Same disclaimers as described previously in Chapter One.
AIR Chapter Two
Oliver Wood stumbled out of the Puddlemere United Floo a moment later and brushed the soot from his clothes and his hair, then had his first look at his team's headquarters. The building was spacious and airy, with high ceilings and lots of windows. The team's deep blue and gold was everywhere, with the two crossed gold bulrushes also in obvious display throughout. Along the walls, large posters of the team in action at memorable matches showed players moving magically as in pictures, the roar of the crowd swelling up intermittently. Even a massive tapestry depicting one of the earliest matches, back in Medieval times, displayed the players dressed in suits of armor. The thought of trying to play such a free moving sport as Quidditch, while bound up in a metal suit, struck Oliver as quite a sad paradox. He stared at that one for a moment, and saw an actual Snidget in the background, as the real bird had been used in those early days. It was all grand and exactly how he had pictured it. His heart began to beat a little faster. He was here. It was really happening.
He walked to the reception desk where a pretty blonde girl behind the counter inquired politely, "May I help you?"
She gave her wand light taps to a stack of parchment, and each time she did so, the top sheet would float to the file cabinet behind her and slip into a different lettered folder. Her shiny hair was pulled into a sleek ponytail which bounced about as she worked.
"I'll be reporting for training at the end of the week." He watched for her reaction. Was she impressed? "I was hoping to find a place to live, and get settled in before that."
"Name?" She was pleasantly matter of fact. No sign of being impressed yet.
She ran a bubble gum pink fingernail down a list, then looked up at him. "All right. Here you are. Reserve team."
Oliver winked. "Not for long."
"Excuse me?" Her stare was unblinking.
"The reserve team. I don't plan on being in the reserves for long."
Still no smile. "No one does, Mr. Wood. You'll have to report to Coach Winston for orientation and a schedule, and to uniforms for your equipment issue." She pulled out a map of the town. "The reserve players usually live in this complex of flats. It's close to the practice field and fairly inexpensive. You might want to take a look at the bulletin board over there for listings of rentals and players looking for flatmates. In the meantime we have a dormitory readied until you find your flat. Here is the key. It's the building next door."
Oliver laughed at the small key in the shape of a broomstick. "Thank you."
She smiled sweetly. Finally! "Good luck."
Oliver walked down the hallway towards Uniforms. He entered the room and stepped up to another counter. This time he could see workers in the back, cleaning and sorting jerseys, robes and equipment. After being asked if he needed help, a similar conversation ensued, as had with the blonde receptionist. Oliver introduced himself and the man scanned another list of names.
"First team or reserve?"
"Reserve." Reserve. He had been here maybe five minutes, and he'd heard that term several times already. It was starting to get under his skin. Well, he'd better get used to it for now, and he'd better get working to leave it behind him as soon as possible.
"Have you chosen a number yet?"
Oliver had always worn number five throughout his years at Hogwarts. "I'd like number five please."
"I'm sorry. That number is already taken. Got another?"
"Um..." He hadn't anticipated that problem. "How about number thirty-two?" Uncle Will's number.
"Yup. Still available. That's one of the benefits of reporting early. You're the first reserve player to report this week. Give me a few minutes to gather your gear. Position? And what size are you...large or extra large?"
"Keeper. And large should do it."
Next stop was Coach Winston's office. A small sign on the door said "Come In". Oliver entered and found Coach Winston pacing back and forth in front of a poster, his eyes glued to two Beaters from the Wimbourne Wasps. Every once in a while the coach would stride to his desk and scribble down a few notes, his beefy hand engulfing the delicate quill as he did so. Oliver watched with him, not wanting to interrupt. Coach Winston was a large man, a few inches taller than Oliver at least. He wore a blue cap with the gold letters P and U separated by the gold bulrushes that Oliver was seeing everywhere, and a whistle around his neck. His blue shirt strained at the shoulders as he crossed his hairy arms over his chest and returned to the poster to watch some more.
