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Chapter 32 : You Can Never Really Go Home
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For the first time in six months, I’m looking at Oliver Wood.
Of course there was the occasional mishap: the photos in the papers, crammed beneath blocky text. (Something like THE PRODIGAL SON RETURNS: WOOD ACCEPTS FLYING INSTRUCTOR POSITION.) Some mornings my gaze would meet with his flat paper-grey stare only for a moment, and then I was shsuffling through the pages with such ferocity that my tea was knocked over on more than one occasion.
Of course, this was all before the public lost interest in the perfectly average life of an ex-Quidditch star. Once on Hogwarts grounds, he was untouchable, and eventually the gossip columns turned to more interesting scandals. Soon everyone forgot about Oliver Wood and the sister he nearly lost.
The passers-by of Hogsmeade stare at me, the the only person wearing Londonite clothing. As he approaches, even Oliver is wearing the telltale black cloak of Hogwarts faculty, thrown haphazardly over his casual clothes. I wonder what he had been doing before I arrived. Something about his appearance, and its lack of meticulousness, tells me he wasn’t waiting by a window with bated breath.
Beneath the robes, much of his Quidditch bulk is gone. There’s no wonder—I doubt he has much use of his shoulder at all, now. Our gazes repeatedly meet and flitter away. By the way he thumbs his lip it’s clear: he’s nervous too.
And while his approach is agonizing, suddenly it’s over and he’s standing just out of arm’s reach, and I haven’t worked out a single thing to say. My suitcase nearly slips from my sweaty grasp. For all of my daydreaming and script-writing, I can’t unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth.
“Hello,” he says at last.
“Hair’s short.” He glances over my bob.
“Yours too.” Too short for the unruly waves I remember; the ones I waited months to run my hands through.
And then my breath catches. Only now, standing this close, do I see it: the white scar that begins just above his right temple and curls around his ear, almost too perfectly, as if tracing its outline. I have the strong feeling that this short hair is the result of being shaved for medical treatment.
“Is it that bad?” They’re the words he said when I last saw him at St. Mungo’s, when he was bloodied and bandaged and I couldn’t do a thing.
“No.” I regain myself. “Kind of cool, actually.”
“A First-Year asked if I was Harry Potter.”
“What an idiot,” I say, which is pretty mean, and I deserve his look of disproval. “Well, it’s good to see you!” I move to hug him, and then a terrible thing happens.
Despite my arms encircling him, Oliver doesn’t budge an inch. In the end I am straddling his leg, vice gripping him like a koala to a tree. To save my dignity he offers a one-armed half-hug with about as much vigor as a dead fish. This pose lasts entirely too long before I accept that we will not be sharing a passionate embrace. I step away, dusting my skirts as if it would erase the moment.
Oliver’s neck is turning red. Obviously he has absorbed my awkwardness through osmosis.
“The train was nice!” I quip.
“Wonderful.” I don’t think he’s ever said the word “wonderful” in his life, and the ridiculousness of it hangs in the air. He eyes my suitcase. “You certainly don’t pack light.”
My brow furrows. What, one tiny suitcase?
And then, with horror, I recall his letter folded in my pocket: Once you’re in, we can arrange for you to Floo home. Oh my God. He’d meant tonight—I’m only visiting for the afternoon. The weekend that I’d fantasized about for weeks was only a last-minute scribble in his timetable.
My cheeks are smoldering, and I am acutely aware, which only makes me blush more. The absolute worst thing is the look on Oliver’s face.
He feels sorry for me.
“Oh, well, I’m sure there’s space for you—” He’s backpedaling and I hate it.
“It’s quite alright.”
“—I’m sure I could rearrange—”
“No,” I say entirely too forcefully. He nods in acquiescence but, because I am a complete idiot, I don’t stop there. “The suitcase is for my trip. I’m leaving from here to visit my boyfriend.” The lie comes so easily it scares me.
There is a very satisfying pause. “Oh?”
“Yeah. His family has a cottage here in Scotland. We’ll be on holiday for the weekend. I didn’t think it wise to tell you for…obvious reasons.”
