Chapter 5: St Andrews
"Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel."
Crossing her arms, Madeline glanced down at her brown leather watch. She had been sitting alone in Mr. Grantham's office for only four minutes, but each had felt like an hour—Mr. Grantham was the Head Healer at St Andrews Hospital, and she was to meet him for the first time… if he ever arrived.
Feeling uncomfortable in a navy-blue dress her mother had insisted she wear, Madeline stood and began looking around. As she did so, she knocked over her mother's old-fashioned periwinkle suitcase, picked it up, and set it aside. The room contained both an office and a study, which were both surrounded by large bookshelves and several windows that allowed sunshine to filter in through sky-blue drapes. There was a large oak desk with bits of parchment scattered about, three wooden armchairs with thin, dusty green cushions, multiple bookshelves filled with stacks of tomes thicker than her skull, and a beautiful white owl that stared at Madeline as though she could not be trusted.
Drawn by the disapproving gaze of the owl, which was considerably larger than Augustus, Madeline slowly approached it.
"Hello," said Madeline, wishing she had something more productive to do. "I'm Madeline."
The owl didn't blink, but it shifted its feathers a little as though Madeline had prodded it.
"I suppose you can't tell me your name, can you?" The bird neither spoke nor moved. Madeline nodded. "Naturally."
Stepping away, Madeline moved to the study, where there were two leather sofas—each of which looked as though they'd seen better days. She had just moved to the nearest bookshelf when the door opened. Madeline spun around to meet Mr. Grantham, but she was surprised to see a young man entering instead. The white owl gave a hoot and Madeline jumped.
"Are you Madeline Palmer?" he asked. His eyes were alive with excitement.
"I am," she replied with a nod, her hand pressed to her chest, where heart was beating frantically. "Where is Mr. Grantham?"
"On his way," said the young man. "I'm Cris Campbell, the other trainee."
"Pleasure to meet you, Cris, but… are there only two of us? I was told there would be three."
"I'm afraid so. The other trainee supposedly declined the offer," said Cris, who casually reclined on one of the old leather sofas. Madeline joined him.
"Can't imagine why," she said. "How long have you been here?"
"Only a week. I've gotten settled and read a few books, but otherwise I've been quite bored," he said with a laugh. Madeline laughed with some relief.
"It's good to know I'm not behind already."
"I've discovered that St Andrews is less a hospital and more a training facility. Most of the magical community goes to St Mungo's, so here they generally receive local emergencies, transfers, and terminal cases."
"Terminal cases? Isn't there a ward for that at St. Mungo's?"
"Well, there are certain—"
At this point, the door swung open again, and a man who looked as though he could be Mr. Grantham entered. Madeline and Cris both stood to greet him. The man had a well-kept salt-and-pepper beard and matching head of hair, and he was donning a casual Muggle sports jacket rather than traditional hospital robes.
"Merlin's beard," whispered the man standing in the room. He stared straight at Madeline, and his gaze did not waver. A warm, anxious bolt pierced Madeline's chest, and she produced a feeble smile. The man took a few steps towards her, and Cris Campbell's eyes darted in her direction. Madeline took a deep breath and found the courage to speak.
"Hello, sir. Are you Mr. Grantham?"
"I am, indeed," he said, his eyes unusually bright. "And you are the spitting image of your mother, Madeline."
Madeline nodded and looked at her feet.
"Mr. Grantham, since we're both here, I was wondering if—"
"Now, now, Cris, you're getting ahead of yourself. Madam Gowling will give you all the instruction you need. Now, if you wouldn't mind, allow me to speak with Miss Palmer for a few moments, and then you may show her to Gowling Manor."
Cris glanced at Madeline, nodded, and left the room under Mr. Grantham's unflinching gaze. After the door had closed, he turned and smiled at Madeline.
"You're just as beautiful as your mother, you know. I'm quite fond of her."
"She's been a great role model for me," replied Madeline, who smiled to hide her discomfort.
"Olivia was adamant that I allow you into the program, but your reputation as an intelligent young woman has proceeded your arrival. Madam Pomfrey spoke well of your capacities."
"Oh, yes," he said, waving his hand and taking a seat on the leather sofa nearest the door. "Your N.E.W.T.s were impressive. I'd heard tell that you'd signed your life away to the Ministry like your father. Clearly that's not—"
"That remains to be seen. I am quite young," said Madeline.
"Yes," said Mr. Grantham. "I'm afraid I never properly introduced myself, but I'm sure Olivia has told you much about who I am."
"I'm afraid not. I was instructed to wait here by the nice witch at the front desk."
Mr. Grantham stared at Madeline for a solid 20 seconds before blinking; indeed, Madeline felt as though she had been meeting the gaze of one of Hagrid's hippogriffs: proud and dangerous. Perhaps she had made a mistake… her mother had warned her to watch her cheek.
"Yes," he said again. "I'm glad you have already met Crispin. You will make an excellent team."
"Crispin?" asked Madeline, frowning. "You mean… Cris?"
"Yes, his full name is Crispin. He prefers Cris, for obvious reasons, but I have kept you too long. He is waiting, and he will fill you in on everything that Madam Gowling forgets."
Madeline stood and retrieved her mother's suitcase, which seemed to have attracted Mr. Grantham's attention, and thanked him before leaving the room.
Crispin was leaning against the wall opposite the door, waiting, but took off along the corridor as soon as she appeared. She hurried after him, and he didn't stop until they were standing near the fireplace through which Madeline had arrived. There was a bucket of green powder on the dusty mantle, and Crispin took a handful.
