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Chapter 6 : In Which Oliver is Sensitive
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As the snowfall took a morning break, light broke through the clouds and took the long journey across the school grounds. It singularly shone itself over the Gryffindor tower, right into a window seat where Oliver was attempting to shut his eyes and think. He screwed his eyes shut at the rude welcome and blocked the unexpected brightness with a hand, scowling.
The sun responded by stubbornly staying where it was. He too refused to move but alas; he was on the losing side of the battle. Fiddling with the edge of his sleeve did little to preoccupy him. Then he tried running a hand along the side of the cushion and drumming his fingers on his knee. No matter what, he just wasn't comfortable.
The itch of guilt latched on him, and he couldn't shake it off.
The physical bruises of their last encounter faded quickly, but he had never known such mental torment. Even though the buzz of gossip faded quickly, the memories stayed with him — her tears, her furious words, everything that wasn't supposed to happen.
This whole plot was supposed to be his revenge, damn it.
It didn't help that his team picked up on it. He caught the knowing smirks, the whispers to one another, and not-at-all subtle jabs at him. The day before, George approached him before practice with a grin. "Pranks as courting purposes, eh Wood? You're more sadistic than I thought, and I have to suffer through your practices. I'm glad I helped!"
"He planned it and still couldn't get her!" laughed Alicia as she swooped through the air.
Oliver swung around to glare at her and was promptly beaned by a wayward Bludger.
"Mind on the game, not girls, Wood!" yelled George in a mocking-authoritative tone.
They were having far too much fun with his misery.
What made matters worse was that every time he tried to approach Rona, she turned away. It wasn't that simple either; she turned away in a manner that made her look like she was completely oblivious to his existence. Her eyes never shifted to him and she never changed expression, even though it was impossible for her to even know he was approaching.
And it drove him crazy.
Rona didn't even have the decency to look the least bit angry. She put up a little smile as if nothing was wrong — and if nothing was wrong, Oliver wouldn't have been surprised. She was ruthless. He would have smiled at that. Ruthlessness, like perseverance, should be rewarded when in the name of Quidditch! If only it wasn't him that was getting screwed over by it.
His mistake was lumping her in with Roger. He was so sure she had been dating him and spying for him. Who else would stick to the side of such an insufferable, underhanded prat willingly? Logically, someone equally insufferable and underhanded. But then he discovered the tiny detail of who her first kiss was.
As guilty she still was of spying — he saw her at exactly seventeen of his practices last year, armed with a notebook and binoculars — his revenge had always been irrevocably about Roger, and by extension, Roger's girl. Except now, Roger's girl was a nonexistent manifestation of his imagination.
And thus, instead of a satisfyingly delicious victory, he was laying on scratchy cushions, wallowing in self-condemnation.
Perhaps a walk would clear his head. Certainly better than losing a staring contest with the ceiling. Percy had kicked him out of the dorm and with no more practices until after the holidays, restlessness kicked in. He swiped a mug of cocoa from the Great Hall before walking out into the smooth white landscape, inhaling the brisk air.
Unfortunately, he didn't get to enjoy a single minute to himself before he saw Penny stomping toward him.
"Oliver Wood! Why are you not at Hogsmeade?" she shouted across the courtyard. His almost-good mood went kaput. Oh goody. He was guilty of yet another crime. "I've been looking for you for ages. You're lucky I found you at all."
"Extremely, extremely thankful, I'm sure," he said, taking a sip. Percy's girl was always too nosy for her own good.
"Don't give me your sarcasm," she scoffed, shaking a reprimanding finger well-used in her job as prefect. "I am about to do you the biggest favor of your life. Up for grabs right now is a private talk with Rona."
And so her name leaked into his thoughts again. The offer was so very tempting, but he was far from admitting how guilty he felt to Penny. "It's the last thing I want. Glad to be rid of her," he said, eyes flicking away.
"And yet, you seem to have followed her around quite a bit this past week." Penny shot back. "Just accept it and go apologize."
He was trapped. If he said yes, he would admit guilt and more importantly, he would be at her mercy. If he said no, he could lose his chance indefinitely.
Penny smiled triumphantly after a few moments of silence, taking it as a stubborn version fo saying yes. "She'll be in the alley behind Bitlett's Bookcase in half an hour."
Oliver frowned. It was too easy. "What's the catch?"
