Chapter 1 : fear of falling
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I was a flight risk, with a fear of falling
There were a lot of things that Katie Bell was afraid of.
The war was over. It was a time of healing and reconstruction. And all around her, people seemed to be doing just that: healing. Moving on. Everyone seemed to be learning how to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and putting them together again, one fragile shard at a time.
But she could not. She was stuck standing there, staring at the remains of her life and with not a single clue as to how to begin reconstructing it. Katie would reach down to try and take a piece off of the floor, and instead, it would pierce her finger, until she had to drop it once more.
The war was over, but Katie Bell was lost.
She missed herself. It sounded silly - of course, she was still there, wasn’t she? Still Katie. Still alive. But she missed who she used to be. She missed the old Katie.
This Katie was nothing but a shell. And if she was being honest with herself, things had been that way since that Hogsmeade visit in sixth year and the necklace.
Katie had gone to St. Mungo’s, they had said everything was fine after a time, and she had gotten back on the pitch. Somehow, she had gotten herself back on the broom, and she had no delusions about why. It had been for Angelina, Angelina her fellow Chaser and dear friend, Angelina who would have been crushed.
But nothing could make her forget the sheer terror of getting back on her broom, of having to fly once more. Each time Katie did, she was forcefully reminded of the last time she had been in the air, with no control over her body, unimaginable pain, terrified for her life...
It had been the most horrifying experience she’d ever endured. Like watching your body doing things that you had no recollection of ever telling it to do, as if you were somehow disconnected, with a total lack of control. But you were not disconnected from the pain...
Katie hadn’t played properly after that, despite her attempts. It was hard to concentrate on the Quaffle in her hands when she was thinking about how precariously she was perched, hundreds of feet in the air.
It was insane. They risked their lives for a game, entrusting their lives to a small piece of wood. Practically a stick, and it was the only barrier she had to stop her from tumbling madly out of control onto-
Yet she could still remember the feeling that flying gave her before the necklace, that reckless, almost wild abandon, that glorious, exhilarating feeling of flying and the wind at her back.
She loved to fly, it was true.
But as much as Katie knew it, she couldn’t get herself back on the broomstick.
And then the battle had come, and all the fear had come back to her, as she had desperately dodged curses, watching bodies fall down around her, good and bad - she couldn’t tell which.
Didn’t dodge all of the curses, Katie reminded herself, rubbing her shoulder absentmindedly as she worked the register at Quality Quidditch Supplies one Friday. Thank Merlin, she had jumped out of the way in time - those Quidditch reflexes coming back to save her - but it still hit her shoulder.
St. Mungo’s had done its best to sort her out, but her shoulder and her arm had never been the same.
Her throwing arm.
It had solidified it for her. Katie would never play Quidditch again.
Even now, as she rang someone up at the register, Katie used her left hand, her right arm hanging limply at her side. It still worked, technically - but it was cumbersome and sore and, quite frankly, it had been much easier to learn to switch to her left hand. Dark curses left marks, and this one had been no exception. Every day, she was reminded of what had happened.
It was almost the end of her shift, and Katie breathed a sigh of relief. She wanted nothing more than to return to her flat and take a well-earned nap.
She whirled around, not believing her ears. She knew that voice - she ought to, after years of having its owner scream at her.
“Oliver?” And there he was, her old captain, looking much the same as ever if a bit older.
“Fancy seeing you here,” he grinned. “Been a while, Bell. What are you doing here?”
“I work here,” she said, not allowing herself to sound ashamed. It was good work, decent pay, and it kept her busy and with a roof over her head. And, though she would never admit it out loud, it allowed her to stay connected to Quidditch in a way.
“Oh,” he said, and there was a short awkward pause before he continued on, brushing it off in the way that Oliver did. “How’ve you been?”
“All right,” she said with a shrug, continuing to put the broomstick polish back on the shelves, refusing to get totally distracted. “And yourself? How’s Puddlemere? We’ve been following the League, obviously,” Katie said with a small smile, “seeing as how we’re a Quidditch shop.”
That was enough to launch Oliver off into a long explanation detailing everything, which Katie half tuned out as she continued on her work, Oliver following her around. It was pleasant background noise, and Katie knew all too well that once Oliver got started on Quidditch, he could talk forever.
