Chapter 4

The end of the year looked a lot closer from the other side of Christmas break, and Oliver suddenly had Quidditch and his N.E.W.T.s to worry about. Neither was for two months, but the fact that a date had been assigned to both was mildly nerve-wracking. Snape was also notoriously cruel to seventh years, often assigning multiple essays a week, not to mention antidote tests on a regular basis. Potions was always a mildly harrowing experience. In the past, Oliver had always had Sam to rely on for help (Potions was one of her best subjects), but in the past several weeks, her grades had been slipping. On more than one occasion, Snape had asked her to stay after class, and she always came out of these sessions looking sullen. Not only that, but most of the time she looked exhausted. She barely spoke and was almost always holding one book or another, which she'd always hastily put away when Oliver showed up. She'd never been much of a reader before, and he wondered about what had grabbed her attention so suddenly. Of course, he had his suspicions--he remembered their conversation in the library those months ago. But he still had no idea how to confront her about it. There had been a couple times where it had crossed his mind to speak to a professor--but Sam would never forgive him. Especially if there was nothing wrong. Maybe she was just interested. Maybe she only wanted to know what she could run into. What some people were capable of. After all, she wasn't violent, or remotely nasty. She wasn't friends with the people whose parents were widely believed to be Death Eaters.

But she was reading books about the Dark Arts. If he went to a professor, who would it be? Shouldn't it be her Head of House? No, Snape was probably up to his elbows in the Dark Arts. He'd probably encourage her. That basically left him stymied, because whoever he spoke to, Snape would have to be told.

Weeks passed in this manner, until finally, much too soon, the last Quidditch game of the season was upon him. Oliver could barely speak the day before the match, despite Fred and George's attempts to make him. He noticed he wasn't the only one who was nervous beyond belief--whenever he passed Harry in the halls, the Seeker looked rather queasy, and Ron and Hermione both spent most of the day looking concerned and offering him food. Angelina tried that on Oliver once, but gave up when he attempted to take a sip of pumpkin juice and ended up choking on it because the muscles in his throat were barely working.

The entire team was subdued the next morning in the locker rooms. When they assembled, fully dressed, he found he really couldn't speak. They were all staring at him, the determination plain on their faces. Even the twins looked serious for once. Oliver opened his mouth to say some words of encouragement, but all that came out was a raspy sort of squeaking noise (which did get a smile out of the twins). Clearing his throat, he managed to force out, "Okay, it's time. Let's go…"

It figured that he wouldn't remember any of the best game his team had ever played. He knew he'd ended up bawling, because he was still periodically bursting into tears of joy in the Common Room that night. Fred and George thought it was quite witty to pull out umbrellas on these occasions.

Unsurprisingly, he was completely exhausted, but before he went up to his room, he pulled Harry aside and began awkwardly, "Harry, I just wanted to say…that is, I know I haven't always been the nicest person in the world…and I've put a lot of pressure on you and whatnot…but…thanks. Thank you for…well, winning."

Harry grinned. "You're welcome. And I wanted to win just as much as you did. The look on Malfoy's face…"

Oliver smirked at that. "The look on Flint's." He held out his hand, and Harry shook it. "Anyway, I probably won't be seeing much of you until school ends."

"Right, studying." Harry sighed. "Well, you'll be at the Quidditch World Cup, won't you?"

His eyes lit up. "I wouldn't miss it."

"I might go. If I can. Maybe I'll see you there. But if I don't, then good luck on making Puddlemere. I'd bet anything you will."

"We'll see." He needed to start training for that… "Keep playing, Harry. You're an amazing Seeker. Maybe you'll be captain of the team next year."

Harry looked doubtful. "Maybe." With a yawn, he said, "I'd better go to bed. Good-night."

"'Night, Harry." Oliver climbed the remaining stairs to his room, changed, and climbed into bed. Tomorrow he'd begin studying. Studying… There was something he hadn't done in awhile.

~

Monday night, after dinner, Oliver took his broom down to the pitch and zoomed around it for a good hour or two. Flying tended to muddle his sense of time. It also occurred to him while he was up there that it could be the last time he ever saw Hogwarts from the air that way. The thought gave him a bit of a start. His seven years at Hogwarts really hadn't seemed so long. But they'd been good. It was hard to believe he'd be leaving forever in a week--or if not forever, then for awhile. And he'd never recapture the feeling of being a student there.

He glanced down and noticed a small figure on the ground staring up at him, ponytail blowing in the wind. Oliver went into a dive and pulled out of it just in time to leap from his broomstick to grass, right in front of Sam.

