Thursday morning. The morning of the big scrimmage, the one in which Oliver was forced to play Seeker. He had practiced intensely, even by his own standards. He practiced the whole day relentlessly on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then went home to practice with the Snitches Cedric had lent him until it was too dark to see. But he wasn’t ready. He’d spent all his waking hours practicing for two days straight, and he felt as though he had made no progress. He was starting to think Seekers could not be made. They were born with the eye or not, and that was it.
Cedric, of course, disagreed. Optimistic nearly to a fault, Cedric was encouraging and assured Oliver that he had seen some improvement. Still, the match loomed over Oliver like a recurring nightmare; every time he woke up, it was still there. He went to the stadium feeling nauseous with nerves. He hadn’t been nervous for a scrimmage since his first year at the program. He did not want to lose. It was not the end of the world, he knew rationally, but that didn’t stop his worrying.
The team filed onto the scheduled pitch. The other team joined them shortly and the group began stretching. Cedric loitered near Oliver.
“You all right?” he asked. “You look a little pale.”
“Nervous,” Oliver replied shortly, checking the tail of his broomstick for last minute adjustments.
“Oliver Wood nervous? Never thought I’d see the day,” Cedric joked.
“Not funny,” Oliver said, but managed a small, forced grin.
“Don’t worry about it, Oliver. Nothing’s riding on this game. Just having a bit of fun. Then you can go back your neurotic, obsessive self,” Cedric said, patting Oliver on the shoulder.
Oliver frowned. “Thanks for the pep talk, coach.”
“Anytime,” Cedric replied warmly.
It was about time to get started, so the team came in for a final talk, and then the players went up in the air. Oliver floated above the others, his stomach twisted. He’d avoided breakfast all together, too aware of his last experience as a Seeker, but that didn’t stop the anxious feeling that he was about to throw up.
The game began, and Oliver kept out of the way, circling around the pitch slowly with his eyes peeled. He always felt a bit stupid doing this, because he was used to playing a more active role in the game, but there wasn’t much else to do. He wasn’t about to tail the other Seeker, which was one of his worst pet peeves. So he flew aimlessly, one eye on the game and one eye looking for the Snitch. Time ticked by, the match progressing nicely. The teams were fairly even in points, even though Véronique was playing Keeper. The whole team had made some progress, and they were finally playing more as a unit than separate players. Oliver was so caught up in watching that he momentarily forgot to look for the Snitch. Suddenly, he saw it. The glittering wings were halfway across the Pitch. Oliver looked around for the opposing Seeker, who was circling below the action. Oliver was closer. He shot after the hint of the Snitch, trying to lock his eyes, trying to let instinct take over. But he was too in his head; he zigged when the Snitch zagged. The opposing Seeker, a girl in Diggory’s year from another school, was soon on the trail as well, and she was a far better Seeker than him. They were neck and neck, Oliver leaning hard on his broom, begging for speed, but speed was not his downfall; after a series of twists and feigning, Oliver simply grew dizzy, and struggled to focus. His eyes could hardly follow the ball. The opposing Seeker took advantage and sharply cut him off, severing his direct view of the ball, and quickly captured it before he could find it again.
The whistle blew and Oliver sighed deeply, landing before any of the others. He was rattled with disappointment and defeat. He’d lost the whole game for his team. This was why he hated playing Seeker. It wasn’t his strong suit, and when his weaknesses brought down the whole team, he felt more than just responsible for the loss. He felt bad for not practicing enough (even though he knew he had), he felt bad for not being good enough. If he had better focus, it wouldn’t have been a problem. It wasn’t a team problem; it was his problem. He swallowed back the sour taste of loss.
The other team was all high fives, and even Oliver’s own team seemed to be in a good mood, excited that some of the plays Diggory had suggested had worked for them. Cedric, always the positive one, was complimenting each player in turn. When he got to Oliver, he got especially excited.
“Great hustle, Oliver!” he said brightly. “What an improvement! Your best effort so far!”
Oliver frowned. It didn’t feel like his best effort. Cedric seemed to sense this, his smile fading slightly. Before he could say anything, however, Chris was calling for the team to move on, back to the usual pitch for a quick break before captain selection.
