Author's Disclaimer: Oliver Wood and the HP universe are, of course, JKR's. You've given us a fun playground, Ms. Rowling.
The delicious William Wood is St. Margarets' creation. Thank you for letting me borrow him for this story. I hope I do him justice. Unfortunately, since this story is from Oliver's POV, I can't give him the detailed, sensuous description he deserves. He's just Uncle Will. And neither can I for Oliver, darn it! If anyone is interested in Uncle Will's backstory, written by the wonderful St. Margarets, here is the link. http://community.livejournal.com/quillerfluffers/2461.html#cutid1
I hope you enjoy the story.
AIR Chapter 1 Good News
Oliver Wood leaped up the steps to the porch three at a time and reached for the shiny brass knocker on the neat clapboard house. He shook his head before he knocked, and tried to feign a mask of calm. He almost had control of his smile. Come on. There. He knocked.
A moment later he could hear his Uncle Will's deep voice call out, "Hang on. I'll be there in a minute."
The white door opened and Oliver could see his uncle's eyes widen with surprise behind his wire-rimmed glasses. Sometimes looking into his uncle's deep hazel-green eyes was like looking into a mirror. Oliver had heard family members comment on the similarity between his and his uncle's eyes.
Will had winked at Oliver one time after hearing that sentiment yet again, and had whispered conspiratorially, "It's the Quidditch in the blood."
And now it struck Oliver again that it was appropriate that the two Woods who shared a passion for Quidditch would have eyes reminiscent of the earthy green of the Quidditch field.
Will stood in the doorway wiping his hands with a small towel. He wore an old shirt that was frayed in places and splattered with spots and smudges of deep brown. He was slightly taller than Oliver and still muscular, though he'd left Quidditch years ago, with the graying at his temples betraying his forty-two years. His usually neatly trimmed, dark hair was damp with sweat and tousled at the front where he kept it a bit longer.
"Oliver, my boy! You took me by surprise! Come in. I was just refinishing the wood floor in the bedroom. I..."
He stopped in mid sentence and studied Oliver's expression. "Wait..."
Oliver knew he was grinning madly but he couldn't help it. So much for the mask of calm.
Will continued, "Did you..." And then he clapped Oliver on the back and brought him into a crushing hug. "You were signed! Good job, man! Although I can't say I haven't been expecting it. Who signed you?"
"Ah, the Puddlemere Blue. Congratulations! I know how hard you've worked for this. Oh lad, isn't it the best feelin' in the world?"
Oliver nodded. "But it's only with their reserve team, Uncle Will."
"Only! It's just a matter of time before you're on the first team. This is it, boy!" He tossed the towel into a corner and gestured in towards the kitchen. "Come! We've a cause for celebration!" They entered the kitchen where Will bent down to a lower cupboard and reached for a bottle, then stood up stiffly. Oliver saw him clench his teeth with the movement.
"You all right, Uncle Will?
Will waved him off saying, "Yeah. It's just the old back. Been bent over the floor doing the refinishing most of the day."
"Why don't you use magic? Or hire someone to do the job for you?"
Will frowned. "I'm not lame, boy. And it's my house. There's a satisfaction in feeling the grain of the wood with my own hands, putting my own sweat into it. You'll see someday." He removed the cork from the bottle with a pop. "Now, let's get back to the matter at hand. I'd say a man who is about to play professional Quidditch can share a toast with his old uncle."
Oliver was shocked and flattered to see that the bottle was a well-respected brand of Firewhiskey. He raised his eyebrows. "A real drink, huh? Not just Butterbeer, or a pint of stout?"
"Of course a real drink! It's a rite of passage. And I believe you've earned it."
Will poured two sizable shots and handed one to Oliver, clinking Oliver's glass with his own. His face grew serious as he toasted. "To my nephew Oliver. May your career be long and glorious, and may you fight like a warrior and escape injury."
They drank. Will threw his back with a quick gulp and a sigh. Oliver tried to do the same, but found himself struggling to keep from coughing and sputtering after his first taste of the hard stuff. No wonder it was called Firewhiskey; it blazed a scorching trail down his throat all the way to his chest. He finally swallowed the last of it and sucked in a desperate breath.
Will had been watching his performance and his frown had soon disappeared. He flashed Oliver the trademark Wood smile, his straight white teeth contrasting with the tan of his skin and his dark hair.
"Not bad for your first time, my boy."
Oliver grimaced. "It's bloody awful!"
"Aye, it is. I look at Firewhiskey as more of an obligation in certain situations, rather than a pleasure. But you won't be touching the stuff once training starts. It does make a difference."
"I know. I used to watch you make your "health" concoctions when you were still playing, remember?"
"I do remember. I remember you sitting at the table, with your big eyes, looking at me like I was fascinatingly...um...strange."
