"Wood! Wood, you stupid git, slow down!"
Oliver Wood hunched his shoulders and tightened his hold on his books as he hurried down the hall. He knew who was behind him, and he wasn't going to stop, not even if she threw herself around his legs and refused to let go. If she knew him at all, she'd give up and go away.
Apparently she didn't know him, then. He felt someone catch his arm and hold it in a vice-like grip. "Let go, Angelina. I have to get to class."
She whirled him towards her with surprising strength and slapped him hard across the face. "What is your problem, Wood?" she demanded, giving him what was possibly the most baleful look anyone had ever directed at him.
He met her eyes for a moment, decided not to comment on the slap, and flicked his gaze to a point several inches beyond her face, which was much easier to look at. "Like I said," he began tonelessly, "I have to get to class."
"Shutup! I asked you a question!"
Oliver supposed it should have embarrassed him that a second-year girl was bullying him, but it would have been pointless, and besides, his cheek still hurt. "I don't know what you want from me, Angelina. Do you want me to say I'm sorry? Fine. Okay. I'm sorry."
She made an exasperated noise. "No, I don't want you to say you're sorry! You're the only one who thinks you have something to apologize for! Fred's up in the hospital wing. Why don't you go and visit him, you bloody idiot?"
Attempting to pull his arm away from her, he muttered, "I can't."
Angelina Johnson rolled her eyes, her anger fading somewhat. "Why not?"
"Because," he mumbled, "it's my fault."
"Oh, god." The girl dropped her arms to her sides and stared at the ceiling in exasperation. "Oliver, do you have any idea how stupid and self-centered you are?"
He shot a sharp look at her. "What?" This was not quite what he'd expected. Screaming, yes. Violence, apparently so. But controlled critiquing of his character?
"Do you honestly think that you're responsible for that Keeper lobbing the Quaffle at Fred?"
"You're forgetting the Beater who did the same thing."
"That wasn't your fault either!"
Oliver finally succeeded in yanking his arm away from her. "You realize you're not doing any good? Please just let me go to class. It's Potions. Snape's going to love it. Not only did the Slytherins take out my Beater, but I'm late."
"I'll walk you to class."
"I don't want to talk!"
As he began to walk away, Angelina sighed and ran to catch up with him. "Oliver, you locked yourself in your dormitory all weekend. No one's seen you since the match on Saturday. We were all beginning to think you were dead. What's the problem? I'm not going to let you hole yourself up again."
"You have trouble taking a hint, don't you? I don't want to talk."
The harshness of his tone didn't shake her. "You cute quiet boys are all the same."
"What did you just call me?"
She elbowed him. "Don't be daft. And don't interrupt me. You're all stupid and stubborn and you think everything revolves around you."
"I don't see how feeling responsible for something makes me self-centered."
"Because it's all about you being in control!"
By the time she said this, they'd reached the dungeon. Oliver put his hand on the door handle, looked down at her, and hissed, "Look, Angelina, I like you a lot, so don't take this the wrong way. But. Get out of my face. Leave me alone. I don't want to talk to you. And do not send anyone else to harass me!"
Angelina glared at him, turned around, and—there was no other word for it—flounced off. Oliver stared after her and listened to her receding footsteps, then shook his head and sighed. None of his friends would understand what he was feeling right now. They'd say the same things Angelina had—with an emphasis on the "stupid", he was sure. They just…didn't get it. He had a responsibility, and…
With another sigh, he turned the handle of the door and walked into the dungeon.
Everyone in class looked up at him, Slytherins and Gryffindors alike. "Um," Oliver said. He cleared his throat. "Sorry I'm late, Professor Snape. I…it was…"
Snape gave him a cold stare. "Yes, Mr. Wood?"
"Perhaps you felt that Saturday's Quidditch match gives you license to come and go to class as you please, Mr. Wood? Should you be allowed to waltz in ten minutes late because everyone pities you so? Five points from Gryffindor. Sit down."
Oliver stared at the ground, ignoring the scattered titters from the Slytherins. A boy with blond hair caught his eye and smiled maliciously, miming a throwing motion. Oliver forced himself to ignore this too. Marcus Flint was captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team. He had also been bothering Oliver all day at every chance he got. Oliver rarely got angry enough to be really cruel to anyone, but Flint was quickly pushing him to his limit.
Quickly, he sat down next to a Slytherin girl. As Snape continued with the lesson, he poked her and whispered, "What are we doing?"
"Ruddy good stuff," she muttered out of the corner of her mouth. She glanced at him, her eyes twinkling a little. "We're starting antidotes—you can copy my notes."
Snape droned on for another hour, finishing the lesson with the announcement, "Next time you will be brewing your antidotes. At the end of class, one of you will be poisoned in order to test whether or not you paid attention."
"Wonderful," Oliver mumbled.
