about lying and then gave up. Screw it, at least he could tell someone.
“And because she's really pretty,” Fitz mumbled.
Max grinned widely. "Is she, now? Och, she's known you a fortnight already, I'm sure she already thought you were an arsehole."
"Thanks, that's very encouraging. And true," Fitz admitted.
"If she's so pretty, why don't you ask her out?"
"Remember how I just said I acted like an arse in front of her?"
"Listen mate, if you're waiting for a girl who's never seen you behave like a Yeti, you're never going to get a date."
Max poured him another shot. This time Fitz just stared at it in silence, and Max went back to stocking the bar.
He didn't want Molly thinking he was a tosser, but he couldn't seem to stop being one. Around everyone, really. His temper had been sharp before the injury, but he was angry all the time since then. And now trying to feel his way through coaching with no apprenticeship to learn the ropes, well. His temper was shorter than ever.
"Preece and Gittins were here last night," Max said, and Fitz looked up.
Nodding, Max grabbed another keg and hefted it. "And Beathan. Pretty sure she went home with Gittins. Drunk as lords, the pair of them."
"Huh." He hadn't expected that. Beathan MacDougald and Duff Gittins? He wondered how that was going to play out. Duff was famously a ladies' man and Beathan, since he'd known her, had been the quietest member of the team. He hoped it wasn't going to implode in his face.
Teammembers dating was rarely just a little unfortunate. It was usually at one end of the spectrum: either perfectly fine or spectacularly bad. Fitz pulled a face. This seemed unlikely to be perfectly fine. He didn't have that kind of luck.
"Having a premonition?" asked Max.
"Yeah." Fitz knocked back his shot.
McCormack turned up to practice Tuesday afternoon while the team was running passing and throwing drills. Fitz stepped back from his usual vantage point on the edge of the centre line of the pitch to speak with her.
"Had a spare moment, thought I'd drop by. How are things going? Honestly this time, not what we told the owners. Give me a good assessment." Meghan McCormack waited expectantly, arms crossed.
"They're not the Cannons, but they're not great either." Fitz glanced up at the team in time to see Beathan peg Gittins with the Quaffle. She was not supposed to be anywhere near him. Both of them looked angry, and he remembered what Max had said about seeing them going home together. He hoped McCormack hadn't seen. "The Beaters are all right, not at top form. Chasers need more work. Jinks is the same as ever. Keeper is the only one I'm fairly confident in, but we can't win with just a decent Keeper and halfway decent Seeker."
"Nearly two weeks before the first game, not much time left," she murmured, then looked up in time to see Gittins hit the Bludger at Beathan, probably in retaliation for whacking him with the Quaffle. The two of them flew closer, shouting at each other. McCormack looked up and scowled. "What the hell's that about?"
"I heard they went home together after a night at the pub this weekend," Fitz admitted gruffly, wishing he didn't have to say anything. "Looks like it didn't go well."
"Damn teenage nonsense. Where's your whistle? That's ridiculous." McCormack stuck two fingers in her mouth and let out an ear-splitting whistle, no magic required.
The team looked round. Most of them had been watching the scene unfold between Beathan MacDougald and Duff Gittins. Fitz caught Molly's eye and jerked his head toward the ground, and she did the same whistle-through-her-fingers that McCormack had done and pointed to the ground. He couldn't hear what she was saying, but he could see her lips moving. A few minutes later, the team was on the ground, gathering around their manager.
Meghan McCormack gave them all a stern look. It reminded Fitz uncomfortably of his Head of House, a crotchety old Arithmancy professor who'd never seemed to like any of them, and he shifted his weight even though he was technically part of the authorities and not the misbehavers.
The stern look seemed effective on everyone else as well. Even Mariah looked a bit abashed. Only Molly and Jinks seemed unaffected. Jinks he knew wasn't bothered because Jinks was never bothered by anything. Molly's reasons for looking unperturbed, he could only guess. Moral certitude? Lack of authority issues?
"What the hell was that, you two?" McCormack barked, pointing at Beathan and Duff. "You're supposed to aim at the other team, not your own. And don't say it was a drill because it was clearly some sort of revenge. You may not like each other, you might've had a bad roll in the sheets-"
Duff had the grace to look embarrassed. Beathan was bright red.
"-but you'll damn well keep it professional on the field. And for God's sake, everyone keep their trousers on, all right?" McCormack shook her head at them all, then stalked off the field, muttering and cursing under her breath.
