A/N: I'm asking you to be gentle on this chapter, please. I've had really, REALLY terrible writer's block on everything lately & my ability to phrase things in an eloquent has suffered severely. More forward action in the next chapter, I promise.
I sat, numb, on the stone bench as sleet splattered on the ground around me and needled into my umbrella. Shivering slightly, I pulled my hood over my head and bit my lip to prevent myself from crying again. After my confrontation with Fred, my friends had disappeared and it was quite a long time before I was able get myself up off the couch and showered and dressed. I feared running into anyone I knew and couldn't stay in the castle any longer, so I'd retreated outside. Now I was on my own, staring into the Black Lake and watching the ripples from the rain spread into nothingness.
In truth, I felt miserable. I knew I'd have to break up with Fred today—I even knew it would be painful—but I had no idea I'd be left feeling so empty. Things hadn't gone right; I couldn't stand knowing he was somewhere in the castle thinking badly of me. The fact that he was right made it that much worse.
I was suddenly distracted by a dark figure coming toward me. I turned my head slightly to watch its advancement and in a moment it became clear that it was Cedric. I allowed myself to let out a tiny sigh of relief. As he drew closer, I realized he looked concerned.
"Katie," he said in a rather tired tone of voice as he sat down on the bench. "What are you doing out here in the rain?"
"It's not rain, Cedric, it's sleet," I responded a little waspishly, turning back to again face the lake.
"Whatever. Come inside. Between yesterday and today, you're going to catch cold."
I let out a let a scoff of laughter. "I'm not going in."
He observed me for a moment and then shrugged off his overcoat.
"At least put this on," he said, offering it to me. "It will make me feel better."
Allowing my stubborn self to acquiesce for a moment, I accepted the coat and handed Cedric the umbrella while I slipped it on. The sleeves fell long past my arms. I took control of the umbrella back and hugged myself tightly.
"So," he continued after a pause. "Are you going to tell me what's up?"
I felt my face crumple again but managed to control myself. After a moment, I managed to get it out.
"Fred broke up with me," I said in a small voice.
Cedric was visibly taken aback. "Oh," he said eventually. "…I'm sorry."
He very clearly wasn't, but it was a valiant effort nonetheless. It wasn't as if I could really expect him to feel sorry about it; Fred chucking me meant he won. He remained silent for a while, waiting for me to continue. I could tell my statement had made him nervous, as his body had become tense beside me. I knew he was worried I might be regretting my decision.
"It's just that he's still my friend, you know?" I tried to explain, continuing in the same quiet voice. "And I still have feelings for him. I'm sorry, but I do. That doesn't change how I feel about you, but—oh, you didn't see his face. Or George's. Any of my friends…they're never going to speak to me again."
I buried my face in one of my hands and began to cry again. In an incredible act of self-denial, Cedric put a hand on my shoulder and I turned to him and wrapped my arms around him, burrowing into the crook of his neck. The umbrella tumbled to the ground.
"I'm sure it's not as bad as all that," he said tentatively. "Of course Fred's bound to be upset…but he's a cheery bloke, he'll bounce back. And George is just defensive of his brother. That's natural, too."
I shook my head, unable to really answer him.
"Listen, if it would help if we didn't see each other for a while, I understand. Or even if you want to, I don't know…put a stop to this completely..."
I pulled back to stare at him for a second in incredulity. "No," I said steadfastly. "No, never. I want to be with you."
Cedric's face relaxed a little and he drew me in again. We held each other for a few moments before he rubbed me gently on the back and pulled away. Then he smiled.
"This rain thing is getting to be your regular look," he smirked, brushing a stray hair away from my face. "But I still think we ought to go inside."
I laughed a little in spite of myself. "Okay."
Cedric picked up the umbrella and we wrapped our arms around each other's waists and headed back up toward the castle. A horrid little voice in the back of my head hissed that I didn't even deserve this one bright spot in my life at the moment, but I ignored it.
The girls didn't speak to me the next morning. At breakfast, I ate by myself. Angelina and Alicia sat at the opposite end of the table and glanced at me icily, while George took it upon himself to give me the most hostile glares imaginable. Fred alone simply ignored me.
