Chapter 4 : Game On
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“Girl, you have got to calm down,” Angelina finally laughed as Rachel, clumsier than ever in her anxiety, knocked over half a pitcher of pumpkin juice all over a plate of sausages. Rachel grinned apologetically and waved her wand, sending the juice zooming back into the pitcher sausage-free. But her stomach was still fluttering as though someone had planted a Flutterby bush there, and she glanced at her watch for the thousandth time since sitting down.
“I’m going to go back up to the common room,” she said, knowing she couldn’t eat another bite in the state she was in. Angelina rolled her eyes but said nothing, just smiled as Rachel got up from the table and started back toward the entrance hall. As she walked between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables, she thought she heard someone whistle loudly – but was that just a coincidence?
“Balderdash,” she said to the Fat Lady, who swung forward sleepily – she always had a tough time waking up on weekends, which occasionally caused misfortune for the first years who were too shy to scream at her, as was often necessary. Rachel climbed through the portrait hole and up to her dormitory, pacing around the small circular room nervously.
Cedric wasn’t anything different from the other boys she hung out with all the time. She could talk to Fred and George and Lee as well as anyone; why did she get so tongue-tied when she was with him? (Well, it certainly didn’t help that he was the best-looking boy she’d ever seen.) She bit her lip and drew in a deep breath, willing herself to calm down.
Finally, the minute hand on her watch ticked to ten fifty-five. She sucked in a deep breath and pulled on her gray pea coat and Gryffindor scarf, then descended into the common room. Alicia and Katie were sitting there, their Charms homework spread out on their laps in front of the fire. They flashed her thumbs-up as she walked by; she could only smile shyly and give them a little wave.
There was absolutely no reason to act as she was acting; none at all. She’d spent plenty of time alone with Cedric in the library before now and had never felt this way before. But, deep down, she knew the reason for her nerves: was this considered a date? And did it mean that Cedric really liked her in the way she didn’t even dare hope for, for fear of disappointment?
The Great Hall was packed with students lining up to be inspected by Filch before they started on the path into the village. Cedric was by the doors of the entrance hall, talking to Anders from their Herbology class. Rachel’s stomach gave a happy little jump as she made her way over to him. He looked around as she approached, and his face lit up.
“Hi,” he said, smiling down at her. She blushed faintly pink, Anders’s suddenly wicked grin not escaping her notice. They stood in slightly awkward silence for a moment before Rachel asked hesitantly, “Should we get in line?” She motioned awkwardly to the snaking line of classmates, all looking disgruntled with Filch’s self-satisfied leer.
“Oh – oh, yeah,” Cedric said, his own face flushing. They said nothing more as they waited to be approved to leave by Filch, who seemed to be moving down the list of approved students particularly slowly today. Rachel felt her face growing hotter and hotter as passing sixth years did double takes at the pair of them standing together.
Finally, they were outside, the uncharacteristically bitter later October wind whipping their cheeks. Cedric cleared his throat as they started down the winding dirt path.
“So,” he said at last, “I was thinking last night, and I realized I know almost nothing about you.” His cheeks turned pink again, but Rachel told herself pointedly that it was probably from the chilly air. “I’d like to, um, kind of get to know you better, if, um, that’s okay…” He trailed off, and Rachel’s heart leaped into her throat, while at the same time a feeling of amused pity washed over for her at how obviously tough it was for Cedric to manage his jumbled request.
“Only if you’ll tell me about yourself, too,” she said, smiling, and was relieved to watch Cedric’s face visibly relax. She instantly felt more at ease and started chattering about her childhood to Cedric, anxiously watching his expression for signs of boredom. But Cedric thankfully seemed genuinely interested in what she was telling him, and she found him increasingly easier to talk to as they made their way into the village, as though she’d known him for a long time.
The high street that ran down the center of Hogsmeade village was bustling with people, student and adult witches and wizards alike, calling to one another and window shopping. Rachel and Cedric made their way unconsciously in the direction of the Three Broomsticks, an extremely popular and almost always crowded pub that sat flush with the main road. Cedric held the door open for her as they entered the crowded and noisy tavern.
