Cody groaned inwardly again as she was thrown harshly against Gavin Fenwicke’s side. He looked at her and grinned slightly, and Cody gave him a quick sarcastic smile before straightening back up. She turned her attention back to her slightly temperamental Captain who was sitting across from them. Damn him, she thought bitterly, marvelling at how he managed to remain perfectly stoic and upright despite how much the Knight bus tossed them around. She felt like a bead in one of those bright plastic baby shakers or something.
Even though it was only an exhibition match, and against the Chudley Cannons, no more, Cody was rather excited, but more nervous than anything else. This was her first match in the pro leagues – and there was bound to be a lot of press present, in addition to the hardcore fans.
The team had gathered bright and early and took a Port Key to get as close to Chudley limits as allowed by the safety wards before flagging down the Knight Bus. Cody let the air whoosh out through her slightly dry and cracked lips slowly. At least the team administration had taken their gear to the Stadium and hotel for them. She was feeling quite nauseous, to be honest.
At the noise of Cody’s deep sigh, Oliver looked up at her sharply, despite having put on an act of indifferent contemplation only seconds before. “What’s up?” he asked.
Cody looked back at him, a little bit annoyed. For the past week he had been distant, barely civil when talking to her—really, he criticized everything she did—or didn’t—do. “Nothing,” she said at last.
Fenwicke looked at her a little curiously, but didn’t push the matter. Luckily, he had a little more tact than the other bouncy Beater. He gave her another lopsided grin. “Don’t worry about it, Cody-bee, I’m sure you’ll do great.”
Both Oliver and Cody snapped their attention to Fenwicke at the nickname he had just employed. Cody looked at him questioningly, and Fenwicke let out a hearty laugh, gently poking her nose. “Cody-bee,” he repeated. “It’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”
Cody laughed. “Fly like a bee?”
The Knight bus jolted to a sudden halt again and Cody shot off the hard plastic purple seat, Fenwicke reaching out a hand and grabbing her just before she collided with Oliver. He pulled her up into a standing position. “Come on, Cody-bee, you ready?”
Cody nodded meekly, and the team members of Puddlemere United trooped single file off the magical purple triple-decker bus. She looked around inquisitively; they had been deposited by a hidden door on the side of the Chudley Stadium.
Hipshook pushed his way through to the front of the group and approached the large ornamental rock. He bent down and tapped it three times in quick succession, and then it rolled to the side to reveal an entrance. A match official dressed in bright orange robes with two intertwining C’s and a speeding canon ball on his chest appeared from the entrance and nodded at them.
“Welcome to Chudley,” he boomed warmly, “now if you’ll follow me...” He turned and led the way down the stairs, and the team followed him through an underground passage way to reach the visiting team lounge and change rooms.
“There’s about an hour until noon; the match starts at promptly one o’clock this afternoon,” he informed them.
Hipshook nodded. “Alright, that’s fine, thank you,” he said with a tone of finality, indicating that he should leave them alone now.
He nodded, taking the hint. “If there’s anything you need...” He snapped them a crisp wave and exited the room.
Oliver strode over and shut the door of the lounge firmly. A sufficient buffet was located on long tables covered by orange tablecloths by the side wall. Oliver gestured at it, swallowing then clearing his throat. “Help yourselves,” he said. “Our uniforms and brooms have already been brought to the change rooms; I’ll give a brief final rundown of our strategy after you guys have had a bite to eat—I can see Mockridge getting impatient over there.”
Mockridge flashed him a toothy grin, and then ran a hand through his rich chestnut hair, spiking it back up. “Alright – I’m starved!”
Georgia shook her head at him disapprovingly. “How you can manage to eat like a Hippogriff at a time like this is well beyond me. Take care you don’t get any cramps, yeah?”
Mockridge, who had already begun shovelling food onto his plate, turned and grinned at her. “Yes, I know, mother.”
Georgia smacked him over the head and grabbed Cody’s arm dragging her over to the table.
