This Is Not a Quidditch Fic
or: A Plague of Locusts
Everyone thought Oliver would become a professional Quidditch player. He had the drive, he had the ambition, he had the single-minded determination and focus. Professor McGonagall didn't even bother counselling him on alternate careers, and let him take whatever classes he fancied in his last two years. Why would he need to brew potions or divine fortunes when he was the star Keeper for Puddlemere United?
Based on glowing recommendations and favours pulled in by McGonagall, Madam Hooch, and Professor Dumbledore, Oliver secured a spot on Puddlemere's reserve team. Unfortunately, he played in a grand total of two games, spectacularly missed a crucial save, and didn't have his option picked up for the regular roster the following year. Yes, he was the best Keeper Gryffindor had during his tenure. He was also a great motivator and team captain. But even Ron Weasley turned out to be a better Keeper than Oliver Wood.
And so he did what any athlete in a Class A country does who didn't make the cut: He tried his luck abroad. He spent a couple of years as a free agent, kicking around places like Vilnius and Trinidad, before he caught a wicked curse from the spectators' gallery during a game in Dakar, and the Embassy sent him home, coughing up locusts.
That was when he got reacquainted with Katie Bell. She was a second-year trainee in Mungo's, doing the standard six-week rotation on the Spell Damage ward. His was a 'teaching case', as it wasn't every day you got to see African magic up close and personal. Oliver didn't recognise her at first when she and three other trainees filed in behind the head Healer doing rounds that day; she'd traded in her teenage pony-tail for a cute pixie cut not too dissimilar from Oliver's own hairstyle. It looked ten times better on her, of course.
They'd broken the curse down far enough that it was only insect parts that came out anymore, which was a great relief on the one hand, because they didn't get stuck in his throat and make him choke as much as the whole bugs did, but on the other hand the tiny bits of exoskeleton were more likely to slip down into his windpipe, so he was on a Breathe-Easy Potion just in case. The Healer had him stick out his tongue and spit out a few wings and a leg. Katie was the one who had to collect them in a little glass tube.
'Take one for the team?' she joked, plucking a tiny locust head out of the bed sheets with the tip of her wand.
'You should'a seen the other bloke.' Oliver grinned and pulled an antenna out from between his teeth. 'I'd wager he's still rubbing his legs together for a song.'
Katie laughed, and it was then that he recognised her.
'Hey, you're- You're Katie, aren't you?' He pointed the antenna at her. 'Gryffindor Chaser.'
She smiled and put the stopper in her sample. 'Yeah, it's me. Didn't know me without my broom, did you?'
'Yeah, that and... It's the hair, mostly. You cut your hair. Good idea.'
Katie rubbed her hand over her head, making it all stand up. 'It's more practical. No time to mess with it.'
Oliver blinked. 'I meant it won't get in your face anymore when you're flying. I was always after you gals to chop that long hair off. You still play?'
Katie laughed again. Oliver liked the sound. 'If I haven't time to do my hair, how do you think I've time to play anymore? I do thirty-six hour shifts, and then I have twelve hours off to myself to do the shopping, feed my cat, everything. I can hardly find the time to shower anymore. Sorry, too much information.'
The Head Healer cleared her throat. 'If you're quite through flirting with the patient, Trainee Bell,' she said, but it sounded like she didn't mind too much.
'Yes, ma'am,' Katie said, and winked at Oliver. Oliver put his hands back behind his head and grinned as he watched the small entourage leave his room. The blue robes looked good on her.
The next morning, Katie was back on her own with an experimental potion for him to try. 'Horehound and calendula,' she said, handing him a bubbling cup full of a gloppy substance.
Oliver took the potion and swallowed it in one, then gasped and spluttered, 'You didn't mention the garlic! What, did you put an entire head in?' He hacked and winced at the pungent flavour, spitting a few bits of chitin into the now-empty cup.
'Oh, was there garlic in there, too?' Katie asked lightly. 'I think there's spaghetti on the menu for lunch anyway.' She Vanished the cup and Summoned the clipboard from the wall over Oliver's head. 'Now, any changes? Additional symptoms? Gastric distress, laboured breathing, heart palpitations, nausea, dizziness, itchiness, swelling of the extremities, or wind?'
