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No Nay Never No More (Will I Play a Wild Rover)

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- Seventh Year, Age 18 -

 

Marcus Flint slams knees-first into the dirt for the second time in ten minutes, spattering mud and dirt and overall shame everywhere. His robes are caked with chunks of ripped grass, and he can practically hear the collective groan from his team, which –

“Fucking back to it!” he snaps, sitting up furiously and forcing himself to his feet. Warrington, the only one brave enough to fly within punching distance, looks at him with mild concern.

“Is it your broom, Flint? Maybe have it checked for hexes; I wouldn’t put it past them to pull that two days before the match,” he says, shooting a dark glare towards the other half of the pitch. The half that Marcus has been, unsuccessfully, pretending doesn’t exist.

Malfoy’s pull with Professor Snape had been excellent at getting them extra practice time on the pitch – more often than not, they’d even get to sneer another team off, permission slip held out proudly in hand – but it wasn’t a perfect guarantee, and unfortunately it’s one of the days where they have to share. And, more unfortunately, Gryffindor is the only house that won’t let themselves be bullied away. So for the past near-hour, Marcus has been flying around, shouting non-constructive criticisms and drill commands at his team, pointedly ignoring the rival team minding their own business across the way.

Well.

Except that six of the Gryffindors are swarming the hoops across the pitch, speeding around and tossing quaffle after quaffle, then swooping around the back to collect what they’ve thrown for another shot. The Weasley twins loop in obnoxiously perfect synchronization. The three chaser girls – Spinnet, Bell, and Johnson – weave around each other and throw with precise aim. Even Potter’s traded a snitch for a quaffle, and Marcus is disgusted with how accurate the damn seeker’s aim is. And – hovering before the hoops with utmost confidence is Oliver Bloody Wood, sweeping around and knocking away nearly every shot. It’s impressive, not that Marcus would ever say that. His own keeper, Beltchey, would block maybe half of the shots that Wood gets. Wood is swift, and decisive…

And a bloody nightmare. Marcus can’t even look at him squarely without feeling like sinking into the ground. Well, he’s literally fallen off his broom twice now after getting distracted by impressive saves from the keeper, and if this keeps going on he’ll likely drill himself a nice little hole in the ground anyway.

Hopping back onto his broom angrily, he kicks off and grinds his teeth and barks out orders and hates himself.

 


 

The second issue with sharing pitch time, aside from the unwanted distractions, is that both teams are in their respective locker rooms simultaneously. For the most part, there’s no interaction (which, thank Merlin, Marcus is getting fairly sick of Malfoy’s obsession with Potter), except – well, the captains are in charge of bringing back the equipment trunks, and there’s only one shed where they go. Marcus hangs back for as long as he can, scrubbed clean from the showers and sorting his gear bag to an unnecessary level. But he’s got to get back before curfew – he’s not stupid enough to risk detention two days before a match – so with a groan he hikes up the trunk and begins dragging it out to the shed, zig-zagging it just so it catches extra mud along the bottom edges. He’ll hate himself later for that, but for now it’s a nice distraction.

Which promptly ends when he finds another trunk sticking halfway out of the shed door, with audible grumbling coming from inside.

“Fuck,” he mutters, standing there dumbly with a muddy trunk and no idea of what to do next. He hears a small crash from inside the shed, and then Wood’s head pops out and scowls at him.

“Flint,” he says crisply, grasping the handle of his trunk and dragging it the rest of the way into the shed. Marcus can hear the thud of it being tossed haphazardly across the small structure, and then Wood reappears fully outside, crossing his arms. Marcus is still holding onto his trunk, feeling less and less like he knows what to do with himself. “Ready for Saturday?” It’s not a friendly conversation, Marcus knows. It’s a challenge, just like always. He releases his trunk and lets it collapse in the mud with an undignified splat.

“Ready to destroy your team,” he says calmly, which is fantastic because nothing about how he feels internally is calm. He crosses his arms in a bleak effort to cover his awkwardly dangling hands. “Our seeker’s shaping up well,” he adds, which is bullshit. Malfoy might be considered good if he could focus on getting the snitch and not on getting Potter’s undivided attention – he played well against Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, but seemingly lost all talent when the idiot Gryffindors were the opponent. Realistically, though, even if he wasn’t completely obsessed with Potter, he’s not exactly a match for the red-robed seeker’s skills. But. Marcus isn’t going to just… admit that.

Wood scoffs. “Our team’s the best it’s been in decades, and you know it, Flint.”

“Not saying much,” Marcus says, and Wood prickles. Marcus automatically squares up, idly noticing that they’re nearly the same height and of a very similar build. Wood’s probably considered easier on the eyes, though. Not that – not that Marcus thinks –

And that’s exactly the type of shit he’s been trying to squash down and never think about ever – or at least until he dies. Maybe even after that. Because that’s insulting, and horrifying, and –

Wood, the bastard, steps closer and uncrosses his arms, fists down at his sides. Marcus holds his ground and only dies a little on the inside. They’re less than a foot apart. The empty doorway is right there. He should be thinking about punching the nose off of Wood’s face, but all he can think of is slamming the other man into the doorframe and pressing in close and – and –

“We’re damn good and you know it,” Wood hisses dangerously. Marcus has never wanted to be both closer and further from someone in his life. Wood’s eyes narrow and, quietly, he adds, “How would you even defeat us? By falling off your broom some more?”

It’s a low blow, and Marcus should be destroying him right now. He almost manages – he grabs Wood by the shoulders, swivels them both, and slams him up against the wall of the shed. But he fails after that. He doesn’t punch him, or threaten him, or – well, all he does is glare until his eyes dart down to Wood’s mouth, then back up, and then he forgets the next step.

Wood is tense from the get-go, probably bracing himself for a fight, but when Marcus starts staring stupidly at him, not doing anything else, it gets awkward quickly and Wood seems lost. “Uh,” he offers, hands opening and closing like he can’t tell if he’s supposed to shove Marcus away or hold onto his forearms. And that – is that something? The tension is practically visible, and it doesn’t feel like everyday opponent tension. This feels – more choking, more… more. Or is Marcus just being stupid?

All at once, Marcus loses his nerve. He jolts away like Wood’s made of fire – and maybe he is, maybe that’s the problem – and trips his way back to his trunk, hastily shoving it into the shed and slamming the door. Without looking back to Wood or acknowledging any part of what’s occurred, he storms off to the castle, not letting himself think of anything until he’s safely in his bed, curtains drawn tightly, a mediocre silencing charm placed haphazardly around them.

Then he lets himself feel like an idiot. He had – well, he had almost gone for it, hadn’t he? Thrown aside every fear and let himself… well. But that’s not something he can have. There’s a war brewing, and although his family isn’t in the Dark Lord’s pocket, he’s not exactly in a position to be intermingling with the enemy house. And even if there wasn’t a war – what then, really? Could he even promise himself he wouldn’t be a coward about it? Likely not. Not here, at school, where things like house rivalry mattered.

He promises himself then that – if he ever crosses Wood again after Hogwarts (which he doubts will ever happen) – assuming Marcus still feels the same (which he hopes will not be the case), assuming there’s still that strange, tangible thing when they meet (fuck, do they know how to exist without it?) – he’ll take the chance. He swears it to himself.

