Chapter 3 : three.
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Albus was wrong because as I learned, there was something worse than quidditch in the rain.
There was half a game of quidditch in a downpour of heavy, slanted rain and the other half in 90% humidity and an air so thick, it felt as though I was swimming underwater with every breath. Worse than sitting during that was of course, playing.
But as I returned to my apartment, completely drenched from a mixture of the rain and my sweat, I was nothing if not happy. In fact, happy didn’t seem enough to adequately cover the emotions at being able to finally experience a game from the press box. The raw emotions and quick flash of feelings that the players couldn’t hide. Happiness from scoring. Anger from letting the other team score. Fouls and bludgers, it was all a perfect symphony of muscle and talent on the field.
And then there was the Chudley Cannons.
Not to say that there wasn’t… potential, within the Chudley Cannons. The team was composed of misfits that once owned the very field it appeared they could barely stand to walk onto now. Aengus Clarke, Franklin Maxwell, Conor Campbell, and Alec McDaniel; all burned out stars in their own rite until a single decision took everything away. All of the fame, fans, and money taken away just as quickly as they had arrived to leave enough bitterness to drown out any remaining confidence and talent.
And then there was Dylan Murphy.
It wasn’t as if he was entering the year with any kind of expectations on him, other than saving an entire team that had managed to literally make a career out of losing. Other then the fans, no one had any realistic ambitions for what Murphy would accomplish during the games, much less the season.
But they had done it. For the first time in at eleven years, the Chudley Cannons had won their first game of the season. A part of me hated to admit it but it was partly because of Murphy.
A Seeker didn’t make a team no, but Murphy was also apparently a very talented Keeper. During the game Maxwell had flown down to check on a teammate that had gotten hit with a bludger, despite that meaning that the Cannon’s hoops would be left unattended. In flew Murphy to the rescue, substituting for Maxwell until he returned and keeping a quaffle out.
After that I knew that all the headlines tomorrow would read that Murphy had done it. Murphy had broken the curse. Murphy would get the Cannons to a winning season and maybe even a League cup. Never mind that the team Captain, Maxwell had kept all but two quaffles from going through the Cannon’s hoops and that Till and McDaniel had both scored. Never mind that a single win, especially one so early in the season meant nothing more than a good start, not an entire winning season. As soon as Murphy kept that single quaffle out and later swooped behind the Arrows’ hoop and caught the snitch, I knew that he, not the rare Cannon group-effort, would get all the credit and the Cannons fans’ dreams would soar past realistic expectations.
Regardless, it wasn’t exactly my job to worry about the group dynamics of a team but to report efficiently on a game and the Cannons had given me plenty to write about. I peeled off my layers and took a quick shower, already anxious that I would lose great statements in my mind before I could sit down and write them. Thirty minutes later I was seated in my office chair with my comfiest pair of shorts and Puddlemore jersey on with a sandwich and cup of tea lying haphazardly on top of my game notes. Years of experience had taught me I worked best in slight disarray and silence.
Luckily for me, Rachel was gone - probably with Lorcan, which gave me free reign of the apartment and complete silence. In two hours I managed to write my paper and send it to the office for final editing and publication tomorrow, my sandwich half-eaten and cup of tea cold and almost empty. Years of preparation had come to this, a single title and thousand words to sum up the fear, excitement, and love that fourteen players and thousands of fans that a stadium held for three hours. I just wished I had someone to actually celebrate this with.
I suppose there was Rachel and Lorcan or my parents. Neither option seemed incredibly appeasing though, so instead I did the next best option and grabbed an ale from the fridge and drank that on the couch while reviewing plays for the Charming Cannons for a bit before heading off to bed and falling asleep, counting the day a relatively, but lonely, success.
There were three different kinds of days in the Daily Prophet sports floor office that were usually distinguishable from the moment you stepped off the lift. The first was your typical day, with the occasional snitch zooming overhead from office to office and loud debate over whether the ‘99 or ’05 Ballycastle Bats would be victorious for League Cup.
My answer in this debate, in case anyone was interested, was always that in this hypothetical situation Myrtle Montgomery, Puddlemore’s Keeper, would not be injured and Puddlemore would have been in the first place - giving them an easy victory over Ballycastle. Thus, the real debate was if the ‘99 Bats would be victorious for the League Cup over the ‘05 Puddlemore team and that answer was Puddlemore, of course. But since the guys did not allow my hypothetical situation to be allowed, then the technical answer between the two options provided was the ‘99 Bats. In case anyone was interested.
The second type of day was not as common but was usually horrendous enough that its memory lasted long after its departure. It was the infamous “Bludger Bad day” on the sports floor. The day where Cormac would actually unleash three bewitched bludgers in the office and announce that our job was to catch them. What he didn’t say was that he would keep bewitching them until he got bored or someone was sent to the hospital. Usually it was the latter.
