Adult (5,588 count)
A heavy hand settled on Oliver’s shoulder and he turned into the touch – Greg’s he recognized, and sighed at the brief respite.
“Women troubles. I can spot them a mile away.”
Rolling his eyes, Oliver smiled tiredly as he turned to face Puddlemere United’s captain. He shook off the hand as he straightened his tie and surveyed the crowded scene that awaited them. The hotel lobby was filled to capacity with team members, prospects, American and British reporters, and United’s extensive training and coaching staff.
“My women troubles are those we all have,” Oliver eventually answered, stuffing his hands into his coat pockets. “Women, men, all out there.” He gestured with his chin to the crowd behind Greg’s shoulders, hearing the bitterness in his tone and not caring. “I’m not getting through today, Greg. I’ll tell you that.”
“One day, Wood. One day of press interviews and pictures, and we’re home tomorrow morning and back on hiatus.”
“For a week,” Oliver grumbled miserably, flexing his elbows with his hands still in his pockets. When he saw that Greg had started to correct him, he interrupted, “Alright, two weeks ‘til the next match. But we’re back at work a week from Monday.”
“Practice,” Greg corrected harshly, looking none-too pleased at the interruption. He leaned forward, his forehead creasing and eyes flashing a warning akin to danger. “Are you needing a break, Wood? I know these folks fair give you the creeps,” he jerked a thumb behind him, his own Glaswegian accent making a rare appearance as it often did alone with Oliver. “But it’s just one day.”
Oliver took a deep breath and shut his eyes. He rubbed his hands over his head hard. “I know. I know I know I know. I’m just going to need a few days to myself. Get my head back on straight.”
Greg, who’d always been a man of few words since Oliver signed to United, grunted approval and moved along.
The past six years had taken their toll. There was little humour left in Oliver, not with fourteen-hour practice days and extensive press responsibilities that made any leisure time fall on late night hours. It was the price of Quidditch and celebrity. He reasoned to himself, how else would his worth be reflected if not on the pitch or catered to by the press? He didn’t have job security, he only had his youth and the present time, and he worked hard to keep himself employable. At twenty-three, his muscles were more frequently in spasm, his visits to the masseuse now a regular part of life even off-season. The work and the worry prematurely lined his face.
Still, a week off from field and press obligations was enough an incentive for Oliver to put on a bright smile and walk resolutely towards the elevators. After all, he reasoned, one day of pointless interviews and tactless reporters wouldn’t change anything.
Oliver was signed to United’s reserve just shy of his eighteenth birthday. His notice was hand delivered by two aurors-turned-security guards that stayed by his side for years, until he’d earned enough clout to have them written out of his contract. Throughout those few months on the reserve team and later United proper, he quickly learned that there were few differences between the advantages and responsibilities that celebrity afforded.
Regretfully, reporters and publicity were non-factors at contract negotiations.
Like most professional Quidditch athletes, Oliver did not respond well to being cooped up in a darkened hotel room that was acting as a makeshift press office. From the moment he’d entered, he felt hungry, bored and worse, vulnerable.
“You ready for another interview?” a young, perk United assistant asked hopefully.
Oliver threw her a pained look but lost his edge seeing her nervousness. He smiled reassuringly. “Just the one more, right?” She nodded eagerly.
“Promise?” he teased as she passed over a glass of water, the contents jiggling over the edge and onto his suit.
“Oh my god!” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands in outrage and rushing from the room.
Oliver took his wand from his inside jacket pocket and muttered a familiar cleaning charm just as another news production team had entered the room. It was always the same scenario; self-important camera crews would set up unidentifiable equipment as a team of make-up and wardrobe artists would charm his suit to de-wrinkle (and sometimes dye). Layers of foundation, blushes and mascara magically slapped his face into a current Hollywood standard. And cue entrance-
“Yell-ow,” came a soft voice from the doorway.
As Oliver anticipated, a young reporter with long blonde hair sauntered into the hotel room, her eyes locking on Oliver’s. She wore a pink mini-robe (all the rage in California or so Oliver heard) and when his eyes appraised her outfit her white smile grew disturbingly larger.
“Cane. Candy Cane,” she happily announced, leaning into Oliver far enough so that he could see clearly down the front of her robe. But Oliver was too involved in distinguishing her southern American accent to pay her any attention.
