The Sugar Quill
Author: moonette (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Air  Chapter: Chapter Three Jumping to Conclusions
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Please see chapter one for the usual disclaimers.

AIR

Chapter Three

Jumping To Conclusions

Oliver Wood dropped his bag onto a bench, ran a hand through his thick brown hair still mussed from sleep, and breathed a sigh of relief. This was his first day back after several days of forced rest, mandated by the team's Healer. Uncle Will had been right. The team Healer had examined Oliver later on that day of his first match, and had noted memory problems and mildly decreased coordination of his left hand. And the dizziness had lingered for a few days as well. He had not been allowed to play until his symptoms resolved completely, something about even a mild second head injury turning deadly so soon after the first. He still had some headaches, but no one had to know about that. He was back now, and he would not let anyone take this away from him again.

This last week had been torture. And he wasn't thinking only of the sickeningly ticklish anti-concussive Brain Buffer ear drops he was forced to use twice daily. Those had been awful. But the entire thing had been torture. He had felt like a caged animal, watching his teammates out on the pitch. And he had worked on his left hand almost constantly that week, forcing it to do exercises that were difficult even for his dominant hand. Gradually, over the course of those days, his symptoms had improved, and today was his first day back at practice. He took a long look around the team's training area and couldn't help but smile. This whole sorry episode was behind him. He was back on track. This was his life now - nothing else to interrupt what he really enjoyed. It was all Quidditch and he would work even harder now, to prove himself after the injury.

The dark sky waited for the sunrise. An occasional high-pitched squeak of a bat broke the silence. The air hung heavy with the morning fog and smelled of damp grass. He could feel the grass squish under his trainers as he walked out onto the Quidditch practice field. The pitch had no real grandstands, just some old wooden benches on each side. The wind would blow in easily later, but for now he could enjoy the stillness of the break of day. To the east he could see the faintest glimmer of dawn, the bright twinkling of the stars just beginning to dim as the black of the sky gave way to blue. He was home.

He whispered to himself as he stood there shaking his head, "Bloody wonderful."

The rest of the team wouldn't be here for another hour. And so he started. First some stretches, then laps around the field. He had an easy stride considering his solid build, and it wasn't long before he had finished a mile run. Slowing to a stop, his tee shirt damp with sweat, he grabbed a flask of cool water from his duffel bag. He took a gulp, sighing with pleasure at the pure, cool taste of the liquid sliding down his throat, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, still breathing hard. Time for strengthening. He did it the old fashioned way - sit ups and push ups and even pull ups, done on his broom which he magically suspended in mid air, each until his muscles ached with exhaustion. Finally, with a small groan, he finished his last pull up. Off to his duffel bag where a heavily strapped leather box held a Golden Snitch. The sky was light enough now for the final part - agility.

He wasn't a Seeker, but chasing the Snitch was an effective way to work on his speed, control and reflexes. Sliding onto his broom with obvious ease, he felt the familiar rush he always did when taking off. It was as if he were one with it - the slightest touch, lean, even turn of his head changing its course and speed. Nothing else in the world felt like this.

The thick fog gave him difficulty this morning, though, and after repeated vain attempts to catch the Snitch he finally flew down to the ground and landed. There would be just enough time to cool down a bit, drink some more and rest a little before the tough conditioning would begin with the rest of the team.

He looked towards the sky, his hazel eyes squinting in the sunlight now forcing its way through what was left of the morning mist.

"Accio Snitch. And hurry it up, would you?" He caught it easily as it sailed towards him.

* * * *

Only two people heard his deep voice cut through the air; Hayden, the team's equipment manager who simply smiled in admiration, and Coach Winston who, unbeknownst to Oliver, had been watching.

The manager continued arranging the towels, cups and a large flask of Hydratorade for the team, setting it all up at the sidelines. He had been doing this work for the team for fifteen years, and by this point he could easily do it with his eyes closed. The tasks waiting for him each day weren't difficult. They didn't require much in the way of brains or brawn. But they kept him near the game he loved, yet had never had the gift of playing. He had been quite sickly as a child, and never very coordinated with a broom. Ah, but he loved the sport. And he never tired of watching the new batch of recruits each year. Over the years he had become quite proficient at picking out the special ones...those with a spark of something that told him that their stay on the reserve would be brief. Oliver Wood was one of those lucky ones.

