Worth a Thousand Words?
Ginny Weasley sits back in her arm chair, sipping at her mug of tea as she thinks about her response. Now fifty, she is a commanding presence and age has done little to dim her appeal to the male of the species. I resist the temptation to fill the silence; instead, I refill the glass of water in front of me and wait.
After what seems like an age, she begins to talk. She stares out of the window rather than looking me in the eye, as if I will judge her for what she has to say.
"When I look back, I see the stupidity of it all. After years of knowing him, I should have just put my hands up and admitted that I was wrong. But I didn't and now look where I am. It's been thirty years since we last won the World Cup and every four years when the event comes around, those of us who were part of that team get hauled out of wherever we've been hiding to express our hope that the latest crop of hopefuls can overcome their obvious lack of talent and progress.
"The format has changed since my day, as the teams all play their games in the same country rather than just the top four. And at the time, we all protested against the time away from home, but the top brass were clever and pandered to our pride. I'm not sure who came up with the phrase 'The Golden Generation', but it stuck and we loved it. We were lauded in the press, at public appearances and at the games. Not because we had great potential, but because we won. And, I'm ashamed to say, I loved it."
Ah, The Golden Generation. Twice winners of the European Championship and 2006 World Champions; where are they now?
History, they say is written by the victors, but the aftermath, the rebuilding proved to be anything but victorious for anyone not involved in Quidditch. Harry Potter can testify to that. I have agreed not to ask him about his marriage, but any answers about the years after the end of the Second War can't avoid the issue, so entwined were his own fortunes with that of the Wizarding world in general.
His face shows the hard work and the sacrifices made to bring our world to a place where we are not ashamed to stand alongside those who truly believe that the old way of doing things was wrong.
I have decided to ask him first about his scar.
He laughs at my question, his previously austere face coming alive as he does so. His eyes, though, lose none of their hardness.
"Which one? You'll have to be more specific!"
I pause for a moment, monetarily thrown by his unexpected response.
"Let's start with the older, more famous one."
"Oh, that one. Everyone knows the story and everyone knows why it is barely visible these days."
"But it shaped your life, didn't it?"
"It did, but only for the first seventeen years. I spent a lot of my time being defined by what others were doing to me, since then I've had a lot more control."
"Is that what's driven you? Your rise through the ranks of the Aurors was quite spectacular. Even allowing for people's allegations of favouritism, you were undoubtedly good at what you did."
"I'm glad you think so. I think the main difference between me and those who had been in the Ministry for a while was that members of the DA approached things differently."
"They were wrong and you were right?"
He smiles at my attempt to get him to take sides.
"No, we just approached things differently. The post-war world required different thinking and we thought differently. Plus, so many of the older members were dead or had been compromised by Riddle's rise to power."
Tom Riddle. Even after all these years people still don't want to say the Dark Lord's name out loud. Even, it appears, Harry Potter.
"You called him… "
"Riddle? Yeah. Too many people still get scared if I call him Voldemort and I refuse to call him He who Must Not Be Named, so Riddle it is."
The use of Riddle's proper name makes me think of my other interviewee and how she calls him Tom. Given that they have so much in common, I wonder how they allowed so little to drive them apart. A question, I think, his former wife is more likely to answer than he is.
"Tell me how you got the scar that took your left eye."
"Not much to tell, really. We had tracked a group of suspects to their little hidey-hole and staked the place out. The numbers were pretty evenly matched and we had the element of surprise so the order to storm the place seemed reasonable. Except…"
"We had a traitor in our midst and they were ready for us, outnumbering us three to one."
"And yet you got out of there alive."
"Thankfully, yeah, all of us did. Most of us were in a bad way for some time, but we all pulled through eventually."
"So who gave you the scar?"
"I have no idea. It happened at the start of the fight and we never did work it out."
There is an air of defiance about that statement that suggests either I think he is incompetent for not knowing, or he knows who did it and doesn't want them to get the credit.
"Half of them died in the fight."
"Did that bother you?"
"Yes, of course it did! Meant we had to waste money on patching the remaining bastards up and then putting them on trial!"
"So you're saying they should have been executed on the spot?"
He shrugs. "It was a long time ago, I can't remember."
I sense that it is best to let sleeping dragons lie and so I move on.
"Did it surprise you when you were made Chief Auror?"
"Not as much as you not asking any questions about the World Cup."
For the first time in years, an interviewee's response has caught me cold.
"The World Cup, aren't you going to ask me about it?"
"Well…" I'm struggling how to respond and he is clearly enjoying my discomfort.
"It wasn't all about her, you know. There were other players, other Chasers… "
There is a surprising lack of bitterness in his voice. Despite the obvious trap, I decide to take the bait.
"Shalma Khan, for one. Klinsmann for the Krauts. There were many good players there."
I nod in agreement, Khan scored the winner for England in the tightest of semi-finals against Brazil, her run to the hoops also upsetting the chase for the Snitch.
"We were good, we knew that, but England — Muggle teams as well — have traditionally choked on the big stages, so could we deliver?"