But the third type of day was as majestic and rare as witnessing the birth of a unicorn. It was a day so great that it immediately erased the memory of the past “Bludger Bad day” and made us all as giddy as schoolchildren on our first adventure to Hogwarts. “Game day Good day” was the greatest day of the year. Until the next game day good day, quidditch match, or Christmas I suppose.
Today I stepped off the lift with my satchel over my shoulder and a mug of hot coffee in my hand, prepared to spend the day going over Sunday and Monday’s quidditch matches so I could finalize my player of the week choice and write the section. I was not prepared to be almost run over by Oliver Juengen, an officemate who took over the minor league games when I was promoted, as he raced by me on his broom.
“No,” I exclaimed, taking in the scene around me and not even minding that half my coffee had landed on my satchel and the floor. The hoops that decorated the walls were out in the middle of the office floor and all around me my coworkers were on brooms, darting through them and throwing quaffles to one another for warm up.
“Carter’s on my team,” Charlie Lancaster yelled from his hovering position over the kitchen area. “Hurry up and put your things away now!”
Oliver appeared to be the only one close enough to hear my question as he darted by again, this time pointing a finger at my office. Despite the fact that obviously Cormac was in a good mood, I couldn’t help but tense up as I made the short walk to where my office was located against the side wall. I knew what he wanted to talk to me about already.
Yesterday the Prophet had published my editorial concerning Murphy and his performance on Sunday’s game. While I hadn’t been anything but professional, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that there were many Prophet readers (and Cannon fans) that found my professional opinion to be less than savory. It wasn’t as if my opinion regarding Murphy was anything bad either, it was just citing the possibility that perhaps the Cannons and their fans were throwing all of their metaphorical eggs into one metaphorical basket. Murphy was talented, yes, but it was his first year as a professional quidditch player. Too much pressure and he’d crack. Pun not intended, although it did fit perfectly, no?
I entered my office quietly, as if Cormac wouldn’t turn around and notice me eventually. He was reading one of the articles posted on my corkboard, most likely about Puddlemore. I made a point of hitting my now-dirty satchel against my desk chair with a loud thump to alert him to my presence. With a slight jump he turned to face me, a curious expression on his face and a finger pointed to the single picture in the center of my father and me in front of Pilsdon Pub, named after the home of Puddlemore United, before a match.
“Is this your father?” Cormac asked and I nodded in reply, as if the answer wasn’t obvious enough to most people. I still had his facial structure and heart-shape and long nose. Thank Merlin I’d been able to grow into my lanky limbs and broad shoulders, or else I would’ve spent my entire life looking like a prepubescent boy with long hair.
“This where you get your Puddy allegiance then? I should‘ve guessed.” He took a seat in the old chair I had in the corner reserved for my occasional guest and indicated with a breezy hand that I do the same. Most of the time it was relatively easy to gauge Cormac’s mood but today I couldn’t get a proper direction where this conversation was going to go exactly. “Your old man looks like a blast and a half.”
Another look at the picture revealed the two mugs of frothy liquid my dad held in one hand with his other arm around my shoulders, the large smile indicative of how much he already had had to drink before the picture was taken. I smiled automatically at the memory of the game. It was James’ first starting game and after Marie had let my love for him in Hogwarts “accidentally” slip, my father decided that we should get the genuine experience of a game at least once. While there he’d also purchased me a shirt with James’ name and position on the back, the Puddlemore logo on the breast pocket in front, as a surprise. I still had the shirt today, four years later, the age making it comfortable and a favorite. My father never brought up my schoolgirl crush, although I assume that at this point he most likely assumed I was over it. As I was. Otherwise that’d just be mad.
“He’s just a man in love with quidditch, I suppose.” I murmured, smiling again before placing a more serious expression to face him with. “Is everything alright? I don’t think you’ve ever stepped foot in my office before, Cormac.”
“Ah yes, I’m sure I have you a little concerned at the moment.”
“Just a bit.”
His reaction to nod his head and stare at my board again, his eyebrows furrowed in thought, actually served to break the nervousness lying deep in my gut. If I were in trouble or tired, Cormac would’ve still been yelling and my officemates certainly wouldn’t be preparing for a game of office quidditch.
So it was good news.
“This is about my piece on Murphy, isn‘t it? If I had known it would cause this much trouble, I‘m not sure that I would write it again.”
“Well, I bloody hope so. Carter,” Cormac moved forward in the chair suddenly to look at me with excited eyes. “We gathered more hate mail from your single piece then all of the sections of the Prophet combined. Those bloody Cannon fans hate you, and me, for that matter!”
“This is good? Because I usually gather that hate mail is bad and I actually enjoy when people don’t hate me.”
“Good? It’s excellent! Hate mail means that someone had to not only read your piece but that it stirred such strong feelings in them that they had to find a piece of parchment, quill, and some ink and write you to let you know.” He stood from his seat in excitement, his voice rising in volume and excitement that easily could double for absolute madness. “Hate mail means that people are reading, Carter, and that people are going to keep reading to see what you say that they can disagree with. It’s a popular belief that for every piece of hate mail you get, there’s four readers that love what you just said. Those unofficial numbers put you as the highest read reporter in our section and one of the highest in the Prophet! Hate mail, to us, is better than galleons.”
