A/N: Chapter 4 up and running! Thank you all for your wonderful reviews - they certainly keep my motivated.
A WAY WITH WORDS
Chapter 4: Nothing Left to Lose
"Something's in the air tonight
The sky's alive with a burning light
You can mark my words
Something's about to break."
Ah, the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch. It really was a glorious thing. The fresh-cut smell of grass mixed with the faint aroma of crisp wood could send me into a tailspin of nostalgia every time I stepped out on to that vast pitch. As I held my Lightning Bolt 5000 in my hand, a smile crept on to my lips as I took in the stillness that enveloped me. As much as I loved to be surrounded by a crowd cheering me and my team on, there was something so sacred and comforting about being alone in the middle of an empty stadium, the world at my fingertips.
I was finally home.
Tryouts didn't start for over an hour but I had woken up early, stuffed myself with eggs and kippers, and rushed off towards the pitch before hardly anyone else showed up to the Great Hall. I took spin around the pitch a few times, grinning from ear to ear as the gentle breeze brushed my cheeks. And when I touched down on the grass, I suddenly felt alive.
Reluctantly, I trudged off towards the clubhouse and waited for the rest of the team to arrive. As I wandered in through the main gate, I veered off to my immediate right that held the Gryffindor locker room. Besides our own, I had only ever been in Slytherin's locker room and the only part of it I had actually seen was the showers where a naked Hattie had been distracting me from everything else. But I imagine all of the lockers rooms probably looked similar. Ten lockers lined the walls – five on each side – enough for the players and three reserves (though currently each team only had one or two) and a handful of benches were scattered about. Beyond that were two small bathrooms that held the showers, one for the guys to use and one for the girls.
I took to one of the benches, staring up at the locker that currently had my surname written in tape on it. The black lettering was faded, though that was expected after five years, and I wondered if trying to scribble "Captain" in front of my name would be just a bit too boastful.
I swiveled my head towards the door as Alice sauntered in.
"Are we replacing 'hello' with blanket statements now?" I teased.
"When do we ever actually say hello to each other?" she mused, dropping on to the bench beside me. "We say hey, or hi or yo, or what's up, or even the occasional how's it hanging but never in our seventeen years of knowing each other have we ever started with the very formal hello."
I blinked. "Are you seriously giving me a lecture on how we greet each other?"
"It's hardly a lecture. Merely an observation."
"Well, go observe someone else's greeting habits. I've got other things on my mind."
"Gee, like what?" she drawled.
I was fairly certain Alice Longbottom got more and more sarcastic as the days went by.
"How much do you love mocking me?" I said with a shake of the head.
"It's one of my favorite pastimes," she smirked.
"Where does it fall in relation to Quidditch and sketching?" I asked curiously.
She contemplated the question hesitantly before saying, "It's just under Quidditch and right above sketching. Though messing with Fred is also in there somewhere."
I couldn't help but chuckle. "Y'know," I mused hesitantly, "I just realized that we're seventh years."
She blinked, glancing at me with raised eyebrows. "You only just realized that? Do you think perhaps you've been hit in the head by one too many bludgers?"
Probably. "I just mean, we've got to make it the best year yet, don't you think? Go out with a bang?"
She pondered my words, picking herself up off the bench and trekking over to her locker. She tossed off her sweatshirt and threw it in, turning around and glancing back over at me. "How about we work our way up to the going-out-with-a-bang level and just start by picking our two new teammates?"
My smile wavered just slightly. "About that. I've been thinking," I said slowly.
"Uh-oh. Nothing good can come of you thinking."
I shot her a look while she grinned at me. "I'm going to ignore that," I drawled. "Do we even really need a third chaser? I mean, you and I could fly circles around these other teams even if down a man."
She blinked. "And people think you're arrogant."
I neglected to comment. "You know there's some truth in what I'm saying."
"The reason there are three chasers to a team is so that beaters can't single-target them," Alice reminded me. "We may be good, but even we couldn't take on a beater by ourselves while also trying to score."
I made a face. "Ugh, I hate when you talk logic to me."
She chuckled. "How about you worry about what to do with the team after you see who shows up for tryouts? You never know what you might find."
"And there you go with the logic again."
She merely grinned while she twisted her hair up into a ponytail. A few stray hairs spilled out of the sides but she merely tucked them behind her ears and rejoined me on the bench as we waited for the rest of the team to arrive.
"So," she said, dropping on to the bench beside me, "What kind of crazy plays are you going to put me through this year?"
"Nothing you can't handle," I said with a grin, nudging her with my elbow. "And it'll depend on who we get as the final chaser. You, me, and Chastity nearly had the flying V formation executed and it would be nice to try to get ourselves there this year, but-"
"But if we couldn't get it with Chastity, who's to say we'll be able to get it with a newbie?"
I nodded. "Yeah," I sighed. "Don't think I should be getting my hopes up. Probably need to go back to basics to start out."
"You and I have our reverse passing down to a science," she reminded me. "None of the other teams use it so we have that going for us. If we can get our third chaser's aim to match ours, we'll be in a really good spot this year."
I considered this. "Y'know, I hadn't even thought of that, but you're right. If no other team uses it and all three of our chasers do, it'd be a surprise element we could really use to our benefit."
She nodded in agreement as we continued to throw tactics back and forth. I had always appreciated the fact that she was just as much a Quidditch fanatic as I was. We had loved going to matches when we were growing up and both of us learned how to fly at a young age on little toy brooms. We've been swapping Quidditch stats and chatting Quidditch maneuvers ever since. When we were younger, though it certainly has been some time, we used to dream of playing on the same team in the pros and becoming an unstoppable duo that not a single other team could surpass. I still liked to consider that dream from time to time but I think it was slightly unrealistic to believe we'd wind up on the same team.
Jax wandered in just a few minutes later with gold face-paint striped across his cheeks wearing a maroon T-shirt, bright yellow shorts, and maroon and gold striped knee-socks. My eyebrow quirked upward and he merely grinned as he straddled the bench opposite us. "Gryffindor spirit, mate."
"You might be taking it a bit too far."
He merely shrugged, brushing the hair out of his face with a stifled yawn. "I tried to get McGonagall to instate cheerleaders to our teams but she flat-out refused so it looks like I'll just have to be my own personal cheerleader."
I could only shake my head, knowing full well that Alice would happily chime in. "You asked to instate cheerleaders?"
"In tight uniforms," he said with a nod. "Hm, maybe that was her problem with my request."
"Yeah, because it can't quite possibly be your chauvinistic behavior."
"Nah, Minnie finds me charming."
"I can't imagine anyone finding you charming, Blockhead."
He merely grinned at us, bringing his arms behind his head and laying atop the bench.
When Sadie waltzed in, Alice and I were taking bets on how late Fred was going to be. Punctuality wasn't exactly his thing.
"You look ridiculous, Jackson," Sadie drawled, swiftly heading over to her locker.
"I have more face-paint in my locker if you're interested, Bishop."
"Blow me, Bloch."
"I would but it might ruin the dynamic of our team."
Ew. Need to rid myself of that mental image immediately.
"No one's blowing anyone or do none of you remember the Code?" I barked.
"Believe me, the Code is not the only thing stopping me from fooling around with the devil," Jax argued.
"The feeling is very mutual, Bloch," Sadie grunted.