Cody regarded the food uneasily. She turned to the older Chaser and whispered, “I—I’m actually kind of nervous...”
Georgia spared her a glance, then seeing that Cody actually looked a little green around the edges, she reached down and plucked a sunshine yellow banana and handed it over. “Here—potassium will give you more energy,” she advised.
“Thanks,” Cody said gratefully, taking it and then plopping down on the velveteen couch—also orange with a cannon ball silhouette print. Slowly she peeled it open and bit into the soft fruit, savouring the taste and smell as it assaulted her senses gently.
Cody was jostled slightly as Demelza settled down onto the couch beside her with a bunch of grapes. She plucked one translucent green grape off and turned it around in her fingers for a while, eyes downcast.
“Hey,” Cody said, drawing her attention. Demelza looked up at her, wide-eyed.
“How are you holding up?” she asked.
Demelza turned back to the grape, and whispered, “a bit nervous. Jittery, like butterflies in the bottom of my stomach.” She turned back up. “It’s a lot more nerve-wracking than even the Quidditch Cup Final,” she said. “I mean, it’s been my dream for so long, to be a professional Quidditch player, and I guess I’m practically there, but it just feels so much more real now—today—because it’s like the first match. Even if it’s only an exhibition match, you know?”
Cody nodded. “I know exactly what you mean—I’m a little nervous myself. But I guess we just have to know that we have to do our best, and let the cards fall where they may. Worrying about it too much won’t make much of a difference.”
Demelza nodded. “I suppose... still feeling a bit nauseous though.” She popped the grape into her mouth.
Feeling a magnetic force, Cody looked up to see Oliver looking at her with a curious expression on her face. It looked... almost frustrated. Which was really weird. Cody looked away quickly, and instantly regretted it, wishing that she had been brave enough to stare him down, ask him what his problem was.
Her attention was diverted again however, when Demelza suddenly shot up and ran towards the lavatories.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Mockridge as she nearly crashed into him in her haste.
Cody got up and made to follow, but Georgia held up a hand. “It’s okay, I’ll go,” the older woman said, putting down her plate.
Cody nodded numbly and sat back down on the sofa, rubbing her temples. The couch jostled again and this time when she opened her eyes she realized that she had been joined by none other than Oliver Wood.
She simply stared at him in silence.
“Hey...” he started.
“What’s up with you?” Cody cut in.
He looked taken aback. “Pardon?”
Cody looked at him pointedly, and he glanced away sheepishly, turning his head to face forward. “I—that—about last—” Cody simply continued to look at him, slightly annoyed. She had thought they had started bonding, a friendship of sorts, perhaps, after the batter mishap in her kitchen. But quite obviously, he didn’t feel the same.
“Look,” Oliver said thickly at last, “you don’t understand—”
“What don’t I understand? Only, I’m not quite sure I know either,” Cody said shortly, feeling a bit of her destructive stubborn side taking over.
Oliver stood up suddenly. “You have no idea,” he said stoutly and then turned away to address the team, charging them to gather round.
Cody numbly tuned out the rest of the Oliver’s spiel with last minute instructions before sending them off to change. She was functioning subconsciously now—her mind was entirely elsewhere, wondering exactly what she had no idea about. Her mind continued to wander as she followed Georgia and Demelza—who now felt much better after throwing up the contents of her breakfast—into the ladies’ change room.
The room was fairly spacious with wooden benches and tiled walls—also a vibrant orange shade. “Oh well,” sighed Cody quietly; at least if her mind was elsewhere, she wouldn’t have to be nervous before the match. The one downside was that she needed to hurry up and get her mind back in the game before the match started.
All of a sudden Georgia stepped up behind her and grabbed her wrists together with one strong hand and clapped the other over her eyes. “Cody!” she shouted, causing the aforementioned to jump into the air, startled. “Come on, focus.”
Once she was released, Cody nodded. “Focus,” she repeated. “Right, focus. Okay, I’m focused.”
