Just Not Sporting
"Look, it's really quite simple," Ron Weasley sighed, trying for the seventh time to explain the rules. "The aim of the game is to run as far as you can around the big chalk circle. I say chalk," he added as a side note, "but of course, nowadays they paint it on with magic. That wizard there is called 'the tosser' - don't laugh, it's true! - and he throws the ball as hard as he can into the big sphere in the middle. The sphere can spit it out at seventy miles an hour to any of the eight players with rackets around the edge of the big circle. Mostly they miss, but when one of them hits it, he has to run as far as he can before any of the others hit him with his own ball. While he does that, the tosser throws as many balls as he can into the sphere so that all the other rackets have to run round as well. You get as many points as you get degrees around the circle, but you're out if someone overtakes you, if someone catches your ball, or if you hit one of your own team when you whack it. Every eight balls is called a 'spell' and the rackets have to move three paces anticlockwise every spell . . . Oh yeah, and if a racket hits the ball into the crowd, they automatically get three hundred and sixty degrees . . . understand?"
Harry Potter squinted to the left for a moment in an expression of deepest concentration and puzzlement before frowning and shaking his head.
"No, sorry," he told his best friend. "At some point in the middle I thought I had it, but then you started talking about rackets and I got lost."
Ron sighed and sat back in his seat to watch the match. "It's hopeless," he remarked, "some people will never understand the noble game of Tossball."
Harry leaned around Ron to see Hermione, who was peering down at the players through her old pair of Omnioculars which Harry had bought for her all those years ago at the Quidditch World Cup.
"Hermione, do you get any of this?" he asked.
"Not a jot. It's all Mermish to me," she replied, shrugging so that her bushy hair bounced on her shoulders. "The first thing I wonder is why both teams wear the same colour. It's got to be very confusing."
"See?" Harry said to Ron. "If the world's cleverest witch doesn't understand it, I can't see how I can be expected to."
"Fair point, well made," admitted Ron with a nod.
"Besides," continued Hermione, "it all seems very slow and convoluted and they all waste such a lot of time. I don't think it's nearly as exciting as Quidditch."
"It's not supposed to be as exciting as Quidditch," Ron explained, and Harry could tell his patience was beginning to fail. "It's a game for sporting connoisseurs. It's something you listen to all day long on the wireless while you do other things. Anyway, most of the sport's fan base is over ninety years old, so if it was as exciting as Quidditch, you'd probably have a load of old codgers expiring every match and the NTA doesn't want that on their hands."
"Ron, don't be so crude," Hermione said, although her absent tone suggested that nowadays, her rebukes were only out of old habit.
Taking a sweeping glance around the pitch however, Harry thought that Ron had a point. Only about one in fifty of the crowd looked under the age of sixty. Furthermore, only about one in a hundred seemed to be paying any attention to the game at all. Most of the spectators seemed content to chat to their neighbours, move about a bit, say hello to some old acquaintance, meet so-and-so's new brother in law, get up to buy a drink, ask after someone's mother on the way there, finalise up a business deal on the way back and strike up a conversation with good-looking strangers by asking what the score was.
Generally, it all seemed to Harry like a large social occasion rather than a sporting function and true to the vast majority of British sport, the crowd only seemed to be watching when something important was happening.
After returning his attention to the players and taking a sip of Pumpkin Fizz, Harry sighed and said miserably to himself, "I must stop doing this."
"What?" Ron asked idly. Harry shrugged.
"This," he said, "you know, matches parties, balls, functions . . . 'things' . . . getting invited to them, getting dressed up for them, getting introduced to people at them . . ."
"Why?" asked Ron. "I like going to 'things'."
"You got rid of Voldemort, Harry," Hermione said, and even now, two weeks after, Harry was still trying to get used to people telling him this.
"We got rid of Voldemort," he corrected her.
"Whatever." She waved it aside. "The point is that if you weren't the world's most famous wizard before, then you certainly are now. It's hardly surprising that everyone wants to invite you to their party."
