“Why are you doing this? I thought you loved the Harpies.” Roxanne Weasley was stretched out on the bed in Molly's flat, allegedly helping her cousin pack but actually just sitting around watching Molly get on with the work.
Molly waved her wand at her dresser, and the clothes began to fly out and stack themselves on the bed beside Roxanne, still neatly folded. “I thought you were here to help me, not pester me with stupid questions.”
“I can't do that like you do.” Roxanne waved vaguely at the folded clothes. “Pestering you with questions is helping you, since you won't go to therapy for your obvious raging personality disorders.”
Molly rolled her eyes. “I do love the Harpies. I always wanted to play for the Harpies. But that's the thing. I'm not playing for the Harpies. I'm watching Lyra Brownyard. I've played two games in the last four years. That's not what I wanted.”
“You played in that one match that went on for eighteen hours,” Roxanne pointed out.
“Only for four hours for Lyra to have a sandwich and a nap,” Molly retorted. “Fine, two and a half games. You see my point though.”
“Your life isn't going how you'd thought it would. I know that feeling all too well.” The sympathy in Roxanne's voice was sincere.
Molly started on her closet next. The clothes were precisely spaced and on colour-coordinated hangers. The skirts flew off first, folding themselves as they joined the stacks on the bed. “I know you do. But you did something about it. You went out there and you made a change, even though it wasn't your original dream. Well, that's what I'm doing. So be supportive.”
Roxanne held up her hands in surrender. “I'm being supportive! I just want you to be sure it's what you want.”
“I won't know until I try it.”
Roxanne had to scoot over to make room for more clothes stacking themselves. “Maybe it'll be for the best. I'm much happier now than I ever was, and I would have sworn up and down two years ago that I could only be happy if I married Hilarion.”
Molly smiled at that. Roxanne had been so certain that Hilarion Winston-Fisher, the star Seeker of the Appleby Arrows, was her true love. Then she'd actually met him, and it had turned out they were completely incompatible. He was now married to Molly's younger sister Lucy, and Roxanne was married to his best friend.
Well, possibly married. There had been a wedding on a beach, but whether or not there had been a marriage license seemed an entirely different question.
“Well, I won't be trotting off and marrying any musicians like you or professional Quidditch players like Lucy. I'm still chasing the same dream. Star Keeper. I'm just going to do it for another team, that's all.” Molly tossed a pair of socks at her cousin, who cringed and covered her head with her hands rather than attempting to catch them.
“Don't throw things at me, I'm not all sporty like you!”
“Go in the kitchen and box up the liquor bottles for me, you twit.”
Roxanne stuck out her tongue, but she went off to box up the liquor, and Molly sat down on her bed as her clothes swirled through the air around her, organizing themselves in neat stacks behind her.
It's going to be all right, she told herself. She'd been trying to focus on the possibilities for future success instead of the immediate upheaval she was walking into. Four new players on the team, and a new coach. McCormack had told her about him, but Molly already knew who he was. Riordan Fitzroy had played Chaser for the Montrose Magpies, and he'd been bloody brilliant, one of the most talented players in the league. And one day, in the middle of a match, when the Magpies had been solidly trouncing the Tutshill Tornadoes to the point it seemed nothing could beat them, someone in the stands had sent a spell rocketing onto the pitch and hit Fitzroy, knocking him off his broom. The game had been called, Fitzroy had spent a month in St. Mungo's, and the perpetrator had never been found. And Fitzroy's career had been cut short, the damage to his shoulder irreversible.
Molly hadn't been at the game, but she'd seen the newsreels for it. The sight of the Chaser plummeting to the pitch with his shoulder trailing purple flames as he fell still made her breath catch. Quidditch was dangerous, everyone knew that, and injuries happened regularly (unless you were Lyra Brownyard, who had the devil's own luck with avoiding Bludgers and was rarely injured). But no one expected it to come from the fans.
Now Riordan Fitzroy was coaching the new Prides lineup. He'd had two months' experience as assistant coach to senile old Rodan, but McCormack must have seen something in him because she didn't seem at all concerned that she not only had a team half full of untried reserve players moved up to be starters, but she also had a green coach.
He'd been a Ravenclaw, Molly remembered. Not a prefect or Head Boy, no, he'd only cared about Quidditch at school. But he was a Ravenclaw. She could only hope it meant something. They were all smart, weren't they? He must have been very good in those two months for McCormack not to sack him when she'd been on such a roll, slashing her roster.
It didn't matter anyway. Molly straightened her shoulders. She was going to be captain of the new Pride of Portree, no matter who was coach.