"Gowling Manor," he said while standing amidst dancing green flames. He disappeared in the swirl, and Madeline followed him without hesitation.
When his face swooshed into view, Madeline exited the fireplace and found herself in a room that seemed to be a library, except that it had loads of coffee tables, squashy armchairs, and ancient leather sofas. Madeline took a deep breath of non-ashy air and dropped onto a chair.
"That was strange," said Crispin, who was looking at Madeline as though she'd sprouted wings. "I've never seen Mr. Grantham like that."
"I'd never even met him! Imagine how I felt."
"True," he replied, shrugging. "Well, I suppose I should take you to Madam Gowling."
"Who is that? And where are we? I feel like I know absolutely nothing."
"Madam Gowling oversees our training and monitors our progress. Her husband used to be the Head Healer for some years, I believe, before he passed. She owns this manor and uses it to house the trainees. There are a few house-elves that do the real work, of course, but you shouldn't ever see them."
Madeline thought of her experiences with Hilly and smiled briefly.
"I thought we would begin training today," he said, standing and moving towards one of several windows in the library. He sighed and spun around. It wasn't even 10 am on a Saturday, and Madeline had no idea what she should be doing. "Well, this is library, as you can plainly see. Your room, I believe, is down the hall from mine. I can take you there."
There was a small pop and tall, thin grey-haired woman appeared before them.
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Campbell. I will show Miss Palmer to her quarters."
"How are you this morning, Madam Gowling?" asked Crispin as he gracefully bowed his head and smiled.
"Quite well, now that you're both finally here," she replied curtly. "We will return in ten minutes' time, Mr. Campbell. Follow me, Miss Palmer."
Picking up her suitcase, Madeline found herself rushing after the older woman just as she had Crispin. Why was everyone in such a hurry? Soon they were descending a flight of stairs, and Madeline was heaving her suitcase, which was constantly hitting her knees.
"Welcome to the Gowling Manor, Miss Palmer. I hope you enjoy your stay. I dine at 7, 11:30, and 6. You may join me, but you will soon find that food can be served at all hours. The house-elves will determine your preferences in three to seven days. Mr. Campbell was correct in stating that your room is three doors down from his. Here we are."
They stopped in front of plain, polished wooden door that had the name Palmer embossed in silver across the top cross rail. Madam Gowling brandished her wand and indicated that Madeline should do the same.
"Miss Palmer, only the touch of your wand (or mine) can unlock this door. No one can gain entry to your room without your express approval… unless they have stolen your wand. Mind you keep it with you at all times."
Madeline nodded fervently and watched as the door lazily drifted open, revealing a bedroom not unlike her room at home. There was a bookshelf with rows of books, a desk stocked with parchment, quills, and ink, and an open window through which she supposed Augustus had already acquainted himself with his new quarters.
"Good. Visitors are not allowed on these premises. You may roam through town so long as you bear in mind that St Andrews is a Muggle university area. Caution should be exercised when in public, especially when speaking to Muggles. Many of them are young and irrationally curious—I do not want to have to place memory spells on anyone, as I have already had to do several times. I have grown old and my patience with such matters has been spent. No visitors, no drunken squabbles, no mistreating the house-elves. I simply won't tolerate it. Mr. Grantham and I run this program; I have the authority to expel you should I decide such action is necessary.
"What else? Oh yes, you won't be seeing much of the hospital for quite some time. You'll be here, working with Mr. Campbell and myself. Once I have declared your wits ready, then you will enter the hospital and begin your practical training. Mr. Campbell has begun the assigned reading, as he might have told you, but you'll catch up quickly enough… I hope."
"This bookshelf here contains all the books you will need for the time being. Work from the first row down, left to right. Mr. Campbell has completed Headaches for Healers and A History of Healing, Volume 1. If you'd set your bags down, we'll rejoin Mr. Campbell upstairs."
Partially because she didn't fully understand how she was to be trained or what she was even to be doing, Madeline felt her stomach fluttering nervously. She had forgotten what it was like to be somewhere unfamiliar: seven years in the same school with the same people had not really prepared her at all for the outside world, where she would have to interact with new, strange, and different people every day.
Madeline was not, however, taken aback by Madam Gowling's strict and forward attitude. It appeared to her that several trainees had taken advantage of the freedoms given to them, and Madeline was not surprised in the least to hear that the poor old woman had grown sick of it.
"You're a quiet one," said Madam Gowling as they walked back to the library. Madeline shrugged.
"I'm nervous, I suppose," said Madeline. "It makes sense that we have to prove our aptitude for comprehending information before we're allowed to work through the practical training, but I thought it would be different."
"More like Hogwarts, perhaps?"
"If you're here to learn, Miss Palmer, you've come to the right place. If you are still nervous in a fortnight, come to me, and we will discuss your options."
Back in the library, Crispin seemed to be continuing the assigned reading, making Madeline even more anxious to begin. He stood and smiled as they entered, leaving Madeline to wonder whether this was a sign of respect for Madam Gowling or whether he was eager to do something other than sit in a library and memorize old books.
"As you both well know, this program was created for the training of Healers and Mediwizards; in the past, several trainees have failed or been expelled for improper conduct. We occasionally have honored guests stay here in the Manor, and it would be wise for you to treat such visitors with respect. Also, I feel it necessary to remind the both of you that personal visitors are not allowed—you are to bring no outsider into the Manor or you will be promptly expelled from this training program."