“I’ll get the drinks,” Cedric offered hesitantly, and turned toward the bar. Rachel’s stomach clenched happily again, and she smiled at him and turned to find an empty seat. She spotted an empty loveseat in the corner, right by the fireplace, and hurried over to it before it was snagged.
As she sat down, her gaze fell on a dark-haired Ravenclaw girl – younger than Cedric and Rachel, by the look of her - sitting at one of the tables closest to the loveseat where Rachel now sat. The girl shot Rachel a filthy look before getting up, surrounded by a bevy of her friends, and leaving the pub in an obviously affronted way. Rachel rolled her eyes as Cedric walked over to her, carrying two mugs of steaming butterbeer.
“Thanks,” Rachel smiled, curling up her legs beneath her as Cedric sat on the other end of the small sofa. Suddenly, the door burst open again and an official-looking man with a toothbrush mustache walked in, surveying the area as though its inhabitants were beneath him. He crossed to the bar and sat down at a recently vacated stool, talking to Madam Rosmerta, the barmaid, in a low voice.
“That’s Barty Crouch,” said Cedric suddenly, his eyes obviously trained on the same man Rachel had been watching. “My dad’s told me about him – he’s supposed to be really high up in the Ministry, head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation. He’s supposed to be a judge for the Tournament, too.”
Rachel looked around at Cedric; she’d almost forgotten all about the Tournament until that moment. “Are you going to enter your name?” she asked suddenly, remembering the night of the back-to-school feast when the Tournament was announced. Cedric fiddled with the handle of his tankard, a look of mixed excitement and apprehension flitting across his face.
“I’m seriously considering it, yeah,” he said, glancing sideways at her from under his unusually long eyelashes. Rachel’s heart quickened inexplicably and into her mind flashed a sudden, horrible thought: What if Cedric got hurt? She’d heard of serious injuries, even deaths, in some of the past tasks in the tournament. Wasn’t it possible that it could happen again?
Cedric must have seen the shock on her face, because he suddenly looked worried and laid a tentative hand on her crossed knee. The warmth of his hand through her jeans was oddly comforting, as though he suddenly became more real to her. “Hey,” he said gently. “If it means that much to you, then I won’t.”
An odd emotion coursed through her body, as suddenly as if she’s just downed a glass of firewhisky. She shook her head animatedly, wrapping her mug tighter in her hands. “No,” she said adamantly. “It’s your choice, not mine. It’d be really amazing if you got in, too.” She smiled and took a sip of her butterbeer, not taking her eyes away from his.
Cedric smiled reassuringly at her and gave her knee a slight squeeze before removing his hand. The squeeze sent shockwaves coursing up her leg and straight into her lungs, making it a little hard to breathe. What was it, she wondered, that made this boy drive all her senses so utterly out of control?
The rest of the day passed without a single mention of the tournament. Rachel told Cedric all about her colorful life as a Muggle growing up in Liverpool, which he seemed to find extremely fascinating. He asked endless questions about the docks, the shipping, and the shops on the streets. She realized just how little the wizarding world knew about the other world, the world they were hiding from. And he in turn told her about his growing up in the wizarding world. She loved thinking of Cedric as a little boy as she listened to him talk about riding a toy broomstick around and around the back lawn of his parents’ home.
“… And that’s when I really got into Quidditch,” he said, laughing and tipping his head back to catch the last dregs of his butterbeer. “Now I’m pretty much hooked. D’you ever play Quidditch?” he added? “I know you hang out with pretty much the whole team.” He grinned again, and she grinned back.
“No,” she admitted, wishing for the first time that he answer was different. “I’m not really a sports person, myself.” Cedric raised his eyebrows.
“It’s a shame we’re not playing this year,” he said, fiddling with the cup handle again. “It’d be cool for you to go and watch the games, you know, if you’d be interested in going to the Hufflepuff games and whatever…” He cleared his throat and quickly changed topics.
The afternoon seemed to be trickling away from them like water through cupped hands, and before either of them knew it, the sinking sun had started to turn the cold windows rosy pink. Cedric looked at his watch and took up the long-empty mug of butterbeer that sat by his feet; Rachel did the same.
