Take Us Out To The Ball Game
Hermione decided to brave another go at her popcorn, with the same result; she grimaced slightly before forcing herself to swallow the puffy confection. It hadn't been a matter of a bad couple of kernels, after all – they all tasted that way. This American obsession with salt was too much!
"Can't get used to it, huh?" needled Ginny in the seat to her right. Hermione was amazed the redhead had no difficulty in popping in the puffy white treats one after the other, as though they were Molly Weasley's date squares.
But then, none of the other thirty thousand or so people around them seemed to be experiencing any such difficulty either, from the looks of things. Ginny, for her part, was fitting right in, happily taking in the sights and sounds of the huge stadium.
Hermione gazed about the teeming ballpark, jam-packed with people from seemingly every corner of the world, even though she knew the vast majority of them must surely be locals. New York city was definitely a cultural melting-pot, just as Bill Weasley had described it.
Ginny, for her part, seemed less interested in the surroundings and was taking a genuine, if inexplicable, interest in what was happening on the field. For the life of her, Hermione couldn't fathom why – the game held none of the uninterrupted excitement of Quidditch and little of its acrobatics. It was, at least as Ginny described it, a game of nuances and subtleties, punctuated every so often by brief, startling displays of energy and athleticism.
Still, baseball really wasn't her thing, concluded Hermione. If it hadn't been for Ginny's excitement at the prospect of taking in a game at the apparently legendary Yankee Stadium, she might well have been touring the Metropolitan at the moment. But then, she knew going in that this trip was going to be one of compromises, what with three such differing mindsets gathered together.
Speaking of which...
"What's keeping Luna?" queried Hermione, craning her neck to gaze through the throngs in the stands behind her. It was hard to believe, but in such a sea of humanity even Luna Lovegood might blend in. Not that Luna would ever actively try to blend in, mind you.
"She's fine," assured Ginny as she scoured the play guide on her lap for statistics on a new batsman now sauntering up to the plate, to the jeers of the crowd. "You know Luna, she's just off exploring...this guy hits over three hundred, this should be good..."
"But it's already the second quarter!" lamented Hermione. "She's going to miss itཀ"
"I think they're called 'innings'," said a vague and dreamy voice to her left. Hermione turned with a start – Luna was quite unceremoniously squeezing her way past a group of rather corpulent and irritated-looking spectators. One, a particularly large middle-aged bearded man wearing a fez, gave her such a look that it would send most people off in the opposite direction. But Luna, of course, squeezed past regardless, heedless of the nasty looks directed at her.
"Where were you?" asked Hermione as Luna settled into her seat. "You missed the entire first quar – inning."
"Getting these," replied the whimsical blonde, producing a trio of baseball caps from her tote bag. She handed one each to Hermione and Ginny, keeping a green and yellow one for herself. "It took a while, the people behind the counter weren't very helpful at all...none of them wanted to explain what the symbols meant. I did tell them I was from overseas, but..."
"Like they couldn't tell that," teased Ginny, punching her cap open with her fist. "Hey, pirates! Thanks, Luna!" Donning her newly-acquired headwear, she turned the bill backwards and grinned impishly at Hermione.
"Well, come on," she prodded. "When in Rome, and all that."
Hermione looked at her own cap uncertainly. "Um...well, thank you, Luna," she said slowly. "This looks to be some sort of bird, yes?"
Luna nodded, carefully turning her own cap's bill to the side which, Hermione thought, made her look rather waifish. "That's right," replied Luna airily. "It's a Blue Jay. I thought you might like that one, with your affinity for pumpkin juice and all."
Ginny stifled a laugh as Hermione looked at the three caps in succession. "Er...Luna," she began, "these are very nice, but...I can't help but notice, none of these teams are playing here today."
Luna tilted her head slightly. "Meaning?"
"Meaning that...my point is..."
One look at Luna's dreamy expression (combined with a light elbow in the ribs from Ginny) convinced Hermione there was nothing to be gained by pursuing the matter; sometimes Luna's actions would often appear nonsensical at first only to be proven perfectly reasonable later on. But sometimes, as she suspected this was, they were completely ludicrous from the get-go. Hermione had long since discovered that trying to differentiate between the two was like trying to separate yolks from an omelette – after it had cooked.