He’s a very good liar.

 


 

- Post Hogwarts, Age 20 -

 

Marcus takes the first offer for tryouts he gets from a team. It’s a small-time second level team in the middle of nowhere in Scotland, with fittingly small salaries and an even smaller fan base, but he’s no idiot. Politics and war and everything he wants nothing to do with place him in a biased light. He might not have a dark mark on his arm, but he’s got Slytherin in his blood and most teams won’t even look at him. It’s been a rough two years since Hogwarts, but he’s focused his time on Quidditch trainings so that, when a team would take him on, he’d be able to show them he was worth it.

And so, when a grey owl shows up at his flat with an offer letter from the Scotland Rovers, he sends a reply back immediately and prepares himself for the tryouts.

 


 

It’s a small, fairly rubbish team in the middle of fucking nowhere, so Oliver Bloody Wood has precisely no business showing up to the same damn tryouts.

Marcus hates everything.

Wood doesn’t seem to notice him at first, for which Marcus is eternally grateful. He hides within the rest of the two-dozen chasers, glad he wore inconspicuous practice robes that show no hint of ever having attended Hogwarts. The keepers are separated, just like the beaters and seekers, and Marcus stays as far from them as possible. He manages, for the most part, and is thrilled when the chasers are led to a small practice pitch that’s somewhat out of eyesight. It’s enough for him to focus on the game.

He does his best, taking care to not appear “too Slytherin” – he plays rough but doesn’t allow himself to be too violent; he’s skillful but not cunning. That can always come later. He truly is a damn good player even with the violence and sneakiness aside; he’s quick and strong and manages to score each time when all of the chasers line up and take shots at an unblocked hoop.

He’s ecstatic when he’s kept on the pitch while about half of the chasers are sent home.

Next, they work one-on-one with the wizard running the tryouts. This man – O’Connell, he learns – acts as a keeper and has them split into two teams. Both teams try to score on O’Connell, and again Marcus scores – twice, even. He doesn’t share well, necessarily, but he’s not stupid enough to keep the quaffle if he’s going to lose it, so it all works out in the end.

They make semi-finalized decisions after that round – he hears his name called to stay, and then hears that they’ll be playing with the other chosen team mates – some from the previous year, and some new – to ensure that there’s enough chemistry within the team. He doesn’t realize the weight of it until he sees that they’ve picked him, two chasers that were previously on the team, one new and one previous beater, the previous seeker, and –

Of fucking course, one new keeper.

They’re given a ten-minute break for water, and that’s when Wood locks eyes on him.

Gryffindor as always, Wood corners him first, no pretense. “Flint,” he states smoothly, like they know each other. Marcus groans internally, wondering if he could knock himself out with the handle of his broom. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”

That – isn’t terribly surprising. He’s gotten a bit taller since Hogwarts, and his shoulders have broadened – but the real changes are a better haircut and his teeth. He’d had them spelled into proper shape for his nineteenth birthday – a gift he didn’t necessarily want to give himself, but it somehow reduced his Slytherin appearance to the public eye. And, secretly, he feels less horrible when he looks at himself, now.

Marcus is trying not to panic, and it’s going fantastically awful. He’s debating between being an arse and being – well, neutral? Not an arse? He has zero idea how to do this with post-Hogwarts Wood. “Wood,” he tries, sounding impressively nonchalant. He glances behind the keeper, where his gear bag – including his water canister – is settled on the bench, wishing it were closer. But Wood’s standing firmly between him and the bag. What a prick. Marcus vaguely recalls his promise to himself from seventh year, and promptly negates it and crosses his arms, like he can hide his thoughts that way.

Who is he kidding; he’s still a coward. He won’t even admit he’s a Slytherin to others, let alone admit feelings.

Wood looks good, too – a bit taller than him, a bit less broad, but – well, good-looking, he supposed. Where Marcus is dark features and angry eyebrows and dark hair, Wood is somehow… sunnier. His eyes are still the same light brown, hair cut nicely and swooped to the side a bit, and his jaw is speckled with just a bit of stubble. He looks good and Marcus hates life.

“Looks like we’ll be Rovers together,” Wood comments after a moment, seemingly realizing that Marcus was not about to offer proper conversation.

Marcus gives up and reaches around Wood, hurriedly snatching the strap of his bag and dragging it down the bench so he can dig out his water canister from a side pocket. “If they think we work well together,” he counters, leaving the which we won’t silent. He’s never been on the same team as Wood, and their only Quidditch experience together generally resulted in blood, insults, or both. He rights himself, downs half of his water, and still feels somehow dehydrated. Wood’s staring at him.

“Well, we should, yeah?” Marcus actually looks at him, wondering if the keeper had taken a hit to the head in one of the previous rounds. Wood shrugs. “We haven’t played together, but we’ve – you’re going to tell me you don’t know how I play?” he huffs out crossly, sticking out his fingers to count on them pointedly. “I know your strategies, I know your techniques – I know your stupid spin-throw you think is so secretive, but come on Marcus, it’s the easiest thing to block –”

Marcus promptly chokes himself on a particularly hard swallow of water, bending in half and coughing up what seems like half the sea. Wood just – “Marcus?” he manages, voice properly fucked.

Wood seems to hesitate. “Yes? Is that not your name, now?” He knows it is – they both do, but –

Marcus straightens up and stares at Wood, dumbfounded. “You’ve never – we’re not suddenly –” He wants to say that they’re not suddenly friends, that being on the same team means nothing, but the weight of everything is hitting him all at once and he feels like his knees are giving out.

They’re on the same team. Two years after Hogwarts, tens of dozens of teams in all of Europe, hundreds in the world, and he and Oliver Bloody Wood are on the Same. Exact. Team. “What are you – what are you even doing here, Wood?” he demands, because honestly. Marcus has his excuse – he’s not welcome on most teams, even if he’s good enough for them. Wood – Wood should have the world before him, and he’s here. In the middle of fucking nowhere in Scotland.

Wood doesn’t answer for a second. “It’s – I was asked to try out,” he says, somewhat strangely.

Marcus rolls his eyes. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. We’re in the middle of nowhere in Scotland.”

“I’m Scottish,” Wood says dryly.

“That’s – why aren’t you on a better team?” he half-shouts, slamming his water canister back into his bag.

Wood looks taken aback, probably seeing the underlying implication of you’re a good player and you can do better, but before he can reply they’re called back for the final bit of tryouts.

And for the first time ever, Marcus Flint plays on the same team as Oliver Wood. For the first time in tryouts, he’s terrified.

The final drill is simple; he and the two other chasers are all on opposing teams, the beaters are meant to go for everyone, and Wood is blocking shots from the three chasers. The seeker is off after the snitch.

The whistle goes, and Marcus’s blood is rushing like it used to when he played in Hogwarts. This is familiar – he can take shots against Wood. He can do that. And he does – he takes shot after shot, and Wood blocks all but two – and it quickly becomes obvious that they’re the best players on the team. In fact, he gets the quaffle so many times that the head coach pulls him from offence and makes him a defender – the other two chasers are one team, and he and Oliver are on the other.

