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Chapter 29 : In Which It's More Than Just Quidditch
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The rest of the team looked equally serious, even behind the face paint I’d forced onto them all. Toby Carter gave a sharp nod and Joey reached out to pat Scor’s arm. I was perched on the edge of Scor’s chair and shuffled closer to him. Usually, his speeches before matches were full of enthusiasm bordering on ridiculousness. This time, he didn’t need to say any more than he already had. We all knew why this match meant so much to him.
“We can do it, Scorpy,” Oz said. “We’ll show Potter what we’re made of.”
“Be ruthless,” Scor instructed.
“We can do ruthless,” Derek grinned, exchanging a knowing glance with Alex.
“Good.” Scor nodded approvingly.
We only had a few minutes before we needed need to head outside for the game, but none of us seemed to have anything more to say. I put a hand on Scor’s shoulder and he tilted his head to lean against me. His hair was fluffy against my skin and I moved to stroke it.
Every so often I was completely overwhelmed by how much I loved that boy. I wanted everything to be okay for him, and this year it hadn’t been. I knew it was just Quidditch, but this match meant more than that. It was about beating James Potter, and showing that we could manage on our own. And it was about showing Scor that he hadn’t lost all the things that mattered to him.
I stayed next to Scor as we left the changing room. Usually I’d walk out flanked by Joe and Oz, as my fellow chasers, but this time Scor caught my arm and kept me beside him. He was captain and should have led the rest of us outside, but if he wanted me there with him then that was where I wanted to be.
And out come the Slytherins! Captain Scorpius Malfoy leading the way, with star Chaser Olivia Bell right beside him. So far unbeaten this year, with two stunning games behind them, the snakes are going to be hoping to continue their winning streak and take home the cup.”
I quite liked Lucy Weasley. Nearly half of the Gryffindor team were her relatives, and I was pretty sure we’d be hearing some nastiness from her once the actual game started, but she always did a good job of sounding neutral and supportive at the beginning of matches.
Let’s hear it for the Slytherin team - that’s Carter, Arram, Rider, Montague, King, aaaand Malfoy!
I couldn’t work out whether the cheers represented the majority of the crowd or not, but it was clear that we had a lot of support. The Gryffindors hadn’t come out of their changing room yet, so I let my eyes skim across the spectators. Lily Potter and her friends were holding up an enormous banner that depicted a snake wrapped around the neck of a lion. She’d obviously decided her house loyalty came before her loyalty for her brothers. A few rows in front of her, Clara and Esther were screaming and waving, both wrapped up in their Slytherin scarves. Amethyst Twine was seated next to them. I was pleased to see that they’d decided to include her.
Towards the edge of the Slytherin stands, I saw a familiar head of blonde curls. My chest tightened and I glanced at Scor to check whether he was looking in the same direction. I wasn’t sure why Cassie had turned up, but I didn’t think knowing that she was watching would do any good for Scor. He noticed me looking at him and turned to give me a reassuring smile. I decided not to point out that the girl who’d broken his heart was sitting by herself in the crowd.
And here come the Gryffindors! After a shaky start against Ravenclaw, the lions came back with a vengeance in their recent match against Hufflepuff, leaving them only forty points behind Slytherin in the race for the cup! Both teams have a lot at stake here, and I think we can all expect an exciting match!
The Gryffindor team didn’t look much better than we felt. Jason looked a little bit green as he led his team towards us. It was his final match at Hogwarts, and even though he already had his offer with the Magpies, I knew he’d want to make the most of his last chance to captain his team to victory. Behind him, James Potter looked exhausted. He had dark shadows under his eyes, and was dragging his broom behind him rather than carrying it over his shoulder like the rest of his teammates. Al just looked devastated.
So let’s hear it for the lions! Wood, Spinnet, Weasley, Potter, Brogan, Coote aaaand Potter!
Laura Brogan had her hair pulled up into a high ponytail, and her face was coated in red and gold. I felt strange seeing her in face paint. It seemed too childish for someone who always acted so above everyone else. A little part of me knew that we probably had more in common than I wanted to admit.
Scor and Jason both stepped forward to shake hands. Scor wasn’t walking with his usual Quidditch swagger, and instead looked very rigid and serious. Jason gave me a small smile before returning to his team.
