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Chapter 3: News Spreads Faster Than a Snitch
The whirling thoughts in Rona's head ceased as she entered the dormitory, although it was doomed to come back what with the thrilling night in progress, packed with the excitement of Runes and Herbology. The looming N.E.W.T.S had sucked the fun out of the seventh years long ago.
"What were you doing out so long? Naughty, naughty." Hannah was resting flat on her stomach on her bed, feet dangling in the air and paying meticulous attention to her nails with one eye while the other scanned the text in front of her. It was, as Rona dubbed it, the Ravenclaw multitask.
Rona left that question unanswered as she plunked down on her pillow. She reached behind it and pulled out a Muggle book she had been reading the week before. "Just met with Oliver Wood."
They all shared one common viewpoint about boys. Tiring. Rona had her Quidditch team, Edie had her brother and all of his fifth year friends, and Penny had an entire Weasley clan attached to her boyfriend. The only exception was Hannah, who prided herself in being the flirt of the four, but in reality, she just liked to stir up trouble.
She could turn an innocent study group meeting with a crush into a story about a romp through the library, bodice-ripping included. "It's all about how you word it. If you can't find gossip, make gossip," she always said. But she never kept a bloke for long.
"So what happened?" Hannah said in her nudging tone.
"Nothing! Not really I guess. Just dealt with him like I deal with the boys. A good verbal bludger to the face. But I got him to agree to play something like that old game of ours. You know, ask questions, do a dare.”
"He finally onto your secret then?"
"You'd think so," Rona muttered, "but no, he just thinks I know who it is, thanks to Penny. For someone who's that obsessed with Quidditch, he's sort of slow to figure things out. I mean, he thinks it's a bloke. "
Penny propped her head up with her elbow. "With the sort of people on our team, I would have thought this would've become common knowledge already. Does anyone really think Roger's smart enough to figure out all the stuff you do?"
Hannah snapped her book shut. "Yeah, if no one's noticed you eavesdropping at the locker rooms — "
" — or spying at other team's practices while she's supposedly reading," Penny interjected. "Honestly, how does anyone fall for that?"
"And, and what was that really ridiculous thing she did two years back? Oh! Sneaking into the Gryffie boys' dorm during a party just to get a closer look at the brooms."
"I haven't done any of that recently," Rona said indignantly. "And I do a lot more with stuff that isn't quite so morally questionable. You know, like giving tips."
"Point is, Rona," Hannah continued, "If no one knows you've done all these things yet, what's the harm in letting yourself be known? They're not going to notice afterward either."
"It's not like I've had the opportunity to. What, I'm going to say, yes that's me, responsible for the past two years of losing. It's nothing to be proud of." The last time they won the cup, it was the first year Rona began helping the team and that was because Corny Quint was still captain. When Roger took over, most of the team consisted of new players, and they struggled to regain their past glory.
Penny continued to persist. "But losing is mostly Roger's fault. And you have to admit, he's improved and that's partly because of your help. That is something to be proud of. Stop avoiding it if you're just afraid of messing up."
"I will not when everyone can see it!"
No matter whose fault it was for an awful season, people looked to the captains to blame, and she was practically co-captaining. Rona wasn't one who welcomed criticism, especially when it was prompted by things that simply didn't go her way. The little annoyances that would end up multiplying didn't help either. She didn't need to meet any more Olivers.
Before she could respond, Edie, who had been hugging her pillow on the other side of the room, finally piped up. "But Rona, secret aside... what did Oliver ask and what are you going to make him do?"
Rona replayed the conversation in her head. "He knows she's in our year. Er, he. As for what I’m making him do, well..." She trailed off into her own train of thought before shrugging. "Maybe I'll just — "
"No, use him."
All eyes turned to Hannah with incredulous looks. "What?" she said. "Just because a bloke is stupid, doesn't mean he can't be stupid and hot." She crossed her arms defiantly. "He's a fit bloke. Besides, I heard he made a girl swoon with a single look."
"That's hogwash and you know it," Rona said. The memory of how he pulled her close, however, made her flinch.