"I've seen you going around like a little lost puppy, so I decided to take pity. Plus, Percy's been complaining. You've been moping haven't you?"
He had. His roommates had to suffer through his guilt tantrums, which usually involved flinging things against the wall, repairing them, and then flinging them again.
"You're not usually like this," she continued, "and Rona's not usually like this either. I know about the row you two had, but I also know she's not telling us everything, so just settle it. You're better than what you've shown her, I know that. Apologize — for the sake of all of us, please."
He continued to sip at his cocoa, hoping that if he ignored her long enough she would go away, but Penny stood resolutely in front of him.
"You'd be surprised to find how easily she forgives people," she said. "Doesn't take much to fulfill her low expectations in humanity."
"And really, she doesn't hate you."
"Thinks you are quite handsome, actually."
He choked, the cocoa sloshing out to stain the snow instead.
Penny shook her head with an exasperated sigh. "So vain. But whatever gets you to go talk to her." She gave a short wave and started walking back in the direction of Hogsmeade.
Oliver continued to stand there, not the least bit interested in budging from the spot, until Penny turned around thirty paces later and called, "If you don't start walking now, I'm telling Percy to etch scratches into your broom when you're not looking."
And suddenly his feet were willing to move.
Of course, he could see the set-up a kilometer away, smelling as fishy as Mrs. Norris' dinners. Peering in the direction of where Penny headed, he saw two heads pop out momentarily behind a wall. He knew it: a collaboration.
Taking this information and trying to piece together what he could believe, he considered the outcomes. Rona was either there waiting for him, waiting for someone but not knowing it was him, waiting for him but with an ulterior motive, or just not there at all.
Oliver only knew one thing for sure. Girls were utterly evil.
If it appeared peculiar that Oliver was standing alone in the middle of Hogsmeade muttering to himself, no one bothered to point it out. He was at the very least, thankful his friends were at the pub and not witnessing this.
Rona was supposedly behind the building in front of him. All he had to do was march forth, swallow his pride, and grovel.
He took two steps forward and three steps back.
It was just one girl. He tried to think about it like Quidditch. Switt may be coming in for a sneak attack. Bludgers flying. Guilt, carnage everywhere. But just focus on the Quaffle — I mean, the apology. Just — bollocks, this is going nowhere.
At last, he turned the corner and braced for whatever torment he was about to endure. When he opened his eyes, there was no yelling. No curse that sent him flying backwards. There wasn't even a Bludger.
Rona was asleep.
Stepping closer, Oliver could see she didn't look any different than any other day. She wore her defiance proud, even as she dozed away against the shipping crates. Her latest book purchase hung limply from her hands. But she was without menace in fact, she looked like she could crumple with the slightest touch, like a late autumn leaf. That unnerved him more than any other detail.
Something didn't feel quite right, and it suddenly occurred to him that he had never known a moment when she was there and it was quiet. Every one of their conversations led to a row and for good reason: he meant to rile her up. It was all part of his plan.
Plans relied on facts. Observations. Oliver knew this from Quidditch very well. Katie was shoddy at sharp turns, so he never made her do the Horntail Helix. Alicia had a sixth sense for incoming Bludgers, so he gave her riskier moves. Rona couldn't resist a fight, so it made sense to exploit that very weakness. The more he pushed her, the more she pushed back, and the more opportunities to let something slip.
Except Rona wasn't supposed to cry. Up against any half-decent bloke, a crying girl was a game-ender, and unfortunately for Oliver, he was a half-decent bloke.
Oliver stood, still baffled as to how to approach the situation of a sleeping Rona. Finally, he decided to take the most gentlemanly route to leave a good impression — a page from life's strategy book. If he was going to go through with this, he might as well do it right the first time around. He took off his own coat and placed it over her, tucking the corners in to make sure it wouldn't fall.
"Muh room mats put a schleep charm un me didden they?"
Oliver froze. The voice was so quiet and drowsy that he wasn't sure if he had heard it at all, but then he felt the body under the coat move.
Rona lifted an arm to rub her eyes. "Figures. Hannah must've dragged Penny into a plot of hers," she said, her voice still thick with sleep. She shifted around to sit up straight, ignoring the coat that slid into a pile on her lap. "You've got a minute before I'm lucid enough to start yelling at you."
She was already asking for a fight. Oliver bit down on his tongue to stop the retaliation that was ready to leave his lips. He was there for an apology, not to make things worse. "I... just wanted to say I'm sorry," he said.
