Penelope went about the remainder of QUISPS with the certainty that the ten Galleons were as good as hers. Even when the relative calm of the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff session had melted into the not-so-calm Ravenclaw-Slytherin session, Penelope made sure to strut about Percy with the most posh attitude she could muster. Admittedly, she didn’t want to over-do it. After all, they were dating, and it would do no good to make Percy so angered that he’d once again prefer Oliver’s company to hers. Not that Oliver would co-operate much; he appeared to have eyes only for Cedric who, in turn, seemed woefully oblivious to this fact.
Penelope’s confidence, however, began to waiver once the fall term officially started. Maybe it was the pressure of her new position as Head Girl. Maybe it was the stress of having to train new prefects when she, herself, hadn’t quite got the hang of her own duties, let alone that of others? Or maybe it was seeing Harry Potter once again and remembering just how good he was, not to mention he still had one of the best brooms on the market—the Nimbus 2000.
She began to worry. At first, she attributed it to the presence of those ghastly Dementors positioned about Hogwarts, looking for that Muggle-murdering escaped convict. Add to this, the first year Ravenclaws were decidedly rambunctious and more prone to getting into hex-flinging fights than previous years. Those who weren’t overtly stroppy were bratty, and those who weren’t bratty were grotesquely homesick to the point of tears. And all this was discovered by Penelope on the first day!
Finally needing a moment to herself, Penelope slipped off to the third floor girls’ lav, hid away in one of the stalls, and threw a one-way Silencing and Locking Charm on the door. She sat on the loo, placed her elbows on her knees, and buried her face in her hands, taking slow and deep breaths. The pace of the world around her began to slow, her nerves began to calm.
Like a shot, the door to the lav flung open, banging hard against the wall amidst a flourish of giggling girls. Penelope startled, but fortunately her Silencing Charm remained intact.
“Oi, he is the living dream, though,” one said a voice.
“He’s bends far too much for my taste, thank you very much,” said the other, whose voice Penelope recognised as Cho Chang’s.
“Oliver Wood? With those shoulders?” said a third—criminy, just how many girls were there?
More giggles. Despite being tucked away in one of the farthest stalls, Penelope froze, barely breathing lest she be discovered and given reason work more. And Penelope didn’t want to work at the moment. She wanted to sit and mope about the ten Galleon bet that she was sure to lose because Harry was still on the team and still the best Seeker the school had ever seen and still likely to be better than Cedric or any of the other Hufflepuffs on the Quidditch team and why oh why did she make that stupid bet with Percy?
She knew why, of course: jealousy. She had known going into the relationship that Percy and Oliver’s friendship had a sexual component to it, even before the rumours started. At first she thought it perfect because she was hardly ready to engage in sexual activity with anyone—her feelings for Percy were at one point lukewarm at best. Oliver provided that release for Percy. Have an urge, go to Wood was Penelope’s motto. The frequency of Percy and Oliver’s liaisons diminished and yet her emotions were becoming bothersome, getting the best of her. Percy was a fine catch, this much Penelope knew, and she was falling in love with the idea of starting a family with him after their last year at Hogwarts. Similarly, Oliver no longer appreciated their unspoken arrangement. He was looking for more, Penelope knew this, and Percy was unwilling – or incapable – of providing more. Still, they spent an exorbitant amount of time together and the more Oliver pushed away, the harder Percy tried to appease him, which made Penelope even more jealous.
“Besides, Wood’s all Quidditch,” Cho added, quickly, her soft voice breaking Penelope from her thoughts.
“There’s always Cedric. And I hear-tell he fancies you, Cho,” said the other, Marietta Edgecomb, Penelope thought.
“Me?” Cho said, almost choking on an intake of air. “I hardly believe that.”
“Cedric,” the third girl sighed. “Now that one is top shag.”
“Su, you have never spoken more truth,” Cho said. “Oh, but is the boy lush! Too bad Cedric only seems to go for Quidditch players. I’ve seen him eye Katie Bell once or thrice.” The tinge of jealousy in her voice was apparent.
“Maybe you should try out for Quidditch, then. You’re a right fair flyer.”
“Pssh. Now, you go too far, Su,” Cho chastised, though not unkindly. “Although I do admit, the summer Quidditch sitting was fun. Roger was there…”
This set the room ablaze with yet another fit of knowing giggles. Penelope heard the water from the faucet as well as the familiar jangle of a make-up purse being set on a counter and opened. She rolled her eyes, realising her predicament: she’d be there for awhile, listening to fourth-year girls prattle on about fit blokes.
“How’d your date go with Roger, by the way?” Marietta asked.
Su answered, “Oh, well... not so great actually.”
“He’s well fit,” Cho said. “But I have my suspicions.”
“Oh, you think everyone’s gay, Cho,” Marietta said.
“Not everyone. Just most everyone.”
“Well, Cho might be right on this one,” Su replied. “I mean, we’d been seeing each other for awhile, over summer... and, before the fall term I thought it time to... well... you know?”
