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Keep Calm and Carry On by my_voice_rising
Chapter 20 : The Match
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 17


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CHAPTER TWENTY


The door to The Leaky Cauldron creaks as I push on it, beaming like a fool. I’m more than ready for my first day on the job. My Mum even helped bewitch my dress Puddlemere blue (I never did confront her about Jae. It was too uncomfortable to talk about my sexcapades with my Mum.) It’s strange to not be decked out in shamrock, although I am secretly wearing Kestrel green underwear. Seamus would be proud. In fact, today I awoke to a note, owled very late last night, that read, I SWEAR IF YOU DON’T WEAR GREEN TODAY I’M GOING TO— and broke into scribbles. Beneath it, in Dean’s handwriting: Good luck today, you’re a shining medallion and you smell like Christmas.

I’m assuming they’d had a few.

A few heads turn when I step inside, including a very old witch I recognize from The Poisoned Apple. She’s already drinking her sherry, and gives me a dark look. Normally this would make me squirm, but I catch my reflection in a dusty mirror and see my “Press” badge—which I may or may not have charmed to glitter obviously. I march up to the counter with the air of somebody who won’t be huddling in a place like this, listening to the match over a fuzzy old radio. A big pewter cauldron bubbles away, full of what I think is meant to be breakfast.

The barkeep appears from behind a dirty curtain that sanctions off the back. He tilts his chin and, wiggling my fingers excitedly, I blurt, “I’m the press!”

He rolls his eyes but turns to the shelves behind him. They’re filled with books, pint glasses, photographs and magical knickknacks. When he turns around, a battered copy of Quidditch throughout the Ages is in his giant hand. It drops onto the counter with a thud. At my confused stare, he huffs, “It only works if you’re wearing the badge. Go on, then.”

“Brilliant, thank you!”

He only grunts in return. I reach out and, body tensing in anticipation, place my hand firmly on the book.

There is a lurch, like less-nauseating Apparation, and seconds later I am staggering back on flat ground. I shield my eyes from the sun, scanning my new surroundings; a very windy field of tall grass. Judging by the salt in the air, I’m somewhere along the seaside. It’s actually quite beautiful.

Unfortunately, the pitch is nowhere to be found.

In fact, there is nothing in sight, except for a clear sky and what I assume are cliffs, over to my left. I stand for some time, searching, but I am utterly alone. Where are all of the other reporters? My confidence slips. Is this the barkeep’s idea of a joke? Did the Portkeys get mixed up? Should I just wait for Katie? The nervous minutes speed by, and suddenly it’s already ten o’clock. Panicking, I pick a random direction and am about to start sprinting, when somebody calls, “You’re late.”

I whip around, but there’s nobody there. I must be hallucinating all of this. I knew it. The whole new job is too good to be true. It’s probably an elaborate prank put into place by Rose.

But then I hear the voice again, chuckling, “Up here, you halfwit.”

I drop my head back, squinting unattractively. Oliver Wood is descending on his broomstick, already wearing his Puddlemere uniform. He’s probably slept in it for days—even bathed in it, the lunatic. My hands start to tremble, but I clench them into tight fists.

Oliver alights in the grass before me, and casually rests his broom over his broad shoulders. I gawk at the sleek black handle, “That’s the Arrow!” He glances at it nonchalantly, as though it weren’t the most over-glorified piece of housekeeping equipment in Britain. The thing costs my annual wages.

“It is,” he says. “I see you’re wearing blue.”

“Yes. Um. I need to find the VIP section.”

He clicks his tongue, “Ah, that’s right, you’re here on official business today.”

I don’t like his knowing smile, or his teasing nature, or that the last time I saw him I set my own hand on fire. Things were easier when he was too awkward to formulate sentences. Seconds pass; my arms are crossed so tightly that I’m cutting off my air supply. I heave an exasperated sigh, “Can you tell me how to get there? Please?”