“I really enjoyed this,” she said, grinning, and Cedric smiled back, absentmindedly tugging the bottom of his yellow and black scarf. He leaned forward, holding out his hand for her cup. “Let me take that,” he said, and as his hand closed around it the tips of his fingers brushed hers. That odd emotion sent a jolt running through her again, and this time she was almost certain Cedric felt it too. He didn’t move, but looked at her curiously, almost strangely, as though she might disappear if he broke the contact between them. Even as she looked steadily back at him, she was aware of how stupid and soap opera-ish the thoughts in her head sounded.
Finally, she relinquished the hold on her mug, cursing the flush of heat that tinged her cheeks at that moment. Cedric smiled slightly again and turned to set the tankards on the bar where Madam Rosmerta stood, wiping the already-spotless glasses. They exited the pub, some of the last of the Hogwarts students visible on the high street that ran through the little village.
“We’ll have to do this again,” Cedric said as they crunched their way through the hard ground on the path back up to the castle. “If they have another weekend,” Rachel pointed out. “With all the excitement from the foreign students it’ll be a wonder if they can get us to do anything normally around here.” Cedric laughed.
“Almost forgot about them,” he said, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jacket. “It’s gonna be weird, won’t it? Well, we’ll have to do something, anyway.” He smiled down at her – was there any time a smile didn’t cross his face? – and they made the rest of the journey up to the school in a pleasant and amiable silence.
The noise coming from the Great Hall told the two that they were late for dinner, but Cedric seemed a little reluctant to enter the hall. Rachel couldn’t blame him; as far as her opinions went, she was by no means in a hurry to end what was unquestionably one of the best days of her life.
“I had a great time,” Cedric said suddenly, almost urgently, and seemed to be searching her face for something. Rachel blushed (bloody hell, not again!) and said nothing, just continued to gaze at his near flawless, handsome features…
“Yo, Cedric!” came a shout from the Great Hall, and a tall Hufflepuff boy that Rachel didn’t know came loping out of the hall with a slightly awkward gait. He slung an arm around Cedric’s shoulders and flashed a smooth grin in Rachel’s direction.
“Listen, Ced, been meaning to ask you about a few tactics for next year…” the boy started, meaning to steer Cedric back in the direction he’d come from. Cedric winced visibly and motioned to his companion. “Ben Drewart. Seventh year, Chaser on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team,” he said by way of explanation. Ben grinned at Rachel again and then tried to turn Cedric around once more. Cedric tried to remain planted into the floor.
“I – I guess I’ll see you tomorrow in Herbology, then?” he asked hurriedly. Rachel smiled and nodded. With a last look at her, Cedric allowed himself to be ushered into the hall, Ben already leading a storm of chatter about Quidditch that Rachel couldn’t follow. And Merlin’s pants, she wanted to be able to jump into that conversation…
She turned away, suddenly not hungry at all, and made her way quickly to the library. Madam Pince raised a pointy eyebrow as she approached the desk, her beak-like nose seemingly more pronounced than ever. The librarian liked Rachel as well as she liked anyway – she was notoriously good about returning books on time and keeping them neat – but Rachel was still intimidated by her.
“Hello,” she said nervously. “Erm, do you have a copy of Quidditch Through The Ages available?” Madam Pince said nothing but swept from behind the desk without a word. She returned shortly, a very battered old book in a thin, peeling green cover clasped in her claw-like hands.
“You’re fortunate,” she said crisply, opening the book with a snap and firmly stamping the inside of it. “Can’t get those dirty Quidditch players off this book, most times. Two weeks.” She handed the book to Rachel, who took it, eager to get back to the common room to start learning everything she could about the sport Cedric so loved.
If she was going to win Cedric – and by this point she knew that she really did want him, however stupid she thought herself for doing so – she needed to arm herself with the best knowledge possible. Quidditch, it seemed, could do this the fastest.
Thankfully, the common room was empty; no jokes from the twins and Lee tonight, no knowing looks from Angelina and Alicia and Katie. Rachel all but flew up to her dormitory where she peeled off her coat and scarf and flung herself on top of her four-poster, gingerly opening the cover of the worn book in her hands, and began to read. Let the game begin.
A/N: I know. I'm a terrible person, and you have my full permission to beat me around the head with Beaters' clubs until I require medical attention. This chapter is VERY late and I am so, so sorry about that! I would make excuses, but the only ones I have are school and laziness, and both of them are very weak. Reviews are very much appreciated!
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