"Yeah," the girl next to him agreed. "I'm sure we'll all look forward to that. By the way, my name's Samantha North. Sam, that is."
He turned to face her. "Sam. Hello. Thanks for letting me look at your notes. I'm—"
"Oliver Wood." She grinned at him. "I know. Everyone in school does."
"I bet. And they all say glowing things about me, eh?"
"Actually, you'd be surprised." She glanced up at Snape, who was watching them hawkishly. "C'mon, let's go. If you stay much longer Snape's going to chew you out some more."
As they walked out the door, someone crashed into Oliver from behind. "Oh, sorry, Wood." Marcus Flint—what a surprise that was. He sneered at Oliver, then nodded at Samantha. "Hey, Sam. What are you doing?"
"Talking to Oliver."
Flint raised his eyebrows. "Why? Wood, shouldn't you be nursing Weasley back to health?"
"Yeah, Flint, I suppose," Oliver said in a monotone.
"So will Weasley be playing at the next match? I'd hate to think that my team is the reason that you have to look for a new Beater…"
"Yeah, Flint. I bet you would."
"What's the matter, Wood? You're even less talkative than usual." Flint grinned nastily. "Something bothering you?"
Oliver tensed and started to turn towards the other boy, but Sam placed herself between them and said, "Marcus? I think this is a bad time to be taunting Oliver incessantly." She gave the other Slytherin a meaningful look. "How about I meet you up in the common room, okay?"
Flint stared at her, then turned his eyes darkly to Oliver. "Sure," he told Sam. "Don't be too long."
He stalked away, glancing over his shoulder occasionally. Oliver set off in the opposite direction, muttering, "What a jerk."
"He's really not," Sam said, catching up with him. "He just…has trouble with people." Giving him a look out of the corner of her eyes, she added, "You two seem to be alike in a lot of ways."
Oliver snorted. "Hardly."
"Hm. Well, I know what I see."
"You just met me an hour ago." Oliver looked at her and quirked an eyebrow. "Why are you talking to me suddenly, anyway? Nobody else really does."
"Ah, no. Not exactly. You don't really let people talk to you. Trust me, they would if they could." She watched him for a moment. "Where are you going, anyway?"
"Hospital wing," he answered shortly.
"Oh…" Sam looked away somewhat guiltily. "I'm really sorry about that…"
"Don't be. It has nothing to do with you. You weren't playing." He stared straight ahead as he said this, aware of how bitter and angry it had sounded.
"Well." Sam stopped walking and Oliver, surprised, did as well. She stuck out her hand and grasped his, shaking it. "It's been nice talking to you, Oliver. I'll see you in Potions. Bye."
Not bothering to watch her depart, Oliver continued towards the hospital wing. However, he was pondering what she'd said—that he didn't let people talk to him. He supposed he wasn't the easiest person to get to know—always practicing Quidditch, or planning tactics for the next match, or just flying around the grounds on his Cleansweep Seven. He did like to be alone, which was probably why he loved to be in the air. But liking solitude certainly didn't make him cold and unreachable. Or did it? Apparently he came off that way. His closest friends were the people he was forced to spend time with—the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Though perhaps that had changed. Angelina certainly appeared to hate his guts.
Thinking about the team practically made him stop in his tracks. Really, the last place he wanted to go was the hospital wing. Oliver wasn't even sure he could face Fred. Maybe no one else thought it was his fault, but it was his team. He was captain. And Fred had been doing what Oliver had told him to do. Then there was the fact that it was only the second game of the season—Fred's second game ever, only Oliver's second as captain. And like anyone with newly given authority, he'd been eager to prove himself. Having your new beater get seriously injured at the beginning of the season was not a mark in your favor. He'd felt only two things since the match on Saturday—incompetent and dangerously irresponsible. It had chilled him to the bone to see Fred falling from his broomstick. And of course he hadn't done anything to help. So what if he couldn't do anything—he hadn't even tried.
Gryffindor had just scored for the fifth time—Angelina again, she was good; and Fred had been trailing her with his club ready. He'd hit a bludger at the Slytherin Chaser who could have taken the quaffle from Angelina, and the Keeper, not appreciating this, had flung the ball at him. Unfortunately, the Slytherin Beater had gotten the same idea, and both balls had crashed into Fred at about the same time. He'd been knocked unconscious, plummeted to the ground, and broken several ribs, his arm; and fractured his leg. Of course they'd lost. Miserably. Again.
Oliver halted outside the hospital wing. How was he going to look Fred in the eye?
The door opened suddenly, and Oliver jumped. Alicia Spinnet, another of Gryffindor's Chasers, walked out. She looked surprised to see him there and said, "Oliver, I thought you didn't want to come up here."
"I didn't. Still don't."
