The voice, drifting up from the grassy pitch, reached Oliver as he flew around the goal hoops of the Puddlemere United practice arena. He paused, confused about why their training session was being paused, and squinted down through the chilly wind. His captain, Wilson, was standing off by the entrance to the pitch, his broom set down in the expertly trimmed field and an owl perched on his shoulder. There was an unopened letter in his hand.
"It's for you," Wilson called, holding the letter up just a bit. "It's marked urgent."
The rest of the team stopped their movements as well, turning to watch Wood with cautions expressions. His stomach dropped as his first thoughts jumped to his family, and he soared to the ground so quickly he had to stumble off his broom before he fell. Wilson handed him the letter. Hands starting to shake, he ripped it open.
We just got word from Ginny that Katie Bell was attacked at Hogwarts yesterday. She's been taken to St. Mungo's. We're going to see her later this week, but if you go first let us know how she is. We're all worried.
Fred & George
"Is everything okay?" Hughes asked, landing beside him and touching his shoulder. Her eyes were wide in concern as she watched the emotion pulling his face taut.
"No," Wood replied shortly, folding the parchment over and sprinting to the side of the field to grab a quill, left there for when Wilson wanted to make notes on his team's performance in the log book. He quickly scribbled out a reply – Going now, will write back soon – and tied it to the owl's leg. The owl took off immediately. "I need to go," he told his captain, hastily removing his gloves and helmet and shoving them into his bag. "My friend -"
A year before, the answer would have been a vehement no. No one left Quidditch practice early for any reason short of their own death. But things had changed over the last few months. People had begun to disappear, and more were showing up grievously injured – some even murdered. Family and friends came first now. You-Know-Who's rise back to power truly had begun again and, even if many where trying to keep living their lives as normally as they could, no one could argue that danger was close for everyone.
"Go," Wilson said quietly, reaching out to cuff his upper arm supportively. "Let us know if you need anything."
Wood nodded briefly and handed his broom over with the unspoken request that it be returned to the locker room safely in his absence before turning quickly and vanishing on the spot.
Moments later, he reappeared in the parlor of his friend's London flat without invitation but not much caring.
It's Katie, he thought to himself, stunned too much for it to really sink in. Katie.
"What the hell!" Wesley, the friend whose home he had effectively barged into, yelled in surprised anger, stomping into the room from the kitchen with his wand raised. "Who the bloody hell would – Wood? What are you doing? Couldn't you have sent an owl first? Don't you know what I almost -"
"No time," Oliver interrupted, already moving toward the front door without an apology. "I need to get to St. Mungo's and yours was the closest place I could think of."
"St. Mun – wait!" Wesley grabbed his friend's arm before he could leave. "Let me get you some Muggle clothes before you go traipsing out into the world wearing those blasted Quidditch robes." He shook his head and ambled into another room.
Wood just stood where he had been left, blinking rapidly for a moment and trying to come back to reality. His family was safe. His mother and father were safe and unharmed. He had been so worried the news that letter contained would be about them that hearing about Katie instead had sent him for such a shock he still wasn't quite sure he had read it correctly. But she'd be able to tell him everything when he saw her. Right? Surely she'd be able to. She may have been sent to St. Mungo's, but an accident at Hogwarts was always something fixable. Unless…unless it was caused by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? But no, of course not. Oliver shook his head and looked quickly out the window into the deepening afternoon sunlight. It happened at Hogwarts. Students were safe from him there.
"Here." Wesley shoved some clean Muggle clothes into Wood's arms and pointed him toward the bedroom so he could change.
It only took ten more minutes before he was rushing out the door. The air was crisp and cold, old snow piled up against the buildings. He paused for a moment to get his bearings and then quickly took off at a brisk pace toward the heart of the city and the hospital.
She's fine. She'll be sitting up and laughing like she always does. She's fine. These thoughts kept going through his mind as he lowered his head against the wind whipping through the streets. He hadn't heard that laugh in so long, and it felt like even longer since it had made his heart skip. He'd be able to hear it again soon.
Thankfully his friend lived near enough to St. Mungo's that it did not take long for him to arrive and he cautiously paused in front of the large glass windows of Purge and Dowse, Ltd., through which was the hospital.
Waiting until no one in the crowd would observe his sudden disappearance, he stepped up to the dilapidated mannequin behind the glass and said huskily through the uptake in the howling wind, "Here to see Katie Bell." After a moment, the dummie's finger beckoned him forward and, growing more anxious, he stepped through the glass and into the clean, bright atrium of St. Mungo's.