Recovering quickly, he folded his arms across his chest protectively, repeating the mantra: one to go, one to go. Most end-of-the-day reporters were the same, keeping their shoulders pressed back and their bosom out, interviewing celebrities for the sake of bragging rights and the hope that celebrity itself was contagious.
Candy held Oliver’s gaze as she plunked down in swivel chair across from his, her knees pressing against Oliver’s.
“Let’s rock and roll, huh?” she nodded encouragingly, in a manner that couldn’t be mistaken for anything but condescending. Without waiting for a reply, she took a small, green-coloured notebook from the folds of her robe, and clasped it firmly on her lap. “Cue!”
The crew was accustomed to her antics, focusing on the interviewer and –ee with the same professional detachment Oliver had seen all day.
Candy flipped her hair and winked into a camera. “This is Candy Cane reporting for CQN, the Cable Quidditch Network. Today I’m sitting here with Oliver Wood, Keeper for Puddlemere United and the youngest – yes folks, the youngest player in United’s history to sign after only one year on the reserve. That’s nearly six years” (she counted on her fingers) “of playing professional Quidditch. Why, you’re practically a senior out there, aren’t you dear?”
Oliver smiled grimly.
Candy continued, “United is in California this week coming off a three game series with the Texas All-Stars and the Oakland Bandits. That game last Sunday was amazing, Oliver.”
“Thank you, Candy,” Oliver said tightly, attempting to match her grin. “We lost that one.”
“I meant Saturday,” she tried without missing a beat.
“Well, that game was a particularly difficult-”
“Don’t be modest, Oliver,” Candy mockingly scolded, patting his thigh. “It’s not too often that a Keeper deflects so many” (she consulted her notes) “goals against” (again) “the Tornadoes! Four hundred shots, wasn’t it? Impressive.”
A serious expression settled over her face, and she continued in a hushed tone, “This lifestyle must be so dreadfully hard on your girlfriend.”
Ah, the fan-girl interview, Oliver tried not to laugh aloud. There was always that one reporter more interested in his celebrity appeal than his athletic ability, and he knew from experience that it was no use veering the conversation back to Quidditch. Still he tried. Setting his mouth into a firm line, Oliver said darkly, “I like to keep my personal affaires separate from Quidditch.”
“Must be difficult,” Candy purred, covering one of Oliver’s hands with her own.
Oliver grinded his teeth and flung her hand off his before remembering the cameras. “What I mean is that my private life is private. Could we please talk about Quidditch?”
Candy looked offended and hurt. “Your fans want to know everything about you. Don’t they deserve to know the real Oliver Wood?”
No Oliver bit back, instead jerking a thumb towards the room’s window, where California’s glaring sun was blocked out by closed curtains. “The real Oliver Wood is the Keeper out there on the pitch. Everything there is to know about me is on the pitch.”
Giving no indication she’d heard him, Candy rubbed her throat thoughtfully. “Aren’t you on the cover of Quidditch Fan Weekly next week, voted Sexiest Quidditch Player of the Year?”
“Aye,” Oliver admitted after a hesitation. “My agent’s told me I was chosen for that, but my contributions to-”
“And you’re denying your adoring public, the ones who put you on the cover of Quidditch Fan Weekly over fifteen times, the ones that purchase your Quidditch merchandise and who attend United’s games just to see you play, deny them the chance to discover the man beyond the goalpost?”
“Look I appreciate-”
The hotel door burst open – burst with pink glittering stars and neon yellow streamers that faded away spectacularly, and smoke gathered around two figures that lingered in the entranceway.
“Er. Oliver?” asked the shorter of the two figures, stepping forward with mock concern. “Henry’s made a mess of the door here.”
“It was open, fellas,” Oliver muttered tiredly, even when a small thrill of relief broke through his fatigue.
“Oh cut,” Candy bit out while signalling the attention of her make-up artists.
Dave Sharp bounded into the room with the energy befitting a top prospect seeker, followed by a hesitant and apologetic Henry Oak, and Oliver couldn’t stop himself matching their knowing smirks. He’d spent much of his career with distant friendships and acquaintances, but with the signing of Dave and Henry to United’s reserve the previous year, he’d had the benefit of close friendship. Just not much time to enjoy it.
“We’ve already been introduced,” Dave nodded towards Candy as he took a seat on the couch opposite Oliver’s chair. “That was a time of it, wasn’t it Henry?”
The usually jovial beater sat next to Dave, throwing a pained look at the ceiling.