At this juncture, Madeline glanced at Crispin and could not read past his expression of practiced polite interest, but she stifled a laugh, for she knew it well—it was the same expression Nicolas wore when speaking with most of the professors at Hogwarts.
"I would like to see you both at supper at 6 pm sharp. Miss Palmer, you and I will discuss Headaches for Healers at that time. I would like to discuss A History of Healing, Volumes 1 & 2 with the both of you on Monday evening. So, Miss Palmer, please do your best, dear."
Nodding again, Madeline felt another flutter of nerves in her stomach. Crispin thanked Madam Gowling and gave her a short bow as she took her leave. Once she had exited the library, Crispin fell onto a sofa with a sigh.
Madeline sat across from him, her mind wholly occupied with her new situation. So she would be reading and discussing the assigned books, probably in-depth, with Madam Gowling during meals. That wouldn't be too hard—she did a great deal of reading in her spare time, and seven years of schooling hadn't been for nothing.
This was far and away the worst news she'd received all day. She couldn't invite anyone to visit her, and neither Oliver nor Claire could ever see where she lived. She would have to write them tonight and break the news to them.
All-in-all, as she found her way back to her room to start reading Headaches for Healers, Madeline's spirits seemed to be at the bottom of the cauldron.
It did not take the house-elves three to seven days to discover Madeline's favorite foods, mostly because all of the food presented to her was absolutely delicious. She liked to spend the early mornings alone in the dining area, drinking the finest tea she'd ever had and wishing she could meet the chefs of her new abode.
Alone with a scrumptious variety of warm scones before 7 am was also when Madeline found herself most suited to reviewing the notes she had made the previous night, and it proved to be a productive schedule. Madam Gowling, at each of her appointed dining times, would discuss their readings with them with a ferocious penchant for precision and perfection. She was not looking for approximate dates, and she didn't hold with words and phrases such as "perhaps" or "maybe" or "I think it might be." And while Madeline had been surprised by such attentiveness to exactness, it hadn't taken her long to adjust. Mr. Campbell, however, had not the mind (or attitude?) for memorizing exact dates and names and places, and meals were sometimes painful to witness.
Madeline soon learned that Crispin had been sent to Beauxbatons because his parents hadn't been overly fond of Dumbledore, and after several conversations discovered that he and Nicolas had known each other in their youth. Crispin also knew Andrew Biscoe, Elaine's fiancé, very well, as they had spent many years in school together.
Her letters to Claire and Oliver never captured the extent of feelings, either, and being away from them was more irritating than she'd imagined. She was accustomed to having discussions about schoolwork with Claire; instead, she was stuck with Crispin, who, despite his apparent intelligence, did not care to memorize every minute detail of their readings—Madeline surpassed his reading level by Wednesday of the first week. By the second week, Madam Gowling was mildly irritated by his inferior level of devotion to their work. By the third, he was sent to have a discussion with Mr. Grantham, and came back with an intensified focus.
It was in the third week, however, that Madeline received letters from Oliver and Claire about the World Cup, and she had to explain to Madam Gowling that she would be gone for the weekend. Thankfully the conversation took place without Crispin, to whom Madeline had not grown attached, and Madam Gowling found Madeline's progress sufficient enough to allow her to attend what she described as a "family event."
"Your parents are fond of Quidditch, are they not?" asked Madam Gowling.
"Oh, yes, quite. They're desperate for me to attend," replied Madeline.
It was understood, then, that Madeline would be home for the weekend of the World Cup, and Crispin found out only when Madam Gowling mentioned it at dinner the night before Madeline was to return home and see her family, Oliver, and Claire for the first time in weeks.
"You're getting the weekend off?" he asked, his head swiveling between an unconcerned Madam Gowling and Madeline.
"I'm taking Advanced Theoretical Healing Practices, Volume 2 with me," she said, shrugging. He was still working through Volume 1, and Madam Gowling immediately began quizzing Crispin about it, leaving him in a rather foul mood.
But Madeline didn't care—she was going to be able to see her friends and family again, and that was all that mattered. Claire was to spend the night with her before the day of the match so that they could get an early start, and they were to be camping right next to the Wood's tent. She was so excited and nervous about seeing Oliver that she slept only three hours that night, and by the time the next morning dawned, she was packed and ready to go home.
Three weeks without having seen Madeline might have killed Oliver had it not been for his intense focus on training for try-out sessions with any number of Quidditch teams. He had, as Madeline liked to remind him, been preparing for such an occurrence his entire life; and while she was away, he had been sent several try-out offers. He hadn't told Madeline via owl because he wanted to tell her in person. He knew he would see her for the World Cup, so he did not fret over trying to find a way to break the news with parchment and ink.
But the hours between his success and her return were long and felt empty. He continued training, doing some light reading, and fighting his desire to apparate to St Andrews. The evening before she was to arrive, he hardly slept. He kept tossing and turning like the butterflies in his stomach, and a foolish grin would spread his lips every time he thought about how she would react to his excellent news.
When the sun arose in a spectacular display of fiery orange and burnt salmon, Oliver got out of bed and walked down to the loch, where he dove in and began swimming. The water was warmer than it had yet been this summer, but the loch was still comprised of melted snow, so it would never be like bathwater. This did not bother Oliver. He was accustomed to the cold and preferred a nice chill to awaken his senses.