"I...don't really have a point, I suppose," she finally said. Defeated on one front, she reached over and turned Luna's cap around so that the bill pointed towards the front. "If we're going to wear these things, we should at least wear them properly," she lectured as she donned her own cap – and watched dishearteningly as Luna resolutely turned hers to the side once more.
"Oh for – must you two always be such rebels?!" exclaimed Hermione in frustration.
"I'm the rebel, she's the non-conformist," corrected Ginny as the crowd roared – apparently the fellow at the plate had just been called out – as she turned to her friends. "What's yours supposed to be, Luna? A big letter 'A'...what's it stand for?"
"I'm not certain," replied the latter dreamily. "I just liked the colours, you know...it's a shame they didn't have a team named after any of the Faeries. I looked, but..."
Ginny guffawed. "Yeah, I'm sure that would go over really well with these types," she said, nodding towards the row of burly, tobacco-chewing men in the far dugout. "The New York Faeries. Yes, Luna, I'm sure they'd love that."
Hermione had to suppress a giggle.
Luna looked at them curiously. "Why wouldn't they?" she asked at the same instant a batter cracked a hit off the left field wall, "I know most Muggles think of them as mythical, but still, they're such lovely folk – "
"We're not talking about the same thing," interrupted Ginny, dividing her attention between Luna and the action on the field. "In Muggle society – "
"Will you two please not say that word!" whispered Hermione shrilly, glancing around to see if anyone had overheard.
Ginny gave her an odd look. "In MUG-GLE society, the word 'fairy' has a double meaning..."
Luna blinked at her expectantly. "Designer earmuffs?"
"What – no," said Ginny. "It's when a guy's, like...you know..."
A slight tilt of the head from the blonde. An exasperated sigh from the redhead.
"There's a double meaning, Luna, let's just leave it at that."
But Luna did not leave it at that. She turned around in her seat, addressing an older white-haired man in the row directly behind them: "Hello...could you tell me what the word 'fairy' means in your culture?"
The man leaned forward and cupped his hand to his ear. "Eh? Speak up, missy!"
Luna repeated her question as loud as she could manage, nearly shrieking the question with her airy, floaty voice. Surely the old man wasn't that deaf, thought Hermione as several people in nearby seats cast them irritated glances.
The man's eyes suddenly lit up in comprehension. "Oh, them's little people with wings, ain't they? Live out in the woods – Tinkerbell, and all that."
Luna turned to Ginny and gazed at her blankly.
Ginny giggled. "Oh, you're so innocent," she said. "All right, fine...It can also mean when a guy likes another guy, Luna."
"Oh, like Harry and Ronald," said Luna, her silvery eyes brightening in comprehension. "Friends, then."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh for – no, more than friends," she corrected as Ginny fought valiantly to contain her laughter. "It's like...like..."
"Oh, you mean like Seamus and Colin?"
Ginny and Hermione looked at each other, expressions of sock mirrored on their faces.
There was a sharp crack on the field. Hermione turned just in time to see a baseball hurtling straight towards them –
"GINNY!" cried both Luna and Hermione simultaneously.
The redhead ducked at the last instant, the baseball striking the top edge of the back of her seat with terrifying force. The ball deflected up into the stands several rows beyond, where several people made enthusiastic attempts to snare it.
Hermione watched with mouth agape as Ginny slowly drew back up, ashen-faced.
"I think that's called a foul ball," she whispered.
"Ginny? Are you all right?" asked Hermione with genuine concern. "It didn't hit you, did it?"
"No...no, I'm fine," replied Ginny tentatively, colour slowly returning to her cheeks. "Merlin...I've had bludgers hit at me before, but never anything that fast..."
"Maybe we should cast a shielding charm," suggested Luna, reaching past Hermione to feel Ginny's head for bumps.
"Shhh!" said Hermione, glancing about nervously. "Don't even talk about that here! In case you haven't noticed, there are Mug – people about!"
"I'm fine!" protested Ginny, throwing a handful of Hermione's popcorn at her friends to emphasize the point.
"Hey!" exclaimed Hermione, jerking back the carton beyond Ginny's reach. "Leave that alone!"
Ginny shrugged. "Hey, if you're not going to eat it – "
"Oh, fine!" said Hermione, depositing her barely touched popcorn into Luna's lap. "Here, you can have this..."