Smiling wearily, she said, "Bravo."

Oliver stuck his broom into the ground and studied her. "I haven't seen you lately. Why weren't you in Potions today?"

"Sick," she responded curtly. "I had permission to be absent."

Looking at her more closely, he noticed that her eyes were quite red. Suspiciously, he asked, "Sick with what? What's wrong?"

Sam tried to laugh, but it sounded more like a choked-back sob. "Nothing's wrong. As usual, nothing's wrong."

With a sigh, he said, "You knew I'd be down here. Tell me what's wrong." After a moment, he added, "Is it Flint?"

She persisted in shaking her head. "It's nothing. I came down here because…because I haven't talked to you for such a long time. I wanted to see you." Suddenly, she gripped both his hands tightly, and Oliver, quite unsure of what to do, asked her (rather stupidly, and even he knew), "Are you going to cry?"

She laughed, but it sounded suspiciously like she was trying to disguise a sniffle. "No, don't worry."

"Um." Oliver studied her pale face. She was so much paler than he remembered. "Sam, I wish you'd tell me what's bothering you. Whatever it is, it's been going on all year. I don't like seeing you like this all the time."

For a minute, she didn't say anything, but then she looked up at him, and her eyes were shining with tears. "Oh, Oliver," she whimpered, and then threw her arms around his neck.

He stiffened in her embrace but hesitantly put his arms up and patted her back. This was not something he had expected, nor was it something he was comfortable with. In fact, he really wished Sam would stop clinging to him. He knew that was a horrible thought. He should be there for his friend if she needed him. But a nasty feeling was creeping up on him that perhaps Sam wanted a little more than friendship.

Abruptly, Sam let go of him. "What? What's wrong?"

Oliver raised his eyebrows and tried to smile. "Nothing." As if she couldn't tell he was lying.

"You didn't like that."

"Sam, I just want you to stop being so sad all the time."

Looking at him suspiciously, she asked, "What does that mean?"

The conversation was beginning to tire him. He knew that whatever he said was going to have some kind of unwanted consequence for both of them. "If it makes you feel better, then it's okay."

Now she was openly gawking at him, though there was a strange hope glinting in her eyes. After a moment, she stepped up to him again and quickly put her lips to his.

Even though he'd figured something of the sort was coming, the kiss still took him by surprise and it took him a second to pull away. There wasn't much else to do. He certainly wasn't going to pretend to be enjoying himself. Sam was his best friend. Talking to her was great. But he knew that he did not want this. And he knew he was going to hurt her.

She stared at him. Her eyes looked bruised—she was hurt. Of course. "I…"

Oliver put his hands firmly on her shoulders, partly to provide her with some measure of comfort (he hoped) and partly to make sure she wouldn't try to kiss him again. "Sam, I don't feel that way about you. You know that, don't you?"

He'd thought she did. Apparently, he was wrong.

Instead of bursting into tears, which he was dreading but expecting, her eyes hardened and she pulled away from him roughly. The look on her face was fast approaching murderous. "Oh, of course," she spat. Surprised by the amount of bitterness in her tone, Oliver recoiled slightly. Sam glared, her face twisting into the now-familiar expression of pure hatred. The one she usually saved for Flint or Malfoy. She had never turned it on him. "I should have known. You said it was okay! You said you didn't want me to be sad!"

"I didn't mean I was attracted to you!" Oliver said helplessly. This was turning out worse than he'd thought.

"Then what the hell did you mean, exactly?!" She took a breath, apparently trying to calm herself, but her anger won out. "You acted like you liked me! Why'd you do it if you were just going to end up embarrassing me?! You're just like Marcus, you know that? Just a stupid, selfish guy who never thinks about anything but himself. I was there for you to talk to after everything else in your life got boring, and that's what you used me for, and I let you!"

"I didn't use you!" Oliver exclaimed. He knew that she was just angry, that she didn't mean half of what she was saying, but it was hard to sit there and just take the abuse. "I liked you for who you were, Sam! I liked the fact that I didn't have to talk Quidditch with you! So has our entire friendship just been because you had some schoolgirl crush on me?"

"No!"

"Well, it sure looks that way to me."

Before she could retort and scream at him some more, he stalked up the hill and back to the castle. "Oliver!" she called, but when he didn't turn around, she screamed at the top of her lungs, "Fuck you!"

Oliver just set his shoulders and kept walking. That was it, then. Good-bye, Sam. Maybe he'd better start calling her Samantha. It had come to his attention that the only people that called her Sam were himself and Flint.