I refrain from pointing out that the Muggles were getting better at this at that stage and now regularly win things across all sports. But I don't. But I realise that this isn't really an interview — more an internal monologue that I have the privilege of observing.
"Qualification had been tough, but we'd gone unbeaten, even when the Russians decided to switch their game to Siberia. I've never been so cold in my life, but we won.
"After that, we played a few meaningless friendlies, all designed to boost the coffers rather than target the playing style of any particular opponent. The win against Wales was particularly satisfying."
"But the Harpies fans still cheered for you."
"Wales haven't been able to muster a decent team for yonks, even when Gwenog was playing, they were ranked lower than the Faroe Isles."
There's a large grin on her face as she says this, the first time that she has displayed any emotion other than earnest concentration. I nod, not wanting to interrupt her flow, hoping that she will lead me to the subjects I really want to hear about.
"We arrived in Germany in good spirits and in good form. We weren't the favourites, Germany were, which pissed us off a great deal, but we knew we were paying the price for England's past failures, so we got our heads down and got on with it.
"We won all our opening games and so had Cameroon in the last sixteen. Should have been a walk in the park, but, as they say, there are no easy games anymore at the World Cup."
"Ah, yes," I say as I nod in agreement, "the Brazil game. Best game under two hours I think I've ever seen."
"Every good game is under two hours, everything else is just a farce. The third hour is down to fitness, but with all these substitutions now the third hour isn't as tough as it used to be. 'Back in mah day…'" he says in one of the worst Yorkshire accents I've heard in a long time.
Despite my alleged impartiality, I find myself smiling and we reminisce for a good ten minutes about teams falling apart in the third hour of a game. He knows his stuff, does this boy.
"And remember Conroy's last ditch effort to block their Seeker? Idiot never saw the Bludger behind him."
"That's when they changed the rules about Bludgers at the heads, wasn't it? The game becomes more like Muggle sport every day."
He is silent for a few minutes — the smile that he had allowed to creep onto his face is now firmly back in the box — and for the next five minutes the response to every question is guarded. He says enough to persuade me to move on, but not enough to really answer my question. This is the game that very interviewer plays and none more so than me. If Harry Potter is going to give me the big exclusive, then it will be of his own volition and no amount of prompting will change that.
"The Belgium game was when we first started to think about winning the thing. No one said anything out loud, but you could tell. People were more focussed, like they knew that this one really mattered. And it did. Back home, that's when things started to go a little crazy and well… "
She says no more, but the faraway look in her eyes as her voice fades says it all. I pour her a fresh cup of tea and help myself to one of the digestives that have so far remained untouched.
"He'd planned to come for the semi against Brazil, but things got a little out of hand in Diagon Alley and so he was kept at home to sort it all out. Any half-competent school leaver could have arrested a few people and made sure they got something more than a few nights in the cells. Why the Chief Auror was required to do that, I'll never know, but then Dawlish always was a bit of a twat, wasn't he?"
I nod at her comment and let my face tell her I agree, but I don't speak. After five years of trying to get this interview, I don't want to scare her off just as we were getting to the crux of the matter.
"So he missed the semi and I missed him afterwards. But WGHBs weren't allowed anywhere near us by that point. More than a few let off steam with teammates. It was all kept very quiet, but someone blabbed and… well, all hell broke loose. The good thing was that it stopped people talking about how we were going to win the bloody thing as they printed ever more lurid headlines."
I want to say that it set the stage for the coup de grace that led to her downfall, but that was in the celebrations after the final and I want to hear her take on that first.
"I'd made arrangements to go out there, I even had a ticket. The team had remembered that we were married and… well, the Minister was going to be there, and I think I was officially supposed to be part of his protection detail. But the hit wizards made it clear that they didn't want me anywhere near him, so I was free to be a fan."
I nod, hoping that he will continue, but he's lost in thought. I suppose, left to his own devices, he would have pulled out all the stops to be there. Perhaps it is the fact that he didn't and he now knows that it was his lack of action that contributed to what happened.
"And if you'd been there are part of the official detail?"
"Would it have made a difference? Nah, I don't think so. Too many people had bought in to this siege mentality myth and so they weren't letting anyone near the team."
"Did you ever think of pulling rank?"
I'm surprised at the boldness of my question, and when he doesn't reply, I begin to wonder if the interview is over. But then he speaks.
"I did, and I actually tried to meet with the team, even if I wasn't going to get close to her specifically."
"I made a suggestion to the PR woman that a picture of the team with the Boy Who Lived would be a good thing, but I was rebuffed unceremoniously. Told me that the last thing they needed was anyone adding to the hype, and that I, of all people, should have known better than to ask."
In the years leading up to this interview, I have done my best to uncover the facts as far as anyone knows them. But this is news to me, completely out of left field. Not even a hint of a rumour has ever circulated that he tried to promote the team like this and was rebuffed.
"Do you think it would have made any difference if you had been allowed?"