Oliver smiled, too, as he remembered. "Nah. Not strange. I've learned a lot from you, Uncle."
Will smirked. "Well, I hope you didn't learn how to get in the way of two Seekers plunging after the Snitch. I showed flawless technique on that one."
Oliver cringed inside. What should he say? It had been a terrible collision and had ended his uncle's professional career.
Will's voice was sharp and he grasped Oliver's upper arm. "Always keep your eyes open, boy."
Oliver shifted under the weight of his uncle's stare. "I will."
There was a brief moment of complete silence - awkward silence, like they were thinking about something they shouldn't be. And then his uncle let go of Oliver's arm and stepped back, clearing his throat. "Well...enough of the staring down the road of regret. There are much more exciting things to be talking about. You, for instance. Are you feeling ready?"
"Almost. That's part of the reason I came here. Uncle Will, could you give me some advice? Before I leave for training?"
Will didn't answer for a moment. He concentrated on the bottle of Firewhiskey as he forcefully stoppered the cork back into it. "Something in particular?"
"Nah. Just some pearls of wisdom. I'm a little nervous about it all, I guess."
Will looked up from the bottle to Oliver. "You'll be fine. All right. How about staying for supper? I think an old man could give a young upstart some handy tips over a large bowl of stew and some biscuits."
They prepared supper together and sat to eat, joking and laughing, with Will advising Oliver on what to expect at training, and Oliver listening with rapt attention to his every word. And then, as they sat back with bellies full, Will turned the conversation around to Oliver.
"So, I've told you what you can expect about the training and the schedule and the politics of professional Quidditch. Hasn't changed much in hundreds of years. Now how about you answering a couple of things for me?" Will relaxed further back in his chair and challenged Oliver with a grin. "If you dare."
Oliver raised an eyebrow and sat up straighter. "Oh? Go ahead. Ask away. I'm not scared."
Will laughed. "No need to be." He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. "So what are you thinking? What do you want out of it, nephew?"
Oliver stared back, trying to read his uncle's expression. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Uncle Will shrugged his shoulders. "Just go ahead and answer anyway you want."
Oliver started out tentatively, studying the reflection of light in the cut glass of his water goblet. "Well...I want to move up from the reserves as quickly as possible." He placed the goblet down and looked up at his uncle for approval.
Will was eyeing him closely, a hint of a smile playing on his lips. He nodded as if appreciating what Oliver had just told him. Oliver found it easier to open up.
"I want to play, Uncle. I want to start the game and stay in the game. I want to be a leader on my team. I want to feel proud of how I play. I want to leave it all out on the field."
Will's eyes held the same spark of excitement that Oliver was feeling. "Go on, lad."
"I'd like to be able to live comfortably. Not to worry about my financial future."
Oliver felt a flush of embarrassment at what he was about to say next, but the Firewhiskey and the ale and the filling meal had all served to relax his defenses and coax out a little bare honesty.
"And I guess I want people to admire me. Maybe I can inspire some kid to work harder at his game."
"Ah." His uncle said only that one word before he refilled their water goblets and then pointed his wand towards the fire which had been dying down. As it surged with crackling flames he sat for a moment, silent. Then he spoke again.
"Fame. Talking to you about this brings me back to my early days of playing professionally. You know, we all want the same things when we start out. At least, most of us do. There're always a few who are in it because they felt they had no choice. The family legacy. Or those who are gifted with talent, speed, agility, but who have no heart. It's an empty life for them, Oliver. And it won't last long. But that's not you. You've got the heart. And someday soon you'll see yourself up on a poster. Or you'll see a young lad point and call out your name at the market, or see lasses cover their squeals with their hands when you walk by."
Oliver laughed incredulously, and his uncle appeared surprised at his reaction. "You're a Wood, boy! And a good looking one at that! It'll happen. And it feels good, I won't deny that. At least at first. But after a time you realize it doesn't fill you." Will leaned forward now, and as he continued, his voice grew more earnest. "You can have all the squealing lasses in the world and still feel empty inside, if you don't love the game. That's where it is. Up there, above the pitch, with the wind in your ears and the blood pounding in your veins, calculating, anticipating, asking things of your body you never knew it could do. And responding to those commands instantly and easily. Playing right on the edge of pure instinct. And knowing you're playing with the best in the world. That's where it is."
His uncle was talking to him like a peer. Like all of these wonderful things would truly be happening to him someday soon. Oliver felt drenched in the excitement and anticipation of it all. Until Will had asked the inevitable question.
"So, have you told him yet?"
Oliver's voice dropped a notch. "Not yet. You're the first."
"When are you planning to?"
"Not sure. I sort of wanted to enjoy it a bit first, you know?"
"Yeah." Will placed a hand on Oliver's shoulder. "Do you want me to be there when you do?"