He saw Coach Winston turn to him suddenly. "Wood's been out here early, practicing."

Hayden nodded. "Yup. That's Wood, for ya. Before that knock to his head, he was out here every morning."

The coach folded his arms. "The kid's got heart. And ability. He won't be in the reserve for long."

Hayden smiled to himself. He had known that for weeks.

Just then Mary, the coach's daughter, strolled up to them and spoke to her father. "Who are you talking about?"

Coach Winston smiled with surprise. "Mary, what are you doing here?"

The girl gave him a hug. "Good morning, Daddy. Couldn't sleep." She held up a leather bound notebook. "And the cool morning air clears my head for writing." She placed her hands on her hips, her eyebrows settling into a gentle frown. "Since we moved from Penzance, I don't have the ocean, lighthouses or weathered old fisherman anymore for muses. I'm looking for inspiration. So who were you talking about?"

Her father shook his head. "Eighteen years old and you think your bestseller is right around the corner. I still say you should be teaching. It's a respectable profession. And it puts food on the table."

"And writing is not respectable? I've told you, Daddy, if I taught, I'd have no energy for writing, what with working in the classroom all day and grading my students' assignments into the night. And I do work. Waiting tables allows me to write during the day, when my mind is fresh. Now...who were you talking about?"

"One of the new recruits. Over there. Oliver Wood." Coach gave a slight jerk of his head towards the grass.

Mary's eyes immediately scanned the field for him. A smile broke out on her face when she found him. He was stripping off his own wet t-shirt and putting on the team practice jersey.

"Ahh." She appeared lost in thought for a moment, then whispered, "The boy from the pub."

Hayden raised an eyebrow. Leave Wood alone, girl. He's on his way.

"Didn't take you long to find a new muse, I see." The amusement in her father's voice was obvious.

Her head tilted, her blue eyes still trained on Wood. "I am thinking my next story will be a romance."

The coach laughed. "You'd better watch yourself. My boys need to keep their heads in the game."

She was still watching Oliver. Her smile softened into a barely there curve of her pink lips. "Well Daddy, I've always said I'm going to marry a professional Quidditch star."

"Mary - take your old father's advice. Concentrate on your work. And you don't need a romance to inspire the telling of a good story." Coach Winston turned his way. "Hayden, I"ll be heading to the team room. I've got some plays to diagram before the rest of 'em arrive."

He no sooner turned the corner than Mary softly called out, "Hayden. I need a favor from you."

Hayden looked up from his work. Uh oh.

She took a breath and gave him her innocent smile. "Introduce me to Wood."

He shook his head. "Want me fired? You heard Coach."

"Oh for heaven's sake, it's just an introduction!"

"Uh uh. Not me. I like my job."

She looked up to see Wood grab his bag and begin walking towards them.

She hissed, "All right then. Who needs you?"

Wood was now only halfway across the pitch. Mary grabbed her wand from her pocket and muttered the words to a spell. A sheet of paper from her book immediately detached itself and began blowing through the air as if picked up by a gust of wind. She grabbed at it unsuccessfully and somewhat theatrically and assumed a look of distress calling, "Oh no! My notes!"

Hayden rolled his eyes. She blithely ignored him. The paper continued to blow erratically away from her and towards Wood.

She called out again, breathlessly this time, "Please. I need that paper!"

Wood dropped his bag. It took him several quick steps and a jump - the boy can move - before he reached up and plucked it from the air above him. He took a few long strides towards her and held out the sheet.

"Here you go, miss."

Wood was quite a bit taller than Mary. Her eyes moved up to Wood's shoulders, assessing their breadth, and then to his forearm where they lingered as he handed her the paper. Hayden couldn't help but compare his own skinny arms to Wood's. Wood's had the taut cords of muscle usually seen in the Beaters. That hadn't gone unnoticed by the girl.

"Um...thank you. You saved me. Again." She flashed him a smile.

Hayden held his breath. Stay strong, Wood.

"You're the girl from the pub." Wood shrugged his shoulders. "The wind can be a bit tricky at times."

"Right. Tricky." She fingered her straight brown hair back from her eyes.

Mary did that a lot when flirting, Hayden had noticed.

She continued. "It didn't seem to give you a problem, though."

"Nah." He looked towards her paper. "Something important?"

"Oh yes. Very."

"Glad I could help, then." He started to turn to leave.

Good show, man.