“Why are your liquor bottles colour-coded, you neurotic bint?” yelled Roxanne's voice from the kitchen. “I'm boxing them up in pretty rainbows!”
Molly jumped to her feet. “Don't muck up my system! Yellow is for tequila, red is for vodka- wait, I'm coming!”
The team were supposed to report Monday morning for training. Fitz was pacing the field at six in the morning, alone on the pitch. He had thirty minutes to figure out what the hell he was going to say to them.
He'd meant to have something prepared before now, but every time he'd tried to come up with some sort of pep talk, his mind drew a blank. He knew the basic exercises Montrose had done to prepare for the season, but when they'd hired him, they'd already had a well-trained lineup of players, and the coaches hadn't done much aside from keeping everyone focused on their training, and occasionally rousting the Beaters from the local pub the night before a game so they actually got some sleep.
This was completely different. Half the players hadn't even met each other yet, much less played together, and the rest hadn't done a proper day's work in months or years. Fitz ran a hand through his dark hair and kicked the grass. This was going to be a mess. They didn't even have enough reserves for a proper scrimmage. They'd have to play five-a-side and hope for the best. The reserve players weren't arriving until tomorrow anyway, for which Fitz was devoutly thankful. One more day without Mariah Waldman back in his life was one more day breathing the sweet air of freedom.
“Good morning,” said a voice behind him.
Fitz spun around to see the now ex-Harpy but still mohawked Molly Weasley. The green was gone, and her hair was now a bright, brassy red that looked like a natural colour. He remembered Weasleys at school, all of them ginger. She was prettier than he remembered any of the Weasleys being at school, with a heart-shaped face and long eyelashes.
She reached out to shake his hand, and Fitz introduced himself.
“I know who you are,” she told him with a smile. “I'm pretty sure all of us will at least recognize each other, even if we've never officially met. You were amazing with Montrose. Shame about the arm.”
Fitz's lips pressed together, and he managed a tight smile in return. “Thanks. I saw you play Puddlemere when Brownyard was injured. Good game.”
“Thank you.” Molly glanced around the empty pitch. “First one here, I take it.”
She didn't sound surprised. Fitz wondered if she was the punctual type. “Jinks is always late. He'll probably turn up around eight.”
“We were told to report at six-thirty,” Molly stated, looking surprised.
“The Prides have spent five years with a coach who was increasingly more senile and a captain who didn't show up to half the training sessions,” he told her frankly. “They got in the habit of turning up whenever they felt like it.”
“Time to break them of that habit, then,” she said briskly.
Fitz eyed her. McCormack had said she planned to choose a new captain from the new players, and it looked like Molly Weasley had her sights set on it.
“I always like to arrive at least ten minutes early,” Molly went on. “If I'd arrived at six-thirty, I'd have felt tardy.”
Definitely had her sights set on it.
They both turned at the sound of footsteps behind them. Zara Mackie, the Chaser lately of the Ballycastle Bats, was walking toward them, followed by Virgil 'Duff' Gittins, who still wore his Falmouth Falcons robes.
“Robes are in the changing room,” Fitz remembered. He'd meant to bring a box of them with him. “We've got new ones for each of you on order.” McCormack had taken care of that as soon as she'd hired the lot of them. It hadn't even occurred to Fitz they would need new uniforms until the manager had mentioned it.
Molly was already heading over to introduce herself to the others, though, and gave no indication of hearing him.
Sid Whittlemore turned up five minutes late, and Beathan MacDougald, the only remaining Chaser from last year's Prides lineup, arrived ten minutes later. Beathan had always been the best at keeping to the assigned schedule out of the old guard. There seemed no sign of Jinks or Preece.
“We'll just, erm, give them another fifteen minutes,” Fitz announced.
Twenty minutes passed, and then thirty. Fitz wasn't sure what to do. Having never been a recalcitrant player himself, he'd no idea how coaches were meant to handle them. The thought of owling McCormack briefly crossed his mind, but that seemed a cop-out. He ought to be able to handle it himself.
Molly walked up to him, her gold robes swirling around her long legs. “I'll just go roust them out of bed, shall I? Where do they live?”
“I'll do it,” he assured her. “I'll go. Just, erm, keep everyone here, all right?”
As he hurried off the pitch he heard Zara Mackie saying, “Sort of a mess, isn't this?”
Fitz tried not to groan.
Declan Preece was eating breakfast when he arrived, so Fitz sent him on to the pitch and went to fetch Evander Jinks. Jinks had turned up at least two hours late to every training session this season, and had only kept his spot on the team because he'd saved them from being bottom of the league last year. Taking the bottom spot from the Cannons might have been a low point from which the team could not recover, so McCormack had some residual feelings of gratitude for the lazy Seeker. He was fine in a game; it was only that he was unreliable in training.
