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Chapter 7 : seven
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It was Brigid.
“Team meeting in ten minutes at base,” she said, without bothering with a greeting.
“I – wha?”
“Last night the League called a snap meeting; something to do with a last-minute decision about the season schedule. All the managers and coaches are there now. Mum wants to meet with the squad when it’s over to explain. Just be at the training ground in ten minutes. I’ve got to go; I’ve got about twenty other people to ring. See you later!”
With that she hung up.
I groaned, put the phone back in its holder, and hauled myself up out of bed.
Carlotta emerged from under the pillow, looking confused. I held back a laugh, seeing her bed hair.
“Gotta go,” I said. “Work stuff. Stay there as long as you like, I shouldn’t be too long. Help yourself to food if you get hungry.”
She nodded, her head dropping back onto the pillow with a soft thump.
I arrived at the training ground in Falmouth quarter of an hour later to be greeted by a sleepy Della, and a sleeping Klaus.
“Mo-morning,” Della said, a yawn catching her mid-word.
“What’s going on?” I asked, falling into the sofa next to her.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” she said. Her head was falling onto my shoulder. “But if it’s not important, then Sinead’s getting it.”
The huge frame of recently signed Cato Bagman appeared in the doorway leading from the meeting room where we were into the kitchen. He had a steaming mug in one hand and a pasty in the other.
“Who’s feeding you, Bagman? And more to the point, where’s mine?”
“Jules took pity on me. And you don’t get any. You have to starve.” He settled himself down in a chair opposite me and put his mug down on the table between us. “Good to see you, Potter.”
He held out a hand, which I shook.
“Good to have you on board, mate,” I said. “Even if you are worming your way into our Julia’s affections. Oi, Horton!” I raised my voice and turned my head towards the kitchen. “Where’s my grub?”
“Hold your horses, boy, you’ve only just gotten here!” Julia replied. “One minute and I’ll be out with something.”
Julia had played Chaser for the Falcons and for England for years and was still a fine player. She was now a reserve as well as being our Chaser coach and the mother hen of the team.
“What you got, then?” I asked Cato.
“Sausage,” he said, his words muffled by the pastry.
“Ah, the Horton speciality,” I said, propping my legs up on the table.
“And don’t you forget it!”
She emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tray with two mugs and two plates balanced on it. She set it down on the table, pushing my feet off it.
“Feet belong on the floor,” she scolded. “You’re as bad as my five year old.”
“How are the kids?” I asked, taking the plate and mug she handed to me. “Cheers, Jules, you’re a star.”
“I know.” She grinned and took a seat at the table. “They’re good, thanks. Jennifer keeps blowing the place up, and Patrick can be a little tyke at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We bought Patrick a new toy broom the other day, which has proved a near disaster. We’ve had to box away anything fragile we still have. Putting them out of his reach isn’t enough anymore.”
I laughed and tore my pasty in half.
“He the next big thing for the Falcons then?” I asked.
“Well, I think he needs to grow a bit first,” she replied, “but you never know.”
Cato’s sister Cleo joined us from the kitchen. She had the Bagman good looks – as had her brother, I grudgingly admitted. Both also had the Bagman frame, which came with being a Beater, however, which in Cleo’s case detracted slightly from the looks.
“Hi, James,” she said with a smile, as she joined us. “Good to see you again.”
“Good to see you in Falcon colours, darl.” I gave her a cheeky wink.
“Don’t go turning the charm on with my sister, Potter, or you’ll find yourself more acquainted with my fist than you want to be.” Cato sounded threatening, though he added a grin to dampen the threat slightly. I wasn’t too reassured; he was a big man.
“Threat well and truly taken on board,” I said, finishing my pasty. “So,” I continued, turning back to Julia, “any idea what this League meeting is about?”
“I know as much as you do,” she replied. “Brigid says it’s about the season schedule, though, so I expect it’s something to do with how to fit it round the World Cup.”
Our season lasted from early March to mid-November. The games were played on Saturdays and we played the other twelve teams in the league both home and away, with three games in a row, followed by two weekends off. This year’s World Cup, however, was scheduled to run from mid-July to the end of August, game-length permitting so we’d been expecting the League schedule to be rearranged. Continuing during the World Cup would be unpopular and near unfeasible. We expected to lose our weekends off, which in fairness, we didn’t really need unless a game lasted more than a few days. I couldn’t say that I wouldn’t miss them, though – I’d spent many a weekend off frequenting the Hinky or the Leaky.
“Mind you,” Julia continued, glancing at her watch, “at this rate most of the squad won’t be here to hear what the League’s decision is.”
“This everyone so far?” I was surprised. I was normally the last to show for team meetings.
“No, everyone else is hiding in the lockers,” she replied sarcastically. Cato choked on his coffee and Della giggled sleepily from my shoulder. “Laura should be here soon; I spoke to her earlier. Brigid says to expect everyone, but I won’t expect Ryan to turn up within the next twenty minutes. She’s fully expecting to have to drag him out of bed.”
