Author's Note: I absolutely can't believe this journey is over. I say that with relief and a profound sense of sadness. This is probably my last novel-length foray into fan fiction. I knew that it would be by the time I was halfway through. When I started, I was seventeen. Now I'm twenty-four. My life has changed so much. So has my writing. It's time to move beyond novel-length fan fiction and began novel length novels. In November 2009, I finished my first novel-length original work of fiction. Now I'm working on two original novels and a novella, which I hope to publish one day.
I'll continue to write one-shots because I can't help myself. But now my writing energy will be primarily focused on original fiction.
A HUGE thanks to A. Nutter, a fantastic long-time reviewer, who suggested I post the final chapter on the anniversary of first uploading the story. It was a brilliant suggestion and I'm so glad she pointed out the opportunity to me. It's like coming full circle and feels perfect.
Another HUGE thanks to Twilight, who didn't have to read any of this "rubbish" but has stuck with it and flattered me endlessly with her eagerness for each new chapter. It's wonderful to write for reviewers who are so good to me – it's incredible to write for a reviewer who I can talk to face-to-face ^_^
A final but no less HUGE thanks also to all my loyal readers and reviewers, many of whom have been with me from the beginning and have grown up as the fic has unfolded over the last seven years. Without you guys, I'd never have been able to finish this fic.
Thanks! It's been a fantastic journey!
J.T. of Gryffindor
Disclaimer: "Bend It" belongs to not me, and HP is J.K.R.'s. Sincerest thanks to the Goddess of pro-fic . . .
"Damn it, I can't find my gloves!"
Ginny tore through their bedroom like a whirlwind, throwing things everywhere and leaving a trail of destruction in her wake.
"Weasley, stop that." Draco followed, holding her gloves in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. Ginny didn't notice because she was too busy emptying the contents of their wardrobe onto the floor. Draco's dress robes and Ginny's practice gear lay in a crumpled heap under Ginny's feet.
"You can't keep calling me Weasley." She crawled back out of the wardrobe and glared up at him. She paused when she noticed the gloves in his hand. He raised his eyebrows and held them out. She snatched them and her lip twitched. "Weren't you there when we got married?"
"I was," he said, absently wiggling his ring finger. "I remember because I've never had six grown men try to kill me in a single day before."
"Seven, counting Harry." Ginny did smile then, accepting the cup of tea.
"Anyway, you are still a Weasley," he pointed out. "And your mum's still furious you didn't change your name."
"Yeah, yeah," Ginny said. "But Weasley's the name everyone knows." She smirked, taking a sip of tea. "It's on my kit, my locker, and my official registry with England's Quidditch League. Be a pain in the arse to change."
Draco rolled his eyes. "You're going to be late for practice, oh magnificent Quidditch starlet."
Ginny guzzled her tea, planted a kiss just under his ear, handed the teacup back, and bolted for the door.
"You'll be on time to the party tonight?" she called. "The girls are dying to see you." He could hear her hopping around the entryway, trying to pull her boots on.
"If I'm not in meetings or anything," he called back, starting to tidy up their bedroom. "Blaise and I have some rubbish to settle for next season."
"You'll be there or – or I'll send Nat and Patrice to drag you," Ginny said, reappearing in the doorway and kissing him properly. "Bye, coach."
She was gone in a moment, the front door slamming behind her. He heard the faint pop as she Disapparated. He smiled, shook his head, and got to work on the Chaser-torn wardrobe.
He often felt like a housewife. Officially, Ginny was the family breadwinner and he was the homebody. Mrs. Weasley said he made a mean soufflé. Ron Weasley said he made a mean catch in a kitchen apron. Draco still hated Ron.
He gave his wand a flick. His dress robes smoothed themselves and floated back into the wardrobe. Ginny's wedding robes settled beside them, still smelling of the June lilies she'd worn in her hair that day. He ran a hand over the soft material, irrationally wishing he could think of some reason for her to wear them again. Ridiculous, of course. He smirked at himself. A housewife and soft, to boot.
He wandered into the kitchen, dumping Ginny's teacup in the sink and picking up his half-empty coffee cup. He was just thinking about a trip to Diagon Alley for Ginny's new gloves and guards, important things she hadn't replaced since the beginning of the season, when the Floo went in the sitting room.
"If it isn't everyone's favorite Galleonaire," Blaise said, grinning at him from the cinders and taking a sip from his own coffee cup. "Where's the apron?"
"You're supposed to be my best mate," Draco pointed out, pulling up a chair and seating himself by the hearth. "Why is it you're almost as hard to cope with as Ron Weasley these days?"
"You need a bit of stirring up," Blaise told him. Like he'd know. "And we're supposed to be in a business meeting."
"It's just the two of us. We're mates. We don't arrange business meetings," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "We just say, 'Fancy a bite at the Leaky Cauldron? Oh, and we should probably talk about that team we started when we were young and stupid.'"
"Hermione thinks we should be more organized about the Nundus, or look like we are, anyway." Blaise set his coffee cup aside.
"Oh, I'm sure Hermione does," Draco said, rolling his eyes skyward. "Hermione should be worrying about her throwing arm, not bossing people about."
"She scored two goals their last match," Blaise said defensively. "And she's been loads better in practice lately."
"Now the season's over." Draco wasn't actually worried but he dearly loved the look on Blaise's face when anyone besmirched the skills of his wife.
"You're such a riot, Malfoy." Blaise glared at him a moment. Draco raised his eyebrows and his friend's expression relaxed into a grin. "I talked to Jess earlier this week."
"N.E.W.T.s finished yet?" Draco asked. "How was the end of the season?"
"About how you'd expect, given Slytherin's lineup," Blaise said with a shrug.
"So that would be a dreadful then?"
"In one. And her mum's on her about uni now N.E.W.T.s are over. Doesn't think professional Quidditch is a resume-booster, marriage-wise."
"What does Jess say about it?"
"That her mum can sod off; she's never giving up Quidditch again," Blaise said, grinning. "Obviously."
Roughly what Ananda had said to her mum a few years back when they'd first started the pro team. Draco would never forget the evening Aunt Mila turned up at his flat with a wand and a machete left her by her late husband. Fortunately, Ginny had been in the sitting room because Aunt Mila had taken Draco completely by surprise. Ginny had been forced to tackle Aunt Mila into the hall where Ananda, who Apparated in seconds later, had to stun her.
"Sorry, I didn't think she'd go completely mental when I showed her my contract with the Nundus," Ananda panted, slumping over her mum. "I had this funny idea she'd be proud of me."
Draco had glanced around as doors opened up and down the hall and his neighbors peered suspiciously out. "Escaped Death Eater," he lied quickly, and all the doors slammed shut immediately.
No one in the building would forget that visit either.
"Jess would have to be committed to the Nundus after captaining Slytherin this year," Draco said to Blaise. "They've never seen such a dreadful team. I don't know how she limped them through the season."
"Good practice for her, though," Blaise pointed out. "She saw some good matches as Seeker." He grinned. "I got to see two of them, remember."
"So what are we supposed to be meeting about?" Draco wanted to know, wishing he'd seen those matches, too. Blaise had thought up the excuse to turn up at Hogwarts' Quidditch matches as a "scout" and so he'd gone on several holidays to the school while Draco dealt with the mid-season madness of a Quidditch team owner.
"The usual," Blaise said. "Sorting sponsorship for next season with a side of fire whiskey. Oh, and we're meant to be at the end of season/welcome to Jess party at eight o'clock, sharp. Hermione was very clear about that."
