He was sitting in his den staring blankly at the unrolled piece of parchment that was settled precariously in his lap. How many times had he made it known that fame and fortune was not what he desired? There didn't seem to be a measure of any sort that could deliver the answer he was seeking. Beginning at eleven, actually several years earlier when he was finally brought out of the house, people couldn't get enough of the name Harry Potter. Once he'd actually defeated the Dark Lord that recognition exploded into a media frenzy. Everyone wanted a piece of him, from job offers to exclusive interviews, thousands upon thousands of fan mail to impromptu wedding proposals. It had taken him five years of skulking about to finally be able to go into public without eliciting the attention of everyone on the street.
He picked up the elaborate invitation again and scanned the contents once more. Who in their right mind would ask him to actually participate in a bachelor auction? And on his birthday no less? Several names flitted through his mind and he could barely contain the bubbling anger that was rising within him. He knew Hermione was smarter than that and guessed that if she had anything to do with this the charitable cause would be her work. Ron had received a letter just like his the other day and the poor bloke went white at the thought. Ron adored attention, yes, but he didn't want to put himself in any position where Loony Lovegood could get her claws into him. At least that's what Ron would say. Harry thought that while she was rather eccentric, Luna was a wonderful girl. The thought of dating her had never crossed his mind and after seeing how she pined after his flatmate, he knew he didn't stand a chance.
Malfoy might do something like this, but the muggle charity involved meant that he and Hermione would have worked together on this event, which wasn't likely. Ginny would side with Malfoy in whatever he was doing, within reason that is. It was a surprise when the two of them began dating last year. Ron almost ripped his sister's new beau into several small pieces but the infamous bat-bogey hex cured that bit of hostility. No, Ginny was smitten and Harry doubted she thought of much else besides Malfoy. That still left several people who would be wicked enough to pull something like this.
"Oy, Potter, time for practice!"
Harry was startled out of his reverie by the sudden appearance of the Puddlemere United first string Keeper and team captain in his fireplace.
"Damn, Wood, you know how to stop someone's heart!" Harry said with a slight chuckle.
"Keep your mind on the team schedule and I wouldn't have to make a special appearance!" Wood barked back at him. The smile on his face belied the stern warning and Harry just smiled in response.
"I'll be there in a few minutes." Harry replied nonchalantly. "Oh, wait a minute. Do you know anything about this?" He held the invitation in front of Wood's green, flaming face and waited a few moments.
"Well, I got one myself the other day." Wood said with a mild irritation in his voice. "I really don't want to deal with this kind of stuff with the playoffs coming up ..."
Harry nodded and tossed the invitation to his desk. "Just let me grab my broom and I'll be there in a minute."
With a quick nod, Wood disappeared from the fireplace and left Harry wondering even more about the mysterious host of the bachelor's auction. After a minute he had his trusty Firebolt in hand and with a loud pop, disapparated from his flat.
Since Wood had been brought up from reserves into the first string, the team manager had become supremely impressed with his keeper's game strategy. When the team's previous seeker had become pregnant, it was Oliver's recommendation that they elicit the skills of one Harry Potter. The team hadn't been the same since the two Gryffindors were together. Win after win dotted their recent record and with just two games to go, Puddlemere United had become the favorite to make it to this year's World Cup.
The fortunate winning streak for the team turned into an unfortunate amount of training for the team members. Every Wednesday and Saturday, Wood called all the players in both the reserve squad and the regulars into an incredibly grueling workout. The standard Quidditch training was long down the drain as the new captain began a manic regime filled with calisthenics, weight lifting, and general athletic fitness. Harry had to admit that he was never in the best of shape, even when he was younger. But with the St. Mungo's endorsed training diet and the workouts that Wood was putting them through for sixteen hours a week, he felt better than he'd ever felt before.
This training session was nothing to scoff at, especially with the playoffs a few short months away. The beginning stretching routines and run had been extended by another half kilometer to a full four kilometers. Following this was the weight training session where everyone had to fight to control their brooms afterwards due to the gelatin feel of their muscles. Flight training in high wind and rain was always reminded Harry of his third year at Hogwarts when Wood was so determined to win the Quidditch cup that they ended up training through all types of weather. After all that, the two halves of the team were split into groups and put through several scrimmages against one another. Reserves versus Regulars happened so frequently they had special training robes made for the Puddlemere's sub teams.
"Potter! You're going to sit this one out if you don't stop catching that bloody snitch so fast!" Wood barked from the goal posts.
Harry flew over to his friend and captain and smiled cheekily. "I thought that's what you wanted me to do?"
"It is, but we need to train up that slowpoke our owner signed on last season. The blasted git flies slower than Goyle!"
"Alright, alright. Tell you what, I'll coach him a bit on how to use his broom, maybe we can speed him up a bit." Harry smiled quickly. "He seems to be afraid of the speed that he needs."
"Well, leave it to the owner to sign on his blasted son! Alright, coach him, Potter. We can't kick him off the team so maybe we can improve his flying skills so he can at least step in for a chaser if we need him." Wood pulled out his whistle and blew a few short trills before he motioned for the teams to meet in the center of the practice pitch.