Perhaps I didn’t need to say that last bit. Oliver speaks slowly, sarcastically, as if making sense of it all. “Right. So you figured kill two birds with one stone. First you’ll tie things up with me, and then it’s off to this cottage in… Where exactly?”
I realize my mistake. Oliver is Scottish, born and bred. He is probably the most Scottish to have ever Scottish’d. He knows this country like the back of his hand, which he uses to drink his Belhaven Best and make rude hand gestures at the English. Meanwhile I have never stepped foot anywhere outside of Hogwarts grounds.
I clear my throat and say airily, “The Isle of Skye.”
“Oh, lovely! I’ve been there on holiday, quite a few times actually.”
Of course you have.
He feigns interest, a fist under his chin. “Now, in which town will you be staying?”
“Ah, you know all of those Gaelic names are unpronounceable.” I know it’s stupid, but I’m glad that we’re arguing. At least we’re talking.
“So you don’t know.”
“No, I do.” I blink as I clearly lie, “Glad…wyn…donelly…ton.”
I flinch. “Yep.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Well. Seems you don’t know the whole place after all.”
He doesn’t even have to come up with a retort, because at that moment my suitcase, bulging with the weight of its contents, springs open. Onto the ground topple no less than a dozen chocolate frogs, two cheese sandwiches, and a mesh thong.
I throw myself onto the pile as if taking a bullet for my skivvies. Oliver snorts audibly as I shove everything back so fiercely that several pebbles and a discarded sweets wrapper make their way in.
Oliver mutters, almost fondly, “Ah, Edie…”
From my crouch I look up and see him rubbing the back of his head. Grinning. Maybe this visit doesn’t have to be a disaster.
Two others in Professors' robes are approaching. One is a pretty witch with olive skin, a hawklike nose and dark, severe eyes. The other is mildly familiar: a lanky wizard with a kind face. With a dirt-stained tee shirt and trousers under his robe, he looks more like a Muggle uni student. My eyes bulge when I recognize him.
Slap my face and call me Voldemort, Neville Longbottom got hot.
“Wow—hey!” I stammer. To my right, Oliver is visibly trying not to roll his eyes.
“Edie!” I’m surprised he remembers me. We were never friends, unless you count the time in the Fifth Year when I borrowed his quill and never returned it. “What are you doing here?”
It’s a question with an obvious answer. Even if they haven’t followed the tabloids, surely they’ve heard of Oliver’s tryst with his interviewer and how it went horribly wrong.
“Oh, just visiting the alma mater. Nostalgia and all that,” I say pointlessly.
Neville and the unsmiling witch glance between me and Oliver, who adds, “Then she’s off to visit her boyfriend!”
I don’t like the way that he seems to be only speaking to the witch, almost as if he’s reassuring her. Or that she hasn’t introduced herself yet—I mean, rude.
Neville nods politely, waiting for Oliver to make introductions. When that is clearly not going to happen, he says brightly, “Edie, this is Aurelia Sinistra. She’s our Professor of Astronomy. Edie here is a Hufflepuff alumna.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say.
Her mouth almost twitches in a smile. “Pleasure.”
Don’t remember your Mum being so unfriendly.
I know that I’m not allowed to feel jealous after the stupid lie I just told, but my chest is suddenly tight. I choose this moment to say loudly, “Man, when did all the professors get so hot?”
The joke doesn’t land. At least Neville exhales a kind-of laugh. After another painful silence he shifts his weight. “Well, reckon we should be head back! Oliver, will we be seeing you tonight? We’ve rustled up enough alcohol for the entire school.”
Oliver glowers and he adds, “N-not that we’ll be giving this to any students, of course!”
Even if Neville hasn’t, I’ve read the look on Oliver’s face clearly: whatever is happening tonight, I wasn’t supposed to know about it.
Aurelia Sinistra glances at Oliver again, so I say, “Alcohol, eh? My favorite food group.”
