Chapter 1: Beginnings
"Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark."
- Rabindranath Tagore
The Hogwarts Express arrived back at King's Cross late in the evening, and while Madeline would have been happy to simply apparate home with her parents and be off to sleep, she was whisked away before she could find them.
Elaine was the first to break her away from Oliver and his parents. She met Mr. and Mrs. Ellison, and they were as Madeline had always expected: tanned, well-to-do, and carefree-looking people. If she could get a week or two away from her family and McGonagall's training, she would certainly want to visit Cornwall for a proper holiday.
Next was Claire, whose Muggle parents Madeline hadn't seen in two or three years. They hugged her tightly, told her that they appreciated all she had done for their daughter, and then promised to have her over at their home (which was in Lancaster) soon as well. Claire gave Madeline a teary-eyed hug and then made her way into Muggle London with her parents.
Madeline spun around looking for her or Oliver's parents when she saw Nicolas approaching her, a sort of constricted look on his face. Looking past him, she saw a man at least thirty years Nick's senior following his path. The man resembled Nicolas—or, perhaps, Nicolas resembled him: tall, hair as black as night, pale blue eyes. Nicolas stopped in front of her, stepped aside, and introduced his father to her.
"Madeline Palmer, meet my father, William Tennant."
"Mr. Tennant, it's a pleasure to meet you," said Madeline, her hand extended towards him. When he didn't reach to shake her hand, she dropped it.
"Madeline Palmer," he said, gazing at her intently for a moment. She forced a smile, glanced at Nicolas, watched as he took a deep breath, and then she heard William Tennant laugh.
"I remember seeing you on this platform many years ago, and I thought you were such a scrawny little mouse. Time does wonderful things for those who are fortunate," said Nicolas' father, a charming grin crossing his once-stern face. "You'll have to grace us with your presence someday soon. Truly, our home seems to be void of any beauty as of late."
"Have you not met Margaret yet, then?" asked Madeline, smiling. "She's a greater beauty than I, I assure you. As is Claire, I believe—her eyes are something to be reckoned with."
"Have I met these women, son?"
"Margaret Bradbury is the woman to whom I am currently attached, father. Claire is a dear friend of ours, a clever Muggleborn witch who—"
"Ah, yes, I remember you telling me of the Muggleborn years ago. Denson, wasn't it?"
Before the elder Mr. Tennant could respond, there was a shout of "Nick!" and Margaret Bradbury joined them, looking more the part of a doting future wife than Madeline could ever hope to manage. After Nicolas made the formal introduction, he gave Madeline a quick, dismissive hug.
"Go find your parents. I'll see you soon, alright?"
Madeline nodded and took off. It didn't take long for her to spot her own father in the crowd. He was wearing the vest she had given him for Christmas.
"Where have you been?" asked her mother, who seemed more on edge than usual.
"I was stopped by my friends and their families. Claire's family wants me to visit, as does Elaine's," said Madeline, hugging both of her parents. "I've missed you."
"Let's get Augustus and your trunk and get you home," said her father.
That night, though she ate a brief meal with her parents, she mostly settled Augustus and her things back in her room and fell straight to sleep. It wasn't until she heard Augustus hoot that she realised that someone had unlocked and opened her window. She was so accustomed to Hogwarts' safety measures that she had forgotten how vulnerable she was away from school. Madeline scrambled to grab her wand from her bedside table, her heart pounding, when Oliver pulled himself through her window.
"Oliver," she said, half-relieved and half-angry.
"Would you rather me apparate from now on?" he asked. She placed her wand back on her bedside table and met him halfway to her bed. He pulled her into his arms.
"I haven't thought about it, to be honest," she said, her face pressed to his chest.
"I just wanted to see you again," he said.
They made it to Madeline's bed and did nothing but fall into a much-needed sleep.
The next morning, though, caused some alarm within the Wood household. Gwendolyn Wood was the first to notice her son's absence, and she woke her husband far sooner than he would have liked. Groggy and irritable, Paul Wood did not feel like dealing with any trouble so early. It was just after daybreak.
"Paul, our son is missing!" said Gwen, swatting her husband in the head with a pillow.
"He's not missing, love, just because he's not in his room. Oliver doesn't go missing. He's at the pitch, the lake, or he's with Madeline, like always."
"You think he's already over at Olivia and Henry's?"
