Chapter 1 : Fluffy Oversized Hummingbirds
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But exteriors can be misleading.
Oliver Wood snorted awake as the car jolted to a stop. He blinked around in stupid post-slumber confusion, taking in the bright pink cushioning that lined the roomy backseat. Wiping the drool from his chin, he knocked on the tinted glass window that separated him from the driver of his ersatz limousine.
“Oi!” he called, this time tapping more insistently. “Open up!”
The glass rolled down, albeit begrudgingly, as if it was some long-suffering servant tormented by a spoiled, demanding master.
“Thanks,” Oliver grumbled, not thankful at all. “Where are we? Why have we stopped?”
The woman who greeted him from the front passenger’s seat made him wish that he had stayed asleep. Pink pervaded her every inch, from her Pygmy Puff Peach eye shadow to her glistening Perky Poppy nail polish. She smiled at him in a manner that she thought was dazzling.
“You’re in Somerset, Ollie!” she chirped, clapping excitedly. A wave of nausea rushed over him as he recognized her perfume: Love Potion No. 9. “We’ve just arrived for your Witch Weekly photo shoot. How do you feel? Elated? Nervous?”
And just like that, he remembered why he had agreed to take the car trip to Somerset, missing a day of Quidditch practice and spending several hours in the company of the Fuchsia Harpy. Perhaps “agreed” was not right to describe his compliance with such an unpleasant experience; perhaps “was forced into it” might have been better. This trip was a Very Important Sort that meant Life or Death for his Quidditch Career. If he wanted to get back into the good graces of the Public Eye, he would answer her.
She was batting her eyelashes and running her hand through her brown hair as she waited for his answer. He accidentally made eye contact and immediately looked away, clearing his throat. It was like looking into the baby blues of the Devil Himself.
“I’m tired,” he mumbled. “And sick….”
With that, he made his escape, but not before catching a flash of lime green out of the corner of his eye. The reporter had brought a Quick-Quotes Quill! Now his terse reply would become paragraphs of gushy prose, read by giggly teenage girls and middle-aged housewitches all over Britain.
If he didn’t need the good publicity so badly, he might have considered Apparating away.
Once he was on his feet (and away from that toxic-smelling perfume), he felt better. Breathing in the fresh air, he stared at the shaded forest in front of him. It was nearing six o’clock, which was “the generally agreed upon time at which the little beasties would appear” according to his agent, and the sun cast a warm glow on the treetops.
His driver—a male who was not clad in pink—had escaped from the car as well. He nodded to Oliver.
“’S nice, innit?” he said, gesturing to the forest. “’F we can get in there before sunset, we can get some good pictures of you with ‘em.”
Oliver looked at him sideways. “I don’t have to wear any pink, do I?”
The driver laughed and patted the camera around his neck. “Not on my watch. Junie has been badgering me to colorize the photos so that the little guys are pink like Pygmy Puffs, but I won’t let her do that. ‘S not good photography.”
Oliver sighed in relief. “Thank Merlin.” He held his hand out for a shake, figuring that he should be friendly to this man. He seemed to have his head on straight, unlike Junie, who was struggling to get out of the car in her cherry heels. “I’m Oliver.”
“I know,” his companion chuckled, shaking his hand. “I’m Ned.”
“Pleasure,” Oliver mumbled as Junie navigated the circumference of the car.
“Now Ollie,” she trilled. “I want a picture of you by the sign before you go into the forest with the photographer.”
This was already a disaster. He didn’t even see a sign. Junie smirked at his bewildered look. “It’s over there,” she emphasized, pointing at a small post near the edge of the forest. “You’ve taken too many Bludgers to the head, haven’t you? Poor dear….”
“Yeah. Whatever,” he cut her off with a wave of his hand, but the quill was still scribbling.
Ned followed him to the sign. “’S a damn sight, innit? Won’t even show up in the picture unless you squat down beside it.”
“No thanks,” Oliver said, crouching down to read the faded words. “Modesty Rabnott Snidget Reservation. No wonder the sign is small, if her name was Modesty.”
Ned snorted. “Alright, now I need you to pose natural-like, not as if your shirt was off for the studio cameras.”
Grinning, Oliver gave a thumbs up as the camera flashed.
“Perfect. Now we enter,” Ned gestured. “I’ll lead the way. Keep an eye out for the Snidgets—they’re rare nowadays, so we’ve only got a few chances for some good shots.”
Oliver followed him, eyes flicking around the dusky quiet of the trees. Good shots are what got me into this mess, he thought.
Last year was his fifth playing as Puddlemere United’s first-string Keeper, but it was also a Year of Bitter Disappointment and Utter Bad Luck. After taking four Bludgers to the head and shoulders in the Appleby-Puddlemere match, he was forcibly benched by his coaches for the rest of the season. There began a losing streak for Puddlemere. He suited up and watched every game, but the losses made him angry. At the final match of the season, Wimbourne swept the floor with Puddlemere and Oliver’s shoulder injury was worsened when he took a swing at the Wasps’ Keeper. It had been an uphill battle from there: begging for his team’s forgiveness; doing intensive rehab for his shoulder; attending anger management classes in a church; and pleading for a contract renewal. This photo shoot would help regain the approval of his fans.
The mere idea of it seemed strange when his agent proposed it last week, and when Oliver did not like something, he got angry. “You mean, I have to go and play with these… Snidget things while some bird writes a bunch of nonsense about me?! I’m not even a bloody Seeker!” he screamed.
But no other publication would talk to him until he had proved that his temper was in check, so off he went. As his agent said, the teenage witches of Britain were into environmentalism at the moment, and it would be great for his image if they saw him cuddling with some endangered, oversized hummingbirds.
The hike was taking longer than he expected, and his calves were beginning to ache. “Do we need to go any further?” he panted to Ned.
“There’s a clearing somewhere around here,” Ned told him. “We should be reaching it soon.”
“Good,” Oliver sighed, wiping sweat from his forehead. There was a whirring sound in his ear, and he swatted at it.
“Stop,” Ned commanded, lifting his camera. “He’s by your head.”
Oliver looked up. The Snidget looked back, tilting its head curiously to one side. It did look like an oversized hummingbird, with its elongated beak and round body covered in downy feathers. But the effect was not unpleasant. In fact, the thing was kind of cute.
The bird flitted around his head as Ned snapped more photos. “I think he likes you. Hold out your hand and see if he’ll sit.”
“Really? Aren’t these things scared of people?”
“Worth a shot.”
So Oliver extended his hand, inviting the bird to rest on his open palm. The bright eyes blinked, the zooming wings stilled, and the fluffy golden bird perched in the palm of the surly Keeper.
“Whoa,” Ned breathed, camera clicking away. But the clicks seemed to startle the bird, and it hummed away, quickly as it had come.
Oliver grinned. “Little bugger. They’re not as stupid as I thought.”
The camera clicked one more time, capturing the elusive smile of Oliver Wood. “No, they’re not,” Ned agreed. “Ready to head back?”
“Nah, I think I’ll stay awhile.”
And though Witch Weekly published a five-page spread of the endangered bird and Oliver Wood’s gleaming smile, they never saw his joy when the entire charm of Golden Snidgets came to greet him in the gathering dusk, bobbing like friendly lanterns on a gloomy sea.
A/N: Written for the House Cup, using Prompt One. I don’t own the song “Love Potion No. 9,” which was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The phrase “charm of Golden Snidgets” is similar to “charm of hummingbirds” in that it simply means “group of birds.” Thanks for reading!
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