Neville is apparently being physically torn in half, between not being rude to me and not betraying his friend and colleague. I think I hear whimpering.
“Well, it’s just a little get-together for the faculty tonight. It’s nothing special. But—you should come! It’ll be fun. Maybe we’ll convince McGonagall to open her hundred year-old bottle. But there’s no pressure, if you two have plans. Not that you have anything special planned, ‘course…”
He’s getting quite sweaty, and I do feel bad for him, but I don’t want Oliver to win. “Sounds fun,” I look pointedly at the Scotsman.
“I do love a party.”
He scratches his nose. “Yeah, maybe we’ll stop by, Neville. Thanks.”
The man nearly collapses. “Great, welp, see you in a bit, then! Or not! Ha-ha!”
Sinistra’s look says, Get it together, mate, because apparently she doesn’t actually speak. After offering a tight smile to Oliver, she sets off down the dirt path towards Hogwarts, offering Neville a consoling pat on the shoulder.
I watch them leave while Oliver pretends to be very interested in the ground. “She’s pretty.”
“You mentioned that. ‘Hot,’ I believe was your phrasing.”
I scowl, but I catch the grin he casts down at his feet. My stomach twists. If these visceral reactions keep up, I’ll be visiting Pomfrey soon.
He catches me staring and I look away. “After you.” He gestures to the dirt path under the wrought iron gates.
It’s the final night of the semester, and what students remain are in high spirits, filling the castle with sound. I almost feel like I’m not allowed to be here. A few students pass us and give me long looks—hopefully because I look out of place, and not due to recognition. Any student who acknowledges Oliver is greeted with a quiet “Hello,” which I wish I didn’t find so endearing.
“Here we are,” he murmurs as we reach an unassuming door somewhere near the swinging staircases. A particularly leery portrait of a nobleman watches nosily as Oliver taps his wand on the door in a secret pattern, and it swings open into his small office.
The room is sparse, compared to the rest of the castle with its cluttered furniture, hundreds of paintings and lanterns. A single large window overlooks the grounds, where past the pattern of black iron diamonds, the early evening sun sinks closer to the forested hills. Students dot the paths, chatting in groups. I love London, really—but here you’re ingrained in the magic.
Oliver is watching me, but quickly averts his eyes. “You can leave your things here, for now,” he says. It’s a reminder that I won’t be staying.
I nod, setting the shrunken suitcase on his desk, glancing at the parchments of Professorial notes. Three brooms are mounted above the desk, among them the Arrow and the white birch-handled broom I rode from his house to my parents’, the night we first kissed.
He clears his throat, stepping aside so that I can exit. He’s uneasy with me being near his personal belongings. I try to smile as I wait for him to close the door.
The swinging staircase still makes me nervous and I cling to the stone banisters as we climb, higher and higher, in silence. I’m so out of breath that I probably couldn’t say much, but I wish things weren’t so strained. In fact, I’m so focused on keeping my heaving inaudible and berating myself for all of the Chocolate Frogs I just ate, that I don’t realize we’ve reached the outside until I feel the cool breeze on my face.
I’ve been here before: a walkway that connects the North wing of the castle to the East. I used it as a shortcut in my Sixth Year, from Transfiguration to Herbology. If we kept going until we reached the staircase and headed down, it’d be a quick hop to the greenhouses. But Oliver stops in the middle of the bridge-like structure, leaning against the railing and clasping his hands. It’s quiet and out of the way: no students would have any reason to be here.
I reach his side, willing my breath to even itself. “I forgot how in-shape you have to be to get around this castle.”
He smirks, “It definitely isn't as easy as when we were sixteen.”
I roll my eyes, because he still has the build of an athlete. “Doesn't it all feel different now that you’re Professor Wood?”
“Uh, actually I’m not a professor.” He rubs his head in embarrassment. “Technically it’s Sir Wood. Y’know, like Madame Hooch. But I tell them to call me Mr.”
There is a beat of silence before a snort of laughter escapes me. Oliver is squinting into the sun, but it’s turning into a smile of his own. I shield my eyes from the orange glare, surveying the grounds. “It’s beautiful out here.”