"I'd bet my ol' Silver Arrow that's where our lad's at," he said, yawning.
"No. Let them be."
"Just how long am I supposed to 'let them be'?"
"How often did I used to sneak into your room?"
"Far more often than I would have liked, to be honest—"
"Such lies!" shouted Paul Wood, who sat up from his bed to see his wife grinning. "You always begged me to stay."
"I did no such thing! I wonder..."
"My dear, if this is really bothering you, have Olivia or Henry check on them. Or simply come back to bed and allow me to distract you."
Before she could respond, there was a tapping on the window of their room. The sound had come from the beak of a beautiful barn owl.
"Isn't that Madeline's owl?"
"It is," said Gwen. As she allowed the owl to enter, she noticed a small note clasped in its beak. "It's from Olivia. He's there. She found them asleep in Maddie's bed. Fully clothed, it says."
At this, Paul Wood laughed.
"See, not a thing to worry about. Now come back to bed."
After letting the poor dears sleep, Olivia woke them up for lunch. Their parents were all gathered in the Palmer's kitchen.
"Would you two like some tea?" asked Olivia.
"Yes, please," said Madeline, who was still rubbing her eyes and leaning against Oliver's chest.
"None for me, thanks," said Oliver.
As they joined their parents at the table, Madeline had the decency to feel embarrassed, but Oliver seemed completely unperturbed, even after the awkward questions.
"So how often will we be finding you stowed away in Maddie's room, son?" asked Paul, his tone nonchalant.
Oliver shrugged, and Madeline thanked her mother for the tea. When no one else spoke, Madeline's father cleared his throat.
"I want to make it clear that I trust you both immeasurably," said Henry Palmer, looking at Oliver and Madeline with his calm gaze. "You're both adults, and if you are prepared to be treated as such, I have no qualms with that."
"Henry," said Olivia Palmer, her voice betraying shock.
"Thank you, sir," said Oliver, who straightened his back. "I appreciate it."
Madeline smiled, thankful, at her father.
"That having been said," Henry continued, "we need to discuss your last letter, Maddie."
"Yes, we do," she said. Oliver took her hand. "Where would you like to begin?"
"How about you tell us where this change of mind came from?" said Henry.
"A few days before the end of term, McGonagall told me that she had written to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement on my behalf."
"Minerva McGonagall sent in a recommendation for you?" asked Paul. Madeline had to restrain a smile—his brown eyebrows landed in the same place as Oliver's had when she broke the news to him.
"She did. She has also offered to take me as her Transfiguration pupil, with Dumbledore's encouragement and blessing. She will personally be continuing my education, insofar as Transfiguration is concerned. This offer has been accepted, and is to stand, despite my career path."
"And is this what you want? To continue studying Transfiguration?" asked Henry. Madeline smiled at her father.
"It is. I believe it to be a great honor."
"McGonagall probably hasn't had an apprentice in many years," said Gwen, shaking her head in disbelief. "An honor, indeed."
"And when is this to start?" asked Olivia.
"Whenever I hear from McGonagall," said Madeline quickly. "She said she'd send me an owl this summer."
"The Auror department won't send out offers for several weeks," said Paul, scratching his bearded chin. "So you won't need to make a decision immediately."
"Perhaps you'd like to still train at St Andrews until that time?" asked Henry.
"Can I do that?" Madeline asked, looking from her mother to her father. A year or two ago, Olivia Palmer had made an arrangement with the Healers at St Andrews that would allow Madeline to train there the summer after she left Hogwarts. Madeline hadn't been sure that the offer was still standing.
"Would you still want to?" asked Olivia. "You seem pretty set on being an Auror."
"Nothing is set right now," she replied, shrugging. "We left school yesterday, after all. Don't these things take time?"
"They do, my dear," said Henry. "They do, indeed."
Madeline awoke the next morning expecting to see her four-poster and patchwork quilt, circular fake windows, and Elaine Ellison bobbing around the room getting prepared for the day. Instead, she found herself in her old bedroom, which she had not had time to clean or tidy at all. It was quite the mess—books in precarious piles in every corner, trunk lying open, clothes strewn about as if she could never decide what to wear, and other bits and bobs were carelessly littered in literally every part of the room.
Frowning, Madeline rolled over and sighed. She'd never been a messy person, but she hadn't had the will to unpack or de-clutter her room since she'd been home.