I grinned. If I was last to arrive at team meetings, Ryan was the second to last.
Right on cue, our sixth Chaser, Laura – another ex-England legend – joined us in the meeting room.
“I’ve heard a rumour from an insider, and you won’t like it,” she said, shrugging her coat off.
“This insider wouldn’t be your dearly beloved, would he?” Della asked, raising an eyebrow.
Laura’s husband worked in the Department of Magical Games and Sports, so he had a lot of involvement with the League.
“I always said he was useful for something,” she said, with a slight grin.
“Yes, yes, enough chat about the hubby, what’s the rumour?” I said impatiently.
“Shortened season,” she said gloomily.
The others looked as dismayed as I felt about the possibility.
“If that’s true, it’s a disaster,” Julia said. “How can you chop part of the season out? Completely ridiculous.” She shook her head, as if to emphasise how ludicrous she thought it.
“I get that we can’t play the League during the Cup,” Della said. “I mean, we’d be desperately short...”
“Down to two Beaters and three Chasers tops, and we’d have no Seeker in our squad,” Laura chipped in.
“Exactly,” she continued. “And the Irish, Scottish and Welsh clubs would be left with ... ooh, maybe one team combined? Not to mention that they’re using most of our pitches for World Cup matches. But there’s no reason why we can’t play the whole thing and leave a gap for the Cup.”
One by one the rest of the squad arrived. Roxanne was still in her clothes from the night before. She’d been to the Hinky and hadn’t gotten to bed before Brigid had called her, apparently. Having had at least six hours’ sleep, her all-nighter made me feel old. Ryan arrived half an hour after I’d rocked up, and was even more surprised than the rest of us to discover to have beaten his mother.
“She said she’d be here by half past nine, and she sounded fairly confident about it,” said Brigid, who had arrived with her brother – the lure of Julia’s cooking was clearly too strong. “If the meeting’s already overran by half an hour...”
“They clearly can’t come to a concensus,” said Keira – a Beater, and another member of our ex-England club – with a shrug. “I expect the teams with few internationals are begging for the League to happen as scheduled, the slimy buggers-”
“-and the bigger clubs like us will want the full season but with the break,” finished Alfie, who was playing catch with our other Keeper Sophie, our fifth and last ex-England player. He deftly caught the Quaffle that she lobbed at him, passing it back to her with barely a pause.
Sinead arrived ten minutes later, looking frazzled.
“Absolute nightmare,” she said, shaking her head. “Thanks, Jules,” she added, as Julia handed her a mug of tea. She sat down in the circle that we’d created. “Half the season chopped.”
The reaction was one of dismay and outrage.
“What?” cried Sophie.
“That’s ridiculous!” Klaus chipped in, now fully awake.
“How are they doing it?” Roxanne asked.
“Twelve matches, six home, six away, from mid-March as normal, but ending in early July, with the two-week breaks intact.” Sinead pulled a pile of parchment out of her bag. “I’ve got fixture lists here for you all. The last match is on a Friday because the World Cup draw is the Saturday. I can’t say I’m not disappointed, kids. I was fully behind having a split for the Cup, and chopping the breaks out. Unfortunately, some of the other clubs disagreed.”
“Bet it was the Cannons,” Ryan grumbled.
The Falcons had always had a not-so-friendly rivalry with the Cannons, possibly due to the proximity of the two clubs. This rivalry only made my ‘betrayal’ worse for poor old Uncle Ron.
“I hate to add fuel to the fire,” Sinead said, “but I’m afraid they were. Along with the Arrows and the Warriors. The Bats, Kestrels and Harpies agreed with us, but unfortunately it wasn’t a club vote, it was a board vote, and they felt that a shortened season was best for the smaller clubs. Completely unfair, if you ask me, but there’s not much I can do about it that won’t lead to us getting kicked out of the League, so I guess we’ll just have to grin and bear it and make the most of having September, October and November off.”
“I’ll hate that,” said Della, who was one of those people who needed to be doing something.
“Long holiday in Germany?” Sinead suggested. “Might be worth looking into a short-term contract with the Harriers. Actually, on that note, if any of you want to use that spare time to get some games in elsewhere, let me know and we’ll work something out.”
My mind filled with visions of playing in Australia, or the USA, or southern France. While I wouldn’t leave the Falcons, I couldn’t deny that the idea of a stint playing in another country was incredibly enticing.
Ryan caught my eye across the room.
“I hear Amsterdam’s side are improving,” he said with a smirk.
Brigid dropped her head into her hands.
“No chance,” Sinead said flatly. She handed out the fixtures lists. “Don’t you dare lose these, guys. First training on Monday at nine sharp. Be here, be on time, be sober.”
Be sober? Had she met her squad?