The Quidditch Code (also nicknamed the Fritz Fallout) was something that the Hufflepuffs had come up eleven years ago when they lost in the finals because one of their beaters, a guy by the name of Orvis Fritzman, refused to send a bludger towards the Slytherin's seeker who he just so happened to be dating at the time. The very next year, the Hufflepuffs initiated a schoolwide Quidditch Code of Conduct that included a rule about not dating members of any of the opposing Quidditch teams. Slytherin had been on board but it hadn't gone over so well with the other two Houses at the time (because who wants to be told who they weren't allowed to date?) until another issue came up when a Gryffindor chaser and a Hufflepuff keeper were playing too nice with each other on the pitch in the very next year and the Code of Conduct suddenly became very necessary. Gryffindor had added to their own internal policies a few years later that not only were they not allowed to date opposing team members, they weren't allowed to date members of their own team as well.
I didn't particularly enjoy following rules but the Quidditch Code was something I lived by.
"Where the hell is that cousin of yours?" Sadie asked me once she was done swapping her sweatshirt with a jersey.
"How should I know?" I said with a shrug.
"Uh, because last I checked you lived with the guy."
"I'm here, I'm here!"
We all turned towards the entrance as Fred rushed in with a sheepish grin. "I ran into Bryce Thompson—Jax, what the hell is up with your face, mate—in the Entrance Hall and she was wishing me good luck at tryouts and then Iris was scolding her because we're supposedly the enemy, which I guess is true since they're on the Hufflepuff team but when have Hufflepuff been all that great? So then-"
"I stopped caring the moment you started talking," I drawled.
Fred hesitated. "You might care when I tell you that Iris got hot over the summer."
Alice scowled and Sadie rolled her eyes. I simply said, "If Ryleigh catches wind of you showing interest in her teammate, she's gonna castrate you, man."
"You said that when I started flirting with Ryleigh in front of Kye and my man parts are still very much intact."
I wondered how long that would last.
"Here's a novel thought," Alice spoke up, "Why don't you go after girls who aren't on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, Fred?"
Fred shrugged. "And why would I do that? My motto is 'they're hot so why not?'"
Alice let out a groan filled with far too much irritation. "And my motto is you're an idiot."
"That motto can certainly be used for most of this team," Sadie muttered under her breath.
I glared at her and took that opportunity to pull myself off the bench to address the team.
"Alright, so here's how today is going to work," I spoke, "We start with flying drills to weed out the kiddies who can't fly for shit. From there, we'll start the keeper tryouts. Fred and I will take a group on one side of the pitch and Ace and Jax, you'll take another group. We'll each send them five quaffles and whoever saves the most will be moved into the next round of tryouts."
"And what the hell am I supposed to do?" Sadie scoffed.
"I'd say stay out of my way and keep your mouth shut but I think we all know that'll never happen," I drawled. "So just keep an eye on our keeper prospects to start with. Eventually, I'll probably have you tossing quaffles at them, too, so I can get a good look at everyone. But I need my best chasers against the prospects and that includes me."
"And how will you fly around with that fat head of yours?" she muttered.
"And we officially have a winner of who-will-be-the-first-team-member-to-get-laps-at-our-first-practice," I countered, flashing her a grin.
"Was that ever really a contest?" Jax mused. "I mean, I'm pretty sure we all knew Sadie would be the first to mouth off."
"Blow me, Jackson."
"And now I'm getting a strong sense of deja-vu," he contemplated.
I shut them both up by continuing. "After narrowing it down, we'll put our top keeper prospects on the hoops and we will give all chaser prospects five quaffles to score. From there, it's just figuring out who's going to be the best fit for our team. Any questions?"
"Yeah, when do I get to start pelting the kiddies with bludgers?" Fred smirked.
"Is that all you care about?" I groaned.
"Uh, yes. That's kinda my job or do I need to teach you how the role of beater works."
I shot him a look, ignoring the goofy grin on his face. "And it looks like we have a winner of who-will-be-the-second-team-member-to-get-laps-at-our-first-practice."
Fred shrugged. "Yeah, okay, that's great and all, but you never answered my question."
I rolled my eyes. "You can start hitting bludgers when I tell you to."
He grinned. "Right on."
"Now let's get out there and find the teammates who are going to win us that Cup, shall we?"
It was a larger crowd than I had anticipated. I made sure to keep the confident smile on my face even though my actual confidence was slightly wavering. The stands were full of hopeful spectators and I did a quick sweep to make sure none of the other House team members were out there. We had all long agreed that spying was a tactic better left for the weak, so while crashing other tryouts had its appeal, we all instead chose to keep our distance.
I tore my eyes off the stands and made my way over to the crowd of students in various workout clothing. I estimated that there were at least thirty students there, which surprised me because I didn't even think Gryffindor had thirty kids that cared that much about Quidditch.
Taking a quick glance around the group, my eyes immediately grew with irritation when I noticed my sister amidst the bunch. "No! No, no, no. NO WAY. Get that skinny little arse of yours off my pitch, Lils!"
"Don't call me that."
"I love you, kid, and you're a decent keeper, but I cannot keep an eye on you while trying to play my own game so go join your friends in the stands because it ain't never going to happen."
"Keep an eye on me?" she growled. "I'm not five anymore!"
"You're still my little sister who will be distracting me through every game so I say once again: get off my pitch."
I was expecting to be on the receiving end of a temper-filled rant that I swear only redheads were privy to, so imagine my shock when she burst out into laughter.
I glanced towards Fred who shrugged and then I glanced towards Alice whose eyebrows were digging into her forehead. "Any idea why my sister has gone to loonytown?" I sighed.
"She's your sister," Fred said with a shrug.
"I'm not trying out for your team, James," Lily said in between laughs. "I'm only here cheering on CJ but oh man, I so love messing with you."
I blinked. "Come again?"
She bounced over to me and pressed a kiss to my cheek. "Good luck today," she said with a wink before heading over to the stands to join Hugo and Rayne.
Hesitating, I called out after her. "Hold up, why are you cheering on CJ?" I scowled. I turned towards the boy in front of me with narrowed eyes. "Don't go getting any ideas about my sister, Colton Jack-o-lantern Wood, y'hear me?"
He blinked. "That's not my middle name."
"Really? It kinda has a nice ring to it."
"What does the J stand for?" Fred asked from behind me.
CJ shrugged, glancing up at me hesitantly. "James."
I did a double-take, my eyebrow popping up. "Really? Damn, just when I was content on hating you," I sighed. "Your parents have good taste in names, kid."
"We are in the middle of tryouts and you're seriously dissecting someone's middle name?" Alice muttered as she appeared by my side.
"We aren't in the middle of tryouts," I defended. "They haven't started yet."
"Well, would you like to start them or did you want to continue examining middle names? We can talk about how mine is Catherine, hence the nickname AliCat. Or we can talk about how Fred has his grandfather's name for a middle name. Or how Jax's parents didn't give him one. Or-"
"Okay, that's enough lip out of you," I chuckled, turning back around to face the candidates who all appeared to be waiting impatiently for me to start the tryouts. I was about to head over to the group when my eye caught on four girls wearing blue jerseys. "Why the hell are those four wearing Ravenclaw jerseys?" I muttered.
"Probably because they're Ravenclaws," Alice drawled.
I turned to her. "What?" Blinking, I glanced towards the four girls. "What the hell are Ravenclaws doing on my pitch?"
"If I were to venture a guess, I'd say they're here to swoon over the hunky Captain," she smirked.
