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Chapter 10: Pigeons, elephants and the like.
Five Years Later
"Passengers for flight 9748 to Brussels are asked to make their way to gate A49…"
"Grace, we'll look for Elliot once we get to the right gate, I promise you he's in my bag."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I packed him. Now get moving!" I gently shoved her forwards, watching in amusement as she tried to pull her small suitcase along with her.
She had turned five years old a month ago, at the same time that I had obtained the diploma that certified my capacity to teach Transfiguration. I had stayed in Canada much longer than planned, choosing to study the whole of my course with the Canadian Ministry of Magic. In that whole period, we had never set foot back in England, communicating with Cat only via owl and Floo network. Her career had exploded: she was now reserve Chaser for the English Quidditch team (while continuing to play for Puddlemere), and had never had more than a weekend to come visit us, which we both agreed was too short. I was starting to wonder if I'd ever see her again, until the letter I had received three months prior to today.
Puddlemere is playing the Brussels Basilisks at the beginning of August. Be there, or else.
It was impossible to Apparate so far and the Floo and Portkey networks were impossible to book on such a short notice, so that's how I ended up in the middle of a Muggle airport, trying to keep an eye on Grace who had just discovered the joys of taking escalators the wrong way around.
The plane tickets had been horribly expensive, but it was still better than the load of paperwork I would have had to cope with otherwise. The other side effect was that I had had to stash my wand in the suitcase that was in the hold, and not in the cabin. Muggle officers considered pointy sticks as dangerous objects, banned from the flight. Last time, a few people had been Confunded to avoid my wand being thrown away, and it was not something I planned to do again.
"Look, mum, look!" Grace shouted excitedly, pointing out the window. "Is that the airflane we're going to go on?"
"Airplane," I corrected her automatically. "No, we still have to walk a little."
She sighed. "I'm tired. Can you carry my bag? It hurts."
"Can you carry my bag what?"
"Can you carry my bag please?" She looked up at me hopefully.
I grinned and ruffled her hair. "Yes, if you ask so nicely."
"Thank you," she smiled.
My heart tightened a little as I recognised the expression I had seen so many times on Oliver's face: a lopsided smile (stressed here by Grace's missing front tooth) framed by dimples, the grey eyes sparkling brightly.
Grace had inherited her father's need to have both feet off the ground – she spent her time climbing trees, each time wanting to go higher (something I tried to keep an eye on due to her small size and facility to get injured) – and the trademark Wood smirk. I had yet to find out if she also had his flying skills however, because getting on a toy broom was so far out of the question, not while she hadn't shown signs of magic.
This was probably what worried me the most about her, other than her allergy to all types of nut. She could read perfectly, was starting to spell and knew more or less how to count, but there had been no magic whatsoever. The school she was in was reserved to children whose parents were recognised members of the magical community, and many of the kids her age had already managed to produce at least puffs of smoke with a wand they had managed to nick from coffee tables and whatnot.
For Grace, nothing, and she had managed to steal my wand more than once.
Cat, however, had reassured me on this subject. She had also warned me that she would fly with Grace, something I had reluctantly agreed to, but that was still better than Grace on her own.
"Mum?" She tugged at my arm. "Is that the number we're looking for?"
I looked up at the sign. "Yes it is. Now take your bag again while I find our passports and tickets, and then we'll be able to get on the plane."
"Mum, mum, mum, you said you'd find Elliot."
"Yes, Grace, just let me put our things in the luggage rack," I stuffed my travel bag in. "Do you need your pillow?"
She nodded, and I tossed the pillow on her lap, before firmly shutting the rack and sitting down next to her. She was bouncing excitedly on her seat, my handbag in her hands, waiting for me to find her stuffed toy.
I was quick to find Elliot the Elephant, hand it to her, and slide my bag under the seat in front.
"Mum, is it going to be long?" she asked while I fastened her belt.
"A few hours, but you're going to sleep for a while."
"And how are we going to eat?"
"They bring you food on trays."
"And if I need to go to the toilet?"
"There are toilets at the back and at the front of the airplane."
"Oh." She reflected on this information for a moment. "Ooh, look, we're moving!"
I smiled, taking in her wide eyes.
"EEE the airflane isn't touching the floor anymore," she squealed happily. "Look, mum, look, everything is really small! Are we going to go through the clouds?"
"We might, I'm not sure. Can I read now?"
She nodded me off absentmindedly, eyes still glued to the shrinking scenery, while I opened my guidebook of Brussels.
The plane was eerily silent during the night, the warm air broken only by a few irregular snores. Grace was curled up on her seat, her head on my lap, Elliot the Elephant's ear held tightly by her small fingers.
I couldn't sleep. In a few hours, I would be seeing Oliver again.
I had dated, of course, ever since my departure from England, sometimes taking things a little further, but when men found out about Grace, they were suddenly much less enthusiastic about seeing me. My longest relationship had lasted about eight months, and had been abruptly ended when he realised he had feelings for someone else. I had been invited to the wedding, his bride was adorable, and that was it.
Oliver's love life I didn't know about. It had been publicised in magazines, but I never read any of the stories. Grace knew what he looked like, though. She had a picture of him in her room, and I had told her that he had loved her very much, but didn't see her anymore because we didn't love each other enough to live together. Grace had shrugged this off and resumed pouring sprinkles over her cupcake.
Didn't love each other enough… More like hated each other so much we couldn't even live in the same country anymore.
This was going to be an awkward stay.
"Bienvenue à Bruxelles Zaventem, il fait 24°C…"*
The voice rang out of the speakers as the plane slowed down, shuddering to a stop. It was followed by a general scramble to get out, something Grace watched quietly through half closed eyes.