More giggles. Even Penelope smiled, realising this as good gosip. Roger Davies was at QUISPS during the Slytherin-Ravenclaw sessions along with Cho. He’d been really good, if not confident in his skills.
“At any rate, he didn’t want to.”
“What do you mean?” Marietta asked with pronounced shock in her voice.
“He said he was ‘unsure’ – his words. But then he covered it up by saying that he wanted to wait until marriage, which, of course, is rubbish. What proper bloke wants to wait until marriage?”
“Benders,” Cho said, teasingly.
“Maybe he really is a traditional sort of lad,” Marietta offered.
A dead silence filled the room, so thick and impenetrable that Penelope wondered if one of them had cast a Silencing Charm around themselves. A moment later, however, fierce laughter erupted.
“No, you’re right,” Su said.
“Well, maybe we should set him up with Wood, then?” Marietta asked. “Oh, to be a spider on that bedroom wall…”
It was a joke, of course, and the room once again filled with giggles and snorting and much laughter. But the comment sent a chill down Penelope’s side and sent the wheels turning in her brain.
No matter how good Potter was as a Seeker, a good team works together and you’re only as good as your weakest link. So that is what she’d have to do! Somehow, she would have to keep Oliver distracted long enough to become ineffectual as a Quidditch player. With all this new talk of Roger Davies, Penelope believed she had just the plan to kill two birds with one stone.
The banter in the girls’ lav continued unabated, but Penelope didn’t mind. She merely sat on the toilet seat in her stall contemplating how exactly to make Oliver Wood fall in love with Roger Davies.
Cedric’s voice cut through the crowded hallway. Oliver had just stepped out of the NEWT-level Gryffindor-RavenclawCharms class, slightly anxious and agitated. He was regretting taking the course, as Charms was his weakest subject. Still, when he heard Cedric’s voice, a different sort of tension forced itself upon Oliver, especially below the belt.
Oliver turned to face Cedric, who had just finished pulling his fringe behind his ears. Again. His shoulders were rolled forward with the hint of a shrug. Cedric walked past Oliver, turning slightly to face him with a grin. Oliver took it as a hint that he should follow.
“So,” Cedric said, half smirking. “Your first official week treating you well, then? Or are you ready to tear your hair out, yet?” He looked at Oliver’s buzzed hair and smiled. “Oh, too late, am I?”
It took a moment for Oliver to realise the rib. Absentmindedly, he ran his fingers over his scalp. “Well, yeah... I mean, no... I mean, we can’t all be posh stunners.” As soon as the words escaped his lips, he wished he could reverse time. He stiffened, looking straight ahead with bulged eyes. From his peripheral vision, he could see that Cedric was staring at him but couldn’t gauge his expression. Was he offended? Angered? Did Cedric think him a fool? A queer? Oliver swallowed hard but refused to make eye contact.
They walked in silence. Further down the corridor, Cedric finally broke the silence. “So,” he breathed. “I feel like a spot of flying tonight, to ease the tension, yeah? Being a prefect isn’t exactly all it’s cracked up to be, you know?”
Oliver snorted. That was about the extent of a response he could muster.
Cedric let the conversation lull as they continued walking. Cedric stopped at the stairwell that would lead him to the Hufflepuff common room. He exhaled, loudly. “So, would you like to come with? Mayhaps get a nice game of Quaffle Chase or summat?”
Oliver faced Cedric, wishing he had an excuse to follow. “Erm, dunno. I had a spot of bad Shepherd’s pie for lunch. Tell me, Shepherd’s pie s’posed to have a crust?”
This time it took Cedric a moment to catch the joke. He laughed and a strand of his fringe fell out of place, dangling precariously in front of his face. “Good one, Wood. So, what say you to about... ten? Tonight, after supper?”
Excitement bubbled deep in Oliver’s stomach. Heat rose to his face and filled his cheeks with a red blush most would find endearing. But, had Cedric? What was Cedric thinking at the moment, Oliver wondered. Was the rot about ‘prefect duties’ and ‘easing the tension’ just an excuse to get him alone, away from prying eyes or ears? Pure dead brilliant if it was!
“Aye, ten then.”
Cedric beamed and bounced on his heels. “Excellent, Wood!”
He turned and walked towards the Hufflepuff stairwell. Oliver watched, unable to tear his eyes away from Cedric’s arse, how it filled his jeans, or how the leather jacket that he insisted on wearing seemed to fall into place over his shoulders and along his back as though charmed by Godric Gryffindor to do exactly that.
Before disappearing from view, Cedric turned and flashed Oliver a smile. “By the bye, I think some badgers wanting to try out for the team might come, too. Bring some Gryffs, if you like. Oh, but not Fred and George, please. I’d like for Filch not to catch us, this time. Maybe Harry? I’m going out for Seeker, so I’ve a mind for a race or two.”
After a quick wink and an affirming nod, Cedric was gone, leaving Oliver alone with expectations shattered.