Katie never quite fit in with the others in her year. The other Gryffindor first-years were eleven, the same age she was, but they seemed so much older. They talked about grown-up things, like boys and hairstyles and beauty charms.
She didn't care about those things. They thought she was weird. She spent her mealtimes with her nose in a book and her free time playing Quidditch. She was good, she knew she was. Madam Hooch was impressed with her from the very beginning. Her roommates whispered that she was one of them, one of the Quidditch girls, like Angelina and Alicia from the year above her, the only two girls who were seriously into the game and turned out to practise no matter what the weather was like. Angelina was on the team and Alicia was a reserve. Privately Katie thought that Alicia was a better player than Angelina, but she didn't say anything. They were both kind and encouraging to her, which was more than could be said for the girls in her year.
She didn't understand what was so wrong with being a girl who liked Quidditch. Madam Hooch was a girl – well, woman – for Merlin's sake! And everyone went to watch the games, though she knew that lots of the girls just went to look at the "cute boys". And it was mostly boys that were on the house teams, even though there were a few girls. She wondered if that was because boys were better at it, or if the girls in every year were as uninterested as her roommates.
In her second year, she got on the team, and she spent her mealtimes with Angelina and Alicia even though they were a year ahead of her, because they seemed to actually like having her around, which meant that she didn't find herself crying herself to sleep every night, and at last she belonged somewhere. The whispers and strange looks continued, but she had given up trying to understand and decided she wasn't going to let it bother her.
The weird thing was that a few times it seemed like Angelina and Alicia knew what the whispers were about, like people in their year were whispering too, and they pretended that they didn't care, but it definitely seemed like it bothered them just a little. Katie knew, because even when she tried not to let it bother her, she couldn't help it getting to her sometimes. Sometimes they threw her a look, like they thought she understood.
She didn't, but she didn't want to ask. They'd think she was a stupid child. She was already conscious of the fact that she was the youngest on the team. She knew Angelina thought of her as a little sister figure. The boys on the team did, too. Alicia was more of a friend, but even then she was so grown-up, so elegant and mature. Katie couldn't help but notice how developed she was whenever they were getting changed into their Quidditch robes, how full her breasts were even at thirteen. She was curvy and womanly already. Katie was still as thin and flat as the broomsticks they flew on.
They played against Slytherin at the end of the year. They hated the Slytherin Quidditch team. They were mean and sneaky. Katie hated them because everyone else did, even though she didn't know any of them personally. They called out things to Angelina and Alicia that she couldn't hear because the wind was so fierce. They lost the match, much to everyone's disappointment.
She took it personally, even though she knew Gryffindor hadn't beaten Slytherin in years. Afterwards she found herself with tears in her eyes as they were getting changed. Angelina was listening to the Weasley twins' plans to get revenge on the Slytherin team, but Alicia noticed, and put her arm around Katie's shoulder.
It felt nice, to have someone touching her in a friendly way. The other girls she knew hugged a lot, were touching constantly, but this was never extended to her. They avoided her, mostly.
"Don't worry about it. We'll beat them someday."
It was funny, but having Alicia so close to her, being so kind, just made her want to cry even more.
In her third year they had a new Seeker, who was even younger than she was, so she didn't feel like quite such a baby anymore. It was Alicia who told her who he was, the baby that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named hadn't been able to harm.
"But is he a good Quidditch player?" Katie wanted to know.
Alicia laughed, which surprised her, and said, "I love you!", which surprised her even more. She hadn't meant to be funny, but it was a nice moment between them. It felt good to have a moment that was just the two of them, just Katie-and-Alicia, not Katie-Alicia-Angelina or the whole team.
It was in her fourth year that she found out, and afterwards she asked herself how she had been so blind, so naïve, so utterly clueless. She was in the common room talking to the Weasleys' little sister, who seemed utterly entranced by Katie's comments on Quidditch, and while trying to catch Alicia's eye from across the room, she noticed instead Alicia and Angelina apparently doing the very same thing, exchanging some kind of message with a mere look. Alicia slipped outside, and while Katie related an account of a match she'd attended, she kept one eye on Angelina.