"Oh sure," complained Ginny. "Give it to the expert popcorn tosser – "
"That was a dreadfully boring film, as you well know," countered Luna as Hermione hastily snatched the carton back, placing it instead under her seat for safekeeping. If there was one credo Hermione had learned above all others, it was to never, ever allow popcorn to fall into the hands of bored Ravenclaws.
The crowd around them roared as the batsman at the plate whiffed at the third strike, sending the fielders back to their dugout at a trot. It was the end of an inning.
"I can't understand why people find this so fascinating," commented Hermione, Luna's earlier comment about Colin and Seamus temporarily forgotten. "It's not as exciting as Quidditch, is it?"
"It's a different kind of game, it's the strategy involved," explained Ginny, gesturing at the program splayed open on her lap. "You have to appreciate the nuances of the game. It's not just what happens on the field, it's the decisions being made behind the scenes. It's a bit like chess, really..."
"The players would be pawns, then?" asked Luna. Hermione smiled impishly.
"Er...well, yes, but in a good way...plus they're filthy rich, too..."
The next few innings came and went uneventfully, unless one could call a half score or so explosions of energy interspersed with long periods of relative inaction. Hermione couldn't understand why the countless thousands of people around them followed such a game so completely, 'strategy' notwithstanding. Even Luna had been affected, cheering every batsman from both teams, drawing bewildered looks from the fans around them.
"I think you're supposed to cheer for one team, Luna," suggested Hermione futilely. At least her baseball cap didn't roar whenever runs were scored, she thought with relief.
It was in what Ginny referred to as the 'Seventh Inning Stretch' that Hermione noticed a sudden change in her blonde friend's demeanour.
"He intends to throw at that fellow's head," Luna was saying very seriously as a new batsman sauntered up to the plate. "He means to strike him!"
"No, Luna," laughed Ginny, "he means to throw strikes – "
"No, you misunderstand," corrected Luna, her silver eyes wide and lucid. "They've been communicating surreptitiously...see that fellow in the dugout over there?"
Hermione looked to where Luna was pointing. Near the third base line stood an older player, most likely a manager of some kind. He was gesticulating strangely for no apparent reason -- though it was by no means clear who he was sending a message to, if indeed it was a message at all.
"Oh, those are what you call 'signs', Luna" clarified Ginny. "Every team does it."
"But he's going to get beaned!" returned Luna as a rather powerful-looking man was strolling up to the plate – a loud chorus of boos rose up from the stands – and began going through an elaborate ritual of practice swings and digging his cleats into the dirt. "Shouldn't we warn him?"
"It's part of the game!" countered Ginny. "If he gets beaned, he gets beaned!"
"And anyway, how can you possibly know what they're saying?" asked Hermione sceptically. "Are you going to tell me that lovely Ravenclaw mind of yours managed to crack those 'signs' over just a few periods?"
"Innings!" corrected Ginny.
"Either way," shot back Hermione.
"It wasn't very difficult," said Luna, her eyes fixed on the pitcher on the mound. "Whoever invented it wasn't very imaginative..."
"Wow, look at that guy's stats," said Ginny as she consulted her program. "No wonder they're headhunting!"
"What? They won't really throw at his head, will they?" asked Hermione, suddenly becoming alarmed as the pitcher got into his set position. The terrifying memory of Ginny's near miss was still fresh in her mind.
"Are you kidding?" replied Ginny, leaning forward eagerly in anticipation. "I heard people talking earlier, these two teams absolutely loathe each other...KNOCK HIS BLOCK OFF, PITCHER GUY!"
"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Caligula," said Hermione dryly. "Can we tone down the bloodlust, please??"
The crowd hushed in anticipation as the batter prepared himself for the pitch. Hermione held her breath as the pitcher wound up –
– and promptly tumbled off the mound, the baseball bounding wildly between home plate and third base before bouncing into the visiting team's dugout. The crowd groaned as the base runners circled the bases gleefully, the third baseman searching frantically under the opposition's benches for any sight of his elusive quarry.
Hermione gasped. People around them were all jabbering incessantly.
"What the heck happened there??"
"It's like he got shot or something!"
"Great time for a wild pitch, loser!"
"We're paying twelve million a year for that??"