He never kept track of how far or fast he swam—records didn't matter in the water, where he could swim until he was tired, tread water or float for a bit, and then swim back to the coast or pier. Oliver often swam until he was too exhausted to do anything but stagger home, especially in the early mornings. It always felt so refreshing to dive into the chilly water and feel his muscles contract, loosen, and then slowly tire. Waking up was best accomplished this way, in his opinion—all he had to focus on was not swimming into any Muggle boats or the occasional water fowl. The rest was muscle memory.
The morning of Madeline's arrival, Oliver had a great deal of nervous energy and therefore swam for quite a long time. He expected her to arrive around mid-morning, as she said in her letter, in time for a bit of food and catching up with her family. Claire would arrive around lunch and they would get to spend the afternoon together. Though he hadn't said anything to rebuke her, Oliver wasn't pleased with this plan. He jealously and selfishly wished she had planned on spending some—any—time alone with him before heading back to St Andrews—they would be surrounded by family and friends the entire time she was visiting. That part of her plan was entirely disappointing. Couldn't they have an hour or two alone?
On his swim back to the pier that morning he was thinking of nothing but her and how he would break the news to her, and he had swum to the absolute edge of his strength. He was breathing hard and swimming slowly—just a few more meters, and he'd be able to lie down and rest.
As Oliver pulled himself up onto the pier, groaning a little at the effort of exerting the last of his strength, he looked up, and what he saw made his limbs waiver.
His breathless voice sounded strange to his own ears, but Madeline didn't seem to notice. She stood—she had been sitting, waiting for him, it seemed—and the relieved expression on her face told him everything he needed to know. He was dripping wet and shirtless, and the humid air was embracing them like woolen jumpers, but Madeline didn't care, so he didn't either. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he held her tight around her middle.
"I didn't think you'd be here until later."
"I couldn't wait any longer," she said, her words muffled as she kissed his chest and neck. This wasn't satisfactory, however, and he leaned down and claimed her lips with his.
It took them quite some time to regain their senses, but not before Oliver lifted her up into his arms (which now felt perfectly strong, of course) and she wrapped her legs around his waist. Feeling her hands rove through his hair nearly drove him mad.
"I've missed you," she said a little while later. Her voice was so full of emotion that Oliver felt like she'd melted something in his chest, and her expression matched—her eyebrows were knitted as though she couldn't comprehend her own feelings, her hazel eyes were bright and glassy, and her lips were pressed together as though fighting her tears.
His expression began mirroring hers—he hadn't realised how tender his heart was in her hands, and now he felt his eyes grow wet too.
"Maddie," he said and began laughing. She joined him, and he set her back on the pier.
"Stop laughing at me!"
"I'm not laughing at you! I'm… laughing at… us?"
"Us? What's wrong with us?" she asked.
"Nothing! We're just… you're perfect, and I've missed you a great deal more than I realised, is all."
He paused for a minute, taking in the soft edges of her lovely face, and found his chest feeling quite tight and warm.
"I love you," he said, pulling her close.
"And I you."
"I have something important to tell you."
"Go on, then," she said, kissing him again.
"While you were gone, I was sent... several letters," he said, taking a long pause in order to watch her expression as he spoke. She raised her eyebrows but did nothing else. "Letters that were important in nature but rather shorter in length than I expected."
"Oliver," she said, shaking her head but smiling despite her apparent impatience.
"And I wanted to write to you, to tell you about these letters and the responses I wrote, but I couldn't find the proper phrasing."
"Oliver, dear, just tell me, please."
"Oh, would you be interested in the contents of these letters?" he asked, smiling a coy smile. She gave him an impatient look and he grinned. "Or their senders?"
"Oliver Wood, so help me, I will hex you—"
"I had four tryouts while you were gone," he said, lowering his voice, watching her expression. Her eyes were as lively as usual, bright and keen, but she bit her lip (in a way he found to be terribly attractive) because she knew better than to get her hopes up with such little information. His chest tightened again.
"Falmouth was first," he began, trying to ignore her lips. "The manager was actually—"
"Falmouth? Falmouth?!" she cried. "What the bloody—"
"Maddie, please," he said, interrupting her. "Falmouth was the first to send me a letter. The manager, a man by the name of Vox, was really great. Their whole team was encouraging and patient and kind."
Maddie nodded, refusing to interrupt again at this point.
"Next was Tutshill."
"Yes, I tried for the Tornados. They seemed more interested than Falmouth in the letter, and they were awful."
"High-brow, like. Ignored me the entire morning. The captain was the only one who spoke to me. It was a joke."
Madeline's face twisted with disgust, and Oliver continued.
"The third letter I received was… it was from Montrose, Maddie."
"I knew it!"
"Yes, you knew. Dad was incredibly impressed, and mum cried. And they were great, really, but after playing with Puddlemere, I couldn't—"
"WAS THE LAST LETTER FROM PUDDLEMERE OLIVER WOOD ARE YOU JOKING?!"
Before he could respond, Madeline jumped into his arms and kissed him hard. And when she finally relented, they were both grinning. Madeline jumped up and down, arms flailing, and squealed like she'd never heard better news.
"I'M SO EXCITED I CAN'T CALM DOWN YOU'RE GOING TO PLAY FOR PUDDLEMERE OLIVER BLOODY HELL!"
"It's only the reserve team, Maddie," he said, grinning despite his words. Her reaction was better than he could have predicted.
