Chapter 7 : Silver Linings
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This is madness.
Really, I should turn around, right now, go back up to the castle, and tell Eve that I'm not coaching her.
To do so would be like me willingly eating brussel sprouts, for no personal gain whatsoever.
FYI - I hate brussel sprouts.
But at least it's a nice day.
See? I can be optimistic in times of crisis. My life isn't all shit.
No, I mean, Rose is now talking to me again. I got an Exceeds Expectation on my Potions essay. Although, Cameron still walks around looking like he's gone into cardiac arrest, ever since he found out that Lexie likes him.
Honestly, at the rate he's going, I'll be dead by Christmas. Lexie's bound to find out sooner or later.
No, I must think happy thoughts.
Raindrops on Roses, and whiskers on kittens…
No! Not those kinds of happy thoughts!
And who thinks happy thoughts about brown paper packages tied up with string?
Just putting that out there…
Let's see…happy thoughts…happy thoughts.
Aha! Ray has finally spoken directly to Albus!
He did look like he might have a stroke, but I've told him baby steps is key.
It's been over a week and James hasn't yelled or glared at me once!
I think that's a reason to celebrate, honestly.
Even the Gryffindor house seems to have cooled off, ever since Rose has begun to talk to me.
Most of them still give me the cold shoulder, but no one's yelled any insults my way so far.
Overall, today is a good day.
And I'm ruining it by coaching the girl who took my spot on the quidditch team.
Not that I care, I mean, I'm bloody thankful to be shot of it.
Still she took my spot, and by the laws of physics that means that I must immediately dislike her with a passion.
"Hello!" comes a sing-song voice from behind me.
I swivel around. Eve is approaching me, her long, honey blonde hair blowing gracefully in the wind. Her face is cheerful and smiling.
Ugh, I wish it wasn't so difficult to dislike her.
"Hi!" I exclaim back, just as cheerily.
Her happiness is infectious. Don't judge.
We're standing at the edge of the pitch, which is completely empty. At least no one will be here to witness my failure.
See? There's a silver lining for everything.
There's an awkward pause. Eve looks at me expectantly.
Oh right. I'm supposed to be teaching her.
"So," I pause, "Shall we warm up?"
She nods eagerly and kicks off.
I reluctantly swing my leg over the broom and shoot off into the sky.
It's been over three weeks since I've even touched a broom so it takes a while for me to regain my balance and I feel that familiar feeling of nausea mixed with terror rising in me.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Eve looking at me doubtfully. I don't blame her. If my teacher were wobbling about on her broom like me, I'd be worried too.
However, as soon as I approach her in mid air she's smiling reassuringly again.
"It's been a while since…" I trail off hopelessly.
She smiles again, "It's OK! I get it."
Damn, I really wish this girl wasn't so hard to hate.
Why isn't she a blonde ditz? Why can't I make fun of her? This is exceedingly irritating.
"So," I say uneasily, wobbling about on my broom, "Shall we…"
I have to trail off as the first wave of nausea sweeps over me. I haven't realized how high up we are.
"Warm up?" Eve finishes for me.
"Yeah, that," I gasp.
"Are you feeling OK?" she asks, "Shall we do this another time?"
Yeah, how about never?
"No!" I cry out immediately, "Really, I'm fine."
She doesn't look convinced, but she nods anyway.
I shake myself. Don't think about how high up you are, Stella. Don't think about how easily you could slip off your broom. Don't think about how easily you could plummet to your death.
Happy thoughts, Stella. Happy thoughts.
There is a silver lining in this…somewhere.
"I'll go and get the quaffle," she offers, speeding quickly towards the ground.
While she's gone I take a moment to get a grip.
I can do this. I can bloody do this.
When she comes back, quaffle in hand, I feel more confident.
"Okay," I say decisively, "Let's start with a few passes."
She nods and immediately throws the quaffle in my direction. I reluctantly lift my hands off the broom handle and catch it.
