Chapter 2 : Chapter 2
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“Believe me, you'll forget I was even there,” Oliver replied, managing to muster a smile.
For some reason, her voice shook a little as she said, “Y-you’ll keep in touch, won’t you?”
“Yeah,” he told her without a moment’s hesitation. “’Course I will.”
“You’ll have to keep me posted when you get signed by Puddlemere—”
“If I get signed,” Oliver corrected.
“You will. Just watch.” She paused, glanced over his shoulder and waved to someone behind him. “Listen, I’ve got to go. Mum’s waiting.”
“I’m going to miss you,” he blurted out before he could stop himself.
“Aw, me too,” she said, tilting her head to one side slightly, as if she were considering him. She held out her arms and he automatically stepped forward and hugged her, trying not to think of anything untoward as they embraced. She was only fifteen, after all… it wasn’t proper of him, not at all. He let her go and the station began to fade, the steam from the train obscuring Oliver’s vision and making it even harder for him to think…
When Oliver awoke, muttering and cursing, to a crick in his neck, he felt as bewildered as he had done last night. Questions upon questions seethed in his tired mind. Why was Katie Bell wandering around, on her own, in The Hog’s Head, of all places? And why had she been so off her face that she had kissed him?
He had thought those feelings — on his part, at least — were long since buried by now. It had never amounted to anything anyway, and he had always berated himself for thinking about Katie such a way. Oliver had always assumed that Katie regarded him as nothing more than her mad, gruelling Quidditch Captain as well as, perhaps, her friend. But nothing more.
Now, though, things had changed. Of course, Oliver told himself, it was only because she was drunk. The alcohol had been talking last night, nothing else, and her drunkenness was the sole reason for her literally falling into his lap, her lips glued to his and her hands everywhere — not because she wanted him. Of course not.
Yawning and trying to banish the thought from his mind, he managed to get up off the sofa and into the kitchen, still uncomfortable from where he had slept. An unpleasant smell lingered in the air, and after looking in the bin, he realised she probably hadn’t thrown it out for ages. The fridge, when he opened it, also had the same, slightly sweet, decaying smell to it. Oliver tried his best, holding his nose, opening the bin and Vanishing the contents before doing the same with the fridge. He had never been the best at cleaning spells, but even so, his clumsy “Scourgify” at least got rid of the grime that had formed on the shelves.
Knocking softly, he opened the door to Katie's room, trying to make as little noise as possible. To his relief, she seemed fast asleep: she was curled up in a tiny ball, her arms tightly around her knees. Her duvet was lying on the floor, so he picked it up and draped it over her, wincing at the still strong smell of alcohol in the room. It was then that he noticed an open bottle at his feet, and even before he sniffed it, he knew it was whisky. And again, he wondered what on earth had driven Katie to be the way she was. Even Oliver, who had been known by his former Quidditch team as the hardiest drinker of the lot, wouldn’t be able to deal with whisky, not after vomiting up the contents of his stomach onto a pavement in the middle of the night.
Unnerved, he took the bottle and left the room, and after putting the whisky in the kitchen, he then quickly went to his own flat and got cleaned up, grateful for the taste of toothpaste in his mouth and the feeling of warm water on his face. He grabbed some milk and hangover potion while he was there, too. When he returned to Katie's flat, he was surprised to see her coming down the stairs, looking even more haggard and tired than she had been the previous night, a thin dressing gown over yesterday’s creased robes.
“Hey,” he said. “How are you feeling?”
“Like shit,” she replied bluntly.
“I went to mine and got you some hangover potion—”
“I don’t want it. I could murder some wine, though.”
“No,” he told her firmly. “Tea. I’ll make you tea. Okay?” His tone brooked no arguments, and she sighed, looking too tired to argue with him.
Unseen by her, he added some hangover potion to her drink while in the kitchen before taking it to the living room, where she was sitting listlessly, listening to the wireless. She looked up when he came in, and he pulled up the armchair, bringing it closer to the sofa where she was.
“You had a lot to drink last night,” he said at last, after a long, long silence. “And I found whisky in your room, too.” Still, she didn’t say anything. “Look, Katie,” he said softly, reaching out as if to touch her shoulder, but his hand paused in midair, unsure, “please tell me what’s going on.”