"Oliver Wood, you know just as well that getting started on a reserve team—"
"Montrose asked me to play for them. Now. Not reserve."
"Oh," said Madeline, who immediately sobered. "But—wha—have you decided already? Have you… you know, chosen?"
Oliver nodded. Though it seemed a touch foolish to choose a reserve team over a first-string position, he had always wanted to play for Puddlemere. It was his childhood dream, perhaps even his first true desire. Above all, though, he knew Madeline would be supportive no matter which path he followed.
"I have. I've chosen Puddlemere."
This was cause enough for celebration, and they spent their hour alone together making up for lost time.
When Claire arrived around lunch and the news was shared, Claire rolled her eyes and laughed.
"Of course you did. Honestly, is anyone surprised?"
Claire had news of her own. After passing an extensive interview process, she was offered a position at the largest wizarding library in the country, which was located in London.
"I'll just be starting off as a Library Assistant, but there are loads of positions and opportunities to move up," said Claire. "My parents aren't excited. They still want me to go to university and become a professor like them."
The three teenagers spent the afternoon in the forest were Madeline and Oliver grew up playing Quidditch, pretending to be adventurers, and exploring. Madeline's favourite spot was near the northeastern edge, closer to the mountains, where a waterfall of snowmelt collected into a crystal-clear pool. They hiked up to this area to show Claire, and they all enjoyed the time outside in the warm summer air. It gave them time to thoroughly discuss their current lives, especially Madeline, who could finally express her feelings about Crispin, Mr. Grantham, and Madam Gowling. Claire was planning on moving out after she could secure a few paychecks, and Oliver told them that Nicolas and Margaret were still planning on moving in together… eventually.
"At first," said Claire on their hike back, "I really thought Nicolas and Margaret were a good match. But something about them seems perpetually unsettled."
"It's because Nicolas isn't ready to be tied down," said Oliver. "He has no idea what he wants."
Oliver and Claire exchanged a glance that Madeline missed while she was looking a particularly beautiful green bird with brown and yellow plumage, and the conversation moved from Nicolas to Margaret.
"I do wonder what Margaret will do with her life," said Madeline. "She's smarter than she lets on, as a rule, but to what kind of work would that lead? I know she doesn't have to work to support herself, but how will she avoid boredom? She won't have any kind of independence or freedom if others are always supporting her."
"I'm not sure that she knows or cares," replied Claire. As neither Madeline nor Oliver could refute her, the topic changed again.
That night, after Oliver had left and the girls were comfortably snuggled under blankets, they continued to talk. Claire had always been afraid of disappointing her parents, and now she felt like she would never exceed—nay, meet, even—their expectations. But she couldn't apply to a university with a docket full of O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s. Claire cried and for a little while Madeline didn't do anything except hug her friend.
"You know what you should do?" said Madeline a little while later. "You should owl Professor Flitwick."
"You heard me. Owl Flitwick. Tell him about your parents and your new job and—no, Claire, please—just think about it. Our professors know more about the opportunities out there than we do. I really think he would help. He was very fond of you."
"He was fond of Richard," said Claire bitterly. "And Penny."
"Claire, he once told me that he couldn't justify having favourite students, but that if he could, it would be you and Hermione Granger."
At this, Claire burst with laughter and was shaking so hard that she had to clutch her side, for it had begun aching.
"Hermione Granger—everyone's favourite pupil."
"He really told me that! I wasn't joking," said Madeline.
"It's a shame that Nicolas loved Charms so much and yet still wasn't top of the class," said Claire, shaking her head thoughtfully.
"He did well, though. We all did."
"I'll think about owling him, Maddie. It's not… a terrible idea. It's just terrifying."
"I know," said Madeline. "I know."
The next morning, Oliver (who hardly slept for excitement) woke the girls up well before the sun had risen. Once breakfast had been devoured, Paul and Henry each took their wives to their campsite via Side-Along Apparition. Paul took Oliver next, and then Henry, Madeline, and Claire went along. They all arrived in time for the sun to begin rising over what appeared to be a bit of dew-spotted moor. Their campsites, marked with small signs that read "Wood" and "Palmer," were right next to one another.
"Remember what I said at breakfast, you lot," said Paul Wood as he put a sports coat over the bright red polo shirt he'd chosen. "No magic. We'll try to set the tents up by hand. We've already eaten, but we'll make a fire for lunch, so we'll need firewood and water for tea."
All around them were tents that had already been set up, their owners apparently still asleep. Though there were Ministry officials and others around monitoring the campground, the morning was quiet. The sunlight was lazily drifting in through the mist of the moor, and Madeline tucked her arms inside her jumper and hugged herself until Oliver pulled her into his warm arms.
"Why don't you three look for the tap—it should be in the far corner that way—while we finish setting up the tents?" asked Paul. Oliver nodded at his father while Madeline snuggled next to his chest.
"C'mon, Maddie," he said, and the three of them began walking in the direction that Mr. Wood had pointed.
Though nearly everyone was still asleep, seeing all of the different tents and campsites and decorations was interesting. They recognised several foreign flags, including Australian, American, Russian, Brazilian, Japanese, and more—it appeared that the whole wizarding world had turned out for the match between Ireland and Bulgaria.
It didn't take long to find the tap and fill up four buckets full of water. There wasn't a line, so they were able to sneakily conjure as many buckets as they could cover.
"Oliver, do we really need this much? You don't have to carry two buckets," said Claire, looking at Oliver with confusion.