A few days passed, and Madeline didn't hear from McGonagall. The most she had done was make plans with Claire and send Augustus to Cornwall. She didn't expect him to return for a few days. While she had plenty of time to sleep and relax, her body was still very much on a school schedule. Except for the first morning, she hadn't broken her routine of rising early.
"Darling, you need to go back to bed," said her mother, frowning. It was the Friday after having left school. "Why could you possibly want to be up this early?"
"Habit," said Madeline with a shrug.
Their daughter was sitting upright at the kitchen table, her legs tucked to her side, and a plate of half-eaten food pushed towards the corner of the table. A newspaper-looking set of parchment was sprawled in its place. Her wavy hair had been pulled into a plait the night before and had somehow survived a night of deep sleep, and her Hufflepuff jumper was paired with tartan pajama shorts and Puddlemere socks. This—looking like a frightful mess, at least in her opinion—was what she had missed the most about being at home. At school she was held to a standard of perfection, as Oliver had once said, and had met it willingly. But at home, surrounded by only family and those as close as family, she was free to look however she pleased. It was a freedom that she had somehow not fully felt during her school breaks.
She had not, however, missed her mom's nagging.
"Did you make breakfast?" asked her father, who seemed, as per usual, mildly amused.
"Yep. Help yourselves," she said. "So, last night, I received my first copy of Transfiguration Today. I've just subscribed, and I'm already glad."
"You didn't finish your breakfast, dear," said Olivia.
"I ate plenty," said Madeline. "I promise. I really wish I'd known to start readings these sorts of papers sooner. There's so much more than turning kettles into hares and conjuring goldfish—I'd no idea anyone other than McGonagall spent time thinking and writing about these sorts of things!"
"Well sure—they have journals for most subjects, experts in certain fields writing about their theories and discoveries," said Henry, nodding. "But I agree with your mother, Maddie. You should be sleeping. You need a few days of rest, at least."
"You need to eat more, too. You've lost weight," said Olivia.
"No I haven't," replied Madeline, looking offended. "All of my clothes still fit the same. I still look the same."
Madeline looked down at her arms and legs, glanced back at her parents skeptically, and went back to reading. Her parents ate, talking about something to do with St Mungo's, but Madeline was too engrossed in her reading to listen properly. Henry finished his meal before his wife, and he had left the room to get dressed when Oliver entered through the fireplace.
"Oliver, dear, are you hungry?"
He smiled, sat next to Madeline, and nodded.
"Good. Tell Maddie she needs to finish her breakfast," said Olivia as she prepared a plate of food for him.
"Well, if you won't listen to me, maybe you'll listen to him."
"Look what I've subscribed to," said Madeline, showing off her Transfiguration Today and ignoring her mother. "It's so interesting. I can't believe I didn't do this sooner."
"Very nice," said Oliver, nodding. "Maddie, have you eaten this morning?"
Madeline stopped reading and met Oliver's gaze, which was softened with concern and, to her surprise, guilt. She knew what was happening—he agreed with her mother and knew she'd be angry at him for it. Feeling guilty herself, Madeline huffed. They were all just concerned—there was no use getting tetchy about it. She needed to grow up a little, she decided.
"Yes, I ate. See!" she said, pointing at the plate of half-eaten food and looking pointedly at her mother. "I don't have anywhere to go or be, and I will eat again when I'm hungry, alright?"
Madeline felt Oliver kiss the side of her head. She couldn't suppress the smile he'd caused.
"Hear from McGonagall yet?" he asked, changing the subject.
"No, not yet," said Maddie with a sigh. "She might have taken a holiday."
"Which is precisely what you should be doing. Didn't you say you were invited to Cornwall?" asked Olivia as Henry re-entered the kitchen, dressed in a button-down shirt, nice trousers, and a tie.
"Elaine did invite me to her place, yeah."
"Consider going," said her father mildly. "If only for a week or two. You deserve a holiday. You both do."
"I've already owled her," said Madeline. "I promise! You should be getting ready for work, mum. Stop, I'll clean that."
"Yes, I'm sure. I made the mess, and I have time to clean it up."
Olivia smiled at her daughter and left the room, but not before kissing her husband on the cheek.
"Give her some time," said Henry. Madeline stood to hug her dad. "She's not used to your being grown up."
