Chapter 2: Disruption
“He did what?” Molly shrieked. “Oh, I’m going to kill that git!” The brunette jumped from her seat only to be pulled down a second later by Vicky.
“You’re not going to kill anyone, Mols,” she rolled her eyes before tossing another sympathetic smile my way. Sympathy was not what I needed right now but the only person that could comfort me happened to be the very cause of my pain. Why did he have to be so cruel? Was I really in love with someone like that?
“But he completely blew Millie off, how could we let someone do that? It’s not right!” Molly continued on for my sake. I couldn’t find the voice within me to dispute her or even tell Vicky to stop looking at me as if I was about to fall apart right that second but every time I tried no sound came out. It was as if the moment Gabriel walked away from me he had taken everything that made me me with him. My entire Hogwarts existence had been orbiting around Gabriel for so many years and to suddenly have that pulled away from me -- well, I didn’t know what to do anymore. It was too melodramatic to say that I couldn’t carry on with my life without him but it felt that way. The pain was deafening and it pulsated inside my chest, chipping away at me with each passing second, but I didn’t want to be that girl. I just wished I knew how to stop being like this.
“Is it true!” A shout came from within the castle and soon emerged a shaggy blond by the name of Shawn Flanagan. Shawn threw himself in front of me, pulling me towards him with both hands placed tightly on either shoulder. “Tell me, Millie, it’s not true.”
I peered at the Hufflepuff from underneath the curtain of hair and shrugged. I didn’t know what he was talking about nor did I want to ask. Whatever it was seemed to have upset him.
“What’s true?” Vicky asked while she tried to peel the Hufflepuff from me. Normally I would have helped push him away but my hands remained on my lap, each arm feeling like it was made out of lead.
“That Millie tried to confess her love to Gabriel in a love letter and got rejected!” Shawn cried out in irritation. “It’s all anyone can talk about at lunch. I tried to deny it on your behalf, Millie, but people swore they saw it happen just outside the Great Hall. Oh, please tell me you didn’t.”
My head moved faintly in a nod and Shawn erupted in a fit of hysteria. “Oh Millie, why would you fancy that jerk? He doesn’t deserve you. He’s just another arrogant Quidditch player who thinks the world owes him something. He doesn’t deserve your love.”
“And who does, Shawn? You?” Molly snorted and rolled her eyes. “As if.”
“Yeah, and aren’t you just another arrogant Quidditch player too?” Vicky pointed out. “What makes you so different from the rest?”
“Because,” Shawn huffed, crossing his arms over his chest, “I can promise to love Millie until the day we grow old and wrinkly, and I can promise to take care of her and provide for her and make sure she’s never unhappy -- unlike that Gabriel Wood.”
I sighed. Shawn meant well and we’ve been friends since first year but declaring all those things to me just reminded me over and over again how Gabriel rejected me. He would never grow old with me, take care of me, provide for me, and I would never be able to do the same for him. In fact, Gabriel probably didn’t even like me as a person. Why would he? I was loud, impulsive and I always managed to get into more trouble than I could get out of on my own. He didn’t need that in his life.
He didn’t need me.
“I’m…” But for lack of an excuse, I merely just sighed and got up. “Bye,” I murmured to my friends before returning back to the castle. I glanced quickly back at the courtyard to make sure no one was following me before speeding up my pace.
Following a familiar path, I found my way up the winding staircase and into the oval-shaped room that housed all of the owls. It smelled funny and there were owl droppings everywhere but that just meant it was empty. No one really wanted to be here for longer than necessary. Occasionally someone would venture up here to send off a letter but most of the time I was left alone. It was nice that way.
“Hi Horace,” I greeted, tickling the head of a black and brown great horned owl. I didn’t know who it belonged to or what his real name was but he always came to say hi when I was up here. My own owl hopped over too a few seconds later. Eila the white barn owl blinked at me with those wide eyes and I petted her soft head as well. “Hello to you too, girl.”
“You two are lucky, you know? You don’t have to deal with love and rejection,” I told them. “Or even gossip. All you do is fly around. That must be nice. I wish I could fly away right now.” Eila and Horace blinked back at me before hopping away.
As I sat there staring off into the sky, I prayed to Merlin for anything to keep my mind off of Gabriel and his rejection. I didn’t want to think about those unfathomable grey eyes that stared straight through me or the way his dark hair flopped over his forehead. I didn’t want to think about how nicely that white shirt fit around his broad shoulders or the spot of freckles on the bridge of his nose from too many days in the sun. No, I didn’t want to think about any of those things.