No one noticed him as he came fully into the waiting room. Even as a professional Quidditch player, few people recognized him without his robes on – and the chaos and noise inside made everything frantic as nurses hurried about to speak with patients and get everyone going to the right places. Rather than waste time trying to talk with an intake nurse, he slid past a man who had sprouted curving tusks and read the large directory on the wall. Fourth Floor - Spell Damage. Safe assumption that was where Katie would be, and he made his way to the stairs.
He saw her as soon as he pushed open the door to the ward, lying still and pale in a bed about halfway down. Her mother and father were sitting in chairs beside her, stricken.
Katie wasn't awake and laughing at all. She wasn't even conscious.
His heart constricted painfully in his chest. This wasn't what he had been expecting. Or rather, this is what he had been convincing himself could not have happened. What kind of mismanaged spell had caused this? Surely a student couldn't have…but then…
He opened his mouth to speak, but a strangled kind of gasp came out instead.
That was all it took for her parents to notice him and, not giving him a chance to feign coming to the wrong ward, Katie's mother stood from her chair and rushed to him with her arms wide, ready to take him into a tight embrace. "Oh, Oliver, how kind of you to come!"
Mrs. Bell released him gently and guided him to the bedside, though it took him a moment to realize that his feet did not want to move as the shock turned to horror. "What -" He had to pause for a moment, swallowing around the lump rising in his throat as he looked down at the young blonde woman, still as death, in front of him. She was one of his closest friends, she had been since her first year at Hogwarts. "What – did a student…?"
"No," Mr. Bell responded hoarsely from the other side of the bed, not looking up at him as he encased his daughter's motionless hand in his own. "No student did this. You-Know-Who was behind it."
Mrs. Bell touched Oliver's shoulder. He started, blinking back stinging tears as he turned his head briefly to glance at her before staring down at Katie again. "We don't know why, but we do know there was powerful Dark Magic behind the object she was given in Hogsmeade. It was not any kind of silly prank," she finished softly for her husband. "The healers have the necklace she touched and they should be able to put her right again."
Wood nodded silently.
"Harry Potter saved her," Mr. Bell added as an afterthought, his voice distant. "The Potter boy saved our precious girl."
"They're teammates. They're friends," Oliver agreed. "We all were. Are. I – I haven't had a chance to invite her to see a Puddlemere United game yet. I was going to get her season tickets as a gift when she finished her seventh year. Why haven't I done that yet?" It wasn't a question he expected anyone to answer, and he dug the heel of his hand into his eyes to prevent the tears from falling. The gesture was useless, however, and he quickly gave up.
Katie's mother pulled out her wand and gave it a quick flourish. A third chair appeared beside the bed. Using the tender forcefulness only a parent had, she took him by the shoulders and pushed him into it. "You stay here with us as long as you'd like. I know it would mean a lot to her."
He sank back numbly into the plush chair as Mrs. Bell went back to her own spot on the other side of the bed next to her husband to renew her vigil over her daughter. Katie's parents had known them as friends, good friends, and teammates for the years their paths overlapped at school, but he hadn't admitted to anyone, really, that he'd grown a soft spot for her during his sixth year. He hadn't even told Katie, too afraid to change the easy dynamic of their friendship. He thought the twins may have figured it out (they caught him, as they called it, gazing at her one night in the common room, though he fervidly denied it); nothing ever came of these progressing emotions, even if he had kept in constant contact with her after he'd left school. At one point he'd hoped that maybe, once she'd graduated, too, something might happen between them, but he had never pushed.
Sniffing quietly and hoping her parents didn't notice, he reached out and took her other hand, folding his warm, calloused fingers around her icy ones. Why didn't I say something before? he asked himself, his stomach beginning to ache. Why didn't I send her tickets for a summer reserve game? Why didn't I insist on seeing her more? She had wanted to come see me during upcoming winter holidays but practice…
What if it was too late?
The wizarding world was collapsing, despite what the Ministry was doing to all outward appearances to keep things afloat. People were dying – innocent, young people like Katie. And now Hogwarts was no longer safe from You-Know-Who's reaching grasp? If he could even touch those under Dumbledore's watch –
But no. As long as we have Dumbledore, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named will never win. He didn't win last time and he won't this time.
Oliver squeezed Katie's hand, now ignoring the few tears that continued to escape over his cheeks. He could no longer hide the fear that was bubbling over in his chest. Fear for Katie, fear for his family and friends, fear for himself – fear for everyone.