“I’d missed it,” he agrees.
Again my eyes move to the scar on his head, suppressing a shudder. “And how are you…feeling?”
The damned suspicious look is in his eye again, and I hope that my expression betrays that I want to know because I care—not for the sake of a story. His honesty surprises me: “Stupid, still. I knew I couldn’t block the goal and the Bludger. Should have protected myself. Maybe then I’d still…” he trails off.
“That was dirty, what the other team did.”
He only shrugs.
“But you miss it, don’t you?”
“Yeah, of course I do. Like crazy.”
For one wild moment I let myself believe that he isn’t really talking about Quidditch. I pretend that I’m visiting as his Whatever-I-Once-Was, and that we came up here to be alone, and that he wouldn’t mind if I kissed him right now. Our gazes lock for the briefest of moments and then my body is moving of its own accord—but before I can even touch him, Oliver straightens.
“The party is starting,” he says. “If you still want to go.”
Of course I don’t want to go, you idiot. I want to stay here and kiss you until tomorrow.
But instead I push my hair behind my ear. “Yeah, of course.”
The tapestry of a lion and unicorn entwined isn’t familiar, though there are hundreds of its kind within the castle. Surely students pass by every day without knowing a secret lounge for professors hides behind it. Right now, the corridor is quiet. At Oliver’s murmur of the password, warm light appears from behind, where the wall should be. The sounds of tinny jazz and muted conversation drift into the corridor.
Oliver has lent me one of his black professors’ robes, which absolutely swallow me even after a poor attempt at a Shrinking Charm. After my humiliating attempt at a kiss, the only thing I want to do is blend in before I can make my getaway. Oliver parts the curtain and I trail inside after him.
The room is exactly what you would expect of a Hogwarts faculty lounge: overstuffed leather furniture, hundreds of books, a roaring hearth, tall windows overlooking the lake. The skeleton of what appears to be a small dragon hangs from the ceiling.
Several heads turn to note our arrival. From her spot on a settee, Aurelia Sinistra’s gaze lingers, but she turns back to her conversation with an older professor I don’t recognize. But there are none of the whispers I'd feared, and I admonish myself. Of course Hogwarts faculty have more important things to occupy their time than Who’s Dating Who in the tabloids.
“You made it!” Neville can barely hide his surprise, looking dapper in a brown jacket. He turns to the short, plump woman at his side. “Edie, Oliver, this is my wife—”
“Hannah!” I've suddenly recognized her round, rosy cheeks.
“Wotcher, Edie!” Hannah is just as surprised and embraces me against her flannel dress. We shared a dormitory for seven years, but I haven’t heard from her in ages. Of course they got married—she was the only person at Hogwarts more obsessed with Herbology than Neville.
“What are you doing here?” There are flowers in her unruly blonde hair.
“Just visiting a friend.”
I stress the word and read Oliver’s glance as some kind of gratefulness. He presses his mouth into a smile. “Nice to meet you, Hannah.”
They shake hands before her gregariousness takes over, eyes back to me. “So, how are you doing? It’s been, what, ten years? Heard you’re living in London now.”
Linking an arm through mine, she—probably unconsciously—guides me over to a cozy little table. To my surprise Oliver watches over Neville’s shoulder. I force myself to look back at Hannah.
“Yeah, London. It’s, uh, brilliant actually, now that I have a job.”
We natter about where the last decade has taken us, and reminisce on nights of sneaking cheap liquor into the Hufflepuff common room. Preferably it would be Oliver’s eyes I was gazing into right now, but it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. And I’m grateful for her company. The only other person I recognize is Minerva McGonagall, who I've always liked in the way you admire a very scary bird of prey, but I’m certain she doesn’t remember me. She’s sipping brandy from a tiny crystal cup, laughing darkly at something with a middle-aged witch.