"Watch me not show up exactly on time," Draco grumbled. "Gin would flay me and feed me to the team."
Blaise winced. "That was completely unnecessary. I'll see you in ten."
"Make it fifteen," Draco corrected. "The lady of the house needs new guards and some other stuff from Quality Quidditch. I have to stop there first."
"See you, mate."
Blaise rang off and Draco stood and stretched. A few waves of his wand set the living room straight. He thought he'd leave the dishes for Ginny, since washing up was one of the few chores she liked (the why of it would remain a constant mystery to Draco).
I really am becoming a housewife, he thought, trying to decide if he minded or not. He thought being married to a professional Quidditch player made it worth the tidying up after her.
He did contribute financially. He had two family fortunes he'd brought to the marriage. The Malfoy fortune had all gone into the team, turning every Malfoy ancestor in his grave and funding a season and a half before the Newbridge Nundus had enough companies' sponsorship to cover all the costs. The Black fortune had been split by Draco and his mother. Draco and Ginny talked daily about building a proper house in the country with their half of the inheritance.
Draco left the flat, Apparating into the alley next to the Leaky Cauldron from just outside the flat door. He stepped into the pub to find it relatively quiet. He nodded hello to old Tom, who seemed to get more bald and toothless every time Draco saw him. He passed through the brick archway, stepping into the always-busy streets of Diagon Alley. Lot of people were shopping today, preparing for summer. He found Quality Quidditch Supplies crowded with post-season bargain hunters. He recognized a few assistant coaches from other pro teams, as well as a smattering of parents and Quidditch enthusiasts.
He groaned to himself when he noticed Harry Potter comparing broom polishes with the assistant coach of Puddlemere United. He thought about trying to creep away but just as the thought crossed his mind, Potter looked up.
"Oh, hi, Malfoy," he said, sounding as enthusiastic to see Draco as Draco was to see him.
"Potter," he said. He thought about leaving it at that, but unfortunately the gloves were right next to the broom polish.
"All right?" Potter said a bit awkwardly. It wasn't like they never talked, what with Draco being married to Ginny, Blaise being married to Hermione, and Pansy being practically married to Potter. It was just that they were never going to be friends and they'd both accepted that.
"All right," Draco said, moving warily toward him. He reached the gloves and turned his attention to them. "You?"
"All right," Potter said noncommittally. He hesitated, then asked, "What do you reckon? Nimbus's Diamond Hard Broom Polish or Clean Sweep's?"
Draco glanced up from a pair of dragon hide gloves, surprised.
"Well," he said slowly. "I've heard Clean Sweep's is best because it doesn't wear the finish off the brooms. Nimbus's stuff is so strong it wears the finish down and then the handle starts to splinter."
"That's a good point," Puddlemere's assistant coach put in. "Nimbus is an excellent make of broom, but their accessories aren't always so good."
"Huh." Potter studied the labels. He noticed Draco watching him and shrugged. "I have to buy a new broom next season. I had to limp my Firebolt through a couple matches last season and now it looks like something I made myself out of a kitchen broom."
Draco snorted. "Half my girls need new ones, too. Especially Johnson. God, I thought that last match would be the end of her." He returned to the glove debate, aware that Blaise was probably waiting for him.
"Those are a bit small for you, aren't they?" Potter asked, and when Draco glanced at him, his lip was twitching. Adult Draco, the one whose feud with Potter was a thing of the past, knew he didn't mean anything by it. It wasn't Potter's fault Draco's wrists were so bad he couldn't fly for more than a half-hour at a time now. And it wasn't Potter's fault that every Quidditch team in England had wanted to sign the Chosen One right out of Hogwarts.
No, it wasn't Potter's fault he got everything he wanted.
"They're for Gin," Draco said shortly.
"I – I didn't mean ..." Potter began, which made the whole thing worse.
"Forget it," Draco said quickly. He frowned at the glove. "She always wants the canvas ones because they're lighter, but she wears through the damned things after one match and then forgets to replace them and destroys her hands." He glanced at Potter with a crooked smile. "Remember last Christmas when she turned up at the Burrow with two broken fingers and no wedding ring because she dropped it somewhere over the pitch?"
Potter smiled hesitantly back, looking relieved. "Mrs. Weasley took one look at her and started on about how Ginny would never live to give her grandchildren. No one will ever forget that fight."
That fight being one of many in which Ginny and Mrs. Weasley screamed the Burrow down about women playing Quidditch. No one in the Western Hemisphere would forget it, either.
"She'd be fine if she could be arsed about equipment," Draco muttered. "She's not the only one, either. I had to trick the entire team into new brooms this coming season because they're all so bloody attached to those old Firebolts from Hogwarts." A few hours after the Nundu's final match of the season, Blaise had snuck into the lockers and smuggled out the old Firebolts, replacing them with practice brooms they could use until new models were ordered. When Pansy and Hermione had discovered the Firebolts missing, it hadn't been pretty. Draco was pretty sure Blaise had slept on the couch for a week.
"I know how they feel," Potter murmured. He saw the assistant coach's put-upon look and rolled his eyes. "And I know it's stupid and dangerous to fly on an outdated broom."
"Not an easy job, is it?" Draco said to the assistant coach.
"They're threatening to promote me to head coach when Dmitri retires next year," the assistant said gloomily.
"I'm very sorry for you," Draco said with feeling.
"Oh, go on," Potter muttered grouchily. "We're not that bad."
"Spare me," Draco said with a stern look. "I'm married to the most stubborn Quidditch player in England."
"You mean, apart from Hermione and Pansy?" Potter countered. "And Parvati. And Natalie."
"Mrs. Zabini notwithstanding," Draco conceded. "Anyway, the other three aren't married."
"Not yet," Potter murmured, eyes fixed on the tins of polish he still held as if he wasn't really seeing them. Draco stared at him for a moment. Then he sighed.
"Do you have to?" he asked a bit hopelessly.
Potter glared at him and, in typical Potter fashion, went red.
"I'm never going to get away from you, am I?" Draco grumbled. "Fifty years from now, we're going to be sitting in old rockers on the Burrow lawn reminiscing about the good old days as thought we had good old days."
"It's very likely," Potter agreed, sighing as well. "Well," he amended with annoying optimism. "Maybe we won't be reminiscing so much as poking each other with our walking sticks and stealing each other's false teeth."
Draco nodded, grinning a little. "All right, I can cope with that."
The shop door opened again. "If you're quite through fraternizing with the enemy," Blaise said, glaring at the pair of them. "I've been sitting in the bleeding pub for ten minutes."
"Oh, I do beg your pardon, your bloody highness," Draco said, returning to the gloves. "I'm just getting some stuff for Gin, I told you."
"No, you're standing around with the enemy," Blaise stressed. "Talking about growing old together," he added with a smirk.
"Nice, Zabini," Potter said. "Come on," he said to the assistant coach. "You're supposed to be helping me choose a new broom."
"What a thrilling life I lead," the assistant coach said, taking the broom polish from Potter.
"Well," Potter said, glancing at Draco. "See you around." He groaned, slapping a hand to his forehead. "Probably at the party tonight."
"Don't you have your own do for Puddlemere?" Blaise asked.
"I'm meant to go to both," Potter said gloomily. "It's the end of the season. What I want is to lie in bed for a week and never move again." He caught Draco's look and rolled his eyes. "You really think Pansy would let me do that?"
Blaise laughed. "Only if you were willing to sleep on the couch for a month," he said, shaking his head. "You don't mind, really, do you? About the party, I mean. You know it means a lot to her."
