Oliver stared at his reflection on the clock's glass encasing. He couldn't remember the last time he looked so haggard. Even if most of his fellow students looked as perky as Snape's hair — as it always was after the holidays — he thought he looked worse. Something about mornings didn't agree with him.
The clock he held was none other than the one Rona had given him for Christmas. It was a shiny red, his favorite color. Enchanted for durability, she had said. If he gripped the object any tighter, he was certain that it would shatter.
He wondered how it would fare against the wall.
Oliver swung his arm back but he hesitated at the apex of his throw and cursed under his breath. It was so easy to demolish his last clock, of which bits and pieces were still stuck in the odd corners of the room. Of course, this one was special and he thought with great morbidity that it would make the satisfaction of seeing it smash against stone that much greater — if he could let it go, that was.
He tried again but met the same unconscious resistance. And again. And again. Finally, wanting to get it over with, he pulled his arm back as far as he could. But just as he was about to fling it forward, a hand grasped his wrist.
Oliver whipped around to find a narrow-eyed Percy Weasley.
"Don't. You. Dare."
"You don't understand," Oliver scowled. "How can a girl like her be so dense? I've done everything I could and it all doesn't matter to her." He kicked the bedpost. "I'm one of the bleedin' nice blokes, dammit! Act like a dolt once and it's all dungbombs."
Percy's expression did not change the slightest during his rant. "I didn't ask for your life story," he muttered, releasing him. "I just don't want damned springs flying across the room again. It's hell to clean up." He spun back around toward his desk.
There was apparently little merit to living with someone for seven years.
"Thank you for being so concerned, mate," Oliver said dryly. "If I ever start bleeding profusely all over the floor, I apologize in advance for leaving the stains."
"Fine, fine." Percy took a seat and waved a hand in the air in the same disinterested manner, the other hand busy rifling through papers. "Expound to me the complicated life of Mr. Wood."
"Forget it." Oliver fell back onto his bed, tossing his clock beside him where it bounced and settled in between the folds of his sheets. The seconds ticked past, annoyingly audible with the clock's proximity. He could bear less than a minute of the torture before needing to fill up the silence. "She's driving me nuts," he muttered.
Percy looked up once before his quill resumed moving. "Rona? The quiet ones are always trouble."
He snorted. "She is not quiet. She's... bloody frustrating! I want to be angry at her — no, I am angry at her — " He suddenly recalled the look in her eyes when he last saw her. She was trying not to cry. That had been his other nagging thought. He pulled at his sheets, trying to shake the image from his mind. "I shouldn't be the one feeling guilty!"
"Tch, you had a row with her?" said Percy, shaking his head. He carefully laid his parchment in the stack and pushed his chair back. "Get used to it. The blokes never win rows, even when they're right."
Oliver suspected as much. "Is that what happens with you and Penny?" he asked with sudden interest. He always forgot that Percy had a girlfriend because he hardly ever saw them together except during their prefect duties. Plus, the idea of Percy Weasley wooing a girl was laughable at best. To this day, Oliver never figured out how he was the first of their year to be in a relationship.
"Of course not." Percy smiled smugly. "We never row."
"Bollocks." Of course, he should have expected such a reply from the person who liked to prattle on and on about Penny's perfection, whom in truth was sort of a pushy know-it-all. He turned over so that he was face first in his pillow and peeked up with no small grimace. "Should I just wait until she comes to me? Will she? What if I scared her off?"
Percy rolled his eyes. "Oh for Godric's sake — you still fancy her, right?"
Far more than he should at that point. "Yeah."
"And she's worth the trouble?"
He started at the clock. The fact that he had such a dilemma was quite indicative of the answer. "Most likely."
The exasperated redhead spread out his hands. "Then go bloody fix it. Better than poisoning the atmosphere with your doom and gloom."
Oliver flattened his gaze. "You're trying to get rid of me."
"Of course." He pulled his chair back toward his desk and picked up his quill, engrossed in work once again.
After continuing his tantrum for another few minutes, Oliver grabbed his broom to go on his morning flight, hoping the pitch would be less apathetic than Percy. On his way down, he stuck his head through the fifth year dorm and found Fred and George huddled over a box in the middle of the room. He rapped on the side of the door.
