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Remedial Exercises in Teamwork

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When Jamie gets down to the pitch, most of the team is already assembled, wearing a motley assortment of training warm-ups and bits of their uniforms. Redders keeps telling them to get separate equipment for training and matches, but no one has really listened to him.

(“We can do magic, Redders,” Jamie had said to him, patiently. “If something gets broken we can repair it no trouble.”

“It’s a mentality thing, Carra,” Redders had replied huffily. “A mentality thing.”)

He fetches his bat from the equipment chest and, after a moment’s hesitation, scoops up its pair which has yet to be claimed. When he turns around, Gary has arrived on the pitch and is rummaging through his bag.

Jamie walks over to him. “Neville.”

Gary looks up. “Carragher.”

“Fetched this over for you,” says Jamie matter-of-factly, holding out the bat stiffly.

“Thank you,” says Gary, taking it from him equally stiffly.

They stare at each other for a beat and then Jamie nods and retreats with some measure of relief. He and Gary had established diplomatic working conditions of sorts on the Quidditch pitch ever since they had both been moved up to first team Beaters, but the limits of this ceasefire were as of yet untested.

Their truce on the pitch was a matter of necessity rather than any real desire to be friends. In fact, the notion that he might want to be friends with Gary Neville made Jamie feel a bit queasy. Gary Neville! It was bad enough he had to go to the same school with a Neville. (Well, actually two Nevilles now for the past few years, but there was something about Phil that made him seem like a neutral party despite his last name. It just wouldn’t have been much fun to wage war on Phil.) Everything else after that just came in increasing levels of Terrible.


If Jamie had been woken in the middle of the night out of a deep sleep and forced to explain why he hated Gary Neville, he would have scoffed. Of course he hated Gary Neville! Everyone knew that the Nevilles and the Carraghers had been at war for centuries, ever since the Jellied Quaffle Incident of 1762, which had kicked off one of the most famous feuds in wizarding Britain. The Ministry had stepped in after the ensuing war had started distressing the local Muggles, but blood had already been spilled (namely, one of the ancient Carraghers had flown into a tree while spewing invective at a nearby Neville, and had broken his nose, and a Neville had nicked her thumb with a knife while whittling a Carragher effigy to burn, and no one had ever forgot.) and the intervening years had done nothing to dry it. Of course, it was mostly a conflict confined to Quidditch pitches and some of the darkest glowers ever glowered in the whole of the British Isles, but it was serious, and it was tradition.

So yes, Jamie hated Gary Neville. The worm. It was just his luck that the two of them had wound up in Gryffindor.

Since Jamie wasn’t actually keen on being expelled from Hogwarts for cursing Gary Neville’s nose right off his rat face, he had done his level best to avoid Gary. He avoided him in class and had carefully made friends outside of Gary’s own circles, and they slept on opposite ends of the dorm. Sure, there had been scuffles here and there. In the corridors, mostly. And occasionally on the grass outside. Or in classrooms before professors arrived. And the time by the lake-

The dorms and the Common Room were off-limits. That had been an unspoken agreement from day one. But everywhere else? Everything else?

Fair. Bloody. Game.

It was no surprise that Gary and Jamie between them had been in and out of detention for an impressive chunk of their total time at Hogwarts, and had cost Gryffindor a fortune in house points. It was a good thing they were both decent students who were just as likely to win back points with a clever answer as they were to lose them by shooting sparks at each other while passing in the corridors.

That was fine. Jamie could deal with the occasional hex while he was trying to read on the hill overlooking the lake. Seven years of that would have been alright. What wasn’t alright was that both he and Neville had tried out for the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

They had both made the team as reserve Beaters, and had shown up to the first practice ready for war.

It had gone about as well as one would expect. Which was to say, terrible beyond belief. It seemed –to Jamie, at least- that he didn’t so much try to clash with Neville as the universe wanted him to. He couldn’t speak, not to make a joke or respond to one of Redders’ questions, or god forbid, volunteer an opinion, without Neville either rolling his eyes or openly scoffing at whatever Jamie had to offer. And was it Jamie’s fault that everything Neville did and said was idiotic and antagonising?

No. Definitely not Jamie’s fault. It was just pre-determined: Carraghers and Nevilles weren’t meant to mix. Especially not when it came to Quidditch.