A few minutes (or even hours but in my state, I didn’t really know) later, it would appear that Merlin decided to answer my prayers as just in the distance I could spot a dark brown owl flapping its wings towards me. It was not hard to distinguish the owl to be my father’s; he had a wonky wing that flapped just a little too fast. Arrow came tumbling through the open window and onto the bench where I was sitting. His tiny beak went crashing into the wall before he dazedly righted himself back up again. “Oh Arrow,” I chuckled; the first genuine bout of happiness I felt today since the incident. “You really are getting old. Remind me to tell Dad to retire you, yeah?” He gave a soft cawing sound before scuttling away towards the trough of water. I took the letter he had dropped beside me and quickly peeled it open. I wondered what my dad wanted.
My dearest Camilla,
I’m afraid I have some awful news. Oh Merlin, I really hate to do this over a letter but there is just no other choice. While I was at the restaurant, our house caught on fire and everything was burnt to a crisp by the time I got the call. The fire brigade said that it must be some faulty electrical wiring but they don’t know the cause yet. I tried to save as much of our things as I can but there was not much left. I did manage to save our family portrait. Your mum’s ghost must have protected it because it was one of the few things in the house that was not in ashes.
Oh, I also owled your headmistress and she’s granted you leave for this weekend. I hate to take you away from your studies but I really need you here this weekend to move. Thankfully my best friend from my Hogwarts days heard about the incident on the Wizarding Network and contacted me. He’s graciously offered us his house till we can get back on our feet.
I realise our fireplace won’t work anymore so please floo to the restaurant. We’ll go over to their place tomorrow. We’ll get through this I promise.
Early Saturday morning, I collected a few of my belongings and left the girls’ dormitory before anyone else could wake up. I mentioned briefly to Vicky and Molly last night what had happened but truth be told the day’s events had drained most of my energy and I was soon fast asleep. It was hard to comprehend still though that my house had burnt down by something so simple, so muggle.
Once I arrived at Headmistress McGonagall’s office, she brusquely ushered me through the door. “I am sorry to rush you, Camilla, but we also have another student setting off this weekend and each time we allow a student to floo out of Hogwarts, we have to contact several Ministry officials to inform them of it,” the Headmistress told me.
“Oh, oh okay, I’m sorry,” I breathed out as the Headmistress shoved me gently towards the fireplace. She offered me the tray of green floo powder and gestured for me to step inside. I nodded politely and did as I was told. As soon as I was fully settled in the fireplace, I threw the powder to the floor and shouted my dad’s restaurant’s name; however as the office began to disappear in the green smoke, I swore I saw Gabriel Wood enter the office.
That was surely preposterous though, wasn’t it? Why would he be there? Gabriel never missed a weekend Quidditch training session. Besides, where would he be going?
Camilla, stop that! He rejected you, remember? Stop thinking about him!
The smoke finally cleared and I stepped out from the fireplace into my dad’s office above the restaurant, and thankfully the sudden relocation pushed any thoughts of Gabriel away for the time being. My dad quickly enveloped me into a hug as his voice broke upon speaking. “Oh Millie, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“Dad, what are you apologising for?” I smiled at him. “You didn’t burn down our house. It’s not your fault.”
“But if I had just been home maybe I could have prevented it…”
“But if you were I could have lost you too,” I shook my head and patted him on the shoulder, “and I can’t have that now, can I? I need you.”
My dad grinned and hugged me once more. “It’s good to have your optimism back in my life, Camilla Grace Swanson.” He pulled away again and wiped at his eyes. “C’mon, let’s go to the car. I’ve already packed up all our things and the Woods are waiting for us back at their place.”
“Alright!” I beamed, following my dad as he led me down to the restaurant and out the back door into the car park. Wait… the Woods? No, it couldn’t be. There had to be more than one Wood in all of England. “Hey Dad, you said you guys were best friends at Hogwarts?”
“Oh yes, we were great friends,” my dad exclaimed. “He and I would get into all sorts of trouble back there. In fact I was the one that got the bugger to realise he was in love with his wife.”
“Really?” I giggled. “I didn’t know you were such a matchmaker.”
The rest of the car ride continued in that fashion. My dad would reminisce about his time with his friend and the more he talked about their escapades the more I was convinced that it couldn’t possibly be the Oliver Wood. From what I’ve heard over the years, Oliver Wood was a straight-laced rule abiding Quidditch legend. The Quidditch League wouldn’t be what it was today without that man’s help. He didn’t seem the type to run streaking through Hogwarts in the middle of December.
No, I was definitely overthinking things.
As we arrived at the house, I let out a small gasp. “Oh my Merlin,” I muttered under my breath. It wasn’t actually even a house at all but it was more akin to a manor than anything else. There was a long driveway snaked its way down a vast garden towards a two-storey Victorian house with a large round fountain in the middle. It seemed so… picturesque -- as if I had stepped into one of those old period dramas I always catch my dad watching.