The Beaters were strong fliers, and coordinated, their maneuvers working perfectly in sync with each other. It was remarkable to watch, like they were reading each other's minds. They used the Dopplebeater Defense like they were mirror images of each other, blasting the Bludger at exactly the same time. This was a rare move, and difficult to execute well. Wait. He saw something. There it was again...a subtle movement of the right hand. A sign, communicating the play to each other. He zeroed in on the hand movements of the two and found he was soon able to predict their moves with amazing accuracy.
He whispered his next prediction, not even knowing he had spoken aloud. He was right again.
Coach Winston spun around, his voice booming. "You know these players?" His eyes were dark brown, sharp and intense, his face lined and ruddy from his years in the sun, with the shadow of beard stubble already, and it wasn't even noon yet.
Oliver shook his head. "No. Impressive though."
His coach smiled. "What's impressive is how quickly you broke their code. And you are...?"
"Wood." Oliver held out his hand.
"One of my Keepers." Coach Winston's grip was firm as they shook hands.
"What brings you here this early in the week?"
Oliver thought of his argument with his father and how quickly he'd wanted to get out of his parents' house, but his answer alluded to none of that. "I like to be prepared, sir."
His coach nodded. "Well then, why don't we get you started?" Coach picked up a thick playbook from a pile next to his desk and tossed it to him. "Learn these. If you have any questions, you know where to find me. I've tucked our training schedule into the front of the playbook. It's going to be a rough week."
This time it was Oliver's turn to smile. "I've been waiting all my life for this, Coach."
An hour later Oliver found himself in a tiny dormitory room, lying on his back on his little bed, his arms crossed behind his head. He had a few days to himself before the training and practice schedule began. He still had to find a flat. He needed to work out. And the town was out there, waiting to be explored. On his first walk outside it had seemed quiet and rural and very green - very much like the small town where he'd lived as a young boy, before his father moved the family to Glasgow for the business. The air here felt crisp and clean, and the rolling hills in the distance brought an immediate sense of slowing and relaxation to him. As a matter of fact, everything here seemed to move at its own, unhurried pace. He realized part of that feeling was that, for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was here for himself, with no one asking him to study or write essays or do chores, or help out at the business. He smiled. It was freedom. Almost. His mum was expecting him to write and let her know everything was going fine. But first, a nap. He fell asleep with that smile still on his face.
* * * *
Oliver awoke on the first day of training well before his alarm. It was early, not yet dawn, and training wouldn't begin until eight o'clock. But trying to sleep any later would be useless, he knew that immediately. His eyes were wide open, his senses acute. He climbed out of bed and walked to the sink where he splashed his face with cool water, then took a moment to stare at his dripping reflection in the mirror. This is it. Today's the day. Stay cool and stay sharp. And do not be nervous. He dried himself off with a towel and dressed for practice.
Even after dressing and breakfast, it was still too early to leave for the pitch. As he sat and reviewed the playbook, an owl landed on his window ledge and pecked for his attention. Oliver's heart began to pound. A letter. Maybe it was from his dad. That thought entered his mind against his better judgement. Although he had consciously tried to fight it, he'd been hoping to hear from his father this week. Nothing big - not a major apology - but just a quick note asking him how things were going...wishing him luck...letting him know he gave a bloody damn about his son. As he examined the script on the envelope, he recognized immediately the bold block capitals of Uncle Will's writing, rather than the neat cursive of his father. He opened the letter.
All right, I'll be honest. I've been too excited for you to wait for your letter. I had to go and send you this before your first practice, to let you know I'm thinking about you and wishing you the best on your first day. Don't be nervous. You have to be as unflappable as cold steel up there. And remember, you've got what it takes - the strength, the talent and all the rest of it - you know what I mean - deep down inside of you. Use it, nephew. Be fierce. Use it all. If you do that, there will be no stopping you.
I will be making it out to your first game. Send me your schedule so I can arrange my work hours around the trip.
By the time Oliver finished the letter, he felt calm and ready. Cold steel. He could always count on Uncle Will.