I made a face and then thought better of it. "Well, can't say I blame them. The Captain is quite hunky."
"Jay," she groaned.
Chuckling, I turned towards the gathered students and called out, "Anyone who isn't a ruddy Gryffindor needs to get off my pitch right now!"
The four girls plus six others all reluctantly left the field.
And then the tryouts began.
The flying drills weeded out quite a few students who couldn't fly without there being some sort of wobble in their technique. I sent them off the pitch with a speech about how practicing will make perfect one day.
One day when I wasn't their Captain.
As keeper tryouts began, I found myself shamefully distracted by a familiar-looking skinny blonde with bright blue eyes who was in very tight lycra shorts and a white tank top that accentuated her very perky breasts. I couldn't recall her name off the top of my head, but her name at the moment didn't matter to me. I wasn't sure whether I was praying she'd be a decent keeper so I could stare at her all day at practice or if it was better for her to be shitty so that I could focus on the actual game.
I eventually went with the latter. I couldn't allow any distractions this year if I was going to claim that Cup.
"It should be unlawful for a bird to be that bloody hot."
I glanced over my shoulder as Fred came up behind me. "Focus on their skills, Fred," I groaned.
He smirked. "Right, like you haven't been staring at her for the past five minutes?"
"It was three minutes at most."
He laughed as he kicked off from the ground and soared into the air.
I sent the gorgeous blonde to the other side of the pitch to work with Alice and Jax. As much as I would have loved to look at her for a few more minutes, I needed to focus on finding myself a keeper.
The keeper choices Fred and I got stuck with couldn't even be described as mediocre. None of them could save the quaffle even if it had done somersaults in front of them. I was starting to feel very defeated as I flew to the center of the pitch to meet back up with Alice, Jax, and Sadie in hopes that they had better luck. It was the latter who spoke first.
"Cassiopeia is our keeper."
Who the hell was Cassiopeia?
"We haven't even finished keeper tryouts yet," I reminded her stubbornly.
"No, she's right," Jax interjected and Alice nodded in agreement. "She saved every single one of AliCat's shots except for one. She's a bloody beast."
Alice looked very annoyed, which I'd be, too, if some newbie saved nearly all my trick shots. "You didn't go easy on her, did you?" I questioned.
"Wish I could say that I did," she grunted bitterly. "How did the tryouts at your end go?"
"Awful," Sadie interjected on my behalf. "Spencer Crimmins saved one. One. And no one else caught any. It was embarrassing to watch."
"Do you have an off button?" I barked at her.
"Do you not agree with me?"
I really hated it when Sadie Bishop was right.
"Alright, let's get this Cassiopeia girl in the air so Fred and I get a chance to assess her talent," I said. "Which one is she?"
The immediate smirk on Fred's face told me right away exactly which one she was.
"Cassiopeia!" I called out to the gorgeous blonde. Glancing towards my teammates, I said, "Wait, what's her last name?"
As my teammates all shrugged, the blonde jogged over to me with a smile. "Yes, James?"
"Er…well first off, what's your last name?"
"And what year are you?"
"Does that matter?" she shot back.
She was hot and cheeky. I was in trouble.
"No, but I'd still like to know," I said with a pointed eyebrow.
She only shrugged. "Fifth year."
"Alright, fifth-year Cassiopeia Rollins," I said before hesitating. "Any chance you got a nickname or something? No offense but Cassiopeia is a mouthful."
Alice groaned behind me. "You have no tact, Jay."
Cassiopeia simply threw her head back and laughed, her blonde ponytail bobbing behind her. "You can blame my parents for my name," she chuckled. "I usually just go by Cass."
Works for me. "Alright, Cass, you mind if I stick you up on the hoops while we do our chaser tryouts?"
Her eyes lit up. "No, please, I'd love to."
Good answer, kid.
"Go on then," I said, nodding towards the far end of the pitch. She grinned and kicked off and the rest of us soon followed.
It took only five minutes for me to realize that Sadie, Alice, and Jax were right about Cassiopeia Rollins.
She was a beast.
"Where the hell has she been hiding all this time?" I spoke to no one in particular with a low whistle.
Alice answered anyway. "Your cousin was the keeper on the team since our second year. When would we have ever seen Cass play?"
"Oy, what did I tell you earlier about that whole logic thing?"
There appeared to be several halfway decent chaser prospects though none that stood out against the rest. It was slightly disheartening but I noted that there were a few that I could eventually see star quality coming from after a good amount of practice, one of which happened to be CJ Wood. I had really wanted to hate that guy.
The rather unfortunate part of the chaser tryouts was that none of the twenty students who were trying out could score against Cass. She was quick and nimble and I was falling more and more in love with her by the second.
Not because she was beautiful or cheeky but because holy hippogriff, she was going to help us get that Cup.
Only problem was, I also needed a chaser who could actually score and none of them were meeting that qualification.
I considered showing them how it was done but I reminded myself that Alice could only score once against her and the idea that I could be shown up at my own tryouts had me nixing that idea very quickly.
Not that that would have happened. I would have scored. Every time. But these tryouts weren't about me so I opted out.
An hour went by and not a single chaser prospect had scored against her. I had chipped away at the prospect pool until only five were left, all of which I felt fairly confident in being able to train. I told Cass to take a break and Alice and I spent the next half hour flying around and passing the quaffle with the five remaining contenders while Fred and Jax tossed a bludger through the air to see how they may fit in with Alice and myself and how they handled the pressure of a bludger. From there, I cut two more until only three were remaining.
"You leaning towards any of them in particular?" I asked Alice while we took a quick water break.
She glanced over at the three final candidates – fifth-year Rebecca Finley, third-year Dallas Hopkins, and yes, unfortunately, fourth-year CJ Wood.
"Dallas is quick," she dissected, "But he doesn't have his placement down. Becca's aim is so precise it's enticing but she's easily distracted and her focus is all over the place. She is spending far too much time making googly-eyes with you and every other male around."
I grinned. "You saw that, did you?"
She shot me a look and I quickly shut up. "CJ already takes direction well. You told him to loosen his grip to help with his speed and he fixed it immediately. That shows he's trainable. He could be really good."
When she said nothing more, I let out a frustrated grunt. "So what you're saying is no, you weren't leaning towards any of them in particular," I groaned.
She chuckled sheepishly. "You're the Captain. You choose."
"I don't know which one to choose!" I whined.
My pending freakout was stopped short by Fred who came up behind us with a sigh. "Any chance you'll be wrapping this up before nightfall?"
I glared at him. "What, got some hot date with some newbie on the Hufflepuff team?"
"There are no newbies. Their team is full."
I rolled my eyes. "Not really my point," I grumbled, glancing back over at the three prospects who all happened to be chatting amicably with each other. I found that annoying. If one of them could just be a total prat of a human being, I could send them packing and focus on the other two. We already had Sadie on the team to give us a hard time. I didn't need anyone else.
Sighing reluctantly, I glanced back over at Alice. "Let's go back to the idea of only having two chasers on the team. I mean, did we ever really turn that down?"
She glared at me.
"I'll take that as a 'piss off,'" I said with a sheepish grin. Shrugging, I swung my broom over my shoulder and headed back towards the three chaser contenders.
"Alright, here's what I'm going to do," I said, my voice loud enough to let my team behind me in on my plan as well. "First one to score a goal against Cass will claim our open chaser position. You all up for the challenge?"
I assumed by their mischievous grins that they were in.
