It’s strange: for the rest of the day, Wood and I go through polite motions, not arguing, not insulting one another, just existing together. Jasper, true to form, is fun and charming, and is surprisingly polite to Wood after I introduce them. When Angie and the rest arrive they’re shocked at how…quiet we are, but after realizing that a war isn’t about to suddenly break out, they shrug it off and have a good time. And it’s not just Hogsmead – we’re civil all the way back to the castle… and then all night…and then all of Sunday, too. The truce with Wood is uneasy, not because I’m still angry with him (miraculously, his apology cleared the air between us) but because neither one of us is used to being so reserved. Our first match of the season is coming up this weekend, and by practice Tuesday evening, we’re just not speaking for fear of something going wrong. He gives me basic directions, and I reply with monosyllable answers, flying hard. Periodically he yells at me, pushing me harder, but every time I think about turning round and yelling back, I remember that the Slytherin team is sitting below us in the stands, and that its just not worth it. We’re a team; he’s the captain. That’s that.
During training that doesn’t concern my seeking skills, I play Keeper so that the Chasers can have someone besides Wood to try to score on. We haven’t been practicing any of our real plays since the competition is watching, but we’ve been working hard, and it shows. Right now Angie and Katie are setting up a complicated feint, and I have eyes only for the quaffle in their hands. I’m not really paying much attention to the bludgers, which are whizzing around, George and Fred trying to corral them as best they can. I’m almost positive Angie is about to shoot, and as the red quaffle leaves her hands, I hear a loud whooshing noise. I ignore it, assuming that Wood or one of the others is flying towards me. I don’t notice it’s a bludger until it’s slammed into my ribcage. The impact knocks me around and back, and while I try to catch hold of my broom, I ram into the goalpost behind me, hitting my ribs again and judging by the sudden flash of light, my head as well.
Everything is black and I realise that I’m falling very quickly, that someone is yelling. I struggle to regain vision, and pull myself out of the dive more by instinct than anything else. As I land on the ground, unable to think for the pain radiating from my side, I realise that the others have followed me down. And that the Slytherins are laughing loudly in the stands. Breathing is difficult, each lungful of air feels like a knife shoving into me. ‘Are you all right?’ a voice is saying loudly, and then hands are on my shoulders. My eyes focus to see Wood, his face inches away, looking desperate. ‘Ysolde, are you all right?’
‘Fine,’ I mumble. The others have landed and formed a circle round me, seeming afraid to come closer. They know how much I dislike being coddled when I’m sick or hurt.
‘Let’s get you to hospital,’ Wood is saying, examining my face.
‘NO! I am NOT going to the hospital!’ I cry hoarsely, breaking away from him, fighting to keep to my feet, disoriented and dizzy. ‘I’ll just go to the showers,’ I say in a much quieter voice, walking away from them, very conscious of every movement I’m making.
‘Are you sure you don’t –‘ Wood begins, but I cut him off by waving the first two fingers of my hand over my shoulder, and easing into the changing rooms.
I immediately lean against the wall, barely able to support my weight. Just breathe I tell myself. Just breathe – everything will be all right. Assuring myself that it will get better if I take a shower, I carefully, painfully, lay out clothes on the bench in front of my locker. Bending in any direction is unimaginably painful, and black spots dance constantly on the corners of my vision. But at last I am hobbling into the showers, and with painstaking care, removing my clothes. The sports bra is the worst, and I’m fairly sure I black completely out as I drag it over my head. But, I’m still standing when the darkness clears, so I jerk the water on and step under the spray.
‘Yssy, are you all right?’ Angie asks from the other side of the curtain.
I jerk, aware that I’ve been floating in a red haze of pain for the past several minutes. ‘Yeah,’ I croak. ‘Just a little achy – looks like I’ve bruised my side, but its not bad. Er…I might just take a long hot shower – I’ll be out in a bit.’
‘All right,’ she says, not sounding very sure about this. I can hear her whispering to Katie and Alicia, but I’m too exhausted to listen in. The other showers turn on, there is splashing and conversation, and then they turn off again. ‘We’ll wait for you outside,’ Angie promises as she exits, and I yell a hoarse affirmation. I listen to them bang about in the room, getting dressed, and then to the door closing as they leave. I should probably get out of the shower, seeing as it will take me a year and a day to get dressed.