I throw it back, and feel another lurch in my stomach. But I shake myself again. Stella Wood is no coward. She can handle a bloody quaffle.
Eve catches it, but only just, flinching slightly as it comes in contact with her fingers.
She throws it back and relaxes, but as soon as I throw it back she becomes instantly tense, and she almost drops it.
After a few passes I immediately notice what her problem is.
She's scared of the ball.
I almost laugh because it sounds ridiculous. A keeper who's scared of the quaffle? Really?
But then again, so does a keeper who's scared of flying, so I decide not to give her any grief.
"Why did you try out as keeper?" I ask her, throwing it gently towards her.
She catches it.
"I love quidditch," she says, "I would take any spot on the team that was open."
Yeah, my spot, I think bitterly.
"Why do you like it?" I asked, as I catch it and throw it back.
She catches it more easily this time, because she's focused on something else.
"I love the speed," she says, "The pumping adrenaline that runs through you."
It's called nausea. Get it right.
I nod, "Do you have any brothers and sisters?"
"Two," she answers, "But they're both muggles. I'm muggle born."
"Really?" I ask, with interest, "And do your parents like you playing quidditch?"
"They think it's dangerous," she admits, "They don't like that I'm on the team now."
Neither will my parents.
"And you don't think it's dangerous?" I ask.
She shakes her head, "Nothing worth having came without risk."
I catch the ball and pause, those words ringing in my head.
I feel like I'm going to be sick, wave upon wave of nausea running over me. I shudder, but I push the feeling away.
"Okay," I say, feeling as if I might pass out from terror if I have to catch another ball, "I'm going to throw this ball really, really hard at your face, and you have to catch it."
I immediately see the flash of fear that passes across her face.
"O-OK," she stammers nervously.
"Don't be scared of the ball," I tell her.
She opens her mouth to tell me she's not, but I raise an eyebrow and she hangs her head in embarrassment.
"It's so stupid," she mutters, "I'm a keeper, and I'm scared of the ball."
"It's not stupid," I tell her, "And all you need to do is relax."
"But I can't!" she cries.
"Really?" I ask, "Have you even thought about how scary the ball is while we've been talking?"
She pauses, and a broad grin spreads across her face.
"No," she answers breathlessly, "I didn't think about it at all actually!"
"Okay," I grin back at her, "So when I throw this ball I want you to think about someone. It can be anyone. Think about something. Happy thoughts in general will do."
She nods. I lean back and launch the ball hard towards her head. I pretend that her head is James'.
It helps. A lot.
The ball rushes, hard and fast towards Eve. She remains completely still, before she throws herself towards it and grabs it in her outstretched hands. I feel nauseous all over again.
Eve sits back happily on her broom, looking very proud of herself.
"Wow," she mutters, "You throw really hard."
I must have a lot of pent up anger towards James.
Rose's words flash across my brain.
I saw the way you were yelling at him this morning. There's definitely something else there.
"WOOD! WHAT IN THE NAME OF MERLIN ARE YOU DOING ON MY PITCH?"
Ah, speak of the devil.
We look down immediately to see James, who is looking up at me furiously.
"We were just practicing, James! Stella's helping me for our first match," Eve calls out in my defense.
"I don't care if she's training you for the quidditch world cup, I told her not to come onto my pitch!"
I want to yell out a retort, but the feeling that I'm going to be sick is too strong. I fly down to the ground, unable to spend another second in the air.
Eve follows, yelling after me, "No! Stella! Wait!"
I get off the broom and clutching my stomach I stumble across the pitch.
James frowns at me.
"What's wrong with you Wood?" he asks.
Eve comes racing after me, "Stella was just helping me to get better at keeping!" she cries indignantly.
"Yeah, so she could spy on us and get our tactics," James hisses, "Why would you agree to that?"
If I wasn't about to be doubled over, I would punch him in the face.
