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Chapter 8: Convoluted is an Understatement
The holidays were fast approaching. The Hogwarts Express was due to depart the next morning and per usual, most seventh years opted to stay behind at the castle to celebrate their last year with some old-fashioned loosely supervised debauchery. Rona was losing Penny to Weasley family dinner, but she had the company of Hannah, Edie, Jeremy, and Roger. Even though Roger often irritated her, they were — as Jeremy had said — like her brothers and she had forgiven him, however grudgingly.
“Being tyrannical is his way of showing he cares,” Penny said, as she and Rona walked down the train station. Her luggage clacked behind her.
They were there earlier than needed, per Percy’s request. As a result, only Rona was willing to wake up to send her off. It was mind-numbingly early and mind-numbingly cold, even with her extra jacket. She yawned loudly to make her point. “Yeah 'kay, where are you meeting Percy again?”
"Probably sitting in the train already." Penny threw her a pointed look. "I told you to stop staying up so late to read — ah. Hello Oliver.”
Definitely did not want to be awake.
“Penny!" His voice was not far behind. "Going back home I presume?”
“Yes, but I’ll be visiting the Weasleys, mostly.” Penny slowed her brisk walk to accommodate him, even as Rona tried to walk faster, hunched in her coat and refusing to look back.
“Right, with Percy. He told me. I walked him to the train just now.” He entered the corner of Rona's vision, smiling. She raised an eyebrow. He raised an eyebrow back, but otherwise ignored her for Penny who was on the other side of her. “First time?”
Penny nodded. If there was any indication she found Oliver’s presence to be strange, she did not show it. “He’s been stalling, but his mum’s insisting. Are you staying here like Rona?”
“Looks like it.” He flashed Rona another smile and she returned it insincerely to counter.
“Don’t mind her,” Penny said, brushing her off with a wave. “It’s just a bit too early for her liking.”
It was, but Rona also had a bigger problem on her mind. After talking to Jeremy the previous night, she had convinced herself that whatever infatuation with Oliver was the result of an overemotional day and had been certain that it would go away after a good night's sleep; however, the sudden quivering feeling at the pit of her stomach seemed to prove otherwise.
On top of it all, her resistance to his charms was slipping. It was part of her job as her team's strategist to note the details of their opponents, but as her gaze traced along his jawline, those details were taking a markedly non-Quidditch related direction.
Stupid sodding smirk, sexy competition, chivalry complex, et cetera, et cetera.
While Rona preoccupied herself with self-loathing, Penny scanned the prefect section of the train. A window screeched open a few meters ahead, where a freckled face protruded. “Here’s where I get on then."
“Here, allow me,” Oliver said, stepping forward to lift her bag.
Though she hadn’t been focusing on it, Rona couldn’t help but notice the movement of his right arm. Had it always been that stiff? He was barely putting any weight on it and she could have sworn he was right-handed. Did he hold his broom over-under or under-over? Was he —
“Are you going to keep staring at Oliver or are you going to say goodbye?”
Rona snapped up at Penny’s voice. “I was not staring,” she muttered. Oliver glanced away absently as if he heard nothing, but he sported an obvious smile. Rona brushed it off, rolling her eyes. “I’ll see you in two weeks then. Don’t have too much fun with Percy.”
Penny shook her head. “Oh don’t you start...” Her voice faded away as she moved inside the carriage.
“Use contraceptive!” Rona called after her, though she knew she was already out of earshot.
“Are you two always like this?” Oliver was chuckling and it bothered her that he sounded genuinely interested, the kind of casual friendliness that only led to more quivering stomachs.
“When we're civil." She spun back around toward the castle. "Is there a problem?”
He kept looking at her. “No it’s just... I finally understand you now," he said. "It’s not just me. You just have to have to last word with everyone.”
“I do not!” Rona regretted the words as soon as it came out of her mouth. “I do not,” she repeated, jamming her hands in her coat pockets. Oliver's existence was enough to fuel her streak of bitterness. “Why do you have to stalk me this early?”
He scoffed, “Don’t flatter yourself. I’m always up this early.”
She continued her habit of kicking at the snow, except the path was cleared so she had to settle with the little piles on her way. “And you’re always at the train station too, I suppose.”