Oliver shook his head. "Thank you, but no. This is something I've got to face head on."
Will leaned back and assessed Oliver, after that statement. He gave a closed mouth smile and a quick nod. "You have grown up. And in more ways than one."
* * * *
You have grown up. A few days later those words played again in Oliver's mind as he stood in front of the old wooden shaving stand in his bedroom at his parents' home. He had to bend a little to see his head fully, which surprised him for a moment, as he'd never had to do that before. He briefly fingered his hair into place, although it had looked just fine to begin with. His hands dropped to his sides and he took a slow breath, raising his shoulders as he inhaled and dropping them as he let it out. Hell. He was nervous. He hated being nervous.
He looked himself over critically for a few more moments and couldn't help but begin to smile at what he saw. Not only was he taller, but his solid frame filled out the mirror. It was clear to him he'd gained muscle even since his last visit to his parent's home over the Christmas holiday. He felt the skin along his jawline with his thumb and two fingers. Although it wasn't easily seen because his facial hair was light in color, he had a bit of beard growth already, and he'd shaved this morning. No doubt about it, he was no longer the skinny kid who'd dreamed of playing Quidditch at Hogwarts. He was a man. He'd just finished his last year of school, and now he was ready to begin the next phase of his life...the one he'd worked towards non-stop for the last several years...professional Quidditch.
He took another deep breath and checked his pocket for the parchment, as he had done several times today already. It was still there - the contract from Puddlemere United detailing the agreement to have him play on their reserve unit. This time he allowed the full grin; it would have been useless to try and stop it. This parchment was his life's blood. It was all he could think about. It was his present and his future and the hard won result of so much of his past.
Now that he was about to head downstairs for dinner with his parents, he wished he had taken Uncle Will up on his offer to be here when he spoke to his father. It would have been nice to have someone on his side of the pitch, at the table. His uncle had a way of disarming his father that no one else seemed to have. Maybe he should wait. But then he shook his head firmly and grasped the contract one more time. No. He would do it tonight. This was something to be proud of. His father would have to see that. He walked toward the stairs.
* * * *
Oliver had just taken a bite of beef Wellington when the dreaded question came.
"So, Oliver, what are your plans for the summer? You deserve some time off to begin with, but I expect you'll be starting with the company soon?"
Oliver's mouth suddenly felt parched and he took a drink of water as he struggled to swallow his food. Jonathan Wood wiped his mouth with his napkin and returned it to his lap, settling back in his chair, all the while watching his son. Oliver tried to formulate a coherent answer, one that would, magically, avoid the inevitable hurt and disappointment that was to come.
He felt the coolness of his father's icy blue eyes steady on him, almost challenging him. There was no warmth like he'd felt looking into his uncle's eyes earlier in the week. Oliver always felt he had to earn that from his father. He would earn it now only by telling his dad what he wanted to hear. But that wasn't going to happen. Why couldn't he and his dad have more in common? Things like this would be so much easier. He almost laughed out loud thinking of how many times his mother had told him he was just like his father. How? He'd never seen it. Not even physically. He supposed his father was a handsome man, carrying himself in that distinguished way that successful men often do, the impression intensified with his graying hair, and his smartly tailored charcoal-gray business robes. That was difference enough. Oliver was fond of bucking refinement, and rarely wore anything but a tee shirt and jeans, or shorts, under his plain robes. The elder Wood was as tall as his son, but with a slimmer build. His hair was much lighter - almost blonde, and his skin bore no deepened hue from the sun. Oliver glanced down at his own brown arms, and for a moment the lightness of his father's skin struck him, and he saw more clearly the long days his father spent indoors, tending to his company, day after day, year after year.
No. They were nothing alike. And the next few minutes were not going to be pretty.
Oliver answered, keeping his voice calm and steady. "I...I've got some news for you Dad..." He turned to his mother. "And for you, Mum." He reached into his pocket, pulled out the parchment and handed it to his father. "I've been signed to play with the Puddlemere United team. I'll be moving to Dorset at the end of the week to begin training."
His father took the parchment and scanned it quickly, his face showing no outward emotion. But Oliver saw his father's other hand grip the edge of the table as he read. Jonathan Wood handed him back the contract, his mask of calm giving way to incredulousness.
"You're really going to play Quidditch?"
Oliver sat up a little straighter and cleared his throat. "Yes. It's what I've been working for all of these years."
"I thought you were working to prepare yourself for the real world. Oliver, we've had similar conversations before. I know you love Quidditch, but it's not life, it's a game. It's simply not practical. Now is the time to plan for your future."
"This is my future. I've already signed the contract."
His father looked surprised and grabbed the contract back, skimming to the bottom to find Oliver's signature. "You already signed? Did anyone at least look it over for you?"