And the players launch into the air. The Slytherins are closer together than usual. Malfoy looks like he doesn’t want Bell out of his sight. Come on, Malfoy, I know her ex-boyfriend’s on the other team, but she’s not going to be able to get the quaffle unless you give her some space to fly!
Scor shot Lucy Weasley a furious glare which she probably wouldn’t be able to see properly from all the way over in the commentator’s box. I looked over at Al and saw him giving his cousin an equally venomous look.
We’ve got quite a few seventh years playing today, especially over with the Gryffindors. This is the last ever Hogwarts match for Toby Carter, Oscar King, Leila Spinnet, Freddie Weasley, James Potter and Gryffindor Captain Jason Wood! I think we can assume they’ll all be feeling that pressure to win today.
Jason looked like he might throw up. If I hadn’t had Scor right beside me I might have wanted to call something out to my cousin, but as it was I thought it wouldn’t be worth offending my teammates.
Bell flies to the centre, getting ready for Madame Chang to release the Quaffle. And joining her there we have James Potter. Both Bell and Potter have won the race to the Quaffle in all their matches so far this year, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets there first!
I lined my broom up with James’s. I’d played against him before, but for some reason I suddenly felt unusually anxious. I didn’t want to start the game like this. I knew how much Scor wanted to beat him, and I didn’t want the pressure in that moment, right at the beginning of the game. I pulled back and gave Joe a pleading look.
And this is a surprise! Bell and Montague switch places, leaving Montague against Potter in the centre. Not sure what happened there! Bell’s always been the one to start the game for Slytherin. But Montague’s a fantastic player, of course, so I’m excited to see what he does with this role.
Scor was glaring at me. I looked down at the ground. I had no idea what had happened to me. I was never this nervous about Quidditch.
AND THE BALLS ARE RELEASED! Potter dives straight in there, and Potter’s in possession of the Quaffle! That’s Potter with the Quaffle, and Montague pulls back to say something to King. Potter with the Quaffle, Potter with the Quaffle….and he passes and now Brogan with the Quaffle! That’s Laura Brogan for Gryffindor with the Quaffle. She’s their fastest player, and we can all see why Wood’s kept her on the team for so many years.
“What are you doing?” Scor hissed.
Joe and Oz had both streaked off in chase of Laura Brogan, but I was still hovering in midair where I’d been when the game had started. I shook my head, not knowing what to say to Scor. I felt sick.
“Pull yourself together, Ollie,” he said.
I didn’t reply, and Scor looked exasperated for a moment before flying away, obviously wanting to begin his search for the snitch. I stayed where I was.
And Brogan shoots...and Carter saves it! Slytherin Keeper Toby Carter now has the Quaffle, and Montague’s ready to catch his pass. Montague ducks to avoid a well-aimed bludger from Weasley, but it doesn’t stop him catching the Quaffle! And now Montague in possession. Montague passes to King. Montague. King. Montague. King. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again...these two are like mind readers. They each know exactly what the other’s about to do, and it’s amazing! Quaffle back to Montague.”
Joey hurtled past me with the Quaffle, closely followed by Laura Brogan. He didn’t look back at me but I was pretty sure I knew what he was about to do. I should have shouted and told him not to, but I couldn’t make myself speak.
Montague passes backwards, and just in time because Brogan’s almost caught up. Montague to Bell...and Bell doesn’t catch it! Not sure what’s going on with her today. We’ve been in play for six minutes and so far I haven’t seen her move. Perhaps a new tactic from the Slytherins? Some kind of diversion? But captain Malfoy isn’t looking happy, so maybe not.
Lucy was right. I could see Scor, circling the pitch a few metres above me, and he looked furious.
Anyway, Coote catches the Quaffle and Gryffindor are back in possession. Coote’s the youngest player on the pitch today, but so far this year her games have been impressive! Coote passes to Brogan. Brogan to Potter. Brogan. Potter. Brogan. Like the Slytherin chasers, these two have been playing together for years, and it shows. And now Potter with the quaffle again, getting near the goals now. He looks like he’s ready to shoot. Carter braces himself. Potter’s passes are the fastest of all the Hogwarts chasers, and are pretty tough to save! Potter shoots...AND HE SCORES! A good attempt at saving from Slytherin Toby Carter, but what a fantastic goal! That’s 10-0 to Gryffindor.”
