Chapter 5 : five.
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I stepped into my flat Saturday evening with leftover stew and trifle my mum had packed, determined to focus on finalizing plays for the Charming Cannons’ games. Last week I’d received an owl from Adam, the Charming Cannon’s old coach, asking if I would be accompanying the team as they traveled to Wimbourne for a game next Saturday. It had worked out well that the Wasps had a home game the same weekend I would be there. In his letter Adam had asked for the details of the game so he could attend and if I would be interested in having dinner afterwards. Platonically, of course. He hadn’t said it but at this point it went without mentioning, I suppose.
All of the lights were off and I guided myself through the dark flat mostly by memory until I reached my bedroom and saw the neon yellow lights of my alarm clock telling it was close to seven o’clock. I dropped on the bed heavily, taking my time to slip my shoes off my feet and trying not to mull over the fact that it was the Saturday night before the preseason’s hottest game (that I was covering!) and the highlight of my day would probably be my mum’s berry trifle. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have anything to occupy my time with.
At least that’s how I consoled myself when I gathered the day’s Prophet that I hadn’t read yet and sat down at the kitchen table to get some work done before heading to bed. I wish I could say that I read every piece of the paper every day but alas, my mind didn’t understand the workings of the Ministry enough to keep my attention for more than a passing glimpse through most sections. Since seeing Rose and Albus that one day, however, I had made an effort to search for Rose’s name; although she didn’t seem to be a writer for the section as much as a behind-the-scenes data-gather. I read enough to hold a reasonably intelligent conversation on the lift on my way to my office but otherwise, I was rather dull when it came to current events, politics, finance, or entertainment.
The entertainment section was in fact, the bane of my career. Most of the reporters were always hitting on my coworkers while treating me as if I were competition with their dirty looks and cattiness. It was a laughable accusation. I wouldn’t have touched anyone I worked with a ten-foot pole wearing a sanitation suit.
So I usually made no effort to read the section but today, today the bolded headline in the corner of the cover immediately caught my attention.
POTTER OUT – CANNON’S BROWNE IN AS WOOD’S NEW LOVE INTEREST?
It was ridiculous, utterly and completely ridiculous. But I couldn’t stop myself from opening the newspaper and scanning the pages with my fingertips until I reached the cursed page twenty-three. The short paragraph explained that James Potter’s long-term girlfriend, Acacia Wood had dumped him for Alex Browne, the Cannon’s Chaser; leaving James “utterly heartbroken”. There were two black and white photos cropped next to each other under the story. The one on the right was of James, hair wet and poking up on his head in every direction and moving his equipment bag higher onto his shoulder before giving the cameras an obvious look of disdain. On the left a pretty blonde, obviously Acacia, had her arm in Alex Browne’s as they attempted to leave a restaurant through the reporters.
I scolded myself for even taking the time to search and read the waste of paper space. Their timing was impeccable, of course. The Cannon-Puddlemere game had gained a tremendous amount of fuel since it would break one of the team’s winning streaks. There was no sense in attempting to rationalize to both set of fans that it was only the preseason. Teams had ruled, or ruined, their preseason just to ruin, or rule, the actual season.
No matter the motive, it made sense that the Prophet would grab hold of whatever was big at the moment and run with the story. No doubt this would just make the new formed rivalry worse.
Despite my better judgment I found myself prowling the trash rags that Rachel subscribed to an hour later for any mention of James Potter or Acacia Wood and was not disappointed. They were in almost every magazine I picked up. From minor mentions of where they ate (an upscale French restaurant off West End seemed to be their favorite) to what they were wearing (lots of “timeless black”) to eternal rumors of marriage or breakups. But through months of magazines they were together constantly until one day, they weren’t.
Later that night I lay in bed, tossing and turning to find the right angle where I was still covered by my thin bed sheet but also getting a breeze from my rotating fan. But as much as I tried, I couldn’t find a position to give myself a break from the humidity or the topic of James Potter and Acacia Wood out of my mind.
True, I didn’t know all the dynamics and workings to their relationship. How much of it had been for show? Had they been fighting or disagreeing before breaking up? The magazines depicted a perfectly photo-shopped couple, always matching and never with a stain, despite the fact that they were always leaving a restaurant.
Maybe they didn’t eat.
But I digress. I didn’t know their story but I knew my own.
