What kind of psychopath detests Quidditch? I hope you’re well. I couldn’t care less about your boy troubles. It’s getting very cold here at Hogwarts.
‘How lovely,’ Leanne comments with a wry smile, reading my letter upside down. ‘Nice to see magical unity developing so quickly.’
I give her an indignant grimace; somewhat disconcerted, I realise that she, in the past hour, has actually managed to complete her letter, and has moved on to Snape’s Potions assignment. It isn’t exactly late, but I feel an uncomfortable knot tie itself in the pit of my stomach: I need to have this done by tomorrow, and I’ve barely written a thing.
I glance around the Common Room in search of inspiration, and then, upon finding none, return to my parchment feeling rather deflated.
‘What am I supposed to write?’ I demand. ‘“I’m sorry your two boyfriends found out about each other, I’ve certainly been in that situation before”?’
‘If it’s what she likes, write about boys,’ Leanne shrugs.
‘Ah, boys,’ comes Fred Weasley’s voice. ‘A favourite topic of ours, isn’t it, George?’
The twins take seats on either side of me; when Leanne has once again returned to her Potions essay, George leans in conspiratorially, brandishing a foul-smelling paper bag from within his cloak:
‘Think she’d fancy a dung bomb?’
I grin and am about to politely decline his offer when somebody renders this unnecessary – Prefect Kate Wellington has just snatched George’s bag from his hands and is holding it at arm’s length from her face, wearing a rather disgusted expression.
‘You know I hate having to confiscate these things from you,’ she sighs tiredly, though the corners of her mouth seem to twitch for a moment, as though fighting to smile.
‘Then why do it?’ George asks innocently.
Kate smirks at the question, choosing not to answer it, and turns to look at me instead.
‘Hi, Katie,’ she says pleasantly. ‘Oh – hi, Oliver.’
The sound of this particular name makes me jump, effectively elbowing Fred in the rib and meriting myself a good punch in the arm and a very weird look indeed.
‘Hi,’ Oliver greets her, leaning against a nearby armchair. ‘Katie –’
‘It’s Kate,’ Kate interrupts him, looking rather affronted.
‘I meant: Katie Bell,’ Oliver resumes awkwardly.
My head snaps up quickly; I let my eyes fix themselves comfortably on a spot to the left of Oliver’s eyes. ‘Yes?’ I ask.
Kate gives a would-be nonchalant shrug and, throwing her book-bag over her shoulder, leaves the Common Room with two other sixth-years. Wood is still hovering by a near armchair and has taken to drumming his fingers in rapid succession on its back. The look he’s got on my face is making me increasingly nervous.
A few seconds pass in silence. Then Wood clears his throat with rather more gusto than is strictly believable.
‘Bell, have you got a minute?’ he asks and, as I’m about to point out that I’m writing a letter, he adds: ‘It’s important. Uh – it’s important Quidditch stuff.’
I get up with a bit of a queasy feeling in my stomach: surely this isn’t merely about what plays I did or didn’t effectively complete during yesterday’s game.
‘So – what’s up?’ I ask, attempting to keep my tone casual as I follow Wood out of the portrait hole and down the corridor.
Oliver doesn’t immediately reply, but continues to lead me down more and more flights of stairs and deserted corridors. Merlin, he’s walking with a mission! I hurry to keep up, feeling foolish as I take two steps to match each of his.
‘I need to talk to you,’ he finally states the obvious, the tone of his voice making my stomach sink.
It has to be about the letter ... I’ve been dreading this all day. Why? Why do I have to continue to get myself involved in other people’s problems? Why must I be such a –
‘Here’s good,’ Oliver says suddenly, pulling me out of my self-deprecating reverie.
I realize that he’s lead me all the way to the back of the library without my noticing; he gallantly pulls a chair back for me, and then sits down beside me so that we’re both facing a tall and dusty row of bookshelves.
My, this is awkward. He’s really got a way of making everything uncomfortable, hasn’t he?
Neither of us speaks for a long while. I’m about to start apologizing again, incapable of taking our communal silence any longer, when, with a jerky flick of his wrists, he slides a folded piece of parchment in front of me. I stare at it for a millisecond and then, well aware that Wood is watching me closely, slowly begin to unfold it.
It’s in Bulgarian. (Or, at least, I’m assuming that’s Bulgarian.)
I turn my head to tell him so but can only manage a tiny raise of my eyebrows – I’ve just met his eye, and I still haven’t quite erased the memory of his – er – upper-body from my mind. I feel my cheeks flush and internally curse myself; my eyes are now resting firmly on the parchment in my hands.
‘It’s in Bulgarian,’ I state brilliantly.
‘What?’ Wood asks. Then, seeing the parchment, he adds an, ‘Oh, right,’ and performs a brief spell on the writing.
And all I can think about is the fact that his fingers brush briefly against mine as he carefully swishes his wand above the metamorphosing words.
Get it together, Katie! This is your Quidditch captain! Your maniacal, obsessive, completely insane Quidditch captain!
I look down at the newly English handwriting; it’s a letter, addressed to a certain Vladimir.
‘This is your letter for McGonagall’s project, isn’t it?’ I ask, somewhat disconcerted.
