BOOK 7 SPOILERS: Oliver Wood loves Katie Bell...but during the battle for Hogwarts, does it matter? After the war is over, how hard will it be to move on?
Chapter 1: Unforgivable
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Not For Profit work. Harry Potter and related materials © J.K. Rowling.
If there was one thing Oliver Wood did not expect about becoming a soldier, it was how well his years of Quidditch would prepare him for it. It wasn't anything as menial as the physical conditioning; sure, he was stronger and faster than a good portion of the "army" defending Hogwarts by mere virtue of being an athlete. The rigors of training with a professional team who pushed him harder than he'd ever pushed the Gryffindors just added to it.
No, that wasn't it. Oliver may have been the consummate jock, but he was no fool.
He could see that everyone around him, from the Order of the Phoenix to the seventh-year students, easily compensated for their supposed lack of athleticism with their hearts and the sheer will to fight. Such was the strength of Harry Potter; the ability to inspire "mere" students to feel on top of the world against overwhelming odds. Such was the strength of finding something worth dying for; a purer motivation than being pushed forward by the threat of the Dark Lord using unforgivable curses as punishment.
The advantage Oliver had was far more subtle. It was like some mystical gift of Quidditch, no different than a charm to make one's muscles contract and relax faster than normal. Instead of a charm, it was simple discipline. Years balancing on a broom in such fierce competition gave him improved reflexes, and the time spent watching a whole field tracking ten things at once gave him a heightened sense of his surroundings. Indeed, the inability to perceive more than what was directly in front of their eyes was a weakness even many veteran wizards shared, if they'd never learned the value of situational awareness.
It already saved him from getting biffed by curses or hexes twice now. Curses that were less than half a second away from hitting him, that he'd barely, barely seen coming out of the corner of his eye, that he hadn't so much dodged as he'd simply moved away from, making the same kind of shifts in his weight as he would to handle his broom. It was faster like that, as opposed to hurling oneself as hard as possible in a direction. Much more precise, too; firing off a counterattack after a near miss was so much easier, and so much more effective, when he didn't have to regain his balance and stop flailing his arm to point his wand. The enemy was always lax when they watched dust explode from the wall, even if it was next to someone's face, it could take anyone a second to catch on that they'd missed.
Given what Death Eaters might do to someone disabled by their myriad of nasty spells, Oliver was pretty sure that his Quidditch-Sense had not only saved him from the particular spells shot at him, but had saved his life, as well. The next logical step from that was obvious; he was going to save as many lives as possible. There were two ways of doing that; backing up anyone who needed it, or advancing on Death Eaters and doing his part to thin their numbers.
Right now, Oliver was doing neither, and it made him more than a little annoyed. He could hear the sounds of battle reverberate through the cool night are and off the walls of Hogwarts, occasionally he could make out frantic incantations and the various sounds of spells streaking through the air. Frustrated, Oliver tried to figure out how, during such a huge battle, the vague echoes were the only indication he had that anything was wrong. How could he simply try to find the action and just fail miserably, reduced to treading the corridors like some useless...useless...
No, don't think about 'useless Squibs,' Oliver, you're not an 'effing Death Eater! Kate would be ashamed of you, thinking pureblood pride means a damn!
Oliver was already ashamed of himself for other things, though. Glancing back at the girl, the woman walking in step with him, he received nothing but a smile. He knew the smile was forced, that Katie was similarly adapted to stress like this from her own Quidditch playing and she was smiling to make herself feel better more than anything. Still, he appreciated the effort and smiled right back, thinking of the kiss they'd shared, not their first kiss but by far the best when the Death Eaters had raided the little wizard hostel on the outskirts of London.
Katie was on their list, being a Muggle-born and all. The Dark Lord's men had kicked the door in the Muggle way; the better to startle everyone inside. They'd fought back, Oliver no longer able to pretend that he could get away with thinking of Voldemort as having nothing to do with him and letting others handle the situation. They'd fought back, less than sixty seconds after he'd asked Katie to marry him.
And now they were fighting again, not as official members of the Order of the Phoenix, but it didn't really matter. Experiencing the new regime first-hand changed Oliver's opinion. Until then, he'd convinced Katie that they were better off staying safe and trying to go on with their lives, they could always go abroad if need be. It wasn't their fight; they were just Quidditch players who'd never really mattered much to Harry Potter when they were still at Hogwarts.