Fitz sighed and turned to the lot of them. "You heard her. Keep your pants on if you can't keep it together afterwards. Now get back to work."
The team dispersed. Beathan, still blushing fiercely, was the first one back in the air. Fitz kicked the grass when no one was looking. Bloody ridiculous, honestly. He shouldn't have to tell anyone to keep their knickers on. This was not the job he'd signed up for, dammit.
In fairness, keeping the players on track was his job, and if that included keeping them from hopping into bed together, he supposed he'd have to get used to it. His eyes tracked Molly without intending to. She was floating in front of the centre ring, her red hair braided tight to her scalp, corralling her unruly curls. Her trousers under the purple Prides robes were black and skin-tight, as always.
As if she felt his eyes on her, she looked down straight at him, locking eyes. Fitz turned quickly to the rest of the team, watching the Chasers. Beathan was ignoring the Beaters now, and Mackie and Whittlemore were flying loops together, sweeping figure eights through the air. Beathan caught up and they split in opposite directions.
Eventually Fitz decided the Chasers were doing well enough with what he'd told them to do, and he tried to spot both Beaters. Neither was where they should be. At first he thought they were avoiding Beathan, but after watching them a while he realized they were actually flying with purpose, in an attack pattern.
He hadn't set them any drills for attacks.
Dammit, he thought, still watching them. They were doing their own thing instead of what he'd told them. They seemed to be working well together, but he didn't want them ignoring instructions. A twinge of remorse tugged at him. Had he been paying too much attention to the Chasers, so that the Beaters had thought up something on their own to stay on track? Even if that were true, they should have said something to him, respected his authority as coach. He let the lot of them finish out another hour in the air, then blew his whistle to call them all down.
Molly was first down, followed by the three Chasers and the trio of reservists. Jinks came down shortly after, and Gittins and Preece last. They were trying to look nonchalant.
Fitz stared them down, and eventually Preece's chin went up, a small token of defiance.
"What the hell did you think you were doing up there? You had your instructions for the day. You don't get to do whatever you bloody well want up there, swanning about on your brooms like a pair of ballerinas."
Gittins spoke up first. "Seemed a good use of our time."
Fitz grunted. "I'll be the judge of what's a good use of your damn time. Go get cleaned up, all of you, and be back here tomorrow at seven sharp. Seven, Jinks," he added, pointing at the Seeker.
The lot of them headed off for the locker room, and he heard Sid Whittlemore saying as they walked off, "Two arse-chewings in one day. Is that a record for the Prides or business as usual?"
Probably both, thought Fitz sourly.
As it turned out, it seemed arse-chewings were going to be business as usual after all. Friday afternoon found Fitz in his usual spot on the ground, hands on his hips and simmering slowly.
The damn Beaters were at it again. Whatever they were doing up there, it wasn't what he'd told them to do.
Yelling at them had had no effect. They lacked respect for their coach. He wanted to punch each of them in the jaw, but he knew that wouldn't solve anything – though since Gittins was from Falmouth, he probably would feel right at home with some good old-fashioned violence – so Fitz tried to breathe through it until he could speak to them without hitting anyone.
And that was when he saw it.
Jinks was flying a pattern over the top of the pitch, obviously searching for the Snitch.
For a moment, Fitz forgot his rage at the disobedient Beaters and stared up at the Seeker in shock. Jinks hadn't done a damned thing in a training session the entire time Fitz had been in Portree, except nap on his broom at what he thought was high enough elevation to be out of sight. Flying a search pattern was completely out of character for him.
Fitz's eyes narrowed. He could buy that Gittins and Preece had felt neglected, decided to go rogue and set their own training, but Jinks? Jinks was lazier than a cat. Fitz hadn't managed to motivate him to actually practice yet. Neither had Rodan when he'd been here. Jinks was impervious to bribery and threats of bodily harm, and nothing short of McCormack threatening to sack him would get him to work. Since McCormack hadn't been here to threaten him...
He looked over at Molly suspiciously. She was not looking at him, in mid-save of a penalty throw from Zara Mackie, but as soon as she'd tossed the Quaffle back to Sid, she glanced up at Jinks. Fitz was sure he saw an expression of satisfaction in her blue eyes.
Goddammit. She'd gone behind his back and changed the training schedule, undermining his authority and making him look like an idiot in front of the team. She was trying to take over coaching from him, his one purpose with the Prides. Hell, his one purpose in life right now.