Lost in a haze of his thoughts, Oliver didn’t bother to volunteer as captain. He was so preoccupied that he didn’t even blink, let alone argue, when he was assigned Beater instead of Keeper. For the afternoon, he silently hit the practice bludger back and forth with Cedric, attempting to knock each other off their brooms, doing as he was told and not much else. He’d dug himself into a mental rut, and he couldn’t seem to climb back out.
Practice ended early that day and Oliver mechanically packed up his things in the locker room. As usual, he and Cedric were the last two out, and they headed toward the Apparating area. Diggory was blabbing on about the great practice they’d had, how great it was that they were both Beaters, and how they were going to knock the other team off their broomsticks during the next scrimmage.
“Hey, what’s up with you?” Cedric asked after Oliver had given another unenthusiastic reply. “You’re not still worrying about this morning’s match, are you?”
Oliver shrugged, sighing. “I just wish it had gone another way.”
“Somebody has to lose, though. That’s the nature of the beast.”
“I know, but I wish I hadn’t been playing Seeker. It always makes me uncomfortable,” Oliver insisted. “Hold still.” They had reached the Apparation area of the stadium, and Oliver took Cedric’s elbow in order to Apparate him home. He had to concentrate for a few seconds, and then they were off with a pop, appearing in the woods near the Diggorys’ house.
“Even so, you played really well. It doesn’t mean anything that you didn’t catch the Snitch first,” Cedric said.
“I saw it first, though. That’s the frustrating part. I was after it before the other Seeker had a clue,” Oliver complained.
“And it was a fluke that she caught it; it could have happened to anyone.”
“I got dizzy.”
“All Seekers get dizzy sometimes,” Cedric insisted kindly. “We all lose when we should have won. It was only a practice scrimmage, Oliver. You can’t hold onto that; you’ll go crazy.”
Oliver shook his head. “I hate being the one responsible for losing. Let’s face it, when you play Keeper or Chaser, nine times out of ten, your move isn’t the deciding factor in the game. Only the Seeker can win the game, the Keeper’s job is to let in fewer than one hundred fifty points, right? So when I play Keeper, I can let it go. I’m not happy, but I move on and try to do better in the next match. But when you’re a Seeker, every mistake can lose you the game, and I get stuck thinking about it, and…” He paused, hands in the air. “I just get so frustrated. It’s not just a small mistake, it’s the match.”
Cedric didn’t say anything, allowing Oliver to vent.
“I practiced forever. After Monday, I went home and decided I was really going to work at it. I worked solidly all day at practice, and then I came home and used your practice Snitches until I could hardly see. All day Tuesday, and again on Wednesday. Nothing else for two days straight! I hardly stopped to eat or breathe. I just looked for Snitches all day for two days. And for nothing. It didn’t mean anything.” Oliver had gone from angry and confused to quiet, defeated.
“That’s hardly true,” Cedric replied gently. “Look at all the progress you made! You were so close, and you hardly ever play Seeker. It was amazing that you got as close as you did. And it was partially my fault; I tried to hit her with a bludger, but I missed by a long shot.”
“You’re still learning,” Oliver replied.
“So are you,” Cedric insisted. “Why is it okay to use that excuse for me, but not you?”
Oliver squirmed under Cedric’s penetrating gaze. He didn’t quite meet the Hufflepuff’s eyes.
“You did great,” Cedric went on, a hand on Oliver’s arm. “Really.”
Oliver couldn’t bring himself to argue or disagree. He sighed deeply. “Whatever you say, Captain.” He swallowed, suddenly uncomfortable.
“I’m not captain anymore,” Cedric reminded him, finally stepping away. “I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow. You can keep teaching me how to handle the bludger and we’ll totally wreck our opponents next time.”
“Sounds good,” Oliver agreed.
“It’ll be great. Don’t lose sleep over this silly scrimmage, okay?” Cedric teased.
“No,” Oliver replied dumbly. His stomach was turning and he didn’t know why.
Cedric, ever observant and a master of sensing the tone, furrowed his brow slightly before saying a final goodbye and turning to head back home. Oliver watched for a moment, the turn in his gut slowing with each step Cedric took. Finally, he felt calm enough to Apparate again. He appeared in his bedroom, dropping his bag to the floor and collapsing on the bed. His heartbeat felt irregular. It seemed to spread through his blood, reaching all over his body; he felt a little off kilter in his limbs.