"Perhaps." His voice is barely above a whisper and I have to restrain myself from leaning forward to hear him. "There might have been a few less 'why didn't Harry…?' questions in the aftermath, but I'm sure, had the form book been followed and England had lost, that I would have received some of the blame."
He is remarkably sanguine, even to the point of being blasé about the fact, showing none of the pain that the events of the following few days must have caused him. But, for all his self-control, he shows no sign of wanting to continue, and when I feel a tap on my shoulder, I know that my time is up, at least for now. I accede gracefully, knowing that any amount of protestations will scupper any hope I might have of there being a part two.
"Someone told me he tried to have his picture taken with the team in the run-up to the final."
I try not to reveal that this fact is already known to me, but her next question shows that my acting skills remain poor.
"I'd heard a few whispers."
She slumps back in her chair, visibly annoyed at the possibility that someone else, an outsider to boot, knew this before she did.
"Would it have made a difference?"
She turns and fixes me with a stare that I assume is meant to be intimidating, but there are far worse things thrown at a journalist like me, and I do not wilt under her gaze.
"We might have lost." She doesn't answer the question I'm really asking, content instead to follow the easier route. I'm happy to follow, because as they say, all roads lead to Rome, or in this case, Berlin.
"You think it might have disrupted the team's preparations?"
I try and hide the fact that, with the players under so much pressure, they might have folded in the game like Brazil did in 2014. A good manager knows how to release enough of the stress without letting a team lose their focus. It was a miracle that England held it together long enough to win and the stream of personal disasters that followed was fairly predictable.
"The management certainly thought that it could, and that was why they turned everyone down. We all knew that everyone was trying to get on the bandwagon and we supported the management in doing that."
I choose my next few words carefully. Just like any sportsman or woman, I have visualised this moment time after time as I seek to conjure the words that will unlock the biggest secret in Quidditch history.
"I has been suggested to me—"
"By whom, exactly?"
"By the person who revealed that your husband had approached the team, that—"
"And who was that, exactly?"
"As I was saying, the person who—"
"Again, who was it?"
I realise that no amount of clever words is going to help me around this impasse. It will be down to her, and so I settle back in my chair to see if England's Greatest Chaser is going to finally reveal all.
"You are here to talk about the game, not all the PR rubbish that goes on around it."
That is true, in part. I'm only interviewing her because I'm interested in what goes on around the games. The story of England's last World Cup win is too well known to require anyone other than a traditional sports reporter to ask the questions.
'So, Ginny, when you won the World Cup, and you won the Golden Quaffle, you must have felt really happy and proud that you'd won it.'
'Sure, Gary, I feel really happy and really proud, but Quidditch is a team game and without the team, this would mean nothing.'
See, easy isn't it? It allows the players who struggle to string a few words together to fill the airways with a few words before the ads kick in.
Perhaps she's forgotten that I wrote the definitive book on the last war, despite only being allowed access to Hermione Weasley, and not to her brother or herself, let alone Harry Potter.
I decide to try my tickling skills on the slumbering anger of the former Mrs Potter.
"Do you think that you would have acted differently if your husband had been allowed any sort of access to you in the run-up to and the aftermath of the final?"
"I didn't ask for special treatment."
"Perhaps you should have?"
"This interview is over."
She is on her feet and if it is possible for someone less than five foot tall to tower over someone, then she does. I'm not going to get the answers I wanted, but I will get a story.
"You don't know what it was like having every upward move in your career questioned by those who thought that Harry's celebrity was responsible. Even when I scored more goals than any Chaser before or since, people still questioned me. How do you think you would feel?"
"Mr Potter had to go through the same thing, perhaps you should have asked him?"
Her minder has her hand on my shoulder and tells me that it's time that I left. But Weasley hasn't finished.
"I did talk to him, constantly, but he never found it as big a problem as I did. So what if I blew off a little steam? I wasn't as if I shagged the guy. His girlfriend was there and she didn't seem to think it was a bad thing."
It will always be a mystery to me as to why Harry wasn't there as part of the celebrations. Conspiracy theorists amongst you will no doubt tell me that his enemies in the Ministry conspired to keep them apart, and there may be some truth in that. Fame and success create enemies the world over and, as a couple, the Potters had more than some considered their fair share. But they also had enemies that went beyond that, and a wise man would not be so foolish as to discount that possibility.
I can see that she wants to say more, but I know that I have outstayed my welcome and it is time to leave. The woman who led me to my seat with smiles and small talk has her hand lodged in the small of my back, making sure that I take the fewest steps possible between my seat and the door.
"I still love him, you know."
I don't turn back as the words are spoken, more to herself than to me. Five minutes later, I am in my study, suddenly overcome with tiredness. The whole thing, interviewing both of them in the same day, has been more stressful than I'd imagined.
The next morning, I decide not to publish my interviews. I am freelance and I am successful enough to not need the money that a publisher would pay. If you are reading this, I and both my subjects are long gone. Hopefully history has been kinder to them than their contemporaries were.