"I asked her," Eve snaps, "She's doing it as a favour to me."
There's a tense silence.
James looks at me, looking embarrassed.
"Is that true?" he asks.
I look at him once in the eye.
Then I feel a lurch in my stomach and I'm sick.
All over his shoes.
. . .
Okay, it's becoming really hard to think of happy thoughts right now.
* * *
"This is ridiculous," I mutter as James leads me into the hospital wing.
"Don't be an idiot, for once," he snaps, "I'm not just going to let you go off when you're clearly sick."
I pause. Does he actually care whether I live or die then?
"I wouldn't just let my keeper be sick, and not let her see Madame…" he trails off.
I glare at him.
"I'm not your keeper, remember?" I hiss, "You've got no right-"
"There are still traces of vomit on my shoes, Wood," he reminds me, "I'd recommend you stay quiet."
That shuts me up. To be honest I'm not sure if I've ever felt more humiliated.
James sits me down on a bed and lets go of my elbow. Shame.
"Wait here," he commands, "I'm going to find Madame Pomfrey."
He comes back a minute later, a concerned looking Madame Pomfrey in tow.
"She threw up," he explains.
"I see," Madame Pomfrey says, "How much have you had to eat?"
Oh, Madame Pomfrey, you don't want to know.
This morning there were muffins for breakfast. Let's just say I got very excited.
"A regular amount," I lie, "I mean, I had breakfast."
"And why did you start feeling nauseous?"
Because I'm the most unfortunate person on the planet.
"Because I was playing quidditch."
"I see," Madame Pomfrey murmurs, writing something down on a clipboard, "And do you usually suffer from motion sickness?"
"Yes," I mutter reluctantly, "When I'm on a broom."
"Well, perhaps it's a good thing that you're no longer on the team, Miss Wood," she says kindly, but I still want to hit her for saying that. Potter must be having a field day.
"I'm just going to get you a potion that will take away that faint feeling," she says.
As soon as she leaves, I turn to James, "Look, I'm fine now. You can g-"
"I didn't realize it was this bad," he cuts me off.
"What are talking about?" I ask irritatedly, "I'm fine now."
"No," he continues, "I mean, I didn't realize that…that every time you fly you feel like throwing up."
I lower my head in shame, preparing for another wave of verbal abuse.
"You…you should have said something," he mutters, sitting down on the bed beside me.
My breath catches in my throat. Partly because he's inches away from me, but also because what he's saying could actually be deemed a decent thing to say.
I open my mouth, unsure of what I'm going to say, but Eve bursts into the hospital wing before I can say anything.
"Are you alright?" she asks me, thrusting a glass of water towards me, "I got this for you."
"Thanks," I reply, lifting the glass to my lips. It immediately makes my head stop spinning, but my stomach just feels empty, "I'm fine."
"I'm so sorry," she gushes, "If I'd have known you were this unwell I would never-"
"It's OK, Eve," I murmur, "I'm fine."
Or I would be fine if James would stop sitting so close to me. It's not good for my respiratory skills. I seem to have stopped breathing.
Thankfully he gets up as Madame Pomfrey comes towards us.
She hands me a potion. "Drink up," she smiles.
I drink willingly, and immediately the faint feeling of an empty stomach disappears. Warmth spreads over my whole body. I can feel blood rushing to my face again.
"I want you to rest here for an hour or so, then you can leave," Madame Pomfrey says, then she leaves.
"Well, I'd better go and tell Albus," James sighs, turning for the door.
"Why?" I ask him without thinking.
He frowns at me, "He'll want to know if his girlfriend is in the hospital wing."
Oh. Fuck. I keep forgetting about that.
James leaves and there is a tense pause.
"So," Eve sighs, "Are you feeling any better?"
"Yes," I answer.
"I think he was completely out of line back there," Eve says, "I mean, who made him king of the quidditch pitch?"