Seething with rage, he blew his whistle hard and waved them all down. It was half an hour early, so they seemed a bit surprised, but relieved at the respite. He could see their expressions change as they got close enough for a good look at his face. One by one they landed, gathering round. Molly didn't look at all frightened, though she was intelligent enough to know she was probably caught. She stood there calmly next to Beathan, supremely unconcerned.
Fitz almost choked on his rage and pointed toward the locker rooms. They all trooped off, and he heard Duff mutter to Declan Preece.
This time, Fitz didn't just kick his unused broom away. He grabbed it by the handle and slammed it into the earth. The handle gave with a sharp crack and a small puff of red sparks. It wasn't as satisfying as he needed it to be. He stared at the now useless broom in silence for a few moments before stalking off the field, tossing it in a rubbish bin as he left.
Ten minutes later, he was standing outside the locker room. There was not enough fear coming from inside to cool him off. If anything, they all seemed to have expected this. No one volunteered Molly for the slaughter, but no one was protecting her, either.
Fitz stuck his head inside. "Weasley. A word."
Molly was still in her Quidditch robes, sitting on the purple velvet sofa with her long legs stretched out in front of her. She rose gracefully, her face expressionless, and followed him into the hall.
Fitz closed the door behind them and turned to face Molly. She had crossed her arms in front of her chest in an unconscious defensive posture.
"Did you countermand my drills?" he demanded without prelude.
"Your drills weren't working," she informed him evenly. "Someone had to do something. The Beaters weren't improving. Now they are. And Jinks actually did something up there."
"You have no authority to set drills for them or anyone else. You'll damn well follow instructions or you can find another job."
It was an empty threat and they both knew it. There was no reserve Keeper, and only a week left to the official start of the season. McCormack would sooner chew off her own arm than give Molly the sack. To her credit, Molly didn't point this out.
"Your drills are ineffective. They might be fine if we'd been playing together for ages, but we're all new at working together and we're behind-"
"I'll be the judge of whether the drills are working," he interrupted her, his voice rising on the words. "I'm the damn coach here, not you!"
"Then act like it," Molly snapped. "Get on your broom and see what's going on, like every other damn coach in the league. If you didn't see it wasn't working your way, it's because you spent all your time standing a hundred feet below us."
"I can see just fine. My eyesight is perfect. I saw you trying to take over the damn team today-"
"We've been running my drills all week!” she shouted, apparently pushed beyond her ability to stay calm. Her eyes were flashing blue fire at him, and she poked him in the chest with one finger. “If you'd get on your damn broom and get up there, you'd have noticed before!”
Fitz opened his mouth to retort, but the door swung open behind him, drawing him up short. He and Molly stepped back, standing to either side of the door, and waited silently while the team filed past them. It was obvious from the uncomfortable silence that the team had heard everything they'd said. Embarrassment roiled up, blending with the anger, and Fitz looked away from Molly.
He could feel her eyes on him. The silence was louder than her words had been, and it seemed to press on his vocal cords, on his heart. She was right, he should've been on his broom. He hadn't noticed how long they'd been following her lead instead of his. And he hadn't been paying enough attention to the rest of the team, too focused on the Chasers, where he felt more secure with training. He knew what to do with them. The rest of the team he could only guess at.
The anger boiled over and evaporated, leaving a thin thread of shame behind. Hell, he thought miserably. He was a worse coach than senile old Rodan.
After a few moments of oppressive silence, Molly turned on her heel and walked away.
An hour after the team had left the pitch, Fitz knocked on McCormack's open office door. "You wanted to see me?"
She looked up briefly and waved him in. As soon as he sat down, she handed over a sheet of parchment. "Game schedule."
Fitz glanced at it and saw with horror that their first game was against Montrose. His old team. He wasn't ready to see them yet. His team didn't respect him as a coach. Hell, he didn't respect himself as a coach either. And they sure as hell weren't ready to take on the Magpies, one of the top teams in the league.
"I'm choosing the team captain," McCormack went on, oblivious to his distress. "Spoke to the players. Three for Mackie, five for Weasley."
"Weasley's a better choice," Fitz said, keeping his voice carefully neutral. "Mackie can lead the Chasers, but Weasley leads everyone."
"That's what I thought," McCormack agreed. "I'm surprised to hear you say it though, after this week. From what I've heard, you've butted heads with her pretty hard."
Fitz's stomach flipped. She already knew about the argument outside the locker room?