"We'll need to put the fire out, won't we? And cook things? And have some left over for tea?" he asked, looking to Madeline for support.
"Sure," she replied, trying and failing to hide her amused grin.
As the trio trudged back laden with water, people were waking up and starting on breakfast. There were a few small children riding around on toy broomsticks, reminding Madeline of Oliver and herself as kids, but the Ministry officials put a stop to it rather quickly. She supposed that the Muggles running the campground were becoming suspicious of all of the abnormal activity.
Back at the campsite, the tents were up and everyone was in good spirits. Henry had collected a bit of firewood from the woods near the campground and had started a fire before the trio returned.
As the day wore on, more and more groups of people arrived, some in larger numbers than Madeline expected. Eventually it was entertaining enough to sit and watch all of the strange and different people wandering around the campsite. Paul told them that they weren't far from the pitch, which was right on the other side of the woods, but they were dead in the middle of all of the action. This allowed everyone to see friends and colleagues, especially Henry, Paul, Olivia, and Gwen. There were Ministry folks running around all day, and those who weren't working would happily discuss the anticipation of the match.
Even Claire, Madeline, and Oliver saw many of their friends. Elaine and Andrew stopped by for a short while, as did Nicolas and Margaret. They sat and had a cup of tea for a bit, and while Claire grew tired of Margaret, she pleaded with Madeline to go walk around for a bit. So Madeline and Claire wandered off, leaving Oliver and the parents to entertain Nicolas and Margaret; Madeline's parents were more interested in Nicolas than they let on, and Oliver was keen to talk to him, so no real harm was done, nor any injury felt.
They eventually made their way closer to the forest, and as they did so, Madeline saw a campsite with several tall redheads.
The sight of Arthur Weasley and all seven of his ginger children together at one campsite was enough to startle anyone, and Madeline found that she and Claire were both standing and staring in their direction—until, of course, Bill Weasley looked their way and gathered the attention of the others. Madeline and Claire continued walking in that direction until they were greeted by Fred and George.
"Oi, George, look who it is! Maddie Mae Palmer and the beautiful Claire Denson," said Fred, who stood and bowed ceremoniously.
"Welcome to our campsite, ladies," said George, who also bowed.
"Care for a cuppa?"
"We've already had two or three, thanks," said Claire, who was grinning and trying to ignore her blushing cheeks. The two ladies were then introduced to Bill and Arthur ("Ah, yes, Olivia Palmer once helped Molly's brother Fabian with his memory after an accident!") before the twins managed to notice something strange about them.
"Madeline Palmer," said Fred, looking at her suspiciously, "is it just me, or are you missing a rather large, Quidditch-loving appendage?"
"If you're referring to Oliver, he's back at the campsite with their parents," said Claire. "He wouldn't miss the World Cup in Britain if his life depended on it."
At this, while others were laughing, Percy and Charlie Weasley both stood to greet them.
"Pleasure seeing you again, Madeline. Claire," said Percy. He straightened his glasses, gazing at them with a dignified air, and shook both of Madeline's hands.
"Percy," said Madeline, nodding and holding back her own laughter. "I see you're well."
"Quite, quite," he said, nodding in response. "I've heard you're in training to become a Healer, like you've always hoped."
"Indeed. It's been quite horrendous," she said, her mask slipping into a grin.
"He has his own good news, should you feel inclined to ask him," said Madeline. "It's not my information to share."
"Did he make Puddlemere?" asked George, who was suddenly quite serious, and Fred and Percy and Charlie all gazed at her intently.
"You'll have to ask him, won't you?"
"Maddie Mae, be reasonable," said Fred as he threw an arm over her shoulders. "You can tell us."
"And you can ask him yourselves like the wonderful friends you all are."
"Wait," said Charlie, who moved forward. He was burlier and tanner than she remembered, built similarly to Oliver, and his arms looked as though they'd seen several burns and massive scrapes. Madeline thought she'd seen his eyes lingering on Claire but didn't stop to consider it. "Are you and Oliver Wood finally together?"
"Hello, Charlie," said Madeline curtly. Fred dropped his arm. "What exactly do you mean by 'finally together'?"
"Oh, er, forget I said anything," he said, waving his hand and dismissing his own question.
"They've finally admitting their undying love for each other, yes," said Claire casually. "Snogging and everything. It's strange but sort of a relief, you know?"
Madeline glared at Claire while the twins and Charlie laughed.
"What do you mean by 'strange'?"
"Well… it's sort of been… erm, oh don't look at me like that, Maddie!"
"Some best friend you are," said Madeline, narrowing her eyes.
"Claire's correct," said Percy, who was nodding thoughtfully. "It's odd seeing two people who've been in love their entire lives finally admit and commit to their feelings, but definitely a relief. It gives the rest of us hope."
At this, everyone stopped and stared, mouths gaping, at Percy Weasley. Fred chuckled and shook his head, at a loss for words.
"That's exactly what I meant! Thank you, Percy! How's Penny?" asked Claire.
"I've been busy at the Ministry," he said, shrugging. "But she's doing well."
"Right," said Claire, who was unsure of how to respond. "Right."
"I'm happy for you and Wood. I thought you might have ended up with that Tennant boy," said Charlie. "And I do hope he managed to make a Quidditch team somewhere. He would have earned it."
Madeline couldn't think of a response, so she smiled and nodded.
"Well," said Claire after a few moments, "this has been sufficiently awkward. I think we shall move along now. See you lot later."