He shouldn't have yelled at her. He really shouldn't have gotten angry. But he couldn't stand her accusing him like that. Okay, so maybe he hadn't been the best friend in the world. There were times when he avoided everybody for days at a time to focus on Quidditch. But it hadn't ever occurred to him that he might have been doing some damage… But Sam had known that about him! She knew who he was before he'd even noticed her! And she'd kept talking to him, even when he'd been nasty and antisocial. Oliver stopped, torn between turning back and apologizing or keeping on to show her that she couldn't make accusations like that and not expect him to react. His pride won out, and he kept going.

~

He avoided contact with Sam for the next several days, which didn't prove to be particularly difficult--she was nowhere to be seen. Not in the corridors between classes or, for that matter, in class. Potions was only mildly hellish without her there. Although, in lieu of recent events, things probably wouldn't have been any better had she been there. He'd never felt worse about things in his life, but something held him back from seeking Sam out. Whether it was because of impending N.E.W.T.s (too busy to be socializing), his pride, or his inability to find the right thing to say… Her absence from life worried him, but by the same token, he refused to find her and talk to her.

Just when he thought things couldn't get any worse, Snape asked to speak to him.

Oliver had just been innocently gathering up his things in Potions, readying himself to leave, when Snape's voice broke through his thoughts. So now he was standing in the Potion Master's office, nervously glancing at things in bottles that he really didn't want to see.

Snape watched him for a moment, eyebrow arched, before saying, "You can stop acting as though your life is flashing before your eyes. I asked you here because I have some questions regarding a member of my House. I believe the two of you are--or rather, were--very close. Samantha North?"

"We're friends," Oliver replied uncomfortably.

There was no change of expression on Snape's face for quite some time, and just as the silence started to really bother Oliver, the professor said, "Her behavior worries me, Mr. Wood."

"What's she been doing?" Oliver asked, concerned.

"Nothing." Snape folded his hands on his desk. "She does absolutely nothing, besides sit on her bed. I have tried talking to her, reasoning with her, and punishing her, but she does nothing. Occasionally she'll ask one of her peers to bring her something to eat from dinner. She refuses to go herself." Looking blackly at Oliver, he continued, "I know this has something to do with you."

Quite abruptly, Oliver paled. "Professor Snape…sir…I really didn't do anything…"

"I'm well aware of that, Wood," Snape said sharply. In a more reflective tone, he added, "At least, I'm sure you didn't intentionally do anything to Miss North. However, I have not been blind to her affections for you. Last Sunday at dinner, she left the Great Hall, presumably to look for you. She came back in tears, shortly, if my sources are correct, after you."

"Your sources?" the boy asked doubtfully.

"Yes, I believe you know her, Wood. Professor McGonagall. We do watch our students, you know. When one of them comes back hiccoughing with sobs, it's best to attempt to find out what happened." As Oliver opened his mouth to respond, Snape added, "However, you can spare me the full maudlin account, as I'm sure I can guess rather accurately. I want to know about everything before then."

In a way, the order lifted a huge weight from Oliver's shoulders. Now he had to say something, even if he didn't want to. "Mostly, sir, she just started to become more…er…well, maybe I shouldn't say."

"Please do."

"Well, more like…the way I always imagined Slytherins were supposed to be."

"Your attempt at diplomacy is admirable. Explain."

Oliver shifted uncomfortably. "She started reading about the Dark Arts all the time. Once she told me You-Know-Who was an amazing wizard. There were times when she was very…violent, I suppose. She hasn't been at all happy this year."

For a moment, Snape regarded him, and then said, "I suppose you deserve to know, as you're one of her only remaining friends--I suspect Miss North has been suffering from depression all year. She won't admit to it, of course." He sighed. "If I'm able to convince her to leave her room, please talk to her, Mr. Wood. I'm concerned about what she may do once she graduates."

"What do you mean?"

He didn't answer right away, instead staring darkly at some point beyond Oliver's shoulder. The moment of silence didn't last long, however, and he replied, "Nothing of importance. You may go."

~

The N.E.W.T.s came and went, and weren't nearly as difficult as Oliver had expected. By some miracle, Sam appeared to take them and even managed to eat lunch in the Great Hall. Ignoring Fred and George, who had just finished sitting their O.W.L.s, Oliver made his way to the far end of the Slytherin table, where Sam was sitting. As he slid onto the bench next to her, he greeted, "Hello."

Sam didn't respond for a long time, instead concentrating on mechanically chewing her food and staring at her plate. Finally, however, she mumbled, "Hi."