And he’s brilliant at taking the quaffle away and sending it flying far from the hoops, and he’s excellent at weaving in and out of the chasers and beaters, and he’s overall great –

Until he stops a pretty close attempt at a score, just ten feet from the hoop, and Wood shouts “Brilliant, Marcus!” earnestly, and then he’s fucked.

They call the end of tryouts less than a minute later, which is great because Marcus’s ears are humming and his heart is pounding and he definitely would’ve messed up the rest of the drill. He knows his face is flushed and that it’s not from exertion, and he can’t quite bring himself to look at anyone as he lands back on the ground.

“Seems like we have a solid team here,” O’Connell calls out decidedly, beaming. “And a particularly impressed nod to Wood and Flint – have you two played together before?”

Wood answers before he does. “Back in Hogwarts we did, yeah,” which is a lie, it has to be. They didn’t – it wasn’t together. But O’Connell grins widely, looking utterly pleased.

“I can see the chemistry! I look forward to working with you all. First practice is next Tuesday – rest up and meet back here at half-ten!” With that, the team is dismissed, and Marcus tries to focus on the fact that he’s now officially a Scotland Rover, and not on the words I can see the chemistry. He hurries back to his gear bag, which he carries off to the locker room like the pitch is on fire, knowing very well that Wood is somewhere nearby, headed to the same exact place.

He manages to get through his shower and put on clothes without seeing Wood or speaking with anyone, but of course, his luck is shit and runs out immediately after.

“Marcus! Wait, hold on,” Wood calls, catching Marcus on his way to the apparation point in the pitch building. Marcus wants so badly to take off running, but Wood’s quick and catches up, walking in sync with him. “Wait – Flint, wait, damn it,” he snaps, reaching out and actually grabbing Marcus’s arm when he tries to power walk away. Marcus comes to a halt unwillingly. “Hey, will you acknowledge me? We’re on the same team now; you don’t have to be such a prick.”

Marcus glances at Wood, who looks legitimately frustrated. “I have to go, I’ve got – things to do,” he blurts, unconvincingly. Wood looks unimpressed.

“You’re a shit liar, Flint,” he says hotly (not to myself, Marcus thinks), and for a second Marcus feels less uncomfortable. Surnames and insults were a more familiar territory.

“Pot and kettle,” he snaps. “Why are you here, Wood? We both know you’re supposed to be on a bigger team.” Wood falters and doesn’t reply. He doesn’t let go of Marcus’s arm, either, and Marcus has no idea what to do.

“Since you’re not actually busy,” Wood says instead, “want to catch up over a drink? I’ll buy first round.”

Marcus can think of nothing else he’d both like to do less, and like to do more. But Wood steps a bit closer, and – Marcus gets a flashback of seventh year, and they’re standing so close now, and Wood wants to go get a drink, and – and he promised himself he’d –

Panicking, Marcus yanks his arm away and apparates on the spot.

He lands in his flat, heart still pounding and arm still ghosted by the warm grip that had been there seconds before.

It’s a problem, he thinks to himself, for Tuesday.

 


 

Wood seems to have taken some sort of hint, and doesn’t speak to him on Tuesday. Or the entire rest of the week. They still play brilliantly – Marcus is truly the top chaser there, and Wood outmatches the other two chasers combined – but there are no more compliments from Wood. Marcus thinks it must be better this way, but he also keeps thinking about the swooping feeling from when Wood had complimented him.

He plays well, he ignores Wood, and he hates himself.

 


 

Their first match is brilliant. Well, nearly.

Wood saves every single quaffle thrown at him. Every single one.

Marcus gets the Rovers one hundred and twenty points – on his own. The other two chasers get ten and twenty points each, respectively.

Their seeker doesn’t catch the snitch, though, so the game ends in a tie when the other team’s seeker does get it. Marcus can understand – they seemed to realize early on that they would not be getting a quaffle past Wood. A tie is less shameful than a three-hundred point loss.

It feels like a win, though, and the team decides to go out for beers after. There’s a tiny muggle pub down the road from the pitch that has a wizarding section hidden in the back wall, so they shower, change into plain clothes, and take over a large table there. Marcus would normally avoid such an event, but O’Connell wants to talk strategy with him and – well, Marcus is weak to that sort of thing.

His first mistake is not realizing that O’Connell meant he wanted to talk strategy with both Marcus and Wood. The coach was still convinced they had chemistry and wasn’t oblivious to the fact that they were leagues above the rest of the players, and made it clear that he wanted to take both of their minds and meld them into one brilliant game plan.

Wood, of course, sits down with his butterbeer and goes off right away, tapping his wand against a paper napkin and showing O’Connell his animated play suggestions. Marcus is seated across from them both, watching silently. He’s doing a fairly good job of blending into the background and pretending like he’s not there, wishing he wasn’t there, until –

“Fuck off, that wouldn’t work!” He reaches over and snatches the napkin from Wood without thinking, and drags his own wand from his robes. “Hanlon isn’t able to throw left for shit; you could never pull this off,” he criticizes, tapping the napkin to rearrange the tiny scribbled figures on it. “You’d have to have him on the right – and Vander couldn’t pull off the left, so that’d have to be me –”

“Vander can’t play center on this, either,” Wood counters, leaning on his elbows to hover his head over the napkin in the center of the table. Their foreheads are now five inches apart and two wands are jabbing at the napkin. “That’d have to be you, too.”

“If only we had more Flints,” O’Connell chimes in, and Marcus feels himself flush. He’s – well, he’s rarely on the receiving end of praise. He fails for a second to reply, wand hovering awkwardly above the tiny stick figure marked Flint, ignoring the overwhelming feeling that Wood was staring at him.

“Unfortunately we only get the one,” Wood says quietly. Marcus’s ears go red and he is definitely refusing to look up now. “And he should be center for this – look, mate, you’d be able to control the whole maneuver –”

Marcus loses focus pretty quickly. He finds himself actually looking up at the keeper, watching in fascination as he rambled on with play after play, detail after detail, continual explanations – and he lets himself take in the whole thing. Wood is in his absolute element. He’s confident and decisive, and – well…

A bloody nightmare, as per usual.

O’Connell excuses himself ten minutes into Wood’s lecture, leaving the two of them at their table to join the rest of the team – who, Marcus thinks vaguely, were having a proper good time and exclusively not discussing Quidditch, but.

He’s not having a bad time. He’s silently watching Wood, eyes raking over his furrowed, thick eyebrows, his narrow, freckled nose, and his obnoxiously strong jaw, which is working furiously as he runs down the plays.

He’s startled when Wood stops speaking abruptly and looks up at him, brown eyes digging into his skull. “Uh,” Marcus offers eloquently, unable to break eye contact but feeling his face heat up. “Right,” he guesses, because it seems like Wood had asked him something affirmative.

“Were you listening at all?” Wood asks, quirking an eyebrow, which – is unnecessary, really. He doesn’t sit back, but he puts his wand down. Marcus realizes quite suddenly that they’re both leaning in, with nothing in between to focus on.