The twins jumped, both heads popping up, and immediately shot up in a synchronized salute. "Captain Wood!" they chorused.
Fred hooked his foot around the box and pushed it under his bed. "We swear, the pigeon was like that when we found it."
Oliver knew better than to ask. "Practice on Tuesday and Thursday. Four o' clock," he said, pointing a finger at both of them. "Come late and you're doing laps. Tell the the others when you see them."
They saluted again, their elbows knocking into each other. "Yessir."
He had not fully turned around before the twins began conversing.
"Since when did we become his messengers?"
"That's what happens when Wood gets a girl."
Oliver whipped back to face them, hand slamming into the door frame. "Oi, are you two volunteering to come early and organize the broom closets?"
George rubbed his chin, quite unaffected by his threat. "He's doing that moody thing like he did a few weeks ago," he said, nodding to Fred. "Must be bird trouble. How'd you mess up this time, Wood?"
Oliver stared at them, his teeth slowly grating against each other. Quidditch teams were far too interested in the love lives of their superiors. "Practice on Wednesday, too," he said gruffly, and left down the staircase before any opposition could arise. He heard some racket of protesting as he stomped down the stairs but didn't bother to make out the words.
Taking to the skies gave him a much needed calm. After pushing off from the pitch, he circled around to the borders of the lake and ran through a regimen of swoops and turns, trying to extend his flight for as long as possible before he needed to rush to class. It was an amazingly effective distraction up until he stepped inside the locker rooms and the memory of the previous day came rushing back.
His next half hour involved hanging his head underneath a torrent of hot water while muttering expletives.
It was impossible to get a gauge on Rona, at least without making it obvious he was watching. She always had her nose buried in a book. He hadn't heard any gossip about their row nor did her friends exhibit any change in behavior. Knowing the level of nosiness of that bunch, they would descend on him like Filch on a house party if they knew about it, but they hadn't. With the exception of Percy, he had kept the matter under wraps so he could only guess that she did as well. In truth, he had already forgiven her but was too stubborn to deflate his anger. He was entitled to an apology after all, but he was reconsidering whether it was worth all the trouble.
When practice came around the next day, he would've liked to believe he blocked as many shots as usual, except the hard facts told him that he was a dozen short of average. The miniature captain in his head beat himself up enough over it, but as an added injury, the others on his team had to notice as well.
During a short break, the team bobbed around the sky making lazy swirls. Alicia leaned forward on her broom, her inquisitive smirk butting into his vision. "Girl problems, cap'n? Fred and George were talking about it."
He immediately dropped his eyes to his clipboard and pretended to be preoccupied by flipping through his pages of notes. "I'm not having girl problems."
Her finger pushed his clipboard down in an attempt for attention. "The only reason you blocked that last Quaffle was because you forgot to move your huge head out of the way and it hit you square on the forehead. I've never seen you so distracted."
Angelina flew to the space beside Alicia. "It's that girl he was stalking, right?"
"I was not stalking her," he muttered.
The girls dissolved into a fit of giggles, though he didn't know what was so funny. "No need to be so negative," said Alicia. "Not this, not that."
Oliver flipped the next page a tad too violently, half-ripping it from the clipboard. Alicia pointed out the exact mannerism he had pegged on Rona once, and now he was emulating her.
He conceded; Rona was inescapable.
Which was why he wasn't surprised when he ran into Jeremy on the pitch on Thursday. Oliver arrived early for practice as usual, and Jeremy stayed late from his. He also caught Roger leaving the pitch and barely restrained himself from bruising the sneer off his face, deciding that he really didn't need any additional trouble at the moment. But as soon as the other captain left, he regretted it; he really did need to punch something at the moment.
Oliver and Jeremy acknowledged with a nod, but otherwise ignored each other. It only took a few minutes, however, for an entirely too-stubborn girl to preoccupy his thoughts again. When he couldn't take it anymore, he apprehended Jeremy with a slight wave as the latter landed back on the grass.
It took a few tries before the question finally left his mouth. "How... is she?" he asked.
Jeremy planted his broom on the ground and leaned against it. "Distracting herself," he said with a shrug, as if he didn't know quite how to answer.
