Chapter 13 : In a Puff of Smoke
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By the time Oliver's excused himself to the loo, I’ve only pried a tiny bit of information from him--all Quidditch-related. Seriously, he should tell Puddlemere to bugger off and become an Unspeakable. On the bright side, I can now tell readers exactly what it feels like to wear Keeper's padding ("Like a bleedin' troll sitting on your shoulders.") But I haven't found out anything about St. Mungo's, or Ada, or even if he wears boxers or briefs. At this rate, we’ll be here all night.
With Oliver still gone, I place the recording orb back in my shoulder-bag. It's charmed to recognize his voice, so the magic will pick up our conversation. With a reluctant sigh I tap my wand on my pint glass, still half-full. “Tergeo.” When the alcohol disappears, a little whimper escapes me. Another Galleon down the drain. My wand quickly taps the glass again. After some struggle to recall the basic principles of Latin, my glass is full of water roughly the same colour as a beer. There. Now I can be sure to stay focused.
When Oliver returns I’m feeling right smug, and a bit like Gwendolyn Phire: Witch Detective.
The waiter returns with his third beer, and he takes a healthy swig. His shoulders are slumping, and when he goes to scratch his nose it’s clumsy. Seizing the chance, I say conversationally, “So, why exactly don’t you like to read your own publicity?”
“Well,” he hesitates. “Honestly, it probably isn't very flattering. I haven’t played a match in two years, so any time I’ve been photographed, it’s been by the paparazzi. You know, incriminating rubbish. There’s probably something circulating from that night I came into your pub.”
Heat flashes across my chest. I clasp my hands together to keep them from shaking. “Oh, maybe. But who cares, really? You’re just having a bit of fun.”
“'Fun' isn't quite the word I would use." His remorse almost sounds genuine. "Well if there is any evidence of that night, my team mates are sure to have seen it. It’s idiotic, the amount of tabloids they keep up with. You’ve actually met them, they were at the pub when I, erm...”
“Right.” I scrunch my face, “Funny that I didn’t recognize any of them. I’ve been following Puddlemere pretty closely this past season.”
“That’s probably because... they’re on the reserve team.” The last half of the sentence is murmured into his pint.
It’s very unusual for active Quidditch players to spend time with the reserves. There's so much hierarchical bollocks between them. The players are the celebrities. The reserves are the understudies, waiting in the wings for their chance. Oliver spending time with the lesser-thans is quite strange. Unless his team mates don’t want to spend time with him...?
“Actually, they weren't all reserves. Katie’s the assistant manager,” he says through his blush. “She was the, erm, sober one.”
I recall the olive-skinned girl from that night; the one with the startlingly green eyes. “Wait, Katie Bell?” I say, and he nods. I remember her now from the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and as the horrible incident with the cursed necklace. That’s why she looked familiar. "I had no idea she was your assistant manager.”
“Well, Deverill is probably retiring soon." He must realize his mistake, but my eyebrows have already lifted in interest. That was certainly not public information--Deverill has been manager of Puddlemere for twenty-some years. That's almost unheard of in professional Quidditch. He's a legend. I doubt many fans know that he’s being replaced.
Quickly, before he loses his willingness to talk, I blurt the first question that comes to mind. “So do you have a girlfriend?” When he gives me a look, I raise my hands defensively. “Oi, just doing my job. The readers want to know.”
"Well, not that it’s any of the readers’ business... But no. I don’t." To my surprise he adds, "Katie and I broke things off.”
True to form, I can’t hide my shock. “Katie as in your manager?”
“Assistant manager. And we started dating back at Hogwarts, so it’s not like there’s any scandal there. Sorry to disappoint.”
Maths is not my strong suit, but I can calculate a long-term relationship. This makes Lisa and Justin look like a summer fling. “Wow, that’s... that’s over ten years."
Oliver has gone rather quiet, folding a small napkin into smaller triangles. “Off and on,” he shrugs.
“When did that happen? The, erm...”
I he only answers because I’m genuinely incredulous. “You can say 'breakup,' I'm not going to dissolve into tears. Though I'm sure you'd love to write about that. I reckon it was about two years ago now. Before she signed on with Puddlemere.”
“Did you want to marry her?” I surprise myself by asking. He looks at me for a long time in silence. It's not on the record, but I know the answer. I release a breath, “Wow. I’m sorry."
Oliver taps his wand on the paper plane he folded, and it flies over the edge of the balcony. “It’s nothing,” he says as it circulates the moon. “The whole thing was mutual. It's better this way.”
“Of course." But I doubt that a mutual, unimportant breakup would be mentioned two years after the fact. A silence passes as I watch the tiny black plane.