"My money's on the brunette," Fred was saying behind me.
"She has a name y'know," Alice groaned.
"I'll learn it if she makes the team."
"You're only betting on her because she's hot."
"She's not that hot," he argued. "A little too short and her eyes are really close together. She could also opt for some lipstick against that pale skin of hers."
"Lipstick?" Alice muttered. "She's practicing Quidditch, not going on a bloody date."
"The girl is decent, Freddo," Jax interjected. "But my vote is for Dallas. He is so bloody fast. It's fun to watch."
"That girl has a name," Alice groaned.
She went ignored. "Yeah, and Dallas missed his last shot by three feet," Sadie chimed in, vigorously shaking her head. "It's going to be CJ. He has the best technique and has the best focus out of any of them. Watch him monitor the beaters' placement while also keeping an eye on the hoop. he could be really good."
"Nope, I still say the brunette gets the spot," Fred argued.
"Rebecca," Alice groaned. "Her name is Rebecca."
"But watch Dallas go!" Jax spoke gleefully. "He's a blur in the sky!"
"Oy!" I said, finally turning around to glare at them. "Any chance you four could stop placing bets on the contenders and pay attention to their actual skillset?"
"Ooh, we should place actual bets!" Fred spoke eagerly.
I glared at him.
"Er…skillset. Right. Got it."
Alice came up beside me then, a small smile on her face. "Not jumping into the gambling pool, hm? That's got to be a first for you."
Oh, shit, did that mean I was growing up?
"Y'know, if I were Cass," I said, changing the subject, "I would let the person I'd want on the team with me just score against me."
Alice snorted. "No, you wouldn't. You like showing off too much."
Yeah, that was probably true.
Another twenty minutes later, I was beginning to wonder if my master plan was going to wind up a total failure when the most wonderful thing happened.
A chaser scored.
The not so wonderful thing was that it was CJ Wood.
As the rest of my team kicked off to go congratulate the now man of the hour, all I could do was groan.
I congratulated Cass and CJ and told the entire team that they were to meet at the Clock Tower at eight o'clock tonight for our very first official team meeting. Sadie naturally complained, Fred asked me how long it would go, and Alice told both of them to shut up.
A very good start if I do say so myself.
I had gone to the kitchens and visited with the house elves for a while, happily collecting a plate of goodies to bring my fellow teammates. Bribing them with brownies and cookies seemed to be the only way to get them to show up to these meetings.
I settled into the Clock Tower twenty minutes before eight and waited for the others to join. Naturally, Alice showed up first and joined me on the floor.
"We did good today," she said, nudging me with her shoulder.
I nodded. "I hope so."
"I know so," she urged. "Cass is going to be our secret weapon. And we'll get Wood to where he needs to be by our first game. He's no Chastity but he appears to be a quick learner so that's a real plus. We'll start off with basic drills and work our way up. I have feeling we'll be able to start honing in on some of our trick moves with him before the first match."
"You really think so?"
She nodded. "You are worried about the big picture, that elusive final, but try just to focus on the 'right now' because I think we could have a really great team this year," she argued. "We have two months to get CJ up to speed on the ins and the outs you and I have perfected over the years. You may not think that's a lot of time, but I know it is."
I smiled. "This is why I keep you around. To build me up when I need it most."
"Gee, and all this time, I thought you kept me around for strictly arm candy."
I shrugged. "Oh, well yeah, that too."
She smacked me in the arm and we both laughed.
Jax walked in next and I was happy to see that the face-paint had been removed. Seconds after he arrived, Hugo and CJ wandered through the door.
"So why are we meeting up here?" CJ questioned, reaching for a cookie and dropping to the floor.
"Privacy," I responded with a shrug. "Gryffindor team meetings have been up here for ten years now. Used to be in the clubhouse but you're leaving yourself susceptible to being overheard by other teams."
He nodded in understanding just as Cass walked through the door. I pretended not to notice how tight her black T-shirt was. I definitely pretended not to notice when she bent over to grab a brownie and gave me a very nice view of the top of her breasts.
I could feel Alice's disapproving eyes on me the whole time.
Alice only tore her eyes off of me to have an argument with Jax over who would arrive next.
"Sadie," Jax said firmly. "Fred's always late."
"But Fred never gives up a chance to wolf down chocolate," Alice spoke.
"He can still do that and show up late."
"I'm telling you, he'll be here before Sadie."
Alice grinned triumphantly when Fred's voice rang out. "There better be brownies here, Potter!"
He clamored up the stairwell and appeared seconds later, his eyes lighting up at the platter of baked goods on the floor. "Alright!" he grinned, immediately reaching for a brownie. He hesitated before grabbing another.
Fred was clearly very easy to please.
Jax tossed five sickles towards Alice and then said, "Bets on if Bishop even shows up?"
"She'll show up if she wants to keep her spot on the team," I responded with a shrug.
"You spent one whole month grumbling about having to fill two open positions on the team," Alice chimed in from my side. "And now you want to force open another position?"
"What have I told you about using logic, Ace?"
Sadie did eventually show up though it was 8:10 by the time she strolled through.
"Gee, so nice of you to join us," I drawled, glaring at her.
She glared right back. "You're just going to go on and on about that bloody Code, a speech I've heard for the past two years already."
"Not by me."
She rolled her eyes (girls seemed to do that a lot around me) and sat crosslegged on the ground with an already bored look on her face. "I'm here, aren't I?"
I suppose it would have to do.
"Thanks for coming everyone," I said to the group in general.
"Gee, did we have a choice?"
I'll give you exactly one guess as to who said that.
Ignoring Sadie outright, I said, "First practice is on Monday at six in the morning. Yes, I said 'in the morning' and anyone who complains about the early hour will be forced to wake up a half hour early for the next practice to run laps."
"I bet you two are now wondering why you joined this team," Jax murmured, raising an eyebrow at the newbies.
"Was that a complaint?" I smirked.
"Nope, just a mere comment, Cappy," he teased.
I let it go for now. "I'm going to warn you all right now that I don't give a shit about what's going on in your personal lives. I don't care if you have a mountain of homework you're worried you won't finish. I don't-"
"I'm surprised you even know the meaning of the word homework," Fred smirked.
"-care if you're having daddy or mommy issues or you're fighting with your siblings. Wait, do either of you have siblings at this school?" I said, glancing towards Cass and CJ.
They both shook their head.
"Do either of you have siblings outside this school that still somehow know how to push your buttons?" I added for good measure.
"Er…I have an older brother," CJ said hesitantly, "But he doesn't rile me up."
Oh, right, Sheldon Wood, the infamous announcer who got banned from the position after making derogatory comments towards an ex-girlfriend of his and a chaser on the Hufflepuff team. "Make sure it stays that way," I urged. "You, Cass?"
"My Dad and I don't speak since he up and left our family a few years ago. And I have a new baby sister from my Mum and my asshat of a stepfather. I'm pretty sure they've forgotten about me now that they have a brand new perfect little family."
I stared at her. "That sounds an awful lot like those issues I'm not supposed to give a shit about."
She smirked. "Good thing I'm joking then. I get along great with my parents and my younger brother, Kip."
Hot, cheeky, and full of wit. I'm pretty sure she's the perfect woman.
As the rest of the group burst into laughter, I started to roll my eyes but stopped hesitantly. "Wait, Kip Rollins?"
"Gee, nothing gets by you," she said.