She was not looking at him; instead, she was staring fixedly at the mug of tea sitting on the coffee table between them, her eyes narrowed as if trying to work out whether or not he had put something in it. Reaching forward, Oliver lifted the mug and handed it to her, saying, “I haven’t poisoned it, you know.”
After a moment of hesitation, she reluctantly took it from him and sipped a little. “It’s lovely,” she said woodenly, her voice no more than a croak. “Thank you. Really. And — Oliver?”
“I’m sorry I… kissed you.”
“It’s fine,” he said, keeping his voice level but unable to control his cheeks from colouring.
“No, it’s not. You must think I’m a—”
“Katie, forget about it. I have,” Oliver lied. “Look, are you sure you’re okay? What’s happened?”
At this, she sat up a little straighter, but then, just as suddenly, her shoulders slumped again and she said helplessly, “I — I have no idea where to start.”
The questions tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them. “Well, where are your family? Do you have a job? What’ve you been doing these past—”
“Oliver,” she said quietly, “one at a time. My head still hurts, okay?”
She took a deep breath and another gulp of tea. “My parents — they’re fine. Well. As fine as people can be at a time like this. They’re purebloods, so they don’t have to worry, really. But… they don’t know where I am.”
“They didn’t want me to go. They were completely against the idea of me running away, but I had to, for Leanne—”
“Leanne,” she repeated. “Leanne Starr.” The way Katie uttered the name was with the softest, utmost reverence, and he could tell something wasn’t being said. And then, to his surprise, the name clicked in his mind.
“Oh, I remember her. How is she?” Katie, however, did not reply, and the silence that followed was heavy with something Oliver didn't quite understand. “Wait. Isn’t she, you know, Muggleborn?” The moment after he blurted it out, he closed his eyes, realising how insensitive he sounded.
“Was,” she corrected bitterly. “She... they...” Katie trailed off.
“Shit.” He frowned, trying to put the name to a face. He could vaguely remember a dark-haired girl who had practically been joined at the hip with Katie, at least in her first few years at Hogwarts. And then more details came back to him — of Leanne, a pretty, intelligent girl who often waited for Katie after Quidditch practice. And then, Oliver recalled, Leanne shocked everyone who was watching by kissing her.
It was only then that he registered that Katie had buried her face into her hands. “I’m sorry,” he said awkwardly.
“You’re not sorry; you just can’t get your head around the fact that we were...” She gestured vaguely with her hands.
Oliver shook his head. “Of course it’s not about that,” he told her sincerely. “I saw that coming years ago, probably before you did.”
The anger had disappeared from her eyes when she looked up. “What?”
“She had her eye on you for ages,” he said. “As far as I can remember, you two were best friends, but I'm sure she looked at you in a way that was — different. I remember thinking you must’ve been blind not to notice it.”
Katie flushed. “Yeah, well, I did eventually. Probably too late.”
“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “Do you… do you want to tell me what happened?”
He wondered if he had gone too far. Most likely, he had, but he wanted to help her. She was in a state, and he wanted — no, he needed to make sure she would get out of it.
At first, Katie didn’t say anything, instead sipping her tea, and it was only when she had drained the mug that she spoke.
“We… we were in hiding,” she began. “Me and Leanne. Leanne’s mum was missing. She went into work one day in the summer and never came back. Death Eaters came to Leanne’s place the next day, when I was at hers, and she only just managed to escape with me. I went to mine with her, grabbed my stuff and some money and was about to leave with her when Mum and Dad caught us. They… they took one look at us holding hands and kind of put two and two together.”
There was silence as she finished her tea, and he could tell the hangover potion had started its work, because her face looked fresher and her eyes no longer had the pale shell of drunkenness about them. He waited for her to speak; he could sense she wanted to say more, but at the same time, Oliver did not want to push her.
"They didn’t mind too much about me and Leanne. I managed to persuade them to let me go with her," she said finally. "At least until we could find Angela, Leanne’s mum. But we had no idea how the fuck we were meant to go about it. M-mum and Dad made us promise to contact them regularly and let them know we were okay. We were staying in a flat, and I didn’t realise how many problems we’d have, just the two of us living together. I — I felt like I was in Leanne’s face all the time, and it was like I… I couldn’t breathe. We had arguments. So many of them. I mean, we always made up in the end, but still, I didn’t think it would be like that — fuck, I was so stupid.” Katie paused, biting her lip to stop it quivering, and she squeezed her eyes shut, but a tear trickled down her cheek anyway.
