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Chapter 2: Let the Game Begin
"What the hell happened?" asked Rona.
Penny raised an index finger. "He doesn't know. Look, we got on the topic of your job, so I feigned ignorance, but I swear he was seeing right through me. So I had to think of a way out."
"Saying that you knew who it was."
"Why?!" Rona sputtered.
"Think about it." Penny was still the complete essence of calm, not a single blonde hair out of place. "He won't expect me to lead him to the very person he's looking for. So just talk with him a little or whatever he wants, and stall until we play against the Gryffindors."
"That's in two months!" Rona cried. She heaved a loud sigh. "You honestly couldn't have thought of a better way to throw him off the trail?!"
"Will you stop yelling? We're not on the pitch anymore — "
"Not that you let me yell on the pitch."
Penny rolled her eyes. "Oh shush, you were annoying. And for your information, no, I couldn't think of a better way. I tried a few other excuses, but it only made him more suspicious." She beckoned her to leave with a wave of her hand. "Now enough questions. Off you go. I think he's waiting for you in the armor gallery."
Rona shut her mouth into a sour pout, not budging from her seat. "There is something you are not telling me, Penelope Clearwater." Her eyes narrowed. Their auras were battling. "I don't have to listen to you."
She reached toward her book, but Penny snatched it first.
"Hmm, Musings of a Half-Breed?" Penny flipped through its pages carelessly. "Honestly, I don't understand how you can read this — for fun no less. You inhale books like Weasleys inhale food." The book snapped shut, and she held it by her side. "I know you. You're going to talk to him just because you're curious, aren't you?"
Rona couldn't argue, and Penny pushing the curiosity wasn't helping either. What did he want from her? How much did he know?
"Bint," Rona grumbled
Penny's smile broadened. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be taking a shower before Edie hogs all the hot water. Have fun." She took the book with her as she ascended the staircase to the girls' dorm.
Rona glared in Penny's direction, just in case she decided to turn back. She did not.
Sighing, Rona slumped back on the sofa, only pulling herself up when heat building between her back and cushion became uncomfortable. Curiosity nagging, she dragged her feet over to the door. It swung open as she approached, letting in a rambunctious mess of fifth year boys. At the very back was Edie, who was hauling her brother by the collar.
"If I ever ever catch you with a bag of Putrid Puffs again, I swear I'll tell mum about it and about that time you plugged up the loo on the sixth floor." Edie tightened her grip, causing her brother to emit a sound that warned of a desperate need for air. "I swear, that poor girl's going to stink for ages. You're lucky Flitwick only deducted forty points. I have no idea how you even got sorted in this house."
She continued to mutter random irrelevant obscenities until she let him go and he scrambled to join his other friends. She trudged toward the staircase and mumbled a grunt of recognition to Rona.
Rona responded with a sympathetic wince. "Long day?"
"You have no idea." Every step Edie took reverberated with her frustration with how life seemed to dislike her. She muttered something that sounded like "long, hot bath."
It was hardly an unusual sight, and with a little girl talk Edie would go back to her normal self. Her brother was an unfortunate thorn in her side, but he wouldn't be a proper little brother if he were not.
Rona shook her head and ducked out to the hallways. She scanned around, listening for footsteps. The few minutes wandering reminded her why she hated the castle at night. Hallways were repeating themselves, while the moving staircases seemed to be betting which one could outwit her best. She thought she was heading toward the armor gallery, but as her calves began to ache, the evidence proved otherwise.
Having done a complete circle and returned to the Ravenclaw tower, she was about to give up when she heard a voice behind her.
"Rona! Just who I was looking for!"
She turned her head. Oliver was peeking around the corner.
He walked to her with a quick, sure step and flashed a smile. "I hoped Penny would've found you sooner. Past curfew now, I bet."
"Then it'll probably be best if you quiet down," Rona muttered, antsy to get back to her room. She tried not to stare directly at him, not sure what his arsenal had in store.
She was hardly immune to a bloke's charms, what with her track record of fancying Quidditch captains during her adolescent years — she still remembered Charlie Weasley's arms quite vividly. No, she was merely smart enough to have a little sense and take preventive measures.