Shutting off the spray and wrapping myself in a towel takes several painstaking minutes, and lots of cursing. But at last, after loads of grumbling and growling, I’m staring down at my clothes, wondering how the hell I’m going to dress myself if I can’t bend over. I take a deep breath, immediately regret it, and sag against the lockers for support. Oh piss, it hurts. Really, really hurts. I sidle slowly over to the mirror and open the towel, staring. My entire left side is already colouring – by tonight it will be mottled purple and black, the skin surrounding the bruise a swollen and angry red. Nasty, really, probably take weeks to heal. I reposition the towel and hobble back to the bench, telling myself that the stabbing pain every time I breathe is just a minor side affect. It takes ten agonizing minutes to get my knickers and jeans on, and then another five minutes of shallow breathing while leaning against the lockers to recover. Wavering where I stand, I stare at the black t-shirt and sports bra still to be conquered and feel a clench in my stomach. If pulling my jeans up had been that hard…. I really don’t want to think about getting the shirt over my head. Sod the bra – I don’t care if it’s twenty degrees outside and everyone in the school can see my nipples, I’d die if I put that thing on over this bruise.
That settled, I should probably get about my business: I can’t hear any voices outside the door anymore, and I’m not sure I’m up for dueling any Slytherins if they’re waiting to attack. Unfortunately, I’m facing the door, and just as I’m bending over to pick up the shirt I hear the door swing open and then a very surprised voice say, ‘Sorry – didn’t realise – ‘ It’s Wood, quickly turning away as he’s just seen I’m half – naked.
I jump in surprise, hiss in pain, and tighten my bent arm to my side to cover myself. The resulting pain takes me to my knees. ‘Stop looking at me!’ I shout when he turns around to see if I’m all right.
‘Sorry – just – shit Yssy – you look awful –‘
‘I’m fine,’ I manage, my voice coming out harsh and grating. I’m clutching my t-shirt to my chest, my hands shaking as a sickly hot pain pulsates from my ribcage. ‘Get out of here – I’m naked,’ I add in a vicious growl. He stops moving towards me, but he isn’t going back either.
‘You’re clearly injured – you need to go and see Madame Pomfrey –‘
‘I said, I’m fine,’ I yell. ‘Just – let me alone!’
‘Shhh,’ he soothes, walking towards me, arms out in a calming gesture, like I’m some skittish horse that needs to be quieted. ‘It’s going to be okay –‘
‘Oh piss off,’ I hiss, turning my back on him, and, ignoring the pain, jerking the t-shirt over my head.
Suddenly, I’m lying on the floor in a very strange position, and the shirt is only halfway pulled down, leaving my stomach and the bottom curves of my breasts exposed. And Wood’s face is inches away. ‘Wha –‘ I mumble. ‘Why’d you push me over?’
‘I didn’t’ he says dryly. ‘You fainted.’
‘Bollocks – I’ve never fainted in my life.’ To prove my point, I try to shove myself up onto my elbows, but the entire world is taken over by little gray spots, and I feel myself freeze.
‘Yeah, why don’t you just lie down for a minute,’ he suggests in that same quiet voice, and I feel a hand run gently over my forehead.
‘Mghrmmgph,’ I mumble, wanting to brush him off, but I can’t talk my hand into moving. My eyes flutter open to see him peering down at my ribs, eyes narrowed, concentration etched into his face. For some inexplicable reason, I feel absolutely safe. And then his hair falls into his eyes and he glances back up at me, just Wood. ‘Gerrof me,’ I manage, trying to sit up again, and meeting with more success. Which means I make it all the way up onto my elbows without passing out, but can’t make it into a sitting position.
‘I think you might have cracked a rib,’ he says, reaching a hand round and easing my back up.
‘Let go,’ I snap, trying to ignore the fact that it’s nice not to have to support my weight.
‘You’re going to see the nurse.’
‘No, I’m not,’ I rumble, fighting my way up onto my knees, tugging my shirt down. ‘I’ll heal up in a few days, and be fine.’
‘You look like you got run over by one of Hagrid’s creatures. Come on, get up,’ he orders, reaching down and grabbing me under the shoulders, lifting.