By the time the windows have darkened into nightfall, the music is louder and the conversation follows suit. A very short wizard keeps trying to initiate dancing, to no avail, but it doesn’t stop him from asking Hannah and I repeatedly for a hand. Empty bottles dot the tables about the room but, uncharacteristically, I haven’t had a drop of alcohol. (Seamus would be wildly disappointed at my turning down the chance to drink in front of professors without penalty, but out of habit I’m fearing a detention.)
Oliver and Neville have drawn chairs up to our small table. I can’t help but smile at the Longbottoms—they literally finish each other’s sentences. Neville sits leisurely with his arm draped over the back of her chair, and her cute little glances aren’t missed by me. I’m seethingly jealous. Oliver and I accidentally bumped knees once and haven’t made eye contact since.
He’s enjoying their company, in the middle of a mildly unprofessional gossip session about which students were the most annoying this year. Apparently Oliver had quite the fan club of Second-Year girls, Neville divulges.
I decide to remove the black robes that swallow me, and my hand accidentally slips in an interior pocket in the process, discovering a torn bit of paper. Distracted by Neville’s tale of a Seventh-Year who tried smuggling hallucinogenic plants from the greenhouse, I absentmindedly unfold the paper, tittering along with the others. When I glance down the laughter dies in my throat. The photograph is all too familiar: the red-lit room, my rain-soaked hair, Oliver touching the nape of my neck, the gentle closing of his eyes.
Oliver turns from the cheery laughter and double-takes. He goes rigid as we both stare as the scene from the Muggle music shop replays again, and again, and again. Hannah and Neville are watching, confused, and I should replace the photo and act as if nothing ever happened, but I can’t.
He kept it.
He kept it and it’s as if everyone else in the room has disappeared. For a few fleeting moments it’s only Oliver and me, and for the first time since I’ve arrived today, he’s really looking at me. Like he used to.
And then suddenly the moment is over and he is turning to his friends. “It’s getting late. Edie needs to get to the Floo chimney.”
Hannah and Neville only smile kindly. “Of course.” Neville rises to shake hands. “Chuffed you dropped in, Edie.”
Hannah grabs me in another hug. I don’t know if I even move my arms. “Owl me sometime, okay?”
“‘Course,” I say absently.
I trail after Oliver, dazed, as he nods politely to his colleagues. I don’t even think to say goodbye to Aurelia. The cool, misty feeling of the tapestry brushes over us and we are once again in the silent corridor. We each stare at a different spot in the wall for I don’t know how long.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” His head turns imperceptibly to me.
We don’t mention the Floo chimney again. When we reach a pair of large oaken Oliver pushes them open to the cool air. It’s a clear night, the students back in their dormitories. The moon is a thin crescent shining through one lone wisp of cloud while, off in the distance, Rubeus Hagrid’s hut glows cheerily.
I know before we arrive that he’s heading toward the Quidditch pitch. Of course. We pass through the short tunnel leading into the pitch, emerging onto smooth grass barely lit by the moon. Oliver lights his wand, “Lumos." Suddenly he bellows, “OI, WEATHERLY, I SEE YOU! GET OVER HERE.”
There is a shuffling noise and then two students, a boy and a girl, slump into the cast light of his wand. They have the guilty look of two teenagers who have just untangled themselves from each other. Feeling pervy, I look away.
“You can't give us detention on the last day.” This Weatherly boy is clearly rehearsing a rumor. The girl looks properly embarrassed and I actually feel bad for her.
“You’re right,” Oliver says, “But I can assign some extra reading over the summer. How does a ten-inch parchment on Quidditch Throughout the Ages sound to you, eh?”
The teenagers groan. “That’s not fair, you’re out here with a girl!”
Oliver glances at me. To clear any confusion I state, “I’m not a student.”
The girl snorts, “Yeah. We know.”
So much for feeling bad for her. Oliver grumbles, “Get to your dormitories, now.” Ecstatic that they aren’t in trouble, they scurry away laughing. “SEPARATELY, PLEASE!”