A bewildering sight, accompanied by a nice smell, greeted me when I returned to the flat, leaving me wondering if I’d opened the right door.
“Okay, don’t get annoyed,” Carlotta said quickly, brandishing a wooden spoon and a pair of tongs. “But I thought it was such a waste, your mum buying all this nice food for you every week, when you barely eat any of it, and so I thought maybe I could do something with it that you could heat it up and eat-”
“Have you cooked it all?” I asked, staring at the dishes of food cooling down on the table.
“Not all of it...”
I looked back at her. She looked nervous; the emotion seemed out of place as she usually seemed so confident.
“I’m not mad, you know,” I said. My eyes fell on the tongs. “Er, any chance you could put the utensils down?”
“Sorry.” She set the tongs and spoon down. “Anyway, you had lots of mince. That was sensible of your mum. Once you know what you can do with it, it’s easy to whip anything up. I’ve done you some bolognese, some stew and some chilli. You just need to heat it up and cook something to go with it – spaghetti, naturally, for the bolognese – and you’re away. I’ve written the recipes down, so you can manage them yourself in future. Is ... is that okay?” She shifted slightly, looking awkward.
My eyes darted to the table, and the steaming food, then back to her.
The truth was, I was speechless. It was one thing having Mum, Lily and Brigid ply me with food and try to teach me to cook it, but from Carlotta, a girl I’d known for less than a week...
“Yeah,” was all I could say. “Yeah, it’s okay.”
“It’s a load of bollocks,” Mum proclaimed the next morning, having heard about the season schedule. “I wrote an article on it yesterday. It’s in today’s paper, not that you’d read it. Farcical decision. You don’t need those long breaks! It’s going to kill all the interest in the League. The World Cup will entirely overshadow it. Not to mention, you don’t need any more opportunities to go out getting drunk. I was hoping they’d cancel your fortnights off, not give you three extra months.” She shook her head. “You’ll be living in the Hinky by October and broke by December.”
“You exaggerate my love affair with the Hinky,” I said. “Besides, it’s all about the Tav now. The exchange rate benefits us-”
“-and some Muggle girl you’re interested in works there. Al told me yesterday.” She raised an eyebrow at me. “I won’t say what I think about that. Al said Rose has already said it all and you pay about as much attention to me as you do to her. Where have all those meals in your freezer come from, by the way? They certainly weren’t there last week and there’s no chance you cooked them.”
“Carlotta cooked them,” I said, around a mouthful of egg. “The Muggle,” I clarified, seeing her blank expression. “She likes cooking.”
She stared at me for a moment, looking shocked.
“I don’t know how you do it, James,” she said, shaking her head. “You manage to get them all wrapped round your little finger, even the ones who haven’t a clue about Quidditch...” She tailed off, and sat down opposite me with a mug of tea. “Have you talked to Lily since she went back to school?”
I shook my head.
“She’s got a job interview on Monday at the Ministry.”
My eyes widened.
“Really? What for?”
“Liaison to the Muggle Prime Minister,” she replied. “That’s the one she was going for. So hopefully it’ll go well, although apparently she’ll still need to get the required grades even if it does, so she won’t find out if she’s got the job until August.”
“She’ll get the grades, no worries. She’s cleverer than me and Al put together. Is she applying for anything else?”
“A few things, but I’m not entirely sure what. She’s quite vague about everything other than this job. She’s been after it for years now. I think she’s got her heart set on it. If she doesn’t get the grades, or her interview goes badly, I dread to think how upset she’ll be...” She let out a loud sigh. “Never mind. Positive thinking, right? And she’s certainly got the charisma to pull the interview off. She’ll be fine.” She paused again. “Just think, the three Potter kids, all either playing professional Quidditch or working for the Ministry. Who would have dared to predict that, eh?”
“I can be more original if you want, Mum,” I said. “I could own an apothecary?”
She was mid-gulp at the time, and nearly spat out her mouthful of tea.
“Don’t make me laugh when I’m drinking,” she scolded once she’d finally swallowed.
“I don’t think it’s that ridiculous an idea,” I said defensively.
“You and Potions didn’t exactly go together when you were at school.”
“If an E in the N.E.W.T.S counts as ‘not going together’, I dread to think what a fail is. Besides, what did you get for N.E.W.T Potions? Look at your own shortcomings before trying to find them in your vastly more successful son-”
“You are insufferable,” she complained. “Honestly, who raised you?”
“Do you want me to answer that?”
She hesitated for a moment.
“You are simply perfect, darling, the woman who raised you clearly knew exactly what she was doing. Now, run along and feed your pygmy puff.”
A/N: These last two have been a smidgen fillery, for which I apologise; though this one does contain some important Quidditch stuff, and of course we've had a bit more of Carlotta, which can only be a good thing, right? :P In the next chapter ... Carlotta meets Lily. :)
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