Chapter 1 : Drowning in Defeat
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“Katie, are you coming?”
Katie Bell, startled at being addressed, turned to face Angelina, who was regarding her expectantly. She had been hoping to sneak away unnoticed, though it appeared that her fellow Chasers were more observant than she had expected.
“Oh, ah,” she fumbled, “I’ll catch up in a moment. I think I left something... somewhere.” She plastered a smile across her face that she wished had at least looked remotely genuine, though when Angelina said nothing, merely raised her eyebrows suggestively, she supposed it hadn’t been as effective as she might have liked. She shrugged dismissively and waited until the remainder of the Gryffindor Quidditch team had turned the corner before walking briskly in the opposite direction.
Madam Pomfrey hadn’t taken kindly to the fact that they had tracked such a significant amount of mud into the Hospital Wing; much more had she disapproved of them talking to Harry, who ought to have been resting. Although, she thought bitterly, they hadn’t been badgering him: they were merely concerned about their prized Seeker after he had fallen fifty feet from his broom. A broom which now, sadly, had been destroyed by a rogue tree. So in spite of their protests, they had been herded from the room, tossed out into the corridor to further bask in the gloom of their defeat.
Katie knew she had meant well, and while it irritated her, she was also relatively thankful for the opportunity it had opened up for her. No doubt Angelina or Leanne would inquire into it later, but by that time, she would have thought up a sufficient explanation.
The corridors were deserted, and she supposed that everyone was huddled about the fireplaces in their respective common rooms, the warmth of seeping into their sodden skin. Katie herself was still drenched, and the thought of drying off by the fire made her smile with considerable pleasure. For now, though, she reminded herself firmly, she would do what she had set out to do, no matter how loudly her water-logged shoes squelched in the empty halls.
Once outside, she was met with a slanted flurry of rain; if possible, the storm had worsened further during the short time she had spent within the castle. As the droplets hit the ground, they rebounded and became a thin layer of mist that nearly reached Katie’s waist. She didn’t bother to wonder how it was able to survive in such weather, the water slicing through it like tiny needles–though, she reflected with a wince, at times they were just as sharp. The only thing she wasn’t bothered by was the fact that the mud was slowly being washed from her Quidditch robe and hair.
Katie squinted; she could see the Quidditch field more clearly that way. She carefully maneuvered her way toward it, pausing only once when her foot became stuck in the seemingly melting ground. Without her wand–she hadn’t wanted to risk breaking it during the match–it was difficult to extricate her captured limb, and it took several attempts to do so–the final of which had ended with her toppling onto her back into the mud. After that, she walked very delicately.
When she came upon the heartily dampened field, the strands surrounding her in every direction, she felt suddenly disoriented. Frowning, she took a moment to collect her bearings, and when this was done, she set off once more.
Soon, she came to the locker room, and she poked her head inside the doorway first before entering completely. Though it was certainly drier, the temperature was considerably less than that of the outside. Katie found herself shivering within seconds of slipping past the threshold, and her teeth chattered against her bottom lip. All was quiet, but for her staggering breaths and the steady sound of running water.
She kept her hand against the wall to steady herself, as the tiled floor was slick, and she didn’t want to take another tumble. With a jolt, she realized that the majority of the water beneath her feet was not from the storm outside; instead, it was seeping from one of the showers. Katie approached it cautiously with her hand over her eyes–just in case–and quickly peeked through her fingers.
“If you wanted to drown yourself,” she commented casually, “you’d have had better luck staying out on the pitch.”
She removed her hand, realizing that she should not have expected less than what she saw before her now. He was still garbed in his Quidditch robe–he hadn’t even bothered to remove his shoes–and was hunched over with his back pressed into a corner. His arms were wrapped about his knees, and his lips, she noticed in alarm, had turned a faint shade of blue. She suspected that the water he was sitting in was cold as ice. Oliver Wood looked up at her, clearly startled.