"Come on," I encouraged her. "We'll buy some breakfast inside the airport."
She groggily heaved herself up, while I collected our luggage from the rack and directed us out, not letting go of her hand.
I looked – and felt – quite horrifying, I realised as we walked past a wall covered in mirrors. My eyes were rimmed with dark circles, my mascara had smudged, and my cheeks were covered with two blotches a very deep shade of red. Thankfully, I had managed to brush my teeth on the plane, my khaki shorts and white tank top were smooth (Merlin bless self-cleaning and auto-ironing charms), and my braided hair looked clean.
Grace, on the other hand, looked much fresher than I did, despite the fact that she was walking around with closed eyes. Her short blond curls were neatly tucked behind her ears, and the denim shorts she was wearing with a purple shirt seemed to have been spared by last night's tomato and mozzarella sandwich.
She perked up considerably when we had to pick up the two suitcases that were in the hold.
"Can I climb on the thing that turns?"
"I'm afraid not, but how about you show me which suitcases are ours? I think I may have forgotten," I lied easily.
She shook her head. "Silly, one is blue, and the other is red. There they are!"
I hoisted the two of them on a trolley, stacked Grace's hand luggage and my travel bag on top, stuck my handbag into the basket reserved for this, and finally plopped Grace on top of the pile.
"Shoot," I hissed. "Grace, I need you to get back down for a moment, I forgot something."
She obeyed almost immediately, and I rapidly retrieved my wand, slipping it in the waistband of my shorts, before allowing her to scramble back on.
"Now," I informed her as I pushed the trolley forwards. "We've arrived a bit early, so I'm going to send Cat a message so that she can find us, and then we're going to have some breakfast. Okay?"
Grace nodded, and I grinned once again as she watched around her with wide eyes, a bit afraid of the number of people swarming far too close to her for comfort.
I drew my mobile phone out of my bag, rapidly firing a message. Cat's response came minutes later.
Can you get to the Grand Place?
Yes, but it's going to be a pain. Thanks, bitch.
My phone beeped again.
I love you too. Can't wait to see you again!
Getting to the Grand Place was indeed a pain. I had to find a corner secluded enough of the airport to perform an Undectable Extension Charm on my bag, slide the luggage in, then put a Featherweight charm on the whole thing, then find a taxi, that got lost twice and took a wrong turn before finally getting us where we wanted to be.
It was worth it. The whole place was bustling with activity, statues shimmering brightly from the rooftops, pavements smooth and terrace cafés noisy.
Nothing had changed, and I hadn't been back since at least ten years.
I stood in the middle, holding my daughter's hand. "Do you know the story of that lady?" I showed her the statue of a woman holding a baby. She shook her head. "Well, she's wondering who the father of her baby is. So she asks the man on her left, who says that he doesn't know but that the man on the horse over there," I indicated to the statue on the opposite rooftop, that the first statue was pointing to, "probably knows. But he doesn't know either, and he points to the man over there, and says that maybe he knows." Grace followed my hand with her eyes toward the next statue. "And what does that man do? He points over there," I pointed to the statue at the far end of where we were standing, "and the bishop bows his head."
Grace giggled. "Does that mean the bishop is the baby's daddy?"
"It does. Breakfast?"
Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting on the staircase of one of the buildings, happily chomping on waffles. And before you start, my daughter does have very healthy meals... most of the time.
"This is yummy," Grace mumbled through a mouthful of the warm food. "Can I have more?"
"Finish that one first, and then we'll see," I scratched a bit of caramelised sugar that had stuck to the paper off and popped it into my mouth.
"When is auntie Cat going to be here?"
"Soon, normally," I checked my watch. "Finished? Are you still hungry?" She shook her head, and I quickly wiped her sticky mouth clean. "Let's go back to the middle then, so we can see from everywhere if Cat is coming."
We waited there for at least another fifteen minutes, Grace merrily chasing after pigeons, arms spread out, running in circles and shouting "PSH! PSH!" as the birds landed a few meters further.
A few years ago, Cat and I would have been doing the same, I realised.
"Mum, can I go and see the mister over there who is drawing?" Grace skipped over to me breathlessly.
"Fine, but you stay where I can see you," I called as she went over to peer behind the man's shoulder.
She was back a few minutes later. "I prefer chasing pigeons."
"Go on then," I teased.
She promptly did so and ran forwards, making a flock of the stupid volatiles fly up, cooing indignantly as she shrieked with glee.
I spun around.
"And you haven't changed. Hello, Willows."
"Wood, what the fuck are you doing here?"
A/N: Hello again! I am happy to tell you I have chapters 11 and 12 written already. Which means, hopefully, fast updates!
So, tell me. Do you like Grace? Is Kiwi what you expect now she's responsible and mature (ha ha)? Who would be chasing pigeons too? Do I detect some URST between Kiwi and Oliver - again? Who misssed Cat in this chapter? What's going to happen next?
I'd also like to say that in no means do I want to offend you if you're catholic. Those statues actually are on the rooftops of Brussels, and the story Kiwi tells Grace is one my mom used to tell me.
I don't own Brussels Zaventem Airport, or the Grand Place.
*Welcome to Brussels Zaventem, the temperature is 24°C...
The following message is very important. If you'd like to read more Oliver/OC, told in first person by an extremely snarky, snappy, delightful character, you should go and read my_voice_rising's story, Keep Calm and Carry On. I assure you Sarah has not payed me to promote this. So go for it - it's funny and you get to see drunk!Oliver Wood in all his beauty. Also, leave her a review, yes?
You have my permission to leave me a review as well. We're still aiming for one hundred, and that makes 23 to go.
THANK YOU &hearts