"Denying that you've been swept off your feet?" She provided gratuitous hand gestures, putting her hand to her forehead and falling back onto her pillow.
"Now that's hogwash," said Penny. "She'd rather kiss a book. The only way Rona will ever be swept off her feet is with a broomstick."
"Easy enough for Wood. I hear he has a very large broomstick," said Hannah. The sound of faces-hitting-pillows filled the room as everyone tried to muffle their laughter and groans.
Penny was still chortling, when she halted with a muttered, "Honestly, a broomstick comeback?"
"Oh Miss Prefect, you love it."
"I have no idea what I'd do without you three," Edie emerged from her momentary giggle with wide grin. Whatever trouble she had in the evening was forgotten.
Penny shot up. "That reminds me. Edie, you're going to love this. Percy did the most romantic thing today. You're not going to believe it" She took out a crisp cream-colored paper from a box under her bed and began reciting the poem:
"Gryffindor is red,
Ravenclaw is blue,
there is nothing greater
than love from these two."
Edie was on the verge of breaking into another fit of giggles. "That is so corny!"
"I didn't think he had it in him! He passed it to me in class today!"
"Percy Weasley, passing notes?" Hannah squealed. "That's practically like a marriage proposal!"
As the conversation shifted, all four forgot about Oliver Wood. He may have been able to make girls swoon, but bad poetry had him beat every time.
The next morning, Rona left the tower before the rest of her roommates, book in hand. When Hannah and Edie blinked in confusion at their friend's quick departure, all Penny had to say was, "Don't bother. She's on the last fifty pages of that book."
Nothing could stop Rona from finishing a book once she reached 'the page of no return'.
The Great Hall bustled with breakfast: pastries, yawns and the distinct flurry of activity associated with unfinished homework. Rona sat by their usual seats, gnawing on a bagel, her eyes locked on a page of text. Her friends sat beside her somewhere between chapter twelve and chapter thirteen.
She barely noticed when a sudden quiet blanketed them and the voice that asked, "Is this seat taken?"
Someone slipped into the seat to her right, the proximity interrupting her reading. It always took time for her to adjust from reading to reality, a complex process despite last only mere seconds. Her eyes lost the concentration, once described by Hannah as "getting all wonky like when you turn the lights on and off too much". Then her composure returned and finally the scene in her mind faded away.
Her thoughts whisked past. How long had she been reading? And how did she get distracted? It was next to her, to her right, and much too close. She was just able to place it, vowel then consonant on her tongue. It was —
"Oliver." Rona snapped up and glowered. He had been leaning over her, amused grin in place, trying to read over her shoulder. With Rona's sudden movement, their faces were brought only a hand-width apart.
She stiffened at the unexpected closeness, but remembered that her embarrassment would only entertain Oliver more. "Don't you know what personal space is?" she flared.
Instead of replying, Oliver leaned back and let out a laugh. Rona took this time to scoot away. "How long has he been here?" she cried, turning to her friends.
They did a dance of shrugs and innocent smiles. Hannah clapped her hands together. "Long enough to be entertaining."
"You are a very testy person," said Oliver. He placed an elbow on the table, leaning casually. "To think I used to mark you as another Ravenclaw bookworm."
Rona heard a muttering of "Are we supposed to take offense to that?" from the other side of the table. She, however, was definitely offended. "There's a lot about me you don't know, Oliver. I'm sure years of classes with you didn't do the trick," she said coolly. "Now get to the point. You seem to have a problem with that as well."
He chuckled, picking up an apple. "I'm just here to ask what sort of awful challenge you're going to throw my way. I'm a gentleman. I keep my promises."
"I don't know it yet." Rona took some jam on her knife and thrust it violently on what remained of her bagel. "What else are you here for?"
"I didn't say — "
"Spit it out."
Oliver blinked. "Well, er, I was actually hoping that you'd give some mercy today. I've scheduled practice for this afternoon. I can't have anything in the way of that, you know?"
"Really, are you in the place to bargain?" She looked up at him wide eyed in pretend disbelief. This was for assuming she was harmless.
