Chapter 1 : An Aerial Approach
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They aren't taking me seriously. They never take me seriously. I'm their Captain, I know what I'm talking about! I know what I'm doing! But, no, they have to piss about, they have to undermine me, joke about and not pay attention. This is serious. This could cost me - us- the Quidditch Cup. This is everything we've worked for and they're pissing about with their Beaters' bats, fiddling with their hair, and dozing! I throw a quick banging noise from the tip of my wand to wake Harry and gather the attention of my Beaters and Chasers.
"None of you are taking this seriously! The Ravenclaws are a serious threat! Davies has changed their technique and it's like nothing I've ever seen before. We need to practice this. We need to be prepared for this approach. If we lose this, that's it for me, that's it for this team, this bloody good team! George Weasley put down that bloody bat before I stick it somewhere bloody uncomfortable and make you run laps!"
Admittedly, my rant was probably over the top. It left me slightly breathless, and I could tell my face was flushed, but the look of resigned interest on George Weasley's face made up for it. I'd got his attention at least. I couldn't afford to let us bugger this one up: the Ravenclaw team had surprised the entire school with the last match by winning 300-30; admittedly it was against the Hufflepuffs, but it was still a huge feat and reason enough for me to be extra cautious. It was a shame my team didn't share my caution.
"Chasers," I began again, calmer now I was sure I had their attention, "I need to you recreate the play – did you get a good look or do I need to draw it up?" Like I hadn't drawn it up already.
"Wood, we saw it; everyone saw it," Angelina replied to me, her tone placating, they clearly thought I was being a fascist nutter again. Ha! We'll see who's a fascist nutter when we win the damned cup.
"Actually, Angelina, Fleet didn't see it…" Fred added. Fleet was the dense Hufflepuff Keeper, usually it was a shocker that the bloke could stay on his broom, but in the last match he had been particularly bad.
"Shut up, Fred. The point is, let's just get out there, we'll give the Claws' approach a try, you'll save it, we can all go back indoors, to the warm, and do Snape's essay on the advanced properties of unicorn blood, yeah?"
I realised that this was the best I was going to get from them tonight, I was sure Snape set that essay as a personal slight to me and my practices. "Okay, Chasers with me, Harry go for the Snitch, Twins, let a Bludger out and give it a whirl, yeah?"
The team and I headed out to the pitch and into the air, there was a bracing Scottish chill to the air that fuelled my broom. It was growing dark in the late autumn light, but there was enough visibility for an hour or two of practice under the lights, and I could see Harry's friend Granger sat in the stalls with a jam jar fire and a book.
I moved into my usual position, hovering in front of the middle hoop but leaning slightly towards the hoop on my left. From experience I'd known that the majority of right handed Chasers shot to their left and the middle hoop, so while I covered their right one I was in a better position to dart in front of the one they'd statistically shoot for. I glanced towards Harry, exuberantly flying around the opposite end of the pitch after a Snitch that was really making him work for it, and the twins who were smacking a single Bludger towards each other with gusto. My Chasers were tossing the Quaffle to each other casually to warm up and strategize their approach to the goal; I always insisted that, if they were scoring against me, they didn't do this within my earshot. I liked them to keep me on my toes, to not let me get complacent when Keeping against my own team. Katie caught the Quaffle and dipped into a dive, swiftly flying low as she approached the goals; she shot up beneath me, into my blind spot, and tossed the Quaffle effortlessly through the middle hoop that I'd been guarding.
This strange play had monopolised the previous match, the crowd had watched Davies, Stretton and Burrow in awe as shot after shot went in. They took advantage of the surprise of the dive every time, diving at different points in the approach, diving and passing, passing to someone diving. It was beautiful and strange and something I was completely unprepared for as my own team repeatedly pulled the same tricks upon me.
I looked up from my place in the stalls to see Oliver Wood miss another goal - he hadn't caught one yet - the Kilmarnock Feint had clearly eluded the usually sharp Keeper, I was surprised that he hadn't caught on to the move and mildly smug that I had recognised it during Ravenclaw's game. I knew from Harry that Wood was desperate to impress any scouts that showed up at the matches, and this certainly wasn't the way to go about that. The play was an obscure one, I'd read about it in a concise Quidditch book from the 18thcentury in the library, it was widely discredited and Ron had dismissed me for reading it almost immediately, but the condemnation had spurred me forward. If I was anything it was a literary rebel at heart, and Ronald Weasley certainly had no place dictating my reading list. The book itself had been quite strange, although it covered the finer points of the history of the game and intricacies of gameplay, it was eccentric; I found it easy to understand why it was an unpopular read. A lot of the plays it detailed were now illegal and those that weren't were tricky to pull off.
I couldn't decide whether to brave it and approach Wood myself or whether to flag down Harry and get him to pass on the knowledge. He needed to be told, of course - it would certainly help the team and was the right thing for a Gryffindor to do, but, sometimes, I found it especially hard to live up to my Gryffindor name. Daring, nerve and confidence escaped me more often than not, especially in the face of older students like the Quidditch team above me, and correcting the Captain's tactics seemed like insanity. That said, I couldn't idly sit by and watch Wood fail repeatedly when I had the solution to his problem in my mind. I knew I could help and that gave me the nerve to reluctantly set aside my book and make my way down the stalls, onto the pitch and towards the Keeper's hoops.