"Yeah, I'm having a similar problem," said Oliver, shaking his head. Henry squeezed Oliver's shoulder in a paternal way that made Madeline's heart melt.
"I'll see you lot later. Keep out of trouble, will you?"
"Will do," said Oliver, smiling.
After he disapparated, Olivia bustled into the kitchen in her St Mungo's uniform—lime green with the wand and bone crossing—and smiled at the pair, who were both silently sitting at the kitchen table still, Madeline reading her paper and Oliver eating.
"Try to get some rest today, Maddie. Oliver, could you convince her to rest?"
"I'm sure I can," he said. Madeline rolled her eyes as subtly as possible.
"Thanks, dear. Have a good day, you two!" she said and disappeared with a pop.
Madeline continued to read after her parents had left for work. After a few minutes, Oliver finished eating and began washing the dishes.
"I can do that," said Madeline, standing to join him at the sink.
"It's fine," he said, not letting her within dish-washing range. Admitting defeat, she wrapped her arms around his waist and stood there hugging him while he washed the dishes.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with her," said Madeline, thinking of her mother.
"She's gotten a bit worse, it's true," said Oliver quietly. "So's mine."
"It's like they want us to be adults, but they can't really handle the idea of us being grown up."
"It's like your dad says—just give them some time. I think all we can do is be patient," he said, drying his hands on a dish towel and turning to face Madeline. Her arms moved to around his neck and his found her waist. It was so easy and natural, being with him, that she had a hard time understanding why she hadn't seen it sooner.
"I guess I can try that," she said, playfully rolling her eyes. "Couldn't hurt, I suppose."
"It's that or we both move out."
There was a seriousness with which he spoke that startled her a bit. She didn't want to think about being independent yet. They needed jobs, which required job experience. They needed money, which neither of them really had. Despite being legal adults, they were just as dependent on their parents as they had been for the past seventeen years, and that was why their parents were struggling. They were in an awkward transition phase that precluded independence, at least until they were employed.
"You didn't like the sound of that," said Oliver, who noted her silence with a pang in his chest. Madeline stroked the hollow of his cheek, and he kissed her hand.
"We're not ready. We're seventeen, fresh out of school, and completely—"
"I know," he said, sighing. "I know. Let's just get through this summer of... waiting and hoping."
"We're going to be offered jobs, that much your father knows. He said that's how it always works. The summer after you graduate is basically the only time job offers are given without any supplication. Whether or not it's what we want..."
"Is a different story."
"Exactly," said Madeline.
"I'm not worried about you, not even a little bit. You and Nick have jobs secured."
"And I'm not worried about you. Puddlemere would be bonkers not to have you, and I know for a fact that Montrose has you on their radar."
"You couldn't possibly know that for a fact," said Oliver, who rolled his eyes.
"I could, actually. I have connections."
"Wouldn't you like to know," she said, grinning.
It was something she had already grown accustomed to—Oliver's hand touching her face or hair, followed by a kiss. It started as it always did: slowly, as if he couldn't bear the idea of haste. His hand slid towards her neck, getting tangled in her plaited hair, and Madeline didn't need encouragement to close the distance. His other hand slid under her jumper, touching the bare flesh of her hip. Once she was pressed against him, Oliver lifted her up and held her even closer, causing Madeline to break this kiss for a moment. Grinning, he carried her to the kitchen table, where they resumed.
Lost to themselves, the couple did not hear a person apparate into the sitting room near the front door. This person looked around, walked through the house, and found his way into the kitchen, where he stopped, stared at the couple with surprise, and whistled.
"You know, as often as you're together, you'd think the two of you would be able to keep your hands off one another."
A mutual sigh broke their kiss.
"If we pretend we didn't hear him, d'you think he'd go away?"
"No, he'd stay and watch, like the prat he is," said Oliver.
"Oh, come now. I'd be more than happy to let you two go back to your snogging. It's my goal to be the godfather to your children, remember?" said Nicolas Tennant, who was grinning. He moved into the kitchen as Madeline stood from the table.
"You're a piece of work, you know that?" she said, crossing her arms.
"Your mum said you'd be over here, Oliver. I did try not to barge in, honest."
"Stellar job," said Madeline. "Are you hungry?"
"A bit," said Nicolas, shrugging. "I can leave, you know. You have only to ask."
"You're already here," said Oliver. "What's up, mate?"