His face fell instantly. She had no choice but to break character and laugh. "So gullible. Look Ollie, I won't play with you," Rona said reverting back to her normal voice, but losing none of her teasing tone. "I respect a boy who knows a thing or two about Quidditch."
He brightened despite the obvious jab against him. "You'll be merciful, then?"
"I never said anything like that."
And back to a frown. "Are you doing this on purpose?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said innocently. "I just use the same tricks you used."
Oliver's mouth hung open in protest except that he had none.
"You're lucky I’m nice. I'll be merciful." Rona grinned. This was a good day.
"Thank you. That's all the answer I needed," he said, reverting to his usual charming smile and mischievous glint. He stood to leave. "But I'll have you know, I'm not going to let you win anymore."
Before Rona could think of a retort, Jason came up behind Oliver, waving a piece of toast around dangerously. "What do you think you're doing here? Loser's table is that way — eh? Rona?" His arms waved around. "Don't you know it's Wood? You have to be careful, you don't let him — "
"Jason," she snarled ominously, with a glare that could have scared off half of Azkaban.
"What — oh." Jason was stupid, but at least quick on the uptake. He cleared his throat and pat her shoulder roughly. "Ahem. Oliver, I'm watching you. Rona here's like a sister to me, you understand? No funny business."
"No funny business intended." Oliver said, raising his hands. He raised a brow at both of them.
"Right. Well. See you later." Jason stuffed the rest of the toast in his mouth as he made a quick departure. He wasn't the only one looking back more than a few times to see what was going on.
Rona sighed. She could always rely on Jason to make a scene when she wanted it least. It was time for damage control. She turned to see Oliver's face right in front of her.
Oh, how that position was going to help.
Oddly enough, it seemed that Oliver was having a similar thought. "Look," he said, keeping his voice low, "As much as I'd love a chance to see you publicly mortified, I can't risk stories running around with me in them."
Rona arched a brow. Talking about risks now?
"But don't worry," he continued, "I'm not letting you off easy. I can see right through your act. You, love, have another game on your hands. Thanks for the favor, though." He took a bite of his apple and left with a wink.
Still so very charming, Rona thought, wrinkling her nose. His last words to her were cryptic at best. Perhaps there was more up in his sleeve than she first thought — no.
Upon turning back to the table, she found Penny 'editing' her homework except her quill wasn't touching the paper, Edie stirring her hot chocolate for so long that her marshmallow melted, and Hannah, never one to bother hiding the fact that she liked to eavesdrop, grinning.
The three exchanged amused glances. "We all saw that, right?" said Penny.
"Oh definitely," said Hannah. She leaned forward. "Are you absolutely certain you don't want to snog him?"
Rona should have expected this. "I," she began, "am not dignifying that with an answer." She picked up her book, flipping through the pages to find where she left off. "I'll have enough to explain to Roger and the rest of the team once Jason exercises that big mouth of his. I was hoping to keep last night low-key."
Penny crossed her arms. "Explaining to the boys but not us? That's like a violation of the universal girl code. It's traitorous. You're going to be in for one hell of a questioning tonight, you know that?"
"I thought nothing happened between you and Oliver," Edie said, finally taking a sip of her drink.
"Nothing did. Now really. Last. Twenty. Pages." Rona jabbed her book for emphasis. "Let me be, and you'll get an answer. I'm teaching you all a valuable lesson in patience." Her eyes dropped to the text.
They grumbled, but her friends soon fell into defeated silence. Hannah huffed, "She stopped reading for Oliver."
Unfortunately, Rona didn't even finish the page before she heard Penny say, "Roger don't — " and a hand grabbed her by the shoulder.
"Switt! Jason told me — "
"Lower your voice." Rona gritted at the anxious captain. A brief glance to the Gryffindor table told her that fortunately, Oliver didn't turn around. "Merlin, does no one honor the sanctity of letting me read the last bloody pages of a book anymore?"