Luckily for Jamie, and perhaps luckily for Gryffindor’s cup hopes, although he and Gary were both excellent Beaters they hadn’t both played at the same time very often. The Gryffindor team wasn’t strapped for talent, and when Redders had been made captain in Jamie’s third year he had preferred to have one of the older Beaters paired up with either Jamie or Gary, to add experience, and probably not in small part also to stave off the inevitable.

Unfortunately, the inevitable stayed true to its name and had occurred at the beginning of their sixth year. A combination of students having come to the end of their time at Hogwarts and a lack of outstanding talent amongst the crop of new second years struck in a perfect storm, and the Quidditch season found Jamie and Gary the two obvious choices for first team Beaters.

It was difficult to say who had been unhappier about it: Jamie, Gary, or Redders.

“Listen, Carra,” Redders had said to him with an edge of desperation in his voice before their first match, against Hufflepuff, “I’m depending on you two to put your differences behind you and just concentrate on the match, alright? You’ve always played well together when you can stop bitching at each other for five minutes, and we want to put on a good show today. This is literally the beginning of our season.”

“Have you told this to Neville?” Jamie had demanded. “It’s not just me, y’know. He’s always slagging me off, when I’ve done nothing!”

Redders had just rolled his eyes. “Of course. But Jamie, seriously, now.”

“Oh come on, Redknapp,” Jamie’d said, a bit hurt. “I care more about winning than I do about hating Gary Neville.”

That earned him a hard stare which was, Jamie had thought, quite offensive.


They’d lost to Hufflepuff. Not through anything that Gary or Jamie had done or failed to do, but they’d gotten into a shouting match in the dressing room afterwards all the same, even having played well enough together. It might have come to blows if Jordan Nobbs hadn’t –quite sensibly- put Leg-Locker Curses on the both of them until Redders stormed in from doing whatever he’d been doing with his hair and put them both on extra training until death or further notice.


Redders hadn’t been there at the pitch when Jamie’d trudged down for the first extra training, but Gary had been. Given the opportunity, Jamie had decided to be somewhat diplomatic, and had started with an overture.

“Alright. So you don’t want to be here, and I don’t want to be here, but Redders will properly curse us if we don’t sort out how to work together. Or worse, make us run laps ‘round the pitch. So what’re we going to do?”

Gary’d crossed his arms in a businesslike fashion and scowled. “I don’t like losing.”

“And you think I do?! It wasn’t me who let that Bludger through to knock Jordan nearly clear off her broom! She was in on the Keeper!”

“At least I had a swing at it! You were halfway back down the pitch! Looking at clouds!” Gary’d stopped himself, then, and to Jamie’s surprise dropped his defensive stance. “Alright, listen. I don’t like you, and you don’t like me. That’s alright. We don’t have to like each other to do well together. And we do have to do well together. I know you want to win the cup as much as I do.”

“That’s true enough. And look,” Jamie’d said somewhat shamefacedly, “I wouldn’t try and sabotage you in a match. I was only taking the piss out of you in training- but that’s ‘cause I’m an idiot. Guess we’re both idiots. I’m thinking, we ought to make the Quidditch pitch and training grounds off-limits. Truce?”

“Alright,” Gary’d said cautiously. “I’m actually going to have to agree with you there.”

“Don’t let your mum hear you saying something like that,” Jamie’d said, throwing caution to the wind. “My dad wrote in his last letter that she threw a pie at him at the derby.”

To his surprise, Gary Neville had cracked a grin at him. “He probably deserved it.”

Jamie had offered a grin of peace in return, and by the time Redders arrived, the atmosphere had been almost civil.


And so the situation stood from that point on. Dorms, Common Room, and Quidditch-related areas were neutral ground. In said Quidditch-related areas, things slowly move from almost civil to almost friendly. Jamie fetches Gary’s bat for him from the equipment chest. Gary offers Jamie his extra jar of broom polish. Et cetera.


Gary Neville still hates his guts, though. But that’s fine, because Jamie most definitely still hates Gary Neville right back.




Jamie sometimes thinks that it’s a bit ironic that Quidditch had driven his and Gary’s families into bitter feud, and now it was Quidditch that was slowly bridging that chasm. Case in point: Gary was Gary, at least in Jamie’s head. Out loud he was still ‘Neville’ (or whichever invective Jamie could come up with on short notice) but it was getting trickier to keep the two separate. Several months into the Quidditch truce and their partnership on the pitch was beginning to slosh over into the rest of their lives. It’s arguably Gary who starts it, by moving seats in Transfiguration to sit next to Jamie so he can mock him about the Liverpool Lobalugs’ defeat at the weekend. So really, Jamie rationalises later, it’s Gary’s fault. Like so many things.