And there's more of that delectable cheek.
"Well, I'll be," I said with a chuckle. "I coached Kip over the-"
"Summer at Quidditch Camp," she finished with a nod. "I know. He's your biggest fan. Talked about you all summer as if you were some sort of god or something."
I kinda liked the idea of having adoring fans. Granted, I preferred them to be a little bit older and of the female persuasion but a fan was a fan nonetheless.
"Great, like Jay didn't already have a big head," Alice sighed, a chuckle escaping her lips.
"Tell him I said hi, won't you?" I said to Cass.
She nodded. "He's going to die when I tell him I'm on your team," she pointed out.
"Now, now, let's not go killing off the future Quidditch players of America," I teased.
"That might be stretching it a bit, mate," Fred murmured. "If you recall, the kid isn't too fond of heights."
"Good thing he has four years to get over that," I chuckled.
"As stimulating as this conversation is," Sadie chimed in with an overdramatic yawn, "Can we get back to the real reason we're here?"
"Assigning you more laps than you know how to deal with?" I shot back with a smirk.
"For reminding the Captain he's getting way off-topic?" she drawled. "Talk about abuse of power."
"When you get the badge, you can do what you see fit. Meanwhile, I'll do as I please," I spoke coolly.
All she did was roll her eyes so I took her silence to mean she'd comply for now.
"Okay, moving on," I said with a smile towards the other team members who weren't currently pissing me off.
"My favorite part about our current team members is that we are all single," I continued. "And do you know why that's my favorite part?"
A few seconds lagged on before CJ chimed in. "I'm assuming it's because significant others typically mean drama."
"Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner," I smirked. "So please tell me that neither of you are in relationships."
He shook his head and so did Cass.
"Good," I responded.
"So let me get this straight," Cass spoke up curiously, "You're telling us that we're not allowed to date."
"No, I'm not saying that," I argued, "I'm just saying I like it better when you don't."
She looked like she wanted to throw a brownie at my head when Alice interjected. "In case you're wondering, Cass, yes, he really is this much of an arrogant arsehole all the time."
"Oy, let them make their mind up about me all on their own," I groaned.
"Believe me when I say that it wouldn't have taken long for us to come to that conclusion," Cass said with a teasing smirk.
"I feel like I should make you run laps for that comment," I considered.
"For the love of Morganna, can we please move on with this ridiculous speech of yours so that we're not all stuck here until two in the bloody morning?" Sadie sighed.
As much as I hated doing anything Sadie asked me to do, I obliged. "I may be your Captain and therefore, I'm ultimately in charge of this team and its outcome, but even I'm not dumb enough to think I can do this all on my own. We have always prided ourselves on being able to work flawlessly together as one cohesive team. Other teams think that the teams are made up of four categories – chasers, beaters, keeper, and seeker – but in my mind, there's just one category. One team. One Cup to win. So any issues we may have with one another off the pitch gets left at the gate the moment you step on to that field."
"Hm, wonder who he's referring to with that one," Jax snorted, glancing over at Sadie's direction.
She flipped him off and I continued. "I don't want this to be a rebuilding year. Just because we had to fill two substantial positions doesn't mean we can hand off the win to Hufflepuff who didn't have to replace anyone or to Slytherin who only has one position to fill and is coming off a win from last year or to Ravenclaw who is always gunning for us. I want that Cup. And I want all of you to want it just as much as I do. If you don't, if you're only here to build your resume or because you think it'll be fun, go ahead and leave right now."
"For the record, we still know how to have fun," Alice sighed, shooting me a look.
"We can have fun and win at the same time," I countered. "And now on to my favorite part of the kick-off meeting."
The five pre-existing members of the team chimed in with me. "The Quidditch Code."
I ignored Sadie's eye roll.
"We know about the Code," Cass pointed out. "Everyone knows about the Code."
"Ah, you think you know but there is so much more to it than you may realize," I said, clasping my hands together eagerly.
"There really isn't," Sadie muttered.
I shot her a look. "The Quidditch Code of Conduct, also referred to as the Fritz Fallout, was created many moons ago because a Hufflepuff boy by the name of Orvis Fritzman decided to go and fall for a Slytherin. Bloody imbecile if you ask me."
Every single girl in the room rolled their eyes.
"Other rules have been added over the years to make the Code what it is today. First and foremost, though this is more of a school rule than a Quidditch Code rule even though the bloody Ravenclaws felt it necessary to add years ago, you've got to maintain a passing average to stay on the team. So study hard enough to keep up those As," I said. Hesitating, I added, "But just so we're clear, Quidditch definitely comes before schoolwork."
"That is the most contradictory statement on the face of the planet," Alice groaned.
I shrugged. "Moving on to rule two, no one misses a practice. The only excuse I'll accept for missing practice is death. Or near death. But if you've got a cough, suck it up. And if I ever hear any of you missing practice to finish some stupid essay or study for a quiz, I'll hunt you down and shove a snitch—no, a quaffle down your throat."
"At least it won't be a bludger," Fred said cheerfully.
"Like you'd ever actually miss practice for schoolwork," Alice shot back.
"And I don't want a note from Clearwater regarding whatever illness you might fall susceptible to. I want Clearwater on my damned pitch literally telling me face-to-face that you're not there because you are on your deathbed literally hanging on for dear life. Y'got that?"
"Right, because Madam Clearwater doesn't have better things to do than to share her concerns about a student with some Quidditch Captain," Alice groaned.
"Next," I continued, ignoring her quibble, "You now represent the prestigious Gryffindor Quidditch team both on and off the pitch. You will not make us look bad."
"Yeah, that's what we already have James for," Alice teased.
"Must you insert a comment on everything?" I sighed. "I am not asking any of you to hole yourselves up in your room all day long and act like perfect angels. We're Gryffindors and we therefore pride on partying our arses off. But party respectably, y'got that? No stripping in the common room or dancing on bartops or swinging from the chandeliers or getting into bar fights or generally making fools of yourselves. We're also not supposed to be shoved into detention too much but I'd be a bad Captain if I made you suckers follow that rule when I've been known to sidestep it. Just don't get stuck in detention for irresponsible misconduct, alright?"
Alice opened her mouth to most likely to mock me further but I shut her up with a glare.
"Be respectful to each other. We may taunt and tease each other but this is a respected organization that prides itself on team unity."
"That doesn't apply to other teams, does it?" Fred interjected with a smirk.
I had a feeling he was thinking about Brooks Pruitt.
"Hell to the no," I responded. "Feel free to beat Pruitt to a bloody pulp all you want."
"Aaand there goes the respected organization," Sadie muttered.
I decided to ignore her.
"Last but certainly not least because this is the most important rule there is," I spoke, sitting up straighter and making it a point to look at each of my team members in the eye. "No team member shall date a member or a reserve from any another Quidditch team in the school. No exceptions."
"Says the guy shagging Hattie Wilkes in every nook and cranny of this school," Fred teased.
"This coming from the guy who has now shagged nearly half of the Hufflepuff team," Jax shot back.
"Snog and flirt and shag whoever the hell you want," I said with a shrug. "But never call them your boyfriend or your girlfriend. That just leads to messy drama that no Quidditch team wants to deal with."