Katie crossed her arms to retain the warmth of her body heat. There was no hint of his usual greeting; indeed, he spoke not a word. He had hardly looked at her, as though he were too ashamed, and would have liked nothing more than to unhappily drown himself in defeat.
At length, she reached into the shower and abruptly turned off the tap. “Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Oliver, you’re no use to us at all if you’re dead ”
He glanced at her, then looked away. Finally, he croaked, “We lost the match.”
She snorted. “Well, obviously.” Then she softened, her eyes warm. “Look, it’s not your fault, and it isn’t Harry’s either.” She bent down, sinking her knees into the deep puddle that had collected there. “It was those... you know, those dementor things.”
If his morose expression changed at all, it was to display the fact that he wasn’t convinced. Katie sighed. Talking to Oliver at the moment had taken on the likeness of conversing with a wall.
“And I’m worried about you–ah, the team is worried about you, I mean,” she added hastily. “Not to say, of course, that I’m not worried about you, it’s just that, er... We don’t want two of our best players dead, and...”
Oliver looked stricken.
“No No, I didn’t mean it like that ” she cried, her eyes widening at the realization of how it must have sounded. This was exceedingly more difficult than she had first anticipated. It was one thing to stop the Captain’s near-suicide attempt, but it seemed an entirely different manner to coax him from the locker room before he caught too much of a chill.
“Harry’s fine,” she reassured him, and the muscles in his face relaxed. If anything, this was an improvement.
Suddenly, Katie began to giggle, and her titters soon turned to a loud and mirthful laugh that resounded in the near emptiness of the room.
“What?” Oliver sputtered, sounding offended.
“It’s just...” She bit her lip, a smile still tugging at the corners of her mouth. “This seems a bit... I don’t know. I mean, look at us Oliver, you look absolutely awful, and I–I don’t even want to know how I look. We’re both sopping wet and freezing, and I’ve fallen flat on my bum into the mud just to get here to stop you from killing yourself–because I know you, and you would’ve done it ”
He blinked at her as she panted slightly–resulting from a combination of shivering and giving her short speech. Then slowly, he cracked a half smile, and he lifted his head a bit. His eyes, she noticed, were slightly less dull than they had been before.
“I can’t say that Quidditch is just a game,” she continued, encouraged, “because that would be a lie.” She grinned in spite of herself. “But this is just one match, and you wouldn’t be a very good Captain if you didn’t know that we’re going to make up for it next time, because we’ve got the best bloody team Gryffindor has ever had ”
Katie stood and stepped forward, holding out a rather clammy hand. “Now come on. It’s time we went inside.”
He regarded it for a moment, and a panicked flicker of worry ran through her as she wondered if he would refuse it. But then, much to her relief, he grasped it firmly and pulled himself to his feet.
Heavy gusts of wind whipped at them as they crossed the grounds together. Katie could feel him shuddering violently beside her. He had not let go of her hand; instead, he seemed to be unconsciously gripping it tighter, perhaps, she thought, because the chill was so unbearable. She couldn’t feel it, though. She was already so cold that her body had become numb, and even the rain pounding upon her head felt like nothing at all. The wind plastered strands of her hair against her face, and her robe clung to her body in a constricting manner. She kept her mouth firmly shut; she was afraid that she would accidentally bite down on her lip and cause it to bleed.
When the castle came into view through the haze around them, Katie let out a grateful cry and began to run toward it, tugging Oliver along, who was bemused at their change of pace.
“Hold on,” he muttered, struggling to keep up at first. But she didn’t slow in the least bit, merely urged him on until they reached the school.
When they got tot the doors, she grasped at them awkwardly until she was able to get a firm hold on the handle. Then with great effort, she pulled them open, and they stumbled inside.
Instantly, her cheeks prickled at the change in temperature, and she fell against the wall, her chest heaving. Oliver fell into place beside her, and she chuckled. “We made it.”
At the sound of two familiar voices, however, she jumped.