‘Ahh!’ I yell before I can stop myself, going completely limp. Maybe something really is wrong – my entire body feels like it’s on fire.
‘Sorry,’ he murmurs frantically, dropping onto his knees in front of me. ‘Shit – I’m sorry – are you okay?’
‘No,’ I hiss, trying to press a hand against the ache and pulling it away immediately. ‘I can’t bloody breathe.’
‘Right, you’re going to the nurse, right now, if I have to carry you.’
‘Just get out of it,’ I whisper, telling myself that the horrible faint feeling will go away soon.
‘All right, stand up,’ he demands, standing himself and glaring down at me, back to issuing orders. ‘I’m not joking – stand up, I’ll walk you to the hospital wing.’
I stare up at him for a moment, and then, very carefully, I push myself into a half – standing position, and slowly straightened up. Maybe I say a few choice words along the way – maybe I don’t. Either way, I’m shaking like mad by the time I’m fully vertical and can’t get my hand to reach for my cloak. ‘No,’ I say very stubbornly when Wood makes to grab it. ‘I can do it myself.’
‘You’re bloody insane,’ he grumbles, and throws it round my shoulders, taking my left elbow and leading me out.
I try to jerk out of his grasp but only succeeded in making my ribs ache. Eventually I manage to wiggle my elbow out of his hand, but not before we’ve gotten halfway up the hill, and then I have to stop and try to breathe without passing out. ‘Let me carry you, please,’ he begs quietly, putting his hands on my shoulders.
‘Look, It’s not an insult, okay? Its just that you’re in pain and I can’t help you and – and – please, just let me help.’
I’m bent slightly at the waist, taking ragged breaths, but I manage to look up, his voice is so pained. He looks angry in that nebulous, inconclusive way that frustrated people have, and I realise that he isn’t trying to be an ass. ‘I know,’ I say very softly. ‘But I couldn’t even bend over enough to get my trousers on properly – I don’t think folding in half would be a good idea.’
‘Right,’ he mumbles, turning and gesturing up the hill. ‘Think you can keep walking?’
‘Yeah,’ I sigh, not liking the cast of his shoulders. ‘I think I can.’ We toil up the rest of the hill, and by the time we get to the top I’ve decided that I’m having an out of body experience, because there is no way my nerve endings are still functioning properly – nothing natural can cause this much pain.
‘Just up the stairs,’ he coaxes, taking my hand and trying, unsuccessfully, to make it easier.
I must look half – dead when we arrive at the hospital wing, my cloak barely still draped round my shoulders, Wood clumsily holding my hand, my face as white as snow. ‘What have you done to yourself?’ Madame Pomfrey shrills when she sees us swaying on her doorstep.
Since I’m wavering on my feet, the entire contents of my stomach attempting to evacuate via my esophagus, Wood answers for me. ‘Quidditch – took a Bludger to the ribs, and then ran into the goalpost. I think she may have broken something – she’s having trouble standing and walking and breathing.’
‘Quidditch,’ Madame Pomfrey mutters darkly as she motions me over to a cot. I hear an unintelligible mutter escape from my lips, but I can’t actually form a word. ‘If they would outlaw that ruddy sport, I’d have half as many injuries. Completely ridiculous,’ she grumbles. ‘Mr. Wood, kindly help Miss Verity up onto the cot and then make yourself scarce.’
‘No,’ I groan as he places a hand on either of my hips and very gently lifts me onto the cot. ‘Please don’t leave – I hate hospital.’
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ he promises softly, pressing his forehead against mine. ‘I’ll be waiting right here.’
‘Very well, Mr. Wood, on the other side of the curtains, if you please,’ Madame Pomfrey snaps, her heels clicking back across the floor toward us. ‘Miss Verity, if you will kindly raise your shirt so I can see your ribs.’ She draws a curtain in front of Wood and I stare at him until he is just a shadow behind the white. ‘Go ahead, let’s have a look.’ She motions with her wand and I take a breath, grab the hem of my shirt, and jerk upwards. The last thing I remember is a voice saying: ‘Oh great Merlin.’
A/N - hmmm... reviews? anyone? anyone?
P.S. - updates are going to be staggered since i've now got (winces) three stories to keep going, so please, be patient with me!