Cedric gave me an encouraging look across the Great Hall, but couldn't do much else. We'd already agreed it would be best to keep up the appearance of mere friendliness so as to not make anyone any angrier. Of course, this fit in well with my greater reason for avoiding detection, but Cedric knew nothing about that.
Actually, I'd barely given a thought to the playbook dilemma since Saturday. Getting together with Cedric had been so difficult that the payoff seemed to obscure my actual reasons for speaking with him in the first place. I supposed I'd come up with a plan eventually; who knew, I may even walk up to Oliver and demand to be released from our agreement. My newfound happiness with Cedric and the confidence I'd gained from the Experimental Magic group made it seem impossible that even the simplest of reasoning wouldn't work after a while. And as for Fred and the others—well, it still hurt to think about—but they couldn't stay mad at me forever. At least, I hoped they couldn't.
The lofty silence they treated me with continued through classes and as we headed down to the pitch that evening for practice, I trailed behind like a pariah.
"Alright," Wood barked as soon as we had all made it out of the changing room. "The match is next Saturday, and we haven't got much time to waste on self-congratulatory chit chat. I want to spend the day prepping our chasers, so Harry, Fred, George—you're on opposing chaser duty. I'll be guarding the goal posts, obviously, and I want to see how we do in forty minutes of uninterrupted play. Alright? Let's go."
"But Oliver," Angelina interjected without missing a beat. "How is that supposed to simulate actual play? Harry doesn't know a thing about chasing."
"He's an excellent flyer and obviously has a good eye, Johnson, and I think he'd be more than a match for anything Hufflepuff can throw at us."
"And what about the twins?" Alicia interrupted. "George can't catch anything to save his life."
"Oi," George shouted. "I caught you!"
Angelina and Alicia laughed, and I felt a pang of sadness hit me again. I felt very separate. Fred, who surprisingly hadn't laughed at his twin's joke, cast a very somber glance toward me and I looked away. The fact that he remained the only person not to be openly hostile toward me over the breakup was unsettling, and I felt his slow burning anger and judgment more heavily for it.
"Okay, everyone, just shut up," Oliver suddenly snapped over the bubbling chatter. "Chasers, I think we've gotten a little high and mighty here. Just because you're good at what you do doesn't mean anyone on the team can't match you for speed or accuracy. Angelina, you've been getting far too confident lately and you haven't been checking your blindspots. Alicia, you have the best aim on the team and all you've been doing this season is making assists. I want more goals. And Katie, you've always been sloppy and you know it—actually, why is it I haven't heard a peep from you on this exercise? You practically live to criticize."
I shrugged. "I was more amused by your use of the phrase 'self-congratulatory chit chat.'"
Wood rolled his eyes and kicked the door to the pitch open with his shoe. "Just get out, all of you, will you?"
I didn't wait for the others before I mounted my broom and took off into the air. Harry was close behind me, followed by Alicia, Angelina, and the twins. Wood brought up the rear, releasing the Quaffle into the air as he joined us. As soon as he took his place by the goal hoops, he blew his whistle and play began.
The exercise was ridiculous. Harry and the twins did make fairly good opposing chasers, but it became clear very early in the scrimmage that Angelina and Alicia were by no means planning on lifting the ban against me just because we were playing quidditch. They dove, looped and spiraled in parallel, tearing down the field and all but ignoring me. I managed to shake off Harry and for a full ten seconds I was positioned near the goal posts while Alicia wasted time shoving Fred aside and streaking down the remainder of the field to take a successful shot.
"Spinnet!" Oliver bellowed after her. "Are you blind? Bell was open!"
"You were the one that wanted me to make less assists," she said icily as he turned to retrieve the Quaffle.
"Not when it makes sense! You shoot when you have a position to, not because you want to."
Alicia ignored him and he tossed the Quaffle back to Fred. He went shooting up the field and managed to dodge Alicia, but was successfully blocked by Ange. As he turned sharply upward to avoid smashing into her, he dropped the Quaffle and I sped forward to catch it. I reversed and flew about twenty feet before George smashed spectacularly into me and sent me spiraling into the stands. I slammed against the box seats hard and landed on the floor, and Wood began to shout again.