"I suppose… I'll have to get used to sharing my news with both of you, won't I?" he asked, looking between the couple before him. Madeline looked to Oliver, who nodded, his gaze glued to Nick's.
"Yes, you will," he said, his tone hitting the serious notch it had struck earlier. Sometimes Madeline forgot that they were only seventeen, and it was because of scenarios like these—when Nicolas and Oliver, who both looked the part of fully-grown men, were standing and speaking to one another without humor or pretense. It was sobering.
"Right," said Nicolas, smiling to break the tension. "Well, there's no harm in you both knowing. I'd probably end up telling you both on separate occasions anyway. Margaret and I have had our first serious row."
"First serious row?" asked Oliver while Madeline chuckled under her breath.
"Yes, first serious row. She's been spending every night with me and wants to continue to do so. I told her we needed to talk about it, talk about boundaries—"
At this, Madeline burst with laughter. Both Oliver and Nicolas looked at her like she had lost her mind.
"Boundaries? Does that word not ring any bells, Nick?"
"Not particularly, no—wait," he said, his eyes widening. When he made the connection, he laughed as loudly as Madeline had.
"What am I missing?" asked Oliver, who was the only one not amused.
"That was what our dear Nicolas said to me when referring to my relationship with you. He said—oh, what was it—'We need to discuss boundaries.'"
"Something to that effect," said Nicolas, who was still laughing. "I mean, we did, didn't we?"
Madeline stared at him.
"No. 'Boundaries' weren't our problem, and they probably aren't with Margo. Your problem is that you're afraid of commitment," said Madeline.
"Afraid of—Madeline, I think you're being a bit unfair here," said Nicolas, his tone serious again. "My problem is that Margo thinks that she has to spend every night with me or I won't want to marry her. You know how I know that? She told me last night."
Madeline and Oliver both blanched a little.
"Did you tell her that she was being daft?"
"You can't tell Margaret Bradbury that she's being daft," said Oliver, shaking his head.
"Why not? I think—"
"I told you that you two had moved too quickly," said Oliver, ignoring Madeline's question and looking directly as Nicolas, who was pacing. "She has no idea who she is or what she wants, and she's looking to you for all of her answers."
"She's ready to be a housewife, is what you're saying," said Nicolas. "I already knew that."
"We all knew that," mumbled Madeline. Oliver appeased her with a quick smile but then turned his attention back to Nicolas.
"Well, what else happened?"
"She had a sort of fit or something!" he said, throwing his hands up in the air. Madeline rolled her eyes again.
"No offense, but you've got to stop thinking of your future wife as something completely infinitesimal or incomprehensible. She's a woman, not an amoeba," said Madeline, setting a plate of food on the table in front of him.
"I need everyone to stop referring to her as my future wife," he said, pointing a finger at Madeline. "Just because I mentioned the possibility—it doesn't mean... Maddie, don't look at me like that! She's what my father wants!"
"You don't... Merlin's beard. You don't love her," said Madeline, staring at Nicolas with wide eyes, her mouth slack. "Not even... and she knows it. That's why, Nick. That's why she's trying to stay with you every night! She's clinging to you like she's got pincers."
At this, Nicolas stared at Madeline, his pale blue eyes looking larger than usual in the early-morning light of the kitchen. He said not a word to refute her. Oliver was bent over, his elbows on the counter, his thumbs digging into his forehead.
Before anyone felt inclined to speak, someone apparated into the room over.
"Claire?" called out Madeline, looking in that direction. A moment later, Claire walked into the kitchen, and all three of her friends gasped at seeing her.
"Hello!" said Claire, smiling brightly.
"Your—your—" said Nicolas, his mouth wide open, his finger pointing, dumbstruck, at her head.
"Your hair is gone!" shouted Madeline, her tone hinting at horror. "You didn't tell me you'd chopped all your hair off!"
"I wanted it to be a surprise," she said, walking into the kitchen and hugging Madeline. She grinned, but it fell from her face as she took in their reactions. "Does it look that bad? I rather liked it."
"It looks perfect. Don't listen to Maddie," said Nicolas, who moved around the table to touch Claire's soft blonde hair. She didn't move away from his tentative touch.
"It really does suit you, Claire," said Oliver, smiling.
"It's shorter than mine," said Nicolas, who chuckled.
"Hmm," said Madeline, whose eyes were narrowed. "I'll get used to it, I guess."