I silently agreed, yet felt compelled to defend him, "He as good as apologized."
"Maybe you should be giving me lessons on how to deal with James Potter as a captain, rather than lessons on how to catch the ball," she chuckles.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
It's like the fates are laughing at me.
The hospital wing door bursts open and in walks Fred, looking his usual, happy self.
"Stella!" he cries, "Heard you were having trouble keeping your breakfast down!"
I groan and fall back onto my pillow.
"Oh, Stella!" he puts a hand on his heart, "I'm hurt! Don't you want to see me?"
"No!" I moan into my pillow.
"Well in the meantime I think I'll just make myself comfortable," Fred grins, putting his feet up on the end of my bed.
"She's been really sick!" Eve cries out, "Show some compassion!"
Fred raises an eyebrow, but his deliriously happy smile remains plastered on his face.
"I will when you will, gorgeous," he winks.
She looks extremely offended.
"That doesn't even make sense," I groan under my breath. Neither of them acknowledge me.
"Who do you think you are?" Eve utters angrily, facing him and glaring him down.
Fred seems unfazed by her aggression towards him. Of course he's not. It's Fred. He lives in a world of happy thoughts and silver linings.
"I'll be whoever you need me to be, love," his grin broadens.
Eve lets out a sigh of frustration and looks at me as though I have an explanation for Fred's revolting optimism.
"His spirit can't be broken," I shrug, "He's programmed to be cheerful about everything."
"Doesn't that get annoying?" she whispers to me.
"You have no idea," I groan, falling back onto my pillow.
"Hey, you could have a worst guest," Fred shrugs, "You could have Cam-"
As if on queue, Cameron comes bursting in, bright red in the face and looking panicked.
"Artois! I can't do it anymore! I won't do it anymore! I won't just sit around and pretend as though I don't know about Lexie!"
I grab the other pillow and attempt to smother myself with it, but Eve wrestles it off me.
"Ooh!" Fred exclaims keenly, always desperate to be in on a secret, "What about Lexie?"
"Don't any of you care that Stella's been very ill?" Eve cries at both of them.
Her defending me feels nice enough, but at this moment in time it's unhelpful. At this moment in time the last thing I want is more attention. Not while I'm in muddy quidditch robes and my face is green.
Cameron looks at Eve briefly. But he ignores her and looks back to me pleadingly.
"I've been holding this in for too long," he whines, "I have to say something!"
"You've known for two days, you spineless moron," I retort impatiently.
"Known what? Known what?" Fred asks eagerly, bouncing up and down on his seat like an excited puppy.
"None of your business," I snap.
Cameron ignores us, "Please Artois!"
"NO!" I cry.
"What about Lexie?" Fred implores, "I won't tell, I swear!"
"Leave her be! She needs to relax!" Eve cries.
"Come on Artois, I can't take this anymore!"
"Can't take what anymore?"
"I'm going to get Madame Pomfrey!"
"What about Lexie? Just tell me Stella, please?"
"I can't pretend anymore!"
"SHUT IT!" I roar.
Silence falls immediately over them.
Fred and Cameron exchange nervous glances.
"So you won't tell me, even just a little bit?" Fred whines.
I throw my pillow at him.
"Okay, Okay!" Fred raises his hands in surrender, "I'll just go and ask Lexie what's going on."
"NO!" I exclaim loudly.
"Then tell me."
"No, Fred you're being annoying."
"For once I agree," Cameron adds.
"Fine," Fred sighs, "I guess I'll just go then."
"Ok," I say cheerfully, waving him goodbye.
"I'll just let you two talk about a secret that you don't trust me with."
"Great, thanks," Cameron says.
"Even though I'm your friend. And I've always told you my secrets."
"Yep," I agree.
"I even told you about-"
"Goodbye Freddie," I wave him goodbye again.
He hangs his head, "Fine."
He sulks out, looking thoroughly betrayed. I lean back on my pillow, thankful that I may have finally broken Fred's spirit.