"Weasley!" he yelled angrily. "This is a bloody scrimmage, not a game! I don't want Bell dead. Go help her up."
George flew over and surveyed me guiltily, though fighting to maintain his mask of anger.
"You can relax, I'm fine," I mumbled, accepting his hand up. "You can go back to hating me now."
He furrowed his brown again. "Maybe I will."
This set me off for some reason. "You play like a Slytherin," I snapped. "No one on Hufflepuff would do that."
"And you're good at channeling a Hufflepuff? I thought that required loyalty."
"I don't know what your problem is—what's between me and Fred concerns me and Fred. You can tone it down."
"Oi, you two get back here!" Oliver shouted. "I wanted uninterrupted play, remember?"
George glared at me one last time before mounting his broom and flying off. I followed close behind him.
Play continued in much the same way for the next twenty-five minutes, with my handling of the quaffle coming only after I acquired it from an interception or when Angelina was forced to pass it to me out of necessity. Alicia was stubbornly resisting attempts to acknowledge my presence on the pitch until Wood finally bellowed at her to pass me the ball while Harry sped up to impede her path.
Obviously unhappy with her dilemma, Alicia released the Quaffle far too hard and it flew threw my fingers and smashed me in the jaw. My teeth clamped shut on my cheek and drew blood.
"Damn it, that's it!" Oliver roared. "Everyone down, now!"
Fred caught hold of the quaffle and looked at me warily as we touched down. Oliver allowed no time for any talk, however, before he launched into yet another tirade.
"Potter, you can go inside," he said tersely as he gazed angrily at the rest of us. Harry raised his eyebrows and scanned the group looking slightly confused, but eventually took the quaffle from Fred and retreated into the locker rooms. As soon as he was gone, Wood began again.
"What the hell is going on here?" he demanded, his face bright red by this time. Alicia looked at him defiantly and George stared at the ground while the others looked away in opposite directions. "I wanted a challenging scrimmage, but the whole exercise seems to have turned into a personal vendetta against Bell! Will someone explain themselves, please?"
Now it fell silent as Angelina looked over at me guiltily. "We're sorry, Oliver," she muttered in a voice more quiet than usual. "Let's just start play again, alright?"
He shook his head, however, surprising the lot of us. "No. I'm done. You all need to take a breather. And whatever your problem is with Katie, you need to work it out before next practice. That's it for today."
Alicia, who had been looking somewhat humbled in the past minute or so, suddenly had a brief resurgence of anger.
"Oh, so she's Katie now, is she?" she said somewhat immaturely as he passed her. "I suppose you'd have to call her by her first name now that you've tried to sleep with her!"
"What?" Oliver exploded, turning around. He looked at me angrily before facing her. "That was nothing, Spinnet, it was just—she misinterpreted things."
"Eh?" I angrily interjected, but no one heard or paid attention as Wood babbled on.
"Besides," he continued. "You were the one that had to go and date Weasley—"
"Steady on, mate," George began.
"Oliver!" I shouted now. "I'm bleeding. Have we forgotten that? I need Madame Pomfrey!"
Everyone looked up in a way that would have been humorous if I wasn't so frustrated.
"Right," Wood said finally. "Spinnet, that's your handiwork. You take her."
"Just go, Alicia," Fred said tiredly as he turned to go back inside the locker rooms. I watched him for a moment before Alicia appeared beside me and yanked on my sleeve to bring me with her. When we got back inside the castle, silence fell between us and she let go of my sleeve.
"I'm sorry I hurt you," she said finally as we began to ascend the stairs. "I didn't mean to."
"Yeah, I know."
"I was just frustrated, and then—"
She sighed as we reached the door to the hospital wing. "It's just Fred liked you so much," she said in a defeated sort of way. "He was planning that date for ages. He even left the castle at one point to map it all out. You were going to spend the day off the grounds in the snow somewhere and build a fire and just be together. He packed all sorts of things for your dinner and even ice skates in case you came across a lake or something. He cycled through plan after elaborate plan and that's the one he chose. He just wanted to be with you Katie, that's all."
I had to look away before my feelings began to show.