Something was changing. Maybe it was him. Maybe it was his game or attitudes. Maybe it was the acceptance of defeat.
Maybe it had something to do with Cedric Diggory.
At this point, the summer program was about half way finished, the tournament to mark the end of summer was fast approaching. The team began to discuss captain selection and which positions they wanted to play for various reasons. Oliver claimed the role of Keeper very quickly, which caused no surprise or argument from the others. Cedric and Jamie were in conflict, as they were both Seekers on their regular teams, but eventually it was settled that Cedric would continue playing Beater, since he was progressing so nicely, and Jamie would play Seeker. Véronique and Giselle were both set on being Chasers, but they hadn’t been allowed to practice the same position since the first scrimmage. After multiple discussions and promises to behave, all was finalized. All except captainship, anyway, which was left for a later date when they would do a formal vote. Oliver wasn’t too worried; he always managed to be captain, since he was a good strategist and a hard worker. The leader always had the final say, and Oliver knew Chris was on his side. It wasn’t worth losing sleep over.
Neither was the lost match, Oliver quickly discovered. He didn’t sleep well the night after, but his thoughts were surprisingly elsewhere. In fact, his mind was far from Quidditch except for a few scattered thoughts on plays he could teach Cedric to help him become a better Beater. The next few mornings, he woke up abruptly and somewhat jittery. The cause of this was still unknown, but whatever it was, it made Oliver feel weird about going to practice. Maybe it was the nervousness he was suddenly feeling about sharing his plays. He was definitely starting to trust Cedric, and he wanted to try out the plays in the tournament, especially if it would help them win the whole thing. Getting to the finals was important, as there were usually several professional scouts watching. Oliver wanted to get noticed. He had to get noticed. And if trusting Cedric was what it took to get noticed… Well, that would have to be the case. At least he wasn’t a Slytherin.
Cedric came over for practice as usual on Saturday morning. Oliver was apprehensive, almost a little nervous. He decided that his gut feeling at the end of this practice would be his final choice. If he felt comfortable, he would share with Cedric. If he didn’t, he would have to save the plays for another time.
They practiced with the bludgers for the morning, since they were both Beaters for the next scrimmage. Oliver was excited to get back to Keeper, but admittedly, he enjoyed teaching Cedric. Cedric was patient and involved, always willing to try one more time, to ask questions, to put the effort in to get better. It made Oliver smile; Cedric had all the qualities Oliver’s previous teachers had said he’d needed – he needed to slow down, to focus on the task at hand, to perfect it before rushing into the next thing. Oliver had been anxious to run when he could hardly walk, while Cedric was content with planting his feet slowly to the ground. At the same time, they worked well together, since they were both more than willing to put hours into practice, even for the smallest profit.
“I’m done, time for a break,” Cedric said, landing slightly out of breath from knocking the ball around.
Oliver complied without argument, and the boys took a seat on the ground to rest up. Oliver began to do stretches, a habit after practice. It was important to keep limber. “Are you excited about the tournament?” Oliver asked conversationally.
“I guess so,” Cedric replied. “Haven’t mentioned to my dad that I’m playing Beater yet, though.” He frowned slightly.
“Let me guess. He wants you to practice your speciality?” Oliver said, the corners of his mouth turning down as well.
“Yep,” Cedric confirmed. He leaned back on his palms.
“Well, there’s another Seeker on the team. It’s not your fault that the position isn’t available,” Oliver reasoned.
“I know, but that should be beside the point. The fact that I’ve been improving as a Beater is the main thing,” Cedric explained. “I’d rather keep practicing. I can play Seeker some other time.”
“Definitely. Keep the momentum going and everything.” Oliver stopped stretching, looking at his hands in his lap.
“Exactly. But it’s fine; he’ll get over it, especially if we win some matches. Are you excited? You must be.”
Oliver smiled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, you’ll get captain, for sure, then you get to use your plays,” Cedric explained.
“You think I’ll get captain?”
Cedric nodded earnestly.
“I hope I get it. I think it’s a toss up between you and me, though.”
“You’re the best captain on the team,” Cedric insisted.
“You’re the most liked captain on the team,” Oliver countered.