“Katie?” inquired Fred Weasley dubiously, at the same time George Weasley asked, in the same tone, “Oliver?” Or perhaps, she thought it was vice-versa.
The twins, who appeared to have been passing, approached them curiously.
“Ollie, m’boy!” George exclaimed, clapping him on the back. “You’re alive!”
Fred took a sickle from his pocket and tossed it to his brother, who caught it. “It’s better than some of us expected! Spiffing to see you!”
She was surprised at how cheerful they could be, in spite of what had just happened. Then she caught George glancing at their clasped hands, who nudged Fred, and they both donned identical looks.
“I expect we’ve got Bell here to thank for that, eh Oliver?” he asked slyly, and Katie felt herself blush.
Oliver, however, seemed to remain oblivious of what they were hinting at, and didn’t attempt to release his hold. “Yeah, actually.” His voice was less empty now, and the twins looked impressed at this.
“We were just going to dry off,” she said hastily.
“Well then, we’d best be leaving,” Fred said amiably.
“We don’t want to keep you two from... ‘drying off,’” concluded George, who winked. As they hurried down the corridor, she saw them laughing.
The scarlet furnishings of the Gryffindor common room seemed more apparent than ever as they neared the blazing fire. Despite the time of day, they were nearly alone, and those who were there glanced up at the pair of bedraggled teenagers sadly. The remaining members of the Quidditch team were nowhere to be seen, and, in a way, she was relieved at this. Their encounter with the Weasley twins had resulted in enough embarrassment; while that was likely to be the worst of it, she didn’t want to chance anyone else coming to the wrong conclusion about what she had done today.
Or rather, more truthfully put, she didn’t want them to come to the right one.
She had wanted to bring their Keeper back unharmed, of course; there was no doubt about that. But that hadn’t been what had initially prompted her to take the journey through the weather’s wrath. In fact, it hadn’t even occurred to her until later that, if she chose not to go, she might lose the team captain. She had first seen the possibility that she might lose a friend. Perhaps... perhaps even a bit more than that, if she dared.
Perhaps it had to be, then, because Katie Bell was inescapably and undeniably in love with Oliver Wood.
It had begun as a silly little thing, as most feelings of that sort do, in her first year, when she sometimes still handled her broomstick clumsily in flight. Oliver had been her inspiration, and had quickly blossomed into the object of her affection. As she seated herself on the floor with her back against an armchair, the warmth of the fire that seeped into her brought forth memories of the day they had met.
It had been the morning of her first flying lesson at Hogwarts, and though she had flown before at home, she had still been quite nervous. She could still remember the way the damp grass had glistened in the early sunlight: a far cry from how it looked today. There had still been a certain chill in the air as the newly-sorted Gryffindors had traipsed across the field.
A woman whom she soon discovered to be named Madam Hooch had appeared, then instructed them to each stand beside one of the broomsticks that was lined up upon the ground. An excited bout of murmurs had passed amongst the as they did as they were told. Katie chose a broom near the end, because it was closest, and she was eager to begin. She noted with silent satisfaction that it was in a considerably better state than some of the others she could see, (She had strained to catch a glimpse of as many as she could, in order to compare them.), though the handle was unpolished, and the end looked a bit as though Filch had used it to sweep the floors.
“Hold your right hand over your broom,” Madam Hooch said, “and say ‘Up!’”
There were instantly echoes of “Up!” throughout the lines. Katie concentrated as diligently as she could, and commanded the same of her broom. To her dismay, it floundered a bit in the grass, but didn’t reach her outstretched hand.
Just then, she caught sight of a boy crossing toward them. She neglected what she was doing out of curiosity for a moment, and watched as he approached. He appeared to be a few years older than her, and was clutching a folded piece of parchment in his hand.
“Wood!” Madam Hooch hailed the boy. “I hope you’ve a good reason for trekking out here while I’m teaching.” Katie noted that her tone wasn’t angry, it was more laden with fondness than anything else.
“Message from McGonagall,” the boy explained, “about the match.” He presented the parchment to her, and she thanked him.