"Wait!" Her own hand reached out in greeting. "I'm Mary."

She bit her lip, unsuccessfully trying to contain her grin. She was pulling out all the stops, wasn't she? She finally let go, clearing her throat. "And you're?"

"Oliver Wood."

"Nice to meet you, Oliver."

He nodded. "Well. Time for practice. Good day." He turned around to retrieve his bag, then headed to the team building.

Her smile quickly turned into a frown. That was abrupt. Wood seemed immune to Mary's ploys. He hadn't asked what she was doing there, on his practice field, chasing a paper. He hadn't said much to her at all. She'd had to prompt him to even volunteer his name. Hayden smiled. This might be more difficult than Mary had anticipated. She watched Wood walk away, his stride confident and sure, then turned to glare at Hayden.

"What's so funny?"

"Your timing. He's just back from an injury, and he's focused on his game. Besides - you think he wants to mess with the coach's daughter? They're all scared of Coach."

Mary thrust up her chin. "Well, I'm not. And I've always loved a challenge."

* * * *

Oliver woke up early for another day of practice and jumped out of bed. He'd been on the Puddlemere Reserve Team for three months now, and the same burst of excitement always hit him when he woke up to start the day. He dressed and went into the kitchen to prepare breakfast. As he was throwing some bread into the toaster, and a thick slice of ham into a frying pan, he noticed that he hadn't heard a peep from Dominic. It was getting close to time to leave. Oliver knocked on Dominic's bedroom door.

"Meath! Time for breakfast! You'll be late!" He listened for a moment and heard some rustling in the room. He called again, "Dominic?"

"I hear you, Wood! Getting up!"

Oliver shook his head and returned to the kitchen to flip the sizzling slice of ham. It was the third time this week he'd had to awaken Meath for early practice. What was with the guy? Oliver sat down to eat and opened the Daily Prophet. A few minutes later his groggy roommate plodded into the kitchen and straight to the stove for coffee.

"You okay, Dominic?"

Meath's hair was sticking up in several places from sleep and he was still in his tee shirt, pajama pants, and bare feet. "Yeah. Just tired." He turned to Oliver. "Aren't you tired of these early practices?"

Oliver just stared at him, not quite comprehending the question.

Meath stared back for a moment and then muttered, "I thought not." Then turned back to fixing his breakfast.

They sat and ate, silent, until Oliver spoke up. "Dominic...what's with you lately? We're preparing for our biggest match yet, and you seem to be... I don't know...What's going on, man?"

Dominic filled his glass with milk before he answered. He set the pitcher down hard on the table. "My old man's coming to this weekend's match."

Oliver felt a stab of envy. "Great! So what's wrong?"

"What's wrong? I've been lucky this far, mate. He was on business trips for our first couple of matches, and was sick for our last one, but he's freed up his schedule now, and I'll probably have to deal with him at most every match remaining."

"I still don't see the problem."

Dominic was frowning and looking down at his plate, rather than at Oliver. "Nothing. There is no problem."

Oliver watched Dominic hack away at his ham and raised an eyebrow. "I'd venture to say your breakfast wouldn't agree."

Dominic looked up from his plate. "Let's just eat, all right?"

It was strange seeing his usually jovial roommate so grim. Oliver decided to back off. "All right."

A couple of minutes later Oliver was scanning the obituaries of the Daily Prophet when he came across a name he recognized. "Ah hell. Roderick Gatsby died!"

Dominic looked up from his plate. "The old Keeper from years ago?"

Oliver nodded, still looking at the article. "Yeah. He was our neighbor when I was a young boy. He taught me to fly."

"He did?"

Oliver threw the paper onto the table. "Well my father sure didn't! And Uncle Will was traveling with his team back then, so I hardly saw him. Mr. Gatsby was old, but he never stopped loving the game. He had a large lot and loved to garden. I was a little tag along, practically still in nappies when he first let me climb onto a broom." Oliver smiled at the memory. "If my mum had known, I think she would've hexed him into the next county! It was our little secret. He knew I'd have tried it anyway, with or without him, and that at least with him I was a little safer."

Dominic grabbed the paper muttering, "What team was he with again?" and scanned where Oliver had been reading. He looked up. "You missed the funeral, Oliver. There's a picture of it right here."

Oliver looked down at the page again. "Bloody hell! My father."

"What?"

"My father's in the picture!"

