Very well done: lots of details and explanations. I only wish there was a definite ending. Otherwise, great!
Hello, Maple. :)
When we were first discussing SPEW Swap stories, and you told me this idea, I had no idea what to expect. I can honestly say that this was not it, but it has earned its place as one of my favorite stories - not just of yours, but of MNFF as a whole. There were so many layers of complexity, and so many sensitive topics, but it never became too much, and each one was handled delicately and respectfully.
One of the things I thought was the most intriguing about this piece was the style. I love how it was told in short moments, and how there wasn’t a lot of inner monologue. The dialogue and body language writing was so effective it would have almost felt redundant in the scenes to mix in their thoughts, but at the spots where Oliver’s thoughts were prominent, though, you handled his struggle brilliantly. I also enjoyed how it was told out of order: it started near the end, and then while the reader caught-up there were still allusions to the first scene we read. It was amazing how you repeated the same scene twice, but the second time packed so much more punch. One of the most surprising things about this fic was the style of language; I don’t think I’ve ever read this serious of explicit in anything you’ve written, but they felt necessary and natural for the characters during the situations presented.
The character that truly shined for me was Oliver. Throughout the piece he’s faced with the same decision over and over - to act as a supporting friend to Katie, or to do what he thinks is right (for her or the team). Later, the friendship develops to love, but I thought his struggle was truly interesting. He’s the only one who seems to notice just how much she’s struggling with her injuries, and who’s willing to think ahead for her. Yet sometimes he chooses to simply be supportive, even though the back of his mind is still telling him something is wrong. I found his clear and unbiased judgment really refreshing, giving how intimate he became with Katie, though eventually that translated into genuine worry. And then everything comes to a head, and I saw a major turn in Oliver’s character. It’s like he decides that the only thing that matters is Katie, and how to help her fix the self-harm problem. It was like a switch turned on, and he wasn’t going to give up. Even if she cut him off. That was where his decision changed, and I found that brilliant. By changing the answer to the question he faced the entire story, he allowed us to see just how much he cared for Katie. It hit me so hard when Oliver said he felt helpless because of this - he felt like he failed. Because he couldn’t magically fix Katie. She had to fix herself.
By the end of the story, I just wanted to give Katie a hug. She’s dealt with so much in her life, and everything that had been bubbling under the surface since the war boiled over. She was struggling with many things during the story, yet you didn’t let her character stop at the disorders. Katie was a Quidditch player, someone who could make Oliver Wood spit out his Butterbeer, and incredibly strong to survive what she did. She felt so wholeheartedly real, and that made it so much more painful when we started to see her breaking. Katie was nowhere near perfect, though; she shut out Oliver once he found out about the self-harm instead of allowing him to help, and she shut him out before then, too. She was terrified and stubborn, and that’s a dangerous combination.
One topic I have to address is the self-harm. That is such an incredibly sensitive topic, especially now, and like any mental disorder one must tread carefully so as to not romanticize it. You did not do that one bit, and it wasn’t simply used as a plot device either. Rereading it, I saw all of Katie’s warning signs: the pressure from her mum, the body image issues, and the stress of Quidditch. The most poignant line of the entire piece, for me, was this one: “No matter what, Katie, despite of the scars, you know you're beautiful”. It felt like the perfect thing for Oliver to say, because he didn’t romanticize it, but he managed to show how much he truly cared for her, and simultaneously tried to help her stop (assuming body image issues were a contributing factor). And then Oliver didn’t press Kate, he held her and let her cry and deal with her own emotions. One thing you did brilliantly was how Oliver couldn’t fix her, that Katie had to (and want to) fix herself. In the first confrontation, Katie so desperately tries to prove she’s okay (so that Oliver will leave her alone and she can continue cutting), but her hands shake because he does know. Then Katie is incredibly defensive, because self-harm is an addiction that’s hard to break free from, and cuts one of her favorite people out of her life because the addiction is basically telling her to. She’s in danger of being stopped by Oliver, and that couldn’t be. Oliver, to his overwhelming credit, does not give up, and you left us with a spot of hope at the end that Katie will be okay.