Before he could muster a defense, McCormack said gruffly, "Pull your head out of your arse, Riordan. We don't have much time, and I want to win this season. Get your act together so you can make the rest of them get theirs together. And let Weasley know she's team captain now."
He left in silence, walking quickly out of the suite of offices in the base of the pitch, down the gold-painted corridors and outside to the violently purple exterior of the building, where he stopped and breathed again. His stomach was still churning, and he drew a long, shaky breath.
A drink. A drink was probably in order. But he didn't move to Apparate to Max's pub and the friendly oblivion of firewhisky.
He ought to tender his resignation, but that would leave the team with no one to coach. Even an incompetent one must be better than no coach at all, or McCormack wouldn't have hesitated to give him the sack as she'd done to Rodan. She still seemed to see something in Fitz that he did not.
He thought over the past week. It had been disastrous for him, but when he tried to look at the team objectively - head out of his arse, he thought wryly - he knew there was some improvement to the Beaters since they'd been running Molly's drills in the afternoons. And she'd got Jinks to actually work. Molly saw things differently than he did, that was clear. He thought he knew her well enough to know she wanted to win as badly as McCormack did. She'd been trying to help the team, even if it had been by undermining him.
Dammit, he thought. He was going to get his act together.
Fitz turned over his shoulder, feeling his way into the crushing darkness with his destination firmly in mind.
Molly lay stretched out on her red sofa, a glass in hand. The pleasantly sour taste of vodka gimlet wasn't helping, though. Her brain was still in just as much turmoil as it had been since she'd left the pitch earlier, after a screaming match that the entire team had overheard.
She balanced the cup on her abdomen, breathing carefully so as not to dislodge it, and closed her eyes, throwing one arm over her head.
Maybe she shouldn't have left Holyhead. She wasn't going back, though. It was too late to change her mind; she'd have to stick out the end of the season, do her best to play well. If they lost the season, her career would be shot. The thought that she'd torpedoed her career when she took a chance with the Prides gave her a pulsing headache.
And bloody Fitz made her want to hit someone. Preferably him. Screaming at her in the corridor outside the locker room as if she were twelve... Hmph. She had known he'd be angry if he noticed Duff and Declan running her drills, and when she'd got Jinks to actually Seek during practice, but she still thought it had been worth it. The fact it had taken so long for him to notice only proved her right, anyway.
Molly was used to being right. It was a hollow victory this time, though.
A knock sounded at her door, and Molly lifted the cup from her stomach and took a drink before getting up to answer it.
She nearly slammed the door in his face when she saw who was on the other side.
"Go away," she told him. "You don't want to hear what I have to say to you."
"McCormack made you team captain," Fitz told her.
Molly gaped at him. That had been the last thing she'd expected him to say to her, given that the last time they'd spoken had been the blowout fight.
He offered a small smile. "Congratulations."
"Thanks." She rallied then. "Bugger off now, why don't you."
"Can we talk?"
"I don't know," she returned. "Can we? Sure as hell didn't seem like it."
"Would it help if I admitted I need your help?"
Okay, that was the last thing she'd expected him to say. Speechless, Molly motioned him inside.
Fitz sat in the black leather armchair Molly normally favoured, and she went back to her seat on the sofa. He nodded to her glass, and asked ruefully, "Don't suppose you've got another of those somewhere, have you?"
Unnerved by the entire situation, Molly blushed. "Sorry, yes. I should've offered you a drink. I'm a better hostess normally. What would you like?"
"Whatever you're drinking is fine."
Molly returned a moment later with another vodka gimlet, and he drank gratefully. "I had a meeting with McCormack," he told her. "Got the game schedule. We're up against the Magpies first."
"We aren't ready," Molly said bluntly.
"I know. How ready d'you think we can be in a week? Cause that's all we've got." He ran a hand through his hair, and she saw lines of stress and fatigue around his eyes.
He'd said he needed her help and was actually asking her opinion. Earlier today he'd shouted at her in front of everyone because she'd helped, admittedly against his wishes. It was such an abrupt about-face that Molly wasn't sure what to make of it.
"This is what I was going to have us do next week," he went on, pulling a sheet of parchment from his pocket.
Molly scooted to the end of the couch, closer to him, and took the list wordlessly, looking over his brief and sketchy notes. Before she'd finished reading, he asked her, "Got any suggestions?" and sat back in the armchair, sipping his drink.
