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Off The Record by wonweasley
Chapter 4 : How to Be a Matchmaker
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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“One hundred and twenty.”

The first words out of Graham Bennet’s mouth made me feel sick to my stomach. Every player on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team knew the significance of that number. It was the number of points by which we’d lost last year. The year Ravenclaw – my own brother’s team – had beaten us in the semi-final and knocked us out of the running for the Quidditch Cup. I’d felt the weight of those points more than most, as it was me who’d had to listen to Felix gloating all summer about it. A big mistake on his part, because this year I’d resolved to achieve utter payback, no matter the cost.

“Try-outs are on Monday evening,” Bennet told us all, then put up a silencing hand when Gil opened his mouth. “I know your brother’s good, Bevan. I’d have made him Chaser by now, but Sprout says I’ve got to hold try-outs to give everyone a fair shot.”

“How very Hufflepuff of her,” Gil said smugly, clearly satisfied to know that his little brother had practically made the team.

“What I want to talk now is tactics. We’re a good team, and every single one of us has proven it time and again. But we need to work above and beyond our abilities. Ravenclaw won last year not only because they had it together as a team, but because Felix Descoteaux did his homework. He knew his opponents almost as well as he knew his own players. Eden,” he said, turning on me, “I want frequent updates on your brother. I don’t mean follow him around the castle, but as his sister you have an advantage of knowing his moods and attitudes better than most. Am I assuming correctly?”

I nodded.

“Good. What judgement would you make of him for this year?”

I pondered this for a moment. “Felix is pretty chilled out most of the time, but I know how much he secretly likes to win. Getting the Cup last year is not going to stop him from doing whatever it takes to win it again.”

Bennet looked grim. “I feared as much. Keep me updated. As for everyone else, I want you to know who each and every player is on each and every team. Especially the new editions once try-outs week is over. Take note of who is in your year, watch them in class, and report back to me on anything you think is notable. I want to know what we’re up against.”

All of a sudden, our first team practice of the year had turned into preparation for battle. Our captain drilled us on our training schedules over the summer, criticising or commending us on how often we’d practiced our flying, quizzed us on a myriad of diversional tactics, and all the while reminded us of those sodding one hundred and twenty points. He was just beginning his rant on the importance of feinting ‘at only the most opportune moment!’ when Natalie Burgess, our seventh-year Seeker, interrupted him.

“Permission to speak, Captain?” she said, her hand rising in mock salute and the tiniest of smirks playing upon her lips. “I think I speak for the entire team when I say that you’re mental. Or on the verge being so, at least.”

Everyone held their breath as Bennet glared furiously at Natalie. She waited for him to speak, or scream, or do anything, really. But all he proceeded to do was cross his arms across his stocky chest and give her a look that indicated she should explain herself.

“Not that we don’t take you seriously, good Captain,” she said, hurrying to recover. “We all want to win just as much as you do. But if you’re going to take the tyrannical leader route, I’ll tell you now: it’s not going to work. We’re Hufflepuffs – our strengths lie in teamwork and camaraderie, so you can bet your last Galleon that scaring us into submission won’t get you results.”

This time Bennet’s response wasn’t so harsh. He took a deep breath, paused, then smiled sheepishly at his team. “Perhaps I was being a little...‘tyrannical’,” he muttered. “But I stand by what I said! We will be training harder than ever. I’ve got loads of ideas to improve our game.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Natalie. “And now you’re done being a terrifying twit, I also have an idea. I’ve been working on a new Hufflepuff chant. The old ‘Hufflepuff can win win win!’ is outdated, and when you think about it, ‘Hufflepuff’ rhymes with plenty of great words, like tough, rough, bluff –”

“—muff,” Dale Hunter contributed, earning an objectified gasp from every girl and a snigger from every boy. Lauren Little, the Chaser standing beside him, landed a sharp punch on his arm.

“You are awful, Hunter!” she said, though with a slight grin. That was just typical Dale Hunter: inappropriate at any hour, but a good laugh once you got used to him.

“I’m jus’ sayin’ it how it is,” he laughed. “Reckon you could work that into the new chant, Nat? ‘From scruff to muff, we’re always tough’. It’d go down a treat.”

Natalie laughed as well. “Not with McGonagall – she’d probably faint.”

“All the more reason to do it!” said Hunter, sending the rest of the team into a giggling fit.