"Just terrific...now we're tied...now they're ahead..."
Ginny leaned forward, squinting.
"Hey – his shoelaces are tied together!!"
Hermione turned and glared at her blonde friend.
The object of her accusation was sitting ramrod straight and gazing up at the sky, hands loosely clasped together in her lap. Though her wand was nowhere to be seen, Hermione feared the worst.
"She didn't, did she?" asked Ginny, aghast. She leaned over. "Luna, tell me you didn't."
"Yes, Luna," echoed Hermione angrily. "Tell us."
For several moments Luna said nothing, gazing out instead onto the confusion taking place on the field. Finally, under the intensely expectant stare of her friends, she gazed up at the sky and sighed.
"I can't do that," she whispered.
Hermione slouched back in her seat, horrified.
"Have you lost your mind??"
For possibly the first since Hermione had known her, Luna seemed to be at an utter loss. "I didn't intend for it to happen that way," she said softly. "Silent charms are rather tricky..."
"Merlin's beard, Luna," said Hermione animatedly. "Thousands of people have just witnessed an inexplicable event, how did you plan on – "
"Shhh!" admonished Ginny, glancing about the stands nervously. "Keep your voice down!"
" – how do you plan on explaining what just happened?" continued Hermione, lowering her tone slightly.
Luna turned to her. "Why explain?" she said simply.
"Oh, the Haggis is in the fire and that's for sure," lamented Ginny, looking for all the world as though she and her friends were facing the gallows.
Hermione rubbed her temples. "There's no way the local Ministry can modify so many memories," she said gravely. "This is a disaster! They'll send us to...to wherever...we have to come up with something!"
"Well, we could say they experienced a hallucination," suggested Luna.
Hermione gaped at her. "A hallucination!" she exclaimed in disbelief as the umpires and the home team manager ran out to the mound to see why the pitcher was sitting on the ground, furiously fiddling with his sneakers. "Luna, millions of people were watching all this unfold on the Tele! Live!"
"Mass hallucination," amended Luna.
Hermione was about to pull her hair out. "Just...just...I can't believe you did that! Interfering in a game is just – "
"Well, you did that, once," voiced Luna with infuriating calmness.
Hermione gasped. "I did not! How can you even – "
"Sure you did," interjected Luna with the same airy detachment as if she'd be reading a months-old issue of the Gringotts stock report. "That time when you helped Ronald during the Quidditch – "
Hermione felt a tap on her shoulder.
"Er, guys," interrupted Ginny, "I hate to break this up, but I think we've got a bit of a problem..."
Hermione turned around. A large, middle-aged man dressed in a garish hawaiian shirt and a battered old cowboy hat was standing in the steps just a few yards away. But unlike everyone else, he was paying no heed to the confusion on the field – rather, he was slowly waving a toothbrush back and forth in their general direction.
Hermione's eyes widened. "Oh, this isn't good," she said in a tiny voice. "I really hope that's a Muggle..."
"I don't think it is," said Luna. "That looks like a wizard detector...see how he's zeroing in on us?"
The man's eyes suddenly locked on Hermione's. He lowered his toothbrush.
"That's it," said Hermione nervously. "We're going to Alcatraz, I just know it. Oh, how did they find us so fast? They're as bad as back home!"
"But isn't that a Muggle place?"
"He's coming this way!" exclaimed Ginny, hurriedly stuffing her program back in her bag. "Quick, he doesn't know who we are – let's make a run for it!"
Hermione looked at her incredulously. "What, and dissaparate in the middle of all this??" she asked, waving at the huge stadium. "We'd make the problem ten times worse, plus we'd be fugitives!"
"I'd rather have a life on the lam than be stuck in Alcatraz prison!" countered Ginny.
"But that's a Muggle place," repeated Luna. "And according to the guide, it's been closed for years."
"Pahdon me, missies," a voice with a thick Southern drawl said. "I'm gonna have to ask y'all to come with me."
Hermione slowly turned to see the man, standing now just next to Ginny, looking down at them with a distinctly weary bearing.
Luna leaned close. "I think he's a Confederate Wizard," she whispered into Hermione's ear. "Look at his hat..."
"I'm sorry, I'm not in the habit of accompanying strangers," countered Hermione bluntly, hoping desperately the man might somehow mistake them for Muggles. But it was a forlorn hope.