"No, not really," Potter admitted. "See you tonight."
"I expect so," Draco said darkly. He couldn't stop Pansy bringing Potter everywhere with her, after all. Nor, apparently, could Potter.
Potter wandered off after the assistant coach, stopping to sign a little boy's Quidditch jersey and shake hands with his enthusiastic father.
"How long does it take to choose a pair of gloves?" Blaise demanded. "Honestly, Draco."
"You sounded just like my wife when you said that," Draco told him. "Canvas or dragon hide?"
"She'll shred the canvas ones and you know it," Blaise, who had experience with scarily stubborn Quidditch-playing wives, said. "Anyway, if she'd just wear the dragon hide, she'd break them in and the grip would be just as good."
Draco agreed with this – it was getting her to wear them that was the trouble. He found a pair of forearm guards, shin guards, and a new practice helmet, all things Ginny had failed to replace that season. Blaise followed in his wake, grumbling about having the slowest best mate in the world and pulling totally pointless trinkets off the shelf for Hermionebecause he knew they would make her ludicrously happy.
They paid for their things and went back to the pub, which was a bit more crowded than when Draco had passed through earlier.
"So tell me what we're meeting about again?" Draco demanded as they perched themselves at the bar.
"Just some legal stuff from our sponsors," Blaise assured him. "Nothing we can't handle in ten minutes."
"And we needed a meeting for this?" Draco asked.
"I told you, Hermione's been at me to be a more professional team owner," Blaise said, shrugging. "Stop complaining and get a pint. It's not like you had plans today anyway, with Ginny at practice and all."
Draco wasn't about to admit this was true so he ordered red wine (just to annoy Blaise, who thought drinking wine in pubs was pretentious) and began looking through the papers Blaise slid him across the counter. He was right – it was easy stuff. All their sponsors wanted to renew next season (thank Merlin – getting them to sign in the first place had been nothing short of a nightmare) and they even had bids for two additional sponsors (though what baby food had to do with Quidditch was anyone's guess).
They finished the paperwork in fifteen minutes and their second drinks as well. Normally, the two of them were much busier, but with the season over, all they had to worry about was the girls training properly for next season and getting to all their press junkets on time. Draco missed coaching them, though he knew Susie and Jools did a fine job, aided by a couple of well-trained assistants. Anyway, if Draco had been coaching, he couldn't have been married to Ginny. Not even Quidditch was worth that trade-off. By owning the team, he was totally removed from choices regarding who was on the team. His job, and Blaise's, was the see to it that the funding, matches, and gear were all in order, as well as public relations. Jools and Susie were now officially in charge of all decisions regarding the who, when, and how of the team.
Draco had always known deep down that when he and Blaise finally launched the professional team, they would really be giving the team back to the girls. Sure, Draco had been their coach and had helped them become the professional Quidditch stars they were, but the team had always been theirs. All that was left for him (and Blaise) was to make sure the girls had the support they needed.
Owning the team was a full-time job. Draco was deeply grateful that Blaise was in the same position he was, with a wife on the team. Blaise would have made a fine coach to replace Draco, had he not been married to the team's star Chaser (catch Draco calling Mrs. Zabini a star to her face!). Draco liked the company and the feeling that he and Blaise were a little team of their own.
They finished their drinks, sent two owls each, and left the pub.
"See you at the do tonight. Oh, and I got us all sorted for later, with the stuff in the room at the place," Blaise added cryptically as they parted ways in the alley beside the Leaky Cauldron.
"Naturally," Draco said. "And," he added, grinning. "Tell your wife to stop being so bloody nosy."
A few years earlier
"I just think you'll be more believable as professional Quidditch team owners if you go about it properly," Hermione stressed, tapping her fingers on the tabletop and staring sternly at Blaise. The small cafe in Hogsmeade could barely contain the former Gryffindor's insistence.
Blaise smiled at her with a look that made even Ginny roll her eyes (pray Merlin they got married soon), and said, "We'll look into it when the time comes, love. We've got a few years yet. Anyway, don't worry about us. How were your midterms?"
"How were her midterms," Pansy scoffed, stuffing a forkful of grilled tomato into her mouth. Harry thoughtfully offered her a napkin, which she waved away. "Who are you talking to, Zabini? She wiped the floor with the rest of us."
"Grr," Jools added, tearing into her toast and marmalade as she stared out the window into the winter sunlight blanketing the village. "I'm supposed to be the Ravenclaw."
"You were busy," Hermione said immediately. "Jools, you're on the uni team and you're interning with the head coach." She grinned, nudging the Beater. "And people made fun of me for taking a few extra classes third year."
Jools ducked her head at the roundabout compliment.
"Anyway, who cares if Granger got a hundred and ten percent on all our classes," Pansy said, rolling her eyes and not quite hiding a smile. "We're all through, we're eating our first proper breakfast in weeks, we're not going to get kicked off the team for bad marks – "
"You don't know that!" Hermione squeaked, panic written all over her face. "Suppose we fail? And we get kicked off the team and our scholarships get revoked and we get thrown out of uni and we're forced to work as waitresses for the rest of our lives and the coach can't make a go of it without us so he doesn't back the pro team after all and we all wind up forty and alone, pan-handling on the streets of London!"
"Hermione," Harry said, grinning down the table at her and ignoring the double-takes of the cafe patrons around them at the sound of his voice. The war had only ended seven months ago, after all. He was still the Chosen One. "You say something like that every time you sit an exam and we all know you're going to get a hundred percent."
"Don't say that!" Hermione bellowed across the table. Several people at nearby tables switched their stares to her.
"I've heard the first year of uni is the hardest," Blaise said, popping a sausage into his mouth and rubbing his thumb soothingly over Hermione's knuckles with his free hand. "It's been an experience for me, I can tell you." As far as Ginny knew, Blaise was balancing three Quidditch-related internships and a full course load. He looked awfully cheerful, all things considered.
"Try doing all that by correspondence," Draco grumbled. He lived at Hogwarts full-time, both as assistant to Madam Hooch and as coach of the girls' team, which continued to thrive under his direction. He was also a part-time university student. "Between coaching the ruddy team and writing essays about bollocks nobody cares about …"
"You love it, really," said Ginny, who saw on a daily basis how happy he was.
"I don't," Draco said reflexively.
"He does," Ginny told the table at large. "He's been making color-coded charts. And not just for uni."
"I haven't!" Draco howled, and the wandering eyes of the café-goers around them turned on him.
"Anyway, I heard the last match was brilliant," Jools said, enjoying Draco's strop as much as Ginny. She caught Draco's eye. "Gin told me you lot wiped the pitch with Slytherin."
"We did that, yeah," Draco said, calming down enough to smirk a little because, Ginny knew, he just couldn't help it.
"Someone needed to," Jools said philosophically. "Nat told me their lineup this year is incredible."
"Daniel Jones put together a good team," Draco agreed. "Godkin wasn't bad, but he was more interested in the team looking good and winning than in raw talent. Jones has this instinct for potential and knows how to make something of it. When I saw his lineup at the beginning of the season, I thought he was joking."
"Everyone did until they had to peel Gryffindor off the pitch that first match," Ginny pointed out. Harry scowled and Draco smirked.
"Shut up, Malfoy," Harry grumbled into his plate. He still took the Gryffindor team personally.
"Doesn't matter," Ginny said, nudging Draco. "We kicked the crap out of Slytherin. Look out for Patrice and Adrienne. They're set to take over as the star Chasers."