“I’m sorry,” he says suddenly. “But that dress.”
The pale skin of my throat flushes crimson. So he was looking at me earlier. “W-what about it?”
“You’re wearing Kestrel green,” he says as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. If I weren't so humiliated, I would roll my eyes. Of course. Quidditch. “You know we’re playing them this month.”
“They’re still a brilliant team.”
“They’re a rival team,” he corrects with an index finger.
“That doesn’t just automatically make somebody untalented!”
He shrugs, “I think their strategies are sloppy.”
“How can you even say that? They beat Holyhead without even blinking. And every season they send players to the Irish National Team--”
“Oh, don’t even get me started on those ponces.”
“You can't be serious! They’ve won the Quidditch World Cup three of the last five years!” I bellow.
Suddenly I realize that everyone around us is staring. Even the hostess has stomped back upstairs to shoot Mildred-worthy glares. I duck low in my chair, grimacing apologetically. Not helping the matter, Oliver prattles on about Quidditch Cup referees being paid off.
At last the hostess trudges back downstairs. Oblivious, Oliver murmurs heatedly, “O’Leary can only throw with his left arm. Do you know how much of a disadvantage that is to Kenmare? It's idiotic to put a one-armed Beater on the pitch." Grudgingly, I agree with this logic. "For the upcoming match, I told Pearson to aim for O'Leary's good arm.”
"Oh, come on! That's a shoddy thing to do."
“All’s fair in love and Quidditch.”
“Please tell me that you have that tattooed somewhere.”
In response, Oliver begins unbuttoning his shirt. My jaw drops--I can't believe he actually has such a tattoo. Also, The Hanging Moon is hardly a place to undress. Thankfully he’s wearing a shirt underneath, and pushes the left sleeve up. On his shoulder are two gold bulrushes against a blue shield. It’s the Puddlemere United crest, which in retrospect doesn’t surprise me at all.
"Dumbledore supported Puddlemere," he reminds me.
Then my eyes fall on a long white scar, directly above the tattoo. It cuts horizontally up his shoulder, circling all the way around to the back like a crescent moon. It must be from the injury that put him out for two seasons; the one Lisa was tending at St. Mungo’s.
He sighs, pulling the sleeve down. “Ah, yes. That.”
"Yes," I say slowly. “What exactly happened? If you don’t mind my asking.”
He shrugs. “I’ve just got bad joints."
"So why the mark, then? I thought magic rarely left scars."
"Have you heard of Harry Potter?" He says cheekily. "I dislocated my shoulder. Ripped it clean from the socket--"
"Gah!" I cover my ears. He throws up his hands exhasperatedly and I quip, "Sorry." I motion for him to continue, eyes squeezed shut as if to keep out the visual.
"...So anyway. I could've gone with potions to heal it, and not had the scar. But that would've taken ages. And I wanted to get back to playing. So they used a bit of Muggle and Magical healing, I reckon, with an incision and then magic."
"But you were still out for two seasons."
"Right. Because I was stupid and impatient, and then I threw it out again. During practise, right before our first match. So I had to stay off it for two seasons and take physical therapy. Serves me right, I reckon."
"Kenmare did alright, though," I try to be comforting. "With your substitute, what's-his-name. Knightley."
He fixes me with a very serious look. "I am not an arrogant man, Edie. But I do know that nobody can Keep like I can."
Well, there's no arguing with that. Except maybe the first bit.
He adds, “Anyway, it still hurts like hell. I have to take intense pain-numbing potions every day, or I can barely lift it. In fact, I shouldn’t be playing at all. They say that soon I won’t have the use of my left arm soon, if I keep it up."
“Christ, then stop playing!” I exclaim incredulously. It’s not my place, but I don't see any other way around it. But Oliver looks at me like I’ve just said the stupidest thing in the world. And then I understand exactly how much he lives for this.
“Oi," he says in an attempt to lighten to mood. "Unlike O’Leary, I can throw with both arms."
Come to think of it, he's right. I've always just assumed that he was right-handed from the way he plays. Sometimes he uses his left arm to block, in a pinch. But that must be a gut reaction; a last-ditch effort to keep the other team from scoring. There's no telling how much those tiny slip-ups are costing him.
Oliver is wearing a strange, somber grin. "Go on, ask me."
I clear my throat, thrown off. I haven't used one of my prepared questions in quite some time. But I can't bring myself to ask about St. Mungo's. Stumbling over my words, I ask, "C-could you talk a bit about your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years? You're approaching the age for retirement--What?" I've stopped because he's laughing humourlessly.