He aggressively shakes the blanket out and sets to starting a small fire that he’ll probably have to cleanse to restore the pitch to its rightful luster. He sits heavily and stares into the small flame. Apparently he's quite distraught now. The silence stretches for ages.
To break the tension I say, “So…I don’t really have a boyfriend.”
He at least grins, down at his hands. “No,” he murmurs in feigned shock.
More silence. I can't let it alone. “And…what about Aurelia Sinistra?”
“Really?” My surprise is genuine. “I mean, she’s gorgeous. And smart, obviously, if she’s a professor—”
“Edie.” I stop. “You saw the photo. Obviously I kept it for a reason. But…”
“Ada,” I finish. My heart is in my throat. “How is she?”
“She’s okay, now.”
“Did she—Did she read the article?”
He sighs deeply this time. “Yeah, eventually.”
“But you got to tell her first? She didn’t hear it from me, did she?”
“No, I told her. She took it how you’d expect. Tried to be indifferent, but things changed after that.
“I don’t think she understood it fully, you know? She’s too young. But she knew that I’d failed her in some way. Probably took it that I didn’t want her around. She wanted to spend some time at our aunt’s late last winter. Didn’t see her for a couple of weeks.”
I can see it clearly: Oliver alone in their quiet house, recovering from his terrible Qudditch injuries. Snow blanketing the yard with no footprints. Scattered hints of Ada’s presence, like the kitten mug and her bed made tightly, undisturbed for weeks.
God, who did he have to turn to?
“But now things are okay,” I hastily wipe a stray tear. I don’t want to cry—he deserves an apology, not to give me his pity. But hearing the quake in my voice, he looks at me.
“Yeah,” he says in a surprisingly reassuring tone. “Things are okay now.”
I draw the words up from the cavern that’s been growing inside me, deeper and wider and more hollow, for six months.
“I am so sorry, Oliver. I don’t deserve to give my excuses, but you have to know that I never meant for anyone to see that story. Truly. My editor published it behind my back.”
He shrugs a shoulder—the one he can still move without pain. “I’d figured as much, eventually. But by then it was too late. I mean, you understand that, right? Even if you didn’t mean to, it happened. And it wasn’t my reputation that I was worried about. It was Ada's.”
“I know. Everything is my fault. I never should have betrayed your trust, and especially Ada’s—”
“Well, if it makes you feel better, I’m the one who gave you something to write about. I’m the one that almost lost her.”
“I don’t want it to be like this,” I say stupidly.
He gestures helplessly. “I don’t either, Edie. The problem isn’t that I don’t feel anything for you. You have to know that I still care about you.” I can sense it now: both of us physically aching to touch each other, stuck in our motionlessness. “But what are we supposed to do?”
It’s all too much to overlook. Before I destroyed his relationship with his sister, we were naive enough to think there was an escape route somewhere. But now it’s too far gone. At least for him.
“I care about you too,” I say. His jaw flinches and I swear, for a moment, that even he is close to tears. “I just want you to be happy.”
And I do. It’s the least that I can offer, after everything. If leaving him to mend everything that I’ve ruined is what it takes, then that’s what it takes.
I shut my eyes. My face feels leathery from the warmth of the fire. Because there’s nothing else to say I lie back in the cold grass, feeling disconnected from the moment, and pull the robes tighter around me. Oliver remains upright, elbows resting on his drawn knees.
“This fucking sucks,” I laugh quietly, burying my face in my hands. It’s not the most eloquent thing I could say, but then again I never seem to say the right thing. Overhead is an infinite salt-spill of stars. The most I’ve seen in ages.
Author's Note: OKAY so I lied, this is going to be split into two parts. I just couldn't fit everything into one chapter. I realize it has been almost a YEAR ohmygosh since I updated, but that definitely won't happen this time because, guess what? The next chapter is all written. It will be posted when my eyes are no longer crossing from staring at this fic for so long.
Thoughts would be great! It's taken me so long to write this because I just couldn't produce anything I was really happy with. Any input at all is greatly appreciated. I still consider this fic to be a work in progress.
Perfect CI by starlet* at TDA ♥!
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