It was the end of another extraordinarily warm June day, and the setting sun bathed Holyhead Stadium in an orange glow. Inside, high above the pitch and unaffected by the smothering heat, Katie Bell was flying her broom with the same vigour she had at the start of the day.
Even though Katie had given everything during practice, she hadn’t felt like going home when the final whistle blew. And now, hours later, she was still going at it without showing any signs of slowing down. Beating the Bludger over and over again was too gratifying to stop. If an outsider had seen her like that, they would have guessed her to be a Beater instead of a Chaser.
Katie's face twisted in exertion as she swung her bat and hit the charmed Bludger once again. A victorious growl escaped her as it flew towards the centre goal and shot straight through the scarecrow dangling from the hoop. Straw fluttered in the air as it swung back and forth until the rope around the head snapped and the whole thing crashed to the earth. It should have made her happy to see the damage because, in her mind, it wasn’t an inanimate object she’d taken her frustration out on but the actual source of it.
Unfortunately, it did not.
Tears pricked her eyes, and utter sadness took over again as she watched the scarecrow transfigure back into a lump of grass and disappear out of her life without warning. Just like the real him had done.
Too upset to conjure another scarecrow, Katie decided to call it a day. She mustered the last of her strength and beat the Bludger charging at her one final time to give herself enough time to steer her broom safely the ground. She was just about to dismount when she saw him and wished she had aimed the Bludger in his direction.
He was standing in the opening to the catacombs with his hands tucked into his pockets, studying her with an unreadable expression. Marcus Flint, Chaser for the Tornadoes, the team the Harpies were supposed to play against come Saturday. He was an arsehole first class, a mean cheat who got away with murder during matches and got praised for it to boot. But mostly, he was the arsehole who'd broken her heart.
“What d’you want?” asked Katie as she hopped off her broom. He didn’t answer, and she pretended not to care. Still, those persistent tears sprung up again, and she hastily turned her back to catch the Bludger storming at her. She’d rather break a few bones than let him see how much his presence upset her. She did not miss him, not at all. What was there to miss about that crooked-teethed git anyway?
“Do you need a hand with that?” Flint asked from somewhere behind her.
Startled by the fact that he sounded so close, Katie glanced over her shoulder. He was near enough for her to touch and the urge to do so was strong.
“No.” Katie wrestled the Bludger into the crate without too much damage and slammed the lid shut. All the while, she could feel Flint's eyes on her, and she wished he’d leave already so she could break down in peace. “You can tell me why you’re here, though,” she eventually asked to get the torture over with.
“I’d like to talk to you.”
“You said it all last week,” Katie snapped and shrugged his hand off her shoulder. She jumped up to her feet and took a few steps back to put more distance between them. "You can go now."
“Bell…” Flint started as he ran his fingers through his hair in frustration.
Katie bit her tongue to keep herself from telling him not to do that if he fancied keeping his hair. He wasn't her boyfriend, after all, why should she care. “Don’t ‘Bell’ me, Flint. You were loud and clear. No need to rub it in.”
“Merlin’s bleeding balls,” Flint grumbled lowly as he took another step closer. “Listen for a minute, you stubborn bint. I want you to come home, this is getting ridiculous.”
Katie huffed in indignation as anger started bubbling in the pit of her stomach. “Ridiculous?” she said dangerously, jabbing his chest with her finger to punctuate her words. “You humiliated me in front of my friends and family. I reckon I earned the right to be a bit ridiculous.”
“You took me by surprise, s’all,” he explained as he caught her hand. “If you hadn’t run away like a little girl-”
“Am not, and I did no such thing!” Katie began to see red. The nerve of that man.
“Yeah, you did,” Marcus snapped back. “You walked out, and you haven’t come home since. That’s running away in my book.”
Katie considered him for a minute, and she could see where he was coming from. Not that she’d admit that to his face, of course. She was just too cross with him. “What d’you want?” she changed the subject.
“You,” Flint said immediately. Before Katie could tell him to piss off, he continued. “I want you, I miss you. I want you to come home. Please. Johnson’s sofa can’t be that comfortable. Don’t you miss me at all?”
He sounded sincere, and Katie almost fell for it. Then she remembered that this was the same man who had rejected her last week in front of everyone. “Is that all?” she asked coldly.
“No.” Flint took a deep breath as he took another step closer and quietly said, “Ask me again.”
“You’re mental!” Katie laughed shrilly, which was better than the crying she felt like doing. His taunt was just too cruel. “One rejection per lifetime is more than enough for me, thanks.”
“I won’t, promise.”
“Yeah? What changed since last week?” Katie asked sharply. “You didn’t want to marry me then, why would you now?”
“I had time to think about it,” Marcus said with a shrug. “Look, you never said a word about wanting to get married before. I mean, you always made fun of the other witches who did. I thought you were taking the piss again. I guess I was wrong. Honestly, I don’t care either way. I’ll do anything to make you happy, anything to keep you. And…”
Katie’s scowl slowly eased, and once again she could see where he was coming from. Thinking back at it, she wasn’t sure what had come over her or why she’d sprung the proposal on him like that. All she knew was that it had seemed like a solid plan at the time. Perhaps talking about it first would’ve been better.
Hating Marcus until the end of days seemed a bit like an overreaction now that he'd briefly explained his side of things, and Katie was just one more sweet word away from forgiving him. He was right, Angie’s sofa was killing her back. Not to mention, she was dying to sleep in their bed again, with him to spoon.
“And what?” she suddenly asked instead of throwing herself into his waiting arms.
“What?” Marcus looked confused and slightly annoyed.
“You said ‘and’ at the end. What’s the other reason?”
Marcus lowered his arms and shoved his hands in his trouser pockets again. He was obviously mulling over his words, much to Katie’s amusement. That was a new one since saying things first and thinking them over later was more like him. “I won’t come home until you spill it.”
“Must I?” Marcus tried, but the look on Katie’s face said more than enough. “It’s just... You put me on the spot in front of everyone, at your cousin's wedding at that. I mean, a wizard’s supposed to ask his witch, not the other way around. Mum has already told me off for it, so save your breath. I know I was wrong. So, uhm, ask me again. I promise I’ll say yes. It helps that it's just the two of us now.”
“Purebloods,” Katie muttered under her breath, shaking her head as she wondered what she was getting herself into. Then, Marcus grinned and wagged his brows and she knew enough. “Fine… Marry me, you knob.”
“Consider it done.” Marcus flashed her a toothy grin and spread out his arms.
“That's not the-” Smiling to herself, Katie figured that his answer was good enough. As she stepped into his embrace, sighed in contentment as he wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. Gods, she'd missed him. “You're all mine.”
“So, you'll come home now?” Marcus asked and kissed her crown.
“I need a shower first. I smell,” Katie muttered as she nuzzled the crook of his neck, deeply inhaling his intoxicating scent. If only there’d be a way for her to bottle it. L’Eau de Marcus sounded like a money-maker to her.
Marcus grin widened as his eyes glinted with mischief. “I'll wash your back.”