“Ah,” I replied weakly in return, still not quite able to stir up the excitement he had for that many people hating me, or the sudden pressure of even more people actually reading my column. “Those are very unofficial numbers, Cormac. I can’t imagine loads of people reading and caring about what I’ve got to say.” Half the time I couldn’t even get Marie or Rachel to listen to my blathering.
“I haven’t even gotten to the best sodden part yet, Carter.” He raised his balled fists and looked around wildly, as if he wanted to hit something with them. “Mark Tyler has extended an offer for you to interview the team and Murphy at this week’s game, an exclusive invitation to you and the Daily Prophet. This is it! This is just the beginning of your career!”
Mark Tyler? What could the coach of the Cannons possible want with me? “Wait, this week’s game?” I made sure to keep my facial expression level so Cormac wouldn’t have an idea of the rising panic in my chest. “I mean, it’s a great opportunity! The beginning of my career and all…” It was an incredible opportunity, really. Mark Tyler, notorious arse owner of the Chudley Cannons, hardly went around actually seeking and offering reporters exclusive interviews.
This was “it”.
“Carter, you look like you’ve just had an earwax-flavored Bertie Bott’s. What’s the problem?”
“Problem?” I questioned, hoping he didn’t hear the crack in my throat. “No, no there’s no problem. Mark Tyler. Exclusive interview. Murphy. Chudley Cannons. All of that sounds… amazing.” I could not tell Cormac that I would have taken covering any game over any stupid exclusive interview any day.
People reading my pieces was exciting yes, but I wasn’t out to become some known writer with legions of fans. At the end of the day I was ecstatic that I was actually being paid to keep up with quidditch and then write about it. Whether hoards of people read or not was actually secondary, as long as enough people were interested so I had a job.
“Merlin,” Cormac slapped his hand against head and raked his fingers down his face, leaving red marks that disappeared as quickly as they came. “You hate it.”
“I hate it.” I released the breath I had been holding, unable to really look at Cormac in the eyes. Cormac’s confidence in me was inspiring and it was embarrassing to let him know that the visions he saw for me weren’t quite in line with my aspirations. “It’s just, a lot of pressure. Knowing that loads of people are reading what I’m writing and just waiting for me to screw up.”
“There were loads before, just waiting for you to screw up as well. What difference does it make now?”
“Before I wasn’t one of the most read and hated reporters!” A loud crash from behind me made me jump in surprise. With his usual face of irritation he stalked to the entrance to my office and screamed that he was going to personally pummel whoever made the next noise with a bludger to the face, before returning to face me. Instead of terrifying me, his sour mood actually made me feel slightly better. I wasn’t used to Cormac being so happy.
“Now don’t be daft. Of course you were one of the most read and hated before this, I just never told you. It wouldn’t have done me much good to let you get a big head or worse, freeze up on me like you‘re doing now! Your weekly segment and random editorials have made you a consistent top contributor for the past two years. Now you’ve got a choice, you can be content with the easy assignments you had before or you can challenge yourself to get off your block and do some actual reporting. Personally, I could care less. It’s not as if there isn’t a line of reporters waiting to take the interview off your hands.”
“It’s not that -”
“Then what is it?” I shut my mouth at his snap, not having the answer.
“Nothing,” I replied. “The interview is mine.”
“Of course its bloody yours - Tyler asked for you and the old loon won’t deal with anyone else.” Cormac gave my shoulder a light shove to get my eyes up from my nervous fiddling of my satchel. “Remember, in Hogwarts, before a game that tightness in your stomach and all your muscles? It was that, that feeling that you’re about to throw up everything you ate until the very second the snitch is released and you feel it just - float away.”
My feelings before a game were slightly different then what Cormac described but I nodded to his statement, getting the basis of what he was trying to say. “That’s a good feeling, isn’t it? The apprehension, nerves, excitement, and the fear. Merlin, the fear. If anything makes you feel that way, Payton, then it might be a good idea to try.”
“Hey Cormac?” He stopped from his way out of my office to turn around. “That one game versus Hufflepuff really got to you, huh?”
His face fell as he seemed to struggle between laughing at my jab or throwing a bludger at my face. “It was very intense.”
“Of course it was. At least Gryffindor won. Oh wait…”
“You’re so humorous, Carter.” He was already halfway towards his office when he replied in a voice that indicated everything but. “Now get to work, you’re on Lancaster’s team.”
It's all JKR's.
Note: This is an edited Ch3 that is different from a previous one posted that focused on Payton actually interviewing Cannon players. Please disregard that chapter.
a/n: Again, sorry for the long wait. It was ridic, I know.
I know this chapter seems a little... pointless...? But it was building stuff up! I decided to add in James' POV as well, so the next chap will be all him! AND it's already written - yay!
Please read + review - love/hate/ambivalent, whatevs! Y'all are awesome.
Chapter image by milominderbender @ TDA ! ! !
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by Amy Sellers