Oliver stared at his father, pictured in the first row, looking serious and distinguished in his somber black robes.

Meath raised his eyebrows. "Didn't he tell you about it?"

"No. And he knew I would have wanted to be there."

Meath looked genuinely sorry. "That's rough, mate."

Oliver stayed silent as he crumpled the paper.

Practice that day was difficult. Oliver was hard on his teammates and harder on himself. There was no room for error and no patience for anything less than perfection. The more he thought of his father purposely keeping Gatsby's death from him, the angrier he became. And so every time he thought of it, he pushed himself further physically, until the screaming in his lungs and the burning in his legs overshadowed the searing pain in his heart. He had not seen nor heard anything from his father since their argument at the dinner table longer than three months previously. It was time for another conversation.

* * * *

Oliver Apparated home early that evening. He walked into the expansive kitchen where his mother was tidying up from supper.

"Hi, Mum."

She turned, threw the dishcloth onto the marble counter, and reached for him with a surprised smile. "Oliver! I can't believe...What are you doing here?"

She wrapped her arms around him and he relaxed for a moment in her familiar soft floral scent. But then he remembered the reason for his visit and he pulled back from her.

"I need to speak with Dad."

"Is something wrong?"

"It's all right, Mum. I just need to straighten something out."

"May I fix you some supper? We've just finished and there's plenty left. I can prepare you a plate and then call Jonathan down."

"Where is he?"

"Upstairs. In his study."

"I'll just go up to him, then."

"All right."

Oliver could feel her concerned eyes on him as he left the room. He climbed the massive wooden staircase, his grip on the polished banister necessary to help his exhausted legs, which had become progressively more sore from the day's brutal practice. He remembered how he had felt that morning as he had read the newspaper, and his anger grew as he reached the top stair. There was only a moment's hesitation, standing quietly in front of the closed door to his father's study, gathering himself for what lay ahead. And then he took a deep breath and knocked.

"Eve? Come in." His father's voice sounded muffled by the heavy door.

Oliver opened the door and saw his father sitting at his desk, writing. He was still in his dress shirt, although his business robes and tie had been removed. His head turned as Oliver entered, and his eyes widened at the sight of his son.

"Oliver!" He stood up and held out his hand.

Oliver didn't take it and his father's eyes narrowed for a moment. "What's wrong?"

Like you don't know. "Mr. Gatsby died."

"Yes. And I-"

"You were there, at the funeral."

"Of course!" His father's tone became scolding. "And you should have been as well. He was a good neighbor and friend."

Oliver was seething by now. What kind of game was his father playing? He so easily made Oliver feel like a child. "Well, how was I to attend, when I didn't even know he had died?"

His father locked his eyes on Oliver. "It is not my fault if your beloved Quidditch leaves you no time to open your ma-"

But Oliver didn't hear him finish his sentence, as that comment released the rest of his pent up fury, and it all came tumbling out. "He was my friend! And you knew I would have wanted to be there!"

His father raised his eyebrows, silent. He stood there examining Oliver. "What is this all about, son?"

His dad's steady gaze only served to anger Oliver even further and Oliver gave a sarcastic laugh. "What is this all about?" His voice rose steadily to a shout. "You didn't tell me about the funeral because Mr. Gatsby taught me to fly, and you hate anything that has to do with me and Quidditch!"

His father took a step towards him, frowning. "Lower your voice. You will NOT speak to me with such disrespect! I wrote to you about the funeral! You should have received the letter last week!"

"I've received no mail from you! Not one letter since I moved to Dorset."

"I don't know why you didn't receive the letter. But the Floo Network and post office work both ways. What are you doing with your time? Your mother and I have not heard from you, either."

"I've written to Mum!"

His father hesitated at that. A hit.

Oliver's father set his jaw and stared at his desk while he spoke. "Well...she hasn't mentioned it, then." He walked over to a small table behind his desk and placed a few ice cubes into a small glass, then poured an amber liquid from a cut crystal bottle. He offered none to Oliver.

"Dad, when are you going to stop punishing me?"

His father wouldn't look at him; he stared at his glass. "Punishing you? I don't know what you're talking about."

"You've been angry with me ever since I signed to play. You haven't wished me luck, seen a match. You haven't even asked how I've been doing."

Now he turned sharply to his son. "I've been uncommonly busy here lately, Oliver. There have been...issues to contend with...at work."