Reluctant shrugs followed so I continued. "Furthermore, about ten years ago, Gryffindor amended their own internal Code of Conduct to include a rule forbidding any type of sexual relationship, either casual or legitimate dating, to occur between Gryffindor teammates. That includes reserves, Hugo. You're either going to be too soft during a match because you're worried about someone else or a break-up will occur and then you're going to be out for blood. And frankly, one of the things Gryffindor prides themselves on is our immaculate teamwork and unity. So don't you dare think about dating or snogging or shagging anyone on this damned team, y'got that?"
More shrugs and nods.
"Why isn't that a general Code rule?" Cass questioned. "Why are only relationships with other Quidditch team members outlawed?"
"The Code was solely founded to unify the entire organization but individual teams already had some of their own policies built," I said as a shrug. "Other teams amend their internal Code as they see fit like we did. Ravenclaws aren't allowed to get below an E average. Hufflepuffs aren't allowed to drink the night before a match. Slytherins are only allowed two detentions per month."
"And Hufflepuffs amended the dating rule to include no inner-team relationships either," Fred commented.
Of course he knew that.
"How is that difficult for them when they're all females?" Hugo chuckled.
"Lionel Swanson isn't female," I pointed out, referring to one of their beaters.
"Oh, yeah. I often forget about him," he said with a sheepish grin.
"Easy to do with a team of all babes," Fred interjected.
"You're a pig, Weasley," Sadie snapped.
"We're getting off-track," I spoke, holding up my hand. "All you gotta know is that there is absolutely no dating allowed of any kind when it comes to a player or reserve on any of the Quidditch teams. Period. I'd ask if there are any questions but I'm pretty sure I've gotten my point across."
Glancing around the room as they all nodded, a new rule formulated in my head and I quickly added, "And just for good measure, none of you are allowed to date the siblings of a team member either, y'hear me, Wood?"
He blinked in surprise but it was Alice who spoke. "Well, damn, there goes my secret desire to date Albus."
I shuddered. "Yeah, you're never allowed to joke about that."
"Does that mean I'm not allowed to be into Rose or Roxanne?" Jax teased.
"Oy, you stay away from my sister, Blockhead!" Fred scolded as Hugo's eyebrow popped up in amusement.
"Don't tell me you're interested in my sister," Hugo probed.
Jax rolled his eyes. "No offense, kid, but that sister of yours is a scary little devil."
Hugo's eyes narrowed. "Aren't you friends with her?"
"Sorta. Maybe. I don't know. Probably not."
"Oh, what, she's not good enough for you now?" Hugo huffed.
"I didn't say that!" Jax groaned.
"Do you see what you've started, Jay?" Alice sighed, looking at me with a knowing look. "You can't tell someone not to date team members' siblings."
"Sure I can. I just did, didn't I?"
Alice rolled her eyes, turning towards CJ and saying, "Date Lily all you want, Wood. Don't let this prat stop you."
"Traitor!" I cried out.
"I'm not dating Lily," CJ argued.
"Good boy, Colton Jellybean."
"That's not my middle name," he groaned.
"You can date her, Wood," Alice spoke up again. "If you wanted to."
"HE MOST CERTAINLY CANNOT."
I was not even slightly surprised when Alice's heel rammed into my shin.
"So what happens if we break the Code?" Cass asked.
"Why are you already thinking about breaking the Code?"
Alice kicked me again.
"I'm not," Cass sighed, shaking her head. "I'm just curious what the consequences are."
"Depends which rule is broken," I said with a shrug. "If your grades slip, you're benched until you can bring them up again. If you do something stupid and you make us and the school look bad, our Head of Household will insist you are benched for a game."
"Like we couldn't sweettalk Longbottom into looking the other way," Jax snorted.
Alice shot him a dirty look. "Chastity was benched two years ago for streaking through the hallways on Halloween."
Jax grinned. "I know. I just wanted to remind everything of the time Chastity streaked through the hallways."
Alice threw a cookie at his head.
"If you blatantly disrespect a member of this team and it's a serious enough infraction, you're benched," I continued. "If you miss practice, I will yell at you until tears are running down your face. And then you're benched."
"So by 'depends which rule is broken,'" CJ said with a shake of the head, "You really meant, we're benched."
I grinned. "Ah, you haven't heard the best part yet, Wood. Because if I find out you're dating someone on our team or on another team, you'll not only be benched until you are no longer dating said team member, you will also be forced to participate in what we all like to refer to as 'Humiliation Domination.'"
"Yeah, no one else calls it that but you," Alice murmured.
"What is it?" Cass questioned.
"Something stupid," Sadie muttered.
"Something epic," I said, sending the seeker a scathing look. "It's where all the members and reserves of each Quidditch team assemble into a circle in the middle of the pitch at midnight on the day of the full moon and the two offenders stand in the middle of said circle while every other person roasts them for exactly one hour."
"Roasts them?" CJ spoke. "Exactly what does that mean?"
"Exactly how it sounds," Fred chimed in with a shrug. "We dig up all the dirt on the new couple and we lay it all out on the line for everyone to judge. And everyone has to participate or you're stuck doing laps until the sun comes up."
"A whole hour of laps?" CJ said, shocked.
Fred nodded. "That's right. So digging up dirt becomes necessary. And nothing is off-limits. Embarrassing stories. Family issues. Past relationships. Former betrayals. Anything and everything to shame them and make them cry as everything inside of them burns with hatred for themselves and for the world around them and they either break up with each other or they quit the team due to their newfound emotional instability."
Silence filled the Clock Tower until Cass finally spoke up. "Does that actually work?"
"I am so glad you asked, Rollins," I responded gleefully. "It was a chilly night in December. The air was crisp and the pitch lightly dusted in snow."
"Oh, you just had to ask, didn't you," Sadie sighed.
"The moon shone bright, illuminating a circle of smirking students out on the Quidditch pitch. I myself was there, an innocent fourth year."
"Right, like you've ever been innocent," Alice snorted.
"And in the middle of that circle were two seventh years, ones who had such a bright future ahead of them. What they didn't know at the time was that those futures would die that very night."
"And now we've hit the overdramatic part of the story," Jax sighed.
"Because it wasn't overdramatic to begin with?" Alice pointed out.
"Those two seventh years were Deandra Belleview, a damned fine seeker on the Ravenclaw team, and Wilber Beck from Hufflepuff, one of the best chasers this school has ever seen. Until I came along of course."
"You can add 'arrogant' to 'overdramatic,'" Fred snorted.
"These two had been caught mid-shag in a broom cupboard just one week earlier and their relationship was exposed. Er…amongst other things."
"Ew," Sadie muttered.
"So on that chilly night in December as the clock struck midnight, every single insecurity and humiliating moment and deep-seeded issue of the two were made public by the rest of us. Belleview's affair with a married man. Wilber's father's illegitimate daughter. Wilber's Daddy issues. Belleview's slutty relationship habits with nearly every guy in school. Two hours later, Wilber was bawling like a baby and thus earned the nickname Weeping Willie. He was never the same again. Deandra kept her head held high that night but she shut herself in her room for a week after that. Her grades slipped dramatically and even though the two of them broke up, she was still benched for poor academics. She quit the team right before their match against Slytherin. She had been well on her way to playing for a pro team after Hogwarts and now she works as a barista in some London café."
A heavy silence filled the Clock tower when my wonderful story-telling came to a close. Taking a quick glance around, I saw skepticism in Cass' eyes, surprise in CJ's, amusement in Alice's, boredom in Sadie's, a grimace in Jax's, awe in Hugo's, and Fred was too busy nibbling on a brownie to even notice I was done speaking.