The ending was up-in-the-air, but it still managed to bring a sense of closure to the piece. We don’t know if Katie and Oliver get back together, or if Katie is ever okay, but there’s hope that it will. Though it was oddly romantic - slipping a piece of paper under her door - it fit Oliver. He had been trying for a long time to talk to her, to contact her, but then it came down to what she needed: for someone to have faith in her. And because he’s post-finding-out Oliver, what Katie needs is the only thing he can consider when trying to write this note. It was sweet, and though I wish we could have a slight reaction from Katie, the lyrics as the note tie the song to the piece and leave us with a brilliant ending to a simply spectacular piece. Amazing job!
Powerful story, but left rather hanging at the end.
This is a stunning story, and so much different than your regular style. If I didn't know beforehand that you'd written it, I never would've figured it out by guessing. The pure tactile, physical nature of it, along with the sensuality, make it gritty, passionate, and so very much up my alley!
Oliver, to me, was a refreshing departure from the man-child we left off with in Prisoner of Azkaban. Yes, he's got the drive, the competitive nature, and the drive to not only succeed but to propel those around him, as well; however, he is also the kind of man who would come back, risking life and limb, to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts. There is a tempered sense of humanity about him that might've been lacking in the third book, where he was willing to let Harry ride the Firebolt without a full inspection.
I think this is a good change from his younger self because it shows that he recognises that Katie matters more than her ability to contribute to the team, that her state of mind isn't defined by her will or her refusal to acknowledge weakness in herself. But also, it allows him to see her for her, not as a cog in the team machine, but as someone he cares about and eventually falls in love with.
As for Katie, I think you built a really important set of variables in her attitude to set up the self-harm scenario. First off, she was defensive and refused help; second, she was abnormally driven and unwilling to consider her own health; finally, she cut out Oliver from her life -- not, I suspect, because she was angry with him so much as his potential role in ending her cutting, which she used like a security blanket when she announced that it was her body to do with as she pleased.
Their romance was built gradually, which really emphasised Oliver's desire not to push her too far. But more than that, I think it allowed Oliver, as the narrator, to open up the door to the critical issues in the story by showing the signs to me as the reader that she was in trouble but make them subtle enough that it takes him some time to figure it out. Coupling that with the romantic tension that evolved into a more sexual relationship makes it feel like a train wreck waiting to happen between them.
One theme in this story that I felt was important was agency -- free will. It was woven so tightly into the story that one cannot help but think about it. Did Oliver violate Katie's right to her own body by thwarting her spot on the team (which is what I assumed happened after he found out she was cutting, though it wasn't directly stated), since he probably never would've found out about it had they not been in an intimate relationship? It's a great question to pose in a story, and the answer could mean several things to several people.
With what I see, I think Oliver did the right thing, because when Katie invited him into her heart and her life, she did grant him a place of prominence in her life and her decision-making. Not noticing a stranger or casual acquaintance's self-harm issue is one thing; no moral onus is put on passers-by for not intervening. But when someone is entwined into a person's daily life and has a vested interest in the other's emotional/physical/spiritual health, one does whatever is necessary to preserve their loved one, as well as their own peace of mind. A man like Oliver, especially as portrayed in the story, doesn't seem the type to be able to sleep at night knowing he could help and didn't.
Your writing style is so clean and bare here, which allows the story to speak for itself. There are a lot of powerful aspects of the fic, ones that are raw and aching; allowing them to shine rather than utilising copious metaphor, simile, parallelism, or what have you really gives it a chance to connect to readers on all levels. Where I think it's particularly sharp is when Oliver first confronts Katie about her cutting. The narrative voice isn't romantic or condemning or tragic, but rather it steps aside to let me feel Oliver's aching for her along with him without couching it in hidden meaning. That honesty is one of the story's biggest strengths for that reason.
Overall, this is a great fic. The characterisation was rich, well-considered, and raw. Coupled with crisp storytelling and careful themes, it is by far my favourite story of yours I've ever read. I am not just saying this because it was a gift for me, but rather because I genuinely feel like you hit so many homeruns with this that it can't help but float to the top. Very, very well done, and thank you very much for this beautiful gift.