"I reckon I did forgit to introduce mahself," said the man as he adjusted his ill-fitting trousers. "Mah apologies, ladies. Mah name is Leonidas Hood, and ah think you already know who ah'm with, now, don't you..."
Hermione looked to Ginny. Don't admit to anything, was the look in the redhead's eyes. "Er...not really?"
Hood rubbed his forehead. "all right, now looky here, ah know yer not from these here parts, but...are you sayin' mah, er, gizmo here – ", he indicated his toothbrush, " – is malfunctionin'?"
"Your toothbrush?" exclaimed Ginny in feigned disbelief.
"I'm sorry, but I have no idea what you're talking about," echoed Hermione. She knew full well he had them to rights – but playing dumb might be their only chance to extricate themselves from their predicament. Worse, their discussion was attracting increasing attention from the Muggles around them.
The man's tired gaze fell on Luna.
"And you, missy?" he asked, "Yer gonna stick with the Muggle story too, I s'pose?"
Luna was staring up at him, her expression utterly blank. Hermione tried to signal her with a look, to no avail.
Fib, Luna, thought Hermione desperately. Just this once – just one tiny lie!
The man leaned closer, waving his toothbrush in front of Luna. "All right, Missy. You three are wizarding folks, aren't yer? Mah detector's goin' off the scale here..."
Hermione winced silently – they were surrounded by potentially eavesdropping Muggles after all – but forced herself not to react. If she did, it might give the game away.
Luna opened her mouth and seemed to hesitate. And for the briefest of moments Hermione thought she might actually do it. Several times she went to say something only to have it catch in her throat. Finally, under the man's expectant gaze, she managed to get her vocal chords working once more.
"I am, yes."
Hermione slouched back in her seat, defeated. Ginny was bent over, covering her face with her hands. Only Hood seemed anything remotely satisfied. Out on the playing field, a small crowd of managers and officials had congregated on the pitching mound, oblivious to the goings-on in the stands.
"What about these two?" asked Hood, pointing his toothbrush vaguely between Ginny and Hermione.
"They also," affirmed Luna. "But they had no part in what happened."
The man's gaze focussed squarely on Luna, seemingly relieved that he was finally getting definite responses. "So if I figure right, yer sayin' this here fiasco is yer doin'?"
"Say nothing!" pleaded Hermione.
"But I – "
"I did it!" blurted Ginny desperately, drawing a curious look from Hood.
"No she didn't!" countered Hermione urgently.
"Hermione's right," agreed Luna. "I was the one who – "
"Now looky here," said Hood as he rubbed his temple, "Ah don't know what them fellers do over there in Jolly Ol' England, but ah'm not lookin' to drag anybody off ter the Tower of London or anythin like that. Looky here – " he produced a small metallic pendant from his neck that looked vaguely like a strange cross between a shamrock and an astrolabe. Hermione recognized it at once.
"That's – that's a – "
"That's right," said Hood, twirling the Time Turner idly around his finger. "Now tell you what, ah was jus' a couple hours away from startin' my vacation and ah'd just as soon not have to go through all the paperwork this little mess is gonna cause – "
"Or all those memory modifications," interjected Hermione hopefully as she crossed her toes.
"Yeah, well, that too," replied Hood. "Considerin' this is bein' broadcast across the country an' all. So, I'll make y'all a deal," he said as he took in the three of them, "If you all swear to keep this under yer hats, I won't say a word. It'll never have happened. How's that?"
The girls looked at each other. Hermione saw her almost boundless relief mirrored in Ginny's face. She couldn't believe they would get off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, if even that!
"But that means that fellow would then get beaned," said Luna, vaguely indicating the area near the pitcher's mound where several players, managers and officials were still trying to sort matters out.
"Pay her no mind!" blurted Hermione.
"She – she hasn't had her medication!" echoed Ginny, drawing a curious look from Luna.
Hood crouched closer. "Look, how 'bout I make sure he only gets grazed – on his backside, say? That way no 'un gets hurt, he still gets first, and ah can finally go catch me some smallmouth...we have a deal?"
Ginny and Hermione turned to Luna as one, doing their very best to convey their approval by nodding vigorously.
Luna considered the offer thoughtfully. "Well..."