“Boys,” Candy greeted them dryly. “Coming in to give me another sound bite? Maybe one that won’t be censured on television or print?”
Dave shrugged his shoulders as he rested an ankle over his knee, and responded shamelessly, “Depends. What are you two talking about?”
“Oliver’s romantic life. How would you both describe it?”
“Nonexistent,” Henry breathed out, muted by Oliver’s rough cough.
Displeased, Candy motioned for the camera to start rolling again, and turned back to Oliver. “I’m not looking for a list of how many notches are on your broomstick” (Oliver winced) “but you have a responsibility to my viewers, to your public, to satisfy their curiosity. Call it female intuition, I’m getting the feeling you have someone special at home. Some lucky girl, huh?”
“Oh, you mean Oliver’s special friend,” Dave said knowingly. “How do you know these things?”
“Oh boy,” Oliver groaned, sinking into his seat.
For a brief moment Candy seemed torn to believe such a golden nugget of gossip, and then moved quickly, motioning for the cameras to broaden their scope to include the reserve’s players.
“As two of Oliver’s closest friends, you must know quite a bit about his private life. Dave, didn’t you and Oliver attend the same school? Hogbumps, was it? Sort of a best friends forever-type deal, huh?”
“Totally,” Dave confirmed with a preteen girl’s look of sincerity, like he was revealing an unfailing truth. “B-F-F.”
Henry turned his head, biting on the outside of his hand to keep from laughing.
Oliver glared daggers but his friends wouldn’t look at him. He put both hands on the back of his neck and locked his fingers together, rolling his neck to ease the building stress. It was a futile effort.
“I’ve only met Oliver this past year,” Henry chimed in, his casual Texan drawl markedly distinguishing him from his quick-talking teammate. At twenty-one, he was the current world top prospect beater, having been signed to United from the All-Stars a year before. “We’re good friends, all of us.”
“You wanted to hear about Oliver’s love life, is that right?” Dave imputed as though she were inquiring the time.
“So there is someone in his life?” Candy’s bosom was heaving, and Oliver was certain the top buttons on her mini-robe would soon burst.
“Someone very special.”
“Fantastic guy. Really.”
Oliver swivelled off his chair, steadying himself halfway down on lighting equipment.
Candy was near drooling.
“I kind of wish he were my boyfriend,” Henry muttered wistfully.
“So, Oliver Wood is gay,” Candy mused quietly, tapping her fingers on the green notepad that remained closed on her lap. “And in a serious relationship. It isn’t with you…” she pointed her capped quill at Henry, clearly confused.
“Regretfully no,” Henry shook his head, chancing a look at Oliver. “But I probably influenced him to settle down. Be comfortable with himself.”
Oliver, who’d just gotten himself steady on the stool again, choked.
Candy, obviously still trying to recover from this surprise, turned to Dave, “Both of your best friends are gay?”
“Hell, Candy,” Dave said, his serious expression unwavering, “Oliver has such a wonderful boyfriend that I wish he were my own! Except I’m not gay. Henry has yet to work his magic on me.”
“It’ll come,” Henry reassured him.
Oliver kicked off his shoes noisily.
“Wait right here,” Candy urged, making a throat-cutting motion to the cameras. “I’m going to need a retouch for this.”
Once out of earshot, Oliver leaned back and closed his eyes, and hissed, “It doesn’t take much to knock a man off his broom. I’m faster than you are Henry, and larger than you Dave. Something to keep in mind.”
Dave nudged his knee with the toe of his shoe. “Relax, Wood. We’re just having a little fun. I’ve more brain cells in my broomstick than-”
Oliver interrupted, his face growing red, “Fix this now!”
Henry leaned forward, loosening his tie as he brought his free hand to the side of Oliver’s neck and rubbed slowly. “Loosen up there. You’re about as tense as a-
“You’re not supposed to be encouraging Dave!” Oliver retorted, jerking his neck out of Henry’s reach, and then casting a quick glance at Candy to make sure she was out of earshot. “He’s your responsibility when I’m not around.”
“Hey,” Dave hissed crossly, sounding anything but.
“We’re going on a week’s hiatus. You shouldn’t be takin’ things so seriously,” Henry reproached, adding in a conspirator’s whisper, “See the faint orange aura round those cameras?”
Annoyed, Oliver squinted at the unfamiliar gadgetry and relented, “A bit, yes.”
“Dave charmed the cameras so they wouldn’t record.”