Nicholas Warren was my first (and only) serious relationship. I knew that we went on our first date on January 16th, he asked me to be his girlfriend on February 10th, and we broke up over a year later in April. Funny how the beginning of the relationship was sorted into things that were so specific and exact; the first date, kiss, and time you exchanged those three little words, while the day you said goodbye just sunk into the calendar, determined to be forgotten.
I was especially taken by the idea of how quickly things could change. Take Lorcan and Rachel, for example. They had known each other for a long time at school with seemingly no attraction until one day Lorcan used a corny pickup on some girl at the bar and made Rachel laugh. That was the moment that he changed in her eyes. What if Rachel hadn’t heard or if Lorcan had said something else that wasn’t as funny?
Was there a single moment in every couple’s relationship where things either change for better or worse?
Nick and I were… We were strong, at least I thought so. He made me laugh and introduced me to countless new worlds through his books, muggle and magical. We created a haven in his tiny flat where we spent countless days of heat, snow, and rain typing and reading. One day he read an article about the tallest free-standing mountain in Tanzania in a Travel magazine. “Payton, there’s just some things that magic can’t do! The air, Merlin, the air must be so crisp up there!”
I didn’t think anything of it than because Nick was the definition of a homebody. He loved his tea, books, muggle shows, and the tiny shop where he was a bookkeeper. He loved me. Even if I had known, there wasn’t much I could have done.
A week later, Nick was gone. He’d left me a note saying that life was more than his books and he finally wanted to live. His books he had given to his little brother, furniture to his older brother, and clothes to charity.
And me, his girlfriend of 14 months – he had left a note scribbled on a napkin as a side note.
I hadn’t been worth a piece of parchment for the goodbye, apparently.
I spent the entire night flitting in and out of strange nonsensical dreams filled with mountains where my family was standing with Nick as I tried to keep afloat in a murky lake of brown water filled with huge pieces of toffee that would sink whenever I tried to grab on. I felt I had just closed my eyes for actual rest when my alarm block began to buzz and fly above me, getting louder and louder until I hit it with a silencing spell.
Usually I would’ve been irritated beyond rationality at the idea of having to battle a day of reporting with close to no sleep the night before but not this morning. Today, I was finally covering a Puddlemere game.
“James, James – how do you feel about facing Alex Browne today?”
“James Potter, will your game performance be affected today by your recent relationship change?”
“How is any of this relevant?” I was screaming in between the questioning of the throng of reporters around me. “He’s not even bloody here yet, you wankers!” After some shoving and exchanging of dirty looks, I made my way to the front of the crowd and facing the closed navy blue locker room doors of Puddlemere United.
I had no idea if they would actually let me in for an interview. Not after they hadn’t let in any of the reporters around me whose newspaper hadn’t run that embarrassing story about James Potter. But damn it if I wasn’t going to try, try, and try.
“There’s no one interested in doing interviews, love.” Morton Filmore, one of Puddlemere’s Beaters, had opened the door, releasing a distinct locker-room aroma and giving me a look I was used to as a female reporter. It was a mixture of condescending humor and flirtation. It was one I could definitely use to my advantage if I was a lot more the flirtatious type. “Maybe after the game though?”
Morton Filmore was tall, brawny, and most definitely part giant somewhere down his lineage. He was also surprisingly quick for such a massive frame and an incredibly talented Beater, starting two years before James and holding several records in the game. If he had begun the conversation in a more appropriate way, I probably would have still been facing him now trying to think of what to say.
“Promise?” I quipped, more in a sarcastic manner but through the yelling behind me, it may have actually appeared charming. “Look, I’ve spent the past two weeks interviewing the Cannons. I just want five minutes to ask a question or two to the team I have loved since a child.”
Morton smiled at me from the other side of the door and seemed to actually be considering it. Something about the comfort he gave me in the conversation reminded me of Albus Potter, strangely enough.
“Please?” My lips formed a pout as I pleaded, hoping that it would score me enough sympathy points to just enter the locker room.
“ ‘Scuse me,” there was a light touch on my arm and I moved aside to let someone pass; catching a glimpse of a familiar pair of hazel eyes when they turned to look at me before entering the locker room.
“Sorry, love. After the game, I promise.” I think that Morton winked at me but I wasn’t sure. I was too concerned about the crimson flush in my cheeks and burning trail on my arm where James had passed next to me. Just that quickly, I had been transformed into a gawky fifteen year-old again witnessing James Potter winking at another girl as I stood behind her, pathetically tongue-tied as the door shut in front of me.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is the game of the preseason and will hopefully set a precedent on the rest of the season’s playing.”