"We're going to change things up a bit today." Oliver said in his telltale strategy voice. "Harry and Marcus are going to seek together, which means that the game is going to end when Marcus catches the snitch!"
The young man who was obviously Marcus, mainly due to his name plastered on his robes, blanched and looked at his famous teammate. "O-okay." He said with a stammer.
"Marcus, you need to improve in speed and maneuverability if you want to be able to play." Harry said with a grin as he wrapped an arm around the young man's shoulders. "I'll give you some tips, the trick with speed ..." Harry laughed as he explained the finer points of using a broom at its top speeds and went over the rough details of keeping up with the snitch. The afternoon dragged into late evening when they heard the shrill blasts of Oliver's whistle signaling the end of practice for the day.
"Potter, Marcus, I need to talk with you. Everyone else, off to the showers! Good job today!" Wood clapped each of the members on the shoulder as they passed by and turned finally to Harry and Marcus. "Marcus, you're showing some improvement up there. You need to be able to fly faster than you were today, but I'm not going to push you too hard, yet." The young man smiled widely at the praise and nearly fell forward at Harry's clap on his shoulder. "Hit the showers, Marcus, good practice!" He clapped the reserve seeker on the back as he trotted off to the locker rooms.
"He improved quite a bit, Oliver." Harry said with a smile. He had to admit, teaching the finer points of flying and watching as his teammate grasped and grew from the tutelage gave Harry a sense of pride.
"You're a good instructor, Harry." Oliver said with a smile. "You seem to be getting faster on your broom as well."
"Well, I've just been following the care and maintenance guide you gave me last year." Harry smiled sheepishly. "It's a wonder what the proper oils and waxes can do to cut down on the drag."
Oliver laughed. "It is indeed! I thought you might like that book... Listen, I did some poking around about that auction benefit we're invited to. It seems that the Ministry is behind it all."
"WHAT?!" Harry bellowed. "What the hell do they think they're doing?"
"Calm down, Harry." Oliver said with a slight chuckle. "It's not what you think at all."
"Would you be so kind as to enlighten me then?" Harry retorted hotly.
Oliver shook his head. "Take a few deep breaths first, I don't want you going spare over this, it's a good cause and I'm sure you'll approve once you hear what it's all about."
Harry did as he was told and calmed himself down. He didn't need to answer to an inquiry for killing the messenger and throttling his friend was not an option at this point. "Ok." He said in a much calmer tone. "What's this all about then?"
"As I said, I did some digging around and found out that the charity that this auction benefits is Comic Relief." He explained with a smile.
"Isn't that with those American comedians?" Harry asked skeptically.
"No, nothing like that. Comic Relief is an organization that improves and saves the lives of children around the world." His smile was firmly in place at the wide eyed look on Harry's face. "It seems that the Department of Magical Games and Sports consulted one Miss Hermione Granger ..."
Harry nodded. "So, Hermione does know then ... And good ole Ludo is behind this bit of humiliation ..."
"No, it's not just Bagman." Oliver added quickly. "The entire Ministry is behind it. I know you've read about their renewed efforts to expand muggle relations after You-Know-"
"Just say the name, Oliver." Harry said under his breath.
Oliver sighed. "After V-V-Voldemort was put away ..."
Harry nodded. "They offered Hermione the directors position when they created that office."
"Well, Fudge decided that it was time they did something and came up with the idea of the bachelor's auction. All proceeds go to Comic Relief. There is one catch though ..."
Harry hung his head knowing what was going to come up. "Let me guess ... A date with the famous Harry Potter ..."
"Got it in one!" Oliver said with a grimace. He took a step back expecting Harry to go over the edge but all that came out of the savior of the wizarding world was a slight chuckle. "There is one other bit to that ... The winner not only gets a date with you, but an entire day ..."
Harry shook his head. "I wish for once in my life that I got a say in what happened ... Whose bright idea was that? Fudge?"
"That, I can't tell you because nobody could tell me." Oliver shrugged helplessly. "That's all I found out and at least you aren't going to be surprised when this thing kicks off."
"Thanks." Harry said with a sigh. "Listen, I'm going to be meeting Hermione for dinner so I'll see you this Saturday."
"Practice has been moved to Sunday so that we can attend." Wood said in a very disgruntled way as the two of them walked back to the locker rooms. "Tell Hermione I said hello, would you?"
Harry nodded as they split off to their lockers and after a half hour of blissfully hot water cascading over his back, he had apparated home and dressed for dinner. After the war had ended, the three of them had made it tradition to meet every Wednesday for dinner at the Three Broomsticks. For Harry, it was a way for him to be with the two people he cared for most in the world and to remember all those who had fallen through all the fighting.
"Harry, you almost ready?" Hermione called from the front room.
"I'll be out in a minute!" He replied quickly. "Practice ran a bit longer than planned."
He stepped out of his room to the living room and found Hermione looking at the floor with a face so red that he became suddenly concerned.