Oliver blinked at Dave, who smugly confirmed, “Won’t record! You know I’m ace in charms.”
Not forgetting his friend was a former Hogwarts valedictorian, Oliver wasn’t about to argue.
Henry added, “Candy spent two hours harping on Dave’s relationships, or lack of them, since Karen left him last year” (Dave threw him a look) “and then asked how I ranked our male teammates in the showers, if you get my drift.”
“We tied for first,” Dave joked to Oliver in a stage whisper.
“You both wish,” Henry gave his shoulder a playful punch. “So how ‘bout it, Wood? Let’s have a little fun here.”
“Could be fun pretending you actually have a social life,” Dave smirked.
“Whatever did I do…” Oliver trailed off, unable to hide his grin. Ignoring the sense of foreboding that had set firm in his belly, he consented grudgingly, “Fine, fine. I’ll do this. But you’re both paying for drinks afterwards.”
Candy cleared her throat as she resumed her seat. “All set boys? And cue!” Her lips had been reddened and enlarged by the miracle of wizard make-up charms. “Let’s hear about the mystery man that has stolen your heart, Oliver Wood.”
Tongue-tied, Oliver flushed under the (non-working) cameras’ glare. He wasn’t easily attracted to anyone, man or woman, always having put up a guarded front. And he couldn’t remember the last time he had a fantasy to call upon. “He’s a great guy,” he finally blurted out, seeing Henry inch forward on the couch to get Candy’s attention.
“He’s absolutely dreamy,” he said wistfully.
“Can I ask for a name?” Candy tried.
“My private life is private,” Oliver reminded her.
“How about a physical description?”
“He has wavy hair,” Dave said conversationally before Oliver could stop him. “Great hair, really.”
The saying walk like the hippogriff, talk like the hippogriff kept repeating in Oliver’s mind. “Wavy and thick red hair. Not a bright red but a deep rich colour. Angular face with a few freckles mostly around his nose. Blue eyes.”
Out the corner of his eyes, he saw Dave jolt forward, surprised.
“Er, yeah,” Dave said, looking confused. “Azure blue, almost. Height-wise, he’s-”
“Tall. An inch or two shorter than I stand at 6-2,” Oliver interrupted, realizing just how much he was enjoying creating this pretend life. “He’s fit.”
“He doesn’t play Quidditch, though,” Henry pointed out.
“Right. He’s no good on a broom,” Oliver chuckled. “An intellectual type. We leave each other to our own interests.”
“What’s his family like?” Candy asked, looking pleased.
“Big family. That’s important to him,” Oliver replied easily, crossing his arms comfortably. He had to admit, this was the best interview of the day.
“Do you each have separate roles in the relationship? Perhaps… feminine roles?”
Henry buried his head in Dave’s neck, exasperated.
“Of course not,” Oliver bit out, offended on the behalf of this fantasy lover. “Sure, we each have our own strengths. He’s a better cook than I am. I like things a bit more tidy than he does. And sure I’m more into sports, but he takes an active interest in my life. In my interests, as I do his.”
“That sounds dreamy,” Candy gushed, tapping her fingers on the closed notepad still on her lap. “What are some of the things you two enjoy doing together?”
“Many things,” Oliver said quickly, ignoring his friends’ attempts to jump into the conversation. “Er. Walking together. Relaxing. Just being around each other. He excels in everything, really. A bit shy but stubborn,” he laughed. “He has a fantastic personality, he makes me want to go out and grab-”
“His arse,” Dave mouthed.
“Life. Grab life,” Oliver emphasized, trying to be serious. “Makes me want to learn things, do things that I might never have considered before. Takes me out of this constant game of all things Quidditch, and into his welcoming world that’s full of both wonder and normalcy.”
“Wow,” Henry muttered, staring.
“Is he a wizard, Oliver?”
“Yes. But he loves and accepts the muggle lifestyle, as most of us have come to, living in Puddlemere.”
“A normal guy?”
“That’s what he is. Wonderfully normal,” Oliver finished, pleased. Already he hoped to meet up with some of his other teammates that evening to tell them about how he turned the tables on Candy Cane.
“Thank you so much for this interview,” Candy said, motioning for the cameras to stop and offering Oliver her hand. “I wish you two all the best.”
“Thank you Candy. I suppose I was just waiting for the right person to bring out the truth.”
With small waves to Dave and Henry, Candy started to see to the crew’s equipment, charming everything into trunks that, within seconds, flew out the door.