Georgia nodded in satisfaction and Cody continued to pull on her Quidditch uniform. The material felt amazing, optimized air flow and breathability, super light, sweat absorbent. Her robes were navy blue with two golden bulrushes crossed on her chest and Wronski stencilled on the back in official Puddlemere font. She then pulled on her pads, making sure everything was secured.
“Ready?” Demelza asked from the door, where the two were waiting.
“As I’ll ever be.”
And the three ladies stepped out into the sun to join the other half of their team in marching proudly towards the field, Firebolts tucked under each of their arms.
Once they got the door leading to the Quidditch field, a volunteer there instructed them to mount their brooms and wait for his signal, then fly out.
“And—here comes Puddlemere United!” shouted the announcer excitedly, and, led by Oliver Wood, the entire team flew out in quick succession, flying a display lap merely for aesthetic purposes.
They were greeted with loud cheers from blue and yellow clad supporters, and a group of more outspoken fans burst into song, with “Beat back those Bludgers, boys, and chuck that Quaffle here!”
“Alright!” exclaimed the announcer over the roar of the appreciative crowd. “And here is your home team—the Chudley Cannons!” Seven orange and black clad players zoomed impressively into the air of the field, and took their lap as the announcer continued, “I present: Hawkins—Vance—Toothill—Jenkins—Gorgovitch—Sawbridge—and...Gudgeon!”
The two teams landed gracefully on the fresh grass pitch, facing each other fiercely.
“The referee—Mr. Widdershins!”
“Dear Merlin,” Cody thought to herself, now thoroughly gutted by the prospect of actually playing Quidditch in front of...in front of so many people. Hardcore Quidditch fans too, no less. She clutched her broom tighter.
The referee walked forward, and charged Wood and Toothill to shake hands. “Ready. “ He released the Golden Snitch and everyone’s eyes followed it momentarily before it zipped out of sight.
“Set.” The two Bludgers were released.
“Takeoff!” and the Quaffle was tossed up.
And thirteen players shot back up into the air, each rushing to play their roles. Cody felt the wind whoosh past her from the force of all their brooms, steeled herself, and tried to calm her beating heart, and then shot up after them. Her palms felt exceptionally sweaty and her arms were shaking, having a little trouble gripping the broom tightly. Hence, the broom shook along with her and she flew higher into the air, hoping that others wouldn’t notice.
It was so clear and beautiful up here, gentle white clouds grazing overhead, the action of the Quidditch match below her. She tuned out the announcer for a while, and started to search for the Snitch. The opposing Seeker, Gudgeon, had followed her up. He smirked at her.
What a foul man, she concluded, and scowled at him before diving a little lower. She scanned the skies, looking for the Snitch but simultaneously keeping an eye on Gudgeon. After all, this was only an exhibition match so she had better let the others have their fun first.
Demelza Robins caught the Quaffle deftly from Georgia and shot off towards the goal posts. When Vance pelted a Bludger at her, she faked right and then passed the Quaffle to Roger on her left, who made a beautiful goal.
“Twenty—nothing for Puddlemere!”
Cody cheered along with her team, until Toothill sent a nasty Bludger at Georgia, who was forced to drop the Quaffle. Sawbridge picked it up eagerly and shot off towards Wood, who made a spectacular save. She breathed a sigh of relief, until a Bludger came charging at her head.
Cody swung around, barely dodging it. She mentally berated herself for getting caught up in watching and flew a little higher again to continue to search for the Snitch.
Suddenly Gudgeon came out of nowhere and streaked past her; Cody rushed to catch up until they were flying side by side. He reached out and shoved her away, then grabbed her robes and yanked her back, forcing them towards the pitch at a phenomenal speed. Luckily, Fenwicke noticed and shot a well-aimed Bludger at Gudgeon, forcing him to release Cody.
Giving the other Seeker with a look of disgust, Cody shot back up, thoroughly disappointed with herself for having fallen for the ploy. She tuned back in to hear the announcer say, “Forty—ten for Puddlemere!”