* * * *
They met in the locker room for their first day of training . The facility was newer and bigger than what he was used to at Hogwarts. Natural light flowed in through large windows in the ceiling, where weather conditions could easily be assessed before heading out to play. Each player had his own large blue locker, with a couple of hooks for equipment beneath. The blue benches in front of the lockers appeared freshly painted and the words "Puddlemere Reserve Unit" seemed to be stamped in black on practically everything in that room - chairs, equipment, towels. Not quite the ring to it he had hoped for all these years. And ever since his discussion with his father, he felt a twinge of embarrassment whenever he saw the word "reserve". But it was a start, he reminded himself. And a start was all he needed as he had no intention of stopping here.
Within minutes, Oliver realized that this was going to be more difficult than he'd anticipated, and he took a few deep breaths and leaned his head from side to side, gently stretching his tense neck muscles.
The athletes here were on a completely different level than his teammates at Hogwarts. And if they were anything like him, then as they were suiting up for practice, trying to act nonchalant, each was also sizing up the rest. There weren't any women on the Puddlemere reserve team, and as Oliver looked around at the team that day he saw men that were bigger, taller and stronger. They were relaxed and joking, frequently swearing, cocky with their confidence in their own skills and ability. And that was only the rest of the reserve unit. Then the first team marched by in their blue uniforms on their way out to their pitch, their feet in cadence making a rhythmic, military sound against the floor, and a hush fell over his fellow reserves.
The reserve unit wore white uniforms with blue letters and numbers, distinguishing them from the rich blue color of the starting team's jerseys and robes. In reality, there was no need for that - the difference was obvious. The starting team had a look of calm intensity and supreme self-confidence that needed no swaggering or vulgarities or feigned superiority. They were giants in a room full of upstarts, and they knew it, barely dropping the new recruits a glance as they entered.
Oliver immediately found one of the Keepers, Jagger Carlson, the man who owned the spot Oliver craved with a fierceness that hurt. They locked eyes, staring each other down.
The Keeper strode right up to Oliver, leaned down, and whispered to him, his face inches away, his breath lashing Oliver with the earthy mint scent of chewing tobacco, "You're in for a long wait, boy. Nothing gets by me." He had a scar through the middle of his left brow, and another on his chin. And then he spat into a nearby wastebasket.
Oliver found he was clenching his fists, and he crossed his arms to hide that fact. Cold steel. His eyes followed Carlson and the blue jerseys out the door until they turned a corner, no longer in sight.
A recruit sitting next to him smiled and whispered to Oliver, "See? They're scared of us, mate."
Oliver snorted in response, among the buzzing comments of the rest of the reserves, and then jerked his head and his thoughts back to Coach Winston who had just walked up to the large blackboard. If he ever wanted to be out there with the first team, he'd better first keep his head in here with the reserves.
Coach Winston addressed the team. "There it is, boys. They have what you want. Now it's up to you to show us how much you want it."
This maneuver had been purposely done, Oliver knew it, to keep the reserve team hungry. And hungry he was.
After reviewing the basics of the team's strategy and signature plays, all of which Oliver had memorized from the play book, the men headed out to their own practice pitch, which stood next to the first team's. They began with warm ups, and then split into small groups to work on specific skills. The work was tough - tougher than Oliver had ever experienced at Hogwarts, tougher even than the previous year when he had pushed himself and everyone else so hard to win the school's Quidditch Cup. Even with his recent extra work outs, Oliver had to reach deep down for endurance he didn't know he had.
First were sprints on their brooms. They raced across the width of the pitch and back, forcing strenuous sharp turns to change direction and come back. His shoulders began to burn with the strain of it. Then they maneuvered through floating hoops, set up in various complex courses. That was the easy part. After they finished, they then began measuring each player against the others, timing their flying, assessing their agility, even pitting one against the other in measures of strength and speed on the ground. Thank goodness he'd been running regularly in preparation for training. But still, he found himself pushing to the point of pain throughout the practice. Even in the midst of that, he was ecstatic to see that he was either at the top or nearly at the top of each test.
After a quick break for water came more drills, and Oliver was paired with the same bloke who had spoken to him in the locker room, Dominic Meath. Meath was a Beater, and huge; inches taller than Oliver, and thicker as well. His light blonde hair was longish, in a tousled mop-top, and he had an easy laugh. They worked together well. By the end of the morning session, they'd decided to become flatmates.