I made my way across the pitch wary of the falling Quaffle as Bell, Spinnet and Johnson repeatedly got it past the frustrated Wood. By the time I was at the base of the middle hoop Harry had noticed my travels and flew down to greet me.
"Hermione, not like you to interrupt practice, you okay?" he asked, teasingly, the Snitch's wings feebly protesting in his hand.
"Yeah, Harry, I just wanted to speak to Wood…" I replied nervously.
"Wood? Really? You're brave; he's a bit… wound up, at the moment…"
"I can tell, that's the problem, I know the play you see… I know how to counter play it."
"Are you sure, Hermione? I mean, you've never taken much of an interest in Quidditch," The disbelief on Harry's face was painful to see; yet again my friend dismissed me without meaning to, assuming yet again that I was being some smug know-it-all.
"Harry, I know this play. I read about it." Harry's disbelief fuelled my self-assurance and I became more insistent to my friend, "get Wood down here? You know I can't fly up myself."
I watched as Harry flew up towards Wood, trying to shake my annoyance at his dismissal of me. Wood looked angry to be interrupted, although I couldn't quite tell, he was angry enough already. Harry was motioning towards me now, I could almost hear the excuses he was making, 'oh she doesn't know Quidditch but she thinks she recognises the play, humour her', well I'll ruddy show you, Harry Potter. Driven by my anger towards Harry, when Wood landed in front of me with the rest of the team I was indignant enough to no longer be fazed. Confidence? Check. Nerve and daring? I was about to tell Oliver Wood how to play the game he was born to play: if that didn't make me a fully-fledged Gryffindor then Merlin knows what would.
"Harry said you know the play? How?" asked Wood, cutting straight to the point and involuntarily intimidating me with his curt tone, but I was still incensed and riding on my 'I am a Gryffindor' high and wouldn't back down.
"Well, they're Ravenclaws. It's in a book, and I've read that book." I replied, matching his curt tone with one I knew to be haughty, and was usually saved for Ron's worst moments.
"What book? I've read all the Quidditch books in the library, the play isn't in them." He made to leave, clearly dismissing me as a time-waster.
"It's in the book '18th Century Quidditch for 19th Century Banshees'," I saw the scorn wash over his face, "I know it's a widely discredited book but it's quite an interesting read, and this play is in it."
"You read that book? That's not a Quidditch book, it's a joke. You think the Ravenclaws are idiotic enough to follow a play for Banshees? Even Davies is smarter than that."
"Well they did, and it worked, so if you don't listen up and consider the counter-play then you're going to go the way of the Hufflepuffs in your upcoming match, aren't you!"
I was embarrassed to realise that my hands were on my hips. The Weasley twins were looking at me with a humorous expression of awe – evidently having never seen anyone stomp their foot at their captain before. Wood's expression was briefly abashed - and then thoughtful. He looked me up and down, reconsidering my age, stature, and inability to fly.
"How then? How do you counter it?"
"An aerial approach. You lean to your left when you Keep, that's perfect in any situation other than this one. You need to go above the goals and tilt yourself and your broom towards where the blind spot would be, eliminate that and you eliminate the advantage, they're relying on taking you by surprise, granted you're rather smarter than Fleet, but there are enough variations of the play that they'd still catch you out often enough. Take them by surprise, angle yourself differently, you'll confuse them. They're not expecting you to react to intercept it. They're cocky, complacent, take advantage."
Wood was silent, the whole team was silent and looking between the two of us, but I held Wood's eye contact, refusing to back down, urging him to listen to me. Harry was smug, this was the Hermione Granger he knew and loved.
"Bloody hell, Wood, looks like she's better at you than strategizing." teased George.
"Fine," he conceded. "Take it up, team. We'll give Granger's attack a go - Granger stick around. As you were."
I watched as my peers raised gracefully into the air, heading into their previous positions, Harry letting the Snitch go, the twins releasing a Bludger and the Chasers readying themselves to approach Wood and the hoops.
I hovered at the new angle. It was unfamiliar to me, but after the repetitious failure of the training session the freshness was invigorating. My eyes watched the Chasers as they spread out to approach the goal, tossing the Quaffle, Bell to Spinnet, Spinnet to Johnson, back to Spinnet who dives with Bell, passes to Bell and then - miraculously - I knew where she was shooting! I intercepted! I saved the first bloody goal of the damned practice! It was beautiful, I felt like it was my first save all over again.
Hermione Granger was a bloody genius.
Admittedly, I'd doubted her. A third year who couldn't fly, giving me advice about the sport I was born to play was quite a bloody laugh - but she was right. As soon as I'd positioned myself in the angle she'd described it just worked. It was perfect. I could laugh out loud, I DID laugh out loud! Hermione Granger, a thirteen year old bookworm friend of my Seeker, knew a play I didn't and had probably given me the advantage over the Ravenclaw team! AND BLOODY ROGER DAVIES!
This was magnificent.
From that point the practice was completely different; I caught the Quaffle repeatedly, never letting my Chasers get it through the hoops again, despite the variations of the play that they put forward. I, Oliver Wood, had this one in the bag, and I was going to bloody well win the Cup even if it killed me.
A.N. Thanks for reading!
Thanks to Berry Crush and The Wistful Bloom for their beta expertise!
A follow up multi-chap is in the process of being written and will be posted to FF.net and here.