“I was,” Marcus snarks automatically, because the best defense was a bold-face lie, “but honestly, Wood, this is a waste. This team can barely keep themselves on their brooms, never mind pulling proper strategies.”

He expects Wood to get defensive – he’d always been so protective of his scrawny Gryffindor players, even after awful losses – but to his surprise, Wood smirks at him and leans in closer. It does not send his stomach plummeting, not at all. “And you’ve never fallen off your broom, is that right?”

And – he’s really pulling out dirt from two years ago? He remembers things from two years ago?

Not – that Marcus remembers things from – not the point.

He becomes very aware that they’re only a few inches apart, not even having to speak loudly in the fairly busy pub. He’s also very aware that Wood’s watching him closely, drink forgotten in one hand and other hand still on the neglected napkin, sprawled out between them. The ends of his fingers are very close to Marcus’s own forearm, and he’s not sure if he should move. If he even could move, really. And he doesn’t even have a retort for what Wood said, so he resorts to the question that’s been scratching at the back of his mind since tryouts. “Why are you on this team, Wood?”

Wood blinks at him. Marcus quite proudly maintains eye contact, even though he wants to look away and throw back his entire drink. “I made tryouts; you were there,” Wood says, which is avoidance and a lie and they both know it.

“Why are you on this team?” Marcus says again, squaring his shoulders and looking at Wood fully. “We both know exactly why they’re here,” he jabs a thumb at the rest of the team, “and we know why I can’t –” He looks down to the table surface, picking at the top of it. “But fucking hell, Wood, I don’t believe for a second that you weren’t offered a spot on a better team. There were rumors straight after seventh year that the Falmouth Falcons and the Holyhead Harpies had been scouting you. This is – this is a second-rate team at best.”

Wood isn’t looking at him anymore. He’s sat back fully in his seat, peering down at his nearly empty drink. Marcus can practically feel the wall being slammed up between them, which – probably for the best, really.

O’Connell cuts back over to them and reaches to clap a hand on either of their shoulders. “Another round, gents?”

They stay for two more rounds and apparate separately. Marcus goes home, already dreading seeing Wood again in their next practice.

He goes to bed, half promising himself that – if he and Wood were ever sitting that close to each other, staring into each other’s eyes like a couple of – well, if they ever get like that again, he should do something.

He will do something. He – will.

Still a fantastic liar.

 


 

They win the next four games, and nearly all of it can be accredited to Marcus and Wood. The rest of the team, to Marcus’s surprise and slight discomfort, is thrilled. Instead of trying to take them down a notch so that they could feel better about themselves – as Marcus had come to expect from Slytherin teams – they were gleeful when Marcus flew loops around them, fanatic when Wood smacked away their practice shots like they were flies, and downright elated when, in their fifth match, Marcus and Wood very much single-handedly win, even after their own seeker managed to catch the snitch. In that one, Marcus gets two hundred points. Wood blocks every single shot – Marcus loses count after the tenth one – and his blood is thrumming in his veins.

They land simultaneously, he and Wood, and their team rushes them to crush them in a hug. Marcus would never tolerate that normally, but he gets precisely no warning before he is shoved forward at Wood, who, embarrassingly, automatically catches him. Vander is crushed against his back, Hanlon on his side with an arm around both he and Carrey, and O’Connell and the rest are all pressed in close around them, forcing he and Wood to lean against each other, faces close enough to knock if they’re not careful.

And – they should be pushing apart, but Marcus is an idiot and actually looks, and – Oliver Bloody Wood is looking right back at him. He feels hands – they must be Wood’s – clench at his waist, and he’s got his broom tightly in one hand and his other is sandwiched between bodies, and he could lean in just slightly and he’d be able to bump noses with Wood. With heat rushing through his ears and stomach swirling not unpleasantly, he looks down to Wood’s mouth. A quick glance up and he sees that – terrifyingly, Wood is looking right back at his.

Before Marcus can do anything, if he even had the nerve, the hug breaks and he and Wood are left standing there, pressed together in the middle of the pitch for a moment before reality crashes back down and Marcus stumbles backwards.

He should – say something? Congratulate someone? But he loses any sense of bravery and his earlier excitement, spins on his heel, stalks off towards the locker rooms, and hates himself.

 


 

He meets with O’Connell after their eighth game to discuss ideas for the other chasers. They’re – well, not great, by any means, but Marcus has been making mental notes and has some pointers. As he’s not captain – there isn’t one, yet, although he’s sure it’ll be either him or Wood if they stay on for a second season – he can’t quite be bossy and commanding like he wants to be, so instead he takes his notes to O’Connell, who is enthusiastic about his input.

It’s kind of nice, really. Like someone actually thinks his ideas aren’t total shit.

“… And Hanlon needs to work on his turns – he flies alright until he has to turn, and then he can’t seem to move or throw. Must’ve played center far too long, but it’s a bloody awful thing when he’s at the wing,” Marcus rambles, gesturing vaguely. O’Connell nods pensively, fingers steepled in front of his chin, elbows pointed into the table top. They’re in his office, probably the only two souls in the entire pitch building as it’s nearly dark out.

“Interesting,” O’Connell says lightly, looking over Marcus’s chicken-scratch diagrams. “I’ve got to say, Marcus, I’m quite impressed. You’ve given fair and realistic advice on every team member – I can see how you were captain in school,” he adds, smiling genuinely. Marcus feels warm at the compliment, something he was slowly getting used to with this team. He didn’t really return them, but he didn’t completely cringe away when he received them, anymore. “Reasonable notes on every player. Except, I notice, Mr. Wood.”

Marcus blinks. Wood’s let in six goals the entire season to date – a ridiculously low number. There wasn’t anything to criticize for Wood. “Uh – well, he’s not exactly someone who needs improvement,” he says awkwardly. Again, he’s complete rubbish with compliments. They’re usually accidental, or backhanded, or – well, kept to himself.

“True,” O’Connell nods, “he is quite good, isn’t he? Both of you, really. I’m not naïve, Flint,” he adds at Marcus’s shrug. “You’re both literally leagues above the rest of the team – rest of the teams, really. Are you going to go for a more serious team after this season?”

Squirming, Marcus stares down at his diagrams and notes. He wishes they would go back to that discussion. “I – I don’t know,” he replies lamely. I’m not welcome on a more serious team, he doesn’t say.

O’Connell peers at him curiously, but doesn’t press the issue. “You’re a funny pair, you and Wood.” Marcus’s head snaps up to him, eyes wide. A pair. “Both purely brilliant players, professional level talent, and yet you refuse to move up and Wood begs me to let him join. Can’t complain, of course,” he says airily, waving a hand, but Marcus’s heart has stopped.

“W – Wood did what?”

O’Connell nods sagely. “Oh, yes, maddest thing. He heard from one of the Scottish scouts that you’d be trying out for us, and next thing I know he’s apparated into my office with letters of recommendation and vials of memories of his best games, saying he’s seen you play, knows your style and all that, and just knows the two of you would make us champions. And it looks like he’ll be right, at this rate.”

Marcus can’t think.

He can’t – nothing is making sense, his mind isn’t grasping any words, nothing is sticking to his brain.