She blushed at the somber look that he turned on her. "Er…well, he's okay, you know. He asked why you haven't come up."
"What did you tell him?"
"Er…Angelina told him something. I can't remember what. Are you going to talk to him?"
Oliver shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know. I guess. If you move so I can get through." He offered her a tiny smile, and Alicia stepped out of the way with a giggle. As he walked into the hospital, he supposed that was the other part of Sam's comment—people would talk to him if they could. Alicia did tend to act like a smitten teenage girl around him. Well, she was a teenage girl, and now that he thought about it, she probably was smitten, too. She had all the annoying traits. He wished she'd direct them towards someone else besides him.
Madam Pomfrey pointed out where Fred's bed was and Oliver trudged towards it. Not that he needed to be showed—there were so many cards and presents that he thought everyone in school must have sent something. Except for him. He couldn't even remember the reason he hadn't, only that at the time it had seemed like a good one.
George Weasley, Fred's twin, was sitting by the bed, but when he noticed Oliver, he grinned and murmured something to his brother. Fred propped himself up with his uninjured arm and said in mock awe, "Oliver! To what do I owe this great honor?"
"Angelina beat him up," George postulated.
"Wouldn't be surprised. She was up here with some story about bashing your head against the wall, Oliver." Fred smiled sweetly. "I told her, 'No way could you even scratch Wood, he's so big and tough. He doesn't take crap from anybody'."
"Shutup, Weasley," Oliver groaned.
"Yeah?" Oliver shuffled over to an empty chair and sat down. "How are you feeling, then?"
Fred and George exchanged a look. "Are you attempting to make small talk, Oliver?" the latter questioned.
"You're not very good at it," Fred added.
"No, I'm asking you because I'm concerned."
Fred rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "You're so serious. Look, I'm fine." He held up his other arm and moved it around a bit. "I'm mainly still in here because I had an essay due in History of Magic which was too bloody boring to write." He paused and thought for a second. "Plus, the longer I stay in here, the more presents I get."
"You're not in pain or anything?"
Fred raised his eyebrows. "You really are worried, aren't you?"
"We didn't really believe Angelina," George told Oliver. "She was saying how you were blaming yourself or some crazy thing like that."
When Oliver didn't say anything coherent (he stuttered a few syllables), Fred offered, "She tacked on a couple adjectives to your name. I don't know, what was her favorite one, George?"
"Oliver the bloody selfish moron? Something like that. I'm sure she meant it with the utmost affection."
Fred picked up a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans and offered them to Oliver. "Don't beat yourself up about it, Wood. Oh, did I just pun?"
"I hope not," George remarked.
"It's not as if you were throwing balls at me," Fred continued. "Basically what it comes down to is that I wasn't paying attention."
George nodded. "Yeah, he was too busy staring dreamily at Angelina."
"Exactly! You don't see George crying about how it's his fault, and he's supposed to be keeping the bludgers away from me."
"You have a club, too," his twin said.
"I'm just illustrating to Oliver that logically speaking—I know that's a foreign concept to him—he couldn't have helped. It even would've been pretty hard for him to throw himself in front of me to protect me. He was on the other side of the field, after all."
Oliver looked Fred in the face for the first time. "I don't think you two quite understand how I think."
"And we're glad for that."
The older boy shook his head, though a smile was creeping onto his face against his will. "Aye, you must be all right. You're as obnoxious as always."
With a gasp, Fred exclaimed, "How could you say such a thing? Obnoxious? The Weasley twins? Why, we're like angels."
"Who told you that?"
"We do," George said.
"It's the only way we can live with ourselves," he sighed.
"Oliver," Fred said suddenly, "you still look subdued and mildly suicidal."
Shrugging, he replied, "I guess it helps hearing both of you tell me what everyone else has."
"But you still think it's your fault."
Oliver didn't answer. Instead, he questioned, "Has anyone come in here to bother you?"
"You mean Slytherins?" Fred asked sagely.
"A couple. Didn't come up to be nasty though. They were perfectly nice." Fred grinned. "Don't worry; I don't think Flint's going to come up here and smother me with my pillow to make sure I don't play at the next match."
"I have a feeling you're mocking me."
"No," Fred gasped. "I would never mock someone I respect as much as you."
"Bugger off, Weasley."
"Ouch. I thought you felt terrible for landing me up here."
"I thought you said it wasn't my fault."
"Me and everyone else."
"Then what's your point?"
Fred shook his head melodramatically. "Wood, how about you go play some Quidditch by yourself. Obviously you're feeling a bit too nasty to be talking to an invalid."
"What do you expect from someone who's spent the weekend locked in his dormitory?" George threw in.
At that moment, Madam Pomfrey bustled over. "All right, that's enough talking. He needs his rest. Out, out! You too, George."
George gaped at her, then shrugged at his brother. "Guess I'll see you later."