Tears were stinging my eyes. I felt completely pathetic. I wasn’t sure whether I was nervous, or stressed, or maybe just all the sadness and worry of the last few weeks had caught up with me at a bad time. But I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. The rest of my team were zooming around the pitch, completely committed to achieving Scor’s aims. And I still hadn’t contributed anything.
The Gryffindor Chasers were back in possession, and I halfheartedly watched them passing the Quaffle between themselves. Oz and Joe were playing well, but two Chasers are never going to be able to compete properly with three.
I looked away from them, just in time to see a scarlet figure rising up towards me. He looked determined and I sighed, resigned to hearing what he had to say.
“Come on, Liv,” Al said when he reached me. “You can do this.”
He flew up until his broom was level with mine, and then stopped to hover in front of me.
“I don’t think I can,” I whispered.
Al brought his broom a little closer, obviously struggling to hear me. His eyes were wide and his face was kind. When he reached out to put one hand on my broom, his fingers brushing against mine, I didn’t pull away.
“What feels difficult?” He asked quietly. “You’re good at this. What’s making it hard today?”
“Your brother,” I confessed. “And, well, and you.”
I saw him wince but I didn’t feel guilty. The conversation was probably long overdue.
“You hate me,” he said. It wasn’t a question. He sounded completely disheartened.
I shook my head. “I don’t hate you. But I’m feeling confused. You’ve made me cross.”
He nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but paused to hear Lucy’s commentary.
Olivia Bell and Albus Potter seem to have forgotten they’re mid Quidditch match and are instead having a bit of a heart-to heart in the middle of the pitch! Not sure this is going to go down well with either of their captains. Come on guys! It’s now 30-20 to Gryffindor, and it’s Montague with the Quaffle!
Al stuck his middle finger up at Lucy and the gesture was so unlike him that it made me laugh. He smiled.
“It’s nice to hear you laugh,” he said.
“Haven’t done much laughing recently,” I said.
“Me neither,” he admitted.
I moved my hand closer to his, hesitating briefly before linking our fingers together. His hand was warm and I felt better for having his skin against mine.
“Okay,” he said, suddenly sounding purposeful. “I didn’t come over here so we could fix everything right now in this moment, although that’s starting to seem pretty tempting. I came over because you love Quidditch. You’re a fantastic Chaser and I know this game means a lot to you. So we need to find a way for you to feel like you can play.”
“I’m scared,” I told him. “And I don’t usually get scared.”
“So what makes this different to normal?”
“Maybe it matters more than normal,” I said. “I don’t feel like I can manage losing to you guys today. And Scor definitely can’t. This is his chance to beat your brother.”
Al squeezed my hand. “I’m not sure that’s the most helpful way to think about it.”
“It’s the way he’s thinking about it, though. So it matters.”
Al shrugged. “It’s not why you play. You play because you love flying. You find it fun.”
“So why don’t you just try to find it fun? Don’t think about the fact you’re playing against me, or about James. It’s still the same game.”
I thought about his suggestion. I could see why it was sensible. For some reason in my head this game had become a massive opportunity to right some of the wrongs of this year. And that wasn’t the point in Quidditch. It was meant to be a chance to play a game with a team of people I (mostly) loved working with.
“Let’s keep playing and treat it like the game that it is,” Al suggested. “Think you can manage that?”
“I think I can try.”
“Thank you. For helping me, I mean,” I said. “You didn’t have to come over here. Your team will be annoyed about it.”
Al shrugged again. “It’s you. I couldn’t just leave you looking like you couldn’t breathe. Anyway, I’m glad you were okay with me talking to you. I thought you might never speak to me again.”
“That was the plan,” I told him. “But now I think...I don’t know. Maybe we do need to talk about it all.”
“Later?” He suggested. “After the match?”
I nodded. He let go of my hand and reached out to stroke a strand of my hair. I managed to smile at him.
“Alright. Good luck.” He grinned at me.
Al waited for me to fly away before he shot upwards to continue his search for the snitch. I sped over to Joey, who was hurtling towards the goalposts, the Quaffle clutched against his chest.