"You're exaggerating," CJ eventually said.
"He's not unfortunately," Alice murmured with a slow shake of the head. She and Fred had been there on that fateful roast night as well. "So if you have any interest in any Quidditch team member, I'd suggest finding a way to get over it."
"And not by dating my sister!" I roared.
"And we're officially back on that now," she sighed.
"So, any questions about the Code?" I asked with a grin, folding my arms across the body.
When I was met with silence, I took that as a no.
"Our first match is against Ravenclaw on November 15th," I spoke. "Tryouts are tomorrow for their two open beater positions but I'd paint a badger on my face if they don't end up choosing the Scamander twins."
"Aha, I knew someone else was into face paint!" Jax said with a grin.
"Why are you so convinced the Scamanders will be their new beaters?" Cass asked.
"They may only be thirteen, but they're incredibly fast and unfortunately very strong. They were both reserves last year for a reason. And they have that whole twin thing going where they can read each other's reflexes and reactions without having to say anything," I explained with a mere shrug. "They'll be novices and we have two beaters who have been working together for the past two years so we'll thankfully have the slight edge. But at this point, I don't particularly care about their team. I care about ours. It'll take some time to get us to where we need to be but I have the utmost confidence in all of you."
"Who knew you knew how to say nice things?" Alice teased.
"Sounds like someone wants laps on Monday."
She grinned but was smart enough not to respond.
"Last point of business-"
"There's more?" Fred groaned.
I glared at him.
"I mean, oh goody, more chances to hear our handsome Captain speak."
"That's more like it," I smirked. "This last point of business can hardly be classified as business anyway."
Fred's eyes lit up. "Ooh, please tell me you're talking about the kickoff party."
I grinned. "I am indeed."
"Kickoff party?" Cass questioned.
Jax spoke up with a wicked grin. "It's tradition for the Quidditch teams to throw a party on the first free Friday after tryouts have come to a close. It's a way to get to know the new kids on the block."
"No, it's a way to get completely trashed and provide the rest of us with months worth of entertaining stories," Sadie snorted.
"Yeah, that's what I said," Jax teased.
She rolled her eyes and I swooped in. "Ravenclaw's tryouts are tomorrow morning. Slytherin is holding tryouts tomorrow evening. So the party kicks off at eight o'clock on the pitch this Friday. Make sure you wear maroon and gold."
The group looked around at each other, momentarily excited at the prospect of the upcoming party.
"So if that really was our last point of business, can we get the hell out of here now?" Sadie sighed.
I shot her a look. "Yes, you're dismissed."
She was the first out the door.
It was really too bad she was one hell of a seeker or I would have been glad to find a replacement.
How goes your very first week of school? Better question, how goes your first week as Quidditch Captain? Is it everything you've dreamed of and more? I'm assuming you've held tryouts by now. How'd they go? Did you find decent replacements?
Vic says hi and she misses you. Though I really just think she misses having a go-to babysitter. As much as she claims you are more trouble than any of us ever were at your age, she can't deny how good you are with Dora. Guess growing up with an abundance of siblings and cousins gave you some sense of responsibility. Who woulda thunk?
Knowing you, you've already managed to land yourself in a detention a handful of times. I'd tell you to try and keep out of trouble but 1) that's what you have parents for and 2) you wouldn't do it anyway.
So I'll just leave you with this: make sure you enjoy every minute of your seventh year, James. You don't realize how wonderful Hogwarts really is until you've graduated and all you can do is live in memories. Enjoy your last year on the Quidditch team. Enjoy hanging out with your friends. Enjoy the parties. And yes, even enjoy your classes. You'll be missing all of it sooner than you think.
Say hi to your brother and sister for me.
Oh, who am I kidding. We both know you won't.
Lots of brotherly love,
"Letter from home?"
I glanced up as Alice slid into breakfast the next day. "Would I be smiling if I was reading a letter from home?"
She chuckled. "So who's it from then?"
"Teddy," I said, folding the letter back up and pocketing it. "I'll write to him later. So you think the meeting went well last night?"
"I think you could have cut out the Code roasting dramatics," she teased, shoveling eggs on to her plate.
"Better to scare them now so they won't even consider looking at another Quidditch member. We can't afford to bench anyone. We only have one reserve."
"Yeah, and whose fault is that?" she snorted. "You refused to elect another after we lost Valerie last year."
"Only pansy teams load up on reserves," I was quick to retort. "I don't need a backup team when my original team is kick-ass."
"They're not meant to be a backup team," Alice argued. "It's a just-in-case in the event someone gets injured or is benched for disobeying club rules."
"Gryffindors fly through the pain," I said with the shake of my head. "And no one will be breaking the bloody Code."
Alice chuckled as she dug into her eggs. "Has anyone ever told you that you may take Quidditch too seriously?"
"Pretty much everyone I've ever met."
I flashed her a smile just as a body dropped on to the bench beside me. "James Sirius Potter, what the hell is the matter with you."
Glancing to my right, I smiled at my younger sister. "And a good morning to you, too, Lils. Would you like some eggs?"
"Don't call me that," she snapped. "And I just had a lovely conversation with CJ."
I scoffed. "He better not be spilling all of our Quidditch secrets to you."
"What Quidditch secrets?" Alice muttered. "We haven't even started the year yet."
Lily ignored Alice, her glare very much fixated on me. "Where do you get off telling him he's not allowed to date me?"
My eyes narrowed. "You better not be dating him, Lily Luna Potter."
"I'm not," she drawled, "But that doesn't give you the right to scare him off."
"Hm, I scare him?" I mused. "I'm kinda okay with that."
"It's not you he's scared of, he's scared of not being able to play," she contested. "He doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize his position on the team. But I have nothing to do with your bloody team!"
"Sure you do. You indirectly affect the general nature of the Captain's mood. That counts for something."
"I stand by my decision," I argued with a mere shrug.
"IT'S NOT YOUR DECISION TO MAKE!" she shouted and I cringed at her sheer volume. "Good Godric, you are infuriating!"
"I put him on the damned team, didn't I?" I pointed out. "I could have easily chosen one of the other candidates."
"You said whoever could score against Cass would make the team. I would put a very heavy bet on the fact that you were hoping it wouldn't be CJ."
She knew me too well. I'm not sure I liked that.
"What exactly were you planning to accomplish here, Lils?" I sighed.
"Stop calling me that," she growled. "And go and tell CJ that he's free to date anyone he wants."
I pretended to weigh my options before shaking my head. "Hm, no, I don't think I'll do that."
She glared at me.
"I perfected the art of the Potter glare years ago, Lils. It's not going to change my mind."
"And I perfected blackmail years ago," she retaliated. "You really want to mess with me?"
Dammit. Lily Potter was a professional blackmailer. She was full of all kinds of under-the-table knowledge that had anyone doing anything for her should she ask.
"I'm afraid to find out what blackmail you may have on me," I muttered curiously.
She smirked. "It includes you and Valerie Cheney shagging under the Quidditch bleach-"
"YO, WOOD!" I shouted towards the end of the table. CJ glanced up at me hesitantly. "The rule about you not dating my sister is officially off the table though be warned, I am watching you."
I glanced towards my sister with a sheepish grin. "Happy?"
"I could have done without the last part," she drawled, "But I suppose it'll have to do. Nice doing business with you."
With a triumphant grin, she sped off towards the end of the table to join CJ, Rayne, and Hugo, the latter of which was doubled over in laughter.