"You'll 'get used to it'?" asked Nicolas, who stopped touching Claire's pixie cut to glare at Madeline. "With that mess on your head, you'd best be kinder. You look like you've been mauled by a hippogriff while out foraging for Tentaculas."
"Watch it," said Oliver, whose burly arms were crossed defensively. "Most of that's my doing."
"Oh, right, I forgot—Claire, I nearly walked in on these two—"
"You nearly walked in on nothing, Nick, so shut it," said Madeline. "Now am I feeding the two of you, or are you just here to taunt me?"
"Fine, fine," said Nicolas, who took a seat at the table. Oliver and Claire joined him. "Got any coffee?"
"Sure. I'll make some while you fill Claire in on the recent developments," said Madeline. Nicolas sighed and started telling Claire about Margaret. Before Madeline could move too far away from Oliver, however, he took her in his arms and kissed her.
"What did you do to my hair?" Madeline asked, sure to include a pout.
"I improved it," he said, touching her hair and grinning.
"He's lying," said Claire, but she was smiling. "Here, I'll brush it out for you and re-plait it. Grab a brush."
"No," whined Nicolas. "Coffee first?"
The four friends spent the rest of their morning together, eating, drinking coffee, and catching up. Nicolas opened up about Margaret, and both Claire and Oliver admonished him for moving so quickly. Nicolas also explained to them that his father was one hundred percent against his working for the Ministry.
Claire told them the story of how she decided to cut her hair. While her mother tried to talk her out of it, saying that she was simply upset about her break up, Claire was convinced that she needed to part with something, so it might as well be something that would grow back.
"I feel free," she said, a smile coming so easily to her lips and eyes that it was hard to believe that she'd been dealt a low blow. "Which makes me want to fly. Speaking of—Oliver, have you heard anything yet?"
"Of course not; it's hardly been a week," he said, looking at his hands. "I've... already done absolutely everything I can do, so I try not to worry. It's out of my hands."
"Too right," said Claire quietly. "We've all done our best."
By the time Augustus returned from Cornwall, Madeline still hadn't heard from McGonagall. The response from Elaine was simple: they would meet in Diagon Alley on Monday morning and apparate to her house. She would be spending six days without Oliver, Claire, Nicolas, or her parents, and the idea was simultaneously titillating and nerve-wracking. Elaine specifically required the following of Madeline:
- no books, especially regarding anything remotely related to studying or work, including her new Transfiguration Today.
- no contact with Oliver or anyone else. "It's just a week," she wrote, "you can manage that long."
- no broom. This particular requirement immediately irritated Oliver. "Who is she to ask that of you?" Oliver had cried, looking properly insulted. "'No broom.' What the bloody hell will you two be doing?"
Madeline's parents were more than happy to let her go, and she felt as though everyone had the wrong idea: Madeline had overworked herself a bit while in school, sure, but she was done! She needed to be pursuing her goals! She wasn't really opposed to the idea of relaxing. She loved sleeping! As for being away from Oliver, she felt that this was a necessary endeavor, an experiment of sorts, to see how she felt about being away from him. She felt that it was part of their maturation as individuals and as a couple. While it would be easy to simply apparate to see him, and vice versa, Madeline was dedicated to seeing this holiday through. Oliver was far less thrilled with the plan.
"I just don't understand why I can't see you," he said the afternoon before she was to leave. It had been a week since they had left school.
"Because you see me every day," she replied. She was packing her clothes by hand, and Oliver was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling.
"I promised to see you every day, though," he said, his voice quiet. "I thought..."
"You thought what?" she asked, prompting him to complete his thought. She wanted to know what he was thinking.
"Will you see Claire? Or Nick?"
"Definitely not. We might see Adam. Maybe Kendra. Friends I don't usually make an effort to see."
Oliver sighed and closed his eyes.
"You really hate this, don't you?"
"Of course! Why shouldn't I?"
"It's just a week. You could go spend time with Nick or Richard."
"I don't want to see Richard," grumbled Oliver. "He's miserable and selfish, and I don't need that right now."
Oliver was grumpy, and she wasn't sure if she could make it better without changing her mind. He'd have to figure something out—she was excited about disappearing for a week. Plus, he needed to see what it was like to not rely on her presence or her opinions and thoughts. Elaine was right, Madeline realised suddenly—they were inseparable. How healthy was it to rely on someone so much? Was this why Nick broke up with her? How long had this been going on?