“Of course not. The gates are usually locked,” he said with another grin. It hung in the air, as if anticipating another one of her sour replies. Tired, she gave none and focused on hugging her arms closer to keep in what little warmth she had instead. Oliver sighed, “Do you need my jacket again?”
He grumbled, obviously frustrated, and Rona couldn't help but feel a little guilty. He was trying to be nice, which was more than she could say for herself.
“Just what is your problem with me?" he asked, suddenly somber. "I stopped being such a prat. I thought, anyway.”
The grin reappeared. "Is it ‘cause I heard you have a thing for me?”
She whipped around to stare at him, eyes widening. “Jeremy told you? He should know better than to interfere for me — ”
His steps stopped and his grin faded.
And it suddenly became very quiet.
Oliver studied her carefully with a not-quite smile and eyes alight while Rona stared back, stomach sinking farther and farther.
“You were joking," muttered Rona, burying her face in her hands. The pit in her stomach kept digging itself deeper. “You were joking. I can’t believe it. This is like the third time this has happened in two days. At least before, it was to my friends, not you... bloody... git!”
“This is how... you act to people you fancy?” he said, grin reforming.
“Oh do not start. You are a phase.” She began walking again in a bitter stomp. He followed.
“What’d you say I was?”
“A phase. A dent." She didn't dare look his way again, lest she discover an even brighter shade of red on her cheeks. "You’re a dent, Oliver.”
“I’m a dent?" he laughed. "Care to clarify?”
“It’s something you... trip over and curse at.”
They continued in silence. Rona was waiting for a proper response — she had talked enough anyhow. The only optimistic thought roaming in her mind was that his rejection would at least crush the crush once and for all.
Finally, as they passed the school gates, he spoke up. “You really don’t want to fancy me that much?”
That wasn't a rejection. He seemed almost... disappointed. They were stumbling too far into uncharted territory.
Rona bit her lip. "Look... it's just... I don't know." How was she supposed to say, I'd really prefer going back to hating you for convenience's sake? "You've got to see it my way. We're only talking because you wanted information from me. And then all of a sudden you're nice. How do I know it's not an act?"
“You... believe Roger?” He definitely sounded disappointed this time.
She wrinkled her nose. “Don’t give me that look. Roger’s a twat, but a twat with a point. You don’t exactly have the best track record, what with pressing girls up against walls trying to seduce them. It’s just going to take some time.”
He ran a hand through his hair, sighing. “So you don’t trust me but you like me?”
“I can't say I understand you. And you don’t want to know what I think of you or anything like that?”
Rona was waiting for him to say something along those lines. She wanted to know quite badly, but why burden herself with ‘what-ifs’? “I wouldn’t believe you, no matter what you said.”
He paused, tilting his head to the side, and Rona could only wonder what he was thinking, deciding. “At least it’s only six weeks until our Houses’ match," he said.
She was almost afraid to ask, sensing the implications. “And then?”
He leaned in, gaze trained on her. “And then maybe I’ll keep trying to talk to you even though I have nothing to gain, because I’ve fallen for you.”
The sound of her heartbeat drowned out everything else. She saw it coming, but it didn't matter. Calm, controlled insides went all a-flutter.
“I’ll be over you by then,” she uttered, hoping she sounded confident enough, mostly to convince herself.
“And leave me all alone?” He clutched at his heart. The grin had yet to leave his face. “Love, you’re cruel. And to your handsome crush, no less.”
"What've you got against me anyhow?" He straightened himself up and resumed walking. They were beginning to look conspicuous to the people walking past to the train station.
"Everything," Rona scoffed. She held out a hand, counting by her fingers. "I should very well still hate you, except you're not much of a threat and right now, I'm more pissed at Roger. It's midyear and I've been bored and my mind is trying to fill that void by somehow convincing me that this lovely dent will spice my life up. If my mind isn't doing that, my friends certainly are. Plus, I fancy blokes for the most ridiculous reasons and you have certainly been the most ridiculous out of all of them."
Oliver stared at her, pinching the bottom of his chin. "...you've thought about this quite a bit."
"I need to rationalize myself somehow."
He started walking backwards, his hands on his head and elbows jutting out on either side of him. "Why is fancying someone so difficult for you? Better question, why is everything so difficult for you?"
She smirked. "'cause I have to deal with blokes like you."