That stupid smile is still on his face, and he mounts the broom, “C’mon. The Portkey should’ve taken you over this cliff, but something went wrong. I’ll be sure to let Katie know.” At my uncertainty he rolls his eyes, “You’ll not be in trouble, Edie. Come on.”

Before I can move, a thought strikes me. I push the hair from my face, “Did you… come looking for me?”

He snorts, going quite red, “No, I was flying laps and stumbled across you. Lucky, too—you were about to take off in the wrong direction. Don’t think I didn’t notice.”

“Oh. Well…thanks for the lift.”

He looks away, rubbing his nose, “You’re welcome.”

I eye the broom nervously. It may come as a huge shock, given my athletic prowess and supreme grace, but flying is not my forte. Nevertheless, I gather my courage and swing my leg over the broom. Maybe this won’t be so—

I’ve barely grabbed hold before we’re tearing off the ground. With a shriek I lurch backwards. The wind whips my hair as we ascend; my eyes sting with cold. Over my right shoulder, the sea comes swooping into view, glittering with morning light. I dare a glance to the ground and nearly lose my breakfast.

I hope the wind covers the tremble in my voice, “I—I’m not a very good flyer.”

“Really!” he feigns shock, “You can hold on, you know, I’m not going to bite.” I barely hear his mutter, “Or slap you.”

My cheeks go pink, but I’m not going to argue with someone who could do a barrel-roll at any moment. I grip his shoulders with the force of life, but it feels like an awkward pep-talk. Careful not to touch him, I clutch onto the waist of his uniform.

We’re zooming past the rocky cliffs, which break into a low valley. And then there it is: the pitch. It’s absolutely enormous, and despite the nerves, my grin is back. I recall the much smaller pitch at Hogwarts, and how it was once the most impressive thing I’d seen. But this one is enormous, made to seat thousands of fans. Towering over the pitch are two spires, like those of Hogwarts castle—the VIP sections. The match is still two hours away, but people are already clamouring to their seats. Every now and then, somebody sends a shower of blue sparks into the air, only to be answered by two green ones, and so on.

I’m so excited that I’ve forgotten how I am suspended hundreds of feet in the air, on a flying twig. But at Oliver’s down-tilt of the broomstick, we are suddenly screaming downwards like—well, like an arrow. My stomach is in my throat. I’m reminded of the lift at The Hanging Moon: that awful, exhilarating weightlessness. The towers of the VIP areas are screaming towards us. My body tenses in anticipation.

“We’re going to crash!” I shout stupidly.

Then, with the slightest bend of his wrist, Oliver lifts up on the handle and we glide to a seamless halt. Like a ship docking, we drift to the side, our legs barely bumping the stone. There is a smattering of applause from the VIP early-birds, and if my eyes weren’t still bulging from their sockets, I would roll them. At my first chance I clamber off the broom. I’m scowling until I catch the smile Oliver’s poorly hiding, by massaging his jaw.

I can’t help but laugh, shoving him, “You—UGH!” But with his bulk, the broomstick barely even moves. He gives up the charade and howls with laughter.

“Sorry!” he barely manages, mocking, “We’re gonna crash!” He’s clutching his side with one hand, and resting the other on my shoulder as if he may topple over. It’d serve him right. I cross my arms and try to frown.

“Shut up,” I murmur, but there’s no use. People are looking on with interest, and there’s a warm feeling spreading to my fingers and toes. But then I hear a voice that chills my blood—

There you are!”

Quaffle-eyed, I whirl around. My stomach sinks further than I thought possible. A very flushed Rose Zeller is barreling towards me. Oh no… I’m done for. She already hates me for outing her to Blakeslee, and now she thinks I’m flirting with her boyfriend. She raises a hand over her head, and my whole body flinches. I hide behind my own arm—not the face. It’s all I’ve got.

But there is no impact; no punch to the eye. Not even a slap. Instead she’s doing a weird thing with her arm around me, tightening like a boa constrictor. Strangulation it is, then. A bit less theatrical than the murder I would peg as her choice, but—Wait.

My eyes pop open.