“Then, a couple of weeks ago, we had another row,” Katie went on. “It was over something really stupid. I was going to get some food from the shops, but she didn’t want me to go by myself, just in case something happened. She’s never got angry with me before, but that day, I don’t even know what had got into both of us, because she was screaming at me, and the whole fucking flat could hear her going on about You-Know-Who—”
“The Taboo,” he said immediately.
“The Taboo. She must have mentioned You-Know-Who’s name.” She nodded, and he went on, “There’s a — a curse, so anyone who says You-Know-Who’s name is traced. It breaks protective charms. You must have heard of it.” But Katie shook her head. “Go on,” he prompted. “What happened next?”
“And then I just stormed out. And when… when I came back a while later, I — I found her. D-dead.” This time, she lapsed completely, burying her face into the sofa so he couldn’t see her crying, and it was only after several minutes that she spoke again. “They were waiting for me. The Snatchers. The moment I got into the room, they pounced on me. How the fuck I managed to get away, I don’t even know — I can just remember firing curses at them and then Disapparating.”
“She could still be alive,” Oliver suggested.
But Katie shook her head. “She’s dead, Oliver. I saw her. She wasn’t moving. They killed her, damn it, and it’s—”
“It’s not your fault,” he said firmly. “Don’t even think for a second that you caused any of this, because you didn’t.”
“Easy for you to say,” she mumbled.
“You should eat something, have a shower,” he said in an attempt to change the subject and brighten her mood. “My shift starts soon, though, so I'm going to have to get going.”
He got to his feet, wanting to reach forward and comfort her, somehow, but not knowing quite how. So he stayed where he was, waiting awkwardly for her to speak.
“Okay.” Arms folded, she did not meet his eyes, instead trying to wipe the tears from her cheeks with her sleeves. Though she felt better having told someone at long last, she also finally felt the pain that she had fought so hard to suppress for the last fortnight, and the gaping hole in her heart ached all the more as a result.
The chink of coins brought her out of her reverie, and she looked up, frowning. “Listen, Katie,” he said, “your fridge is practically empty. Here’s some—”
“I don’t need your money,” she hissed back, suddenly and irrationally angry. “I’m not a charity case.”
“I never said you were.”
“You didn’t have to,” she snapped, unable to stop the poisonous words from leaving her mouth. “Your fucking face says it all.” And then she couldn’t stand it any longer: how guilty he was making her feel, and the horrible sensation of her grief, which had been frozen, in one place, slowly becoming boiling hot liquid running through her veins — no, she couldn’t take it anymore. “Go,” she said, far, far more quietly. “Leave. I want you to leave. I’m going back to sleep.”
He didn’t say anything, and his calm exterior made him seem so unperturbed, so detached, that Katie was in half a mind to scream at him. Because, more than anything, she wanted him to argue with her, to set her straight, to put her in her place and tell her how fucking stupid she was being, because this was Oliver, and that was what he had always done. But he did nothing. He simply nodded wearily, letting out a deep breath.
“Fine,” he said, his voice so faint that she could barely hear him. “Fine. But… Katie, look. Let your parents know you’re all right. They need to know. And if you ever need anything, anything at all, you know where I am, yeah? I know it’s probably not what you want to hear right now, so if I never hear from you again, I understand. And I realise I'm most likely going too far, but please, please, just… look after yourself, okay? Don’t do anything stupid.”
With that, he made his way out of the front door, shutting it carefully behind him. Katie watched him go, regret already gnawing at her. She tasted salty tears on her lips, burying her face into her knees again, half-wanting to go after him and tell him to come back. But she was not going to. No. That would make her look even more pathetic; he would feel even sorrier for her than he had to begin with, and Katie did not want that.
And then she did the far more pathetic thing: she heaved herself up, went to the kitchen and gulped down a large measure of whisky, swallowing the feeling of nausea that came with it. As always, it tasted disgusting first thing in the morning, but she suspected whisky was her only companion right now — after kicking out the closest person on earth she had to a friend, there wasn’t really much choice for her, now.
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