All around me, my fellow reporters were completely transfixed in the game from our seats in the press box. Occasionally I would see them scribble a note but otherwise their attention was completely undivided on the game of the preseason. Even the weather was too occupied to begin its transition to our normal humidity after the past few days of storms; blessing us with beautiful skies, puffy clouds that floated by, and a gentle breeze. It seemed everything was perfect, but to me something still felt wrong.
This was supposed to be fun, no? I know there’s a pressure and stress to it all as players because this is their job but ultimately, they play quidditch because they love the game; and no one seemed to love it at the moment. The players continued to circle each other ferociously as the game went on with more time passing without the score changing, giving each other looks as if one had eaten the last mince meat pie.
In his corner, James sat atop his broom with an unreadable expression on his face until Alex Browne would pass by and something would change in his eyes. It answered the question that I had heard another reporter ask earlier that day. Would his performance be affected by his recent relationship change? Something told me that it wasn’t the relationship change that was affecting his performance, but the bloke in front of him that had caused it; and I wasn’t the only one that caught it. Next to me, the reporter from Quidditch Entertainment magazine had already written his segment as the game reached the hour mark. His focus was on the intense tension between Browne and James.
“Isn’t Quidditch Entertainment supposed to focus on, I don’t know, quidditch?” I asked as he gave me a dirty look before snapping his notebook closed. As if I would steal his ideas.
“We focus on what the readers want,” he stretched his arms in front of him and took a deep breath to obviously educate me on what that was. “I’ve never seen you here before…” He let his statement linger until I picked up on the intention.
“Payton, Payton Carter from the Prophet.”
“Arthur Clark, it’s nice to meet you Payton Carter from the Prophet. As I was saying, you must be new here. You still have that wide-eyed look of wonder and enchantment.”
“That’s actually just my usual face…”
“Don’t worry, dear, that’ll die after a few games.” Obviously he hadn’t heard my objection. “With the Cannons coming up, England would like nothing more than an old-fashioned rivalry. Add a beautiful lady in the mix and you’ve got solid gold. Look at ol’ Helen of Troy over yonder in her Cannons jersey,” we both looked over to where Acacia Wood was sitting in the family section of the stands, her hands clasped together as she watched the game in between us. “Although I don’t suppose Helen had access to hair dye and beautifying spells, eh?”
I didn’t bother mentioning to Arthur that I had no idea who Helen or Troy were because his attention was already lost, writing more notes on the side of parchment. Nor did I know who Arthur Clarke from Quidditch Entertainment was, but I wasn’t exactly a frequent reader of the second-largest wizarding sports magazine. If you haven’t already picked up, I didn’t exactly go out of my bubble too often when it came to educating myself.
Arthur’s statement about hair dye and beautifying spells had peaked my interest though. I continued to stare openly at Acacia in her seat, not understanding how it was fair that one person could be so attractive while the rest of us were struggling to get by and not look like we were ill on a daily basis. I didn’t devote an extraordinary amount of time on makeup but the one time I was running so late I didn’t wear any; half of the staff asked me if I was feeling well.
After that day I decided that if I was going to be late, I might as well look healthy and put on some foundation, moisturizer, pore minimizing cream, or some other half-liquid that promised to make me look twelve forever.
“Campbell passes to Browne who shoots aaaannnddd, misses! Oh, so close! Potter has done an excellent job of defense this game. It’s almost as if he’s got a vendetta to prove…” Marcus Roberts, the guest commentator for the game, let his final statement fade into the cheering before continuing on. “The snitch is still nowhere to be seen as the Cannon’s newest addition and star, Murphy circles the field and Puddlemere’s Havenport balances near Potter’s post. Puddlemere has reclaimed control.” Two of the Cannon’s Chasers, Alex Browne and Elisa Huron, hovered in front of James, talking while everyone’s attention refocused to Franklin Maxwell defending the Cannon’s post.
Last week I had interviewed Dylan Murphy as part of my covering of the Cannon game. Going in I was worried about an entitled, spoiled rookie who would answer my questions with one-word replies and lots of eye-rolling. Instead I had one of the best conversations about quidditch I’d had in a long time with one of the most passionate players I had ever met. Two hours later, I was in such admiration for Dylan Murphy that I almost considered becoming a Cannon fan just for him.
“Romanowski and Bradley are throwing the quaffle between each other while and what is going on over there?”