Oliver was silenced briefly with that. He'd been so eager to sign that document. His hesitation must have given him away, because he saw his father's stance relax, as if he knew he'd just gained control of the argument. Oliver desperately wanted to give a blistering response, but all he could come up with was, "I'm not stupid."
"No, but you're young and inexperienced."
"The contract is fair."
"But it can't pay well. You're not even on the first team. You're only a reserve player."
That hit Oliver as if he'd been struck in the face. He reddened and looked down at the table for a moment.
Even his mother, Eve, gasped. "Jonathan, please! This is still quite an accomplishment!"
Oliver's father held up his hand to quiet his wife, his eyes still trained on his son.
Oliver's voice was starting to lose some of its confidence. "Almost everyone starts out in the reserve. I'm going to work my way up. I know I can do it."
"But there are no guarantees. And your career could be ended in a second. All it takes is an injury. Quidditch is an exceptionally dangerous game. Ask your Uncle Will about that. He knows only too well what a split second can cost."
"But Uncle Will's a Healer now. He started his life over after he left Quidditch, and he's doing just fine."
"You were too young to know the struggle. Do you realize St. Mungo's turned him down outright, due to his age? He had to apply several times, and there was more than one point where he about threw it all in."
"But he didn't. He kept trying. I'm like him that way, Dad."
"It's not that easy, Oliver. The effects of his injury remain. I've seen it in him. His back still causes him a great deal of pain. Was it worth it? A few years playing a silly game, for lifelong repercussions?"
"I guess you'd have to ask Uncle Will that question. But my guess is, it was worth it. I can see it in his eyes every time we talk about the sport."
"Oliver, I've spent my adult life building this medicinal potions company from the ground up, to have a means to support you and your mother...to have something to ensure my family's well-being now and for future generations. You are my only heir. I should be grooming you to take it over when..."
Oliver interrupted. "Dad... I'm sorry...but I can't do it. I can't hide myself away in a building, sitting at a desk, poring over numbers, and hiring and firing."
His father's lips tightened, but he argued no more with his son. He refilled his wine glass and turned to his wife, asking her about her day and discussing some issues regarding the house. Oliver had been dismissed.
Oliver clenched his fork tightly, watching his knuckles turn white and the veins on the back of his hand and forearm bulge bluish-green. Finally, he pushed his plate forward, clanking it into his water goblet and almost knocking it over.
Jonathan's head turned and he watched the water spill over the side of the goblet, then narrowed his eyes at Oliver.
Oliver's tone was high with exasperation. "Is that all you're going to say?"
His father's jaw clenched. "Until you're able to hear good sense."
Oliver stood up. "I guess we're done, then. And I've lost my appetite. Good night, Mum."
His mother looked trapped. "Oliver...please don't end the evening this way. We haven't seen you in so long..."
"I believe he ended it, Mum." He turned to his father once more. "It's my life, Dad. And I'm finding my own way."
His father's eyes burned brightly, and Oliver saw only anger in them. His voice was controlled, however. "Forgive me if I want to help my son avoid choosing foolishly."
There was hurt, too. It was subtle, but there, in his voice. Oliver heard it only for a brief second, though, before it was obliterated by his own crushed pride and he threw his napkin onto the table. "I've already made my choice. I'll be leaving in the morning."
* * * *
His father had already left for the office the next morning when Oliver brought his trunk and his beloved broom to the fireplace. His mother had helped him pack, and she was there to say goodbye, her face taut with anxiety.
"Oliver, your father would have been here, but he had an important meeting..."
"Right, Mum. I get it."
"I'm so proud of you. And he is proud of you..."
His mother continued, "But you know your father...he has such a practical nature. He truly believes he's looking out for your best interests."
"Well, it's too bad that I have no interest in "my best interests". Mum, you don't need to apologize for him. He's never wanted me to play. I expected this. I'm okay."
His mother reached out and touched his cheek. "I know you are. You're strong...just like your father. Perhaps that's why you two clash sometimes. Just give him time. The two of you will work it out."
Oliver started to step into the fireplace when his mother called out, "Wait! I forgot. I packed you a lunch." She ran to the kitchen and returned with a package. "There's room in your trunk."
He hugged her and told her he'd write soon. Then he took a handful of Floo powder and said, the excitement clear in his voice, "Puddlemere United Headquarters."
Author's Note: Thanks to Aggiebell, my Phoenix Song beta. I feel welcome already, and am very excited to be working with you! And since this story was first published at The Sugar Quill, I must acknowledge Suburban House Elf, my wonderful SQ beta reader who beta'd the first four chapters before setting me free. Thanks to Eudora Hawkins who has taken over from then on. You've been a superb teacher. And to St. Margarets who has been instrumental in advising me on key parts of the story, characterization and plot. Mr.Flying Fingers and Gabriella Du Sult have pitched in as well. You are all wonderful and generous.