And Bell’s back in the game! Look at her go! She’s caught up with Montague already and it looks like it wasn’t even hard for her. Montague passes to Bell. Bell to King. King back to Bell, and now she’s within scoring range. She’s a good shooter, even from this distance...but no, she passes back to King. And King shoots...and HE SCORES! Wood was ready to save anything Bell shot, but couldn’t get there in time for King’s angle. That’s 30-30, and the game’s getting interesting.
I shouted congratulations to Oz and he gave me a little bow. Him and Joe didn’t acknowledge my complete lack of contribution towards the game so far, and instead just seemed happy to see me back.
And that was an example of why the Slytherin Chasers are so tough to come up against! They work brilliantly together. I have to say, I felt more optimistic about Gryffindor’s chances before Bell started playing properly again. Not sure what my idiot cousin said to her but it’s not been good for Gryffindor! Honestly, the boy needs to learn to be a bit more selfish sometimes. Wood passes the Quaffle back to Potter, and now Potter in possession!
I flew over to James Potter, positioning myself just beneath him so that if he dropped the Quaffle I’d be there ready to catch it. It was unlikely to pay off. In the five years I’d been playing against him, I’d never known him to drop a ball. But I’d forgotten Scor’s instructions to our Beaters to be ruthless, and within seconds of James taking the Quaffle, a bludger shot towards him.
Fantastic Bludger work there from Slytherin Rider! Potter manages a sloth grip roll to avoid it, but he needs both hands and Bell takes the opportunity to grab the Quaffle from him! And now Bell’s back in possession, and she’s already streaking back to the Gryffindor goal posts. And Wood’s ready for her. He looks pretty determined to save this one, even if it does come from his cousin. Or maybe especially because it comes from his cousin?”
I blew Jason a kiss before lifting the Quaffle above my head, ready to aim for the middle hoop. He was veering slightly to his right rather than positioning himself in the middle, looking like he expected me to change aim at the last minute. I watched him carefully. It was unlike him to make an assumption like that. He knew me well enough to realise I’d notice his positioning and aim for the currently undefended left-hoop. To save a goal in the left hoop, he’d have to start moving as soon as I released the Quaffle, but it would be a pretty big risk to make that assumption when nothing in my current movements suggested I’d be aiming there.
I took a deep breath, unsure whether to aim for the undefended hoop or to call what I thought might be his bluff and aim for the right-hoop he was currently in front of. If he thought I’d aim for the left-hoop he’d have to move over there pretty quickly, and wouldn’t have time to change direction and save my goal if I then aimed for the right-hoop instead. I was aware of Gryffindor players approaching me, and knew I didn’t have much time. I let the Quaffle sail out of my fingers, speeding towards the right-hoop at the same time as Jason flung himself over to the left-hoop he’d been neglecting.
Some intense tactics going on there from cousins Bell and Wood! And Bell came out better off in that one. She’s obviously had some practice predicting what her cousin’s going to do. That was a risky move but it paid off! 40-30 to Slytherin!
“Well done, Liv!” Jason shouted out once he’d retrieved the Quaffle. “I feel like a bit of an idiot now.”
“I’m not going to apologise!” I called back.
“I wouldn’t expect you to. I won’t be apologising when we win,” he laughed.
I stuck my tongue out at him and he lifted the Quaffle.
Wood passes back to Potter, and it’s Potter in possession. Potter. Brogan. Potter. Brogan. Brogan passes to Coote, who narrowly avoids a bludger from Arram. Coote in possession. Coote passes to Brogan - not quite quickly enough though! Bell intercepts. Bell with the Quaffle.
This time, Jason saved my attempted goal. He looked so delighted that I couldn’t even bring myself to be disappointed. Al had been right. I played Quidditch because I loved it, and because it was fun. And after everything that had happened, I needed to have fun.
“Nice one moron!” I shouted.
Jason rolled his eyes and threw the Quaffle to Laura Brogan, who immediately darted off with it.
The longer we played, the more optimistic I felt. Talking to Al had made me feel better, and even though we had a lot more to figure out, I now felt like we’d get there in the end. And it was nice to be out there playing with my team. I still felt strange about James Potter’s presence on the pitch, and I could see the fierce glint in Scorpius’s eyes that meant he hadn’t forgotten how much the match meant to him, but it was feeling less like a big challenge and more like the game it was supposed to be.