'No, I'm perfectly fine!' Oliver railed. 'Just bloody bored out of my mind, and now I'll be reeking like cat piss for the next week.'
Katie made a note. 'I'll just put "No change" down. Healer Wendlewort will be in in a bit, once the potion's got into your system, to try another curse reversal.'
'Great, thanks Katie,' he muttered. 'Didn't mean to yell at you.'
Katie smiled and replaced the clipboard behind Oliver's head. 'Don't worry about it. I've had worse. Bloke actually breathed fire at me once down in Magical Bugs.'
Oliver laughed. It had been a long time since he'd been able to sit and talk to someone. He was on the move so much, he rarely had time to build up any real friendships. And the ones he did have were generally based on common beer-drinking preferences and took place in loud and often dubious locations.
'I'll bet you have some real war stories to tell,' Oliver said, hoping she'd stick around a bit. He'd always liked Katie. Not 'that way' - he'd never had the interest, much less time, for a girlfriend when he was in school. But she was always easy to talk to, quick with a smile, and not bad on the eyes, either, come to think of it.
'Oh, nothing compared to you,' she answered. 'Travelling the world, professional Quidditch player and all. I can understand why you'd be bored lying here. Hopefully this'll do the trick though, and you'll be back on the pitch and living the high life again in no time.'
Somehow, that wasn't as much of a comfort to Oliver as it should have been. He'd grown tired of living in hotels, eating unfamiliar foods, and being under constant pressure to perform. Quidditch was the only thing he knew, but recently, it hadn't been fun anymore. Oliver just nodded, though, and said, 'Yeah, that'll be grand,' and watched as Katie swished out again in her light blue Trainee robes.
Even though Katie didn't come back that afternoon for rounds, Oliver was hopeful as Healer Wendlewort waved his hawthorne wand and incanted the curse removal spell for the umpteenth time. Oliver felt a momentary lightness, and was certain it had worked this time, but a moment later he felt the familiar tickling in his gut again, and up came an entire handful of locust parts. Tutting and clucking, the gaggle of Healers gave Oliver another dose of the foul-tasting garlic and horehound concoction, and left him to brood.
Over the next few days, they tried out several more variations on the potion, but neither they nor any of the Healers' spells had any effect on the curse. Oliver was on the verge of saying to hell with it, and getting on with his life, locust bits or no locust bits. There were worse things. He'd struck up a nice acquaintance with Katie, though, and he knew that once he checked out, he'd likely not see her again.
She'd taken to coming in after the end of her shift, bringing Quidditch magazines and even a Snitch for him to toss around, 'to relieve the boredom'. And more often than not, she'd sit down and they'd chat, and she'd make him laugh, and he'd make her laugh, before she said she had to get home to take a shower and feed her cat.
'Ah, Oliver,' she said at the end of that week, recovering her breathing after a particularly forceful fit of giggles. 'I'm going to miss you when you're out of here. I think you're the one relieving my boredom, not the other way around.'
'You? Bored? With all the fire-breathing, locust-spitting patients to keep you entertained?'
'Yeah, I know it sounds like a regular Weasleyfest, but I'm not really allowed to do anything, other than handing out potions and doing some minor diagnostic spells. All the fun stuff's reserved for the licensed Healers.' She rolled her eyes.
'So that's why you never got a crack at me. Seems like they've had everyone else in here, trying to reverse the curse.'
'Oh, I'm sure it wouldn't work for me, either. I didn't mean that.'
'Well, give it your best shot, then. Just for practice. Can't hurt, eh?' Oliver threw open his arms, exposing his chest. 'Hit me!'
Katie giggled. 'Oliver, I can't do that! I'm not licensed. I might ... I don't know, you could end up with a tarantula in your throat or something!'
'Nah, I bet you couldn't do any better than a Daddy longlegs.'
'Really, Oliver. I can't. If anyone found out...'
'Go on then, I won't tell.'
Katie bit her lip and looked at the door. It was clear she was tempted.
'You know the wand movements?' Oliver prompted.
Katie nodded. 'Yeah, the incantation, too. Seen it done hundreds of times.'
'Well then, what are you waiting for? You've got to start sometime.'
Katie pulled out her wand with an impish look on her face. 'I guess you are a teaching case. Purely in the interest of education, then.'
'Completely,' Oliver agreed.