Oliver wouldn’t dare chance a glance at his friends.
Candy was the last to leave, turning at the doorway to face the trio. “Gentlemen. I hope you all enjoy heaving my interview. It could even play tonight.”
“Sure, why not?” Henry grinned brightly. “Maybe Oliver and his fellow will-”
“Wait,” Dave put a hand on his shoulder, muttering for Henry’s ears only, “That’s an interesting choice of words.” He signalled to Candy, and asked loudly, “Hear the interview?”
“Of course!” Candy replied cheerfully, leaning against the doorframe and showing too much leg for Oliver’s liking. “You all would have heard that CQN is launching the first world-wide all-Quidditch radio network. We weren’t supposed to launch until tomorrow but with this interview, we may launch early. Thanks again!” She waved her green notebook, and Apparated on the spot.
“But you charmed the cameras,” Oliver started stupidly. “I… I don’t understand.”
Slowly Dave sunk back down into the couch cushions. “She means what she says. You know that green notebook she carried? That was a recorder. I used a similar one my first year at university.” He looked up sheepishly. “I didn’t recognize the newer model. Sorry.”
Henry walked over to the window and opened the curtains, letting in the harsh red light of a Hollywood sunset.
“Don’t panic, Oliver,” Dave urged quietly, looking up at him concernedly.
”I’m not panicking,” Oliver reassured, even as his voice shook and his tone was noticeably elevated.
“It’s not all bad,” Henry tried to comfort him.
Instantly, Oliver snapped.
He rushed towards the couch, ready to launch Dave onto his feet and maybe just out the closed window, broom-less, but was jerked back by Henry who caught him by his collar from behind.
Six years of maintaining a clean public persona ruined, Oliver could only stare blankly at his friends. Questions about his teammates reactions, Greg’s position, his agent’s, his mother’s...
And then Oliver laughed. It was funny, really. Hilarious. Like a throw-back from their time at Hogwarts, when Dave and Oliver would prank weekly, much to the displeasure of-
Distantly he felt arms wrap around his torso and drag him away.
“Poor boy’s got a shock.”
“Real astute, Henry,” Dave replied dryly, trying to manage Oliver’s much larger form with his compact physique. “Give me a hand with this, will you? If there was ever a time for United’s finest to meet up with a bottle of something…”
“It’s not all bad,” Henry repeated, dragging Oliver by the elbow, steering him between tables. “We’ll look her up in the phone book or somethin’. Try to reason with her. Say it was a joke.”
“Pay her,” Dave imputed, sounding miserable.
“Blackmail?” Henry gasped, turning to face him and bumping forcefully into Oliver. “Oh! Sorry bout that.”
Oliver didn’t notice their banter. Nor did he realize that Henry nearly rammed him down, or that Dave shoved him head-first into a booth against the back wall. His energy was zapped from the day of interviews and statistics, and from the evening spent searching the city for any trace of a CQN network location, to no avail.
The bar was Quidditch-themed, a rarity in a country that was mostly focused on Quodpot for wizarding sports, but that was the reasoning behind creating the interleague games – to expand the interest of Quidditch everywhere, and the reason why United was in California that week. The players from most of the overseas leagues had made this bar their evening stop.
But Oliver didn’t noticed the autographed photos of famous Quidditch players (including his own), the flying snitch-themed tablecloths, the broom paraphernalia lining the walls. The place was already packed with his teammates but he couldn’t – wouldn’t, hear the chatter around him, only interested in quieting his heartbeat, quelling his negative thoughts to concentrate on the interview and potential fallout. That, and stifle the urge to attack Dave and Henry for getting him into this mess.
“Three…” Henry mouthed at the bar, holding up three fingers before turning his attention to his friends. “Do we know when CQN is launching? Maybe we can break into Candy’s office. Steal her recorder or something.”
“Interesting idea, Harry Potter. That’s not exactly practical,” Dave said harshly, looking thoughtful.
“Harry who?” Henry whispered to Oliver.
Three glasses of foamy beer appeared before them, and each took a long drink.
Dave wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “When we were just walking in now, ah.”
“What?” Oliver jostled the table unintentionally.
“I heard someone mention that CQN already launched an hour ago.” Dave swiped fingers over the rim of his glass, creating a nonsensical tune. “I may have heard your name.”