Harry was quickly becoming aware of a group of old witches two rows behind them who were beginning to point and gossip. He lowered his voice.
"I know," he said, "I know, and I don't want to be rude. It's just that I'd quite like to be invited to parties because the people who are throwing them like me and think I'm a interesting person, not because my life-enemy happened to be an all-powerful psycho who almost took over the world."
Hermione lowered her Omnioculars and looked at him hopelessly. They had had this discussion at various events they had attended at least four times and none of them could ever come up with a solution. It looked as though they were all condemned to a life of endless invitations where people would shake their hands, offer them drinks and introduce them to other people with "Of course you know Harry Potter/Hermione Granger/Ron Wealsey. Wouldn't be here today if it weren't for them, eh?"
"Don't worry, mate, it will probably all blow over soon," Ron said reassuringly, although he had been saying it for two weeks now and Harry was beginning not to believe him.
Down on the pitch, something vaguely important was happening. Perhaps someone had hit the ball exceptionally hard or maybe someone had made a catch. As a result, a pleasantly surprised cheer rose from the crowd, and a few people clapped.
That was the other problem with going to these 'things', thought Harry. At everyone he attended, he hoped to see Ginny. Every so often, he would catch himself looking for her, although he knew perfectly well that she wouldn't be out of hospital yet.
As it turned out, when Harry had left her at Dumbledore's funeral in a bid to keep her safe, it had done her a fat lot of good. By that time everyone knew how much she meant to Hermione as a best friend, to Ron as a sister, to the Weasleys as their only daughter, not to mention what she meant to the Boy Who Lived himself.
Within three months she had been abducted. Voldemort had thought her a pretty and valuable catch, the best of all his prisoners of war.
Harry, Ron and Hermione had tried to visit her in St Mungo's the day before, but the Healers said it was immediate family only, and had only let Ron in.
"They want to keep her here for another week," he told them. "Personally I reckon it should be longer. She just doesn't look right yet, you know?"
Harry could well imagine. When they had found her, she had looked about as 'not right' as you could get. She wasn't physically hurt, Voldemort had not wanted that, but Hermione had told him there were more ways to be hurt magically than physically.
"It's like someone hurting your soul," she said, and Harry had shivered.
How he wished he could visit her. Sometimes he thought he caught glimpses of her across crowded ballrooms or garden lawns, but it always turned out to be his imagination. These days it seemed his head was just a desk piled high with notes to himself about all the things he wanted to say to her in a big, jumbled mess.
The main thing he wanted to say was that he was sorry. He was sorry that he couldn't save her from Voldemort and all those weeks she had to spend with him.
The crowd cheered again as one of the players made it all the way round the circle. Harry shook his head. It was sometimes quite a shock to return to things that seemed vaguely normal after all this time worrying about dark magic and surviving another day. Although, the rest of the wizarding world was quite happy to get back to normal as soon as possible. There seemed to be nothing else to do, but to simply get on with it. The only thing that distinguished this match from one that would have taken place before the war was a small sentence on the back of his ticket that said: 'Half the proceeds from today's match will go to the Aftermath Fund for children orphaned during the Second War.'
Ron tapped his empty drinks carton on the arm of his seat.
"Well, I'm off to get a fill-up," he said, "anymore for any more?"
"You're all right. I'll go," Harry said, standing up. "I think I can feel my legs begin to atrophy in that seat."
"Aw, cheers, mate," Ron grinned, passing over his cup.
"I'll just have a sparkling water. Thanks, Harry," Hermione said, smiling before attempting to adjust the focus on her Omnioculars.
Clutching two cups, Harry took the steps up the wide aisle of the shining white stands two at a time until he reached the top. Thankfully, the queue wasn't too long and the vendor seemed far too worried that her liquorice wands were melting in the sun to realise who she was serving.
Pocketing his change, and picking up two cups and a glass bottle between his fingers, Harry turned around and made it about half way back to his seat. That was when the vague sight of red hair made the cold wet bottle of water slip out his hands and hit the steps with smash.