Not anymore. Not since he stopped kidding himself about how much obvious disappointment she'd felt about his cowardice. Not since Oliver truly believed that Voldemort was the wizarding equivalent to Muggle tyrants of old, the Russian and the mustached German from the last big Muggle wars he'd learned about years ago in class. He couldn't remember the names, he'd nearly failed Muggle Studies, but he didn't need to. "Voldemort" was bad enough.
The sound of his feet padding the grass and his robes moving around him were rhythmic, so much so that when Katie tugged on Oliver's shoulder to make him stop, it was the absence of these noises that brought him out of his thoughts more than the fact that he'd stopped walking. "Ollie...hear that?"
He glanced at her, straining his ears to pick up whatever it was that had eluded his notice but not hers. She completed him in that way, making up for his shortcomings with her strengths. It was no wonder he loved her so much. It was no wonder she was the one person in the world he wouldn't get seriously angry with for calling him "Ollie."
Such things didn't matter now. They mattered even less when Oliver realized what the sound was. His eyes widened, both at the realization that it was someone screaming, and at the fact that he couldn't quite put his finger on where it was coming from.
That, again, was another example of how awesome Katie was. She tugged on his arm, this time spurring him into motion. "C'mon, I think it's coming from this way."
She led him along the wall, hugging it instead of moving towards the fields and the hills therin. The Quidditch Pitch was the only thing of note away from the school, and there wasn't really much concealment between the two. The farther they dashed, the louder it became. Katie never said another word, but Oliver could tell before long that someone was being tortured.
The wall took a sharp right turn, and, nearing that, Oliver felt Katie tap him on the shoulder. Pausing just long enough to watch her gesture to the door they were passing as she ducked into the castle, mouthing "I'll go around," Oliver went right back into a run.
He stopped in his tracks as soon as he rounded the corner. The screaming was bad enough, but he'd barely heard it, he'd been so intent on getting there. The sight was much worse. This was not the front lines, and the Death Eaters weren't fighting for ground. They had won their ground, this little chunk of the castle. Now, they were making sure that the ones who had been trying to prevent that from happening knew it unquestionably.
There was already a corpse on the grass, a student wearing Hufflepuff colors, and from the random, undignified way she was laid out, it'd most certainly been a 'simple' killing curse. Oliver, in the time it took for the Death Eaters to notice he was there, realized that they were torturing Colin Creevey.
For just a few seconds, Oliver couldn't move. He'd seen Colin heading out, remembered McGonagall catching him when he tried to stay. How was this even possible? Oliver wondered if he'd fallen into an alternate universe.
There was no blood anywhere on Colin, no signs of particularly flashy magic, so it was obvious they were torturing him with the Cruciatus Curse. It was somehow worse, the way that spell was so /clean/. Pain was easier to deal with when it left signs.
The Death Eaters were typical for their ilk. "Well well, another little Gryffindor."
The one further back, his wand still pointed towards the floor at Colin, gave a sneer. "Looks a little old to still be in school...looks big and dumb, too."
Fuming, Oliver tightened his grip on his wand. He'd worn his old school robes out of pride, not to be mocked. He spared Colin a glance, and found a pair of eyes held in absolute terror staring back at him. It was obvious that Colin remembered who he was, and it made his silent plea all the more gut-wrenching. It was painful to look at, so Oliver looked at the Death Eaters instead. "Back off from the kid, y'bastards!"
"Ohhh," the closer Death Eater smiled. "The Hogwarts kid thinks he can beat us. The two of us," he said.
"You didn't think they were teaching you real dark arts, did you, kid?" The far one chuckled. His wand still pointed at Colin, he snarled, 'Crucio' and Colin screamed at the top of his lungs, thrashing so hard to get away that he rolled and banged his forehead off a stone in the ground, drawing blood.
Taking one anger-motivated step forward, Oliver stopped when both Death Eaters left Colin alone and pointed their wands at him. He knew they were right; he didn't trust that he could possibly take both of them down at once. Maybe it was an advantage that they thought he was a student, but not while they were staring at him. The Death Eater near Colin spoke again. "Get a clue. Like the Dark Lord would allow you fools to learn anything you can use against him."
"Let's wait for Crabbe," the first one said. "We'll take them both and make ourselves a hostage situation."
Oliver's eyebrows went up; he knew that name, mostly as a bully who simply ran with Draco Malfoy, and he only knew who they were because they'd bothered Harry so much when Oliver had been Harry's Quidditch captain. The father, he knew, was the textbook definition of Death Eater. The Death Eater who said Crabbe's name looked up enough for his face to show under the hood, and Oliver recognized him as Walden McNair. He wondered just how many of these crazies had been let loose from Azkaban. Probably all of them.