O’Connell seems to notice he’s on a different planet, as he shuffles Marcus’s scrolls together and places them off to the side. Marcus vaguely realizes he’s dismissed, and he manages to get himself out to the apparation point, and sends himself home to process everything.

Well, he means to, but he can’t focus for shit and the tug of apparation is slightly wrong and he ends up three blocks from his flat, landing unceremoniously in a puddle.

He forces himself to walk home, legs splattered with mud, and hates himself, and hates Wood, and hates that one of those is entirely untrue.

 


 

He doesn’t plan on bringing it up, ever, but they lose the next game.

Marcus only scores six times – he would’ve gotten more, but the other team’s seeker nearly gets knocked across the skull by the snitch, and the entire thing is over within thirty minutes.

He slams to the ground furiously – he ignores Wellington, the Rovers seeker, who is rattling off apologies and confused excuses – and immediately power walks towards the locker rooms, tuning out everyone’s concerned shouts.

And he makes it the entire way there, even through the doorway, but that’s when Wood catches up and drags him off to a wing of the lockers that no one uses. The rest of the team shuffles in after, silently entering the showers and leaving them fairly alone. Wood pins him with one hand against the empty lockers, to Marcus’s great irritation, and waits until the showers go on and no one is seemingly within hearing distance.

“What the fuck, Wood,” he grunts, trying to shove the clenched hands off of his robes, but Wood doesn’t let up. “Fucking get off.”

“Hey,” Wood says instead, turning to stare Marcus down. “You played brilliantly.”

That’s – not.

“What.”

Wood does let go then, stepping back. Marcus hates it and is relieved all at once. It’s awful. “Just – I know this is shit,” Wood continues, and Marcus has a brief flashback to when Wood would lose back in Hogwarts. If he was honest with himself, he couldn’t say which of them took a loss worse. “But it wasn’t – you were brilliant, so don’t take it personally. You scored six times in thirty minutes.”

Marcus has no response within his brain, so he just stands there stupidly, shoulder blades pressed into the lockers and gaze stuck on stupid Wood’s determined face.

Nodding to himself, Wood turns to leave. Marcus’s brain-to-mouth filter promptly jumps off a cliff.

“Why’d you ask to tryout?” he blurts, but doesn’t really regret it. Wood freezes, back to him. The line of his shoulders stiffens. “You – found out I was trying out, so you – what, came along for a laugh?”

He knows it’s not what O’Connell had said exactly, but Wood turns around, so it works out in the end. “I didn’t – I’m not here for a laugh,” he insists, and of course he ignores the entire first question.

“Why did you ask to try out?” Marcus repeats, a little quieter. He doesn’t want the others hearing, but it feels like he’s only brave enough to ask Wood questions on rare occasions. This is one of them, and he’s not losing his nerve, yet. When Wood says nothing, Marcus steps away from the lockers and towards the keeper, eyes narrowed and trying to get a hint, trying to figure him out. “You could’ve been on the Harpies,” he continues, getting no more than a foot away from Wood. The keeper’s face is carefully neutral, but the clench of his jaw tells Marcus there’s something to find out here.

“I just wanted to. Scottish, and all that,” Wood says swiftly. Marcus scowls and crosses his arms. Wood scowls back. “What?”

“You heard I was trying out and then you begged to try out, too. What in the actual fuck, Wood?”

“I only heard that in passing,” Wood protests, but they’re both great at lying sometimes and downright shit at lying other times, and Marcus can feel the tension building. They’re once more just inches apart and that tangible thing is surrounding them, filling all the cracks of the air and making it seem like they’re the only souls there. Maybe, for that moment, they are. “What?” Wood snaps, looking irritated. “What exactly do you think –”

“You could’ve been on the Harpies and you begged O’Connell to let you try out because –”

“It wasn’t the same!” Wood shouts, throwing his hands up. They immediately swing back downwards, clenching as the keeper’s face goes pink. “It – it wasn’t the same. Playing Quidditch without…”

Marcus waits for the rest of it, but Wood’s lips are pressed firmly together and he’s staring hard at Marcus like he should hear the unspoken ending. “Without what?” he snaps, growing a little sick of their god-awful communication skills. But Wood continues to stare at him, like he should know something, like – oh. Marcus deflates a little, eyes going wide. “What – me?” To his horror and amazement and delight, Wood shrugs and seems to sag a bit. “But – you – we hatedwhat?”

“You’re the only person I’ve ever met who’s like me about it,” Wood says quietly, shrugging. “About Quidditch. No one else has ever – don’t you remember how it was when we played in school?”

“When we tried to nearly kill each other, you mean?” Marcus quips meanly, because he has no fucking clue what’s going on or how to react. Anger and mean words are his best fallback.

But Wood grins, and steps over to lean a shoulder against the lockers. “Yeah. Never found anyone as passionate about it as me,” he says, and Marcus doesn’t know what to do with that. “I know I could’ve gone for a better team – I did go for a better one, and you know what? Not even the coach was as…”

“Obsessed?”

Dedicated,” Wood says pointedly, “as I was. None of the players were – no one was crazy enough to run the team into the ground to win – the only other person I’ve ever known who was like that was you.” Wood looks away at this, and Marcus takes the chance to stare at him hard. He’s unfairly good-looking and utterly obsessive and a fantastic Quidditch player and complimenting (???) him – him – Marcus is fucking ruined.

“We should’ve been opponents, then,” Marcus croaks out. “If you’d gone for one of the opposing teams – would’ve gotten the competition of it. Would’ve been – better.” It doesn’t sound correct in his own ears.

Something shutters in Wood’s face, and he nods a little too quickly, pushing off the lockers. “Could’ve, I suppose. Maybe next season.” There’s a thick, confusing pause, and Marcus feels like he’s said something wrong but he still has no idea what’s happening here, so he doesn’t break it. “Well – guess that’s – yeah,” Wood says, not looking at him at all. “Off to the showers, then. Good game, Marcus.” He turns and walks off and Marcus feels wrong, like he missed something huge, like he didn’t say something he was meant to say.

“Brilliant, game, Oliver,” he says quietly, the name sounding so strange on his tongue, and to his relief and disappointment, it’s not loud enough for Wood to hear.

He showers, dresses, goes home, hates the way things went, and hates himself.

And wishes he could hate Wood, too.

 


 

Four more games pass until the league finals. To the surprise of no one, the Scotland Rovers are on for the last game, the one that earns a modest golden trophy for the lobby, and smaller, cheaper miniature trophies for each player.

The opposing team, the Welsh Trolls, is the only team that’s beaten them – they were the ones who defeated them in a half hour several games ago. They’re not too awful of a team, by all accounts, but Marcus stands, shuffling from foot to foot, broom in hand, just outside the locker rooms and feels relatively confident that they’ll do well. If, of course, Wellington can catch the snitch at an opportune time.

“Any words of inspiration from our keeper or lead chaser?” O’Connell asks brightly, coming up behind Marcus, the rest of the team following. The Trolls are starting to enter the opposite side of the pitch, and the small stands are filling with clusters of fans. It’s smaller in all aspects than the league he’d like to be part of, but it still smells like Quidditch and Marcus lets himself breathe it in.