But Jamie doesn’t necessary need to respond to the banter. Or to egg him on. Or then himself move over in History of Magic so they can continue their exchange of hissed barbs.

It is quite possibly the first time he and Gary exchange words in a classroom without said exchange immediately resulting in detention for both of them.

Gary knows his Quidditch, there’s no doubt about that. Once they get beyond the mandatory back-and-forth insulting each others’ teams, Jamie finds that Gary knows a lot about European Quidditch, something which precious few students are interested in. The insular nature of the wizarding community extends to sport as well, and with the exception of the World Cup, Quidditch teams on the continent don’t hold much interest for many of Jamie’s classmates, much to his disappointment.

Not Gary. Gary knows about the latest self-steering broom scandal in Italy and the German Keeper who really had been born with twelve fingers, no that hadn’t been magical interference. She’d had the baby photos to prove it, Carragher. It was in the paper. What paper? Quidditch Quarterly, obviously. What was he, Jamie Carragher, reading? European Nights, Fights, and Frights or some other rag? Oh, Continent Clash. That was actually good quality. No, he hadn’t seen the new issue. What, did he want to swap for the Quarterly with the German Keeper? Yeah, sure. Why not.


Asides from Quidditch, they don’t talk much. But who cares? Quidditch is their neutral territory. Jamie chats with Gary about Quidditch, and they don’t try to hex each others’ ears off. Otherwise, everything is just the same as it always was.




It’s Puddlemere United that gets them into trouble, which is just typical. Puddlemere had recently beaten the Manchester Manticores to a frankly embarrassing degree and were decidedly top of the league and looking to be there when Christmas came. As Jamie had hissed satisfactorily to Gary, even if the Manticores’ lumpy little seeker had managed to get his fingers around the Snitch, it wouldn’t have mattered as Puddlemere’d been up a hundred and ninety points to the Manticores’ twenty within two hours with no sure sign of stopping. Almost a relief when Puddlemere had gotten the Snitch, eh Neville? And prevented the spectacle of having the Manticores’ keeper flopping about for another hour-

Which had been when Mourinho had fixed them with his gimlet gaze.

“Carragher, Neville,” says Mourinho lazily, “detention. Both of you back in this classroom after your final classes and you can do us the favour of cleaning out the teacups for our next session. By hand. And I will know if either of you so much as think of using magic.”

Jamie turns a look of outrage onto Mourinho, who raises an eyebrow, waiting for him to doom himself. Jamie opens his mouth, and Gary reaches out and clamps down on his arm with iron fingers. “Yes Professor.”

They keep quiet for the rest of the hour, gazing into their teacups in vain as Mourinho harasses them about their lamentable inability to envision and create. Jamie wonders if Mourinho’s classes are just as miserable for Slytherins, or if Mourinho shows his house preferential treatment. It’s a well-known fact that the man is a formidable hand at both Transfiguration and Potions, and could easily have taught either subject. Jamie suspects he prefers Divination so that he can take the tower room: secluded and difficult to reach and distinctly sinister.

“You know he could wash the teacups himself in less than ten seconds, the bastard,” says Jamie furiously, walking down the winding stairs from Mourinho’s tower after class. “He just likes making students do it out of some twisted evil desire to cause as much pain and suffering as he possibly can.”

“Yeah, obviously,” Gary says, keeping pace with Jamie, “but there’s no sense in talking back to him. He’d just make us do something worse.”

Jamie makes a disgruntled noise but doesn’t contest the point.


When he clambers back up through the trapdoor into Mourinho’s classroom that evening, Mourinho is nowhere in sight. Gary, however, is.

“Is he-?”

Gary shrugs. “I only got here a minute ago. Haven’t seen him.”

Jamie glances about the classroom. He isn’t a nervous person generally, but with Mourinho it helped to be...cautious. “Probably shouldn’t wait on it. He might not even show up.”

There’s a small porcelain sink tucked away behind a black curtain in one of the myriad alcoves of the tower room. Mourinho’s classroom seems to be comprised entirely of alcoves, the centre of the room sunken in steppes like a shallow amphitheatre, each row lined with thin desks and the rest of the room swathed in heavy, dark cloth. One of the curtains farther from the trapdoor at the top of the amphitheatre seems to be swaying slightly with an unfelt breeze. Jamie tries not to look at it too much.