"Right. Work."

Jonathan slammed his glass on his desk, the muscle in his jaw working. "The world does not revolve around you and Quidditch! I guess you're learning that the hard way."

Oliver was breathing rapidly, and his head was pounding. "No. The truth is, you want your world to have nothing to do with me! Fine. Have it your way, Dad." The last word was laced with scathing sarcasm, before he turned and stalked out of the room.

He didn't even stop to say good-bye to his mother. Her cry of "Oliver!" as he stalked back through the house and out the front door was muffled by the continued pounding in his head and his heavy breathing. Once out on the grass he Apparated back to his flat. He didn't say a word to his flatmate, just kept walking to his room and grabbed his broom out of his closet, and left out the back door before Dominic could even speak to him.

At first he wasn't sure where he should go. He wanted to be alone, and he wanted to fly. But he couldn't simply jump on his broom, as he would be in plain view of the Muggles who lived here. And he didn't want to go to the pitch. He'd go to the lake.

* * * *

Mary was sitting on a blanket, watching the sun set over the lake, writing as usual, when she saw Oliver Wood stride up to the edge of the water, only yards away. She knew it! She knew if she came here often enough, she would see him again. It had been a few weeks ago when she had first seen him running sprints on this part of the lakeshore. And a happy coincidence, as she had walked down the shore from her father's lakeside home, to enjoy the gentle sun and soft breezes of a perfect Autumn day. She had watched quietly, keeping well out of the way, enjoying the display of strength and speed, his raw masculinity tempered with athletic grace. She had been transfixed. And even though her work schedule kept her busy, she had tried to come here to write, at around the same time, hoping to see him again.

On that first day, unbeknownst to Oliver, she had smiled along with him, laughed when he had thrown back his head and whooped with joy, sighed when he had finished walking off his last sprint, held her breath when he had torn off his shirt and waded into the cold lake water to splash his face and torso. He had been reveling in the beauty of the day and the power of his body, and for a few magical moments, she had secretly shared it with him.

Today was clearly different. The weather was angry, the skies grey, the wind cold and biting, whipping spray off the water and flinging it back onto the sand and rocks. And he was different. She knew it immediately, in the tense way he held his shoulders, and in the way he paced at the shoreline. The weather matched his mood, pent up, waiting to blow. She sat up straighter and zeroed in on his emotion, analyzing the nuances of his movements. He must have had no idea anyone was watching him, and for a moment she felt guilty, like she was invading something intensely private. She turned away. Should she leave? No. She was a writer after all, and he was a subject of great interest - a muse, as her father had mentioned earlier. She was fascinated, rooted to the spot. But then she frowned. Something was happening here and she wanted to do more than stand back and take notes, much as a clinician would, distant, objective, non-feeling. How could she help? She continued to watch.

He gripped his broom with one hand as he paced, then stopped and stared down at it for a few moments. His hands ran along its grain...caressing, exploring...and then suddenly he turned and flung it back into the air, launching it as far as he could send it, watching its graceful arc and nosedive into the soft earth, where it stood half buried, like some strange small tree that hadn't survived winter. He continued to watch it, his fists clenched, his chest heaving rapidly, until he wrenched his body around again to the water. He shoved his hair back off his eyes and dropped his head for a moment. She saw his breathing slow, and the rise and fall of his shoulders begin to match the rhythm of the waves. The wind steadily picked up. It lifted his robes and lashed the hem around his legs. He turned his head up, eyes closed, and slowly raised his arms from his sides, palms facing the water. He allowed the air flurries to fill his sleeves, letting the wind hold him erect. He was motionless, his balance at one with the buoyant gusts coming at him off the water.

She saw him take a deep breath, filling himself, and then sigh - a great, big emptying sigh. And then he turned back to his broom and marched towards it, his strides purposeful and long, his jaw set with determination. He plucked the broom easily from the sand with one hand and tossed it into the air in front of him, taking a step and a half to leap fluidly onto its back and swoop up and out over the water. She had watched him fly before, in practice and in games, but never this fast and never this dangerously, his climbing and plunging and sharp turns all courting the edge of disaster. One second he was diving straight down towards the churning black surface of the lake...she cringed, waiting for the splash...and the next he was skimming just above the surface, his feet just deep enough to force jets of gray water out each side of his trail as he flew. It was fascinating - and frightening - and she stood up, not even realizing she was walking over to the edge of the water, mesmerized by what he was commanding his broom to do. Finally, she saw him throw back his head and heard him yell.