"Are you alright?" He asked quickly as he stepped next to her.
"I'm fine, Harry." She said quietly. Hermione closed her eyes for a minute and after a few deep breaths, her face returned to its normal color. She looked up to him and smiled. "I was just flushed from getting ready ... I got out of work a little late."
Harry smiled with relief. "I didn't know what to think." He admitted. "Your face was rather red, I thought Ron might have set you off or worse ..."
"No, Ron bolted out of here a few minutes ago muttering something about his Mum." She said with a laugh.
"Oh, that's right ... Their anniversary is today. I told him I'd stop by after dinner. Ron, however, is having dinner with the entire family."
"Harry, they adopted you before sixth year. Why aren't you at dinner with them?"
Harry shrugged. "I talked with mum earlier and she said it was fine. At least we can keep up the tradition and then go back to the Burrow for the party."
Hermione shook her head as she laughed and took her best friend's hand. "Let's go get something to eat then."
Harry smiled and with a pop, they both apparated to the Three Broomsticks. Madam Rosmerta was still the owner and operator and as the two friends made their appearance like they had for the past few years she waved them over to their normal seat.
"Ron's not with you tonight?" She asked as she set the butterbeers down in front of them.
"Weasley anniversary." Harry said with a smile. Madam Rosmerta flashed a knowing grin and nodded.
Hermione smiled and shook her head. "I'm going to try the beef stew this time."
Rosmerta crooked an eyebrow. "That's quite the change." She said with smile. "Why the change of heart?"
"Just trying something new." Hermione said after a quick glance to Harry.
"How about you, Harry?"
"The usual will be fine." He said with a smile. "Though, I'd like to get a bottle of wine before we go. Thought I'd bring something to the after dinner party at the Burrow."
"Sure thing. I'll just leave you two alone then." She said with a smile then bustled off to the kitchen.
Harry and Hermione spent the night laughing and reminiscing about the times they had in school and after the war. They drank to friends fallen and to those who barely made it out alive, to life and friendship. The night wore on and slightly after twenty, Madam Rosmerta returned with the requested wine.
"There you are." She said with a smile. "One galleon please."
Harry shook his head and laughed. "You're bound to make me pay as little as possible aren't you?"
"You won't take it for free and anything less than a Galleon gets me a Galleon ..." She retorted with a grin.
Harry pulled out a handful of coins and gave her the majority of them with a grin. "No arguments."
"There's more than enough here to pay the tabs of ..."
"I know." Harry said with a smile. "Let them have a round ... It's nice to not have to worry about something, even for a night."
Madam Rosmerta gave him a tight hug and smiled. "Someone is going to be a lucky woman if they can ever catch you, Mr. Potter."
"Well, I don't know if there's anyone out there who wants me for the right reasons." He said with a grin. "But that's another story, we've got a party to get to."
With a wave, Harry and Hermione stepped into the warm summer night air outside the tavern and both took a deep breath.
"What was that all about?" Hermione asked as she took his hand.
"Hmm?" Harry looked at her with bleary eyes. "What was what all about?"
"You know what I mean." She said with a pointed look. "About not knowing if there's anyone out there ..."
Harry smiled and shrugged. "Sure, there are a lot of women who hit on me, but that's due to the fame ..." He shuddered visibly at the thought. "You and Ginny are the only two that know me for who I am, not what I've done."
Hermione looked to his eyes but at that moment he glanced ahead and smiled. "Speak of the devil ..." Harry's smile turned into a frown as the person in front of them was joined by her boyfriend.
"There you two are!" Ginny said exasperatedly. "You were supposed to be there a half hour ago! Mum sent us out to look for you, though it gave us a bit of an excuse ..."
Harry looked away when the two of them went in for what he assumed was a kiss and ventured a look towards them after a minute or so had passed. "We just finished dinner and were on our way." He said with a hint of disgust to his voice. He looked to Hermione and forced a smile. "Ready to apparate?" He asked through the clenched teeth of his faux grin.
"Sure, Harry." She said calmly. With a smile to Ginny, the two quickly apparated and found themselves in the Burrow's garden. The lights were on and laughter poured from the kitchen at some joke the twins had probably just told.
"I can't believe that she actually fell for that git!" Harry growled dangerously. Hermione looked at him with a sympathetic smile.
"There's no helping who you fall in love with ..." She chanced a look into his eyes but his anger was still overshadowing his senses. "Come on, Harry, I know she's your sister now, but she's been more your friend than anything. Ginny's got six other brothers to be overprotective of her ..."
"I know ..." Harry said with a resigned sigh. "It would have been better if she chose someone else ... Why did it have to be the bloody ferret Malfoy?"
"Maybe she'll figure it out for herself ... She's a big girl."
Harry smiled at his best friend and kissed her on the cheek. "You're right." He said with a sigh. "Why don't we head on in and wish Mum and Dad a happy anniversary?"
Hermione sighed and looked to her feet. "Let's." She said softly and followed Harry to the din that only a Weasley party could produce."