"That's not what what you really came here for, and you know it."
So he knows that I'm trying to expose him.
When I stare in dumb silence, he continues, "I'm not going to defend my decision about the charity. So go on and ask, and we can get it out of the way. Or, here, I'll do it." He leans forward over the table, "I don't want to talk about it."
"That's..." I sputter. "That's not... I don't think that our readers even really know about it..."
I've misjudged how many interviewers have tried to glean this from him. To my surprise, he isn't quite angry. He's fixing me with an even gaze. I don't know what else to do and take another sip from my water-beer. It's empty. Bugger.
Oliver notices and says, “I’ll get you another.”
“Oh, no, please,” I begin. But somehow the waiter is already there with a full pint. I look at him oddly and he winks, mouthing approvingly, “He’s cute!” Before I can respond, he's disappeared.
I bewilderdly turn back to Oliver as he says, “So, it's fair that I get to ask you a question now, right?" I nod numbly and he asks, "If you’re such a big Puddlemere fan, why didn’t you recognize me at The Poisoned Apple?”
“Well,” I reason, “you’ve been out for two seasons. I only really became interested in Quidditch around the time of your injury. You know, putting names to faces and such. I mean, I thought you looked familiar, but..." I laugh, "You do a pretty convincing Bulgarian accent. Why Krum, though?"
With an embarrassed smile he shrugs, "You said it yourself. The accent. It's even more hilarious the more you drink. Course, you'd have to be me to actually believe that..."
"No," I smile, "it was pretty funny, actually. Once I calmed down."
“Ah.” Suddenly he winces, “Sometimes I almost wish you’d never figured it out.”
“I just mean... I was such a complete ass. I’d almost rather you'd gone on thinking that it was Viktor Krum who punched out some stranger. I’d like to blame my teammates for everything, but...”
“Why would you blame them?”
“They encouraged it. I... God, this is humiliating.” He covers his face and sighs loudly. I smile, sipping from my delicious beer. “I suppose it’s a bit of a joke for them to take me out. They know that I get out of control if I drink enough. I'm not proud, but it's a fact. So they kind of... encourage it, for fun."
"Not Katie, though," he adds quickly. "She was there to be sure I made it out alive."
“Still, that’s absoultely dreadful! You call these people your friends?”
He shrugs, “Not really. I kind of prefer to spend time alone."
"Aren't celebrities supposed to be surrounded by friends and... willing ladies?"
"Maybe some of them. But I don't like it. I reckon I spent so much of my life around Katie that I’m used to either her, or myself. God, I sound completely pathetic, don’t I?”
“No," I reassure. “I totally know what you mean. Growing up with those brothers--it’s nice to have some time to myself. And don't feel bad, mate. I have a pretty small group of friends. Just Seamus and Dean, and of course Lisa. So I reckon Justin by default.”
Oliver snorts into his glass, “A riot, that one.”
“Yeah... How exactly do you two know each other?”
He pauses, “He did me a favour a while back.” I nod, deciding to leave it alone.
“Alright," he taps his hand on the table. "In the spirit of a probing interview, I have a confession to make. I actually do remember the night at The Poisoned Apple. Well, just bits and pieces. But I remember, erm... y'know. Kissing you...”
“Well, that makes two of us who wish we could forget!” I joke lamely, drumming a rimshot on the table.
"And I'm sorry," he ignores my awful sense of humour. "I should've asked you."
"Oh, pish posh," I wave him off. With the hands again, Edie. And pish posh? What am I, sixty?
“I remember why.”
“Why I did it.”
“Hey-o.” Apparently, the appropriate thing to do here is take a series of prolonged beer-gulps. This conversation is getting weird. But the nagging curiosity is eating me up and then despite telling myself otherwise, “So... why then?”
He's suddenly very interested in his empty glass. “You were the first girl in some time who didn't recognize me. You approached me like I was any other idiot in your pub."
"Well, to be fair, I wanted my fist to approach your throat."
“You were so angry!” he laughs at the memory. “But it was kind of... nice. To just be seen as any other person, you know?”
“Mmm...not really,” I say honestly. There is a beat of silence and then we burst into laughter. The celebrity and the nobody.
“Oh, I almost forgot. Rose left some notes for you, but they’re...” his face reddens. “They’re at my flat.”
“Ah.” As much as I’m dying to know what happened that night, for once I manage to keep quiet. I don’t even waggle my eyebrows, or elbow him suggestively, or wink exaggeratedly. I think I've just transitioned into adulthood.
“You can stop by on your way home, if you want.”
I brush a piece of my fringe back. "I dunno if that's such a good idea..."