"Yeah. Come back soon. It's boring and lonely up here," Fred replied with a fake whimper. "That means you too, Oliver. If I hear about any guilt trip you're still on, I'm going to pick out all the tripe-flavored jelly beans and give them to you."
"But now I know about you sinister plan."
"Oh no!" Fred cried. "Well, I'll just have to think of something equally malevolent, won't I?" He closed his eyes and quickly rolled over. Oliver and George were able to make out a muffled "G'night," before they left.
As the two boys walked down the hall together, George said, "He really doesn't like being left alone. Madam Pomfrey doesn't get that. The whole twin thing, I mean."
Oliver could see what he meant. It felt bizarre having only one of the Weasley twins there. "Have you spent the past three days there?" he asked in a slightly disbelieving tone.
"I've left a couple times. Tried to get you out of your dormitory." He paused for a second. "It's weird. Fred being up there. We do everything together, you know."
Oliver shrugged. "I can't imagine what that would be like."
"Well, duh, Oliver, you don't have a twin."
He glared at George. "I was just giving an appropriate response."
"I know. You should stop doing that. Say something interesting, Wood. You know, you could be a really cool guy if you weren't such a nutball antisocial."
"I'm a nutball antisocial, eh?" Oliver gave him a thoughtful look. "Well, there you go. I probably couldn't stand having a twin. Do you find that interesting?"
George grinned and Oliver rolled his eyes. "What can I say, Weasley. I just prefer my privacy."
"Yeah, as long as you've got your mini-Quidditch field and tactics notebook." The second-year closed his mouth for a second, then said, "You know what you need, Oliver?"
"Do I want to know?"
"Of course, if I'm saying it. Wood, I think you need a girlfriend."
Oliver gave him an incredulous stare. "What?"
"Oh, sorry, let me explain. You see, a girl is sort of like a boy, only—"
"Be quiet. And I don't need a girlfriend."
"Because I don't want one!"
"Oh, come on. Wouldn't it be great to have someone to make you mad? You could show everyone that you realize there's more to life than winning Quidditch…" George nodded knowingly. "Definitely just the thing you need."
Oliver had to laugh. "You call me crazy. I'm only fourteen, you know. Don't you consider that a bit young?"
"I'm only twelve, but I'd love to have some of the girls that follow you around all over me." George grinned. "Didn't notice that, did you?"
"Someone mentioned something about it."
"I don't think you know her."
"Ooh, it's a girl!" George crowed. "Wood's got a girlfriend; Wood's got a girlfriend!" he sing-songed.
"Weasley, keep your voice down!" a stern voice commanded from behind them.
They stopped and turned around. A no-nonsense looking teacher was walking briskly towards them down the hall, her emerald robe billowing behind her.
"Hello, Professor McGonagall," Oliver said. "We're not skipping class. At least I'm not. George had a good reason for not being in yours, though, I'm sure."
George opened his mouth to defend himself, but McGonagall waved her hand. "It's all right, Weasley. I've spoken to your teachers. You're excused for today. And yes," she added, as the boy's mouth opened again, "I've also spoken to Madam Pomfrey. You may go back up to your brother."
"Thanks, Professor," George said. There was a note of poorly disguised gratitude in his tone.
When George had vanished around a corner, McGonagall turned to Oliver and said, "Wood, I'd like a word with you. Come to my office, please."
"Did I do something?"
"I'm glad to hear that, at least."
She opened the door to her office and transfigured a box into a chair. Oliver sat down, and McGonagall took a seat at her desk. "Wood," she began, "you receive excellent marks in Transfiguration."
He smiled uncertainly. At least he wasn't in trouble, but this was a strange thing to talk to him about. With a nod, he said, "I'm interested in it, Professor. The rest of my family was always transfiguring things."
"Yes, I remember your brother and sister. They were extremely enthusiastic." Oliver looked down briefly at his lap at the mention of his sister, and McGonagall's expression softened. "Gwen was a fine witch. I was sure she'd…" The teacher sighed. "Well, I was shocked…and saddened, of course, when I heard that she was on of You-Know-Who's victims." She reached across the desk and patted Oliver's hand. "I don't expect that I'll be able to tell you anything comforting that you haven't already heard in the past nine years. That wasn't what I wanted to speak to you about, anyway. As I said, you receive excellent marks. Many people in my class do not."
Oliver looked up at her. "Do you want me to tutor someone?"
"I've spoken to several others that are at or near the top of their classes as well, and I almost have enough tutors for my struggling students." She peered at him through her spectacles, waiting for an answer.
Oliver chewed his lip for a moment and furrowed his brow in thought. After a second, he agreed, "I guess. Who would I be tutoring?"
McGonagall smiled. "Good. Let's see, who's left…ah, yes. I'd like you to work with Marcus Flint."