“Wow, this is… I mean… we’re really staying here?”
“Yeah, it’s incredible, isn’t it?” my dad laughed as he pulled the car to the front of the house. The engine was then shut off and he quickly got out just as the double doors burst open to reveal a tall sandy-haired man and a petite brunette woman. They rushed out to greet my dad with so much enthusiasm I felt almost embarrassed to inform them of my own presence, so I stayed within the shadow of the car for as long as I could, studying these strange new people. I knew I haven’t met them before but there was something so oddly familiar and so comforting about them. The man had kind eyes and the way he joked around with my dad really showed just how close the two had once been. The woman was beautiful and had a tinkling laugh that was too infectious not to smile along with.
“... and this is my daughter,” my dad turned around and pulled me out from my hiding spot, “Camilla.”
“Millie is fine,” I grinned while offering them my hand to shake. The woman chuckled before sidestepping my hand and pulling me into a hug.
“Oh please, pet, we’re going to be living together now, no need for formalities!” she pulled back and gave me a wink.
“You must excuse my wife,” the man chuckled, giving the woman a chiding look. “She’s very excitable about everything.”
“I can’t help it,” she told him. “I’ve been living with three boys for too many years. I’m desperate for some female company.” She put her arm around me. “Millie and I will become fast friends and you lot won’t be able to gang up on me anymore. Right, dear?”
I nodded with a chuckle. “Of course, Mrs. Wood.”
“Oh please, it’s Keegan, love,” she chuckled before shaking her head. “So Millie, did you have too much trouble getting time off from school? Oh actually that reminds me…” She suddenly rushed back towards the house. “Hey, come out and help, will you? I didn’t call you back here to lounge around.”
I took that as my opportunity to return back to the boot of the car. I began to unload the boxes that my dad had managed to salvage from our house. There wasn’t much left and everything smelled of smoke but I supposed beggars can’t be choosers, right? This was much better than having nothing at all and I am just grateful no one was in the house at the time of the fire.
“Need a hand with that?”
“Oh, I’m fine; it’s not too heavy,” I said before pulling one of the boxes out from the boot and placing it on the ground beside me. I turned towards the voice and looked up -- “You!” The smile on my face was completely wiped clean and I jumped back in shock.
“Me,” he said with the barest hint of a smirk on his face. “What about me?”
“What are you doing here!”
He looked back at the house then back at me. “You mean here at my own house?”
“But… but you can’t live here!” I exclaimed unable to comprehend the situation right now. It just couldn’t be possible. Merlin couldn’t be this cruel.
“All right,” he shrugged; the smirk was gone and replacing it now was the cold and indifferent expression that I was so used to seeing. “If that’s what you want to believe.” He picked up the largest box as if it weighed nothing but air and walked towards the house.
Of all the friends my dad had to have, why did they have to be parents to the person that just rejected me not even forty-eight hours ago? How could I bear to live in a house with Gabriel Wood all summer? It just wasn’t possible. The sheer embarrassment alone from the rejection was enough to cause me anxiety for a whole lifetime but having to deal with the rejecter as well? Well that was just frankly asking for an early heart attack.
“Daddy,” I whispered harshly, pulling him by the sleeve of his shirt. “You didn’t tell me Gabriel Wood was their son!”
He looked at me peculiarly and shrugged. “Honestly I thought you knew. There aren’t many Woods in the Wizarding community, Camilla. Probably only this family come to think of it.”
“But they’re gracious enough to offer us their place to stay while we figure out what to do so whatever animosity you have with Gabriel, I suggest you just swallow it and be the bigger person.” And that was the last my dad had to say on the topic. He soon was back in the giant house, leaving me alone with the last box.
Well I have to go inside at some point, right? “Or maybe I could just run away and hide out in the mountains somewhere. Maybe Russia.”
“Hey Swanson, are you coming inside or are you going to stand out there muttering to yourself all day? My mum wants to know,” Gabriel called out to me from a few meters away and a crimson blush forcibly crept up my cheeks.
I chuckled awkwardly and nodded before picking up the last box. I begrudgingly made my way towards him. My slow pace didn’t seem to amuse him very much as Gabriel was staring at me with a mixture of disdain and exasperation. Brilliant. As I finally got closer, he began to walk back towards the house staying a few paces ahead of me but that was fine. I didn’t want to have to make small talk with him anyways -- lest I accidentally start blabbering on about something even more embarrassing than my unsuccessful confession of love (although I was hard-pressed to find something more embarrassing).
“By the way, if you’re going to run away because of me, I suggest you try somewhere with a less hostile climate. Maybe a beach in Spain.”
My jaw dropped open and I didn’t have to see his face to know that Gabriel Wood was most definitely mocking me right now.
How… How did I ever fall in love with someone like him!