He looks a bit crestfallen, “Or I could bring them by Witch Weekly--”
“No!” I interject. It would be hard to explain if this supposed journalist were discovered brewing her boss’s tea, or extacting sooty owls from chimneys. “I’ll nip by and grab them.”
“Brilliant.” He eyes my glass, which I'm embarrassed to say is already empty, “Ready, then?”
“Well, we should probably pay first. I heard it's now legal to hex people who dine and ditch.”
“Oh, I’ve already taken care of it.”
“Taken care of it?” I repeat uneasily.
“Yeah, when I went to the loo earlier. I told our waiter to put it on my tab,” he says offhandedly. Suddenly I understand why the man had been so... erm... winky. “Don’t look so surprised, it’s the least I can do. You’re writing a bloody article about me.”
“I, erm... Wow. Thank you.”
He rises to his feet, and I'm surprised again by how tall he is. “Of course,” he says politely and offers a hand. I accept it, and can’t help but think that this is beginning to feel less and less like an interview. As soon as I’m on my feet I snatch my hand away, nearly slapping myself in the face. Oliver smiles and leads the way down the stairs.
This time, when we step into the lift, I grab one of the handles. I'm still wobbly in these shoes, and when we shoot upwards I stumble. Oliver puts a steadying hand on my shoulder but quickly drops it. I stare ahead, like the empty space before me were the most interesting thing in the world. I don't realize that we've been silent until we step onto the city street, and I let out a cry at the downpour of rain.
"Effing London weather!" I shout and try to jump back over the barrier. A force stops me, like running into a wall, and I bounce back. I would've landed on my bum if Oliver hadn't been behind me.
"They're closed. We can't get back in there."
"What! God, it's only--" I stop when my watch reads ten-thirty. Were we really talking for that long?
"Time flies," he says, hands in his pockets. All the while we're getting more and more drenched. I'll have to do some serious charms-casting if I want to return this dress.
Hugging Lisa's coat more tightly around myself, I say, "Well we can't Apparate here."
"This way," he turns me gently by the elbow, directing me beneath the awning of a Muggle record store. When he opens the wooden door the small bell tinkles pleasantly. A song by The Cure drifts out into the thundering of the rain.
I'm too cold and wet to ask questions, and dart inside. The incense is as gagging as Trewlaney's classroom. But the raindrops on the windows reflect the city lights rather prettily. The young shopkeep rolls his eyes at the puddles collecting at our feet. I can't help but smile when I see his abnormally large glasses. I wonder if Muggles know that their fashion trends just make them look like Harry Potter. Oliver jerks his head towards the back of the store and I trail behind. We pass rows and rows of vinyl labeled "Doom Metal," "Intelligent Dance Music" and even "Medieval Disco."
Oliver reaches a doorway sanctioned off by beaded curtains, and cautiously parts them. The room behind, whatever it is, is glowing bright red like a photography darkroom.
"In here," he murmurs.
I suppose it's an area for customers to hang out, but it's empty. We've come here to Apparate, but we're so taken by the strangeness of it all that we wander around. Bean bags and vintage armchairs are thrown unceremoniously around the room. When I realize that the light source is a giant plastic nativity set, lit internally by bulbs, I snort. Hipsters. The song playing changes to something familiar, though I'm not sure who it is. I absently sing along, off-key. Oliver catches my eye from where he's flipping through a box of records and smiles.
I'm becoming used to the room. It's nice and warm, and I remove my soaking wool coat. The light almost feels like stained glass. In fact, the whole scene is becoming a bit too perfect. Luckily fate steps in, and I catch my reflection in one of the mirrors. "Oh my God."
My sopping hair is falling out of its bun, and my eyeliner has dribbled black streaks down my face. I wish I could say there's a mermaid-esque quality to it, but I look like a Grindylow washed ashore. Hastily I wipe at my face, though I only smudge the angry black even more.
Oliver steps before me, blocking the mirror. "I didn't want to embarrass you," he answers my unasked question, grinning.
I smudge around some more and huff with embarrassment, "Is it gone?"
He shakes his head, chuckling, "Not quite." Then, with the cuff of his expensive dress-shirt, he cleans my cheeks. I scrunch my face, but then I can feel his breath on my wet lashes. It's been quite some time since a guy has stood this close to me. I clear my throat nervously, feeling the heat rising to my chest again. Oliver removes his hand and seems to study my face a moment. "There," he says finally.
I open my eyes, and the breath catches in my throat. He's standing too close. This isn't professional. I should say something like, "Step back, cowboy," and maybe even wave a finger sassily. But I just stand there, stupid and silent. Everything is fuzzy, from my cold fingers to my drenched feet.