"Sam, I'm sorry."

"So I am," she answered in a dead tone.

When she didn't say anything else, he said, "Could we talk?"

"I'd rather not. I'm eating."

"Sam." Oliver stared at her for a long time, but she didn't even glance at him. When it became evident that she wasn't planning on speaking again, he sighed and got to his feet, determined to find her and try again later.

His opportunity came that night, as he was on his way back to Gryffindor Tower. He noticed a figure crouched behind one of the suits of armor, and, on closer inspection, he saw that it was Sam, and, oddly, she had her wand drawn. He said her name cautiously, and she started, opening her mouth to yell something. When she realized who it was, she lowered her wand and stared at him. "It's you."

He tried to ignore whatever she was going to say and began, "Sam, can we please talk?"

"Snape told you to do this, didn't he?"

Oliver raised his eyebrows. "Why do you say that?"

"Because he's been harassing me all week."

"Well, yes, he did say that I should talk to you." He didn't care if it was the wrong thing to say. For once, he was not going to worry about watching every word that came out of his mouth. "But I wanted to talk to you anyway. You've been my friend for years, Sam, and…I don't want you to not be, I guess."

She barely blinked for a long time and made no move to respond. Oliver figured he could wait as long as he needed to. After all, he had nothing to do. Finally, Sam sighed and conceded, "I don't want to not be, either." Suddenly, her eyes flashed. "But you humiliated me, you know that?"

"It would have happened sooner or later."

"It wouldn't have happened if I wasn't so stupid."

He attempted a smile, just to see if he could get her to return it. She didn't, so he said in a tone close to pleading, "Could we forget about it? It won't bother me if it doesn't bother you."

In a mumble, she asked, "How do I know you didn't mean those things you said?"

"I didn't. I just got angry. So did you. But you didn't mean what you said, either."

"Maybe I did," she responded in a barely audible tone.

"You didn't," he said firmly.

For a long moment, she just stared at the ground in silence, until finally, she muttered, "I'm not going to cry."

When she didn't add anything else to that comment, Oliver remarked, "I wish you'd tell me what's bothering you. Pretty much anyone can see that something's wrong, Sam."

"You can see there is, maybe. Snape can. Do you really think anyone else cares?"

"I'm sure a lot of people care, especially in Slytherin."

She gave a snort of bitter laughter. "I doubt that."

There was another minute of silence between them before Oliver attempted, "Sam?"

Without looking up, she replied, "What?"

He stared at her for a minute, then cautiously pulled her into a hug. "Come visit this summer," he mumbled to her. "I am going to help you."

In a desolate tone, she responded, "You can try."

Suddenly, something large and heavy crashed into Oliver from the side, sending both him and Sam stumbling. Oliver really didn't have to think twice about whom it was--Flint was, of course, standing there, looking furious, as usual. The surprise, however, was the fact that Draco Malfoy was skulking behind him.

"Sam," Flint began nastily, nodding to her. "What a surprise. I come back from the Quidditch pitch and find Wood hitting on my girlfriend."

"Marcus," Sam began uncertainly, "I thought that we weren't…"

"Shut up, Sam. You were letting him, weren't you?" She opened her mouth to deny it, but before she could say anything, Flint went on, "Just what did you think you were doing, Wood?"

Oliver considered retorting, "succeeding where you failed," but thought better of it and instead replied as calmly as possible, "Trying to help out a friend."

"I doubt it," Malfoy spoke up. "He spends more time with North than he does with anybody in his own house."

"Stuff it, you little blighter," Sam snapped at the younger boy. Malfoy just smiled maliciously.

Flint shoved Oliver against the wall and gave him a nasty grin. "What do you say, Wood? Think you're a match for me?"

"No," Oliver replied, attempting to keep his tone even. It was difficult with his arch-nemesis leering in his face. And, he supposed, it was also cowardly, but he wasn't a match for him. Not all six feet of him. "Get away from me, Flint."

"Why should I?"

"Because you're an immature, possessive twat!" Sam broke in. Her wand was out and she was trembling visibly. "Get away from him, Marcus. Get away from him, and just leave both of us alone until the end of the year. I never want to speak to you again."

Flint looked at her flatly for a moment, pointed his wand, and then said in a dismissive tone, "Petrificus totalus."