It was the sort of vague answer that told Oliver nothing new. He sighed and followed suit, pressing his forehead against his broom.
"If you don't mind me asking, what happened?"
Oliver frowned and looked up at Jeremy, confused. He assumed Rona had told him at least. They seemed awfully close, especially for someone like Rona who was prickly to most, and Oliver was admittedly a tad jealous. Unfortunately, Jeremy seemed like one of those right respectable blokes who was quite difficult to hate arbitrarily.
"Just had a row," he muttered finally.
Jeremy nodded once. "Girls," he said in a long exhale. "Nothing but trouble."
Oliver couldn't have said it any better. With everyone trying to pull him out of his pit of despair, it was nice to have some company jump in and wallow with him. He put his broom down, hunching forward with his elbows against his knees. "What's with you?"
Jeremy took a seat on the bench next to him, mirroring his pose. "Recently single. We wanted different things. No one's fault." He stared off into the distance. "Can't help but feel awful though."
Now this was a bloke who knew what he was talking about. "What is it about girls that make you feel like you're in the wrong even when you're not?" muttered Oliver.
Jeremy laughed once, tired and resigned. "I have no bleedin' idea, but I really wish they'd let us in on the secret."
Oliver continued the sour swell of the conversation, desperate to purge everything from his system. "Bet they don't even know how easy it is to guilt us."
"They'd exploit it to bits if they did."
"Foxes, all of them."
"Never know what they want."
"Can't accept we're trying to be gentlemen."
"And never see how much we care."
Oliver slumped back against the wall, sighing at length. "Merlin, I miss her." The constant chattering. The incessant denial of everything. The embarrassed smiles she tried to hide. Even when he was complaining full-force about her, her feminine wiles still managed to mount a successful campaign against his will.
Jeremy chuckled, folding his hands behind his head. "Rona isn't so bad. Just not the sharpest quill in the pot when it comes to people. Analyzing people, yes. Relationships, not so much." He shifted his glance to him. "What'd she do this time?"
He shook his head. The reason sounded more absurd every time he said it aloud. "She thought I might be deceiving her still."
"Don't think too much of it. She worries too much about everything."
"I know, I just... wish she didn't." There was a time when he didn't mind, when it was even endearing how someone so prideful and resolute had a vulnerable side. But that was before it negatively affected him. "And you?" he asked, trying to distract himself. "Hannah, right?"
Jeremy nodded and while he answered, continued to bob absently. "She got angry 'cause I didn't tell her about you two. Everyone knew except her, you see, and we made a point to keep her in the dark — she's a bit of a loud talker. It was humiliating for her, I suppose."
The premise struck Oliver as absurd. "If she's shown that she can't be trusted to keep her mouth shut, she should expect this sort of treatment — " Jeremy shot him a funny look, and it took a second before Oliver realized how hypocritical he sounded. "No, no, my situation's different," he added hastily. "I mean, I made an obvious change in behavior the last few weeks — "
Jeremy's laugh interrupted him. "Nah, I agree. Rona probably should have thought better of you."
It still bothered him how quickly and easily Jeremy and Hannah's relationship dissolved, especially with his own on thin ice. "No offense, but it seems sort of petty of her to break up over something like that," he said.
Jeremy responded with a half-shrug, half-nod, as if he wasn't sure if he agreed or not. "It wasn't the only factor. The... novelty of our arrangement was wearing off for me. I didn't want to lead her on." He sunk his chin into the palm of his hand. "And I suppose it might seem petty to you or me, but obviously not to her. We forget that sometimes, I suppose."
Oliver couldn't believe they were sitting by the pitch, regaling pitiful stories of their love life like girls at a bar. "Look at us and all our concern. We deserve a medal for all this." He lifted an imaginary cup, one he sorely wished was filled with real firewhiskey. "For under-appreciated sensitive blokes."
Jeremy followed suit. "I'll drink to that."
Hogwarts buzzed with the excitement of the impending Ravenclaw-Slytherin match. Ravenclaw trailed Slytherin for first by only twenty points and both teams had two matches left. It was anyone's game.