“-and though the new line of Nimbuses are great, I still say that the Firebolt remains one of the best brooms out there, no matter what. Completely revolutionized the industry when it came out. Don’t you agree? Hey, Bell, what was the last broom you rode?”
She finally noticed when he directed a question towards her and busied herself with the supplies she was supposed to be restocking, not wanting to face him as she answered. “Haven’t rode a broom very recently,” Katie said matter of factly. “I guess the last one I had was my old Cleansweep Ten.”
“Cleansweep Ten?” Oliver frowned. “Merlin, didn’t those come out-”
“When I was a fifth year, yes.” She felt oddly protective of her old broom - sure, it wasn’t a Firebolt, but it had been a nice broom, and it had never failed her. “Like I said, I haven’t flown recently.”
The look on Oliver’s face was confused. Clearly, the idea of not flying for an extended period of time was foreign to him, which did make her smile a bit. If anyone was meant to fly, it was Oliver Wood. “Why?” he frowned.
Katie rolled her eyes. She had forgotten how thick Oliver could be. She raised her right arm, or attempted to. It stayed up in the air for a moment before flopping down again to rest at her side, her unspoken answer. “Plus sixth year,” she added as an afterthought to herself.
Oliver continued to frown. “If anyone should be back on a broom, it’s you,” he said, and she was taken aback by his honesty - but then, she shouldn’t have been. Oliver did always say what was on his mind. “You ought to go fly.”
“No, thank you,” Katie said firmly.
“I mean it, Bell.”
“And I do too,” she said, closing the matter from discussion. “It was lovely to see you again, Oliver, but I really need to close up the shop now.” And with that, she fled from him, using her work as an excuse to hide from him. Things had been going so well up until that point - while the others had sometimes found Oliver overbearing, he could be a lovely person off of the pitch... once he actually got off of it, that is.
“What was that?” Bridget Connolly hissed as Katie ducked behind the counter. “Why was Oliver Wood talking to you?”
“Not tonight, Bridget,” Katie sighed, turning away from her.
Katie thought it was done. Nice conversation, oh-good-to-see-you-again, done. Finished. No more.
But to her bewilderment - and consternation - Oliver Wood simply would not leave her alone. All Katie wanted was to be able to do her job in peace and quiet - well, as peaceful and quiet as a bustling Quidditch shop could be.
Bridget certainly enjoyed the attention of having a famous Quidditch player come visit them, but to Katie, he wasn’t really a famous Quidditch player. Mostly he was just Oliver, her old captain who could be sort of pratty, though he meant well, and a Quidditch fanatic. Who happened to be Puddlemere’s captain on the side.
“Oi, Bell!” he would yell. “Flown again yet?”
“No,” she would respond tiredly and continued on with whatever she was doing.
It was the fifth time this happened - she was putting away broom servicing kits this time - when Katie gave in.
“If I say I’ll fly, will you please stop bothering me?” she sighed. The moment she said it, she regretted it. What was she thinking? Even the thought of flying made her feel like crawling into her bed and pulling the covers over her head.
“Only if you promise to actually fly,” he shot back, still grinning.
“Excuse me?” Katie said, eyes narrowed, hands on hips as she stood up, all five feet and three inches of her. He was being such a prat! “And what gives you the idea that you can tell me what to do?”
“Come on, Katie.” Oliver’s face softened. “You’re wasting yourself. If you honestly, honestly don’t miss flying, tell me, and I’ll shut up.”
Her throat closed up, and she was unable to speak or meet his eyes. Katie was unable to lie to him; she always had been.
“Honestly?” she repeated, feeling exposed with every word she spoke, “I do miss flying. I miss it a lot.”
“So fly again. It’s simple. You can do it.”
“It’s not simple,” Katie argued, studying the broom servicing kits very intently.
“I’ll help you.”
She turned, paused, and studied him. Oliver stared back at her, face earnest.
“Promise?” she finally said.
“Course,” Oliver said sincerely, before grinning once more. “Besides, I taught you how to fly once, no reason why I can’t do it again.”
“You did not!” Katie cried indignantly. “I could fly perfectly well, thank you!”
She glared at him, but he didn’t flinch. Perhaps the glare would have been more effective had it been true, for Oliver had taught her almost everything she had known. She had come in as a second year who knew the basics of flying on a broom, of course, but that year, all three of the Chasers had learned to fly in a whole new way.