"They're welcome to it," Hermione said. "No, really," she added when everyone turned to look at her skeptically. "I'm barely getting by as an average Chaser right now."
"We're not stars at all," Jools agreed, tucking bits of scone into her mouth. "We're the runts of the proverbial litter on the uni team."
"Well, it's your first year," Blaise pointed out. "You need some time to establish yourselves."
"Oh, sure," Pansy said, scowling. "The minute the fourth years get done pranking us ..."
"They'll get tired of it eventually," Draco said. Ginny saw his knuckles whiten around his fork. She smiled to herself. Once the coach, always the coach ...
"We need this experience," Hermione said stoutly, taking a sip of pumpkin juice. "The Hogwarts team wasn't always easy but compared to professional Quidditch, it was a comfy little cake walk. Pro-Quidditch will be ten-score harder – we need all the experience we can get before we go up against professional teams." She gave Pansy a pointed look. "Including putting up with harassment. Believe me, we'll get plenty in the real world."
"You won't be up against the big teams for a while after we start up the pro team," Draco assured them, shooting a glare at Hermione across the table. Ginny noticed Jools and Pansy had gone a bit pale after her speech.
"Not Puddlemere or the Tornadoes or anything," Harry added, patting Pansy's hand. She glowered at him and he quailed under the look. Little wonder; Harry was going to start playing reserve Seeker for Puddlemere United next season and Pansy was already in a competitive mindset about it, however proud of him she might be.
"Imagine if we started against the Cannons," Ginny said. Pansy snorted, relaxing her glare at Harry.
"Don't say that!" Draco said sharply. "The Cannons are just as likely to accidentally injure each other as they are to accidentally injure the other team."
"Oh, how comforting," Jools muttered.
"Look, you lot, no one said it would be easy," Draco began, looking around at the girls.
"But it's worth it," Susie murmured. She'd been very quiet that morning. Not, Ginny thought, the same quiet that she'd exercised seven months ago when they'd all wondered if she'd beat the depression caused by the loss of her arm. This was the quiet of Susie the Planner and Innovator. Susie had an internship, alongside Jools, with the head coach at the university she, Pansy, Hermione, and Jools attended. Rumor had it she'd be interning with the head coach of the Holyhead Harpies next term, though she was tight-lipped and unreadable about it.
"It is worth it," Blaise agreed. "Things always sound scarier before you do them the first time and know what to expect."
"You're right," Jools said, sitting up a little straighter. "Go on, girls, it's our first year of uni, not the day before our first professional match."
"And you lot will have a long wait before the rest of us graduate and are ready for the team," Ginny pointed out, reaching for the salt.
"A long wait," Draco said with a smirk, handing her the salt. Ginny glared at him while Pansy sniggered into her food.
"How are Mill and Parvati doing?" Ginny asked, elbowing Draco, who yelped. "And Hannah?"
"Millie and Parvati are both still reserves," Blaise said. "I spoke to Millie this morning. Their team isn't anything up to yours," he nodded to Pansy, Hermione, and Jools, "but it doesn't matter as long as they see some proper matches and practice as often as possible."
"Parvati told me it's possible they'll both be promoted from reserves next year," Susie put in. "Both the team's Beaters and one of the other reserves are graduating."
"That's lucky," Draco murmured.
"What about Hannah?" Ginny asked.
"Starting as Keeper next term," Jools said, grinning.
"I thought their Keeper was a first year," Pansy said, frowning. "How'd Abbot manage to get it, then?"
"Spoke to her last week. She tried out against their current Keeper and apparently the coach said it was no contest."
"Do you think the Keeper will give her a hard time about that?" Ginny asked, frowning.
"Apparently," Jools said, grin widening, "the other Keeper was relieved. His dad was making him play and this gives him an excuse not to." She giggled. "He asked Hannah out to thank her for getting him out of it."
"Hope her dad doesn't try anything," Draco muttered, as the other girls grinned.
"If he does, we'll file a lawsuit," Blaise said comfortably. "We'll just say you still qualify for Dumbledore's protection under the Hogwarts' team and the clause in his will supporting the continuation of the team."
"We can all sleep easy tonight, then," Hermione said with a fond look, ruffling Blaise's hair. He turned his Hermione beam on high and Pansy mimed being sick in Harry's lap.
"Are you planning on keeping the Hogwarts team going after we turn pro, coach?" Ginny wanted to know as the laughter died down. She hadn't brought it up yet but she knew it was on the other girls' minds as well.
"We talked about it," Blaise said, glancing at Draco. "It's a brilliant idea but we're not sure who would take over."
"Anyway, since the war, the team hasn't been needed for inter-house unity, has it?" Hermione pointed out. "I mean, Hogwarts is a different school since the war ended. Dumbledore backed the team mostly to strengthen the bonds and understanding between the four Houses, right?"
"That's true," Ginny said slowly. "But what happens when the students who helped in the war graduate and the next generation comes in?"
"Hopefully, the graduates will pass on their tolerance to incoming students," Hermione said. She saw Ginny's expression and sighed. "I don't want the team to disappear either, Gin, but when the coach and Blaise start the pro team, who's going to take over at Hogwarts?"
"That's it exactly," Draco admitted. "I honestly can't think of anyone I'd ask to do it. I mean, people respect the team now but it's a big responsibility and most people wouldn't want to coach the team unless they could play on it." He bit his lip. "It's possible, if enough girls are interested, they could do what you lot did before you took me on. Just practice whenever they could and have fun at it. At the moment, though, the plan is for the Hogwarts team to dissolve when I leave to start the pro-team." He didn't sound as though he liked the idea any better than Ginny did.
She sighed. She loved the Hogwarts team – she would always love it. It had given her a future, friends, and a cause to fight for. She knew it would be several years after she left Hogwarts before the team lost the last of its original members, as well as its coach.
She just wished they didn't have to lose the team in the process.
Ginny's whole body felt like lead.
"This was supposed to be the last training of the season until summer," she complained to Pansy, whose locker was next to hers. "What are Jools and Susie playing at?"
"They just don't want us to forget they're fascist slave drivers," Pansy growled, cracking her neck and hobbling over to the showers to drop her towel and kit in the laundry. An advantage of being a professional team was not having to wash their soiled gear themselves.
"Heard that," Jools sing-songed, swiping Pansy's bum with a towel in passing. She didn't look sore or exhausted at all. In fact, she had a bit of a spring in her step.
"It's that bloody Beater from the Wimbourne Wasps," Pansy said to Ginny in an undertone, returning to their corner of the lockers as Jools disappeared into the shower, humming a nameless tune. Poor girl was nearly tone-deaf.
"We probably shouldn't tease her mercilessly," Ginny said conscientiously. "I mean, she mostly keeps her gob shut about Draco and Harry, doesn't she?"
"I'd never dream of teasing anyone," Pansy said, her lip twitching.
"Don't bother Jools," Susie said, appearing out of nowhere and giving them a stern look. "Gin, she didn't say a word when you and the coach got engaged or married, did she?"
Ginny's eyebrows shot up. "Bachelorette party?"
Susie smiled. "Yeah, but that was expected. She was your maid-of-honor, after all."
"I almost didn't make it to the wedding," Ginny pointed out over Pansy's titters. Just as well she had made it, since every single one of her brothers (including Harry) had tried to maim Draco as some point during the day. "Speaking of weddings," she added, throwing a look at Pansy.
"I deny everything. Shut up," Pansy said, disappearing into the showers. Ginny grinned a fiendish grin and went to hunt up a clean towel.