She looked round in shock; had they been able to score on Wood? And this early in the game too? Maybe they shouldn’t underestimate the Chudley Cannons this year—they seemed to have put together a decent team.
As the minutes passed, however, Puddlemere managed to pull ahead again, thanks to a combination of Wood’s magnificent Keeping skills, the three Chasers’ amazing synchronization, and Fenwicke and Mockridge’s well-placed hits. Cody, however, other than a few impressive dives and flying tricks when they scored, had yet to make a huge impact on the match.
That darn Snitch, where was it hiding? It shouldn’t have been that hard to find either, especially since it was a gorgeous day outside, shining sun with fluffy white clouds passing lazily overhead.
Another ten minutes and Puddlemere was leading 120—40. Quite remarkable, considering that the Puddlemere team had been newly reformed. Where was the damn Snitch? Cody wondered in frustration. She kept having to fly higher and then lower due to the fact that Gudgeon’s strategy, apparently, was to tail her.
Sawbridge was charging full tilt towards Wood, the Quaffle tucked snugly under one arm. What she saw caused Cody’s blood to run cold—not the sight of Wood, no, that would be absurd—but what was immediately above him. The Snitch was fluttering there.
Without casting a single glance backward at Gudgeon, Cody roared off towards the goal posts without a second thought. Sensing her approach, Oliver looked up in alarm, and then back at Sawbridge, who was also charging at him.
Cody got there a millisecond first, the tail end of her broom colliding with Oliver’s shoulder, causing Sawbridge’s attempt to shoot through the goal hoops in a graceful arc. Cody pumped her fist in the air triumphantly, and Oliver glared up at her, ready to give her a piece of his mind, as well as a complaint about his aching shoulder, when Cody opened her palm and revealed the Golden Snitch, clasped between her thumb and index finger.
The cheering grew deafening.
At about quarter of five, Puddlemere United stood on the grass outside the Stadium by the secret entrance. They had been detained by autographs and the press for a while, but now they were finally congregated together, and Hipshook looked like he was about to burst, from pride, from excitement, and sheer joy.
He regarded them all mischievously. “Brilliant job today, everyone,” he congratulated them profusely for a good five minutes, and then finally got to the crux of the matter. “However. I feel we can still become a yet stronger team through a series of team building activities.”
Mockridge groaned loudly, and Georgia swatted his shoulder playfully.
Hipshook turned to look Oliver in the eye. “Wood.”
“A while ago, you claimed that you would be able to last through a whole day without magic, no problem.”
“Yes...” he said slowly, not too sure what Hipshook was getting at.
Hipshook however, simply handed out pieces of parchment with one world scrawled messily across it. He held out a bag. “Put all your wands in here,” he said.
After much grumbling and reluctant cursing, the team did as he wanted. Hipshook indicated the pieces of parchment. “That’s the name of the hotel we’ll be spending the night at. You’re all responsible for finding your own way there—sans magic. And don’t bother asking any Muggles—it’s a magic hotel.”
“What?!” exclaimed Georgia in indignation.
“I highly suggest that you pick up dinner along the way; and yes, it is a bit of a challenge. Trust me—you do not want to be the last group there.”
Here Hipshook grinned evilly again. “Yes, the groups—Beaters, Mockridge and Fenwicke, will be together. The Chasers: Georgia, Demelza, and Roger.” His grin got even wider, if that was at all possible. “And...” he paused again for dramatic effect. “Last but not least, I think you two could use some serious bonding time—Wood and Wronski.”
The two stared at each other in utter horror.
“Good luck!” Hipshook cried gleefully.
Note: Good riddance, the sixth chapter has finally been completed--and it's a far cry longer than any of the previous chapters, so hopefully you guys enjoyed it.
Huge shout-out to everyone who's been so supportive of the story so far, it's amazing getting all the feedback. And I was really happy that this story gained back all the reviews it lost from the server crash, and then some. It's really motivating, thank you!
On that note, I have responded to all the revews so far, and I daresay a number of them have hints as to possible events for future chapters. ;)