Katie let out a whoosh of nervous breath, then pointed her wand at Oliver's chest, her face the image of concentration.
Oliver closed his eyes as she spoke the spell. It felt the same as when the Healers cast it: A brief lightness, a moment of hope... Oliver opened his eyes and looked at Katie, who was watching him expectantly.
'Did it work?' she whispered.
Oliver mentally checked himself over. He didn't really feel any different. 'So far so good,' he said cautiously. Then he grabbed at his throat and started thrashing around, making horrible, choking sounds.
'Oliver!' Katie screamed. 'Oh my God, Oliver, what is it?' She pulled at his hands and tried to hold him down.
Oliver fell suddenly still, his head turned away at an odd angle.
'Oliver...?' Katie asked fearfully. 'Oh my God, oh my God, what did I do? I'm so sorry.' She leaned close, turning her cheek to feel if he was still breathing, and put one hand on his chest.
He cracked one eye open. His face split into an irrepressible grin. 'What, no mouth-to-mouth?'
Katie's mouth dropped open in horror. 'What- You-' She started hitting him on the shoulders and chest. 'You absolute horrible beast! I thought I'd killed you! You nearly gave me a bloody heart attack!'
'Is this how you react in an emergency?' he asked, laughing, as he half-heartedly fended off her attack. 'Some Healer you are,' he teased. 'Oh my God, what do I do?' he mimicked her in a falsetto.
'I'm not a Healer yet, I'm only a trainee, and I am never- NEVER- doing that again.' She hit him once more, then paused. 'Hang on- You're not coughing up locusts.'
Oliver stared at her. She was right. As soon as he thought about it, though, he felt the same old tickle in his stomach, and belched right on cue. What came up felt like more than usual, though, and he looked for someplace to spit.
Katie was quick to recover, and grabbed the kidney pan from his bedside table.
After he was done, Katie Vanished the jumbled pile of insect parts. Oliver fell back against his pillows and looked at her sadly. 'Sorry.'
'No, I mean for the trick. It was mean of me.' He pounded the mattress. 'I'm just so bloody sick of this!' he shouted.
'I'm sure they'll find a way to reverse it,' Katie said gently. 'Do you want to turn on the Wireless?' she asked, reaching for the controls on the wall. 'I think there's a game tonight, Tutshill versus Puddlemere.'
The thought of listening to a play-by-play of his former teammates made Oliver feel even sicker than the locusts had.
'Nah,' he said, turning his head toward the window. It was raining. Terrible weather for a game. Although he was glad he wasn't out in it, he felt an emptiness at not even being able to.
'Oliver...' Katie touched him gently on the shoulder. 'I'm sorry. Really.'
Oliver nodded. 'I know.'
Katie left soon after, and Oliver spent the night listening to the thrumming of the rain on the window.
He didn't cough up any more locusts after that. No thoraxes, no wings, no heads, not even a feeler or a mandible. It seemed the last batch he'd spit up after Katie's curse reversal had really been the last batch. They must have already been in him, waiting to come out. Katie had succeeded where the other Healers had failed.
Oliver was scared to tell anyone, though.
On the one hand, Katie might get in trouble. On the other hand, he could pretend it was the latest version of the garlic potion that had done the trick, and not say anything about Katie. So that wasn't the real reason. The real reason was, once he was cured, he'd have to leave. He'd have to go back to living out of suitcases and constantly keeping an ear to the ground, hoping for a better opportunity somewhere, begging his contacts back in England to keep his name in the pot when it came time for restocking teams.
And so he scoured his bed for any stray locust bits and stuck them in his mouth to display during daily rounds, then dutifully swallowed that God-awful potion. He wished he hadn't let Katie Vanish that last kidney pan full. There would have been enough there to keep him going for at least a week. He couldn't keep the subterfuge up for that long, though.
On Tuesday morning, when he couldn't find so much as a leg joint, despite tearing nearly the entire room apart, he capitulated. By the time Katie and the others came in for rounds, he'd made peace with the situation, and was even able to muster a dazzling smile.
'They're gone!' he announced, sitting on the edge of the bed, fully dressed.
Katie's face lit up. Healer Wendlewort frowned and checked Oliver's chart first, then mumbled a few things to himself as he had Oliver lie back down and ran a full head-to-toe diagnostic.