Cedric shook his head. “Even if I got it, my plays aren’t very good. We wouldn’t do as well.”
“Well, I could help you,” Oliver suggested, swallowing. “We could work on plays together.”
Cedric shot him a look of surprise. “I won’t make captain anyway. You won’t have to worry.”
“If I make captain, you’ll see my plays, Cedric. I can’t exactly hide them from you, even if I wanted to,” Oliver replied gently. “Either way, we’ll be working together. We might as well put our heads together.”
“Really?” Cedric asked, clearly perplexed by the sudden change in Oliver’s attitude.
“Well, you won’t see all my plays, definitely not the better ones. But we could maybe work on some together, to make it fair?” Oliver suggested, not looking at Cedric, but rather finding his shoes worth studying.
“We could,” Cedric agreed, although his tone asked under what conditions that meant.
“Everybody says you’re a real stand up guy. They say you’re fair and I’m being paranoid. Maybe it’s true, but… I could trust you, maybe.” Oliver glanced over at Cedric’s expectant face. “Can I trust you, Cedric? That's a pretty stupid question, I guess, because even if you mean no, you’ll still say yes, but…”
“You can trust me,” Cedric said gently. “You really can.”
Oliver stared. His gut told him that everything was fine, and he normally always believed in his gut. But he wasn’t sure this time. He felt weird. “Maybe,” he said quickly, looking back to his shoes. “It would be nice to get to the finals.”
“Oliver, even if you couldn’t trust me, it’s not as if my team could actually pull off any of your plays. Bless them for all their hard work, but they’re just not very good,” Cedric replied. “You don’t have to worry about them. They’re not a threat. They never will be. And I certainly can’t catch the Snitch before Potter.”
Oliver shrugged. “You might. You’re probably his biggest competition.”
Cedric smiled. “What matches have you been watching? If I were any better than Potter, we’d be beating Slytherin. You’re the ones winning matches. How many times do we have to have this conversation?”
Oliver snorted. “Doesn’t mean much without the Cup. I have to make it happen this year. I just have to.” He shook his head, as if not wanting to attach it to his dreams.
Cedric nodded. “I don’t see what’s stopping you this year, unless another teacher tries to kill your Seeker, or Muggleborns don’t start showing up Petrified again…”
“Very funny,” Oliver mumbled.
Cedric grinned, squinting slightly in the sun. “Believe in what you want, champ.”
Oliver didn’t know how to reply, couldn’t think of a single word to match Cedric’s. Cedric was an admirable person, Oliver realized. Yes, he was always optimistic, always positive, and always trying to make those around him happy. And yet, Cedric never lied. He’d never said something Oliver didn’t believe; he’d never said something that, although sometimes unbearably bright in the face of negativity, was wrong, judgmental, or giving false hope. When Oliver saw potential, he jumped on it, pushed it onward, forced it to work hard to bring forward its talent. When Cedric saw potential, he was gentle, tenderly lifting the fallen edges, and encouraging the ones he couldn’t reach on his own. Cedric was a different type of person; he didn’t have to be stubborn to bring out the best in others. He was simply honest and knew how to read other people and adapt to what they needed him to be. And yet… there was something stable about him. Even though he bent and twisted to help those around him, he never lost his shape. He was always the same Cedric, palms revealed and heart open, ready to lend support.
Oliver wasn’t sure he’d met anyone quite like Cedric in his life, and all of a sudden he wasn’t looking forward to the fall, a time when they would no longer be friends. They would be on opposing teams. They probably wouldn’t even speak, only shaking hands before the start of a match, or perhaps writing a note to request trading a booked timeslot on the pitch. But other than that, Oliver realized, they would move on. Cedric had another life, Oliver had his preoccupations. Cedric would light up someone else’s day, be there to pick someone else up when they struggled, ready to listen and understand someone else’s hardships.
All in one moment, Oliver became incredibly sad.
They practiced for a while longer, but Oliver’s heart wasn’t in it, and he called it over much sooner than he normally would have. They walked back up to the house, since Cedric, of course, wanted to thank Oliver’s parents for having him, and then he was off, back to his own house. Oliver leaned on the door after closing it behind the younger wizard, sighing deeply. His gut already knew what decision he’d made. He would use his plays. He would work on them with Cedric. It would be fine. He would be fine.