"Is that it then?" She looked positively bored.
"What, you expect me to grovel?" he shot back instantly. He could a civil conversation with Marcus Flint, if only for thirty seconds, but he couldn't go a dozen words without becoming snippy at her.
"No, I expect you to be a prat. Or at least do something stupid to mess this up somehow." She looked completely serious, but she then tilted her head curiously. "Do you really mean it?"
The anger bubbled out. "Of course I mean it! You think I do this for fun? That guilt is a such a wonderful addition to my day?"
Rona sat up straighter, training a careful eye on him before turning away. "I almost feel sorry for you," she said, disgustingly nonchalant. "I was really only pretending to cry."
He gaped at her. All that guilt, all the torture from his team and himself — for nothing? "What the hell is wrong with you that you would — "
She faced him with a full-force glare. "Doesn't feel so nice being manipulated, does it?"
It was a cheap shot, but it hit him hard. "So my apology means nothing to you?" he spat. He was going to explain his mistake in wrongly targeting her, but now he wasn't so inclined toward any charitable gestures.
Rona stood up, her eyes never leaving his. "It means nothing if it's empty."
He stepped forward, the distance between but a breath. "I'll say it again: I felt. Bloody. Guilty. But I'll take it back. You didn't even cry. Why do you care?"
Rona cracked for a second — a bite on her lip, a shiver of her brow — so fleeting that if Oliver wasn't looking right at her, he would've missed it. "Just playing your games."
The flinch should have been doomed as a lost expression, one forgotten in the anger and tussle, but it would not budge from Oliver's memory. She almost looked... hurt? The longer he stared back at her, the more sure he was that there was something wrong.
The pieces collided together. Her eyes, straining to stay wide open. The watering corners. Her flushing cheeks. He uttered, strangely soft in their heated argument, "You didn't fake it."
Her gaze wavered again, turning to the ground, and a hand flew up toward her face. She glared at him again, but she had already given herself away.
For the second time that day, it was quiet.
Dread and reluctance befell Oliver, but there she was, so fragile-looking like she had been when she was asleep. "Rona... I'm sorry. I... It's — this, I er, um," he ended with a stutter. It was far more difficult to apologize when she looked so scared. He used to be able to push the boundaries of decent conduct when he assumed she didn't care, but she did.
Finally, she said faintly, "It was humiliating,"
She stiffened under his touch as he took her hand. He managed a smile that he hoped didn't look more like a grimace. "Truce, yeah? Let's just... start over."
Rona's lips curled the tiniest bit upwards and Oliver didn't realize until then how much he wanted to see that little sign of forgiveness. She took her hand from his, wavering in the space between them. "You're still a git though."
"Don't worry, I'm not the only one here, so we're even," he said, following her attempt to return to their typical conversation. But an inadequacy tugged at his throat. He couldn't simply throw back a retort. "You know... we don't have to be this way. I'm nicer than this, I swear."
"Sure," she said, almost laughing.
There she went again, a dismissive response when he was trying to be serious, but just as he about about to reply, she said, almost reluctantly, "No, I know you mean it. Well... I didn't want to believe it but... Penny told me about your clock."
The aforementioned item was the same one he flung against the wall a few dozen times in his dorm in his fit of guilt. There was no better way to vent than an inanimate object and a Reparo charm.
"So thanks... for the apology." A brief smile flashed across her face. "Now can we get back to being at each other's throats?"
Oliver laughed but part of him knew she wasn't kidding. It was easy to make a conversation out of snide remarks, but when the other side had feelings and every word had consequences, it was another matter entirely.
"You do make life interesting," she continued absently. "It's not every day I get to witness a Quidditch captain suffer through George's twisted demands for a little piece of information." She straightened herself up. "Which reminds me, don't you want to ask another question?"
Oliver had forgotten about their deal, which was the true culprit in starting the chaos of the past week. She didn't know he already knew the Strategist was her. He wondered if he should tell her, but quickly pushed the thought away. Quidditch still came first, of course. He had apologized her the best he could, and as long as he didn't hurt her again, it would be okay to spy a little.
He had been a good boy. He deserved a prize.
But as much as he didn’t want a repeat of George, he also couldn't resist a well-placed question. Anything to defuse the heavy air. Mostly just to be cheeky. "Think I'm handsome?" he said with a smirk.