The spell hit her before she had a chance to duck, and Flint turned back to Oliver. He swung his fist around and cracked it against Oliver's nose. Oliver felt the bone splinter and he reeled dizzily for a second, right before getting another fist in the stomach. The thought occurred far back in his mind that he should fight back before he got beaten to a bloody pulp. Flint's fist smashed into his face again, and he lashed out with a blow of his own. He landed an ineffectual, glancing blow on Flint's jaw, and the older boy just laughed and crushed Oliver's already gushing nose again. Vaguely, Oliver noticed that Malfoy just stood there smiling. Little blighter. Sam was right.

Something made Flint stop at that moment. Not remorse, certainly, but he let go of Oliver and ambled down the corridor with Malfoy at his heels.

For what seemed like a long time, Oliver just stood there with blood pouring from his nose, thinking, obscurely, that Filch would have a fit if he bled on the floor. With a jolt, though, he remembered Sam and the spell, but when he looked, she was gone. He attempted to shake off his daze and began to walk down the hallway, but when he came to a corner, Snape was suddenly there.

"Oh. Professor," he began. "I--"

"Come with me, Wood," Snape commanded.

Oliver saw Sam, then. Snape's fingers were clutched tightly around her arm, as if he expected her to bolt at any moment. The look on her face terrified him far more than the thought of losing Quidditch to Slytherin ever had. Her eyes were beyond stony. They looked dead. Her face was drained of all color and was about the color of Hogwarts on an overcast day.

However, she didn't resist as Snape all but pulled her towards the hospital wing, with Oliver following close behind. Snape fumbled for something in his robes while they walked, and then pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to Oliver, saying in a tone that brooked no argument, "You're dripping blood all down the hallway. Please make an attempt to stifle it before some unsuspecting student thinks there's been a murder."

Oliver gratefully took it and held it to his face. They reached the hospital wing shortly afterwards, and Madame Pomfrey sighed when she saw the state the Gryffindor was in. "Another fight, Wood? Flint, I suppose."

Before Oliver could answer, Snape said, "Presumably. He won't be going unpunished this time." He towed Sam over to a bed and almost gently sat her down on it. "Samantha, what did he do to you?"

She stared at the floor before mumbling in a barely coherent voice, "Cast Petrificus totalus on me."

Snape's face hardened and he touched her shoulder briefly before walking to the door. "Poppy, give her some chocolate." Then, he strode away, cloak billowing. Oliver almost felt bad for Flint. After all, being on the receiving side of Snape's fury was an ordeal.

For the next half hour, Madam Pomfrey tended to Oliver's nose (which was broken) and various other bruises. While she was cleaning up, the small, chubby Gryffindor (who Oliver had since learned was named Neville) was brought in by McGonagall. While the matron saw to him, Oliver approached his friend and sat down next to her. "Sam," he said softly. "Sam, are you okay?"

She turned her head to look at him and just stared blankly for several seconds. Finally, she answered. "I'm fine."

"That was a blatant lie."

"No. I'm fine. I understand things now."

"Understand what?" He stared hard at her, but she refused to say more. "Sam, I'm worried about you. I wish you'd just let me help."

"No. I can help myself. Anyway, I just said. I know what I have to do."

He couldn't get her to say anymore, and eventually, Madam Pomfrey sent them both back to their common rooms. Oliver didn't want Sam to have to go back there--he knew Flint would probably have some cruelty ready for her. No matter what he said, though, she wouldn't go with him to the library, or the Great Hall, or down by the lake. "I'll see you on the Hogwarts Express tomorrow, right, Sam?" he questioned as they parted ways. She just nodded and turned her back on him, then walked down the hall.

~

The Hogwarts Express was, as usual, a complete fiasco. Everyone was saying their good-byes, including Oliver, since almost every one of his friends was several years younger than him. For the duration of his ride back, however, all the way to Glasglow, he couldn't find Sam. He was convinced he'd checked every compartment for her, and asked every student at Hogwarts, but no one had seen her.

Nor did he ever find her. He disembarked the train in Glasglow and was met by his parents, who immediately wanted to know all about winning the Quidditch Cup. Before he told them, he turned back to the train, which was pulling out of the station. He managed to catch a glimpse of most of the Weasleys in the window and waved briefly. Of course, he didn't see Sam. He'd hoped, for a second, that maybe he would get a chance to say some sort of good-bye to her, after all.

With a small ache in his chest, he turned to his parents and answered their questions. They had one about his friend--Sam North, was it?--and he answered dutifully, yes, they were still friends.

Oliver had a horrible feeling about Sam though. Both that he'd never see her again, and that whatever was wrong with her wasn't going to go away, and something was going to come of it. But he'd realized, finally, that there was nothing he could do for her.

He wondered, though. He wondered if maybe he could have done something if only he'd noticed sooner. If only.