She picked up a pencil from the coffee table, but then paused. "Where did this come from? Suddenly you want me helping set the training? Because McCormack made me team captain now?"
"Because McCormack suggested that I pull it together." He rumpled his hair again. She was starting to recognize it as a gesture of embarrassment. He didn't like admitting he was wrong, or asking for help. She didn't much either, so she understood it when she saw it in someone else. He hadn't apologized as such, but she knew a peace offering when she saw one.
Molly jotted down some additions to his outline, filling in more for the Chasers and changing his Beater drills altogether. Preece and Gittins could aim; it was working in tandem when not drunk that eluded them. And Jinks needed more specifics than what Fitz had for him.
When she was finished writing, she handed the sheet back to him silently. He'd finished his drink, and set the glass down on her coffee table. They stared at each other for a moment, then Fitz looked down at what she'd written. She waited for him to comment, and eventually he said, "You really think this will help Preece and Gittins?"
"Yes. And you're not using Waldman to best advantage when she plays. She's better than you think she is."
"She's not as good as she thinks she is."
"Neither is Carmichael, but you're not letting that stop him. Forget she's your ex-wife and think of her as a reserve Chaser only."
"Easier said than done. How'd you get Jinks to actually practice his Seeking?" Fitz asked with grudging admiration.
She paused, wondering if she really ought to tell him. She wasn't embarrassed; it had worked. Jinks's buttons had been easy enough to find and push. Preece and Gittins hadn't even needed a push. They'd done as ordered, and she'd been a bit surprised when they hadn't sold her out the first time they'd been caught not following Fitz's orders and been chewed out. Jinks was much lazier. He'd needed a reason to follow orders. "I told him to fall in line or I'd make sure every woman in town thought he had something virulent and contagious."
Fitz grinned briefly at her tactics. "Nice."
She studied him, and his grin faded. Molly wished he would smile more, and then frowned at herself. Don't soften. "You haven't done right by him. He could be better if you pushed him."
"I didn't know. He was the best one out of the old team. I don't know exactly how to coach the Seeker and Beaters, really." It seemed to cost him a lot to admit that.
"Didn't you watch any old training footage for ideas? Holyhead's got loads, Portree must have a vault of reels somewhere."
Fitz looked surprised. "Do they? How d'you know?"
Molly sighed. She'd never been interested in coaching as a post-professional future, but she had spent enough time on the bench at the Harpies pitch to know what the job entailed. Evidently the star players didn't need to bother with that. Somehow she wasn't surprised. At Holyhead, the only people who'd watched the old training and games reels had been the coach, herself, and occasionally her aunt Ginny, who was a sports journalist now and liked to visit her old team. "Just go look. There should be records from before."
"Before Rodan went senile? He was good a long time ago. Might be nice to see his old planning notes, if he kept them. Thanks." He was silent a moment, and then asked, "Have we got anything like a chance?"
"Against Montrose? No. They're more prepared, more cohesive as a team. We need another month of training at the least. But we don't have it, so we'll have to cross our fingers and hope we don't show too badly against them. And bloody well practice better until then."
He nodded, and she realized he was well aware of their chances against his old team. "That's not what I meant," he said quietly.
Molly stared at him, and suddenly he was too close and the air was too hot. She couldn't draw a full breath. His eyes locked with hers, the brown depths laced with the pain that never really went away, and a spark of something else. She wondered if that spark was in her own eyes too.
"McCormack said to keep it professional," she managed eventually.
Fitz nodded. "Yeah. Professional."
It occurred to her that she should have said no because he was an arse, because he didn't know how to handle the team or his anger or his injury, because he'd shouted at her and not apologized. She wondered why she hadn't thought of that. Instead she'd only thought of the electric current that had passed between them when he'd held her hand the last time he'd been in her flat.
"It's late, and I'm an arse," Fitz said so artlessly that Molly let out a snort of laughter despite herself. "I'll go." He rolled up the parchment and saluted her with it. "Thanks, Madame Captain."
"You can still call me Molly," she told him grudgingly. "But it doesn't mean I forgive you yet."
"No," he agreed, his face growing serious. "Don't forgive me until I deserve it."
She went to bed still thinking about his brief smiles. He should smile more often. She wished he'd show the team a little more of the side of him she sometimes saw, when he wasn't angry and shouting and setting useless drills to waste everyone's time. Sometimes he seemed to be the old Fitz, the one Hilarion had said was a decent bloke and fun at the pub.
Shame that wasn't what the team saw.
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