And would you look at that! Albus Potter starts a dive towards the ground. Has he seen the snitch? Look at him go! Scorpius Malfoy is closely on his tail....this is intense - I can’t look!
I looked carefully at Al’s face as he dived. Something felt wrong. His expression was tense with focus, but he wasn’t looking at anything in the way he would be if he’d seen the snitch. I opened my mouth to shout at Scor that it it was a feint, but before I could say anything Al had pulled out of the dive and Freddie Weasley’s bludger had smashed into the front of Scor’s broom.
Fantastic tactics! Looks like Potter was feinting there to get Malfoy in a position where he’d be open to Weasley’s attack. And what an attack that was! Malfoy’s lost the front few inches of his broom. He’s going to struggle to stay in control after that!
Scor looked irate. He caught my eye and started trying to urge his broom in my direction, but it kept veering from side to side. I took pity on him and swung my own broom down towards him as the others went back to playing.
“You alright? Did it hurt you?” I called out.
Scor shook his head. “I’m fine...it’s just this bloody broom. I’m not going to be able to catch anything if I can’t fly in a straight line.”
His broom was shuddering beneath him and it was obvious how much effort he was having to put in just to keep it still. I flew closer.
“Come on. Let’s swap,” I said, reaching out to catch the splintered end of his broom.
“Let’s swap,” I repeated. “You’re right. You won’t be able to catch the snitch on that broom. And we’re not going to be able to win without the snitch. Our Chasers are too evenly matched.”
He frowned. “But then you’ll pretty much be out of the game.”
I shrugged. “Joe and Oz will manage for a bit. Just make sure you find the snitch soon.”
Scor considered my words for a moment, and then nodded.
And would you look at this! Malfoy and Bell look like they’re attempting to swap brooms in mid air. I wouldn’t fancy trying that myself, but they seem to have everything under control. Malfoy’s managed to get Bell balanced in front of him on what’s left of his broom. Now he just needs to climb across to hers….And he’s done it! Slytherin has a seeker back in the game!
I gave Scor a high-five and smiled as I watched him spiral away through the air. It was frustrating that I was stuck on his broken broomstick, but I thought it was probably worth it. He needed this more than I did.
Of course, this pretty much takes out Olivia Bell as a Slytherin Chaser. Brave move on her part! Let’s see how she manages the rest of this game.
I settled back on the trembling broomstick, holding on tightly in case it made any sudden movements, prepared to watch the rest of the game from down here unless the Quaffle came my way by sheer coincidence.
But I didn’t have long to wait and watch. Within minutes of leaving me, Scor was in pursuit of the snitch, Albus Potter close behind him.
Ooo this game is so exciting! I don’t know if I’m ready for it to end! But it looks like this is it, guys. Malfoy and Potter in pursuit of the snitch. And would you look how high up they are! It’s not an easy chase.
Scor was in the lead, but not by much. Al was close behind him, his broom almost vertical as he edged closer.
I could hear Lucy Weasley talking about Bludgers, but I didn’t really register what was happening until it was too late and our Beaters were either side of Al, both in possession of a Bludger and a determined, cruel expression.
Al managed to spiral out of the path of the first Bludger. It didn’t hurt him, and instead just caught the back of his broom, sending snapped twigs scattering down towards the floor.
Lucy sounded panicked, but even through her worry she was able to explain what a good hit it had been. Al would struggle to catch up with Scor now. And Alex’s bludger-work was no different to the move Freddie Weasley had played less than ten minutes earlier.
And then Lucy’s words were replaced with a scream, and it was like the whole world slowed down.
The second Bludger soared straight towards Al’s head. The second before it hit him, I saw his eyes widen, and he might have managed to move out of the way had his broom not been damaged. Instead, he was powerless as the ball of iron smashed into his skull.
I watched his head fold to one side, an obvious dent visible in his forehead even before it started to bleed. His eyes were glazed and only half open, and his fingers slid away from the handle of his broom as the blood started to run down his face and onto his Quidditch robes.
And then he was falling, and Lucy wasn’t the only one screaming.
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