Rona turned a horrified pink. Oliver could see the exact moment when she figured out the culprit. "Oh I'm so going to get Penny," she hissed.
He crossed his arms. "I'm waiting for an answer, love."
She glared, though it lost its venom when she was blushing like that. "Don't you have a, you know, Quidditch-related question to ask?"
"I do believe all I have to ask is a yes or no question. Now answer," he said, feigning impatience.
"So what if it's yes? Good looks mean nothing to me. I was just pointing it out. I can very well say Jason Samuels is cute, too, and his mind's works as well as a tampered Bludger."
"Ah, it's not the fact of the matter. It's if you noticed that's important. Didn't know you were watching me, Switt," Oliver said, grinning while she turned a deeper shade of red. It was the first time he ever saw her this embarrassed: wide-eyed and scattered, with a suppressed smile on her lips. "I think that question was very worth another dare from George. Now, anything you want, I'll do." He braced for vengeance.
She put on the thinking-of-evil look that mirrored Penny's earlier. Oliver pretended to not be fazed, but he always had a latent fear for the deviousness of females. Finally, she said, "I have a question to ask back. Seems like a fair trade?"
He nodded. He had nothing to hide.
"Were you watching me sleep?"
"What?" It was his turn for the red to creep up his neck. He didn't expect this sort of cheekiness from her. There was a fleeting thought that they were, perhaps, flirting.
"Shall I rephrase it to something you can understand better?" she said, with the same grin Oliver had sported. "Were you checking me out while I was sleeping?"
This was worse than George. "So what if I was?"
"I'd say you have very good taste."
"Can't help it if a pretty girl's in front of me." It was an instinctive response. He half-wondered if he believed what he said; he was really only saying things to say them.
She paused, smiling questioningly at him, and then burst another laugh. "Do you ever stop? You don't have to try and get into the skirts of every girl you know."
"I don't — well you don't — " Oliver was about to protest, but he couldn't find anything to protest against when she was smiling the way she did then. Then he found himself chuckling, too.
"I better go now," she said, voice stilted as if unused to such casualness. "Any longer and my friends will think you've swept me away somewhere. I wouldn't be surprised if they're listening somewhere with a Silencing charm to hide their giggling..." She spun toward the exit of the alley. "Isn't that right, Penny?"
Oliver took a quick look around the corner and saw that there had indeed been a trail of fresh footsteps leading up to just behind the wall and ones running away.
Rona followed him and sighed. "I don't know what's gotten into them really. Have to go hex them." She looked him over once with her curious smile. "Just... don't make my life harder anymore, and we'll be fine. You're not that bad." She placed his coat back in his arms and started walking down the street.
Oliver let out a long breath as he watched her walk away. Forgiveness was a beautiful thing. He was never taking that for granted ever again. As he was finally ready to stop thinking about Rona for the day, he couldn't help but see that she was still shivering, and his Gryffindor instinct rose up.
He sighed. The woes of being a half-decent bloke. He walked nearer and threw his coat over her head. "If you're cold, you can keep it for now."
"Thanks," she said, pulling it off, "but no thanks. It'll be the death of me by my friends and you know it." She tried to hand the coat back to him but he let it slide to the floor.
Oliver shrugged and kept on walking, leaving it on the floor.
"You're not going to pick it up?"
He turned around and shrugged again. "I suppose some poor cold soul will have a nice warm coat for today." Turning around again, he headed toward the Three Broomsticks, where his teammates were sure to be found.
A snowball hit in back of his head that was cold, wet, and asking for retaliation. He crouched down to make one for himself and turned around to see instead the inside fur lining of his coat.
"You're a useful coat hanger."
He shook his head and wondered why she always had to be troublesome during the times he genuinely tried to be nice. He turned around to see Rona heading in the same direction and as casually as he could, he followed her steps.
She turned and glared, but didn't stop walking. "Stop following me."
"We happen to be heading in the same direction. You could be very well following me. And you don't own the street."
She rolled her eyes. "Why do you have to be so difficult?"
"You're the difficult one," he muttered. She gave him another glare when he opened the door to the pub for her, but it lacked the spite of their earlier encounters. She almost looked amused.
Oliver smirked as she walked past him, looking back all the while. He could get used to this.
A/N: surprise! His point of view ^__^ I hope you liked it!
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