Wood, of course, kicks into captain mode immediately. “Alright, mates,” he begins seriously, pacing to the front of their group and holding his hands up, one clutching his broom. “We know how this team plays; their chasers are quick and work together well, but only like taking shots from the center or the right. And their keeper tends to hover on the side hoops – wait for her to go there and then take aim at the middle.” He points at Vander. “Keep an eye out for that one chaser, the one with the elbows. And Marcus –” He cuts off awkwardly. Marcus blinks in surprise. He never gets instruction from Wood – he doesn’t need it, and it’s not like Wood’s actually the captain. Hell, Marcus could be the captain just as easily. Faltering slightly, Wood lowers his hand. “Well – you’ll be brilliant,” he says, too softly for the circumstances and too softly for the others and too softly for Marcus. “Just – do what you normally do.”

Marcus nearly, so very nearly says you as well, but is absolutely a terrified shit with no nerve, so he says nothing and nods quickly so everyone will stop looking at them. “Let’s fucking win, then,” he says, abrupt and without looking anyone in the eye, but it works. They, as a team, walk out to the center of the pitch and get into position.

He’s not sure why, but something makes Marcus glance backwards, to where Wood is straddled over his broom, closer to the hoops and ready to kick off. Wood’s looking back at him, and his stomach drops like when he dips too quickly midflight. And – Wood fucking smiles at him, just a quick, sideways thing, but it punches him right in the stomach and he whips his dumb head back around.

“Let’s do this then, Oliver,” he murmurs to himself, well out of earshot of anyone else. It’s still weird as hell, the name – Wood is Wood, nothing more personal than that, but saying his name out loud is new and thrilling and it gives him an adrenaline rush like flying does – so when he kicks off, he soars.

 


 

They win.

It’s actually closer than Marcus expected – the final score before Wellington manages to get the snitch is one hundred thirty to seventy, and Marcus has perhaps the most fun he’s had the entire season.

Wood had let in seven – but he had blocked nearly a hundred, and Marcus had caught himself watching the keeper crane his arm back and hurl the quaffle – usually to Marcus himself, but he watched the other times, too – and… fucking hell the man was beautiful on a broom.

And Marcus – Marcus finds himself beaming at the final whistle, straightened teeth showing and all, because he had been responsible for all but twenty of their own pre-snitch points, and he had done wonderfully.

He zooms down towards the ground, grinning uncontrollably – he was rejected by team after team, turned away by coach after coach and sneered out by players who knew who he was – and this feels entirely like the win it is. He spots Wellington on the ground near the center of the pitch, fist raised with a snitch clutched in it and joyous whoops coming from his wide mouth, and Marcus aims for him. The guy deserves a pat on the back.

He makes it down to about three feet off the ground when someone crashes full-on into his back, and he and the attacker tumble to the grass unceremoniously. He’s unsurprised and thrilled to roll around and find Wood ecstatic, laughing like an idiot and face flushed. Marcus’s entire focus reduces to just the man leaning over him, and he’s still smiling like an idiot.

“We won, Flint! Fucking brilliant!” Wood crows, and Marcus feels suddenly like they’re about to have another tangible tension moment, but the rest of the team rapidly dogpiles on top and suddenly Wood’s slammed down onto him. The wind is knocked from his lungs but he doesn’t even care – Wood’s gushing incoherently at his ear and Vander’s shouting nonsense from his right and O’Connell’s even in there, beaming and shouting congrats into the tangle.

He grins and he breathes and he doesn’t hate himself, in that moment, and allows himself to sink into the feeling.

 


 

They go out for drinks after, the lot of them, to the same pub as before. This time, though, Marcus is forced to sit at one long table with all of them, and – it’s not as awful as he expects. Well, being crammed in between Vander and Hanlon is a bit much, but Wood’s sitting across from him and he has this look in his eyes, this weird light, and Marcus is drawn to it like a moth.

“So, Rovers,” O’Connell starts, passing down full pints and setting the golden trophy in the center of the table like a centerpiece, “who will we be seeing at next season’s tryouts? Might be a big turnout, after this win.” He’s grinning and the rest of the team exchange excited glances, and immediately begin talking over each other with insistences that they’ll be there, of course they will, and they better be picked!

But Marcus’s stomach has twisted and he turns to stare at Wood. Who is gazing back at him blankly, and he knows they both know that Wood should move up to a better team.

Well – they both should; the lack of challenge in this league would lose its fun quickly, but.

“What about you, Wood?” Hanlon asks, clinking their butterbeers together and leaning in close. Marcus watches helplessly. He’ll likely be stuck at this level next season, but it wouldn’t be nearly as – it wouldn’t be quite the same if –

It wasn’t the same, playing Quidditch without

“I, uh… I think the team we have works quite well,” he replies awkwardly, and Marcus’s heart sinks. He’s staying, then. He’s staying, instead of –

He jerks to his feet, glaring down at Wood. “Wood. A minute,” he grunts, and stalks off towards the back door, where there’s a narrow alley with a hidden apparation point. He practically punches his way through the door, and finds it barely lit and smelling like spilt bourbon. But there’s no one else there, so he steps to the side and eyes the rubbish bins with distaste.

A moment later, Wood peers out of the same door, spotting him and walking over warily. “Alright?”

And in a second, Marcus is so angry. He storms right up to him and shoves at his shoulders roughly once – twice, and then nearly punches him on the third so he whips around and runs his hand over his hair furiously. “You’re being a fucking idiot!” he blurts, turning back to Wood, who looks dumbfounded. “You’re – you can be on a real team, and not everyone gets that chance!” Wood looks, at least, a little apologetic, but he still mostly looks abashed. “And you’re – fucking hell, you’re a brilliant keeper, you’re wasting your bloody time here.”

“I already told you,” Wood says quietly, eyes wide and focused entirely on him. “Why I’m here.”

Marcus actually manages to slam him into the wall this time, and blocks him up against it, hands on either side of Wood’s shoulders. Wood’s face is flushed, but Marcus is on a roll here. “Fuck that! You can’t waste your time on a shit team just because you –” He cuts off. “Stop trying to relive the old days and move on and stop being a fucking idiot and just – just.” He can’t form words and clacks his teeth together, dropping his arms sharply.

Wood shrugs, and his face is unreadable. “I like playing Quidditch with you, Marcus.”

Marcus’s heart is pounding, and the tangible feeling is back, but he can’t feel like – like they’re both being held back like this. “You can do better, Oliver,” he says helplessly, voice small and he’s not entirely sure he’s talking about the Rovers. Oliver rolls out of his mouth like a foreign word, like a charm he can’t quite manage, and he feels like a stupid, awkward failure of a teenager all over again.

Wood inhales sharply at the name, and it’s like a bolt of electricity cracks and splits the block of tension in two. In a blink, Wood grabs Marcus by the collar, drags him close, and kisses him hard.

Marcus’s eyes snap shut immediately and he desperately shoves his arms around Wood’s waist, hauling him closer, not daring to hesitate for a second.

It’s just like their Quidditch matches: biting, rough, a challenge – but exhilarating. After a particularly sharp nip to his lower lip, Wood pulls back to look at him, eyes hazy and mouth red and swollen. They’ve definitely both got a bit of stubble-burn around their jaws – Wood’s got a few patches of roughed up skin under his mouth already. Marcus is a fucking goner.