“You mean…” Oliver slowly lowered his head to the table’s cool surface. One simple prank had turned into a public relations nightmare, and the United staff was going to come down hard on him. “What’s everyone going to think of me? It’s either they find out that I’ve disrespected the entire Quidditch profession, especially our media relations, with that stupid interview. Or they’ll think I’ve lied to them for years now!” When said aloud, he thought, everything felt much worse.
“Hey-hey! Look who’s here! Oliver’s over here, guys!”
Oliver raised his head. Several of his teammates rushed towards his table, their glasses filled, their eyes eager.
Larry Sullivan, head beater for United, had been as much a celebrity as Oliver in his day, and his seniority allowed him to practically dictate how the team functioned alongside Greg. He settled into the booth next to Oliver, almost on his lap, and refilled his glass with the pitcher he’d brought along.
“So how’s the boyfriend?” he deadpanned.
“The interview ran, huh?” Oliver tried for nonchalant, feeling as though he were failing miserably.
“Oh did it ever,” boomed Greg, approaching the table and shoving aside the younger teammates that crowded them. “Guess it wasn’t women troubles today after all. An aside Wood, I didn’t half care for the five Floo alerts in the past twenty-minutes, I’ll tell you.”
“Not like we care that you’re gay or anything,” said Larry, who, never known for his tact, pointed to Henry to emphasize his point. Then he studied Oliver’s chest. “I’d do you. Bet you Cowboy here would too. Maybe even both of us at-”
“Well, there’s an image,” Greg cleared his throat. He looked around the table, just appearing to notice United’s other team members gathering, and barked a dismissal. Greg and Larry weren’t known for socializing (in fact, Oliver couldn’t remember if they were even aware of Henry and Dave’s first names), but still they remained seated. “The problem isn’t that you’ve never said anything. It’s that you chose to come out with it so damn publicly in a foreign country. Were you pressured into it?”
“You two knew?” Larry asked, looking a little hurt as he stared down Dave and Henry. “I thought I knew everything that went on with the team.”
“Focus Lar,” Greg hissed, his ice-blue eyes not wavering from Oliver’s.
"Today," Dave started, looking pointedly at Oliver with a twinkle in his eye that seemed to indicate: idea. Which usually meant: trouble. "Today, Oliver's relationship was threatened to be exposed. In – ah - a negative light. So he turned to Henry and myself to..."
"To help him. Come clean with everything on his terms. To save face before the tabloids got the story," Henry finished with a slight flush to his face. “I’m tellin’ ya, from the first moment I signed with United, those tabloids were unrelentin’, and I-”
Oliver closed his eyes, tuning out everything. He loved his best friends, he really did, but they were the most transparent liars he'd ever met. There was only one thing to do – quit. Quit the team, live out of his mother’s basement until the press got hold of some new drama, then find a quiet place in the country where Dave and Henry could visit whenever the team was in town.
“Fuck off!” Larry exclaimed in his usual eloquent way that made the obscenity sound like one short word. “I don’t know where people get off, delving into peoples’ lives just to-”
“Quick thinking on your part, Wood,” Greg said thoughtfully.
“Might have just saved your rep,” Larry agreed.
Oliver stared at both men with disbelief. They bought that pathetic story?
"Don't worry about it." Greg motioned with his hand as though to wave the problem away. The motion set his beer swinging onto the floor, unbeknownst to him.
Larry pursed his lips thoughtfully, eying the puddle of wasted beer with some disgust. "What I want to know is, since this is all out in the open now… When do we get to meet the guy?"
Oliver was quiet by nature, having earned his few friendships through hard work on the pitch and loyalty to his teammates. If anything, Mrs. Wood had raised an honest man, and he wasn’t about to be caught in a jumble of lies. He couldn’t lie any more.
But when he looked directly at Greg, he found himself caught in a sharp memory. One of the seventeen-year-old kid that no one wanted off the reserve and playing against seasoned players, taking their place before his due. That was, until Captain Greg Smith took a chance on him. Fought for him.
“I’m sorry about… this. About keeping things from you,” Oliver managed, his throat scratchy. “I don’t want to mess this up. For him, you understand.”
From the corner of his eye, he watched Dave and Henry exchange pointed looks. But the others’ eyes were trained on him, sympathetic and understanding.
"We can meet the guy, right? Bring him round the pitch some time during practice,” Larry said, sounding like a demand rather than a request.
“Sure,” Oliver mouthed, in a state of shock.