There's something nice about the way Oliver looks in the shadows, though.
Then he murmurs, as if to himself, "I don't think we should..." But even as he's saying it, he's taking that last step closer. He touches the nape of my neck. My blood feels like it's on fire. And I don't know if I'm going to turn and run, or do something else; something opposite, something stupid--
The camera flash, the puff of smoke, is what stops us.
Oliver jumps back and I release a horrified gasp. The bead curtain is clicking, swishing, but the person behind it is gone. We stare at each other in horror for a split-second before Oliver bolts off, to do exactly what I'm not sure. Wrestle him to the ground? Break his camera? It's already too late. I know how magical paparazzi cameras work--what are the odds that a Muggle cares enough about two strangers to take their picture? The photograph will appear on a blank parchment back at headquarters. Then within thirty seconds one of the columnists will have identified Oliver. The photograph will be duplicated and owled to every lonely, gossip-hungry Witch and Wizard in Britain.
Oh God. What if somebody from Witch Weekly sees it? They keep tabs on every magical tabloid, from The Howler to Crystal Ball. It won't be in their favour to have an intern caught snogging their featured celebrity.
"Oh shit," I whisper to the empty room. Suddenly the red light makes everything look like the set of a horror film. "Oh, shit."
I don't find out if Oliver ever catches the photographer. I don't know what happens at all, because I turn and Apparate on the spot. The loud crack punctuates the silence.
My two-way mirror is still showing Quidditch matches, casting light in the sitting room. Seamus and Dean, as expected, are asleep on my sofas. Habit of theirs. I take off my wobbly shoes and tiptoe past. I'm not making a sound, until my toe collides with the tower of empty bottles they've apparently constructed. The crashing lasts for hours and hours (I'm sure of it) and Dean bolts upright, scrambling for his glasses.
"I'm so sorry!" I cry. "Sorry you two! I didn't--" But Seamus hasn't even budged. He's still splayed out on the sofa, quietly snoring. I jab a finger at him, "That is a bloody scientific anomaly."
Dean stretches widely, yawning. "It's late. You missed a good match. Kenmare won again."
"Oh. Well, that's good..."
He eyes my drenched clothes. "What happened? Jump in the Thames?"
"It's raining," I say stupidly, even though it's clearly thundering on the windowsills. He nods, pressing his mouth into a line. Right. A joke. My brain is still addled from everything that's just happened.
"So your interview went well?" he asks, and I detect no malice in his voice. It's a silent apology for the way he acted earlier. I nod, although 'well' isn't exactly the descriptive word I'd choose.
A silence passes. I don't know when he and I began running out of things to say, but it seems to happen more and more. I wish I could give him a proper conversation, but I'm not for it right now. Dean scratches the back of his head. "Well, I reckon I'll get back to sleep."
"Of course," I blurt out. "G'night."
He looks at me strangely, but I'm halfway to my room. I close the door and flick my wand at the soot-blackened fireplace. It bursts to life and I take off the dress, throwing it over a chair to dry. Now that I'm starkers, I eye myself in the mirror.
There's a bit more pudge on my tummy than I'd like. And I wish my thighs didn't touch. I wouldn't scare the horses, but I wouldn't stop people in their tracks either. Especially compared to a natural beauty like, for example, Katie Bell. So why did Oliver Wood feel the need to kiss me?
Actually... did he even kiss me? I must've had an out-of-body experience. I can't recall if his lips even touched mine before the photo was taken. Ugh, God, the photo. I plop down onto my bed, and the mattress squeaks quietly.
From the other room Seamus bolts upright, "WHO'S THERE! I'M AN AUROR!" I hear a pillow hitting his head, followed by Dean grumbling.
Rolling my eyes, I pull the covers up into a cacoon of denial. Maybe it never happened. Maybe I imagined the whole kiss thing because that's what I do with guys. And... Well, I reckon I almost had fun tonight. It was nice talking Quidditch with somebody other than Dean or Seamus. Groaning, I flip onto my stomach and hope to dream of anything else.
I'm almost asleep when I realize that I never got the notes from Oliver's flat.
Author's note: Whew! I feel like so much happened in this chapter. I wrote it, erased it, re-wrote it, and still editing. Were some questions finally answered? I hope that some important things about Oliver's character were revealed.
Obviously I don't own The Cure. Also the second song that starts playing I imagined to be Fade Into You by Mazzy Star (which I don't own)! The back room of the record store was inspired by a super-hipster bar in my town.
Thanks to emccentric for the CI! ♥
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