Her wonderings quenched, she returned to the task at hand.
Suddenly, she heard someone say, “You’ve got to be more assertive.” Startled, Katie turned to discover the boy standing behind her, his eyebrows raised at her pitiful broom.
“These old things,” he gestured at it, “are rather hard of hearing.”
“What am I supposed to do, then?” she inquired in puzzlement. “Scream at it?”
He chuckled. “Not exactly. Here, like this.” He stepped toward her broom and stuck out his hand. “Up,” he said sternly, and it miraculously flew into his waiting palm.
“I expect it only listens to you because you’ve done it before,” she said skeptically. “I just grab my broom at home, so it doesn’t have time to bother with that sort of thing.”
Her broom made a soft noise as the boy dropped it to whence it had come. “Try it,” he urged.
And she did. Much to her astonishment, it fitted itself comfortably into her grasp. Katie was stunned, but before she even had time to express her gratitude, Madam Hooch interrupted.
“Oliver Wood!” she cried. “Stop badgering my students and scurry off to class!” Oliver ducked his head and obliged by setting off at a jog toward the castle.
Now, she was playing for her house team, with the boy she’d fancied since he said the word “up.” Her affection had grown into admiration and respect and... everything else she felt it to be.
Katie suddenly looked over at Oliver in alarm. He hadn’t spoken a word in several minutes. Or at least, she thought he hadn’t; she hadn’t been listening all that well.
“You’re not going to leap into the fire, are you?” she asked uneasily.
“‘Course not,” he muttered in reply, as though he was more attempting to convince himself of this than her.
Katie wasn’t so keen on the idea of pulling Oliver out of the fireplace, so she edged a bit closer to him, just in case she needed to prevent such an occurrence. She also noticed in that moment that, though he had let go of her hand, their fingertips were still touching.
“You should tell Harry that you don’t blame him about the match,” she said at length. “He probably feels...” She paused to briefly look at him. “Well, he might feel worse than you do about the outcome. He looked quite stricken when we told him that Diggory had caught the snitch–Oliver? Are you alright?”
Oliver had made a small choking noise at her last statement.
Katie leaned slightly to the side to rest her head upon his shoulder, and felt him stiffen. Then slowly, he relaxed. “Oh honestly, Oliver, what am I going to do with you?” she sighed, then added, “You know, it’s lucky we were against Hufflepuff this time, and not Slytherin. So it’s–” She yawned, closing her eyes. “It’s not the end of the world quite yet.”
The fire had been reduced to nothing but embers by the time Katie realized that she had fallen asleep. From where she was, she couldn’t easily read the time, though guessed that several hours had passed, as the common room was now completely void of any occupants but herself and Oliver.
Oliver! She remembered with a jolt all that had happened earlier that day, and why her clothes and hair were uncomfortably dry.
He appeared to also have dozed off, and had fallen over so that his head lay upon her lap. Now that she was awake, they tingled slightly from having pressure upon them for such a great length of time. She stretched her arms above her, then brought them back down so she could rub the sleep from her eyes.
“Oliver,” she murmured softly. “Oliver, I need my legs back.”
After a few gentle nudges, he blearily opened his eyes, and when he saw her gazing at him with dulled expectance, he suddenly sat up.
“What time’s it?” he asked groggily, looking around the vacant room.
“I dunno,” she replied, much in the same manner. “But I think we should probably head up to our dorms.”
He scratched his head, yawning. “Yeah... yeah...”
She stood stiffly, the feeling returning to her legs all at once.
“Katie?” he suddenly said. “Thanks. For what you did today. I reckon–I reckon you might’ve saved my life.”
Katie smiled, and bent to kiss him on the cheek. “Good-night, Oliver,” she whispered against his skin. Then she straightened and strode toward the girls’ dormitories, her heart fluttering a bit more than normal.
And if she had looked back, she would have seen him lightly touching the place where her lips had been, a grin slowly spreading across his face.