"So," Alice said, clearing her throat from where she sat across from me, "You and Valerie Cheney?"
"Nope, Lily doesn't know what she's talking about," I said with a shake of the head.
"You caved pretty quickly for her not knowing what she was talking about."
Yeah, I was totally busted.
"You do know that Valerie was a Gryffindor reserve, right?" she prodded with a smirk.
"I may not always pay attention in class, Ace, but I'd have to be a true idiot to not know that Valerie was a reserve."
Her smirk grew wider. "You totally broke the Gryffindor Code."
I hesitated. "It's only breaking the Code if you get caught."
"Evidently you did get caught."
I grimaced at the very thought of my sister walking in on me in a compromising position. "I wasn't exactly aware of that until now," I muttered bashfully.
All Alice did was laugh. "Your sister is a devious little thing, isn't she."
I sighed. "Devious doesn't even begin to describe her."
"I hate you."
That was Alice's greeting to me on Monday morning as she waltzed into the locker room stifling a yawn.
Glancing up from my playbook, I shook my head. "Not possible. I'm far too loveable to hate."
"Tell that to all the girls who've written not so nice things about you on the bathroom walls," she teased. She glanced over at Fred who was sprawled out on the floor face-down, his face currently buried under his arms. I had to resort to throwing water on him that morning to get him out of bed. He called me every name in the book before reluctantly tossing on his Quidditch gear and following me out of the room. He was now giving me the silent treatment, though I assumed that had more to do with his desire for some extra sleep than it had to do with actually ignoring me.
"Which girls?" I questioned.
"Let's just assume any girl you've shagged and ditched has joined in on the James-bashing," Alice smirked, pulling open her locker and glancing into the mirror to toss her hair up into a high ponytail.
I shrugged. Making girls angry was apparently one of my specialties, but they should all know by now that I was not the guy who was going to make all their happily-ever-after dreams come true. It was no secret that commitment wasn't my friend. I had made it clear ever since I became interested in girls that all they were going to get with me was a one-time snogfest or if they were really lucky, a shagfest. One-time. Well, maybe two times depending how good it was. Hattie Wilkes was the only one who had ever really made it past my two-time rule and that was only because she knew not to expect anything more.
"Ooh, why are we bashing James?"
I glanced towards the entrance as Hugo walked in looking rather cheerful for six o'clock on a Monday morning. Behind him was CJ who looked like he could have used a few more hours of sleep. I grinned at my younger cousin. "No one is bashing James," I spoke. "Unless you'd like to find yourself off the team."
Hugo shrugged as he dropped on to the bench beside Alice. "Hey, at least that way I could go after Cass," he smirked.
He had good taste. "No one is going after Cass!"
"Right, like you're not aware of how bloody gorgeous she is."
Gorgeous was a freaking understatement. "Feel free to leer at her all you want. Just don't think about touching her."
"This is a very disturbing conversation at six in the bloody morning," Alice muttered with the roll of her eyes.
Hugo laughed and I used that time to change the subject. "You're making sure Wood stays far away from that sister of mine, aren't you, Hue?"
He rolled his eyes. "Lily told me to tell you to bugger off if you so much as brought that up to me today."
Dammit, she really knew me well. "That didn't answer my question."
"We're just friends," CJ muttered from the bench he was currently lying on, staring up at the ceiling as he stifled a yawn.
"Good. Keep it that way, Colton Jockstrap."
"Is there a reason you're intentionally misusing my middle name?" he questioned.
"Other than the fact that it's fun?" I teased.
The rest of the team showed up and I stood up in front of them with a warm smile. "Good morning, team!"
"It should be illegal to wake up before sunrise," Jax muttered, his head currently resting in Alice's lap.
"I'm pretty sure I warned you all against complaining about the early hour," I cautioned.
Jax hesitated. "That wasn't a complaint. Just a comment."
"And I noticed you didn't tell off AliCat for saying she hated you due to the early hour," Fred chimed in. He was now sitting upright on the floor after I poked him in the shoulder a handful of times.
"Who said I was referring to the early hour?" Alice shot back. "Maybe I just decided to wake up this morning and confess my overwhelming hatred for him."
"I'm surprised you haven't done that before now," Sadie drawled.
I sent her a glare. "How about we move off the hating-James train, shall we?"
"That'll be difficult," she muttered under her breath.
"That's it, Bishop. You're getting ten laps after practice today."
She only shrugged. She was used to running laps but I think she assumed it was worth it for her cheeky comments.
"As you all know, Ravenclaw and Slytherin had their tryouts yesterday. I have yet to weasel the information out of Al as to who claimed their seeker position, but-"
"Probably because you demanded it instead of asked politely," Alice snorted.
"When has James ever done anything politely?" Jax chimed in with a wicked grin.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't aware you two wanted to join Bishop on her laps today," I warned.
When they said nothing more, I continued. "I have been informed by a reliable source that the Scamander twins have been chosen as their two new beaters."
"So either Fred got it out of his sister or Hugo got it out of one of the twins," Alice mused.
"Roxy and I are currently on non-speaking terms with each other," Fred muttered.
"Already?" Jax said with a shake of the head. "That's got to be a new record for you."
"My insider prefect has informed me that my sister got caught after hours wandering the halls with Zig Keppler," he spoke through gritted teeth.
Sidenote: Zig had spent most of his Sunday in the hospital wing as Madam Clearwater attempted to remove the horn from his head without causing any permanent damage.
"You have an insider prefect?" Cass spoke up with a snicker.
"Of course. How else am I supposed to gather information on my family's rule-breaking?" he said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Who is this insider prefect?" Hugo questioned.
"Oh, no you don't," I interrupted with a swift shake of the head. "You're just going to go off and tell Rose about our co-conspirator and our skilled espionage would be blown."
Hugo only shrugged since we all knew he would do just that. He clearly hadn't gotten the overprotective genes like myself, Fred, and Louis did. How Rose got him in her pocket I'll never know. I wouldn't put it past her to pay him a fee anytime he tipped her off regarding our illicit affairs.
"And before any of you ask, it's not myself or Jax," Alice spoke.
I had been a bit peeved when Alice flat-out refused to use her prefect intel to spy for me and Fred. Fred was convinced Jax would be happy to do it but Jax knew firsthand what Rose's wrath was capable of and so he declined. The next option was Hattie who also refused on the basis that being my shagmate didn't mean I should expect special privileges from her. So Fred and I turned to Bristol Dickerson, a seventh-year Ravenclaw, who was good-looking enough to swap a decent snog now and again in exchange for family gossip.
"Why the hell are we wasting our practice time on stupid Peasley drama?" Sadie chimed in irritably.
Hm, she had a point. Unfortunately.
"Okay, so yes, Hugo spoke to Lorcan who confirmed they had been added to the team," I said. "Like I said, I had been pretty certain it was going to happen so this doesn't come as a surprise but at least now we have confirmation and we can start focusing our practice strategies on one-upping the Ravenclaw team. I've written out various plays on the chalkboard that Ravenclaw have used in the past few years that have proven useful to them. It's our job to prove to them that those plays will not be useful to them. So let's get started, shall we?"
They responded with quiet groans.
I took that to mean they were ready.
And if they weren't, I'd make them ready.
Quidditch, here we come.
A/N: Ah, I loved this chapter. I can't get enough of Quidditch apparently.
Up next: Kickoff party.