Because it wasn’t just balancing on your broom and learning how to control it. No, it was about learning about your broom and learning how to make it respond to your every move. It was about learning the flight patterns of your fellow teammates, learn to predict what they were going to do, to anticipate it, to know it at some deep level that defied logical reasoning.
Even thinking about it still gave Katie a rush as she remember what it was like to fly alongside her best friends. Yes, she missed flying.
“Tomorrow then,” she said. “I’ll go for a fly then.”
“There’s a field we can go to that we practice at sometimes,” Oliver said, and they managed to arrange details for Katie’s flying lesson without fighting further.
The next day at work, Katie was so anxious that she could hardly stop herself from bouncing up and down. Instead, she settled for tapping her foot incessantly.
“Nervous for your date with Oliver Wood?” Bridget asked her with a smirk.
“Hush!” Katie scolded her. The last thing she needed was for some stray reporter to hear that and misconstrue it. “And no, for the last time, it’s not a date!”
“Sure,” Bridget called out in a sing-song way, before going off to help a customer. Katie ground her teeth in frustration.
At exactly quarter past five, Katie said goodbye to Bridget (“Good luck on your date!” she had sung; Katie had chosen not to dignify it with a response) and, after grabbing her trusty Cleansweep Ten, Apparated away.
Moments later, Oliver Apparated with a large crack across from her, similarly holding a broomstick. Katie recognized it as a Firebolt Series Six - they had just come in, and the shop hadn’t even gotten any in stock yet. They were far too expensive for the average wizard to buy - but most of the clubs had been busy buying them for their players.
“Excellent,” Oliver said as he walked over to her. “I see you brought your broom.”
Katie felt sort of protective of her broom; old it might be, but it had never failed her. Her body had failed her, but not her broom.
“She’s still good,” she retorted, knowing that her Cleansweep Ten didn’t hold a candle to what the Series Six could do. Her broom’s name was Hermia - she, Angelina, and Alicia had always named their brooms from when they first joined the team. It was a tradition that had stuck, and Katie refused to think of not continuing the practice.
“Never said she wasn’t, Bell,” Oliver said, holding a hand up as a peace offering, the other still wrapped securely around his own broom, not blinking as he used the pronoun.
She was hardly the only Quidditch player to name her broom, and she was hardly the only one that was overly protective of it.
“Now, come on. Can’t just hold the broom and expect it to ride itself.” Oliver slipped into Quidditch captain mode, his voice taking the authoritative tone that Katie recognized. “Might as well do it properly. Put it on the ground and-”
“-say ‘Up!’?” Katie finished. “Honestly, I’m not eleven-”
“Just do it,” he ordered.
Sighing, she placed Hermia on the ground and said, “Up!” Hermia jumped into her hands at once, naturally.
“Good,” Oliver said, “you’re still attuned to the broom.”
Katie had no idea what the hell being attuned to the broom meant, but she supposed it was probably a good thing.
“Mount your broom,” he said, and Katie complied, her hands slipping naturally into the correct grip. It was a bit of a struggle to get her right hand to cooperate, but she merely squeezed her hand tighter to make sure she wouldn’t let it go.
“So far so good, huh?” Katie couldn’t help but roll her eyes again at the situation she found herself in. Relearning how to fly, after playing Quidditch for six years. Dear Merlin.
“Now just kick off.”
This was where the problem was. She couldn’t. Katie knew perfectly well what would happen when she kicked off: she would shoot into the air, flying, weight suspended on a piece of wood. She couldn’t. She just couldn’t.
“I can’t,” she said, her voice sounding strangled. “I can’t.”
“Yes, you can,” Oliver said patiently. “Don’t think about it. Just do it,” he repeated.”
“I can’t,” she said, shaking her head.
“And why not?”
“I’m afraid,” she admitted, the first time Katie had said so out loud.
“Of falling.” It seemed shameful when she put it that way, as if she was nothing but a nervous first year. But it wasn’t just falling; it was losing control of everything, of trying to let go. She was afraid.
“So what’s going to happen if you fall?” Oliver’s voice was calm. “You fall. And then you get back up again. Look, Katie, I’m not going to pretend I know everything that happened. But is the reason why you’re afraid because of the broom or because of something different?”
“Something different,” she muttered. “Something from sixth year.”
“When has this broomstick ever harmed you?” Oliver’s voice was still calm, soothing her frazzled nerves a bit.