Finally, after the sky had already begun to deepen to shades of gold, Coach Winston blew the whistle ending their first day. Oliver flew down to the grass of the pitch and dismounted his broom. His arms and legs felt like rubber and he hobbled the first few yards towards the locker room before he felt steady on his feet again. A few minutes later he sighed with exhausted relief in the locker room shower, while billows of steam rose all around him, and the sound of the spray echoed off the walls from his and the rest of the hot showers running wastefully high and long. He leaned against the wall with his hands up against the white tile, and hung his head as the jets of water massaged his aching muscles. Some of the water ran down his face, trickled over his eyes and even into his mouth, but he remained motionless, frozen with fatigue, simply letting the comforting, wet warmth envelope him until he felt he could move again.
Later, as he plodded to his locker, his standard issue white towel wrapped around his waist, he heard Meath call out, "Hey, Wood. Ya hungry? Or too tired to eat?"
He donned his t-shirt with a soft groan. "Starving! And I'm never too tired to eat."
One of the Chasers, Pete Collins, spoke up. "The Puddlemere Den is good. Huge helpings for the price."
Oliver looked over his tall, gangly teammate and smiled. "You'd better start taking advantage of that then, Pete."
They all had a good laugh at that, Pete included, and then several of them walked together to the pub, jostling each other, laughing and sharing stories about their first practice. There was Oliver, Dominic, Pete, their Seeker Tim Randall - a slight wisp of a man with the flying ability of a hornet on attack, and Kevin Coogan, one of their Beaters - freckled, quiet and explosive with the bat.
They entered the dark, rustic old pub and quickly filled a table. The scent of roasting meat was cruelly enticing, and after sniffing appreciatively and clutching their stomachs in feigned distress, they motioned to the pub owner to come take their orders. While his teammates ordered, Oliver took a look around. He saw a table off in the back occupied by a couple of working-class men, still in their thick black workboots. They were loud and raising their pints as they spoke. The rest of the tables were empty. Wait. Almost empty. In one of the booths along the wall sat a girl, quill in hand, head down, concentrating on some parchment. The lamp above her table gave a golden sheen to her glossy brown hair. What did she look like behind that soft curtain of hair? As he watched, one of the men from the back ambled towards her. She looked up in surprise. She was quite pretty, her eyes light in color. They held no sign of recognition, however, as the man sat down. Oliver saw her shift uncomfortably.
His observance of the scene was interrupted by Dominic's massive elbow jutting into Oliver's shoulder. "What'll you be having, mate?"
Oliver looked away from the girl and up at the pub owner. "Um...I'll have the shepherd's pie and extra mashed potatoes."
His eyes returned to the hulk of the man at the booth. The man's stud earring gave him a tough look, and his cocky smile wasn't returned by the girl. As a matter of fact, she looked trapped. She clutched her notebook and stood up to leave when the man caught her arm and sat her back down. It was the alarm in her eyes that propelled Oliver to his feet. He walked to her table.
"Everything all right here, miss?"
She turned to Oliver and he could see her let out a relieved breath. She had a dusting of faint freckles across her nose and her eyes were a cool blue, her pupils large with fear and the darkness of the pub.
"I just want to leave now."
Oliver turned to the man. "You heard the girl. She'll be leaving now."
The thug stood up, scowling. He was about the same size as Oliver and took a menacing step towards him. Oliver tensed and readied himself for a fight, waiting for the first punch, but the man suddenly dropped his hands as if in surrender and muttered, "I'm outta here."
Oliver stepped back to let him pass, shocked that he wasn't, at that moment, nursing a sore jaw or a black eye. The man had been clearly itching to fight, and he looked as though he'd had plenty of experience. That's when Oliver noticed his own table had cleared and his teammates were standing behind him, ready to back him up.
Oliver turned to the girl. "Are you all right?"
She nodded but still held her notebook tightly to her body, her arms crossed in front of her.
"Do you know him?"
She shook her head. "No. Never saw him before. I've just moved here."
"That's a poor welcome for you then. Do you need an escort home?"
"No...it's all right. I'll take the Floo." Her forehead still held an anxious wrinkle but her eyes locked on his for a moment before she told him, "Thank you." She turned to the rest of them. "All of you."