The remainder of the practice was spent on our brooms, getting back into the feeling of flying as a team, all the while talking about the games we’d seen over the summer, teasing each other on our favourites, and trying to figure out some of the professional players’ winning manoeuvres. After three failed attempts and one almost-success of the Patinski formation (a huge hit at the York vs. Aberdeen match in August), Bennet decided to call it a day. Everyone returned to the ground and alighted, the boys heading for their changing room and us girls to ours. Once we were inside, I was startled when both Natalie and Lauren turned their full attention on me.

“Nice summer, Eden?” Lauren said with a casual smile.

“Er, yes.” My eyes shifted from Lauren, with blonde-hair-blue-eyed colouring like mine, to Natalie, who was darker with her half Asian (possibly Thai?) features.

“You know who else looks like they had a good summer?” Natalie said. “Gil.”

“I was just thinking the same thing!” said Lauren. “He certainly has grown into himself this year, hasn’t he Eden?”

Once again both girls were looking at me expectantly. I gulped. “Yes, I suppose so,” I said, suddenly remembering the way Elsie from Gryffindor had looked at him in the carriage on our first night back. “What are you getting at?”

They hesitated, then Natalie said: “Are you two…? Y’know…”

“Going out?” I said, finally cottoning on. “No. Absolutely not. We’re just mates, much to my mother’s dismay.”

Lauren gave Natalie an encouraging nudge, and the latter looked relieved. “So…you won’t mind if I ask him out?”

“Of course not!” I said, wondering why I’d never considered Natalie and Gil as a couple before now. They both loved Quidditch, and – okay, so I didn’t know much more about Natalie, but she was nice, and had a good sense of humour. Definitely compatible with my best friend. “Do you want me to, er, say anything to him?” I said hesitantly, not really sure how these things were done. I’d never had to play matchmaker before.

“No!” she said quickly, her cheeks going red. “I mean, it’s gotta be the right moment, yeah? Although it wouldn’t hurt if you made, sort of, a passing remark about me. You know, something nice? But not too obvious! Just subtle enough so that it’s in the back of his mind. D’you know what I mean?”

I nodded, though I didn’t have a single clue what she meant. Maybe I’d been hanging out with boys too much, and had lost the part of that feminine intuition that told me where the bounds of ‘not-too-obvious’ and ‘subtle-in-the-back-of-his-mind’ lay. This was the sort of thing my mum was an expert at, not me.

“Well, I’m starving,” I said, quickly changing the subject in the fear that I might say something wrong. I got dressed back into my normal clothes and left the girls’ changing room in a hurry. Gil was waiting for me over by the edge of the Quidditch pitch.

“What took you so long?” he asked me.

“Just girl talk.” I forced a grin. “I think it’s almost lunchtime, let’s go.”

~

I had to admit, I did pay a bit more attention to Gil in the coming week in a way that I had never done before. It was true: he had grown into himself more over the summer. He’d grown a few inches – not exactly being among the tallest in the school, but not too short either – and he seemed, somehow, more comfortable in his own skin. And it was clear that Natalie and Lauren weren’t the only ones who were aware of how attractive Gil had become. I noticed that his lop-sided smile and big brown eyes got a very positive reaction from other girls, even if he wasn’t actually interacting with them. I even got a few dirty looks as I sat next to him at class and meal times, but what did they expect? We’d been friends for years; of course he was going to choose my company over theirs.

Despite being able to appreciate his good looks, I was relieved to find that I still wasn’t attracted to him. The friendship overruled, and I was sure that even if he became the fittest boy at Hogwarts, I doubted I’d ever have to worry about ruining our relationship with romantic feelings. Thank Merlin for that. Besides, I had other things on my mind…like a certain seventh-year prefect who’d sat next to me both in a prefect meeting and once at the dinner table, despite there being plenty of other places available. Not that I was reading too far into it. I didn’t want to raise my hopes too high.

Having been given the figurative thumbs up from me, Natalie switched into flirt mode. I wasn’t sure how she did it, but she’d manage to slip tiny comments into conversation when they crossed paths, be it at meal times, in the common room, or on the Quidditch pitch. It was barely noticeable, and I’m sure I’d have missed most of them if I didn’t already know what was going on. Yet as artful as her tactics were, Gil didn’t seem to pick up on anything at all. He treated her like he always had: as his Hufflepuff housemate and fellow team member. Towards the end of another training session the following week (Lloyd Bevan had of course made it on to the team, and was now our new Chaser), Natalie cornered me by the goal hoops when I was at the opposite end of the pitch to Gil.