"Gin, I can't find my – "
"Bra?" Ginny guessed, tossing it to Parvati in passing. "It was in my locker. Again."
"Put a locator charm on it. My god, Patil," Millicent said, rolling her eyes. "Not a practice goes by you don't lose it."
"It? Them," Parvati stressed. "I swear they grow legs and run away."
Ananda and Adrienne sat down and had a schoolgirl giggle over the idea of Parvati's bras running around the lockers on little "leprechaun legs."
"Maybe we should get some monogrammed for her," Betina suggested, pulling her shirt over her head.
"Would it help though? Really?" Adrienne cackled. "Especially if they have legs."
"Oy, Ginny." Jools emerged from the showers with a towel around her hair. "The coach and Zabini turning up on time tonight?"
"Draco is, yeah," Ginny said, finally locating a clean towel. "Lots of whining, of course."
"Oh, Blaise will be there on time," Hermione said, buttoning her shirt and looking stern.
"And what about your little bundle of Quidditch lovin', Jools?" Pansy sing-songed.
"He's got a post-season party of his own," Jools said with dignity and a little blush.
"Oh, too bad," Pansy said, her lip curling into a smirk.
"I suppose Harry's going to ditch Puddlemere for our party?" Jools retorted, raising her eyebrows. Pansy stuck out her tongue at her. Ginny and Hermione laughed.
"All you lot ever talk about is boys," Parvati grumbled. "It's like we're all fifteen again."
"Wait, isn't that my line?" Hermione asked with a wink.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Parvati said with a sniff.
"Right, you lot!" Susie cut in, her soft voice carrying with mysterious volume over the crowd of half-naked Quidditch players. Ginny had never worked out how she did that. "Let's get to the pub, sometime before I'm ninety."
The girls laughed and finished dressing.
"Did someone call ahead to Hogsmeade?" Ginny asked as they all trooped out of the lockers and into the balmy evening air.
"What kind of trifling captain do you take me for?" Jools demanded, nudging Ginny. "I bullied Draco into doing it weeks ago."
"Good job, too," Ginny said. "Lazy sod – pretending to have a proper job. Living off my manual labor."
Pansy and Millicent snorted, raising their eyebrows. "Shut up, that's not what I meant!" Ginny howled, wielding her practice duffel menacingly. The former Slytherins fled for protection behind Susie.
"Owning the team is as proper as it gets and you know it," the captain said, grinning as the Beater and Chaser slunk along behind her.
"I think I've almost convinced Blaise to get an office space for him and the coach," Hermione put in, brightening. "I've been working on him all year and I think he's starting to crack."
Pansy opened her mouth again but shut it quickly when Hermione turned a knowing glare on her. Millicent had a hand over her mouth.
"Why do they need an office space?" Ananda asked, watching the display with evident amusement.
"Have you seen Draco's office at home?" Ginny asked, deciding to ignore Pansy and Millicent. "Papers everywhere, books piled up, quills and ink on every surface, all their assistants turning up at odd hours. They need a work space and room for their assistants."
"And you want the office in your flat back so you have room to answer your fan mail?" Ananda said innocently. Ginny swatted her arm.
"How do we deal with fan mail?" Patrice asked. She'd only been on the team a season and was still learning the ropes.
"At the end of the first season, we were all getting so much mail we couldn't possibly answer it ourselves," Jools said. "Girls all over the world inspired by what we'd done." They all grinned at the idea. "Boys asking for dates, sending flowers and that ..." They all giggled. Ginny sometimes felt like Parvati had a point and they were all teenage girls trapped in women's bodies.
"Blaise loves that," Hermione said, her lip twitching.
"So does Harry," Pansy said, meeting her eye with a knowing look. "I reckon the ritualistic burning of all the proposals of marriage was Blaise's idea, though."
"Oh, I'm sure," Hermione returned. "Good thing we came home when we did or I expect the flat would have gone up in flames."
"Or a blaze," Natalie added, giggling. "Aren't I punny?" Millicent put an arm around her shoulders and ruffled her hair. Natalie shrieked and tried desperately to escape.
"So the coach hired several college kids to answer the fan mail and set up fan clubs for the team," Susie explained to Patrice over Natalie's pleas for help.
"Do we tell Patrice about the books based on our success, complete with cartoon drawings of us all?" Ananda mumbled to Ginny under her breath. "And this summer's book signings?"
"Nah, best to break her in gently," Ginny murmured back.
They left the pitch, passing security on the way out, and made their way to the Apparation point just outside the stands. The Newbridge Nundus' pitch was supposed to be Unplottable and it was in deepest Scotland, but naturally those deterrents only worked to a point. Usually, really persistent fans could track them down. Ginny still got a shock when she thought about having fans in the first place. It made the whole professional team thing seem especially surreal.
They Apparated to the prearranged point just outside Hogsmeade. Part of the reason they'd chosen to hold the celebration in Hogsmeade this year was because it was far enough from where they usually practiced that they wouldn't have much trouble with fans.
It was also near Hogwarts, which they intended to visit sometime that evening.
They split into groups of two so no one would realize they were here as an entire team (they'd caused a riot without meaning to on the way to their post-second-season party) and headed into the village.
"Excited to be back?" Ananda asked, linking her arm through Ginny's.
"Absolutely," Ginny said, a spring in her step as she stared around at the village. The streets were quiet – most people were home with their families or out at pubs and restaurants for supper. "I mean, it all started here, didn't it?"
"I wish I hadn't missed so much," Ananda murmured. "You know, with the pretending to be evil and so on."
"We've already made some new memories for you," Ginny said, giving her arm a squeeze. "You got a full two years on the Hogwarts team, three years with the Nundus, a spot in my wedding party ..."
Ananda snorted. "That was the highlight – periwinkle dress robes. Not even maid-of-honor, just boring old bridesmaid."
"You know it had to be Hermione, Jools, or Pansy, and they had to flip a coin for it," Ginny said. She remembered trembling at the prospect of having to choose just one of them as maid-of-honor – one of Ginny's best friends or Draco's best friend.
"And in the end, you got a maid and matron-of-honor because Hermione and Blaise eloped," Ananda finished, rolling her eyes. "I still say that's cheating."
"And Pansy still thinks I rigged it so Jools won the coin toss for maid-of-honor," Ginny said, shaking her head with a smile. "Which I most certainly did not," she added quickly. Pansy had still been a bridesmaid, after all.
"I'm kind of amazed Jools was okay with it," Ananda said bluntly. "Being in your wedding, I mean."
"She and Draco spent a lot of time together while they were at uni, getting Jools ready to coach and Draco ready to own the Nundus," Ginny told her. "About a year before Draco proposed to me, Jools told me that she didn't think they'd have worked anyway. He drives her crazy." Ginny grinned. "Now that, I can relate to." She shook her head, twirling her wedding ring around her finger. "I can't believe I've been married almost a year."
"Got any anniversary plans?" Ananda asked as they made their way down the quiet street.
"Not sure yet," Ginny said, frowning. "Draco's up to something but I can't tell if it's related to our anniversary or the team."
"When isn't Draco up to something?" Ananda mumbled. She caught Ginny's look. "Hi – cousins. Known him all my life."
"True," Ginny agreed.
"Maybe he's planning some exotic trip somewhere," Ananda said thoughtfully. "He keeps complaining about his," and here she grinned mischievously at Ginny, "famous wife mucking up local holidays with her fame and stardom."