Jinks must have been in bed still, because it took five minutes of banging on the door to his flat before he finally answered it, yawning hugely and dressed in a pair of pajama bottoms printed with purple Snitches.
“Morning, Fitz,” he said on another yawn. “What brings you here so early?”
“You were supposed to be at the pitch an hour ago,” Fitz bit out. “The new players are all there. They were on time.”
Jinks chuckled. “New blood. Bunch of reserve players.”
“They're your new lineup. Better get used to them. Get dressed, we're going now.”
“All right, all right, keep your robes on.”
By the time they got to the pitch, he found the three Chasers were running Quaffle passing drills in the air, while the Beaters had been set up with bats and tennis balls for target practice. Molly Weasley was floating on her broom in the middle of the pitch, supervising the lot of them. Fitz could feel his feathers ruffling. It was his job to set them drills, not hers. She might want to be captain, but she damn well wasn't going to be the coach.
Molly caught sight of him and immediately returned to the ground, stepping off her Firebolt 7 and propping it loosely beside her on its tail twigs. “Thought I'd get our blood warmed up while we waited on you,” she told him cheerfully.
“You're not the bloody coach,” Fitz snapped at her without thinking.
A hurt look crossed her face so briefly that he almost wondered if he'd imagined it. “If you want to be coach, start acting like it,” she snapped back, swinging one long leg over the broom as she shot back up into the air.
“I like her,” said Jinks.
“Shut up and get up there.”
Fitz ran them through every drill he could remember from his days with Montrose, trying to get a feel for the various talents of the players. Zara Mackie and Beathan MacDougald were going to work well together with some practice, Fitz could already see, but Sid Whittlemore had such an opposite style that he wasn't gelling as well and was dropping more passes than he caught. Beathan's aim was off, and she nearly hit Sid in the face with the Quaffle twice. Luckily he had fast reflexes and managed to duck. The Beaters were playing completely independently of each other, and Jinks wasn't even bothering to pretend to practice any Seeking. He sat up on his broom at a high altitude and had probably dozed off. If anyone could manage a nap on a broom, it'd be Evander Jinks.
Only Molly Weasley was consistent, blocking every shot the Chasers threw her. Not that they were throwing anything that difficult, of course. For some reason, it irritated Fitz to see her guarding the hoops from the erratic penalties.
She shouldn't have set them to drills. That was his job. It had made him feel even more unqualified than he already did. He didn't care for the feeling.
He knew he was being unfair – it wasn't Molly's fault he didn't know how to be a coach, and after all, he'd set drills as captain, and the team needed every moment of practice they could get.
It appeared Zara Mackie was giving a few orders of her own. He couldn't hear what she was saying, but he could see her speaking to the other Chasers, and from her gestures it looked as if she were about to run them through a few flight formations.
Molly Weasley had a bit of competition for the position of team captain.
They kept at it until mid-afternoon, and finally, sweaty and breathing hard, the team assembled around Fitz. A few had their brooms slung over their shoulders, and some propped themselves against them. Jinks was the only one who didn't appear winded.
“Good job, everyone,” Fitz told them, trying to think of what his old coach at Montrose would have said. “Meet back here tomorrow at seven. And I mean seven, all of you.”
Everyone looked at Jinks, who rolled his eyes.
“Want me to come round and make sure you're up, Jinks?” Mackie asked with poisonous sweetness.
“I'll set an alarm,” he muttered.
The two Beaters went off together, making plans for a pub crawl, evidently having found a kindred spirit, even if they hadn't managed to play the same game during practice. The others set out one by one for the changing room. Fitz heaved a deep breath, thinking longingly of the solitude of his office, but someone gave a quiet cough behind him.
He was not surprised to find Molly Weasley had hung back.
“I wanted to talk to you about the training schedule,” she began, and he had a sudden sense of dread. “I had some thoughts on it, particularly regarding the Chasers.”
He didn't want to talk about training schedules. He still had to figure something out for that, and he needed to do so on his own. Using her schedules would be cheating at his job. “Why don't you worry about getting up to speed as Keeper?”
Her lips tightened. “I am up to speed. I'll come by your office tomorrow after training.”
Fitz watched her leave, her broom slung over one shoulder and hips swaying side to side as she walked. He was going to have to come up with something by tomorrow, apparently. So much for a quiet evening relaxing.