His voice was rich and deep and carried easily to her even above the din of the wind, and he raised both his hands off the broom in victory as he shouted, "This...makes...me...ALIVE!"

And then he swooped down and landed.

* * * *

It wasn't until Oliver had jumped off his broom and raised it toward the setting sun that he saw the girl. Mary? He stopped and took a sudden step back. He wanted to turn and run. He could feel his cheeks, already warm from his exertion and anger, flush further with embarrassment. She had seen his display. He started to turn to leave.

But she took a step towards him and blurted out, "I love how you fly."

He hesitated, as he hadn't expected that. He was surprised at the effect of those words. No one, outside of Quidditch, had ever told him that before. Her chin was thrust up defiantly, her expression challenging him to dispute her, or argue her presence here, in his spot at the lake. He didn't. He simply stayed silent.

The wind whipped her hair around her face. She shook it off her eyes, and for a moment he could see her features clearly - her long lashes, her delicate nose, her lips red from the cold. And then it was covered again by that blowing curtain of hair. He wanted to brush it back.

She walked closer to him and turned slightly, so the wind blew her hair back instead of forward. Now he could see her.

She spoke again. "You have a gift. And it must feel wonderful."

It does. He finally gave a tentative nod. His grip relaxed on his broom. Without his will it was dead weight and it hit the wet shoreline with a thud.

He finally found his voice. "Why are you here? Out in the cold?"

She laughed. "I'm writing." She gestured to a large rock with a blanket and a notebook. "This spot is beautiful - deserted, peaceful."

"I know. I come here to run sometimes. And to think." Why did I tell her that? It must be the openness of her expression. It was like she was coaxing him out of himself, without saying a word.

Her voice was softer this time. "Is that what you were doing today? Thinking?"

Looking down at his feet for a second, he took a breath, remembering his conversation with his father. "Yeah. It probably seems strange to you, but flying helps me clear my head."

"Not strange. Though I don't think that would work for me. I don't feel very comfortable on a broom. I'm sure I'd be so worried about making a mistake that I wouldn't be able to think of anything else. That's why it's so wonderful to watch you."

How sad to think there were people who didn't feel their broom was a part of them. He was one of the lucky ones. She was helping him remember that. It was a privilege - something to treasure, not something to be ashamed of, or feel guilty for. He needed to be reminded of this right now. Suddenly he was intensely grateful for her presence.

Thunder began to rumble in the background. A light mist was falling. Mary shivered and looked towards the black clouds moving in towards them. A part of Oliver wanted to stay and talk with her, but the weather was worsening and she looked thoroughly chilled.

He told her, "Perhaps we should head home. Do you want to Apparate?"

"You know, I think I'd rather walk. I live just up the shore, about a mile. And I love the rain."

"Well...would you accept an escort this time?"

"I would love one. Thank you."

He held out his arm. As she smiled and reached out to take it, he realized the tension and anger had drained out of him. He wanted to stay close to her for a little longer. He picked up his broom, and she picked up her blanket and notebook, and they walked towards her home. They were silent at first, letting the wind and the crunch of their footsteps on the rocky shoreline fill the quiet.

Mary was the first to speak. "Are you feeling better?"

Oliver felt another flash of embarrassment "Um...yeah."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"No...I'm not. It's all right."

"Sometimes it helps to talk about it."

He tensed. "It's...sort of private."

"I understand."

He sighed. He hadn't really talked to anyone about his father. Meath wouldn't understand. Uncle Will had tried, but Oliver really just hated thinking about it. But there was something about her concern that made him feel like opening up a bit. And perhaps it was because of what they had just shared, that he was willing to risk his pride. It sort of just came out.

"I...uh...my father and I haven't been getting along lately."

She remained silent, her eyes telling him to go on.

"He doesn't think very highly of me playing Quidditch."

She looked surprised at that. "But why?"

Of course she wouldn't understand. With her father coaching, her whole life must have revolved around the sport.

"He built a medicinal potions company from the ground up. It's been his life. He expected me to join him in running it after I left Hogwarts."

"Oh. I see." She looked down at the shoreline. "I know a little of what you must be going through. My father thinks my writing is a waste of time. Not practical. He wanted me to go into teaching. My mother used to be a teacher, before she died. He feels it works well for family life...holidays and summers off, regular hours, good benefits."