“Been –” Wood starts, voice scratchy. He swallows, stares down at Marcus’s mouth, tries again. “Been wanting to do that since fifth year.”

What the fuck.

“What the fuck,” Marcus says eloquently. Then, “when’d you get on the Gryffindor team?”

Oliver quirks an eyebrow. “Second y–” It dawns on him why Marcus asked at all, and he gets this – this soppy Gryffindor look on his face, and Marcus hates it and melts all at once. “Fuck, we could’ve been doing this for ages.”

Marcus doesn’t mention how he wouldn’t have, back in Hogwarts, that he wouldn’t have had the nerve to do anything then, but – it’s not important, anyway. Not now, with Wood running a thumb along his jaw and Marcus’s hands shifting to under the keeper’s jumper to the warm skin there.

They stay there in the alleyway a bit more, blocked off into their own world, snogging and trading half-hearted snark and wrapping each other closer and closer.

 


 

In the end of it, though, he still wants Wood to go to a proper league, and means to say as much, but –

Marcus has Wood pinned up against his kitchen doorway, hands back up his jumper and Wood’s clutching a bottle of firewhiskey in one hand, the other shoved ungracefully in Marcus’s hair, and there’s a very good chance they’re not actually going to talk further, but it’s still scraping at the back of his mind, like a thorn on the inside of his skull.

Before he can say anything to ruin the moment, Wood pulls away and smiles kind of stupidly at him. “This is, uh… kind of why I begged them to let me try out,” he says, stupid Gryffindor courage shining through his tipsy self. Marcus doesn’t understand for a second (give him a break, he’s been drinking, too) but then it makes sense and he blinks dumbly.

“Wait. What?”

Wood shrugs easily. “I – well, I wasn’t lying; the Harpies weren’t as fun as playing with you, but –”

“Wait – what? The – Harpies?”

“But – I mean, you hadn’t gone for a team in two years, and when I heard you finally were looking… I had to try, at least.”

It’s too much information at once. Marcus steps back a bit, like he needs physical space to place it all. “Wait. Hold on. What do you mean, the Harpies weren’t fun?”

“I… was contracted with them,” Wood says, avoiding eye contact suddenly and wedging past him to put his drink down. “Once. Got out of it, though.” Marcus feels like his ears aren’t grasping all of the words. Wood definitely has not been on the Harpies roster, he would’ve noticed. Even backups are listed, and Marcus’s obsessive mind always looks over every single one.

“You never played for them; what are you on about? When would that even –” Wood very obviously avoids looking at him, staring at a blank spot on the wall. Marcus’s stomach sinks. “You didn’t.” Wood turns further away, fiddling with a dusty old cooking pot that’s sitting on the counter. “You quit the Harpies to try out for the fucking Rovers? Are you insane?”

“It wasn’t a good fit,” Wood snapped, turning back.

“Oh, and being on a shit team where you outmatch everyone is a good fit?”

Wood squares his frame up stiffly, arms crossed and scowling irritably (and he’s much too attractive, given how upset Marcus is at the moment). “It was my decision, Flint. I don’t regret it one bit, either; I played a great season –”

“On a rubbish fucking team.”

“ – And I finally managed to get you to use my first name,” he barrels on. “Honestly, I think the second thing feels like more of an accomplishment, and you know that means something, coming from me.”

Marcus has no idea what to do with that. He sags defeatedly against his chipped kitchen countertop, staring hopelessly at the idiot keeper. “You didn’t even try, though,” he finally says. “You said you had to try, but the season’s over and we just –”

“I did, though!” Wood comes over to him, and they’re still at the point where Marcus feels magnetized to him, where he wants to grab him since he’s within reach and pull him in. “Right after tryouts, even. I asked you to get a drink with me. And you apparated away and didn’t speak to me for a week after that.”

Ah.

Right.

“I –” he starts, but he doesn’t have anything to say to that. It’s not like he hadn’t felt the something between them then, but he’d broken his own promise to himself and refused, pathetically, to do anything about it.

And part of him had still been terrified – that it had, maybe, been all in his head, the way Wood stood too close and stared at him too hard and looked too much like he would grab hold and not let go. That maybe the tension over the years had been a figment of his own miserable, hopeless mind.

Wood – Oliver, he has to remind himself – but it’s been about seven years of angry surnames so it’s a conscious process – moves to sit on the slightly tattered couch placed in the center of the flat. Marcus has half a second to feel a bit embarrassed about the state of his place, which isn’t untidy but isn’t exactly proclaiming style, before Oliver relaxes completely into said couch, half-smiling at him and looking completely at-home. Marcus stands there like a moron, not sure if he’s meant to follow or if they’re supposed to talk from this far apart.

“So,” Oliver starts, “Rovers again next season? Might have to fight it out over the captain title,” he says, grinning like the competition between them is pure fun – like it’s always been fun. Maybe it had been.

Marcus smirks, and makes the decision to go sit on the other half of the couch. Wood rotates to face him, one leg folded up on the seat and one arm stretched out along the back cushion. He looks like he’s always been here, and that does something to Marcus’s stomach. “Just because you suck up to the coach doesn’t mean he actually likes your strategies,” he says, no real heat behind it. He ducks his head a little, fiddling with a patchy bit of thread on his side of the couch.

Uh – on – on his couch. Not – it’s not theirs, it’s not like that, they’ve only been something for, what, two hours?

Well, alright, they’ve been something for over half a decade.

“I’m serious, though,” Oliver breaks in, yanking Marcus from his thoughts. “If you’re staying next year, so am I.”

“Like I have a choice,” he mutters, and Oliver’s face darkens instantly. “Wood, don’t –”

“It’s a bunch of shit,” Oliver snaps. “Any team would be lucky to have an obsessive, talented bastard like you.” Marcus doesn’t reply – he’s still trying to accept compliments, but this is a sensitive subject. Before he can whittle himself into a little hole of misery, Wood sits up rapidly, jaw set and hard stare determined. It’s his Quidditch Face™, and Marcus is both curious and flustered.

“What?”

“If you have two seasons – two great seasons on your record, if we win the whole thing again next year, no team is going to turn you away.”

He’s doing that dumb Gryffindor logic thing again. Why did any of them ever think that was a universally useful solution? “I’ve always had a great record, Wood,” he bites out, closing his eyes and rubbing a hand over his forehead tiredly. “I’ve got raving recommendations from nearly every training camp. My bloody Hogwarts wins are better than most – your team included, before Potter showed up.” Oliver scowls at him, but it’s half-hearted. “It all means nothing when you’re a Slytherin who had death eater friends.” The last bit comes out sharp and a little self-loathing, and Wood’s determined glare falters.

“Then – alright, then let’s make a deal.” Marcus is having trouble looking away from the raw sincerity all over Oliver’s face, though it feels like it’s too much too real. “Next season. Rovers. We’ll crush it and win. Then, we both try out for a premier league team. If we both make it, we go and crush that, too.”

This is a terrible idea, Marcus is sure of it, but it sounds kind of grand. Probably because of all of the we bits. He clears his throat. “And if we both don’t?”