Back at the Wood/Palmer campsite, Madeline and Claire relayed their conversation with the Weasley boys to Oliver, who laughed accordingly and made Madeline an official bearer of his success.
"You're allowed to tell anyone you'd like," he said, grinning. "I've already broken the news to my family and other people of importance."
The afternoon passed slowly but happily, and lunch was enjoyed as well as it could be in anticipation for such an exciting event. Oliver took to pacing late in the afternoon, and when several vendors began popping up near their campsite, he announced that it was time to go. He could wait no longer.
No one in their group purchased any souvenirs; instead, they made their way to the forest and to the pitch—Paul and Oliver were too eager for the match to begin to be distracted by rosettes and miniatures of the players. Seeing the match with their own eyes would be enough to remember by.
So they began the trek through the woods along a trail that had been lit with lanterns and reached the stadium in time to find their seats and survey their situation—they were near the centre, higher than the middle, but not so high that they would have to look down. Their seats were, in Madeline's opinion, quite excellent; and though they could hear the sound of thousands of people chattering and moving into the stadium, many people were singing above the racket.
Paul Wood announced that the whole stadium could fit a hundred thousand people and that the ministry had been working on it all year; and, as the stadium filled, Madeline could scarcely believe it didn't hold more—there were so many witches and wizards everywhere that she felt her jaw drop. Claire, too, was gazing around in awe, and Oliver was so excited for the match that he couldn't stop grinning.
Above and across from their seats was a huge chalkboard that was flashing with adverts for shops and goods from around the world. It was mildly amusing to Madeline and Claire to see advertisements from Hogsmeade, as they thought of it only as weekend retreat from Hogwarts, not an internationally-famous, all-wizarding village. Now that she was beginning to enter into the adult magical world, it was quite astonishing (and in a way, humbling) to see that their community was far larger than she had really ever imagined.
Sooner than anticipated, a voice booming across the stadium welcomed them to the four hundred and twenty-second Quidditch World Cup, and everyone cheered and screamed.
"That's Ludovic Bagman speaking," said Henry to Madeline.
After the noise died down some, the Minister introduced the Bulgarian National Team Mascots, which turned out, to everyone's great surprise, to be about one hundred veela. The beautiful women began dancing, and Madeline was only mildly impressed by their coordination and athleticism. When she looked back into the stands, she saw that her parents were speaking to each other about the match, and Paul was taking Oliver by the scruff of his collar and pulling him down—apparently, while Madeline had been distracted by the veela, Oliver had lifted his foot onto the rail and looked as though he was about to clamber over it. When the music stopped, half the stadium was in an uproar—angry shouts and yells were filling the gold-infused, crisp evening air. Madeline and Claire looked at one another and rolled their eyes, and Oliver stared at his hands as though seeing them for the first time.
Next were the Irish National Team Mascots, which zoomed into the stadium in flashes of green and gold, and after doing a few loops, created a rainbow—and once the rainbow united with two points of light at either end of the pitch, they formed a massive glittering shamrock. Soon the shamrock was soaring around, showering the entire stadium in gold pieces. When the shamrock came closer, Madeline could make out small red-vested men carrying lanterns—leprechauns!
"Look at that!" shouted Claire happily, grinning at all of the little men showering them with gold coins and green-and-gold light.
After the leprechauns had settled themselves across from the veela, and everyone had finished rummaging around for the gold coins, the Minister introduced the Bulgarian National Team. There were several supportive cheers, but none were as loud as for Viktor Krum, whom Madeline knew only through Oliver's rampant ranting about his apparently brilliant skills as a Seeker.
Next came the Irish National Team, and Madeline cheered ever so loudly for Moran, one of her favourite Chasers. Ludo then announced the Chairwizard of the International Association of Quidditch, Hassam Mostafa, who was to be the referee for the evening. As soon as Mostafa released the Quaffle and Bludgers (the Snitch had disappeared as soon as the crate had opened), the match began.
The players moved so quickly and so succinctly that Ludo Bagman had only enough time to shout their names as they tossed the Quaffle. While watching, Madeline could hear Oliver shouting happily next to her—
"The Hawkshead Attacking Formation! Brilliant! Look at them! Oooo! The Porskoff Ploy! Perfect! Look at Troy go! They've got it! GO! YES!"
The Irish scored, the leprechauns danced, and the veela sulked. Claire, Madeline, and Oliver hugged each other and jumped around and cheered.
Soon the Irish were up 30-0, and the game started moving even faster. It seemed only moments after Bulgaria earned their first goal that everyone gasped at Lynch and Krum, who were diving towards the ground; but right before they hit, Krum pulled up and away, and Lynch collided into the earth with a dull and terrifying thud. The Irish and their supporters all groaned.
"The Wronski Feint," said Oliver, shaking his head dejectedly. "I tried to teach Harry that one, but he never seemed to grasp the concept. Maybe he will now that he's seen it in action."
While Aidan Lynch was being revived by Mediwizards, Krum was using the time to search for the Snitch unabated by the action of the match. It wasn't long before Lynch was back on his broom and game resumed, much to the Irish supporters' delight.
The Irish Chasers didn't allow for anymore distractions, and were now ahead 130-10, and Bulgarian Beaters (among others) began taking violent measures. Madeline could almost understand—it was a matter of being frustrated and exhausted—and being tired and desperate often led to cheating and foul play.