A few moments later, Angelina was out the door too. Katie's heart constricted. What were they doing that didn't involve her? What private conversation were they having? Did they do this often? Of course she knew that she wasn't included in every aspect of their lives. She couldn't be, being in a different year, but outside of classes they always spent their free time together.
She made her excuses to Ginny and left quietly. And then she saw them, on the stairs to the sixth floor. Kissing. She looked closely for a moment, just to make sure, just to make sure that it wasn't anything else like a hug or whispering a secret in the other's ear, and it was definitely – yes. They were kissing.
She turned away as soon as she was sure, and then returned as quietly as she'd come. The Fat Lady seemed surprised to see her back so soon. She whispered the password, miserably, and forced herself to put on a brave face as she returned to the common room, even though she wasn't sure anyone would notice if she were upset. She made her way up to the girls' dormitory as soon as she could escape, and drew the curtains around her bed, cast a Silencio charm just in case the others came back soon, and sobbed.
She wasn't even sure why she was crying, only that she needed to, because this hurt, it hurt that she'd been excluded once more, it hurt that she wasn't a part of this, it hurt that she hadn't known. But how could she not have known? How could she have been so stupid and childish and naïve?
That was what it was all about, the whispers and the comments and the sly little references to female Quidditch players. Everyone knew, or if they didn't know, they suspected, and they thought she was a part of it too, they thought she was like them…
"But I'm not," she whispered. She wasn't a part of it, she wasn't one of them, and it hurt that she wasn't, so what did that mean, then?
There were voices outside. Her roommates, no doubt. She sighed heavily, and repeated the charm, just to make sure. She couldn't let them see her upset. They might even ask why – out of curiosity rather than concern, probably, but they might ask, and what was she supposed to say? Reveal that she really had been utterly clueless to what was going on?
No. Alicia. The last person Katie wanted to see right now. She was in the room now, with only the curtains between them. "Katie? Can I come in?"
Katie was silent. Alicia opened the curtains slightly and, looking alarmed, sat herself down on the bed. "Katie . . . do you . . . I mean . . ." She sighed. "You've been crying," she said finally, sounding like she was going to burst into tears too.
"What are you doing here?" she asked quietly.
"I came to talk to you! Angelina's outside, but I told her I'd talk to you. We – we were outside, and then the Fat Lady told us you'd gone out for a few minutes and came back upset, and we thought – did you, um, did you see us?"
"See you kissing, you mean?" Katie burst out. "Yes, I saw you! How long has that been going on for? Were you ever going to tell me? Or did you think I knew? Does everyone know? Is everyone laughing at how completely stupid I am?" She was close to tears again.
"We're not – nothing's going on between me and her, okay? It's just – everyone seems to think there is, they think we're all, oh, you know, and she just got sick of it and wanted to try it out, just to see what it was like, just to try."
She felt relieved, but only slightly. "And? And did you like it? Are you going to be sneaking off and doing this on a regular basis?"
"It was nice. It was nice, okay? I liked it, even though it wasn't a proper romantic kiss, but it was nice. Is that okay with you, or are you going to get all weird and judgemental about it?" And then she was crying, half-crying and half-yelling, and Katie didn't know what to do, and she could feel tears dripping down onto her own cheeks as well.
"I'm not – I just wish you'd told me," she said finally. She reached out to hug Alicia, the sensation of that warm body pressed against her own suddenly taking on all sorts of new interpretations.
They stayed like that for a while, both sniffling, and when they finally moved apart, there was a moment, a moment when they were both staring at each other and their faces were mere inches apart and Katie's heart was pounding because she was thinking maybe there was going to be a kiss and maybe she wanted there to be a kiss, and then the door opened, and the moment was broken.
Angelina. "Hey, Katie. Are you all right?"
Katie smiled. "Yeah, of course."