'I knew it,' Katie said triumphantly, hovering behind the Healer's elbow.
Oliver didn't look her in the eye. 'Yeah, must have been that last batch of potion,' he said.
'I can't detect any trace of Dark magic in you,' Wendlewort announced finally. 'When was the last episode?'
'Erm...' Oliver pretended to think. 'Yesterday, I think. Yeah, during rounds, right before I took that potion.'
'Trainee Bell, make a note in the patient's chart,' Wendlewort said. 'There'll be a publication in this for me,' he added proudly to the group of Trainees. Then, turning to Oliver, he said, 'I'd like to keep you one more night for observation. This African magic can be trickier than you think.'
Oliver shook his head. He'd already made up his mind to leave. 'That won't be necessary. I'm fit as a Firebolt.' He thumped his chest.
'It's against my advice,' Healer Wendlewort warned.
'I'll take full responsibility. Do I need to sign somewhere?'
'I'll let Admissions know. Trainee Bell?' He held out his hand, and Katie handed him the clipboard with Oliver's chart on it. Wendlewort tapped it with his wand, and it folded itself up repeatedly until it vanished from sight.
Hurried good-byes were said; Healer Wendlewort was already herding his charges toward the next case. There was an awkward moment when it came Katie's turn to shake Oliver's hand. Oliver felt a heel for not letting her know she had actually been the one to reverse the curse, but it seemed too late now, and anyway he couldn't do it in front of the others. Katie seemed to sense there was something more that he wanted to say, as she looked back twice at him before she left, a puzzled expression on her face. But then the opportunity had passed, and the door swung shut, leaving Oliver standing there alone, his packed bag next to him on the bed.
He had to return to his team to finish out the season. He ended with a solidly respectable seventy percent save average. He even managed a near shut-out against Cyprus, until they sent in a reserve Chaser who managed to get three shots in before their Seeker caught the Snitch.
When he was alone, in the room he rented in a small pensione, he often took out the Snitch Katie had given him and lay on his bed, watching it flit around. He told himself he was training his peripheral vision. But really, he was remembering the way Katie threw her head back when she laughed, and the little indentation at the end of her nose, and most of all, the uncertain, half hopeful, half confused look she'd given him as she'd stepped out of his room that last time.
At the end of the season, the team wanted to renegotiate his contract, even offering him more money, but he said he needed to 'consider his options'. He took a week and went back to England. It was raining when he stepped out of the Portkey depot. He had reserved a room in the Leaky Cauldron. He could have gone to his parents', but his mother would have hovered and his father pontificated.
It took two days before he mustered up the courage to send her an owl. He invited her to lunch at the Leaky, which seemed innocuous enough, if a bit loud.
When she came in and caught sight of him, her whole face lit up, and he had to fight not to grin like a fool.
'Thanks for owling!' she said as she slid onto the bench across the table from him. She ran her hand through her hair, wet from the rain, making it stand up. 'What are you doing in town?'
'Bit of this, bit of that,' he answered vaguely. 'Mostly holiday, really.'
She pulled a face. 'You picked a bit of a grotty time of year for it.'
'Maybe I'm not here for the weather.'
Katie cocked her head at him. 'What do you mean by that?'
Oliver let out a breath. 'It seems you and I have some unfinished business.'
Katie put her elbows on the table and leaned towards him. Her cheeks had two high red spots from the cold outside, and she was so wholesome and fresh that Oliver had to laugh.
Right then, the waitress came over to take their orders. Once she left, Katie asked, 'So, what's this about unfinished business?'
Oliver shook his head. 'Nothing. No, something, actually. I never told you this, but... You were the one who cured me of the locusts.'
Katie was nonplussed. 'I- No, I didn't. It was-' Her eyebrows crinkled together in confusion.
Oliver laughed again. 'Yes, it was, it was you! I never said anything because you could have got into trouble. Remember when you did the curse reversal on me, in my room?'
'Yes, but...' Katie said slowly. 'If I remember right, you kept on coughing up locusts after that.'
'Just the once,' Oliver corrected her. 'I reckon they were already in me, and had to come out anyway. But after that, there was nothing else.'
'That's not true, I distinctly recall coming in for rounds the next day and being scared to death I'd really done something to you, and I was so relieved when you spit out some more bits and everything was the same as before.'