He smirked back. "I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm brilliant."
They continued their mock bickering until they were in the entrance hall. She was uncomfortable with how long they kept up their repartee, how much it entertained her, and the disappointment when it ended. Before they went their separate ways, however, a stern voice interrupted.
“Mr. Wood, Miss Switt."
Oliver and Rona turned around just as Professor McGonagall walked between them.
"Both of you in my office now, please.”
They raised a eyebrow at each other, both knowing exactly why they were being called in: the near-fight from the day before. Rona had counted herself lucky that there had been no immediate disciplinary action. A silly thought, considering how luck had avoided her like the plague lately.
As the cherry on top, when the door to McGonagall's office opened, Roger was standing by the desk. Rona would have liked to believe that Roger and Oliver were smart enough to not start a fight in the Headmistress's office, but taking into the intense staring competition already in session, she wouldn't have bet on it.
She wedged herself between them just in case.
Professor McGonagall cleared her throat. “This will only take a moment. A prefect informed me of what happened yesterday in the Great Hall. If it were not for the intervention by Mr. Jeremy Stretton, we would have quite a fix. Two Quidditch captains fighting and risking suspension?" They shuffled around, sending glances all over the room. "I was told this matter involves Miss Switt. Would someone care to explain?”
Roger had his response ready. “Oliver’s trying to spy on my team through her. I’m protecting her, Professor.”
Oliver stiffened, hands clenched. “That was before."
“What a liar! You were with her this morning, weren’t you?”
Rona balked. "Roger!"
Professor McGonagall held up a hand. “I will not delve into personal matters — "
"But, Professor," Roger began, pointing an finger at Oliver.
"But nothing, Mr. Davies. Now, I suggest you two leave your battles on the pitch, unless you wish to have your reserves play the next game, understand?”
With great reluctance, Oliver and Roger nodded. Rona let out a thankful breath. The entire time she wanted to inch away. The idea of two blokes fighting over a girl was grossly overrated. It was not flattering; it was idiotic.
Professor McGonagall gave them a few more sharp reprimands before dismissing them. As Rona turned to leave with the other two, the professor stopped her. “Miss Switt, if you’ll just stay a little longer.” She motioned for her to sit, and Rona did so, wondering what else needed to be discussed.
After the office door closed, Professor McGonagall sat down as well, folding her hands together. “This is your last year here. What future are you working toward?”
Was this the professor’s version of small talk? “Er, well I’m planning to take N.E.W.T.S. in Runes, Arithmancy, History of Magic, and Herbology. I was thinking of being an archivist, maybe part-time at St. Mungo’s.”
"The reason I am asking,” she said, adjusting her glasses, “is that I wonder if you were considering Quidditch as an option.”
"Quid — " Rona blinked stupidly, caught off guard. "How do you know?"
Professor McGonagall reached inside a drawer. “Professor Flitwick has told me about your contributions to your team and — ” She laid out a fan of papers in front of Rona that she immediately recognized as her lost Quidditch notes from fifth year. “ — you’ve left a couple souvenirs in your old Transfiguration book.”
Rona smiled sheepishly as she picked them up. Her old plays seemed so amateur now.
“While I frown upon any inattentiveness in my class, I must admit these are quite impressive. You have a good eye.”
“Thank you, Professor. I... thank you." She liked to brag about her skills, but she hardly thought they had career potential. "I’d really like to keep going with this, but I’ve don’t have any actual experience. I’m just a fan. Maybe a very involved fan, but no one will hire me on those credentials.”
Professor McGonagall sniffed disapprovingly. “This is no time to be humble, Miss Switt. You are certainly not going to have a future in Quidditch with that sort of attitude. Have you considered making your talents known?”
Her glance flitted away. Past regrets seemed to pile up lately. “To be honest, Professor... I do a bit of spying myself.” She quickly added, “Nothing serious, but I’ve been to other teams’ practices and the like and I wouldn’t be able to continue if others knew about it.”
To her surprise, Professor McGonagall smiled. “And what do you do when you’re at these practices?” she asked in the tone all professors had when there was an answer they wanted their students to figure out.
No one ever questioned her on this topic. She floundered with her words before finally forming a sentence. “Well, I um, mostly look at their play styles... techniques I suppose. Roger’s a dunce — I mean isn’t very good with strategies, and I don't want to base all my plays on what I see at the matches. Only nine a year, after all. So I practically live on that pitch during the training season.”
