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Chapter 1: To be a Gryffindor
Katie Bell is terrified. Of what, you might ask? Everything. She has dug herself a hole of fear and she hides there, day and night. She has forgotten that she is a Gryffindor, a Quidditch player, a fierce protector and true friend. She has forgotten who she once was. Now she is only the fear.
She fears heights, as a Quidditch player never should, ever since that day when she flew, with no broom, just a cursed necklace holding her aloft, filling her with unspeakable pain. The sight of a broomstick, once the symbol of her freedom, sends her into cold sweats. Looking up into the dizzying expanses of the sky gives her crippling vertigo. So she shelters herself inside, hiding from infinity. What else? She fears the dark, like a child, scared of the monster under the bed and the closet from which her nightmares creep, feeding off of her panic. But these are tiny fears compared to the phobia that rules her life. Katie fears pictures. Moving pictures, that is. Why? Only she could tell you. Perhaps it is that they are trapped, forever in a moment. Maybe it is that they are moving, almost living memories. One cannot blame her for not wanting to remember. A walk down memory lane, for Katie, is like taking a stroll through hell, full of fires and darkness.
Nobody is quite sure what happened to Katie on that terrible day at the Battle. Some say she was almost killed. Some say the horrors of that day drove her mad. I think the most likely is that she was captured and tortured. The Cruciatus curse is enough to drive anyone to breaking point. All we know for sure is that she has never been the same since.
Katie hasn't left this house since the war. Her family provides for her, sends her food and therapists. She accepts the food, but kicks the doctors to the curb.
“Nothing is wrong with me,” she says. “Don’t come over.” They wish that they could. She hasn't spoken to anyone else. Not George, nor Alicia, nor Angelina, nor Oliver. She knows nothing of what they've been doing. Living, she supposes, and jealousy overtakes her when she realizes that she hasn't lived since the war.
Time goes slowly in Katie's world, with nothing to mark its passing but the overlooked and rusty grandfather clock, ticking, unnoticed, in a dusty corner of her house. She wonders if it is June yet. Perhaps, she thinks, it might be Tuesday. She is not sure. She might never have found out, were there not a sudden noise, a noise that would decide her fate. What noise, you ask? A knock, on the door. How very strange, she thinks. There is a sound she hasn't heard since the last therapist came and, without much interval, went. She walks stiffly to the door and cracks it open, shielding her eyes from the brightness of day.
There stands her savior, though she doesn't know it yet. Her knight in his Quidditch jersey, tanned hand raised for another knock. She looks him over, from ginger hair to dirty trainers, and a flash of recognition passes over her face. Her voice is not quite in working order, but she rasps: “Hullo”
“Hey there Katie!” says Oliver Wood. His broad smile fades as he looks at his old friend. She is so very different from when he knew her. Hair unkempt, clothes in a state of disarray and, most of all, eyes with as much brightness and vigour as a block of lead. Dark brown eyes that he has seen alive and sparkling, furious and flashing (when he shouted at her at those early morning Quidditch practices) and soft and caring, but never has he seen them blank. The Katie that he knew has packed her bags and retreated to the farthest corner of her mind.
“Godric, Katie, what’s happened to you?” His voice is hushed, as if in prayer, but Katie, as temples go, is a cold and broken idol. Oliver wraps his arms around this statue of a girl, this figure that he once knew, and holds her close. She stands there unresponsive, back ramrod straight and arms pinned tightly to her sides. She hasn't seen, touched or talked to another human being in months and months, and the warmth of another body near hers is strange and unfamiliar.
Slowly, robotically, one arms rises and wraps around Oliver's waist. Then the other. All at once, as if a switch has been flipped she is clutching at him as if for dear life, and crying into his shoulder. They stand there for a long time as Katie empties her body of tears, tears that have been too long unshed. She looks up at Oliver and when their eyes meet he understands that it would be better to say nothing at all. She collects herself admirably.
"Would-" she stammers, "would you like to come in?"
"No. You're coming out."
Leaving her no time to protest, he grabs her hand and drags her along down the road. She follows obediently, allowing herself to be led along like a balloon on a string. Eventually, they reach a green park. Katie falls into step with him and, silently, they look around. She finds it hard to believe that there could still be beauty in the world after the darkness of that day, but the evidence is right before her eyes: in the bright, yellow sun that beats down on them both, in the similarly yellow flower in Oliver's hand, in his answering smile when she takes it delicately from his fingers and tucks it behind her ear.
"Here," she says, pointing at a spot on the grass. They both lie down, facing the sky, and Katie grips Oliver's hand to ground her.
'Not today,' she thinks, 'I won't be scared today.'
So she stares upwards and informs Oliver that the cloud nearest to them looks like a crumple-horned snorkack. He tilts his head to the side and tells her that she's crazy.
"It's obviously a broomstick!" he protests. They argue about it for a while, until Oliver reaches into his pocket and remembers something.
"Oh! I nearly forgot! I got this for you." He hands her a small, flat rectangle. She is filled with dread as it comes near her.
"No. No pictures Oliver. Please," she says, her words stumbling over each other in panic. Too late. The picture falls face-up into her lap. It's a picture of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, just after they won the house cup in her sixth year. There's Oliver, holding up the cup with the widest smile she's ever seen. George and Fred... oh Godric, Fred! They look so happy, arms around one another, characteristic mischievous smiles on their identical faces. Katie remembers that many have lost much more in the war than she has.
"How is George?" she asks suddenly. It's her first time thinking of him since the war. "Oh Godric, he must be even worse than me"
"No," said Oliver, "He's not. He's doing really well. He's got the joke shop back up and running. Never stops laughing. I guess he knows it's what Fred would have wanted."
"Oh." She feels ashamed, suddenly, of her pitiable state. How could she have let herself sink so low?
Shaking the thought away, she turns back to the picture. There's Alicia, looking happy and beautiful, and there's Angelina, fierce and triumphant.
"He and Angelina are actually seeing each other now," adds Oliver.
"That's wonderful!" She means it. George and Angelina had been skirting around one another for years. " Finally!" Her smile fades almost as soon as it appears. She has found herself. She carefully touches the picture. There is her own face, smiling as it hasn't in far too long, laughing up at her. One arm around Alicia, one around Oliver, the happiest she's seen herself for as long as she can remember.
The picture brings back memories of those carefree days, playing Quidditch with her mates, worrying about classes and wondering if Oliver would ever ask her to Hogsmeade. How could she be scared of this? How could she be terrified of such a relic of happiness? She realizes that she isn't, not anymore and she turns to Oliver with fierce joy and gratitude blazing in her eyes.
Thank you," she says, and kisses him softly, right there in the park, underneath the endless sky.