Oliver felt that familiar surge of indignation. "But it's your life! You should be able to choose what you want to do with it!"

"I know. And I've chosen writing. But it doesn't mean he hasn't stopped letting me know, in many different ways, that he still doesn't agree."

Oliver stopped walking and asked. "So...what do you do?"

"I share my passion with others who write. We give each other support. And I just try to shrug it off. I have to live my own life." She looked up at him, her blue eyes wide and intense, like the blue of a summer sky. "Oliver...you have a wonderful gift. And it is your passion. You can't deny yourself that. Your father will see that eventually. And if he doesn't, then I feel very sorry for him." She smiled. "You have a great career ahead of you. I know it. And I've heard from a good source that you won't be long in the reserve unit."

"What?"

She laughed. "That's all I'm going to say. And I probably shouldn't have even said that." She pointed up the beach. "Oh look, there's my house."

He grabbed her by the arm, his grin wide across his face. "Wait! What do you mean?"

She slipped out of his grasp, laughing. "You'll have to catch me to hear any more!" And she ran ahead.

She was surprisingly fast, and his legs were still very sore and tired from the day. His feet felt planted in the wet earth beneath him. He struggled to sprint after her, getting up to speed only after a few moments of work to loosen them up. He finally caught her, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him. They were both breathless and laughing, and they stayed there, against each other, until they caught their breath. Oliver could smell the peach sent of her shampoo as she leaned her head into his chest. The wind blew her damp hair, and it tickled his neck. He turned her around to face him.

"All right. I've done my part."

Mary smiled coyly. "I suppose I never had a chance, did I? Very well. My father was watching you one day during your early morning work out."

"Yeah?" Oliver's heart was beating fast, and it wasn't from the sprint.

"And he told Hayden that you wouldn't be in the reserve unit for long. He said you've got heart."

"Coach Winston said that?"

"Yes. And talent. And you had better not let on to him that I told you!"

"I promise." He looked to the horizon for a moment. "Wow."

"See? You are meant for this, Oliver."

The day's uncertainly left him as he took in those words. He was still holding her arms. He had a sudden urge to kiss her. No. Not yet. He needed to concentrate on Quidditch. The first team was right there, almost within his grasp. He needed to pour everything into reaching that goal.

Mary's eyes were locked on his. She whispered, "My father says I shouldn't see anyone on the team. That his "boys" need to keep their heads in the game."

"My father thinks I'm whiling away my time with sport and women."

She whispered, "Kiss me."

To hell with his father. And with Coach Winston. Standing right in front of him was a beautiful girl who loved watching him fly. It felt good, damn it! Oliver leaned in. Their eyes closed as their lips met. Her mouth was warm and soft, and he reached up and felt her cheek, cold from the spray and wind. He pulled back slowly and saw her smiling.

He surprised himself with his next words. "I'd...like to see you again."

She looked pleased but not surprised, as though she'd expected him to say that.

"Me too."

He watched her walk up the sand to her house, and gave her a small wave before she entered and closed the door behind her. Suddenly the earth beneath him felt firm and solid. It was the first time in a long time that he had felt that good on the ground.

* * * *

Oliver entered his flat a short while later. Dominic was lounging on the couch, reading.

He immediately sat up when Oliver entered and asked, "How'd it go?"

"Not good. He swears he wrote me a letter. Can you believe it?"

"Well, mate...maybe."

"What?"

"About an hour ago an owl dropped this off." Dominic handed Oliver a crumpled and dirty envelope. "The little bugger looked like he'd been through the wringer. Wet, muddy, exhausted. I took it from him, and then he gave me this."

Oliver read a small form letter from a mail courier business that his father frequently used for official business.

Dear Patron,

If you have been given this letter by a mail owl, then your letter has been delayed unexpectedly by circumstances beyond our control, most likely poor weather conditions, or an error by our owl carrier. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this delay may have caused. Further concerns may be taken up with our customer service agents who may be reached through the...

Oliver threw the letter down onto the table and examined the envelope. It was from his father. And the postmark was from over a week ago. His father had written.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author's Note: Once again - thanks to Suburban House Elf and Aggiebell, my beta readers, and to St. Margarets who was amazingly helpful in the early drafts of this chapter.

//
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