But she wasn't, not after that. She told herself it was just that she'd felt hurt at being left out of something. So maybe she wanted to kiss Alicia, but that didn't necessarily mean anything other than wanting to have had the same experiences with her that Angelina had had. That was all it was.
In her fifth year she went to the Yule Ball with some nondescript boy from her year who had asked her the day before. She hadn't intended on going. The thought of staying in bed reading seemed much more appealing than watching Angelina and Alicia with the Weasley twins flirt with each other all night. She knew Angelina liked Fred, they were always whispering and giggling, but she hadn't expected Alicia to say yes when George asked her. Alicia had said that they were just going as friends, that it wasn't serious, that really they'd all be together, just one big group, but Katie doubted it was true. Angelina would be with Fred and Alicia would be with George. Girl, boy, girl, boy.
And she would be avoiding it all. At least, that had been the plan. Instead, she spent the night trying not to get her feet trodden on when she danced with – what was his name again? – and watching her friends.
Alicia looked – beautiful. She always did, of course, but this was different. Dark hair piled on top of her head with tendrils escaping, framing her face, that beautiful face where all the features were in proportion to one another and were individually perfect. And her robes didn't reveal much, but Katie knew what her body looked like anyway.
She was jealous. She wanted to look that beautiful. That was what she told herself.
That was why she wanted to cry.
"I need some air," she told the boy, and then, on seeing his delighted expression, added quickly, "I'll be back in a minute." She didn't want him coming with her. That was not what she was after. She found herself wondering were all boys that – annoying.
The night air was chilly. It didn't matter. She was just glad to be away from it all, away from the happy couples and the beautiful people and beautiful Alicia.
Or maybe not away from beautiful Alicia.
"Having fun?" Alicia asked, as they began to walk away from the Great Hall, away from all the noise. All the so-called fun.
"Yes," she said automatically. Then, "Not really."
"Really? You looked like you were having a good time."
"It's sort of awkward. Angelina's with Fred, and they're being all mushy, and me and George don't really know what to say to each other. It sort of felt like we should have been a couple, too, only we weren't, and I don't think we wanted to be. So I thought I'd come out here." She tugged at her robes. "Ugh. I hate these. I hate this whole dressing-up thing. I look stupid."
"You look beautiful," Katie said.
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do." Somehow it seemed important that she understood that. "You look beautiful. You are beautiful."
"Thank you," Alicia said quietly.
There was something between them then, the same sort of something that there had been that time on Katie's bed, but it faded.
She shivered. "It's cold."
Alicia nodded. "We should go back inside."
"I think I'm going to head up to bed now."
"I'll walk up with you. Don't really feel like going back in there. George will understand. He's really after some girl in Ravenclaw, anyway."
They were silent as they walked up the stairs.
"Do you want to come back to my room?" Alicia suggested. "The others won't be back for a while."
And that was it. That was how she found herself lying next to Alicia on her bed talking about whatever came into her head, how she learned that even just being next to someone like this could be more comfortable and more intimate than she'd ever imagined.
That was how they first kissed, because it seemed like the only natural thing to do, because there was another moment like the others, only this moment seemed to last much longer, and what else could they have done?
So they kissed, and she couldn't remember later who had leaned in first or whether it mattered or not, but she could remember how soft and warm Alicia's mouth was, and how tingles ran down her spine.
And from then on everything was so much simpler. She thought that maybe it would be more complicated, but it wasn't. She went around smiling all the time and Angelina and the twins said things like, "It's about time". She sneaked off to Alicia's dormitory most nights, just so they could fall asleep together, and no one seemed to mind. At least, no one said anything directly to her, and she was long used to the whispers. Besides, if people were whispering now, they were right, and she didn't care.
She had Alicia whispering things like "my beautiful darling" as she kissed her way around her body. She had Alicia to cuddle up to late at night. She had Alicia. Everything else, except perhaps Quidditch and Chocolate Frogs, came second.
Katie never quite fit in with the others in her year. But she fit perfectly with Alicia.