Chapter 3 : Just a Game
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Just a Game
We were back on solid ground in a matter of seconds. I could still feel the adrenaline rushing as I hurried off the broom. Oliver actually dropped it—his prized possession, just dropped it like it was nothing—and ran to his Seeker. He did look back over his shoulder, and I could’ve sworn he apologized to it, but then he was running to Harry again. I could hear him yelling with distress all the way from where Artemis and I were. Apparently Evan had showed up as well, and I stood between them.
Harry was practically cowering under Oliver, who wasn’t exactly angry. He looked more upset than anything, judging by the way he was suddenly pacing with his hands behind his head.
“This is not good,” Evan stated the obvious, and Artemis gave him an unseen ‘look.’
I was biting my lip. What a perfect time for Harry to be injured; an hour before the game, and—I checked my watch—ten minutes before last-minute practice. Oliver stopped pacing and said something to the terrified Seeker. Then he started again, shaking his head. Then he stopped and stared into the sky. There was a silence, and he held his arms out like waiting to embrace his death, and theatrically dropped onto his knees.
“TAKE ME NOW!” he yelled to whatever God was listening. It echoed across the pitch, and some little inappropriate nerve in my mind wanted to laugh at his histrionics.
I half expected lightning to come down and leave him in a pile of ashes; no doubt he wanted nothing more than to die at that moment. Harry was watching with wide eyes, and the pitch grew deathly silent. A crow cawed.
Then the three chasers, Angelina, Alicia and Katie, arrived. They were high spirited for the match, laughing and breaking in to short bursts of running as they made their way over. But when they saw the scene before them, they all gasped in unison, and ran the rest of the way.
“What happened?” Angelina, a Fifth Year, asked lowly. She was tall, even taller than me; a black girl with her ebony hair worn in shoulder-length braids.
The three girls were the other few who weren’t in Oliver’s fan club. After they became familiar with his gruelling practices, crushes came to a halt. Now they all acted like mother hens to him; they were the best of friends, and when one of them disagreed with Oliver’s ideas, all of them disagreed. After me, they were the next people to look to, when a quidditch-driven Oliver needed a good scolding.
“What does it look like happened?” Evan said.
“What happened to Harry, to cause him to hurt his arm?” restated Alicia, glaring at him. She was the tomboy of the group, and probably wouldn’t mind hitting his pretty nose if she had to. She was one of Oliver’s favourites, if you asked me, because she was a tough player and wasn’t afraid to knock someone off their broom.
“We’re waiting to find out,” I said.
They looked like they hadn’t even noticed I was standing there.
Oliver was still on his haunches, head bowed, awaiting eagerly to be smitten from above. Artemis nudged me. “Should you go console the drama queen?”
“I think he wants to be alone,” Evan said, and Artemis rolled her eyes.
“Please, Evan. Corie knows things about him that you might not even know. Isn’t that right, Corie.”
“See?” She put her hands on my shoulders. “I think she should be the one to talk to him,” she said through clenched teeth, pushing me. It looked like I had no other choice, so I slowly made my way over. Evan rolled his eyes, and I could hear them exchange a few unfriendly words before growing silent.
Harry was still staring at him, and I met his green eyes. I gave him a sad sort of smile, and could tell he tried to return it, but it wasn’t working. Slowly, he took a few steps away, and headed sullenly into the Gryffindor locker rooms. He looked positively miserable, and Oliver wasn’t making it easier on him. The others were quiet, probably trying to listen, until Fred and George announced themselves loudly with, “Harry, mate, what the bloody hell happened to your arm?”
Oliver groaned loudly, sounding somewhat like a sick manatee.
His hands were on the back of his head, and I was surprised he could keep balance in a stance like that. I stood behind him for a long time, shifting my weight, and then cleared my throat. “Do you want to talk?”
“No,” he said like a pouting child.
I frowned. “Okay,” I said, and started to walk away.
“Corie.” He lifted his head, but didn’t look at me.
Lowering my eyes, I walked around to face him and stood with my hands at my sides, like a child waiting to be reprimanded by a parent. Oliver was staring past my knees, over at Merlin knows what. The wind had blown in several small clouds, and they ran swiftly over us, like the shadows of giant birds.
“Bloody ironic, isn’t it?” he grumbled. “As soon as we decide to have a match, my best player is hurt.”
After a pause, I returned to being the sensible killjoy. “You did make the decision to go on without the potions—”
He frowned, dropping ungracefully to a sitting position. “I know, I know,” he sighed. “I guess this is what I get for it, then.”
“For doing what?” I said, even though I completely agreed that it was stupid to continue the quidditch season. “For wanting to win something important to you?”
He was quiet, turning this over in his head. But by the look on his face, I could tell he wasn’t buying it. When Oliver is upset, Oliver stays upset. Broods, groans, mopes around, ignores the get well cards sent from many female admirers….
“Where’s Potter?” he asked.
“In the locker rooms.” I paused. “What… happened to him, any way?”
Running his hands through his hair and pulling, he groaned, “He bloody fell off his broom on the way over here.”