Oliver's eyes followed her to the fireplace where she was soon gone in a flash of green.
He turned to his teammates. "Thanks, boys."
Dominic spoke first. "We're a team, Wood."
And then Pete spoke up. "Besides, how could we not step in to help the coach's daughter?"
Oliver's eyes widened. "Coach Winston's?"
"Yup. Imagine that hairy beast of a bloke having such a pretty daughter."
They all laughed at that and went back to finish their meal. As they sat, and ate and drank until they couldn't have another swallow, Oliver realized he felt filled with something else. He had a new family now, and the security that they would have each other's back. But still, as he looked out the window and saw the brilliant moon shining quite alone in the black night sky, he wondered what his own family was doing now, and if his father had even contemplated writing him or visiting.
* * * *
The morning of Oliver's first match dawned clear and bright. The wind couldn't even be called that, caressing the trees surrounding the pitch and gently fluttering only the flimsiest of leaves - a perfect day for Quidditch. They would be playing the Appleby Arrows. Oliver and his fourteen teammates marched onto the field wearing their brand new Quidditch robes and heard the cheers of the crowd. Shading his eyes, he scanned the stands nearest the hoops, as that was where his play as Keeper was concentrated, and where Uncle Will had promised he would be sitting. Will was there, all right, and waved to Oliver. He was sitting next to a witch with long brown hair, who scanned the field with binoculars. They leaned against each other, shoulder to shoulder, and Will pointed Oliver out to her.
Oliver raised his eyebrows. Who was she? He didn't remember Uncle Will having a girlfriend in...well... quite a long time. He gave a brief wave back and turned with his team to the referee. He felt a flicker of nervousness after seeing his uncle; after all, Uncle Will had been a stand out Chaser in his day and would be able to instantly recognize any errors or lapses in Oliver's play. It wasn't that he was afraid of his uncle's criticism. As a matter of fact, Will had proven invaluable to him on occasion at Hogwarts, with suggestions to improve his game. Oliver craved that. No. It was more that he wanted someone to carry home the news that he, Oliver, was where he should be, doing what he was meant to be doing. He wanted his father to hear that he was doing well.
The whistle blew once and the men mounted their brooms. They stood in formation, each one facing his opponent on the other side of the referee, their game robes still for now, draped over their brooms. It was the dark blue of Puddlemere facing the sky blue of Appleby. Oliver gripped the smooth, wood handle and felt the humming vibration of his broom's energy through his fingers. At once his nervousness disappeared and only a burning desire to fly and to defend his goal remained. Cold steel.
All of the balls were released into the air, and the whistle blew again, longer this time. They were off, flying high above the pitch. The sound of the crowd swelled with their ascent, followed by a hush as play started.
Oliver flew straight to his post, in front of the hoops, flanked by Dominic playing defense on the right and Gordon Quaid on the left. He reveled in the steep ascent, pushing his broom's speed to the limit, feeling the brute forces of the wind and gravity tugging back at his face and his hair as he climbed. Then he leaned into a sharp turn and hovered in front of the hoop, taking in the formation of his opponents and getting a feel for the play. He glanced at Dominic who zipped into position and gave him a grin and a salute, and at Gordon, who gave a quick nod, and then Oliver fell into his zone, letting the feel of the game and his instinct guide him.
Appleby had an aggressive offensive style, and Oliver blocked the first shot within two minutes of the beginning of play. He grinned. He loved it when he blocked a shot early. It gave him a jolt of confidence that was pure gold.
Moments later the announcer described Pete Collins working the Quaffle around two Appleby Beaters and pounding it through for Puddlemere's first goal. Pete flew back to the center of the Pitch and raised his fist as the crowd cheered.