"So anyway," Cameron continues, "I can't hold it in anymore."
"Why not?" I ask exasperatedly.
"Because," he whines.
"Cameron," I utter in a low tone, as I spot Eve coming back with Madame Pomfrey, "If you don't grow some balls and pretend like you know nothing, I will make sure that every girl on school grounds knows about your…problem."
Cameron looks confused, "What problem?"
I furrow my eyebrows and whisper back, "I haven't thought of one yet. But when I do, trust me it'll be monstrous."
He looks terrified at this prospect, and almost runs out of the hospital wing.
As Eve and Madame Pomfrey approach I put a broad smile on my face, hoping she'll let me go early.
"Why are you smiling like that?" Madame Pomfrey asks, "Are you feeling delirious? Maybe I should keep you overnight!"
"No!" I cry, dropping the smile immediately, "Seriously, no, thanks, I'm good."
She narrows her eyes in suspicion before handing me another tonic, "Take a sip of this every fifteen minutes or so."
I take it from her. Eve sits down beside me as Madame Pomfrey leaves.
"So thank goodness those idiots have left," she chuckles.
Yeah, thank goodness. Thank goodness that I'm stuck here in the hospital wing, forced to talk to a girl THAT I'M SUPPOSED TO HATE.
"Maybe we won't play quidditch for a while," she says comfortingly.
"Ok," I mutter.
She suddenly narrowed her eyebrows at me, "How long have you fancied James?"
I swear to Merlin, I'm a good person. I'm fake dating my friend so that he can meet the girl of his dreams. I didn't tell my parents about the one time I caught my brother smoking cigarettes. I don't deserve this!
I open my mouth. Then I close it. Then I open it again.
"A while," I finally admit.
She flicks that beautiful, blonde hair out of her face and smiles at me, "I don't mean to pry. It is obvious though."
"Great," I mutter.
Mother Earth please swallow me. Right now would be great.
She stretches out a hand and touches mine comfortingly. It only makes me want to hurl some more.
"Trust me, I've been there," she sighs, "Hot older bloke crush."
"He's not that much older," I retort, "Only by nine months! And I don't just fancy him because he's fit."
I had to say that, because I don't want Eve to think I'm shallow. She leans back and folds her arms, frowning quizzically, "Oh so you fancy him because of his other redeeming qualities? Such as…"
She drifts off and leaves the space open for me to fill.
I roll my eyes, "Well off the top of my head…"
I can't answer! Wow, maybe James really is that much of an arse.
"Face it, you don't like him very much," Eve sighs, "It's not a crime to think James is fit, and still abhor his personality."
"No, I'm pretty sure it just makes me shallow," I moan, dumping my head back onto my pillow.
"Nah," Eve smiles, "It just makes you human."
My heart suddenly drops like a stone, "You won't tell him, right?"
Eve throws back her head and laughs, "What d'you take me for? Of course I won't!"
I breathe a sigh of relief, but Eve stops laughing and suddenly looks serious, "As long as you won't tell about…you know, how I'm scared of the quaffle."
I nod, "I won't."
She nods back and there's a kind of silent agreement that forms between us.
Bloody hell I actually like this girl. She's sweet and caring, and did I mention nice? Merlin she is making this really hard for me!
"I don't know why James is so mean to you," she pauses to look at me, "You clearly don't deserve it. I mean, you're so nice!"
I manage to flash a small smile at her to show my appreciation, but all I can think is that I don't know why either.
* * *
After an hour of sitting in the hospital wing Madame Pomfrey finally lets me go free.
I walk down the corridor towards Charms when Albus catches up with me.
"Heard you had a little accident," he chuckles.
I reply with a quick shove into his arm.
"Ooh, touchy," he laughs, "But people are starting to stare."
I glance about us and I notice that several people are pointing and staring. Oh right. I'm supposed to be dating Albus, not hitting him.