"Oh, arse," Harry said to himself as a few people looked around casually. He'd done it again; he'd imagined she was here and look where it got him. Sighing, he shifted the drinks from one hand to the other and pulled his wand out, bending down to clear up the water.
"Harry?" said a voice to his right, and he nearly dropped the rest of the drinks.
As he looked up from his crouching position, the midday sunlight filled his vision with a light yellow hue, surrounding a dark red figure sitting three seats along in the row next to him. The edges of her hair shone bright orange in the light.
Broken glass forgotten, Harry stood up.
There she was, sprawled out with her ankles resting on the seat in front . . . smiling. He just stood and stared at her for a good few seconds before he said, "I . . . I thought you were still in hospital."
It was one of those horrible moments where he realised he was saying something stupid whilst actually saying it.
"I mean," he added quickly, sitting down on the seat nearest to the aisle, "I mean . . . hello."
Ginny gave a little laugh.
"I am," she said. "I am still in hospital." She glanced behind her at a group of people scattered around in the three or four rows near them. "It's the Monthly Day Out and they thought Quidditch might be too loud and aggravating for some people."
Harry looked at the group of spectators and noticed that they did look like a party from a hospital. Some of them had skin that was a very sore-looking pink colour and were huddled under large parasols. One girl was sitting very far forward in her seat and staring at the game as if there were nothing else in the world. Another man frequently kept nodding slightly as his feet danced around in small jig-like movements under his seat.
"Oh," Harry said. There didn't seem to be any room left in his brain for anything except the sight of her there in front of him. "I wanted to come and visit you, but they wouldn't let us, Hermione and me, they wouldn't let us in."
She sighed ruefully. "I heard, and thank you for coming and . . . not being let in."
Apart from having difficulty getting over the fact that she was here and they were talking, Harry was finding it hard to organise his thoughts into a calm and collected order. Now that they were together, he had to quickly sort through the chaotic pile of notes on the desk in his head, asking himself anxiously which he should say first and how he should say them.
"Ginny, listen, I -" he began, but at the moment, a unanimous groan rose from the crowd as something scandalous took place down on the pitch. In a single glance, Harry gathered that one player's racket had been broken over another player's head, but further than that, he wasn't interested. There were a few boos from the spectators and a lot of tutting.
"Tsk, dreadful," commented one wizard behind Harry.
"That's sort of thing's just not sporting, don'cha know," said another in a seat across the aisle.
"Hm?" Ginny said to Harry once the hubbub had died down a bit. Thankfully, much of the audience's interest in the game seemed to have been re-ignited, so Harry didn't bother keeping his voice down so much.
"I just wanted to say that I'm sorry about what happened," but Ginny had turned her attention back to the game as well. Harry didn't understand. He wouldn't have expected someone with an attention span as short as Ginny's to have any interest in Tossball. She seemed not to want to talk about anything to do with the war.
But it wasn't very like Ginny not to talk about something.
"Why are you sorry?" she asked idly. "You didn't kidnap me."
"I know," Harry said, "but I didn't stop you getting kidnapped either."
She only glanced at him and said, "We really must work on this hideous hero complex of yours, Harry. It's things like that you want to talk to a therapist about. Do you know what the score is?"
Fabulous, Harry thought. There he was trying to tell her everything he'd been worried about for the past year and she wasn't having any of it. He stood up and moved into the seat between them so they were sitting next to each other. He had other things besides the war to talk about.
"Look, Ginny, I only wanted to tell you . . . that day at Dumbledore's funeral . . . trying to stop us seeing each other wasn't the cleverest thing I've ever done."
She didn't say anything; she didn't even carry on watching the game. She just looked away slightly and closed her eyes, and Harry realised something. She didn't want to avoid talking about the war; she just didn't want to talk to him.
She just didn't want to talk about them.
Harry sighed and sat back in his seat.
"I'm just . . . really glad to see you," he told her sincerely and got up to go back to his own seat. "I'll tell Ron and Hermione you're here, shall I?"
"Are you?" she asked suddenly. He looked back at her and saw she was faced towards him again.