Oliver cringed. 'I cheated. Those were old bits I found stuck down between the mattresses.'
Katie burst out with a bark of disbelieving laughter. 'What?'
'I didn't know what else to do!' he said defensively. 'Like I said, I didn't want you to get into trouble. I kept pretending I was still under the curse until I ran out of locust parts.'
'And then you pretended it had been the potion.' Katie threw back her head and laughed. Oliver watched her, enjoying the sight. 'Oh, Healer Wendlewort is going to be so mad! He's already submitted an article to some Healer's journal on your case and his brilliant resolution of it.'
'You can't tell anyone!'
Katie's eyes sparkled. 'No, you're right. Still, it's delicious. He's always so puffy and full of himself. I'd like to see him taken down a notch.'
'I wanted you to know the truth. It was mean of me not to tell you earlier.'
'It was a bit. Especially after that trick you pulled with pretending to die and all.'
Oliver lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender. 'It was the curse. African magic's a tricky business.'
Katie smirked. 'Yeah. Still...' She turned thoughtful. 'It does make me feel a bit chuffed, knowing I was able to cure you where everyone else had failed.'
'True.' Oliver frowned. 'I wonder why that was,' he said, more to himself. 'I never thought of that.'
Katie reached across the table and punched him in the upper arm. 'Oy, you! Couldn't be I've got skills or anything, could it?'
'I didn't mean that,' Oliver said, chuckling. ''Tis a bit odd though, don't you think?'
Katie shrugged. 'Not really.' For her, the topic was closed. Their food came presently, and they spent the rest of Katie's lunch hour chatting amicably about what had become of people they'd known at Hogwarts, changes in the British wizarding world since the Fall of Voldemort, and Quidditch. On the last, Oliver tried to veer away from talk of his personal career, and kept things general. He still wasn't sure what he was going to do, and it seemed too serious of a topic for this lunch date.
When they were finished, Oliver walked with Katie out of Diagon Alley and into Muggle London, back to the hospital. The rain had stopped, and the air smelt like grass and wet asphalt. On a whim born of a desire to keep this good feeling going a little bit longer, right before Katie stepped through the plate-glass window of Purge and Dowse, Ltd., Oliver said, 'What are you doing Thursday evening? I wouldn't mind getting together for a pint once before I leave.'
'I'm working Thursday,' she said, with genuine regret.
'Friday then? It's my last night.'
'Oh, don't move your plans around for me. I'm sure you have lots of people you want to see.'
'Yes, and you're one of them,' Oliver said firmly.
'I don't start until eleven on Friday night. I could maybe meet you at nine?'
'Perfect,' Oliver said with a grin. 'I'll owl you where.'
By Friday, Oliver still hadn't decided what he was going to do about his future plans. He needed to have an answer on the owner's desk by the following Monday. He didn't want to think about it any more, though. He just wanted to go out and have a good time. He'd already got together with some of his old Puddlemere colleagues the night before. They'd been decent, but he'd very much felt the sting of not being in the same league as them, both figuratively and literally.
He arranged to meet Katie at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. He hadn't been back to Hogsmeade yet on this trip, and it seemed a fitting extension of their friendship from their Hogwarts days. Too late, he thought it might have been a nice idea to try and get everyone from their championship team together for one last night: Alicia, Angelina, Harry, George and ... Maybe it was a good thing he hadn't, after all. Plus, he sort of liked having Katie to himself.
He got there shortly after half eight, and ordered a pint to nurse while he waited. He felt more nervous than he should, though, and had finished it and was halfway through his second when Katie arrived. She was wearing a blue-and-gray Empire waisted dress that ended halfway down her thighs, and strappy shoes. If Oliver had considered it, he might have found it a bit dressy for being on her way to the night shift at St Mungo's. He only registered that she looked fantastic.
He greeted her enthusiastically, and once she'd got a Butterbeer, they found a spot at one of the side tables, sitting next to each other with their backs to the wall so they could watch the room. School was in session, and there were a few seventh-year students who were of age and able to sign themselves out on the weekends. No one Oliver recognised, though.