"It's true, to an extent," Ginny admitted. "We can't set foot in a hotel or inn without photographers and fans popping out of the woodwork. I swear the hotels call the press as soon as we make reservations. And not just for me," she added with a stern look into the gathering darkness. "Draco's quite the catch these days. Mack and Anna told me last week they've had to start fan clubs for Blaise and Draco as well." She leaned in close and murmured, "Don't breathe a word, but Draco and Blaise are meant to be on the cover of Witch Weekly's August issue. They're being interviewed about the team and being young and rich and so on. Draco claims it's for publicity."
"Publicity for the team or for him?" Ananda said, rolling her eyes. Anyone who knew Draco knew how much he loved to be the center of attention. "So he's got his own fan club as well, has he?"
"He and Blaise do now, yeah," Ginny said. "The two of them get as many letters between them as the entire rest of the team does, put together." She giggled. "Mack and Anna burn all the death threats to me and Hermione before Draco or Blaise can see them."
"We're public enemy number one with women who think they're madly in love with Draco and Blaise," Ginny explained. "Actually," she added, "and don't repeat this to Draco, but I think Blaise might be a touch more popular. Hermione and I got Mack to give us some of the fan mail with death threats and Hermione got more death threats than I did. We spent two hours reading and laughing. I thought I'd split my sides." She smirked. "Then Draco and Blaise turned up earlier than we expected them and we had to throw the lot into the fire. They were deeply suspicious."
"Invite me next time," Ananda ordered. She smirked, too. "I got my twentieth marriage proposal last week. Anna told me. She's been keeping count."
"That's nice you can keep your options open," Ginny said. "Was this bloke a good one?"
"He claimed to be the richest wizard in Russia," Ananda said, eyebrows up skeptically. "You understand, I have my doubts."
Ginny grinned. "You have to give them a chance." She nudged the blonde. "What's this I hear about you and my brother?"
"Which one?" Ananda grinned teasingly. Unlike a lot of people, she didn't often blush and give herself away.
"Ron," Ginny said. "Mione said you bumped into each other while you two were at Quality Quidditch."
"Maybe we did," Ananda said, attempting to look deeply uninterested in the subject. "You Weasleys," she added. "You're quite susceptible to Malfoys. Perhaps it's the inbreeding."
"In which family?" Ginny said pointedly.
Ananda smirked. "Who the hell knows? Clearly we're all insane."
"So you're not going to tell me if you're dating my brother?" Ginny demanded. She shrugged. "Fine, I guess I'll just have to blackmail it out of him."
"If you do, I might think about selling those wedding photos I stashed," Ananda said. She grinned. "Don't try to blackmail Slytherins."
"Who wants our wedding photos?" Ginny asked curiously.
Ananda laughed. "The Prophet was offering filthy lucre for photos of your wedding, or Blaise and Hermione's."
Ginny narrowed her eyes. "Not," Ananda added hastily, "that I would sell really..."
A few years earlier ...
Ginny felt like she might be sick.
"You ready?" Jools asked.
"No," Ginny said. "I think my intestines might crawl up my throat and strangle me."
"Eww, what the hell is wrong with you?" the captain demanded. Her knuckles tightened and loosened convulsively around her broom handle.
"If you lot don't stop shaking, they're going to cancel the match on account of earthquake," Susie said, patting Hermione on the shoulder in passing as she paced up and down the starting lineup. "Just play the best game you've ever played. It'll be just like our first match at Hogwarts. We're not here to win. We're here to prove we're in the game."
Everyone nodded mechanically, though Ginny saw shoulders relax along the line.
"Please don't get hurt," Ananda murmured from the reserve lineup behind Ginny. Ginny thought this was sweet of her until Ananda added, "I don't think I could mount my broom right now, much less fly. And word on the street is I'm your reserve this match."
"Thanks for that," Ginny grumbled darkly. She pulled off a glove and wiped a sweaty hand on her robes.
"Our first match," Hannah murmured. "I can't believe we made it this far!"
Something about the words, or maybe Hannah's awed tone, awakened a feeling in Ginny, one she'd not felt since the first weeks of training back at Hogwarts. Before they'd been a team, with a coach and lockers and nice brooms, they'd been team mates with a mania for Quidditch they all secretly shared. No consequences, just love of the game.
That memory seemed to resonate down the line. Everyone stood a bit straighter. Jools pulled on her gloves and gripped her Beater's bat. Betina squared her shoulders. Pansy and Hermione nodded to each other and knocked their broom handles together.
Before them, the doors opened onto the pitch and a roar of noise.
"Get out there, Nundus!" Susie bellowed, her voice ringing through Ginny's heart.
"Mount up!" Jools called, a grin splitting her face.
Ginny barely remembered their first match. She remembered breaking her ankle but less the pain and more the having to fly the last five minutes of the match without the use of her foot. Susie and Jools had both railed on her later for not calling out a reserve but Ginny was selfishly glad she hadn't. She remembered the thrill, the tight focus, and best of all, her first successful aerial in a pro match. She also remembered the energy of the crowd. They weren't really cheering for one team or the other. They were just thrilled to be there. Ginny liked that.
They hadn't won the match, of course. It would have been silly to expect it, especially as they wound up playing the Wimbourne Wasps, a far better team than Draco and Blaise had anticipated. But they proved something to the crowd and would discover later that it resonated at other matches. They proved they were in the game and that they were tough.
And people liked them.
They were fresh blood. Their all-girl youth and newness made them totally unique to the league. The Holyhead Harpies had been around for centuries and their members tended to be closer to thirty. The Nundus were young and innocent to pro-Quidditch. The crowds loved the little guy, apparently.
"They can't help it," Draco told Ginny a few nights after her first match. He stretched out beside her on their bed, hands tucked behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. "They want you to win and they're completely fascinated with you all."
"Maybe someone should write an unauthorized biography," Ginny suggested, curling up under the blankets and propping her head on her hand. "I can see it now: 'The Newbridge Nundus: Misfits Strike Back.'"
Draco grinned. "As it happens, Blaise and I have had several people approach us about biographies."
"Really?" Ginny said, raising an eyebrow. "What have you said?"
"That they'd better hold off until there's something to put in the biography," he said bluntly. "You lot only have one match under your belts. Let's finish the season and then talk about biographies."
"It was incredible out there, Draco," Ginny said, grinning as she remembered; not specific events so much as feelings.
"You were spectacular," he said, caressing her cheek. Then he spoiled the moment by adding sharply, "But if you try playing injured again, I'll make sure Susie sits you out for the rest of the season."
"Honestly, I didn't notice!" Ginny insisted, rolling her ankle experimentally. The Skele-Gro had healed the ankle the evening after the match but it was still a bit sensitive. "I was so caught up in everything ..."
"You need to learn to notice," Draco insisted. "You have to learn to focus beyond the adrenaline, Gin. Your body can only take so much punishment before it can't be fixed."
Ginny glared at him over the pillows. Then she sighed, her expression relaxing. "All right," she said. "I'll be more careful."
"Good." Draco didn't say that he didn't know what he would do if anything happened to her. He didn't need to – Ginny saw the look in his eyes that had become very familiar over the last few years. She reached for him and he reached back.
Later that night, Ginny woke to find Draco sitting up in bed and toying with a little black box in the weak light of the bedside table. He was flipping the lid up and down, staring at the glittering ring inside. Ginny's eyes filled as she stared silently up at him.
He jumped when he finally noticed her eyes fixed on him. "Bollocks!" he swore, snapping the box shut and stuffing it under the blankets.