Oh my God.

Rose Zeller is hugging me.

“I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” She points her finger in my face (again I flinch) and feigns admonishment, “You’re late!”

It takes a moment to regain myself. But then I shrug widely, “You know me!” I turn to cast a glance at Oliver, but he’s completely disappeared. I double-take. He was just here, not even a second ago!

Then Rose says, “Here, thought you’d like this.” She passes me a steaming mug of butterbeer, held by a bespectacled boy I hadn’t noticed behind her. I recognize the Witch Weekly pin on his coat: Intern. Now that I’ve moved up, he must be the replacement. He’s staring at Rose like a Labrador would somebody with a bouncy-ball. Oh, if he only knew…

“Thank you,” I suspiciously eye the mug’s contents. There’s a seventy percent chance that it’s poison. The moment her head is turned, I pour it over my shoulder (from far below comes an indignant “Oi!”)

Luckily, Rose is preoccupied with shooting the intern an icy glare. Jumping, he mumbles, “Oh! Sorry, Miss Zeller,” and scurries off. She shakes her head with an apologetic smile.

“Don’t worry, I’ll have him trained properly soon enough. He’s to be your assistant, after my suggestion to Mr. Ward.”

My jaw drops. She’s even gone and got me an assistant? What is happening? Shouldn’t she be furious for what I’ve done?

Then it hits me—Rose owes me one. I mean, she really owes me one. Blakeslee, furious, has probably already given her a talking-to. She must have revealed that I’m the only reason Rose wasn’t sacked. And now I completely have the upper-hand. I’ve ratted her out, and embarrassed her in front of her boss, and then saved her job. She probably thinks I could have her fired with the wave of my wand. Finger to my chin, I ponder whether or not this is true.

Rose misreads my baffled expression. “Oh! I’m not here on behalf of Witch Weekly. I know that’s… that’s your thing now.” There is only a hint of bitterness to her voice. But sure enough, there’s no Press badge on her coat. “Actually, Oliver’s invited me. I assume you…know what’s happening between us.”

There’s something weighing on my chest. “Sure do.”

“It’s such a strange feeling to be dating a celebrity. I doubt I’ll ever be used to it. We can hardly go anywhere without people following us. Paparazzi! Following me! Even Theo’s trying to get his hands on—”

“Sorry, have you seen Katie Bell?” I interrupt, heart hammering in my ears.

In response Rose snaps her fingers, and the nameless intern reappears. “Tell Katie Bell that Edie Lennox has arrived,” she orders. With a curt nod he disappears again.

“Wow,” I say.

“You’ll get used to it. It’s brilliant having somebody to boss around.”

He’s back in seconds—if he had a tail it would be wagging—with a woman in tow. I remember her from that night at The Poisoned Apple; she was the soberest of the lot. For a moment I’m afraid that she’ll recognize me, but her uncertain gaze assures me otherwise.

She extends a hand and says, in a deep voice with no false flatteries, “Nice to meet you, Edie.”

I almost forget to respond. I should be viewing her as a colleague—my first connection in the Quidditch world—but I can only imagine how spectacularly gorgeous she and Oliver must have been together.

She’s very lean, but shorter than I am. Her dark hair has been tangled by the wind and twisted up haphazardly; her wand pokes out from the mess. She hasn’t bothered to dress up, wearing a raincoat and heavy scarf. Like Oliver, she’s here on business. Suddenly I feel frivolous in my dress. Her expression is serene, but a light in her eyes says that she’s always thinking, always planning, always calculating…

Wow. They’re the exact same person.

I glance at the intern. He appears to be waiting for a treat. “Sorry,” I mumble to Katie, “I didn’t mean to have you, like, summoned over here. Did—did Oliver tell you why I’m late?”

Rose gives me a strange look, but Katie nods, “He did. Good thing he went looking for you, too. Sometimes the Portkeys...”

Wait, he did come looking for me? Can everyone see my face burning? Katie’s mouth is still moving and I force myself to tune back in.