“Okay, you’ve got to say something. I’m getting desperate,” she said, her eyes on Gil as he raced after a Bludger, the wind whistling through his caramel-coloured hair.

“What do I say?” I asked, panicked. “I’ve already told him how sweet and pretty I think you are twice this week, but it hasn’t seemed to work. Actually, he probably thinks I’m the one with a crush on you.”

She gave me a bewildered look. “You’ll definitely have to be more direct.”

“I’m really not good with this kind of thing, Nat. I’m nothing like my mum.”

“Your mum?” She looked confused for a moment, then comprehension dawned. “Right, your mum’s the editor of Witch Weekly! I forgot.”

“Yeah, and she’s always putting this kind of stuff in the magazine and I never –”

“Hey, why don’t you write her and ask? She’ll know exactly what to say,” Natalie said, and my heart sank. I didn’t like the idea of mum tutoring me on my matchmaking skills. She’d always had far too much to say on the topic of romance and sometimes…sometimes it was just uncomfortable.

“I’d rather –”

“Please, Eden? It would mean so much,” Natalie said, and I saw that she was watching Gil again, a wistful look in her dark eyes. I also looked to my friend, who was now cheering happily, having just hit a Bludger right into his little brother’s stomach.

“I’ll do what I can,” I sighed.

After training had ended and we’d all changed out of our Quidditch gear, I met Gil at the edge of the pitch as usual. This time Lloyd, Lauren, and Natalie were standing in a group nearby. Natalie was saying something to Lloyd about the amazing Quidditch talent that ran in his family, all the while casting surreptitious glances at Gil. Knowing that he’d heard her, I decided to make one more effort to say something ‘not-too-obvious’ before I resorted to writing to mum.

“Natalie seems pretty happy to have another Bevan on the team,” I said, trying to make my voice light. “Almost like she’s got a soft spot for guys like you.”

Gil glanced over at the other group, then shrugged. “Nah, she’s just trying to make Lloyd feel better about having copped a Bludger in his first practice.” It was such an oblivious statement that I had to wonder whether he was being that way on purpose.

I sighed in defeat and spent the rest of the walk back to the castle in silence while Gil chattered on about what he’d learned in Muggle Studies that morning. I barely registered any of it though, as I was trying to think my way around having to write that letter. As a last resolution, I decided I’d try to flick through some old Witch Weekly magazines that mum had packed into my trunk, and I hurried off to do just that as soon as we entered the Hufflepuff common room, calling out to Gil that I’d meet him at dinner.

For the next hour I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of my trunk, turning page after page, trying to find any advice on how to be a matchmaker. There was plenty of advice on how to win a wizard’s heart for yourself, but nothing on how to pair up your friends. It was excruciating. Why couldn’t there be just a list of stock phrases that people like me could use in these situations? Giving up at last, I crawled onto my bed and pulled out some parchment, a quill, and ink.

Hi mum,

We’re all settled back into Hogwarts and classes are harder because of NEWTs, but I think I’m doing okay with it all. Quidditch is going great: Gil’s little brother Lloyd got the Chaser spot so the team is as strong as ever. How’s work?

Alright, so the real reason I’m writing is because I need your advice. I found out recently that a girl I know likes a boy I know, and because I’m stuck in the middle of it I’ve kind of been lumped with the job of getting them together. Since you know everything about love and dating, I thought maybe you could tell me what to do or say? I have no idea, mum, and I’d rather all this business be over and done with really soon. I’m absolutely rubbish at romance.

Don’t worry if you’re too busy. I just thought you might have a few pointers.

Give my love to dad.

Love,

Eden

I folded up the letter, sealed it with a tap of my wand, then walked back to the common room. Gil was lounging in one of the armchairs by the fire, reading an article in a Muggle magazine about someone dubbed ‘The King’. He looked up when I approached, his face troubled.

“What’s the matter?”

“Did you know Elvis Presley died last month?” he said, showing me a picture of a handsome young man with dark hair who wore tight white trousers that flared out at the bottom.

“Never heard of him,” I said. “But that’s sad. Death Eaters?” The wizarding community had been growing tenser with the rise of a dark wizard calling himself ‘Lord Voldemort’, and it was a grim reality we had to face that deaths and disappearances (both magic and Muggle) were becoming more and more common.