Oliver did not appreciate the populace's lack of faith in the possibility of a Gryffindor comeback. They were behind by nearly two hundred points, but teams had come back to win from a worse margin. Granted, there had only ever been two such instances in the past century, but he had a tip-top team that year — even though he was exceedingly distracted, the twins kept skipping practices due to detentions, and his Seeker attracted bad luck of the dementor kind.
If nothing else, at least his ability to delude himself improved.
The morning of the match, he jogged down the stairs for an early breakfast, wanting to catch the early action and if he was lucky, talk to a few scouters. And somewhere in the depths of his mind, he knew he also wanted to 'accidentally' run into Rona. At the base of the staircase, he found a Ravenclaw, but not the one he was looking for.
"Morning, Oliver," Penny greeted in a deceptively agreeable voice.
"Percy's still upstairs," he said, throwing her the barest of glances.
"I'm not looking for Percy."
He stopped mid-step and spun on his heel to face her, the tingle of bad news creeping up his neck. "What do you want?" he asked, hoping this wasn't one of those conversations that was going to pile more guilt on him.
"I'm here to help, naturally," she said, her pose speaking all about her intents to pry.
Oliver scoffed, remembering quite well her part in causing the problem in the first place. "What happened to me being shifty?"
Penny put her hands on her hips, as if she could look any more indignant. "I warned her like any good friend should. I hardly think I was being unreasonable. It's not my fault you two handle things in the most idiotic ways imaginable."
It took too much effort to try to get rid of her. "So... what do you want?" he repeated.
"She cares about you a lot, even if she's too stupid to show it."
Oliver's attempt at indifference wavered, but he reminded himself that she had yet to make amends. "You want me to make it all better then?" he said tiredly.
She gave him another pointed look. "You could at least stop ignoring her."
"I'm hardly ignoring — " he began, but her glare hardened immediately. Truthfully, he laid an invisible radius where he stayed behind and habitually turned away whenever she was about to look at him. He knew it was just prolonging his misery, but his instinct drove him to it. "Fine," he muttered.
Penny dropped out of her intimidatingly perfect posture to lean against the banister. "Is it strange that I knew this would all happen?"
Of course she had to brag about it. "No, I'm quite used to you thinking you know everything," he said.
"Tch." Her eyes narrowed, but she continued regardless, "Percy asked me back in November to find you a girl because you were spending entirely too much time polishing your broom, droning on about Quidditch."
Admittedly, there might have been a slight problem if Percy was saying he should go out more often.
"When you came looking for Rona, it was all too perfect. You're certainly her type, but I never expected something would actually happen. I thought at first that she fancied you to rebel against Roger. She does try so hard to spite him."
Oliver frowned, waiting for her to say that she was wrong and that Rona fancied him for more than that. Penny's track record for indirectly causing worry increased by another victim. "Does he really fancy her?" he asked curiously.
"What, you need another reason to get in a tiff?" She shook her head. "Roger's just possessive. Greedy bastard, really. Never appreciated her until you came by. You stubborn lot are all so difficult. She's been pretending that everything's fine just so that he can't see how badly she mucked up."
All those books she kept her nose in. All the fake smiles.
"In any case," she continued, "I only came by to say that I hear her practicing apology speeches whenever I open the door to our dorm — pah, she thinks I don't notice. So if you still fancy her — and clearly you do — you might as well get back together a little quicker."
He raised a brow. "Well... it's not like we broke up."
She immediately stood up again, staring at him in renewed interest. "...what?"
"We had a row." He was angry, which meant he yelled at unhealthy volumes and gave stubbornly long cold shoulders. But he never broke up with her. "Does she think that we — ? ...oh sod it all!"
Penny placed a hand on her forehead, dragging it down in complete disbelief, as she ground her teeth together. "Rona, you stupid, stupid girl. This is why I intervene." She sighed. "She should be in booth six right about now."
A/N RUN, OLIVER, RUN. I'm quite pleased with this chapter. I really do love writing bitter!Oliver. That boy and his brooding (and constant showering). I also love my beta forever because she's apparently been waiting for Jeremy and Oliver to interact this entire time and she totally ships their bromance.
Thank you all for leaving so many reviews in the last chapter! :) Glad to see all of you are still reading ^____^ Hopefully, this chapter met your expectations!