“Just watch out around Dave,” Larry continued, looking intensely at the dwindling amber ale in his pitcher. “Henry might just have worn down is heterosexuality by then, and who knows what’ll happen-”
Dave launched towards him and each man shoved the other playfully, the seasoned beater seeming to be extra careful with the smaller reserve-based seeker. Oliver smiled, amused at their antics but also pleased the interview hadn't only been embarrassing for himself.
"All for a good friend," Dave responded loudly as the two senior players parted.
A waitress came over and placed a full pitcher of beer in front of them. Oliver quickly refilled his glass.
“It’s not all bad, Oliver,” Henry warned when they were alone again. He was speaking quickly, not allowing Oliver to panic first. “In a couple days you'll have your press agent release a statement that says you’ve had a fight with this mystery guy, and that you’ve decided to take a break.”
“He can’t do that!” Dave answered gloomily. “The press will be unrelenting at finding his broken-hearted lover-boy. They’ll find out he doesn’t exist. And Oliver, you’ll have no chance at saving face. I love the guys, I really do, but you know Greg and Larry don’t give up on grudges.”
“They’ll be mad at you too, Dave,” Henry pointed out in Oliver’s defence.
“Right. And they probably won’t be too happy towards the guy who claimed he was the reason Oliver was comfortable enough to come forward in the first place!”
"Damn. Forgot bout saying that," Henry said quietly, sipping his refilled mug.
Oliver's hand banged the table's surface in frustration. "Guys! You're not helping! Merlin, Philbert's going to kill me," he muttered, thinking about the team's temperamental manager. "We go back to Puddlemere tomorrow. Before the press gets to me, I have to find this – well, perfect guy, convince him to participate in this charade and fool everyone into thinking that we're the most engaging couple to come out of the Isles."
"Not going to be easy," Henry said, shaking his head.
"I'm being sarcastic, Henry," Oliver muttered bitterly, immediately regretting his words. He hadn't meant to be so angry with his friends. His only friends. They might have led him into this spot but he went willingly, no one forcing him to make up a false romantic life. "What am I going to do?"
“You really think this guy you described was perfect?” Dave inquired, one eyebrow raised.
Oliver’s shoulder sagged a little. “Yeah. I mean, I guess so. I can’t think of anything to add that would make him an even better match-”
“Since when are you gay?” Henry stared incredulously.
“I’m not!” But Oliver knew he had to come clean. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Look, it’s just… I’ve never been with… But lately, like the past few years lately, I’ve realized that-”
“Save it. You don’t have to explain to us,” Dave quietly interrupted. “Right now we have to find a guy willing to go along with this charade.”
“It’s not all bad,” Henry started again, quieting at Oliver’s directed scowl. “But that description of him is quite specific. Wavy red hair, blue eyes. Tall and intellectual.”
“I know someone,” Dave sounded almost embarrassed.
He looked meaningfully at Oliver, and hesitatingly said, “When you started talking about him, I mean… It just made all the sense in the world. You described him perfectly, right down to his freckles.”
“Who?” Henry asked again, frustrated.
Oliver took all of two seconds to know exactly who Dave was talking about. His gut twisted at the realization, and he felt his cheeks flush hot with embarrassment.
“Percy,” he managed quietly, not looking up from his beer. “He means Percy.”
Dave nodded, smiling a little.
Henry looked at both men and waited briefly for an explanation, and when none came, demanded “Who?”
To Be Continued...
* Aside: “So,” Larry muttered, tapping the side of the second pitcher he was using as a glass. His green eyes rose slowly until meeting Greg’s amused expression, and broke into a sly smile. “You believe a word of it?”
Greg chuckled deeply, looked around his stool to spot anyone listening, then glanced at the booth with the three young players talking together. Conspiring. “Not a one. Can’t wait to see how they’re going to get themselves out of this one though.”
“They’re keeping us young, Greg. Bottoms up,” Larry clinked his pitcher to Greg’s glass, and took a long gulp.
- The photo above this piece is ETL’s Oliver as played by James Franco.
- Oliver has always struck me as the Sydney Crosby of the Quidditch world. In this ‘verse, he probably would have already been made a captain if Puddlemere had been in need of one.
- “Interesting idea, Harry Potter. That’s not exactly practical,” Dave said harshly, looking thoughtful. “Harry who?” Henry whispered to Oliver. It’s a regional thing. In this AU, the war was only on British soil, and there was little coverage in the US. Henry has no idea who Harry Potter is, as would most wizard Americans.
--> Chapter 2