Oliver found he was more garrulous than usual, and Katie was quite keyed up as well, despite having only the Butterbeer. A few times, Oliver's arm rubbed against Katie's, and he found it pleasant and friendly, and didn't hurry to move it away. If he'd been thinking about it, he might have noticed she wasn't in a hurry to move her arm away from his, either.
'So,' Katie asked, round about half-ten. 'Are you going to spend the rest of your life abroad? Any chance of you coming back to England? I only mean,' she hastened to add, drawing a line through a patch of condensation on the table, 'you were always so enthusiastic about Puddlemere. Why'd you leave?'
Oliver felt a Lethifold settle over his mood. 'I had to,' he said, suddenly and uncharacteristically quiet. 'They didn't pick me up for the regular team.'
Katie was silent. 'Oh,' she said finally. 'Sorry, I didn't know. Wow. But, I mean, their loss, right? You've got a big career now.'
Oliver smiled tightly and drained the last of his pint. 'Yeah, big. Team I'm with now wants me back next year. Even offered me a pay raise.'
'See? Now that's fantastic,' Katie said, but even Oliver could tell she was faking her enthusiasm.
'No. No, it's not fantastic. It's pretty poor, actually. See...' He didn't know if it was the ale talking, or if it was that he finally wanted to be honest, to one person, or maybe just to her, for once in his life. 'I'm not actually all that good,' he said, studying the bubbles left at the bottom of his glass. 'Oh, I mean, I'm good, yeah,' he said, as she began to protest. 'I'm just not all ithat/i good. Not good enough to play pro in England, anyway. Not with players like Crikes and Fallswoop and Lorton.'
He raised his eyes to look at her, and all of a sudden, he didn't want to go back, didn't want to leave. 'I don't know anything but Quidditch, Kate,' he said in a low, tight voice. 'I've got to do this. I can't make it here, but I've got to live somewhere. Do you understand?'
'But if you're not happy-' She laid a hand on his arm.
'It doesn't matter about being happy!' he said fiercely. 'It's about doing what I know, doing what I can. Surviving!'
'You can do something else, anything! You're clever, more than me, even. Think about all those plays you came up with for the team back at school. They were genius! Plus the training schedules, the workouts... You're intuitive, you know people, you know how to motivate. You could put those skills to use in a dozen different places. A million!'
'I haven't got a million places that want me. Only one, right now. And it's not here.'
'Oliver... if you're not happy where you are now... I think you should come back... Give it a shot. Maybe... maybe there is someplace here...' She squeezed his arm, just a little.
Oliver jerked his arm up, shaking her hand off. 'There's nothing, I tell you! Don't you get it? I'm a failure. A flop. A loser!' His voice was getting louder, such that people at adjoining tables were beginning to look at them. 'I'm dead to England. I don't know why I even bothered coming back.'
Katie had pulled back against the wall, looking stunned. 'I guess I don't know, either,' she said in a cool voice and stood up. 'I'm sorry, Oliver. Good luck.' She didn't even turn around before she stepped into the public Floo and disappeared in a flash of green flames.
The next morning, Oliver wished he could die. Not because of how his head and stomach felt, but because of how his heart felt. He'd royally bollixed things up. In hindsight, she'd been sending him all the signals. He'd felt it, too, but he'd been so wrapped up in his own misery he hadn't paid attention.
After he had a Pepperup Potion brought up, he prepared two messages to be sent by owl. One went to St Mungo's. The other went to the agent who'd helped him set up his first contract with Puddlemere. He only hoped he'd have an answer before Monday.
'Thanks for coming.' Oliver nodded at the empty space next to him on the park bench. They were in a small city park a couple of blocks away from St Mungo's. It was Tuesday morning, and the sun was shining.
Katie sat down carefully, keeping her back very straight and her hands in her lap. 'I thought you were leaving on Saturday.'
'I was. But then I got to thinking... I was a berk on Friday. Sorry.'
'You already apologised in your owl, and I accepted.'
'I needed to tell you in person.'
Katie nodded in acknowledgment. 'Thanks.'
'That's not all, though. I wanted to tell you...' His stomach was doing flip-flops. If he was wrong about her... But even if he was, he decided, this was the right path for him to be taking.
Katie cocked her head to the side, encouraging him to go on.
'Maybe there's a place for me in England after all. I wrote to my old agent. Asked him to sound a few clubs out over a position for me.'