“No, nothing to do with us. He had a heart attack,” Gil replied, skimming through the first few paragraphs of the article. “I swear I’ve mentioned him before. He is – I mean was – the most famous Muggle musician.”

“I thought you said The Beetle was?”

“Fine, along with The Beatles,” he said, correcting me.

I shrugged, not all that interested. “I’m going to run by the Owlery before dinner. Care to join me?”

But Gil, too distracted by the death of this Elvis bloke, waved me off. “I’ll meet you there.”

So it was on my lonesome that I made my way to the Owlery, glad that the weather was still warm enough to do without a coat. It was just reaching dusk as I trudged up the dropping-strewn steps, and I took in the breathtaking view as the last few rays of light faded slowly over the horizon. The scene was interrupted, however, by the sound of voices coming from inside the door to the Owlery.

“Shit, there’s someone there.”

“Who cares if she sees?”

“Would you want someone to see you like this, Pads?”

“Have you got your cloak?”

“Nope.”

“Fine, I’ll distract her.”

I cocked an eyebrow as Sirius Black stepped into view, but before I could say that I’d heard the whole thing, he’d moved to my side and slung his arm around my shoulders. I was so shocked that I simply stared at him.

“So I heard we’re dating,” he said with a grin. My expression grew from shocked to dumbfounded.

“You’d think I might have noticed,” I said.

“I’m surprised you haven’t. Apparently it’s a girl from Hufflepuff who’s been telling everyone. Layla, was it?”

“Lara,” I said coldly, making a mental note to throttle the girl next time I saw her. Something – or rather, someone – rushed down the steps behind us, but Black’s hold around my shoulders tightened so that I couldn’t turn to look.

“Allow the man some dignity,” he sighed.

“What happened?”

“Transfiguration gone wrong. Or rather, gone so right that it’s been a real pain to reverse. That Lily Evans has got some talent, I’ll give her that,” he said, his voice laced with begrudging admiration.

I smirked at the thought. “I’m really starting to like our Head Girl. The Head Boy, I’m not so sure of.”

“I’ll thank you not to insult my best mate.”

“I think having you as a best mate is insult enough.”

For the first time, Black was void of a witty comeback. He stared at me, eyebrows raised. “What did I ever do to earn your disapproval?”

I nudged his arm off my shoulders and stepped away, not enjoying the intensity of his dark gaze. “You stuck a Quaffle to my brother’s face,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

“That twerp’s your brother? Well, he had it coming – that final was rigged. Gryffindor should have won,” Black said cockily. “James put together a far better team.”

“Felix won fair and square,” I scowled.

“That’s beside the point anyway. Are you telling me you’re mad because I played a harmless prank on your brother?”

“Harmless? Madam Pomfrey had to slice half his face off because of your ‘prank’.” I was infuriated to see that he was actually proud of this. “And you called me stupid.”

“I said you did a stupid thing…which it was,” he shot back stubbornly.

“You were the one who chose to pick a fight in the first place. That doesn’t sound to me like a particularly clever thing to do.”

“I was backing up my friend; it’s called loyalty.”

“It was four against two. It wasn’t loyalty, it was pig-headedness in a fight you were bound to win.”

I had touched a nerve here. “Are you calling me a coward?” he said, his voice dangerously quiet.

“No, I – ”

“Picking fights only when you know you’re going to win? That sounds a lot like cowardice to me. If you had any idea what I’ve – ”

“Oi, Sirius!” James Potter’s voice called out from the bottom of the steps, but by now it was too dark to see him. “I know how much you love to terrify pretty girls, but we’ve got revenge to exact.”

Black glared at me and I glared back, trying not to blush at the fact that the Head Boy had just called me pretty. After a moment he shook his head and turned to make his way down the steps, his duty to his friend winning out over his bad temper. I let out the breath that I didn’t realise I’d been holding.

“Oh, and by the way, I’m breaking up with you. Run along and tell your little friend that the fantasy’s over.” Of course he had to have the last word. I whipped around to retaliate, but he was already disappearing into the darkness. Not that I had anything clever to come back with anyway, but I was still fuming at the injustice of it all as I stomped inside the Owlery and attached mum’s letter to one of the school owls. Sirius Black; what a proud, self-righteous arsehole! So much for Gil saying I was a poor judge of character. Black was still as arrogant as when I first met him on the train, and any chance he might have had to redeem himself was now long gone.


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