"Right, right," said Oliver, still in the same volume. His attention was singularly focused on her, and the odd corners of her ears turned hot. "Enjoy your book?"
"Yeah... I guess," she said, still faintly embarrassed by her earlier blunder. Impatience still took precedence. "So, you called me down here because...?"
"Penny said you're also a big fan of Quidditch." He tilted his head toward her, the angle perfectly capturing the nearby candles so his eyes sparkled. "I've noticed actually. There's so few girls interested nowadays. It's really an attractive quality, and I mean that of the true fans only. She told me that you've been to every game, rain or sleet or anything, even if you're sick — "
"Oliver," Rona interrupted. He was going nowhere. If he was going to flirt with her, he should at least have the decency to do it well. "Point, please. Now."
His mouth paused open, but he soon sealed it with another smile. "Well, I like to keep up with the other teams." He leaned against the wall, close enough for her to feel his breath and a stifling pressure built against her lower back. "Learn more information about them, about their fans. I have to admit I've had my eye on you for awhile — "
"Oliver," Rona interrupted again. "You're a bit close, don't you think?" She wasn't sure how even anyone without a brain could fall for this. She backed away to avoid what she believed to be his charming advances and decided to cut off their conversation early to save them both from further embarrassment. "If we're breaking curfew so you can ask me out for some hypothetical butterbeer, the answer is no."
He stood there staring again as if appraising her. Then the tiniest smirk formed. "I should have known," he muttered. "You're going to make this hard."
There was something oddly threatening about his words. "Ex...cuse me?" she said, taking another step back.
"Penny must've told you I'm looking for the Ravenclaw Strategist, right?" Oliver said, the charming overtures gone. He threw his hands up. "Well, I am. Thought it was just a legend for years, and hell, you're the first real trail I get, so I'm bloody desperate to find out who he is."
He. The word stuck out like a screaming mandrake. She could barely stop herself from laughing out loud. Not only did he not realize that the person he was looking for was right in front of him, but he thought she was a bloke. His other words sunk in right after and she couldn't help but grin, ego roused. She was a legend.
The implications of their entire conversation suddenly sunk in, however, and the good mood slipped away faster than a slippery Snitch.
"You think I'm this easy?" she cried, jabbing her finger into his chest.
"Shh," Oliver put a hand to her mouth so suddenly that she froze in place. He leaned in, smirking. "It'll be best if we, you know, quiet down. Wouldn't want Filch to think we were up to no good, do you?"
Suddenly, he wasn't so easy to dismiss anymore. A definite intent glinted in his eye, and his entire demeanor changed.
"Idnnhffunetingg," Rona mumbled through his fingers, which she was very tempted to bite if he didn't remove them soon. He did. "You are up to no good. And I don't have to tell you anything."
He slumped back against the wall, running a hand through his hair. "Yeah, I know that. That's where the charm part comes in. Usually."
She gave a contemptuous snort, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, like that works. 'I've had my eye on you for awhile'? What sort of pick-up line is that?"
"One that I thought would work."
"Well, thank you for thinking so highly of me."
He chuckled. "That's what I was forgetting."
"That you're smart."
His compliment had come out of nowhere, which simultaneously flattered and worried her. Rona narrowed her eyes. "I don't know what you're trying to do, Oliver, but I'm not playing your game." She turned to leave, but Oliver grabbed her wrist and pulled her to face him.
"I don't think you get it. What part of 'I'm bloody desperate' do you not understand?"
The ire sprang out. "And you think I am?" she hissed, pointing her finger threateningly at his jugular. "Who do you think I am, that you can snog me until you get an answer?"
"That can be arranged," Oliver said, returning to his earlier suave voice. He swiftly closed the gap between them, bodies a whisper apart.
Unlike his earlier attempts to charm her, the sudden change in proximity caught her off guard. Unfortunately, that gave her time to notice the sudden warmth, the breath that tickled her nose, and his mischievous eyes.
That explained the swooning girls.
But it was hardly going to affect her sensibilities. Her balled-up fists, on the other hand, were quite affected. "Don't. Don't you dare," she said sternly, not breaking her gaze.
"Everyone has a weakness."
Rona considered having said fist greet his cheek in a swift, violent manner, but he released her. She rubbed her wrists, muttering, "Should call you out for harassment."