 Gary twists one of the taps on the sink and soaks two greyish rags under the stream of water. He hands one to Jamie.

“Oh,” says Jamie, startled out of his wary appraisal of Mourinho’s lair, which seems far more unsettling now that it’s not filled with students, “thanks.” He looks at the wobbly towers of tea-stained cups stacked up on the little shelf above the sink and sighs. “Better get at it, then.”

Mourinho is always barking at students for not letting their tea steep for long enough, but by the third cup Jamie has no idea why: the dark rings around the china are proving a misery to scrub off.

Gary and Jamie had been in many a detention together over their five years at Hogwarts, mostly punishments for fighting outside of class or disagreements within class that had escalated enough to have consequences. After a while they had developed a system: do the task that had been assigned them as quickly as possible, and speak only if necessary. It was better that way, rather than just getting into another fight in detention, and meriting another punishment.

But this is the first time that they’ve been in detention without having been on opposite sides of a conflict. It’s strange and Jamie isn’t entirely sure if their usual routine of avoiding eye contact and staying silent is really appropriate. After all, Gary had established more or less friendly relations by handing him the dishcloth instead of throwing it at his head. It’s also the first time they’ve had detention since they’d started talking regularly, in training and in class. Jamie realises only just then that it’s been a decent couple of months. Things seem suddenly very different.

He’s trying to think of something to say, when the trapdoor snaps suddenly open and Jamie nearly drops the cup he’s working on in alarm.

He twists about to see if Mourinho has come to provide added torment to their detention, but it isn’t Mourinho rising up through the trapdoor like a bad omen. Jamie nearly drops his cup again.

Professor Guardiola glances around the classroom with a distinct look of distaste. He clicks his tongue in annoyance. “Mourinho isn’t here.”

It isn’t a question, and Guardiola hasn’t even seemed to really take note of their presence. Gary glances at Jamie quickly and answers anyway. “No sir. We haven’t seen him.”

Another irritated click. “If he does come back, tell him I was- or, no. That won’t be necessary.” And with a cursory nod, Guardiola vanishes back down the trapdoor.

The dull thunk of the door closing rings slightly in the room, the sound mostly swallowed up by the heavy drapery. The moving curtain across from the door rustles smugly.

“What did he want, d’you think?”

“Maybe he’s looking for Mourinho to duel him,” says Jamie hopefully. “Everyone knows they don’t like each other. It’s bound to kick off some day.”

“I actually think Mourinho would have the upper hand, there,” says Gary thoughtfully, rubbing more soap into his rag.

Jamie blinks at him, aghast. “What?! How could you have such a terrible opinion- listen-”

A lively debate follows on the duelling merits of various professors, until all the cups are cleaned and restacked neatly on the shelf, quite to the surprise of the two of them. A job well done, and not even a passing mention of Quidditch.

The work hadn’t taken too long with the two of them scrubbing away, and when they reach the Great Hall, dinner is in full swing but not yet over. At the far end of the table, David Beckham waves at Gary to come over. Jamie is heading towards the near end and his own little cluster of friends when he hears Gary’s voice.


Jamie turns back, a question on his face.

“I’ll, um, see you at Quidditch practice. Yeah?”

The question turns to surprise. “Um, yeah. See you at Quidditch.”

They don’t actually shake hands, because some things aren’t fit for the public eye. But the sentiment is there, and Jamie goes to sit with his friends feeling strangely proud.




The days get colder and the evenings come quicker. Redders pushes Quidditch training half an hour forwards in a losing attempt to get back some of their daylight, but the inexorable turn of the seasons marches on, and by early December Jamie finds himself clinging to his broom with icy fingers, trying to concentrate in the grey half-light on the weaving pattern Redders wants them to fly, and trying even harder not to think about a warm dinner and his bed.

When Redders finally releases the frozen team from his clutches, they all race to the dressing room with eagerness.

“I’m half-dead,” Jamie moans. “I need new gloves. These ones haven’t been doing anything. Hi, Gary, want to see if we can get some hot cocoa from the kitchens before dinner? If I don’t thaw soon I may lose my fingers.”

Gary blinks at him confusedly. “Cocoa?”

“Hot, chocolatey, delicious?”

“No, I mean, yeah. Yeah, I do.”

“Good! Let’s shift before Redders thinks of something else he needs to tell us.”

Gary follows him somewhat bemusedly to the kichens, where the House Elves have anticipated the flurry of students with cold noses and shivery fingers and have prepared what seems to be a massive copper boiler already full of hot cocoa. The boiler is perched on a curly-legged table just inside the kitchen, and Gary and Jamie are given mugs and squeaked instructions to take as much as they like.