Unnoticed by the Death Eaters who were here right /now/, Colin looked behind them and it brought Oliver's attention to the same place; Katie had come from the other side of the wall's next corner, Oliver thinking it likely that she'd jumped out of a classroom window somewhere.
Much like he didn't really know the Death Eaters beyond their infamy in the news, Oliver never really knew Colin Creevey. The kid was simply years behind him in class, and that was the way things worked. He remembered how tiny Colin used to be; it was hard to miss during that whole fiasco with the Basilisk. Now a sixth year, Colin was still small and frail-looking for his age. He was also far more courageous.
The Death Eater who'd been torturing him learned this when Colin rolled halfway around and, right from the ground, kicked him square in the knee. It was a solid kick from up close, to the front, and the Death Eater had been standing with his legs straight. If Colin were stronger, he might've broken it.
It was enough. Crying out, the Death Eater stumbled backwards and didn't even see the red flash from Katie's wand zoom by his face, hitting McNair in the back. Instantly raising his wand, Oliver aimed for the further Death Eater; he was now spinning around, attempting to counter attack. He figured Katie must've hoped for that, stunning the far target and getting the other to forget Oliver was there.
He didn't go for a stun spell, though. The Death Eater was much too close to Katie, and it didn't even register that she had taken the risk of hitting him by pegging McNair when he'd been close. It was just an automatic thought, motivation to protect her from anything, at any cost, even if it wasn't a well-thought-out idea.
It didn't matter much; Oliver's charm was equally effective. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world to do on someone who wasn't unconscious, but he was determined. "Mobilicorpus!"
During the split-second the Death Eater realized he'd been plucked off of his feet and cried out, right before he tried to put up a fight, Oliver swiped his wand hard to the side, throwing the hooded man straight into the wall. A gentler swing in the other direction landed the man back-first onto the grass, with just enough impact to keep him disoriented and down.
Colin looked relieved beyond belief. Oliver watched Katie, a big dumb grin on his face after she gave him a wink before kneeling down to tend to Colin. Their fellow Gryffindor could barely make it to his feet on his own, and he was most certainly traumatized; he grabbed Katie in what would be a bear hug in any other situation. Even Oliver could tell he desperately needed an anchor to reality after the pain he'd just been through.
In truth, Oliver was glad she'd been the closer one to Colin; she was better at being comforting than he was, and he could see the proof. "It's okay, it's okay, they won't hurt you anymore..."
Suddenly, Colin wrenched away from her, as if she was carrying the plague. But it didn't have anything to do her; he'd seen the man rounding the corner in the black robes, a split second before Oliver did. Oliver wondered where the reflexes he had been thinking about not long ago had gone, because his wand was like a lead weight as he tried to bring it up.
Reality just ceased to exist. He heard nothing, not the incantation from the Death Eater's moving lips nor the crack of the curse leaving his wand. Oliver saw the green flash of light, not the core of it but the ambient green flowing out from behind Katie as it hit her in the back. There was no denying what had just happened, no denying the look on her face as she, perhaps, realized what happened with her last thought.
There was no denying it, but Oliver couldn't believe it, he couldn't believe that literally five seconds ago, his fiancé had been alive and snarky and everything she did made his heart flutter. He couldn't believe that in the time it took him to blink, she was falling to the floor and dead.
But it was true.
The shock paralyzed him. Seeing the face under the hood, Oliver was instantly shaken from grief and into fear as he recognized Crabbe. He'd never so much as seen a picture of the man, but as soon as Oliver saw him, he instantly remembered every occasion he'd seen Draco Malfoy harass Harry with this man's son at his side. The resemblance was substantial.
None of this thinking helped Oliver, though. His eyes went right back to Katie as she hit the floor, as if the whole thing had taken much longer than a handful of seconds. He heard Crabbe now, and he heard the incantation, but he'd delayed too long. Katie's fallen form simply wouldn't let him go, and by the time he realized that Crabbe was going to murder him as well, the curse was on its way.
Colin's scream woke Oliver up from his stupor, and Oliver never would've expected what happened next, not in a million years. Colin Creevey, the skinniest, most cowardly-looking wizard Oliver had ever seen, proved that he was no coward at all. He proved it far beyond sneaking back into the castle.
Colin dived between them and took the killing curse meant for Oliver.
That was enough. Colin falling lifeless to the cold floor the same way Katie did was enough to finally make Oliver move. The other two Death Eaters had pulled themselves up, and Oliver found a pair of stunning spells hurled at him. Throwing his weight forward, he landed hard on his knees, but the brief pain never entered his mind. His free hand automatically snatching Katie's fallen wand, he stared straight ahead, both of them standing at the corners of his vision.