The nodding increased in intensity.
"...yes, that would do nicely,I think," said Luna, much to Hermione's relief.
"Right," said Hood, setting to spin the tiny brass device between his fingers. "Now then – all's well that ends well..."
"You know, I'd heard that baseball had the odd scuffle every now and again," commented Ginny they strolled along the busy street, cabbies and hot dog stands vying for their attention. "But I never thought we'd see bench-clearing brawls, goodness! What is it with these Yanks, anyway?"
Hermione stopped in her tracks.
"What?" asked Ginny as Luna bumped into them lightly from behind.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," began Hermione wryly, "but I thought you were the one who wanted them to, how'd you put it – "
" 'Knock each others' blocks off'," added Luna hazily as she walked past.
"Exactly," agreed Hermione with a nod as Luna drifted off to watch a mime at the street corner. "You're the one who wanted a gladiator show – "
"Now hold on!" laughed Ginny. "I wanted to see some intense pitching, not a bloody circus!"
"Well, we certainly got that, didn't we?" said Hermione. "And in spades, no less! 'Just a graze', he said – I'm beginning to think we should've dissaparated!"
Ginny had a playful twinkle in her eye. "And live the rest of our lives on the lam?"
Hermione sighed. "Well...anyway...what's done is done." She looked to Luna, who was now posing questions to an obviously perplexed street performer.
She cocked her head to Ginny, a hint of a smile on her face.
"Someone needs rescuing, I think."
"Yes, and it's not Luna," replied the redhead impishly. "Come on – "
By the time they'd managed to pull Luna away from the spectacle the man with the white-painted face had long since abandoned all sense of mime decorum.
"He's a rather odd fellow, isn't he?" remarked Luna dreamily as she was being whisked away by her giggling friends down the crowded street. "I couldn't quite make out what he was saying though...was that one of their local dialects?"
"Pig Latin," replied Ginny.
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"I know!" exclaimed Ginny unexpectedly, making Hermione jump slightly. "We haven't seen the zoo yet! They've got a great one here – what say you guys?"
"Oh, not – "
"Oh yes!" chimed Luna happily, clasping her hands together in excitement. "We'll get to the baboons!"
Hermione sighed. "Fine, the zoo then," she said unexcitedly. "I'm always getting outvoted..."
"Oh, come on," said Ginny as she wrapped her arms around her friends' waists. "Don't be like that. Tell you what, tomorrow you pick what we do for the day, how about it?"
Hermione's countenance changed immediately as they slowly ambled along the sidewalk. "The Met, then?" she suggested hopefully.
Ginny's shoulders drooped slightly. "Ugh."
"Oh! I've heard of that place," exclaimed Luna enthusiastically. "They're supposed to have the most wonderful exhibitions: the head of the Headless Horseman, Amelia Earhart's boa constrictor – it's stuffed, nowadays, of course – and the original draft copy of Milton's Row Row Your Boat – oh, we really must see that!"
Hermione and Ginny looked at each other with skewed expressions.
"You know, it'll be worth going just to see how she reacts to the abstract art," said Ginny with a wry smile as Hermione reached over and pulled the bill of Luna's baseball cap to the front.
"They have artwork also?" asked Luna, resolutely readjusting her cap to point to the side once again. "I don't recall seeing any mention of that in the brochure...this should be a very interesting museum!"
Alarm bells rang loudly in Hermione head. "Er, Luna...where'd you get that brochure, exactly?"
"Frederick gave it to me."
Hermione slowly shook her head. "I'm really going to have to talk to those boys..."
They continued on down the busy streets, arm in arm, searching for one of the city's ubiquitous hod dog vendors when they made their way past a long lineup waiting outside a cinema.
Luna glanced at the billing. They'd gone half a block when she suddenly chimed in. "If that Batman fellow were to play base-ball, would he use a Bat bat?"
Hermione and Ginny just looked at each other and smiled.
"Absolutely!" said Ginny as Hermione glanced at the sky pleadingly.
"He would?" asked Luna, surprised.
"Certainly! What else would he use?" replied Ginny.
A pause. "I'm sorry, I thought I was making a joke," said Luna.
"Oh, no, he's quite real, you know," said Ginny very seriously.
The redhead giggled mischievously and pulled her friends close.
"I love you guys..."