The kitchens are warm and full of the smells of dinner, and the calls of the House Elves as they dash about preparing the meal are oddly comforting. They pass back and forth a bit of idle complaining about training in the cold, while the feeling slowly returns to their fingers and toes but mostly they sit in strange comfort, and sip the cocoa in good company.


There’s just enough time before dinner to dash upstairs to the dormitory and change out of their kits.

“C’mon, Jamie, we’ll be late.”

“We won’t be late, gimme a sec. I’ve only got one shoe- hang on,” Jamie stops and looks at Gary suspiciously. “Since when do you call me Jamie?

Gary actually blushes. A real life blush, red spilling over his cheeks and blotching his nose and ears. “It’s your name, isn’t it?” he says defensively. “What, you prefer I call you James?”

“No, I’m just more used to you calling me by my last name. Or whatever insult you can come up with.”

“You used my first name in training earlier,” says Gary, changing tack and going on the offensive, although Jamie isn’t entirely sure what they’re arguing about. Or if they’re even really arguing at all, although they must be, based on the precedent set by roughly ninety-five percent of their previous interactions.

“Yes, well,” Jamie says, taken aback, “we’re in the same house. We’re well-acquainted.” He tries not to let on that not only does he have no excuse for using Gary’s name earlier, but that it had slipped out so easily he hadn’t even noticed what he’d said until thinking back just now.

“Have you got your shoe on yet?” says Gary, impatient but still red-faced. “If we don’t get down quick Giggsy will have eaten all the food on my end of the table.”

Jamie is still turning it over in his head all throughout dinner. He keeps glancing down towards Gary, and is a bit disappointed when he never manages to catch his eye.

After the meal, when the whirlpool of students begins draining out of the hall towards bed, he hangs back until Gary passes, chattering with Beckham.


Gary turns, defensively. “What now, Carragher?

Jamie grins. He’s rather pleased with himself. “Nothing.”

“Shut up, Jamie.”

Oh, he’s definitely pleased with himself now. “Sure thing, Gary.”




Their burgeoning friendship gets a few laughs amongst the Gryffindor Quidditch team but isn’t much a topic. No one wants to go back to Jamie and Gary coming close to duelling each other in training. But that doesn’t mean it goes entirely unremarked upon outside the pitch.

Jamie is spending his free period wandering the castle, shooting glum looks at the rain lashing the windows which is preventing him from skidding about outside, when he turns a corner and sees a student in Hufflepuff robes. He squints. “Phil?”

Phil turns around, eyes widening in alarm when he sees who had called, as though he expects Jamie to come at him swinging. Which, Jamie thinks only somewhat ruefully, was perhaps not the most irrational of reactions.

“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in Divination?”

“What? Er, yeah. I mean- I sorta got a bit turned around.” Phil scratches his neck, awkwardly. “I can never find the right tower.”

“It’s on the opposite end of the corridor. Go up the smaller staircase. Aren’t you a third year? You should know this stuff. Now run or Mourinho will hex you.”

“Mourinho doesn’t hex students.”

“Do you really want to find out?”

Phil shudders. “Ugh, no.” He frowns. “Why do you even know my class schedule, anyway?”

A good question. Why does he know Phil’s schedule? Jamie blinks. “Oh, Gary mentioned it.” He must have done. Jamie can’t think of any other conceivable reason that he would know that Phil has Divination while Jamie and Gary have their free period.

Phil gives him a look that suggests at once amusement and deep, deep suspicion. “Gary mentioned it.”

“He is your brother.”

“He’s Gary Neville.


“You’re Jamie Carragher. You’re not supposed to be discussing my class schedule. You’re supposed to be, I dunno, turning each others’ pumpkin juice into pineapple juice.”

“Why pineapple?”

“’Cos Gary’s allergic,” says Phil, promptly and seemingly without any compunction about betraying such a weakness to a mortal enemy.

“Well, just ‘cos you can’t get over your prejudice, Philip, doesn’t mean that Gary and I aren’t making strides for peace and harmony in this world,” says Jamie haughtily. “Now run along.”

Phil doesn’t even bother with a retort; he just laughs in a sort of combination snort and giggle, and dashes off down the corridor. Which, to be entirely honest, does really sum up all that could possibly be said to the notion of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher striding for peace and harmony.