"Do you want me to pretend I didn't see anything, coach?" Ginny said, wiping her eyes on the pillow.
"Oh, don't bother," he grumbled. "I know you did."
"Were you still making up your mind?" Ginny wanted to know.
"No, of course not," he said, sighing. "But I'd just sorted out the perfect way to ask you and now I've gone and ruined everything."
"You mean I've gone and ruined everything," Ginny corrected, sitting up with a wobbly grin. "You like to blame me. Coach," she added again.
"That's right, Weasley, it's all your fault," Draco said, reaching out to wipe the remaining tears from her cheeks. He hesitated. "Do I even have to ask?" he said at last, offering her the box.
She caught it and, without looking inside, threw herself into his arms.
"You are, eventually, going to tell us all how Harry defeated You-Know-Who," Jessica said pointedly, and out of the blue, to Hermione. "I mean, we were all in the DA. He promised he'd tell us someday. Someday is here."
They sat around a large table in the corner of the club below the Hog's Head, each working on a drink. Jessica sat at the head of the table, since the party was partly to welcome her to the Nundus, and looked like she owned the world. She also looked like she was bent on some answers.
Everyone turned to look at Hermione. She rolled her butterbeer bottle between her hands.
"To be honest, it's not my story to tell," Hermione said. "I mean, I was a part of it. I helped. But what Harry did ..." She trailed off, shaking her head. "It's his right."
"So we all have to sit around waiting for Potter's biography?" Draco demanded.
"I'm sure he'll give you a signed copy if you ask nicely, Draco." Pansy took an innocent sip of her drink.
"I reckon he's told you everything," Ananda said, eyeing Pansy.
"Why would he do that?" she said, continuing to sip her drink with a look of obliviousness that fooled no one.
"Oh, let's see, because you're practically engaged?" Millicent said, rolling her eyes. "I blame Potter for your total inability to be sneaky anymore."
"Oy!" Pansy said loudly. When they'd all stopped pointing and laughing, she said in a low voice, "Hermione's right. Harry will talk about it when he's ready." A shadow flickered across her face as she said it. Ginny wondered how much of the story Pansy knew.
"You know," Hermione said slowly, glancing at Draco, "you could just try asking him. Maybe he'd even tell you."
"Yeah, that's likely." But Draco spent the next hour looking a bit preoccupied and twisting his wedding band around his finger. He often did that when he was deciding something.
"Now you've done it," Ginny mumbled to Hermione.
"Harry needs to talk about it but everyone's still too afraid to ask him outright," Hermione retorted in an undertone. "Years now and he hasn't even told most of the Weasleys. I'm sure he's told Pansy, at least parts of it, but I can still count on one hand the number of people I know he's talked to. Including people in the Order and new Ministry."
"You're hoping Draco will ask him?" Ginny realized, surprised.
"Yes," Hermione said. "It sounds crazy but I think it will help him. The coach won't throw a lot of pity at him or get emotional. He'll listen and be a more impartial ear. Harry needs that."
"Please tell me," Ginny wheedled for the millionth time, "how that Killing Curse didn't kill me and why Harry went to the Death Eaters in the woods and what was in that memory of Snape's."
"Sorry," Hermione said, really looking it. "Ron and I agreed, that stuff is for Harry to tell, if and when he's ready."
Pansy looked up quickly from across the table. Her eyes were shuttered but Ginny knew, in that minute, that Pansy knew everything.
And that she was unspeakably proud of whatever Harry had done.
years and Harry still hadn't told the DA like he promised he would. He was clearly moving on with his life. He would start playing Seeker for Puddlemere in the upcoming season, since their Seeker of ten years was finally retiring. After he got too old for Quidditch, he intended to join the Aurors. His plans were good, he was in a committed relationship, and yet ...
"Will he ever be ready?" Ginny wondered aloud.
"I hope so," Hermione said, chewing her lip.
"Talk him into writing that biography and using the proceeds to help the orphanage in Hogsmeade," Ginny offered.
Hermione brightened. "I'll see what I can do."
At this interesting moment, Harry burst into the club, looking frantically around. He saw them and sighed in relief.
"Sorry I'm late!" he said breathlessly, hurrying over. "I got held up by the assistant coach."
"I may break up with you," Pansy said with a straight face. She accepted a kiss and handed him a mead she'd ordered a half-hour ago.
"Just as well, anyway," Ginny said, examining her fingernails. "We were talking about you. Saying terrible things. Starting vicious rumors."
Harry looked hunted and Hermione took pity on him. "We were not," she assured him, as the others laughed. "Are you going on to Puddlemere's party after this?"
"That's why the coach cornered me," Harry said, still looking suspicious. "Made me swear to turn up." He grinned suddenly at Hermione. "And since Ron is coming along as my date, I really do have to be there."
"You're cheating on me with Weasley?" Pansy said, swooning back in her chair. "It's so pathetic I could cry."
The girls laughed and Harry rolled his eyes. "When you're quite through," he said pointedly. "I have some news."
"What is it?" Ananda asked.
"Turns out you lot are playing Puddlemere first thing next season," Harry said. Everyone stared at him and then excited murmurs burst out around the table.
"Er – I think Betina's going to faint," Hannah said, prodding her in the arm. The Seeker's eyes had gone glassy. Blaise tipped a shot of fire whiskey down her throat.
"Oy! That's nothing!" Jessica shrieked, glowering at the Chosen One. "She's had three seasons! I'm on my first and I might have to play you," she jabbed a finger at Harry, "in my very first match."
"This is why I hadn't got round to telling them yet," Draco growled at Harry, who looked beatifically pleased at the havoc he'd caused.
"Oh, you laugh, Potter," Pansy said darkly. "Wait until your girlfriend and your best mate are flattened by Puddlemere Chasers and then your best mate's husband comes round to have you slowly and brutally murdered."
Harry glanced at Blaise. Blaise grinned. "My wife is much too clever to get clobbered by other Chasers," he said serenely, putting an arm around her.
"Your faith in me is overwhelming," Hermione said, smiling. "Harry, why in the world are we starting against Puddlemere? Our standing in the league isn't good enough."
"Apparently, it's a giant media ploy," Draco cut in, glaring at Harry as if to indicate he'd caused enough damage already and he could keep his mouth shut, thank you very much. "Potter's first season as Puddlemere's Seeker and our team's fourth season opening. Tickets will sell out as soon as they go on sale." He gave Harry a sharp look. "You shouldn't have just sprung it on them, Potter."
"I'd rather know now," Jools said, shrugging.
Susie nodded. "We've got to design the summer training. Knowing what we're up against will help with that."
"That's true," Adrienne said. "Anything for an edge." She grinned. "Thanks, Harry."
A few years earlier
"Are you sure, Professor?" Draco stared back and forth between the old woman behind the desk and the young man sitting next to him in front of it.
"I've read and reread Professor Dumbledore's will," Professor McGonagall said crisply. "His instructions were very specific."
"Are you sure you're up to it, Jones?" Draco asked. "You saw my girls – you know what a challenge it is."
"I also know how happy it made you and it might very well have helped win a war, Malfoy," Daniel Jones said stoutly. "You can't do it anymore. You have a professional team to manage now."
"Is anyone even interested anymore?" Draco asked doubtfully. "I mean, I'm sure five girls left on the team will be but that leaves nine spots to fill." The team had always had fourteen members. There was good reason for it.
"Are you mad?" Jones demanded. "I've had girls from all four Houses breathing down my neck since I started throwing the idea around. And your team girls now are desperate to keep the team going."