The second I had lost focus on Puddlemere’s side the unimaginable had happened. Now different people tell different stories. Arthur Clarke claimed that James’ eyes had actually gone red before he threw himself on top of Alex Browne’s broom and began to strangle him. A fan at the bar later told a story of James punching Elisa Huron before trying to take down Browne as well. From the second I turned, I saw James and Alex Browne wrestling mid-air as they plummeted to the ground at a dangerous speed until a fast-acting official slowed them down meters before they landed. There was chaos on the field as Puddlemere scored, unnoticed by Cannon’s Keeper and Coach, Franklin Maxwell as he tried to understand what was going on. Soon both of the posts were left unattended with all of the Chasers desperately trying to remain in control of the quaffles to score.
Puddlemere’s score went up; 10, 20, 30, all the way to get 80 before Aaron Bradley was knocked into one of the golden posts. Below us, James and Alex Browne had been separated and disappeared, along with one of the officials. I debated whether I should remain and watch the game or leave. When none of the reporters seemed to be budging, I quickly grabbed my satchel and took off the stairs and locker rooms.
Five flights later I reached the hallway that split between the home and visiting locker rooms. More than a little flustered and out of breath, I made a mental note to start exercising more often and flashed my pass to the attendant to enter.
The door was cracked open just enough for me to make out a moving shadow and flashes of color on the other side before a loud crashing resounded throughout the walls. I easily recognized the noise of brooms falling against each other onto the floor from my school days and dealing with temperamental boys. If I had had any sense I would’ve returned to my prime seating in the press box and finished watching the game. Instead, because I’ve got no sense, I let myself into the locker after knocking loudly three times with no reply.
“-a waste of bloody-”
I had just stepped inside when I was caught by James in midstride and swear as he paced the length of the locker room angrily. Mentally I had prepared what I was going to say. It would start with an apology for what had happened and invading this obvious moment of privacy but then I would move into something else. I hadn’t planned that out yet. But I wasn’t given the chance to say much of anything before his eyes feel on the laminated press pass clipped on the edge of my shirt.
“What are you doing here?”
“I, I just wanted to-“
“-to what? Write down every swear and scream so you can bloody post it with a picture of me punching that rat in the face?”
“What? No! I just-” I felt my heartbeat accelerate in my chest, the blood quickly rushing to redden my cheeks and bring my mortified feelings to light; all as he continued to glare at me. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen.
“What was the cover going to read tomorrow? ‘James Potter the Abusive Git?’ Entitled, lazy, and aggressive? Probably using those accelerant potions, anger is always a side effect of those, eh? It also makes things smaller, that’s probably why his girl left him.” He didn’t seem to be yelling directly at me, wringing his hair with his hands until walking over to a desk and flinging a stack of sheets off of it. “Silly me, I’m writing your whole paper for you. Guess when I’m some has-been quidditch star I can talk about it like an expert too.”
It felt as if I’d been slapped by his cruelness. He raised his eyes to meet mine for the first time since his yelling had started, a moment of silence falling between us before he opened his mouth to speak again. “Stop it,” I demanded, not prepared for another verbal on slaughter and embarrassed when I heard the catch in my throat. “Stop it right now. I am not some sleazy reporter, the slag who cheated on you, or the daft fool whose dating her now, so stop. You’ve no right.”
I wanted to say more, even yell a bit. I wanted to hit him and kick. But none of it seemed worth it. So I took a deep breath, forced myself to straighten up, and turned to leave with my dignity intact.
“Now, wait a minute.” He had taken a small step behind me that I crossed quickly in return, my embarrassment turning to anger. He would not take having from the last words from me. No, those were mine.
“No, you wait a minute.” I said, poking my finger in his chest several times until he took a step back. “Never in my life have I thought you were entitled or lazy but for the first time today, I realized that you are a grade-A arse, James Potter.” After an extra shove for good measure I stormed out of the locker room and headed to Pilsdon Pub.
James Potter may have been a grade-A arse, but I had spent the past twelve years being a grade-A fool.
dun dun dun!
They've finally interacted, and I'm sure it wasn't what y'all were expecting!
I'm sorry for any editing mistakes, I tried to look over it a few times but alas - I just wanted to get it in the queue. I'm writing the next chapter now, so hopefully it won't be too long but I'm sitting on top of mountains of readings and papers :(.
Love you aallllll, thanks again!!
Wonderful chapter image by Elenia @ TDA!!
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by Amy Sellers