Both wands perfectly on target, he yelled, "Stupefy!"
Again hit with stunners, the Death Eaters fell harder than last time. Seeing Crabbe take aim, Oliver aimed both wands at his as best he could and went for a disarm before Crabbe could cast anything. It was pure instinct, making that incantation instead of shouting "stupefy" again. Oliver hadn't yet had time to feel pain and rage at what just happened, it was almost like his mind was acknowledging that it would come. On some level, he knew he wanted Crabbe to be conscious and standing.
One of his attempts at disarming Crabbe missed; the other sent his wand clear to the floor and way out of reach. Pushing himself up, Oliver took a shaky step forward, acutely aware of Katie lying right next to his foot. He tried as hard as he could to pretend everything was fine, because he knew he would break down otherwise, right here. In front of Crabbe, that would be fatal. Not gone, she ain't gone, she ain't gone, I'm going to turn around and see her standing up, she ain't gone...
Keeping his own wand leveled at Crabbe's sternum, Oliver couldn't stop shaking. Despite his best efforts otherwise, he couldn't stop the tears from running down his face, either. Katie's wand fell from his other hand, soundless as it landed on the lawn. "Why? Why?"
For a moment, Crabbe regarded him as though he had grown an extra head. He laughed. "You're asking me why I kill the enemy? Are you kidding?"
There was no answer Oliver could think of, no retort he could possibly make that would right things. Katie had been killed for no better reason than satisfying the fanaticism of a solitary man. Voldemort was a man, regardless of what he'd turned himself into. He was a man whom others would follow, and that made him so much more disgusting than if he really was as supernatural as he liked everyone to think.
Katie and Colin were gone in an instant because Voldemort was nothing more than a man who could inspire others into killing people, without any problem.
"Hey, is anyone over here?"
The footsteps came after the voice, more than one person running towards them from behind Oliver. He didn't think, he let it distract him, turning to see who it was, not even realizing his wand was drifting off-target.
He heard the noise that Crabbe's knife made when it left its sheath, and he turned back just in time to see the Death Eater throw it at his face. Bludgers moved faster, though. Throwing one foot behind the other, Oliver let his upper body twist after his legs and spun around, moving to the side as the knife broke the air he used to be standing in. Making one full revolution, Oliver raised his wand one more time as he came to a stop.
There was never a question in his mind about what he was going to do, no moral hang-ups. It was as natural as opening an umbrella in the rain. "Avada Kedavra!"
And that was it. Oliver jumped a tiny, tiny bit when Crabbe hit the floor, his wand falling from his hand and rolling next to Katie's in a strangely appropriate way.
There was no distraction anymore, no way of denying that Katie was gone. Turning to look down at her, Oliver went from shaking and crying to heaving his breaths out and sobbing uncontrollably. He fell to his knees next to her, one hand determined to scoop up her wand once more before anything else. Once it was safely tucked inside Oliver's inside pocket, he clamped both hands around one of hers. She was still warm, with no indication of her death except death itself.
For the first time in his entire twenty years of life, Oliver Wood truly appreciated magic. Wasn't the point of magic to do the impossible, to bring into existence things that didn't exist anywhere, to dictate the terms of reality? What in all the world could demonstrate that idea more than bypassing the protection flesh and bone were supposed to give against death, and simply turn life off the way one flicked off a light switch?
It certainly worked, and it reduced Oliver to a broken man, burying his head into the crook of Katie's neck. He pulled one hand off of hers and ran his fingers through her hair, as if he expected some sort of difference, but there was none. Maybe that would've made it easier to accept. They could've been out in the park near her parents' house on a warm Summer day.
"Oliver? Oli...oh, no..."
When Neville was finally close enough to see what was going on, Oliver almost didn't hear him. Try as he might, he couldn't quite block reality out all the way. He heard Neville say his name more than once felt a nervous hand on his shoulder, as if Neville were afraid he would get hit.
Oliver thought that was humorous. The idea went through his mind acutely, through the anguish he was going through, and he almost chuckled. He was on his side, curled up with his dead fiancé, crying so hard he couldn't see. What was he going to do? "She's not...she's not...I can't just...she might just get better if I don't leave, she might...r-right?" Kate, c'mon girl, c'mon, say something, please, please...
It wasn't anything close to a fair situation for Neville, but then again, he'd been through more than his share of that lately. It made him more pragmatic than many of the adults he knew. "Oliver...Oliver, you have to get up, if more of them come by here..."