Roger followed her glance. "What the hell is going on between — "
"Nothing. You have no idea how many things have been misconstrued and — you know what Roger, I was going to explain later to the team — "
"No, you're explaining now." He lowered his voice again. They were drawing an audience. "Look, you know the danger of Wood knowing. Remember last season, he found out who our reserves were and made a whole plan out of that? Or how he reportedly keeps a record of the strengths and weaknesses of each player? He's a machine; I have no idea how he can do all that, but he can and he does."
Rona snorted. Roger seemed to be keeping a record himself. "He's not a threat. I don’t care if he’s the next bloody Quidditch legend — he doesn't know who's he dealing with." She briefly considered her wrath as a bookworm (which Oliver had so passingly insulting), armed with paper cuts and a large vocabulary. "He's my problem and I'll handle it. It's nothing to worry about. I know how to take care of myself, Roger."
"Don't underestimate him."
"Roger, back off," called Jeremy from down the table. He swung his legs over the bench and walked over. He always intervened when the idiocy level got too high for her tolerance. "I personally can't believe you'd really believe anything Jason would say."
Roger added to the abundance of mouths hanging open that day. Finally, he cleared his throat. "Fine. But I'll be asking for that explanation. Have a good morning." He turned and left abruptly, posture as stiff as his gelled hair.
"How can you stand him?" Bits of hot chocolate flung across the table as Edie waved her spoon around. "So uptight."
"Who even knows?" Rona put her book down to the side, giving up any hope of finishing it before breakfast was over. "Frankly I don't understand how you can stand your brother."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I love my brother." Edie looked honestly confused, but that was how she was, unwavering love and patience — except when it ran out.
Meanwhile, Jeremy brushed off the crumbs on the seat next to Rona and joined them. "Have you started looking for job openings yet?" he asked.
"Oh... that." Rona mumbled as she occupied her mouth with her glass of pumpkin juice. She had been procrastinating on settling her plans for after Hogwarts.
Penny shook her head. "She doesn't want to face that's she has a lifetime of inhaling dust and de-hexing books of the Restricted section as a cranky librarian."
Rona gulped down the juice. "Oi, I'd like the job."
"Yes, but you'll like it because it'll put galleons in your pocket."
Jeremy swiped her glass, taking a swig for himself. "I'm sending in my applications to the professional leagues today. Are you sure you don't want to try, too?"
Rona drew in a long breath. "It's not going to matter." As highly as she thought of herself, she wasn't delusional enough to think that she would be able to aspire to a coaching position.
"You're just lazy," he said, jabbing her in the side.
"And you don't know what Runes has been like lately," she muttered. "We're behind the syllabus and we've had to rush through the last three sections."
"You know, this is why I suggest you all follow me to the other girls' dorm parties," interjected Hannah. "You've got to loosen up. We're all smart Ravens, but it's not going to matter we're going to die from deprivation of fun. Well... Oliver will be good for you." She waggled her brows. "My experience with those vocal blokes like him are that they are quite good at maneuvering their hands at — "
Hannah was interrupted as Jeremy choked on his food with a squeak and pulled at his collar. "I... think I'll head back now," he said, grabbing another croissant, leaving in a deep shade of scarlet.
"I scared him away, didn't I?" Hannah pouted.
Edie patted her hand. "You always do."
"Speaking of Oliver though," said Penny, "Roger has a point. You are underestimating him. I know you think he's just another annoying good-looking git, but this is the bloke who's behind the Gryffindor team. He's their strategist. From the looks of the past seasons, a good one, too."
It was true. Oliver used to be simply another opponent to her, just another figure to place in the imaginary Quidditch pitch.
But even though Penny was right, Rona's pride shoved common sense aside, gave it a good kicking, and spoke for her. "And he's underestimating me. I have one free favor. I can make him suffer."
"But you won't," Penny countered. "You're a big talker, but you're not a sadist."
Rona's mouth hung open. "You know, I said something like that to him just yesterday — "
"We're your friends. You're supposed to be predictable like that." Penny slung her bag over her shoulder. "Now let's get to class. We're going to be late. ...and you know I'm right."
She didn't even have to go Silencio for Rona to shut up.