“…no harm done. Let’s have a seat, though. I’d like to talk to you before we get started.” With a curt nod at Rose, she says, “Enjoy the match.”

I press my mouth into a pathetic smile, glancing at Rose. I swear she has that old glint in her eyes. But she touches my arm in a chummy way, saying, “We’ll catch up.”

Like an actual castle spire, the VIP tower holds a winding staircase that leads to the different levels of seating. Much nicer than the stadium seats below, these are more like fluffy armchairs. We emerge onto the second tier, and Katie directs me to a row in the front. Along the way I spot Theo and wave. He nods and, in usual fashion, snaps a photograph. What a sight Katie and I must be—a lily-white ginger who can’t even run a mile trailing behind a wiry athlete.

Katie gestures for me to sit, and takes the chair beside me. “I’ll be upstairs with Philbert during the match, but I wanted to talk about the article. In my letter I mentioned being eager to meet you. And I reckon I am, because I’m glad to see a new reporter doing Oliver’s stories.”

She couldn’t possibly know that I’ve been the author all along, but I still gulp, “I see.”

Katie swats at a strand of hair as if it were a mosquito, and looks me squarely in the eye. “Maybe this is pointless to say, but… go easy on him. I read that first article and it was… Well, I know you didn’t write it. But it was harsh. Brutal, even, the way that author talked about him like—” she shakes her head, knitting her brow. “I know how he can seem, especially to people who don’t know him. But Oliver is a really great guy—one of the best, in fact. I just hope he never reads that article. It would gut him.”

I am speechless. Going out of my way to shame Oliver, and becoming the kind of person that made me, was something I’d accepted. But I’d never stopped to think about his loved ones. What if his parents or relatives or mates read those things I said?

Katie sees my expression, “Sorry. Maybe that was out of line. I know we don’t know one another, and it isn’t my place to tell you how to do your job. Sometimes I just really have to speak my mind, you know?”

“I know,” I murmur, smiling. “You two are just alike, in that way.”

She exhales a quiet laugh, “In too many ways, turns out.” I study her, but she’s lost in thought. Then, to my relief she says conclusively, “Best be heading upstairs. Philbert’s probably having a panic attack about now. Enjoy the match.” With a curt nod, she disappears.

I don’t know how long I sit there blankly, trying to wrap my head around everything. I haven’t allowed myself to step back and look at what I’ve done. I was too angry. But does this really make me a monster? Aren’t I just doing my job? Is keeping one athlete in good standing worth keeping my mouth shut? What about everyone else in the country, unemployed or border-lining on poverty? I think of women like Tallulah Blakeslee. She’s made a name for herself, but how many people has she thrown under the Knight Bus? I didn’t think it was possible to be a good journalist without hurting someone—even if Oliver is “one of the best.”

A sudden crackling boom shakes me from my reverie. I jump, clutching the armchair. Lost in thought, the remaining hour before the match has sped by. Now the sky is darkening as if the sun were speeding behind the hills. (It’s a complicated charm used for daytime Quidditch. Dean says it’s like dimming the lights in a Muggle cinema.) A firework erupts into the darkened sky: blue and green sparks take the form of two crossed broomsticks. The stands erupt into cheers.

The commentators’ voices rumble across the pitch like thunder, reverberating in my chest. I peer over the edge; everyone below is going absolutely mental. I remember the excitement of the Kenmare match that Seamus, Dean and I went to. By contrast, everyone in the VIP section is thumbing absentmindedly through their notes or murmuring quietly. A witch younger than me, wearing very short dress robes, passes with a tray of complimentary champagne. I accept a glass, trying to contain myself while everyone else looks like they’re about to fall asleep. When Kenmare takes the pitch in a blur of green, I cross my legs to keep from jumping to my feet.

Yeah, Puddlemere’s my number three favourite team—but this is Kenmare.

There is a shuffling to my right, and then Rose is settling down beside me, “Isn’t this exciting?”