It’s not just Phil, either. Stevie brings it up the next evening in the Hufflepuff Common Room. (Jamie has been a fixture in the Hufflepuff Common Room for so long that some of the younger students have to be told that he isn’t actually in the house. Likewise for Stevie in the Gryffindor tower.) Jamie is sprawled across a squashy russet-coloured armchair in a corner, complaining about Redders’ new training routine while Stevie labours over transforming his scribbled Potions notes into a satisfactory essay. The holidays are racing down on them all faster than anyone can write, and all four Common Rooms are full of students groaning over the work due before the break.

Jamie mentions something in passing about Gary trying to improve his left-handed swing, and Stevie looks up from his parchment, head cocked to the side. “Gary Neville again, Carra. You two have hated each other for the past five years. Your families have hated each other for the past five hundred. Why’s he suddenly your new best mate?”

“Only about two hundred and fifty, Stevie. Not five hundred. The Quaffle was Jellied on third November, 1762. We’ve got that embroidered on a tea towel at home. With a nice design of a manticore being crushed by rocks.”


Jamie shrugs, trying for nonchalance. “I dunno. We have a good understanding on the pitch. And, y’know, he’s not that bad.”

Stevie fixes him with a look of boundless scepticism. “Really? You’re gonna try that with me?”

“Yes,” says Jamie firmly, and ends the conversation. To be honest, he can’t even say himself why the change of heart. Quidditch certainly has something to do with it, but even Quidditch couldn’t heal half a decade of active hatred quite so quickly. Especially not half a decade built on such a sour foundation as the Carragher-Neville feud. The only logical answer is that either he or Gary have undergone some sort of drastic change, and Jamie thinks he would have noticed his own personality switch-over. So it stands to reason that Gary has massively improved himself from being a sanctimonious, scrappy, Quaffle-jellying git to being someone that Jamie can stand to be around for more than ten minutes. It must be.

“Still sounds a bit Romeo and Juliet if you ask me,” Stevie mutters.

Jamie looks at him blankly. “What’s this, then?”

“Muggle stuff, nevermind.”

“Sounds suspicious.”

“Yeah, that’s one word for it.”

“That reminds me,” Jamie says, seeing an opportunity to veer the subject away from Gary, “are your mum and dad still coming over for Christmas dinner? One of our cousins has got a new Muggle girlfriend, and she thinks it’d be easier for her if your lot are there. Since they’re so used to us all.”

“’Course they’re coming. Remember my mum last year? With your aunt and the crackers? She’d walk through a hurricane to get to your place, don’t worry.”

“We never did that glitter out of the lampshade,” says Jamie fondly.

“Or the toad out of the chimney.”

“Right, I’d almost forgotten about that. How about you tell your dad to bring his fishing net this year.”




“Jamie, love! There’s an owl for you!”

“From who?

“I don’t know! There’s some newspaper- just come down here, will you?

Jamie sets aside the book about Spanish Quidditch tactics he’d gotten for Christmas and trudges down the stairs. It’s a tiring time, with the house full of relatives and cousins big and small shouting at each other and racing about the place.

There’s an unfamiliar tawny owl perched regally on the sill outside the kitchen window. It gives Jamie a disdainful look but obligingly drops the rolled up paper clamped in its beak when Jamie holds out his hand.

A copy of Quidditch Quarterly unfurls itself to him. There’s a small note stuck to the front with a bit of Spello-tape.

Finished with this one. Send me the Clash back with Sir Alex?

It’s unsigned and Jamie snickers. Gary is taking no chances of his owl being outed as a Mancunian deep in Carragher territory.

“I could take you hostage, you know,” Jamie says conversationally.

Sir Alex gives him a flat, avian stare that quite clearly says I’d like to see you just give it a try, son.

“Luckily for you we’ve got a truce on Quidditch-related matters. Hang on while I go get the paper for Gary?”

Sir Alex hoots matter of factly.

“Won’t take a minute.”

“Jamie!” yells his mum, “close that window! You’re letting the cold air in!”

“Just a second mum!” Jamie shouts back, running up to his room. The dog-eared copy of the latest Continental Clash is on his bedside table. He hesitates, and then snatches up a scrap of parchment and a bent quill from the little desk crammed at the foot of the bed.

Cheers! he writes, Happy Christmas.

Sir Alex is still perched patiently by the window. Jamie hands the rolled up paper over to the curved talons, and with a sharp swivel of the owl’s head it takes off in flight, gliding silent against the falling snow.