‘I – please, just read it,’ Oliver says, his voice a near whisper. ‘But – wait – no. Maybe you shouldn’t – Okay. Just read it. Please.’
Feeling very uncomfortable indeed, I flatten the parchment against the table and slowly begin to read it. Beside me, Oliver is staring fixedly at the bookshelf and is tapping his hands rapidly against his legs.
At first, I don’t see the relevance. It’s all formalities and what I assume to be replies to things Vladimir himself has written in a previous letter. But then I begin to understand.
I’m writing this to you at 3:41 in the morning. I can’t ever get to sleep anymore! Everybody thinks I’m crazy, but you must understand, seeing as you’re one of the Quidditch captains over at Durmstrang. My team really has to win this year.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of football, but it’s this really popular Muggle sport here in Britain. My step-dad is a Muggle and he coaches a very strong team at a Scottish University. He’s very accepting of the Wizarding World, but he doesn’t understand Quidditch at all.
He’s been at me since I became captain for Gryffindor about the validity of the game, so I’m used to it, of course, and I’m sure he means it to be good-natured. Cracks at my losing streak and all. But the past summer was the worst it’s been. Just argument after argument, and telling me real athletes keep both feet on the ground and all of that. Not a great time, to be honest.
He thinks I should join his team next year. He thinks Puddlemere is a joke, but not in the way you do. He says he’d hate to see me waste the ‘family athleticism’ flying around on a broomstick.
My mum got tickets for the World Cup this summer and he actually laughed! Said she should sell them! The man is insane.
But then the worst is my real dad likes Quidditch almost as much I do and he’s gone and got wind of my step-dad’s thoughts on the matter. He’s been going on about what a laugh it’ll be when Gryffindor win and I’m recruited by a team and all ... Thinks it’ll ‘really show that idiot’. They’ve never exactly gotten along ... my parents only divorced in my second year, you see, and mum remarried just two summers ago.
I don’t know why I’m telling you this, really, but anyway. In my family we’re pretty competitive. So I think you can imagine how badly I need this cup, not just for me but for my dad, and how impossible it is to sleep. HELP! Any words of wisdom to offer to a fellow fanatic?
Once I’ve finished the letter, which only continues for another paragraph, I stare at it for a long moment. I feel like an idiot, sitting there in silence, but I have no idea what to say. Do I make a joke? Do I thank him for (sort of) explaining his behaviour to me? Do I try to console him?
To console him? Am I ever glad that one went through my mental filter before being carried out to my crazy, crazy verbal mechanisms. Who knows what might have resulted had it not?
I turn tentatively to face Wood, only to discover he is no longer sitting beside me, but is now pacing fervently by a neighbouring table. When he sees me watching him, he stops in his tracks; his face contorts into what I think he must imagine to be a nonchalant grin, but which looks a whole lot more like a grimace from where I’m sitting.
We continue to look awkwardly at each other – or, more realistically, in each other’s general direction – until, once again, I can take it no longer.
‘I’m sorry,’ I blurt out. ‘I’m sorry your dad – er – your dads are putting you through –’
‘It’s fine,’ Wood interrupts me. Then, as if suddenly regaining his Quidditch captain composure, he adds: ‘It’s no big deal ... I just thought you deserved an explanation for all of my – er – goings-on. It wouldn’t be fair to you to let you worry, seeing as there’s nothing to worry about.’
Nothing to worry about, my foot! Wood’s newly-reacquired strong demeanour isn’t fooling me; before I can stop myself, I’ve gone and rolled my eyes and have opened my enormous mouth.
‘You know it’s okay to have problems,’ I start, more loudly than is probably safe, considering Madam Pince is in the vicinity. ‘Nobody expects you to be trouble-free all the –’
‘I’m fine –’
‘It’s no wonder you haven’t been sleeping! I can’t imagine keeping all of that to myself for such –’
‘I’ve been up because of Quidditch, not because of –’
‘Wood, please, why can’t you –’
‘Just – shut it!’
I stop mid-word. In the heat of the moment, I must have gotten up, because I’m standing face to face with Wood. And up close, he looks rather livid.
I take a deep, slightly shaky breath, and suddenly I’ve made up my mind. I force myself to look up at him, to meet his eye. And I just know I’m going to regret it, but it’s like it’s out of my hands. I can’t stop now – I’m tired of tip-toeing around his rampant, teenage boy emotions!
‘Wood – Oliver – you asked me to read the letter. I read it. I know you didn’t explicitly ask for my help, but, as far as boys – males in general – go, you’ve done just about the equivalent. I know you’re too much of a man to have any feelings –’ (Oliver flinches at the sound of the word – honestly!) ‘– but you can’t be expected to just deal with all of this on your own. So if you want to talk – and I think you do – I’m here.’
I end it here and cross my arms in some sort of overemphasized confidence. But then my last words echo in my head in all of their cheesy, sentimental glory, and, blushing in that irritating manner I seem to have recently developed, I hasten to add:
‘Everyone is, I mean.’
And when Oliver doesn’t answer, I start to take in what I’ve just told him. Him. My Quidditch captain.
I shuffle extremely awkwardly and feel the sudden, undeniable urge to lighten the mood.
‘So that Kate Wellington, huh?’
Why? Why, why, why?
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