“Just…fell? Like that?”
Oliver mumbled something, a more detailed story, but I only caught the basic gist of it. Apparently, Harry got a little to close to the Whomping Willow. Oliver was quiet again, chewing his bottom lip in thought. “They’ll have to cancel the match,” he decided, looking up at me. “On account of injury.”
I nodded, but I really didn’t think that Dumbledore would rearrange a game just because of one person. “You’d better go now, then. Only forty-five minutes until the game starts.”
He nodded and went to retrieve his broom. I stared past the empty spot where he just was, over to the castle. Oliver was doing a good job of sucking it up. Though he obviously made a big show at first, he was probably screaming inside; something he would probably do aloud, as soon as he was somewhere private. The only thing keeping him from doing it then, I realized, was the team being around. He didn’t want them to see him acting that way.
A broom whirred by, and Oliver pulled to a slow halt. “Come with me?” he asked, “for moral support?”
He lowered the broom to the ground, and I climbed on again. When I looked back, the others were watching us solemnly. I raised my hand in a small wave, and only one person returned it; the twins. They only count as one person, as far as I’m concerned.
Oliver sighed again from behind me, and I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him. Maybe his dramatic side was showing through, but quidditch meant a lot to him. It was more than just a game to him. I’d learned that from self-experience.
It was in the Third Year. We had been on each others’ nerves around then any way, because he was getting defensive over the fact that I was receiving love letters from someone. It turned out to be another Weasley twins prank, though. Obviously I figured the letters were fake, but just the idea that Oliver was being so overly-protective of me made me want to rebel, and I sort of made myself believe they were real.
So we had already been angry at each other that week, when Oliver came storming in to the common room, threw his things down, and cursed loudly. The two First Year boys who were playing chess gathered their things, and ran up to their dormitories. I was once again reading in an armchair, knees drawn up. I rolled my eyes, thinking that Oliver was just being irrational about quidditch again.
“What’s wrong this time?” I asked acidly. Quite honestly, I was bringing everything down on myself.
Oliver looked at me fleetingly and grumbled, “Nothing.” He started to trek up the stairs.
And then I had to open my mouth.
Flipping a page in my Arithmancy book, I muttered snobbishly to myself, “Honestly, it’s just a game.”
I heard him stop half way up the stairs, and still I turned and looked at him, expectantly, arrogantly. He was glaring with a disgusted look on his face, and it was quiet for a while. “You’re never going to have a passion for anything in this life, are you?” he growled, and then stormed up the stairs.
Maybe he didn’t realize how hurtful that was, maybe he did. But I deserved every word he said, and the worst part was that I knew it. It was the most genuine and avid thing I had heard him say up to that point, and it rang in my head for weeks.
I sat in that chair for nearly an hour, trying to find something that I really loved doing, and couldn’t. I liked to do class work, because it was relaxing and I got to be a know-it-all, but how could that possibly be a hobby? I couldn’t play sports, couldn’t paint, or sing, or write…. I think that was the only night in my life that I never finished my homework. I just sat there, in a daze.
We apologized a few days later, and everything was okay, but I still haven’t found anything I’m good at. At least now I know that quidditch is much more than just a game to him.
Oliver looked like he wanted to cry the whole way to the castle. When we climbed off, he carried his broom over his shoulder like he always did, and we went inside. After the doors closed behind us, we were abruptly met with Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall.
The headmaster smiled. “I see you’ve seen your team mate, mister Wood?”
Oliver hung his head. “Yes, sir.”
“No doubt you’ve come to ask for a postponement,” Dumbledore said cheerfully. I think his sunny disposition was just making it worse for Oliver. There was a pause, and the headmaster said, “We will reschedule for next week.”
“Next week?” Oliver said suddenly, and I cursed his stubbornness. “Next week isn’t enough time for Harry to heal.”
McGonagall’s face was pinched when she said, “I suppose you should have thought of that, when you so unhesitatingly agreed that the season should go on.”
Oliver hung his head again, miserably.
Dumbledore’s eyes were still twinkling and though he was speaking to Oliver, he looked at me. “Perhaps you will find someone to help you, in your time of need.”
His blue eyes were always so full of mirth, but I could never keep eye contact with him. I looked down to my shoes, and tried to focus on how unkempt they are.
I’ll have to clean them.
There were a few more words exchanged that I didn’t really hear, and at last Oliver said, “Thank you.” He turned and headed back outside, without even mentioning for me to follow. With a last look at the headmaster, who still smiled after me, I followed him out the door.
Oliver was a nervous wreck over the next five days, scavenging the halls for anyone who might want to join the team. And nobody would step up at all. Every Second Year was terrified of him. The Weasley twins were trying to help as well, but Ginny was one of the Second Years, Ron couldn’t fly a broom for anything, and Percy was too busy with studying, and just being Percy. The Patil twins offered him their condolences, with a vanilla cake, but each had their own excuses. Lee Jordan’s grades weren’t high enough. Seamus Finnigan’s broom was annihilated after his father accidentally ran over it with their car. And nobody wanted to put Neville Longbottom’s life in danger.