"Look, I'm sorry, really," said Oliver. The sincerity was lost on her. "I expected something different. I get too engrossed in work sometimes."
The conversation was raising up too many questions and not enough answers. "You're a Keeper. I don't see how meeting girls in dark hallways constitutes as part of your work. And what about Penny? What were you two talking about anyway? Merlin knows you can't do this." Her hands flapped in the space between them. "She's your roommate's girl, after all."
"You really think I am that dense, don't you?" Oliver shook his head. Well, he certainly hadn't proven himself to be otherwise. "Percy was with me, for your information. She spent most of her time talking to him. And oi — I do respect a girl who knows a thing or two about Quidditch." After glancing at her glower that told him volumes of his implications, he added, "Yeah, you're a fan too, I know. I just thought perhaps you'd appreciate my lovely persuasion instead."
"Well, I don't."
He looked her once over. Twice over. "No doubt if you know the identity of the Strategist, you must know a lot about Quidditch yourself. He obviously trusts you with that information."
A smug lilt lifted her smile. She was never complimented enough since she worked under the radar. Roger was always going on about his capabilities as captain, but she did just as much as he did short of actually playing.
They reached another awkward lull. If Oliver insisted on her presence, she may as well do some snooping herself? "Why do you want to know so badly, anyway?"
He gave her a sidelong glance before taking a deep breath. "If you really want to know, first, I'm just curious. It's about Quidditch. I can't not know something about Quidditch." He stood up straighter, counting off with his fingers. Rona recognized this pose from his Quidditch practice speeches. "Second, tactical obviously. I won't hide it. Plays reflect the person who makes them. Fred always said he can smell one of mine before every practice." It was his chance to smile smugly. "Third, well, I want to meet the bloke. I've seen Ravenclaw play, that Strategist has brilliant plays. If the team were a bit better, I'd be in trouble. Still, love to meet someone like that." He resumed leaning against the wall on his elbow. "So, is that a good enough answer for you?"
Rona had been eying him suspiciously, but she loosened up every time Oliver complimented her skills — or rather, the Strategist's skills. Strategist. Honestly, what a name! Why hadn't she thought of that?
She knew he wasn't going to give up, no matter what he said, and if he was going to keep following her regardless, she may as well have some fun, and if she got lucky, get some dirt on the Gryffindor team.
She had been trying to phase out the more frowned-upon practices of her job. Spying on classmates still pressed her conscience at time, even if she wasn't particularly close with them. But Quidditch was still an underhanded sport, the kind that needed over seven hundred fouls listed on the books. After all, Oliver was in the hallway with her for a reason and it was far from jolly old sportsmanship.
"Fine," said Rona after her thoughts stopped at a devious idea. She noticed Oliver's eyes lighting up. "Don't get too hopeful. I'm not telling you outright. I'm offering a… trade."
"Trade?" Oliver said hesitantly. "What sort of trade?"
"Ever play twenty questions? Ask any yes or no question, but you have to do something in return for every question." If he was as desperate as he said he was, he would take the bait.
He responded even more cautiously. "Something? What sort of something?"
"Do you have to use that sort of suspicious tone for everything? It's nothing too bad. I'm not a sadist. Besides, what's the worst a dorm full of girls can come up with?"
Describing Oliver as looking uncomfortable was an understatement. The tables were turned, and he didn't seem the type to like losing control.
"Take it or leave it," she said, turning and walking away.
She counted in her breaths. Three...two...one...
"I'll do it."
Baited and hooked. Rona spun around, grinning widely. "And you thought you were just going to chat me up. Got more than you bargained for didn't you?"
He seemed ready for a retort, but he was almost... amused. "You're bloody difficult, you know that?"
"You're extremely conducive to my sanity, too." She began walking away again.
"Strategist. In your year?"
"Of course," she said, not bothering to look back. "I'll have your punishment tomorrow."
Rona didn't even know what she was going to do to him, but the small victory was enough. When she finally got back to the common room and the door closed behind her, the impact of what occurred finally hit her. In ten minutes, he had already managed to eliminate ninety-five percent of the potential possibilities and look good doing it.
Damn fit Quidditch blokes.
A/N: Oh Oliver. I hope you like him! ^__^