Soon the fouls were obvious enough for Mostafa to call penalty shots for Ireland, and the veela and leprechauns were causing all sorts of chaos. The veela were shooting handfuls of fire at the leprechauns, who had formed into a massive inappropriate hand gesture. The leprechauns and veela were all-out fighting, and Ministry officials rushed down to try to separate them; but above that, the match was still taking place, and feverish environment was enough to cause anyone anxiety—Madeline was clutching at Oliver, whose grip was unusually tight. Claire and Madeline were hugging each other tightly.
Despite the chaos, the Irish Chasers were taking no prisoners, and continued their efforts in scoring. Krum and Lynch were both still searching for the Snitch, and while they were flying about, Krum got hit full-on in the face by a Bludger, and blood rushed everywhere—his nose appeared to be broken.
"Oh Merlin!" shouted Claire, her face contorted with horror, but before Oliver or Madeline could respond, they noticed that Lynch had seen the Snitch was pelting after it faster than Madeline had ever seen anyone fly. But Krum was close behind him. Despite his broken nose and the globs of blood that were flying after him, Krum was gaining on Lynch, and soon they were level—Oliver was jumping madly and shouting, but Madeline couldn't hear him, for the Irish were screaming like mad—and then, as soon as it had begun, it was over. Lynch crashed into the ground again, trampled by vicious veela this time, and Krum emerged as the victor with the Snitch squirming in his hand. His robes were drenched in blood, but he held the Snitch aloft, showing the world that he'd captured his team's defeat.
"Wow," said Claire in a hushed voice. "It's over?"
"Yes. 170-160. Shocking," said Paul Wood, who was shaking his head.
As Ludo Bagman announced Ireland's win over Bulgaria, the Irish supporters took a moment to realise their success, but soon found their spirit and glee to be overwhelming. The leprechauns were zooming around happily and the Irish team danced at their end of the pitch. They then performed a lap of honor and went to the top box for their magnificent trophy.
The tumult of the Irish supporters' victory cheers and dancing was too tantalizing to ignore, and Madeline joined the celebration. By the end, Madeline's throat was sore from cheering and screaming her hands pained from clapping so hard. Oliver was shaking his head and grinning.
The flood of people leaving the stadium seemed larger than Madeline had remembered seeing entering the stadium, but spirits were so high and the songs so easily engaged that she couldn't find cause to be impatient or angry. Claire took Madeline's hand so she wouldn't get lost, and they swung their hands and skipped around happily, singing all the while.
The lantern-lit trail led the group back to their campsite, where Madeline realised that she was so full of energy and excitement that she could hardly entertain any thoughts of sleep. Henry Palmer reignited the fire and made mugs of steaming hot cocoa for everyone. His daughter leaned against Oliver while she sipped her cocoa, and sitting around the fire with her family and friends, Madeline felt quite peaceful and thankful for being able to attend such an event.
Oliver and Paul continued to talk about the match and all of the foul-play for quite some time, but Gwen and Olivia grew drowsy from the warm air and cocoa. Claire was next, followed by Henry and Paul, who left Oliver and Madeline sitting outside of the two tents. Though it was late, the campgrounds were lit by several other fires and the leprechauns, which were still flying about with their green and gold lanterns, gleefully laughing and singing.
"We should probably get some sleep," said Madeline, who found herself yawning. After a few kisses, Oliver nuzzled his face into her neck and sighed.
"But you'll be leaving again tomorrow," he said, his voice tender and quiet. Madeline's thoughtful gaze turned from the fire to Oliver. She frowned.
"I know. Back to the horrors of being adults."
"That Crispin fellow sounds like an arse. You let me know if he bothers you," said Oliver, his voice nearing a growl. He kissed her neck and she smiled.
"He's nothing I can't handle," was her response. "Though seeing you hit him square on the nose might provide some satisfaction, I would never allow or condone such violence."
"Oh, never," said Oliver with a grin. Madeline swatted his arm playfully.
"I love you," she said, grinning up at him.
"And I you."
He wrapped her back in his arms, and Madeline felt perfectly content and drowsy next to the fire and Oliver. The stars were peaking out beneath a few thin wafts of clouds and there wasn't much of a breeze directing their fire, but snatches of singing and celebrating reached them for quite some time. Madeline was just on the point of falling into a deep, dreamless sleep when Oliver jumped, waking her up with a jolt. She couldn't remember whether she'd drifted off for just a few moments or for hours.
"What is it?" she muttered, rubbing her eyes. Oliver was helping her to stand when she heard a shout—one that wasn't celebrating the Irish's victory over the Bulgarians.
"Wake your dad," said Oliver, whose brown eyes were dark with worry. Madeline ducked into her tent, found her parents, and woke them as gently and quickly as she could. More shouts could be heard, and the lack of singing gave Madeline an odd chill. She woke Claire and found Oliver, his parents, and her parents all standing outside, surveying the situation. Henry was frowning and Olivia walked off a small distance, looking around in different directions.
"It's a group of Death Eaters," said Olivia once she had returned. Her face was lined with an anger that bordered on fear. "They've got some Muggles, and they're... toying with them."
Chapter 6: The Bet Begins
A shimmering emerald skull, massive and hazy, hung above the forest. Fresh screams, many coming from the forest, rent the air. Madeline cried aloud and Bill Weasley, who was standing only a few feet away, swore.
"They're in there," he said urgently to his father, whose eyes had grown wide and fearful.
"No! NO! You three stay together!"