I nod, bitterly wondering if she even knows which team Oliver plays for. And then suddenly they’re taking the pitch, circling wider and wider, high and higher, in a flying “V.” The three rings of Puddlemere’s goals materialize, like wrought iron melded from thin air. Our seats are remarkably close to them. I remember Katie’s words, “Best bloody view of the pitch.”

The players ascend to their places. Against my will, my eyes keep flicking to the three-ring goals just to our left. Oliver has taken his post, poised and tense. The commentator’s voice rumbles, “…And back on the pitch after a two-year hiatus is Oliver Wood, Puddlemere’s longest-playing Keeper for three centuries.”

The stands erupt into more applause and shouting. But either he has chosen to ignore his personal mentioning, or he’s concentrating too hard to notice. I can’t decide which is more decidedly Oliver-esque. Other than a reddening in his cheeks, he appears totally oblivious. But then he turns his head ever so slightly towards us, and his eyes land on…

I choke on my gulp of champagne, coughing and pounding my chest.

“Oh, Oliver’s looking at me!” Rose says, twiddling her fingers in a wave.

I want to smack my forehead. This is just like the Weird Sisters concert, when I thought that Myron Wagtail was eyeing me for three entire songs (I even began planning the names of our children) when in reality I was standing directly in front of his wife.

But I can almost swear, as he glancing this way once more, that I’m the one locking gazes with Oliver. Of course, it’s all in my head. I spot the witch in the short dress, and point frantically to my empty glass, “More, please!”

*


As the match picks up, I am able to concentrate on things other than Oliver. An hour into it, Rose and I have each knocked back three glasses of champagne. There’s a warm, fuzzy feeling spreading from my lips to my toes. Maybe getting buzzed isn’t the most professional thing to do journalistically, but the bubbly is obviously meant to be drunk. Plus everyone else is doing it—a short old Wizard to my left has gone quite red in the nose. I’m even starting to enjoy Rose’s company.

Obviously this is very strong champagne.

The VIP sections are absolutely brilliant, the players zooming not twenty feet from us. The towers are saturated with protective charms, and the Bludgers ricochet off the invisible force fields right before our eyes. (This led to several bumphing penalties, even though the crowd is in no danger.) At one point, two Beaters slam into the invisible wall so close to us that Rose shrieks and spills her champagne. I am on the edge of my seat as the referee calls a blatching penalty—on Kenmare.

Without thinking, I throw up an angry hand and shout, “OH, COME THE BLOODY HELL ON!”

Everyone in the VIP section whips their heads at me; apparently their completely bored expressions have been hiding some strong Puddlemere feelings. And either I’ve had too much champagne, or Oliver really does look at me this time, furrowing his brow. I cough and settle back in my chair.

The match goes by so swiftly that my outburst is soon forgotten. To my great duress (which I am hiding by biting my knuckles so hard that I’ve given them permanent indentations), Puddlemere is up by 150 points. Even if Kenmare were to catch the Snitch—though it is being particularly elusive today—they would only tie the match. I love Kenmare, I really do, but I don’t think I could sit through another two hours of tie-breaking play.

The problem is, Puddlemere’s Keeper is just too good. As much as I hate to admit it, Oliver is absolutely bloody brilliant. Even more irritating is that my palms start sweating every time he hurls his bulking mass to expertly block the Quaffle. He’s like some kind of centurion, guarding his kingdom. I mean, he does have those broad shoulders… perfect for blocking…

I snap out of it—sucking the drool back into my mouth—when it suddenly happens. Donegal, the Seeker for Kenmare, plummets downwards on her broom. I can barely even see the glint of gold catching the light, but Jones is already hot on her heels. (Much more quickly than she returns fan mail, I note.) I clutch Rose’s wrist and she knits her brow, still not entirely sure of how one “Quidditch-es.” The rest of the stadium has caught on, the volume building into a roar.

“What are you doing?” I mutter, eyes trained on Donegal as she weaves between other players. Rose is smacking my hand, but I ignore her and don’t loosen my grip. “You should’ve waited! You’ll only tie the match!”