The celebration didn't last for long, though, as twoAppleby Chasers moved in fast. They separated from each other twenty yards from the goals. One of them veered to Oliver's left, while the Quaffle stayed with the other. They were setting up a shot. Oliver moved into the line of fire. All of his senses were trained on the Quaffle and the Chasers' body language. He caught a flicker of the first one's head, and a small circular motion of his hand. Through the corner of his eye, he saw the second man veer up, around, and behind him for a pass. He followed the line of the shot, ready and waiting for the next move. The first raised the Quaffle for the pass. Oliver glanced back. Was the other Chaser still there? At that moment two Beaters zeroed in on Oliver. They were just a flash of pale blue in the far corner of Oliver's vision, blending into the color of the sky, which is why they took Oliver by complete surprise. Seconds later, a quick bolt of dark zoomed right at him. He jerked both his head and the handle of the broom back. Too late. A dizzying burst of pain hit the right side of his head as the Bludger glanced off it. Everything blurred. He struggled to hold onto his broom. Then the sounds of the crowd and the wind became muffled and garbled. All movement in his surroundings went into slow motion, then faded into black.
Next thing Oliver knew, someone was holding him by the shoulder and calling his name. He opened his eyes to see Dominic grasping Oliver's broom handle with one hand, and Oliver's shoulder with the other, the veins in his neck bulging with the effort as he repeated Oliver's name.
"Wood! Wake up! Hold on. I'll take you down to the field."
Oliver shook his head to clear it, and then winced at the throbbing in his head. He still felt dizzy, but he grasped his broom and backed away from Meath. "No. I'm all right. Just let me play." He momentarily lost his balance, and Meath reached out to right him again.
Meath frowned at him. "You shouldn't stay in. You almost fell."
Oliver's vision was clearing. He could see a Chaser advancing on a goal. He yelled to his roommate, "The hoop, man!"
And then Oliver's injury was forgotten in the two men's desperate dive back to guard the shot. Puddlemere's Beaters bore down and covered Oliver's hoop while Meath blocked the shot at the last second, tipping it off to the side only inches before it would have gone through.
Dominic turned to Oliver, breathless. "Thanks, mate."
Oliver shot back, "I think I'm the one who owes you."
Dominic just smiled.
The rush of adrenaline from the near goal kicked Oliver back into the game with fervor, and he continued to play well, ignoring the pounding headache and nausea. Luckily the dizziness had quieted, rising only on sharp turns, but manageable. The match was tough, but Puddlemere held their own until Tim Randall finally grabbed the Snitch about three hours later. It was only then that Oliver noticed the gaping blisters on both of his palms. Dominic later told him he had tried to carry him down to the pitch after the hit, but it had been impossible to pry Oliver's hands from the broom.
After a brief congratulatory speech by Coach Winston, and then a review of what they needed to improve, the team cleaned up and Oliver returned to the stands to see Uncle Will. There was just a handful of fans remaining, scattered about. Uncle Will stood up when Oliver appeared, and descended the stairs to meet him. His friend came with him. They were holding hands. She was pretty in a natural sort of way, not much make-up, wearing simply cut forest green robes that looked nice against her auburn hair.
Uncle Will hugged him. "Great match, nephew! You were a brick wall at your goal."
"That's the idea, right Uncle Will?"
"Right. Impenetrable. Catherine says you took a hit. I was helping an older wizard get to his seat and I missed it. How are you feeling?"
"Fine. Bit of a headache...but fine."
"I...uh... don't remember."
Will's face flashed concern. "You don't remember?"
Oliver shrugged his shoulders. "Not really. I guess it happened too fast."
"Did you black out?" Will asked.
"Maybe. For a second."
Will's friend interjected. "It looked that way. From how you went slack on your broom. I thought you were going to fall off. Thank goodness for the big, blonde Beater. He caught you and waited until you came to."
Oliver just mumbled, "Right."
His uncle spoke again. "Oliver, let me see where you got hit."
Oliver pointed to his right temple.
Will took a close look. "You've got a fair bruise there, boy, and a heck of a bump." Will reached out and fingered it.
Oliver winced and pulled back. "Bruises are nothing new to the game of Quidditch, Uncle."
"Did the team Healer give you a look over?"
"Nah. No need. I'm fine."
"Nephew - I've been a Healer on the Quidditch circuit for years. You blacked out for a minute. You can't remember what happened. You should have a good look over now. And you probably shouldn't play for a week or so."
Oliver laughed incredulously. "What? Not play? After showing Coach my good game? I've got to play! I need to get off the reserve team, Uncle! No one's going to move up a sissy that can't take a hit!"