After she finished packing, Madeline joined Oliver on her bed. He was brooding, his arms crossed and his eyes devoid of any happiness or laughter.
"You look like you've lost a match," she said, sliding next to him. "It's not even a whole week. It's about six days. If you don't want to see Richard, I'm sure Nick would love to stay up here for a bit, if only to get away from his father or Margaret."
Oliver huffed, not saying a word. Madeline felt herself growing angry, but she refused to fight with him the night before she left. That wouldn't bode well for either of them. Rather than taking his bait, she sat on him, her hips straddling his.
"You haven't flown today, have you?"
"No," he said, tone petulant, not meeting her eyes.
"Would you like to go now?" she asked, uncrossing his arms and placing a hand on either side of his head. He met her eyes, read the mischievous expression there, and the corners of his lips turned up a little.
"No," he repeated, his tone very different this time.
"Are you going to be grumpy the rest of the night?" she asked, trailing a line of kisses along his neck. He took a moment longer to respond.
"No," he said once again, his voice sounding far away. Madeline smiled.
"Good. Just think of how sweet our reunion will be," she said. "I'll probably be annoyed with Elaine and her perfect little life in Cornwall by the end of the first day, but I'm determined to see this through."
"I am glad you're going, honest. But it's silly that she's telling you what you can and cannot do."
"She's just… trying to help."
"Right," said Oliver, rolling his eyes and sitting up. Madeline wrapped her legs around his waist and decided to pull Oliver's t-shirt up and over his head. He began kissing her neck.
"When I was bathing this morning, a thought occurred to me that I haven't been able to rid from my brain," she said as she threw his t-shirt onto her desk.
"And what was that?"
"I've known you for seventeen years, and I've never seen you naked," she said, hoping she didn't sound as awkward as she felt. Oliver pulled away to look at her.
"No, no you haven't," he said, laughing.
"Why's that funny?"
"Aren't I always? Why is that a shock?"
"It's just that I… well, I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that we weren't at that stage," said Oliver, looking more embarrassed than she felt. Madeline struggled with how to respond.
"We've only been together since Christmas," she said, nodding.
"Exactly. I wasn't going to rush anything or pressure you in any way."
"I know. I just feel like, I dunno, maybe I have that right," she said, nodding in a resolute sort of way.
"The right to what? See me starkers? Maddie... you are the sole owner of that right," said Oliver, pulling her closer and kissing her.
"So… now? Now's good. Now—that works for me."
"No, I'm sorry. I should have been clearer. Not tonight. Not before you're going to be gone for a week," he said, shaking his head. "This isn't a farewell sort of experimental… thing. I want to be able to see you the next day."
"To gauge your reaction, to see how you feel, to—damn, just… be with you and... talk to you."
Madeline saw the concern set deep in his eyes and expression.
"Ol, I'm not going to come back another person," she said, touching his face. "Well-rested and tanned, hopefully, but not any different."
That night, Madeline woke suddenly and wasn't sure why. She had grown accustomed to hearing Augustus hoot gently every time Oliver pulled himself up through her window or apparated into her room, but this time it seemed as though he hooted, "Intruder!"
Groaning and not immediately recognising the difference, she tried to roll over. Oliver was right next to her, deep in sleep, so she didn't understand why Augustus was hooting. Madeline's eyes flickered open. She sat up, looked around, and saw no one... nothing but Augustus.
"Stupid bird—what's wrong with you?"
"Nothing's wrong with him," came a man's voice, and Madeline jumped toward her wand. She opened her mouth to shout, but no sound came out. It was then that Nicolas appeared, apparently removing a disillusionment charm. Despite her anger, she was impressed. He'd performed a silencing charm nonverbally and ridiculously quickly.
"You should really consider doing more than locking your window. Or are Oliver's late-night visits worth the risk?"
Madeline opened her mouth to retort, but again no sound could be heard. Furious, Madeline reversed the silencing charm nonverbally. It had been one of the first difficult charms she had mastered without speaking, for reasons such as this.
"What the bloody hell is wrong with you?"
"I wanted to talk to you," he said, sitting next to her window, where there was a cushioned ledge.
"You wanted to talk, so you broke into my house and silenced me so no one could hear me shout? Are you mad?" she hissed.