"And then you left him sitting there on his own like a fool," Alicia continued. "You went to find Cedric, didn't you?"
I shook my head firmly. "I'm not telling you a thing, Alicia."
She considered me for a moment and then sighed. "Well I'm not fully making up with you until you do."
"Yeah, I know."
Alicia seemed to be silently pleading with me for a few more seconds before shaking her head and giving me a quick hug.
"Try not to shout at Madame Pomfrey too much," she said before turning and disappearing again down the stairs.
"So what's the verdict?" I asked a tired looking Madame Pomfrey as she drew back from examining the left side of my face. She peeled off the gloves she had been wearing to bandage the bleeding and sighed.
"You've lost a great deal of the lining inside your mouth and there's going to be a pretty nasty bruise along your jaw line, but you'll be fine," she said in a thinly veiled disapproving voice. "This was practice, you say?"
"Yeah, but it was an accident. So I'm free to go then?"
She shook her head. "Not with a gaping gouge like that on the inside of your face. You've got some pretty strong teeth there, Miss Bell."
I sighed. "So what does that mean?" I asked miserably.
"It means you're spending the night here. Skin grafting potion is a little precarious, and I want to keep an eye on you. Oh, and no solid foods for a couple of days."
"I never joke about health."
"Too right," I grumbled as she turned around and went to go tend to a timid looking second year boy who had managed to grow a pair of whiskers. I sighed and leaned my head back against the pillow and stared at the ceiling, willing myself not to think too much about anything Alicia had just said.
After what I imagined to be dinner time (I had the pleasure of being served split pea soup), Madame Pomfrey approached me again with a pleased sort of smile on her face. Thinking perhaps I was mending sufficiently to sleep in my own bed tonight, I was severely disappointed when she told me I had a visitor.
"He seems impatient to see you," she said. "Should I let him in?"
"Not if it's Wood," I answered quickly. "If it's Wood, send him away."
"It isn't Mr. Wood."
"Oh…well, I guess you can have him come in then."
Her look of pleasure—one Madame Pomfrey never wore when admitting guests—explained itself when Cedric came striding in behind her. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't thought to find a way to let him know where I was, and I was extremely happy to see him. I grinned, found it hurt my mouth to do so, and then swore loudly. Madame Pomfrey cast a glance at me, but refrained from saying anything.
Cedric laughed. "Well, I see nothing's addled your vocabulary. That's a relief."
"How did you know I was here?" I asked, smiling in a somewhat more guarded manner this time. It was only marginally painful.
"Ran into Alex in the hall before dinner. Said he saw Wood complaining to one of his mates that he had to end practice early because you needed the Hospital Wing."
"And it took you all this time to get here?" I raised an eyebrow.
"Prefect duty," he explained, grinning. I rolled my eyes.
"Well, aren't you going to tell me what happened?" Cedric asked, taking hold of my hand now. "Are you going to be okay?"
I waved my free hand in dismissal, blushing a little at his earnest inquiry. "Of course I am," I replied, though deciding to omit the part where half the team decided to gang up on me. "I've only mangled up the inside of my mouth. Oh, and I'll have some bruising along my jaw line, but I'm planning on telling everyone you assaulted me, so it should be fine."
"Thanks for coming," I said, grinning lopsidedly.
"Of course," he replied, glancing around the room and giving me a swift kiss on the forehead when Madame Pomfrey's back was turned. "I am disappointed to hear about your mouth, though."
"I'd have thought that bit was obvious. There can't be any snogging until you get better, can there?"
"Cedric," I hissed, my face turning bright red.
"What? You didn't object last night."
Cedric was smiling in a surprisingly self-confident way, and I had to bury my face partway in the covers of my hospital bed before I was sure I'd returned to my normal color. I would never have guessed that the Hufflepuff All-Star would have turned out to be such a forward figure in the romance department, but I had to admit that it was a good look on him. I was suddenly reminded of the way that Angelina and Alicia used to giggle ridiculously when he would smile at them in the hallways, and realized I finally understood what they were on about.
By the time I recovered enough to look back at him, Cedric was considering me in a fond way and I squeezed his hand happily.
"Stay with me until they kick you out?" I asked.