He’s not surprised, but he still closes his eyes and wants to scream when Oliver replies simply, “Then Rovers again. Until a team wants us both – which, with our chemistry on the pitch, they’d be mad to pass us up.” Oliver tilts his head thoughtfully. “Or we could go into coaching.”

Maybe it’s because he’s a little more than a bit drunk, maybe it’s because Oliver looks overwhelmingly good sprawled out in his flat – but Marcus can’t find the flaw in that idea… even if his subconscious is shouting that there’s at least one. He rubs at his eyes, like it’ll erase every problem from his life. “You’re a proper nightmare, do you know that?”

He can’t see it through his closed eyes, but Wood beams radiantly at him. Still, he can't find the energy to dislike himself.

 


 

- Post Hogwarts, Age 22

 

The Falmouth Falcons lose the Quidditch World Cup, and the loss is disastrous. Even with their genuinely brilliant keeper playing his best, and with their three speedy and talented chasers working in near-perfect synchronization, they are slaughtered. The final score is three-hundred-seventy to one-hundred-ten, but the worst is that they scored all of their points in the first half, and the second half was full of miserable attempts and stolen quaffles.

And their opponent, the bloody Irish, had scored eighty of their points in the first forty minutes.

It was brutal.

Marcus elbows his way through the miserable, freshly-showered Falcons moping about the locker room – some in literal tears – and grabs the gear trunk (which isn’t even his responsibility – that’s for some poor lad who works for the stadium – but he’s being sentimental, shut up), hauling it out the door and to the World Cup storage shed. Which is, by and large, massively larger than the one all four houses shared at Hogwarts; in fact, it’s nearly larger than his own flat (which, for the record, is a fair sized flat with impressive crown molding, thank you).

It’s not muddy out at all – they had lost on a perfectly sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky – so there’s no mud for Marcus to slosh the trunk through, and he gets to the storage shed in no time. There’s no one else around, as the Irish are certainly off celebrating already, but he knows of one soul who’s likely smashing his head against the brooms kept in there, trying to bash the entirety of today out of his brain.

Sure enough, he comes up to the shed, drags open the heavy wood door, and finds Oliver Bloody Wood sat upon a stack of old brooms in the far corner. His head is cradled in his forearms, face buried past his elbows and out of sight. There are a few spare brooms scattered around between the door and Wood, like he actually had taken each to smack himself about before landing in the corner.

“Fuck off, Flint.”

Marcus feels a grin pulling at his mouth, but he scowls it away with effort. Merlin, he’s gotten soft. He heaves the trunk towards the generally correct spot, and strolls over to the practically grieving man. Wood’s changed into black joggers and a maroon, soft-looking jumper (what a bloody Gryffindor), somewhat matching Marcus’s own grey joggers and olive green jumper. “Planning new strategies, Wood?”

“Fuck off,” Wood repeats, lifting his head. Marcus is secretly relieved to note it doesn’t look like he’s actually been crying, but he does look exhausted. “We lost,” he says, like it’s news.

“We did.”

“We lost horribly.”

“Pretty miserably, yeah.”

Wood stares at him. “We lost horribly at our very first Quidditch World Cup, and it’s both our faults.”

Marcus grins widely at him, leaning casually against the same stack of brooms the keeper’s perched on like an odd bird. “Yep.”

Wood looks like he’s going to smack him, his hands shooting around wildly. “How are you not upset? We’ve lost less terribly in much less important games and been angrier, and you’re-”

“Hey,” Marcus interrupts, still smiling. God, he loves this idiot. “Can you come look at the pitch with me? There’s, ah… some equipment left there, or something.”

Oliver, of course, looks completely doubtful, and still a bit riled up – he hasn’t actually gotten to verbalize how shit the loss was, how they had made so many errors, how they could fix it and be champions next season. But, dutifully, he pushes himself down from the broom pile and trots towards Marcus, long jumper sleeves creeping down past his palms. Marcus forces himself not to stare at Wood as he drifts past, letting the keeper blindly lead the way out.

They make it about twenty feet outside of the shed when Oliver stops, looking about with mild confusion. Marcus lets himself watch for a brief moment, refusing to get all soppy but internally loving the keeper spinning about like a moron, staring around like he’s actually expecting abandoned equipment to be sat there.

But he’s not that much of a prick, so he pulls his wand from the pocket in his joggers, and, while Oliver’s squinting off at some point on the far end of the pitch, he mutters the charm he’s been practicing for almost an entire year.

He’s incredibly tempted to whip around and make sure it worked properly, but – he has to trust himself, he practiced for months and even had O’Connell help him out with it a bit – and hears the telltale taks of broom handles clacking gently against each other.

For a split second, the old hateful voice inside him comes back full swing from seemingly nowhere, hissing at him that this is pitiful he’s going to laugh at you how did you even think this would ever work you’re no good no good no good but before he can back out and make it a joke –

Wood turns around, mouth open like he’s about to tell Marcus he’s an idiot and there’s nothing out there, and then his gaze swoops to above Flint’s head.

Oliver’s eyes go wide and his jaw drops. Marcus knows immediately that the charm worked, that forty-three brooms are successfully spelling out MARRY ME? in front of the hoops behind him, golden snitches buzzing in glittering loops around the first M and the question mark, bludgers fucking about between and around the letters at will. If it looks how it did the last dozen or so tries, it’s not unimpressive by any means.

Even though he’s in clean clothes, Marcus pulls the small gold band from his pocket and sinks down smoothly onto one knee, unable to look away from Wood’s shell-shocked face. “Would’ve been more impressive had we won,” he says, keeping his voice fairly confident even though his heart is ready to punch its way through his ribcage and his legs are trembling. He can’t even hold the stupid ring steady. “But –”

He doesn’t even get to finish. Wood collapses to his knees, grabs Marcus’s face, and yanks him forward into a crushing kiss. Marcus would normally wrap his arms around his dumb boyfriend’s waist, but he’s still hyper-aware of the ring pinched between his two fingers and – while nearly certain he’s getting a good response, is still sickeningly nervous without verbal confirmation.

Wood barely pulls back, lips still brushing Marcus’s mouth, and Marcus is mortified to find there are actual tears painted down the keeper’s face. “You – bloody idiot – I can’t –” He digs fingers around Marcus’s ears. “More impressive had we won – you’re such a prick,” he manages, pulling completely away to look at him properly. Marcus swallows and waves the ring around a little, not sure how to ask a second time. Oliver, ever the perceptive athlete, catches sight of it immediately. “Yes, of course, you arse, fuck.” They both stare gleefully as Marcus pushes the ring onto Wood’s outstretched finger, only shaking a little. The forty-three brooms fall to the pitch in an echoing clatter.

It takes nearly ten minutes - Wood spends nearly half of it cursing at him adoringly - but eventually they get up off of the grass, entwined heavily as they seem to silently agree to go celebrate their devastating loss at the same pub they used to frequent with the Rovers.

Marcus, for the first time genuinely in years, likes where he’s at, and likes himself.

 


 

- Post Hogwarts, Age 23

 

They play for the Falcons again.

 

They win the World Cup.