"I do what I can," he said, making himself comfortable. Madeline noticed that her friend looked rather distressed. It had only been a few days since she had seen him, yet he already seemed years older. Oliver rolled over in the bed but did not wake, and Madeline was thankful for being mostly clothed. She slid out of bed, lit a candle, and sat next to him.
"Oliver's always been a heavy sleeper," he whispered, laughing quietly.
"Nick… what's going on?"
"I couldn't sleep, and to be honest, I don't want to go back home," he said, closing his eyes, a frown set deep into his face.
Madeline assumed it had something to do with his father.
"Couldn't you stay with Margaret? I'm sure she'd love to—"
"She's on holiday. She went to Italy to visit her mum's family. My father said I wasn't allowed to leave the country under any circumstances."
"Did… did he say why?" she asked, not sure how to proceed.
"No. Only that my responsibilities were here."
"Is this what you wanted to talk about?"
"No, it's not. Thank you for reminding me. Is your first meeting with McGonagall coming up soon?"
"I'm not sure, I haven't heard from her," said Madeline.
"This is probably going to yield a negative reaction from you, and I don't blame you," he said, turning to face her and remaining cautious.
"Spit it out."
"I want you to teach me everything McGonagall teaches you," he said, his voice full of a quiet desperation she hadn't heard in years.
"Dare I ask why?" she asked, sighing. "Nick… there's no guarantee that I will be successful, so placing your faith and trust in me—"
"Has never been a mistake before, so why would it be now?"
"Because this is dangerous. McGonagall instructing me is one thing, but my bringing said instruction back to you and just hoping for the best? It's unnecessarily risky."
"What do you suggest, then?" asked Nicolas.
"Suggest for what—your continued education? There's a massive wizarding library in London; I'm sure you could find whatever it is you're looking for there."
"I want to be an Animagus, even if it's a secret. Actually, it would be best..."
"No, Nick, I'm not—you can't just drag me into your illicit plans. Being an unregistered Animagus won't help you get through Auror training. You do realise that, right?"
Oliver stirred, but he continued sleeping.
"It's not Auror training that has me concerned, Maddie," whispered Nick, his gaze worried and his voice quiet. Madeline took a deep breath, wishing she could do more to comfort her friend.
"You have to tell me more if you want my help. I'm not going to agree to anything blindly. I know this has something to do with your father."
"Not tonight. I'll let you sleep. You, however, need to apparate-proof your room and keep your window locked by a spell or password."
"Why? Who would break into my room other than you or Oliver?"
"I don't know, but something about leaving you completely vulnerable just doesn't sit well with me," said Nicolas, his tone severe.
"Pardon? Completely vulnerable? Are you serious?"
"Maddie, I could have kidnapped or killed you tonight without anyone knowing, without Oliver even stirring. That bothers me. Please consider some sort of precaution," he pleaded. "Oliver will agree with me."
"Fine," she conceded. "Just. Fine. I'll figure something out and let you know."
"Thank you. I'm sorry to have bothered you," he said, and Madeline sighed again. They stood and she gave Nicolas a hug. For a few moments, they stood there, arms wrapped around each other. Oliver stirred and coughed, and as he sat up, barely awake, Madeline broke the hug and squeezed Nicolas' shoulder.
"Nick, you know we're all here for you. You don't have to go through anything alone. Oliver, Claire, and I—we're all here for you."
"Nick?" asked Oliver, blinking blearily. "Mate—what's going on?"
"Just needed to see you two love birds."
"Yeah," said Nick, nodding.
"I'm going to Cornwall tomorrow for a week to visit Elaine. No visitors, no contact. Feel free to bother Oliver, even stay with him if you want," said Madeline. "Do you need to stay in Oliver's room?"
"No, but I'll consider it," said Nicolas, smiling. "Get back to bed. I'll see you soon."
Madeline locked her window with a spell as Nicolas moved away from the bed.
"Good. Now do something about the rest of your house," he said, looking serious. Oliver had already lied back down.
"I will. Goodnight."
As Madeline climbed back into her bed, allowing Oliver to pull her close to him, she continued thinking about Nicolas and his father. While she began processing his fear and his concerns, she drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
Chapter 2: Rekindling
Nicolas watched the tension dissolve away from her as he finished his small speech. He hadn't meant to say so much, but he was tired of holding back. That was how he felt, and if she hated him for it, so be it.