"I just don't understand," Draco said. "Why?"
"Professor Dumbledore chose to support this project because he saw the incredible potential it had for change," McGonagall said. "He was right – without the connections forged between those fourteen girls, the four houses might never have united to help defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And now you and those girls have expanded beyond Hogwarts, using the unity that made you powerful here at Hogwarts to set an example for the rest of the world."
"But – I mean, aren't the four Houses getting on better now?" Draco asked. It had only been a year since he'd been at Hogwarts, since he'd begun the professional team. He'd seen the changes the girls had helped create and that the former DA members continued to foster. New girls had joined the team as the original team slowly graduated and moved on and, to Draco's surprise, had developed similar bonds to those of the original team.
"Oh, sure, the Houses get on fine," Jones said easily. "But each House has a team, an isolationist way of thinking about itself. There should be one team that unites the four Houses, combining the best qualities of each one."
"The message extends far beyond Quidditch or you know I'd never support it, Mr. Malfoy," McGonagall said stiffly. "We've all seen how effective it has been at creating bonds between students." She glanced pointedly at Draco. "Bonds that have lasted."
He grinned a little. Jones rolled his eyes, though whether about the reference to Draco's long-time girlfriend or McGonagall's lack of appreciation for Quidditch was anyone's guess.
"Jones," Draco tried one last time, "if you coach the team, you won't be able to play anymore. You can't captain Slytherin and coach the girls at the same time."
"I know," Jones said, shrugging. "I got to captain a year. It's been a good run. I think this will be better." His eyes narrowed. "I am qualified, Malfoy."
"I'm aware of that," Draco said. In fact, he couldn't think of anyone better to take over the team. "It's just, I want you to be ready. It's a big responsibility."
"So don't screw up?" Jones said, eyeing his shrewdly. "I think I can handle it."
"You'll have to start from scratch, more or less," Draco pointed out. "Jess and Patrice will only be there another year each. If you pick the team up next year, Nat and Adrienne will have graduated."
"Better to start mostly from scratch. Jess will be captain of Slytherin her seventh year," Jones said, nodding. "That's our plan, anyway. She needs experience working without a net and the Slytherin team is the perfect opportunity." Jones' eyebrows shot up. "Do I pass, coach?"
Draco held up his hands in mock-surrender. "You've obviously thought of everything."
"Hi – Slytherin." Jones offered a hand, which Draco shook.
"Thank you," Draco said grudgingly. "It'll mean a lot to the girls that you're carrying on."
"And it will mean a lot to other girls here that they have a shot at Quidditch," Jones said. He paused. "One question. Why not make it co-ed?"
"Maybe someday," Draco said slowly. "Just remember, it was girls who built the bridges, long before boys were involved."
"It was Dumbledore's belief that women build communities," McGonagall put in, glancing involuntarily at the portrait behind her desk. Dumbledore snored peacefully in his frame, his beard rippling with every exhalation. "And he believed that women, far more than men, need to be empowered in the world of sports. His belief is that, for the moment, girls at Hogwarts need the opportunity and have a better chance of upholding the values of the original team, while boys," she nodded to Draco and Jones, "will function as supports, as needed."
"Bit sexist, but I guess I understand," Jones murmured.
"It is not sexist to empower a group not traditionally widely accepted in this arena," McGonagall countered. "In any event, Professor Dumbledore stipulated that it was a team for girls, to allow them to play Quidditch and create gateways, and so, there's nothing further to discuss."
Jones shrugged. "Suits me fine," he said. "I'll set up tryouts at the end of this term." He smirked at Draco. "Send along some of your new team's body guards when you get some. We'll need the crowd control."
"I can do better than that," Draco returned, getting to his feet. "I'll send Blaise along to give you advice. He's the reason I joined up with the team and, even if he was always a pain in the arse, he's the reason the team got as far as it did."
"I'd appreciate that," Jones admitted. "Come see our first match?"
"Hell," Draco said, something light and excited in his chest. His girls had left a legacy behind them at Hogwarts – he couldn't wait to tell them. "I'll bring the Newbridge Nundus with me."
They finished the evening where everything had begun.
"Are we stretching tonight, coach?" Ginny asked, seating herself on the neat, dry grass of the pitch and grinning up at him.
"You're still a smart arse, Weasley," Draco retorted as the others laughed. "Hogwarts seemed to bring it out of you."
"I can't believe we started here," Susie murmured, leaning her armless shoulder against Jools and staring around at the empty stands. She grinned. "I remember the first time we met out here. You weren't there, coach," she added as Draco sat down next to Ginny and leaned back on his arms.
"We were such a mess," Hannah added, laughing. "We all came running out with these horrid second-hand brooms."
"We just wanted to fly," Natalie remembered. "We would have used levitation charms if we hadn't had brooms."
Ananda laughed. "Can you imagine? Reserves on the ground, levitating the players around the pitch."
Millicent snorted and Hermione leaned into her, giggling.
"We should try a match like that sometime," Pansy said, pulling up grass blades. She frowned. "No one tell Potter." She had left him back at the pub. This time at Hogwarts was for the girls, Draco, and Blaise.
"Certainly take the other team by surprise," Patrice said. "Is it even legal?"
"Doubt it, but I'll look it up," Draco said, still grinning.
"I'm so happy Jones has the new team up and running," Jessica said after a moment's comfortable silence.
"I can't wait to see their first match next season," Patrice added. "With a few years behind them, I think Jones has really fixed them up." She had been there for their first year.
"Think they'll join us Nundus in the pro league?" Adrienne wondered. "I mean, it's a natural progression: Hogwarts to the pro team."
"Maybe some of them," Ginny said slowly. "I don't know – it might just be a fun thing to do at school for some of them. I think our group was ... unusual."
"We did all fight a war together," Ananda murmured, eyes on the stars above. "I don't know about you lot, but I wanted to keep what we had at Hogwarts alive after we left. What better way than Quidditch?"
"And on that note," Draco said, glancing at Blaise. His friend grinned.
"What?" Ginny asked, staring up at him.
"They've got that look," Jools said, eyeing them both. "What have you lot been up to, then?"
"Stay put," Draco ordered as Ginny and Jools made to get up and follow. He and Blaise jogged to the girls' locker room, disappearing inside for a moment.
"We knew you'd all be nostalgic, coming back here," Blaise called, reappearing with a bag and an old trunk balanced awkwardly in his arms. "So we thought we'd plan a little surprise for you."
The girls got to their feet, a sense of expectation building. Ginny and Jools glanced at each other, both grinning uncontrollably. Moments later, they all blinked as the massive spotlights that lit the night practices flickered on.
"Our old brooms!" Ananda shrieked, darting over the Blaise, who was pulling their retired Firebolts from the large bag.
"Oh, Blaise, I just knew you didn't throw them out!" Hermione cried, with a look that suggested she'd actually had no idea.
"Hello, beautiful," Pansy murmured, running a hand over her battered Firebolt. Millicent, standing near her, hefted her Beater's bat in one hand and admired her splintered broom with the other.
"Who's making up the teams, then?" Susie asked, taking her broom as well and leaning on Jools. As discussion over teams began, Ginny slipped over to her husband. He grinned down at her and she beamed back.
"Best anniversary present ever," she murmured. He held out Ginny's old Firebolt and she took it, running a hand over the faded wood. "You planned this, coach?"
"With Blaise's help," Draco said, the old Quidditch fire flickering in his eyes. "Go on, Weasley. Get in the air."