Something must be going on, though. Donegal is no idiot; this isn’t her first match. Why would she try and catch the Snitch when they have no chance of winning? Unless…

A-ha!

Kenmare’s Chaser, O’Leary—the one Oliver criticised for only being able to throw with one arm—is seizing his chance. Tearing across the pitch, low to the ground, he’s used the two-second pause wherein everyone’s eyes were on the Snitch. A Puddlemere Beater realizes what’s happening, but is unable to get past the opposing players to stop him. Suddenly O’Leary lifts his broomstick so hard that he skyrockets upwards, almost completely perpendicular to the ground.

Oh my God, he’s going to do it! We’re going to win!

I can see everything in slow-motion, clutching my champagne flute so tightly I’m sure it’ll shatter. O’Leary draws his arm back. At the same time, Donegal is reaching for the golden glint, fingers splayed. Oliver has caught on, but the look of fear on his face tells me something’s off—he’s off-center. The left goal-post is unguarded. O’Leary only has a split-second.

Then a very strange thing happens. Almost everyone in the stadium draws in a collective breath, nearly bursting with anticipation and knotted stomachs, clutching one another’s shoulders in oddly silent, agonizing suspense.

It is that moment of unsettling silence, apparently, that I choose to rise to my feet, thrust both my fists in the air, and shout, “KICK HIS ARSE, O’LEARY!”

Everything happens at once: O’Leary releases the Quaffle with astounding force. I look to see if Oliver will block it, but to my great surprise he has turned to stare at me incredulously. He recovers, but not soon enough—his fingertips only brush against the Quaffle as it sails past him, into the goal. Seconds later, Donegal’s fingers close around the Snitch. It’s over. Kenmare has scored a goal, and caught the Snitch. We’ve won by 50 points.

I am absolutely beside myself, jumping up and down and screaming, my champagne flute long since disappeared. Rose is staring at me in horror. In fact, everybody in the VIP section is. To hell with them, we’ve one! The stadium is absolutely roaring. But then I realize exactly what’s happening, and why everyone is looking at me murderously, and what everyone is screaming about. The Kenmare side is cheering with excitement, yes. But the other half—the Puddlemere half—is roaring with absolute fury, and now I see why.

Oh no.

I made them lose the match.

The enormous live projection, which has been screening the players, is now trained on my face. The stadium is erupting into loud “Boos!” I watch my own face turn white as parchment. Rose covers her face with one hand, and when that isn’t enough, sinks lower and lower in her seat until she’s splayed on the floor. A bright light collides on the invisible forcefield surrounding the VIP sections with a loud CRACK!

They’re hexing me! People are actually trying to hex me right now!

“Oi!” I cry indignantly.

Suddenly there are hands on my shoulders, and Katie Bell is yanking me away. “Best get you out of here,” she says, and I wonder if she’s as furious as everyone else. I glance over my shoulder at the angry mobs. Aurors are flying around the stands on brooms, trying to control the crowds.

Well this has gotten out of hand.

Katie draws out her wand and performs what I’m assuming is a protective charm. “It can be a bit scary when this sort of thing happens,” she explains. “Last time they followed the person home and—well, nevermind.”

I release a squeak and allow her to direct me away. But then I see Oliver. He hasn’t moved at all, floating before the goalposts. He’s staring straight ahead with the same blank look I saw when I slapped him. For a long time he’s very still, and then he puts his head in his hands. It’s the last thing I see before Katie Apparates me away.





Author's Note: Wow. It has been so, so, SO long, and I really apologize. I hope you readers are still out there, and if you are, I really apologize for the delay. This chapter was really hard to write, mostly because Quidditch scenes do not come naturally to me, but I'm already excited to get on to the next chapter!

How did you guys feel about Katie, and her talk with Edie? Or Rose's reaction? Or Puddlemere's loss? Please let me know what you think in a review. Thanks so much for reading!

PS - The amazing Eponine @TDA strikes again! ♥


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