“Never.” Her answer came quickly, as they always did when in defense of her broom. “Hermia’s been a good broom.”
“You can trust her,” Oliver said.
“It’s just one piece of wood,” she said, “one piece of wood that’s stopping me from falling.”
“That’s right,” he said, “stopping you from falling. Look, I’ve seen you fly. You belong in the air.” His arms gestured wildly. “Up there. Not down here. That’s why I kept bugging you. You should be in the air, not on the ground. And whatever happened... you’ve got to move on, brush it off. You can’t let it hold you down forever.”
You can’t let it hold you down forever. It echoed in her head.
How long had her fear been her anchor, keeping her pinned to the earth, stopping any attempts to escape to the sky? She could not longer let it hold her down. She had to escape it. She had to let go.
You can’t let it hold you down forever.
“Okay,” she whispered to herself, her fingers increasing their grip on her broom. It didn’t matter that her right hand stung. She would do this.
Katie took a deep breath, and without letting herself think about it for another second, she kicked the ground firmly.
And in an instant, she was in the air again, riding Hermia, a light breeze playing around her hair. A giddy smile began to stretch across her face unbidden, and she couldn’t help but give a triumphant laugh as she began to climb higher above the ground.
Katie had done it. She was flying. She was flying!
“That’s it!” Oliver cried up to her, and she looked down for a moment at his small figure still on the ground.
She was fearful for a moment as she saw how tiny he seemed to be and how high up she had unwittingly flown.
It’s just a piece of wood that’s keeping me up here.
And it is keeping me up here, she reminded herself fiercely. Hermia was still steady underneath her, still responsive to her touch despite the years that had passed.
Katie would never lose control like that awful accident in sixth year. Her body would not be taken from her, flung into the air. She was in the sky once more, but she was the one in control this time. She knew where she was, who she was, what she was doing.
She was going to be fine.
Katie zipped away, testing the speed out. Hermia had nice acceleration – smooth, but still quick. She remembered admiring it when she had first gotten the broom.
She was flying, defying gravity, wind at her back, glorious and exhilarating. She made a sharp turn, heading back the way she had come, doing a small dive - nothing too fancy yet - before flattening out and landing next to where Oliver stood.
Breathing hard, catching her breath, she grinned at him with a wild look in her eyes. “Merlin,” she said. “I forgot what it was really like.” After another breath, she announced, “Race you!”
Without waiting another second, Katie had kicked off again and was in the air. She didn’t know where the end line was, but that wasn’t the point. The point was how she got there.
She knew that she really didn’t have much a hope against a Series Six - Katie knew the stats back to front from work. It did naught to a hundred in record time - but Katie did have a slight advantage in her start, and so she pushed Hermia to go faster and faster, letting the adrenalin kick in. Besides, Series Six or no Series Six, Oliver was a Keeper, and Katie was a Chaser. No matter how long it had been since she had last flown, flying fast was what she was meant to do, and it still came naturally to her. It didn't matter that her arm didn't work that well, not when she was racing: she could still fly.
Oliver stood on the ground for a moment more, shell shocked, before his instincts kicked in and then he, too, was in the air, racing her. She could see him in her peripheral vision; it only urged her to go faster and faster.
Sensing that he was about to be neck-and-neck with her (she was actually quite impressed she had even made it this far), Katie brought her broom to a halt.
Oliver had started to zoom past her, but came to a quick stop only a few feet away. Katie admired the Series Six’s quick stops - the magazines had all raved about it.
“I won,” she said, satisfied, even though she knew it wasn’t real. But in a way, it was a win for herself - she was on a broom again. She was flying. She had won.
“That you did,” Oliver said with a grin. “And you know,” he said, “you don’t have to worry about falling. I’d catch you.”
It was said with that perfect mix of Oliver’s sweetness and awkwardness, all in one. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I know,” Katie said with a smile back. “I know.”
She had found herself once more. The shards of her life seemed to be putting themselves back together, one piece at a time.
And Katie Bell was no longer afraid of falling.
A/N: I definitely listened to Shake it Out by Florence + the Machine a /lot/ writing this. :P This is for Goldemort - when I saw you thought there weren't enough Katie/Olivers I set out to write one! I had some trouble with this, but I hope you don't mind it. Merry Christmas, Amy, and I'm sorry it's late! :)
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