"Am I what?"
Ginny looked for a moment as though she would have liked to say a great deal of things, 'Insane?' perhaps, or 'Going to buy me another Pumpkin Fizz?'
Or maybe it was something like 'Still in love with me?'
Honestly, Harry thought, if she had asked that, he would have said 'yes'.
Instead, she took a deep breath and said slowly, "Glad to see me?"
"Of course I am!" Harry exclaimed, a little too loudly. A couple of people glanced in their direction. He sat back down quickly next to her. "Of course I'm glad to see you," he said, unconsciously putting a hand on her lower arm. "Why would you think I wasn't?"
Ginny's eyes flicked down to his fingers a little suspiciously, as if she suspected them of lying to her.
"Did you want to talk about the funeral?" she asked, and Harry reckoned she knew perfectly well that he wanted to talk about something else. "I mean," she began again, "that day you tried to stop us seeing each other because -"
"Because I was being stupid and noble, just like you said I was," Harry said in self depreciation. Over the past year, he had come to detest the words 'stupid' and 'noble' with a passion.
"All right, maybe you were being stupid and noble," Ginny said with a small smile, "and I wouldn't expect anything else from you. I'm just going to ask you one question and I hope you're still noble enough to be honest . . . This whole business of trying to second guess people or thinking you know how to keep someone safe, or having ulterior motives (even if they are stupid and noble) . . . it's . . . it's just . . ."
She looked away from him and smiled again down at the match below. "It's just not sporting," she said. Turning her head, she caught his gaze and asked him very softly and plainly, "What do you want me to be?"
Harry was somewhat confused by the question. It implied they were sort of actors in a play and she was asking about her role.
"I don't . . . I don't want you to be anything," he told her, and cringed when her saw hurt flicker across her face. "I mean, I don't want you to change at all. I'm going to change. For once, I'm not going to be stupid and noble, I'm going to be clever and- and . . . cowardly."
Nice one, Potter, he thought grimly, that's the way to recommend yourself, admit you're terrified. It was then that he realised she'd put her other hand on his. He took a deep breath.
"I'm going to tell you that I love you, and that I'm sorry about making decisions for you, and about being stupid and noble."
He was very aware that her arm had disappeared from under his hand and was now around his shoulders. Suddenly she was hugging him; his face was in her hair and his arms relaxing around her waist.
"I love you," he said again in her ear, on the off chance that she'd forgotten .
Her arms tightened around his neck.
"That's good news," she murmured.
There was sudden burst of noise and Harry and Ginny jumped. The spectators were cheering wildly all around them and Harry sat back just in time to witness a small, dark green ball sail out of the pitch into the crowd where it was clumsily caught and held aloft by a thrilled-looking wizard in a panama hat.
It seemed Ginny knew when to seize an opportunity. While the audience was distracted, she turned back to Harry and smiled before leaning forward to kiss him. The cheering of the crowd mixed with the roar inside his head, and all he could feel at the moment was the noise and the smell of Ginny's hair and the exhilaration of kissing the girl he loved.
By the time the ball had been returned to the field, they were still sat together in the sun, their arms round each other.
"Is that Ron and Hermione down there?" Ginny asked through a smile, pointing.
Harry followed her finger and spotted his best friends, the only ones standing up in the crowd and looking in the complete opposite direction to the match. Ron had a hand raised to his squinting eyes and Hermione was peering through her Omnioculars at them. Then he remembered.
"Oh, Merlin, they're probably wondering where their drinks have got to," he said. Ginny laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.
"Let's go get some more," she said, getting up. "You know what? I could do with a cold Butterbeer myself."
As he stood up and followed Ginny, Harry thought that maybe his earlier misgivings about invitations to parties, events, functions and matches had been a bit harsh. This was definitely the best 'thing' he'd ever attended. He could even start to see himself actually understanding the game, if Ginny would have a go at explaining the rules to him.
"So," Harry said, as they began to climb back up the white steps hand in hand, "tell me, what's the score?"