'But I thought you said-'
'Not as a player. As a trainer. You're the one who gave me the idea. What you said about me being good at motivating people and stuff.'
Katie's face slowly broke into a smile. 'You are, you know.'
Oliver's relief was great at seeing her smile again. 'Yeah, I am,' he agreed, preening. 'And I like telling people what to do.'
'You're aces at telling people what to do.'
'And there's a club that's interested.' Excitement overtook him, and the words began to tumble out. 'I didn't expect it so fast, but Appleby's been in the market for an assistant trainer for a while now. I've got an interview on Saturday.'
'Oh, Oliver!' All of Katie's stiffness melted away. 'That's fantastic! I'm so happy for you!' She threw her arms around him.
'That makes it all the better,' he said, tentatively returning her embrace. They sat like that for a few seconds, until it became awkwardly clear this was more than just a congratulatory hug. They pulled slowly apart, looking at each other shyly.
Then both of them burst into giggles.
'That wasn't how I meant for things to end up on Friday, you know,' Oliver said.
'No? How did you mean for things to end up, then?' Katie leaned towards him with a playful look on her face.
'I don't know, more like this.' Oliver gestured at the two of them.
'Really?' Katie asked archly. 'Just sitting around on a bench somewhere? I had something else in mind as well, you know.'
'Oh yeah? And what's that?'
'I don't know,' she said, her voice becoming softer. 'Something more like this.' She leaned in and kissed him, gently at first, then as they began to get a feel for each other, more thoroughly.
'Oh yeah...' Oliver said appreciatively when their lips parted. 'That would definitely have been a better idea.'
'Oliver...' Katie rolled over so she was half lying on top of him and kissed him slowly, but no less thoroughly than their first kiss on the park bench so many months ago.
Oliver mumbled something incoherent into her lips, sliding his fingers up into her short hair.
'I think I figured out why I was able to reverse that curse when the other Healers couldn't.'
Oliver mumbled some more and used his other arm to press her naked form more firmly against his.
'D'you remember? The locusts?'
'Shhh...' Oliver squeezed her bottom.
Katie giggled. 'Oliver, this is important.'
Oliver moved down to direct his attentions to her neck.
'You know what the core of my wand is?' Katie asked.
Oliver made a noncommittal sound, and pulled her leg up so it was draped over his stomach.
'It's an Augurey feather. Bit unusual. Oh God, that feels good...' She lost her train of thought and there was no more coherent conversation for quite a while.
Later, though, it appeared Oliver had been paying attention after all, as he lay with his hands behind his head and watched Katie returning from the bathroom.
'You said something about your wand,' he said, reaching out to take her hand as she got back into bed.
'No, I was talking about your wand,' she teased. 'And a mighty one it is, too.'
'Cheeky wench.' He grinned and pulled her onto him again. 'No, something about the locust curse.'
'Oh yes!' She propped herself up on her side so she could see him properly and laid one hand on his bare chest. 'Well, I was reading about a Healer in the 1920s who made a name for herself treating British victims of Indian curses. She was British, but had been raised in India and had her wand made according to the British tradition, but with an Occamy plume as its core.'
'What does this have to do with me?'
'I'm getting to it. The point is, the Occamy is native to India. And so her wand with an Occamy feather core was especially potent against Indian magic.'
'So your wand has an African core?'
'No, my wand has an Augurey feather core. They're native to the British Isles, didn't you pay attention during Care of Magical Creatures?'
Oliver grinned. 'Honestly? No.'
'And now it's coming back to bite you,' she said in a sing-song.
'So how does that explain how you were able to reverse the curse?'
'Because the Augurey is an omnivorous bird. Insects, including grasshoppers, are among its natural prey.'
'So your wand... ate the locusts?' Oliver teased.
Katie hit him on the shoulder. 'Don't mock. I don't know a whole lot about wandlore, but it makes sense to me. Most of the other Healers' wands at Mungo's have the standard dragon heartstring or unicorn hair cores. One has a Graphorn gutstring. I did a little research.'
'So it was all your wand,' Oliver concluded.
'Don't say you're doubting my skills again!'
Oliver chuckled and put one hand gently under her chin. 'Oh no. If there's one thing I don't doubt, Healer Bell, it's your skills.' He kissed her then, leaving no doubt in her mind about his, either.