“And now that you’ve had a few years experience, how many of the other team's practices have you been to this year?”
Whatever Professor McGonagall was getting at, Rona was slow on the uptake. “Er...” Her mind drew a blank. She had accidentally stayed for — and was subsequently kicked out of — that one Gryffindor session a few weeks back, but otherwise she couldn’t remember being at any that year. But why? Was I focusing on my classes? ...No. I was busy improving the team. I was busy making my own plays. I was busy—
“Miss Switt?” she said, training a stern eye on her.
Rona jolted alert. “Um, none, Professor. I haven’t been to any at all.”
“I see." Professor McGonagall gave her a knowing tilt of the head. "Perhaps because you no longer need to rely on underhanded tactics and instead, yourself.”
Rona's mouth paused half open. "That... could possibly be true.”
“Wisdom of a witch," she said, with a curl of her lips. "In any case, this is all I wanted to discuss. I suggest you find Madam Hooch for further advice. I'm sure she'll know where to find open positions."
Rona sounded like she had been Bludgered more than Jason and Professor McGonagall still thought she was ready for the big leagues. She finally stopped gaping long enough to smile politely. "Thank you, Professor McGonagall. I'll find her as soon as I can."
"That will be all. Good luck — oh, and do excuse Oliver. He’s wanted the Cup ever since Charlie Weasley left, so he can be very — ”
“ — persistent,” they both said at the same time.
When Rona exited the office, she found Roger leaning on the wall nearby, a surly expression accompanying his crossed arms, as expected. Oliver was nowhere in sight, but seeing as Roger's face was still unbruised, no one had thrown a punch while she was in McGonagall's office.
Ignoring Roger, she started toward the Great Hall. He followed wordlessly, all the while trying to communicate via a combination of raising his eyebrows and squinting — a feat in itself.
“Stop that," she muttered, shooting him an exasperated glance. "You are not about to reprimand me in a manner that’s even more annoying than your lectures. I know what you want to ask. Have you ever considered that I have a plan in dealing with Oliver?”
“You haven’t given me a reason to believe you since you’ve started snogging him.”
“I swear, the way you talk, it’s as if you’re jealous and obsessed. But I don’t think Oliver likes blokes. I’m sorry.”
“Just get on with it.”
Her lie was at the ready. “Oliver might be able to get information from me, but it works the other way around, too. It doesn’t matter if he knows I’m the Strategist or if he thinks I know who it is: we get the better end of the deal regardless. I have access to the captain of the Gryffindors."
He opened his mouth to speak, but Rona interrupted him, "And do not start on his bloody charm again. He is not going to seduce information out of me. 'sides, considering a Gryffindor's greatest trait is being foolhardy, he’ll get cocky. Let his guard down. So you just focus on beating Slytherin so we have a chance at the Cup. Your broom handling's lacking."
Roger shook his head at her quip, but seemed interested otherwise. “I like the way you think," he said, rubbing his chin. "I like it a lot.”
“Yes, because I actually think. Try it one day. Just don’t mess this up.”
"I know you think I'm being hard on you, but he is trouble — "
"Yeah, dad, I know."
He frowned. "I'm serious."
"I know. You're always serious."
She managed to change the topic to her newly devised Knot the Knuts maneuver, which kept Roger occupied the entire way to the table. Rona sat with him and Edie that morning. Jeremy was attempting to woo Hannah in their usual lunch spot further down the table. For Rona, it resulted in large amounts of secondhand embarrassment and horror as she watched Hannah lead him outside like a manticore ready to devour its victim.
In the few times she glanced up at the Gryffindor table, she thought she saw Oliver looking at her, but she passed it off as her compromised mind playing tricks on her. As thrilling as the feeling of a crush was, it was messy, inane, and the last thing she wanted if she intended to keep focused until their last game. It was absolutely ridiculous to spend so much time thinking about him, but she did think about him. She couldn't help it. Rona cursed inwardly at Penny. She was right. Competition, puzzles, and Quidditch to boot. Oliver was a big, bloody question mark, and she actually liked him for that.
Bloody hell, he knew how to make six weeks seem like forever.