It seemed that there was no one, and there were still no new potions.
Oliver was dwelling in this, as we sat by the fire on Thursday night. The first game was on Sunday, and time was running out. Everyone else was up in their beds, sleeping, like I should’ve been. It was half past twelve. My eyelids were fighting to stay open, but I still sat and talked with him, because he obviously was quite distraught. Nobody could fill Harry’s place, and he was staring to realize that.
“Oliver, they’re probably terrified of you,” I stated as if it was obvious. My tired eyes were on the crackling fire, my skin soaking in its Gryffindor-coloured flames.
He bristled, staring into the flame as well. “Why’s that,” he demanded rather than asked.
I cleared my throat, trying to sound reasonable. I knew all to well that he was in a terrible mood. “You’ve been rampaging about the castle, tracking down anyone younger than yourself, and asking if they’re a second year or older.”
“Well how else am I to find out if they’re eligible to play?!” He was baffled, like there wasn’t another solution in the world.
“I’m sure you can go about it without seizing their shoulders and shaking them.”
“They won’t answer unless you force it out of them! You should know that, you bloody tutor them.” His eyes were lined with the dark stains of lacking sleep, I noticed, as he managed to tear them away from the fire and look at me.
Honestly, I didn’t think the Second Years were that hard to cooperate with; at least not the ones I tutored. “Oliver, I really think they’re just horrified of you.”
There was a pause, and I was expecting him to retaliate. But he sighed heavily, dropping back to the couch. He touched his temple to my shoulder once. It seemed he had alighted from his state of drama. “Oh, I know damn well that you and the team are the only people who aren’t scared of me.”
“Not even your fan club?” I suppressed a smirk. He sighed and murmured something, and there was a silence as he sat in defeat. The fire popped.
Oliver suddenly sat up so rigidly that I almost did the same. “Wait.”
“What,” I asked cautiously. He was making that horrible scheming face.
“You’re not terrified of me.”
We’re alone on a couch, and nobody else is awake. You’re a big strong boy, I’m a little, helpless girl. Obviously I’m not, Oliver.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been terrified of you, actually.” I settled back down, leaving a space between us. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Shh!” He was deep in thought now, and I put my tongue in my cheek to keep from smiling. “I’m getting an idea,” he said, like it was an apocalyptic rarity.
I groaned. “You know, you really set yourself up for looking daft sometimes—”
In the time I had blinked, he wheeled to face me, with an amazed expression. “You should join the team.”
“What?” I nearly exclaimed, but remembered that there were people sleeping upstairs. I lowered my voice. “Have you not gathered anything from knowing me for the past, what is it, five years?”
“It’ll only be until Harry heals!” he began pleading. “Dumbledore said that the new potion should be ready some time this month. It will be one game at the most.”
I couldn’t believe this. He was a nutter, he had to be. “You must want to lose.”
I knew just how to press the wrong button.
“We won’t lose!” he practically bellowed, regardless of anyone trying to sleep.
There was a silence. I couldn’t believe he was saying this, practically throwing his team away. “You’ve always told me that Seeker was the most difficult playing position, aside from Keeper—Well, I always assumed you just said that because you’re a Keeper. But…,” I paused, at a loss for words. “You’ve seen me fly in our first year! I can barely manage a broom!”
It was true. I had barely passed the class; the one that was nearly impossible to fail. I had a fear of heights and no depth perception. There was no way I could be a Seeker.
“It wasn’t your fault that your broom was wonky! And believe me, you’ve improved. I’ve seen you fly before. Low to the ground, yeah, but you’re quick. And you’re little, you’ll be agile enough.” He lifted up my scrawny wrist as if to prove it to me, and I snatched it back.
“I’ll help you!” he begged. “Come on, I know I owe you a whole load of favours—”
“—That’s an understatement—”
“—but if you would just do one more for me…. We’re playing Slytherin, any way. Their quidditch team isn’t that good.” He paused and shook his head. “In fact they’re bloody terrible sometimes, and I haven’t seen them practising at all. They’re always sitting in their common room. Flint wasn’t even going over plays, last time I checked—”
“You’ve been spying on the Slytherin team?” I stared, appalled.
He waved his hands, trying to keep me quiet. “It’s all a part of the game! Do you know how often we’ve been spied on by those bloody… serpents?” After taking a breath, “Please, just listen. It’ll be an easy match. We’ve got only one this month. Just one match, I promise you.”
He looked at me seriously. “Please, Corie, if I’ve ever needed your nagging help, it’s right now.”
I’ve always liked the way my name rolled off his Scottish tongue. In fact, I didn’t even notice that he had called me a nag because of it. So I’m guessing that’s what made me shift, adjust my glasses and sigh. He was looking at me with pleading eyes, making that face….
“Merlin help me. Fine. For one game. One game, Oli—”
He grabbed my arms so tightly that I was cut off. I’d never seen him grin that way. “Thank you,” he grunted and pulled me into a painfully crushing hug. He smelled nice.
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