Molly was early to practice the next morning as well. Once again she was the first one there, finding Fitzroy on the field with a single piece of parchment. She could see a few formation diagrams drawn on, and some scribbled notes. That must be his idea of a training schedule, she thought, trying not to be disappointed by his haphazard approach. Yesterday he'd been just about useless, and she'd been the one to get the team actually up in the air. He'd set some drills once he'd managed to roust the missing players from their beds, but he'd done little to no actual coaching, even in the face of players who clearly needed it. Zara Mackie had done some work with the Chasers that Molly had approved of, though Sid Whittlemore had spent half the time clowning around as per his usual. Not a peep out of Fitzroy about that, of course.
His management style, if you could call it that, did not impress her.
The Harpies' coach had given them training schedules for the entire year on the first day of practice. Everyone's duties were mapped out for them from day one. Molly found that far preferable to the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-trousers approach that Fitzroy seemed to be taking. Since she still had her copy of the Harpies' schedule, she'd used it to map out a plan for the Prides. The training charts were rolled up in the pocket of her robes. After today's training session, she planned to go over them with Coach Slapdash whether he liked it or not.
Based on his expression yesterday when she'd mentioned it, he wasn't going to like it one bit.
That was his problem. Molly was damned if she'd be on a losing team. She had every intention of leading the Prides to a decent season, kicking and screaming if she had to.
Fitzroy was pacing a bit, and Molly tried not to admire the leanly muscled shoulders and powerful legs. He was handsome, she admitted to herself. It was a shame he didn't seem to be a very good coach. And he didn't seem to like her much. She could live with that, she thought. So long as she made captain.
He must have heard her approaching, because he stopped in midstep and turned around. His face looked wary rather than welcoming, and Molly held in a sigh.
“Good morning, Weasley.”
“Morning, Coach Fitzroy.”
His face twitched a bit at that. She was close enough to see the fine lines at the corners of his eyes. She couldn't tell if it was anger or pain. She'd heard, since gossip was rife in the league, that his shoulder still pained him. Spell damage injuries were sometimes known not to heal fully. Her heart gave a small tug, and she ignored it.
“Call me Fitz,” he told her.
“All right. You can call me Molly. I'm used to answering to a first name. My family's rather large and 'Weasley' is so non-specific.”
The corner of his lip quirked up, as if he wanted to smile but didn't want her to know. “I remember. There were rather a lot of you when I was at school. Any relation to the Weasley who married Hilarion Winston-Fisher?”
Of course he'd heard about that. Hilarion's marriage had been big news, since he was not only a top-drawer talent Seeker, he was also considered the best-looking player in the entire league. There was even a book just of photos of him, which embarrassed him to no end. Molly quite enjoyed teasing her brother-in-law over that. She wondered how Fitz had missed the most famous Seeker in the league marrying a Harpy's sister, and then remembered Lucy's wedding had been roughly the same time that Fitz had been injured. League gossip had probably been the last thing on his mind at the time.
“That was my little sister, actually,” she told him. “Lucy.”
“Right. I think I met her once at a game. I'm not sure.” He ran a hand through his hair and changed the subject. “It's nearly seven. Reckon Jinks is going to turn up on time?”
“I wouldn't put money on it, but you never know.” Since he seemed to be in a good mood, she decided now was as good a time as any to bring up the training schedules. She pulled the parchment roll from her pocket and stepped a bit closer.
“What's all this?” he asked suspiciously before she could say anything.
“I told you, I had some ideas for our training.”
“This is a lot of ideas. What is this, an entire year's worth?” His brows snapped together as he shuffled through the sheets. “And it's colour-coded.”
“It makes it easier to read. Look here-”
He shoved the parchment back at her. “I'll set our schedules. We'll work weekly until we get our footing. It's too soon to plan out that far in advance.”
Molly scowled at his recalcitrance. “No it isn't, if you'd just look at it, you'd see-”
“I don't need you to micromanage the team for me,” Fitz informed her testily.
“I'll fill you in on today's training when the others get here.”
“And what about tomorrow?”
“We'll see how today goes.”
Molly spluttered a bit. “You're going to do this one day at a time? The lineup is brand new! We need to plan ahead!”
“I know what I'm doing. I've got a plan.”
Somehow she didn't entirely believe that. His face was set, dark eyes flashing with defiance. Molly wanted to shake him hard.
“Good morning!” called a voice from behind them.
Molly and Fitz turned as one to see Sid Whittlemore approaching, looking cheerful as ever. Behind him were Duff Gittins and Declan Preece. Molly stuffed the training outline back in her pocket and glared at Fitz, who was ignoring her now.
It was probably too late to shake him, now there were witnesses.
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