I awkwardly lace my hand with his and we continue along the corridor.
"So what actually happened?" Albus asks me.
"I was coaching Eve, and I got nauseous," I answer.
"Wait?" Albus splutters, "Eve? As in Eve Collins? The girl who replaced you?"
"Shut up," I mutter, "I know. It was a stupid idea."
"Actually I was thinking it was kind of genius," Albus says.
I frown at him, "What do you mean?"
"I mean, you can find out all kinds of stuff about her!" he answers, "And then you can use it against her!"
"For what purpose?"
"To get back onto the team!" he exclaims.
"I'm fine not being on the team," I scoff, "It honestly doesn't matter to me."
Albus raised an eyebrow, "Please. I'm no fool. The fact that you even attempted to coach her shows that you miss quidditch more than you want to admit."
"You see right through my transparent soul," I snort, "Come on Albus, don't be ridiculous."
"You're telling me that if you had the chance to go back you wouldn't take it?" he asks me, eyebrows raised as though he doesn't believe me at all.
"If you had the chance to go back to what?" came a voice from behind us.
I recognize the voice immediately. Albus withdraws his hand from mine and we both turn around to face James. The first thing that strikes me was that his typical smirk isn't in place. In fact, he shows no sign of arrogance on his face at all.
"I'll see you in charms," Albus murmurs to me, leaving us alone.
What? No! Why is he leaving me here alone with him? TREACHERY!!
I look helplessly after him as he goes into the Charms class, and eventually have to turn back to James, who still has that unnerving look on his face.
He avoids my eye.
"What do you want Potter?" I sigh.
He clears his throat once before forcing himself to look at me. I have never seen him so uncollected.
"Albus told me everything, Wood," he answers.
"Everything?" I ask.
My heart stopped. Surely Albus would never tell him the full truth?
"How you're dating him to help him with Rain Mitchell," he elaborates.
I let out a sigh of relief, "And he didn't tell you anything else?"
"No," he frowns, "Why?"
"Never mind," I mutter.
"Anyway, I guess I owe you an apology."
I instinctively reach up to the skin on my arm and pinch it. It hurts. A lot.
So I'm not dreaming. Am I hallucinating? Because there is no way that James Potter is acknowledging that he's actually done something wrong in the real world.
I'm in too much shock to make any sort of comment so he continues, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have judged you. I guess what you're doing for him is nice."
I nod awkwardly.
"Is that it?" I ask.
"Yes," he replies, "I'm sorry."
It's forced, too forced. He shrugs his shoulders and looks instantly more relaxed, like he's done what he'd come to do and now that he has he's bored.
Oh, to be young and in love with an arsehole.
Even though I can tell that he's genuinely sorry, it just doesn't feel like it's enough. After four years of both hating him and loving him with such intensity, this doesn't feel like a decent climax.
I still want to scream at him. I want to scream about how much I love him, how long I've loved him for, and why hasn't he bloody done anything about that? I just can't help being in love with him. Rose had said only the other day that maybe it wasn't love, maybe it was just a crush.
But the way that this apology hurts, the way it didn't make anything better, it only made me feel sick to my stomach, I could tell that this was proper, heart-breaking, completely unrequited love. And I still hated him for that. The apology didn't change a thing.
"I'm sorry," he repeats. I can tell that his words are genuine. There is real regret in his voice, it sounds hoarse and dry.
I can feel tears pricking in my eyes and I immediately lift my hand to brush them away. I can't even look at him in the eye, so I stare at his shoes.
He's completely frozen. The silence that passes seems to go on forever.
"Go to hell," I utter, before turning my back on him and opening the door to Charms.
I feel almost triumphant, as though the spell has been broken and tomorrow I'll wake up miraculously not in love with him. And yet, at the same time, I know that this hasn't changed a thing, and I'll be as hopeless as I've always been.
I'm still looking for the silver lining.
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