The sound of Neville's voice, battle-weary as it was, did not motivate Oliver. The disembodied voice that soon followed, however, got his attention.
"You have fought valiantly. Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery."
Instantly, he knew it was Voldemort, talking in the third person. Oliver stopped crying and looked up. It took his body longer to catch up with his state of mind, and it was awhile before he wasn't shaking at all.
"Yet you have sustained heavy losses. If you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste. Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat immediately. You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured."
It was the mother of internal struggle, as Oliver's emotions couldn't figure out if they wanted to continue trying (and failing) to cope with the loss, or to burn with righteous indignation. The timing seemed like it just had to have been intentional, that Voldemort had somehow seen Katie Bell's death, somehow cared enough about Oliver Wood to call the Death Eaters away less than two minutes after she'd been killed.
Try as he might, however, Oliver just couldn't manage "righteous indignation," even when Katie's wand seemed to burn warm against his chest.
"I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour."
Standing awkwardly, Oliver looked out towards the lake. True to Voldemort's word, one would hardly believe there'd been a battle with the calm suddenly settled. The air was quiet, the sounds of battle no more.
Startled, Oliver realized he'd forgotten Neville was around. He wondered if he ever noticed him in the first place, and he thought Neville must've said his name to figure out if he was at all on Earth right now. A part of him wasn't, a part of Oliver was thinking No, no, it's not real, Merlin help me, it's not real, and expecting Katie to get up any second. The other part of him realized Neville was standing there hoping that his house's old Quidditch captain hadn't gone completely off the deep end.
Being somewhat distracted, Oliver was slow to turn and actually look at Neville. Once he'd accomplished that, he was totally at a loss about what to say. He wished he could think of something, anything to do. Unfortunately, war wasn't a Quidditch game, and he hadn't the foggiest idea about how to take their smaller, ever-dwindling numbers and turn the tide against the Death Eaters. It was a painful realization, because he didn't want to die here, he didn't want to die and let Katie go unremembered in a pointless death.
Oliver wasn't ever one to think that any given disaster would be the one that would reveal Harry Potter as the coward some always claimed him to be, but right now, it didn't help. Even if Harry was marching into the forest right now, there was nothing he could do to change anything. Except, ironically, exactly what the Dark Lord had told them to do with their hour. Thinking this, Oliver finally answered Neville. "We should, um," he looked down at Katie again, fully intending to say her name. "Let's...let's take Colin inside?"
It sounded like a question or a suggestion, but Neville didn't give him grief. Getting a nod from Neville, Oliver gently picked up Colin's lifeless form by the shoulders and started walking backward as soon as Neville had the poor kid's feet.
It was a silent walk, and during the first half of it, Oliver regretted taking Colin's shoulders. He wanted to spare Neville, as if it was any worse than carrying the legs and having a clear view of Colin's lifeless face. It was small comfort, as he could see Katie on the ground as he went on, still lifeless and still unmoving, right along with that poor Hufflepuff girl they hadn't been in time to save.
Knowing that Katie would probably tell him to save her for last just because she was the type to put others before herself, Oliver couldn't deny that his reasons for not taking her for anything close to noble. He knew, he actually thought of the idea, that if he saved her for last he could spent the time in-between pretending she was still alive. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry...
A corner in the wall eventually came, and soon after that, gate into the Great Hall. It was a frightening sight, the wounded being aided to one of the tables by anyone who could help them. There were dead in here too, the ones that no one had yet had time to come get and put somewhere more dignified. Glancing over his shoulder, Oliver saw a gathering of people with red hair and realized he didn't want to get closer. If the Weasleys had lost someone, he wasn't sure he could handle it tacked on to everything else.
Stopping dead in his tracks, Oliver looked at Neville as the younger man shot him a look of confusion. He wondered if Neville would.../No, don't ask him that, you bastard.../Because he really, really didn't want to deal with going back to Katie now that he'd left, only to find her still dead.../I'm sorry, Kate...I just can't, I can't deal with you being gone, why can't you come back, don't make me carry you in here.../
"You know what, I can manage him along, Neville."
That was the compromise his conscience forced on him...if Neville thought of it, perhaps realized it would be doing Oliver a dark kind of mercy, he might bring Katie in for him. Maybe Neville wouldn't realize that at all and figure that Oliver wanted him to leave her.
Heaving Colin onto his back, feeling the warmth from Katie's wand in his pocket seemingly turn into cold, Oliver Wood was ashamed to admit that he didn't know what he hoped for more.