"Well...let me look you over for a minute, then."
Oliver sighed. "All right."
Will did a few simple tests of Oliver's coordination, examined his eyes closely, and tossed him a few memory questions. Oliver missed one, to his surprise, but he tried to cover it up.
"Come on, Uncle Will. I've just had my first match, my uncle's here watching...it's just all the excitement, the adrenaline. I'm all right. Now - why don't you properly introduce me to your friend?"
"You're a typical stubborn Wood, boy." He watched Oliver for a moment, then shook his head. He gestured to his friend. "I'd like you to meet Catherine Lawson."
Oliver held out his hand. "Nice to meet you."
She smiled a friendly smile that made Oliver feel as though he already knew her, and told him, "I enjoyed the match. It's been a while since I've seen one. Good show."
"Thank you." And then Oliver asked both of them, "Are you hungry?"
Will laughed. "Catherine brought some sandwiches, but we came straight from work, and so those were long gone hours ago. Yes, I'd say we're a bit famished."
Oliver took them to a small inn that served lunch on a balcony overlooking a serene body of water. The deep green of the hills and the sparkling blue of the water jumped out at them on such a clear day. They were close enough to hear the gentle waves lapping at the shore. After they'd ordered lunch, they walked to the balcony railing to get a better view.
Catherine leaned against the railing and stared out at the water. "This is spectacular. Your uncle certainly knows how to spend a glorious summer day."
Oliver watched his uncle's pleased smile as he placed his arm around her shoulders. Catherine was still facing the water and didn't see Oliver's tilted head and raised eyebrows.
Uncle Will feigned surprise. "What, boy?"
"Nothing. You just look...happy."
Catherine turned back to Will at this and smiled.
Uncle Will continued. "It was well worth the effort."
Catherine raised an eyebrow. "Effort?"
"Aye. I never worked as hard at Quidditch as I did to get you to notice me."
"Notice you! I noticed you the first time I saw you! I'd have been blind not to. I was just a little reticent about dating anyone right then."
"Ah...reticent about dating."
"Well, yes. I met you at a busy transition. Just being hired on as staff, running my own department for the first time."
Will turned to Oliver. "Catherine's a Healer at St. Mungo's, too. Department of Potions and Plant Poisoning." He turned back to Catherine with a smug expression. "And what do you think now?"
She tilted her head towards his shoulder. "I'm grateful Quidditch trained you well for the chase."
Oliver laughed. "I always knew the benefits of playing Quidditch extended beyond the pitch."
Catherine piped up. "And just like in Quidditch, sometimes it's not the play, but the timing that is difficult."
Oliver nodded in agreement. "I remember a time, not too long ago, when you wanted to keep to yourself, Uncle."
His uncle nodded. "I'll admit to that. Timing's just as important in real life as the game, isn't it? What kind of partner could I have made for anyone right after I left Quidditch? I needed time to figure things out. I pushed a lot of people away then." Will examined the ice floating in his water goblet and then spoke again. "Speaking of pushing people away...have you talked to your father?"
"Have you written him?"
Oliver shook his head. "He's pretty angry with me."
"Have you thought that he might be hurt, too? You chose the game over him, nephew."
"I know. And I've thought of that. Part of me was being stubborn...waiting for him to call on me." Oliver sighed and looked at the water. "But part of me was waiting to make sure I knew I could look him in the eye and be proud of what I'm doing."
"You can be proud, boy. You played your heart out today."
Oliver smiled. "Well, let's order lunch, then. I'm hungry."
Will frowned. "We all ordered about ten minutes ago."
Oliver, are you sure you're feeling all right?"
"I'm alerting your Healer." Oliver's protest was interrupted by his uncle's large hand clamping firmly on his shoulder. "Don't argue, boy. It's done."
Author's Note: Catherine Lawson is my OC from Lonesome Love(posted at The Sugar Quill) who met, married and broke up with Remus Lupin in a short and painful period of time. (Hence her reticence.) St. Margarets felt she deserved some happiness after that difficult chapter of her life. I think she's done quite well for herself with Will, don't you? ;) And big thanks to my wonderful beta, Aggiebell, for her keen eye and spot on suggestions.