Author's note: If you're wondering when I started working on this chapter, I had a previous author's note saying that I was just trying to post this before I went to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Meanwhile, my thanks and apologies go to Kateydidnt. She came up with the premise of the middle bit and when I needed a good laugh to put me back in the right mindset, she suggested we watch Clue. Bam, I was back in the mood to write something Potter on Boxing Day. And, finally, in my defense, I have been spending a lot of time on Pottermore.
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It was hard to tell what had me more on edge: Friday's game against Kenmare or Hufflepuff's game against Slytherin the following day. I shouldn't have had much time to think about it that week, since I had loads of work to do before I could even think about my weekend plans, but on Tuesday night, Harry unearthed me from a pile of books and took his seat on the couch with a very serious air about him.
"It comes down to this," he said solemnly. "I can get you out of double Potions on Friday if you want to go to Kenmare, but there's a chance we won't make it back for the Hufflepuff-Slytherin match."
"What, are you mad?" I started counting on my fingers. "Wimbourne they finished in five hours. They squeaked by Holyhead in only two. The longest any of their games has gone in the last month has been nine hours and that was because of the fog."
"That's true," Harry granted, "but this is Kenmare and I've done some checking on their competitive history."
He pulled out a parchment and stabbed a finger at a date. "November 21, 1994. Kenmare versus Chudley, twenty-four hours. February the third, 1995, they kept going so long that they had to cancel several other matches. And according to the standings, they have to win the match by more than one hundred points to gain a true lead over Tutshill. In terms of scoring, they're still slightly behind."
"In other words, they won't go down without a fight," I agreed. "And you want to know if I want to be there or watching Cauldwell annihilate a few cocky purebloods."
He grinned at that. "I guess that's my answer," he said. "Do you want to charm Professor Slughorn or shall I?"
"You've got other things to worry about," I pointed out. "I don't expect you to come home from training at the Ministry and have to butter up the Potions master."
"I'll leave it to you, then," he said. He leaned over and charmed my books to float back to the study table that I was using as my second workspace. "What's tonight's bane?"
"McGonagall," I growled. "I was supposed to be turning a coat into a fox, but all I could manage was a stuffed animal. I have extra homework to explain why I didn't bring it to life."
"Your mind was on other things?" he suggested.
That was an understatement for this week, but not actually the reason that I had failed the practical assignment. "No," I corrected. "I didn't much fancy having a fox running loose in the third-floor corridor."
I extracted a back issue of Transfiguration Today from the middle of the stack. "This one is supposed to have a feature on 'Breath of Life Transfiguration Tricks,'" I commented. "What about you?"
He Summoned the stack of parchment that he'd been reviewing before dinner and sighed. "Appearance charms. They want to make me do a basic assessment on Thursday and that's one of the things that I never bothered with."
"You were never a fourth-year Gryffindor girl," I pointed out. "All of us went through a vain period at one time or another."
"Really," he chuckled. "You would have thought that I'd notice if you turned up with warts."
"Of course you would have, but one day, I practiced a shortening charm on my hair and you asked if I had a new scarf on," I pointed out.
His eyebrows drew together as he obviously tried to place the event. "How much did you shorten it?"
"Eight inches." I grinned. "To be fair, I did have a new scarf."
"Well, as long as I got that right."
I uncapped my ink bottle and started writing a quote from the breath of life article. As soon as I'd closed the magazine, Harry spoke up again.
"I'll write a letter to Slughorn," Harry offered. "You do the actual wheedling."
That would leave it up to chance whether or not Slughorn could show favoritism to an absent person. If nothing else, I would keep a Puking Pastille in my pocket as a backup plan. Slughorn was brilliant at Potions, but I'd heard tell that he'd gone green when a first-year was sick at the sight of armadillo bile. A mystery case of the stomach flu would surely get me out.
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As it turned out, Slughorn canceled his lessons on Friday to lecture at a meeting of the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers. If it weren't for having double Transfiguration on Friday mornings, I would have skived off and we could have made our escape Thursday night.
Friday morning, though, I was finishing that essay for McGonagall when I heard a loud hissing from the fireplace. I turned towards the source of the sound and promptly dropped my quill on the floor.
"Morning, Hermione," I said, trying to sound casual. "Nice of you to drop in."
"Morning," she said in a slightly breathless voice. "Is Harry around? You should both hear this."
I raised my wand and cast a tangus in the direction of our door. It wasn't one that I used often, but it knocked when I was too lazy to get up and didn't want to shout down the dorm. A moment later, Harry came out, smoothing his hair and pulling on a sweatshirt.
I nodded towards the fireplace and he straightened his glasses before blinking at the bushy-haired best friend's disembodied head.
"Morning, Hermione," he said as if this were just what he was expecting early on a Friday morning. "Has my wife offered you some toast?"
"I would have sent an owl," Hermione said immediately, "but this isn't something that can wait."
We both sat down on the couch facing the fire and waited for her to go on.
"I just got owl post from Wendelyn Woodward," she explained. "I haven't talked to most of the Order, but Ron has, too, which means you're next."
"New girl at the Prophet," Hermione said. "She wants to have a few words with all of us for an upcoming piece."
"Does this have something to do with the Battle of Hogwarts?" Harry sounded more resigned than tired now.
"It's coming up on a year," Hermione confirmed. "They want to do a 'Where are they now' sort of a piece and it seems Woodward is looking to make her mark."
"Well, now that Rita Skeeter is a full-time biographer, why not?" I sniggered. "There must be a deozen people willing to fill her smelly old shoes."
"Exactly," Hermione sighed. She turned her head to look at Harry directly. "I've read her work and she's not bad. She's not very good yet, but she's no Skeeter. I thought you should be warned."
"I'll expect her owl," he said. "I don't know what I'll do about it, but I'll expect it. Have you or Ron responded?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "You know Ron," she said. "He'd rather eat a vomit-flavored jelly bean than talk about his feelings."
"You don't have to remind me," Harry said with a smirk. "It'd be St. Mungo's all over again."
"'And what was your reaction to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's ultimatum?' 'Yeah, that's not something you need to know, is it? I mean, do you really think that'll help?'"
"She'd be in tears after ten minutes," I commented. "I think he'd be doing her a favor by refusing to talk. Set it up anyway and sell tickets."
Hermione shot me a reproachful look that she must have borrowed from Mum. "You're doing all right?" she asked. "I've barely had a note from you since the housewarming."
"Harry's at the Ministry half the night and I've got loads of homework," I pointed out. "We'll set aside a Sunday to write you a nice long letter."
"When's the next Hogsmeade visit?" Harry asked. "It might be easier to meet up then."
"Saturday next," I recalled. "Meet us at noon in the Hog's Head and see if you can't get my brother to come along."
"I don't think he'll be hard to convince," Hermione said. "Ron keeps banging on about the Kenmare match tonight, so I assume you're going?"
"Wouldn't miss it," I confirmed. "If Slughorn weren't already skiving, I'd be sneaking off before the end of lessons."
"Good." She gave Harry a pointed look. "You're both under a lot of pressure and I will be checking in with one or both of you to make sure you're not taking yourselves too seriously."
"You sound like George," I complained. "I'm a Weasley by birth and a Potter by marriage. I think I can work out the meaning of a holiday on my own."
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We usually didn't dress up for the matches. I'd seen the nutters—usually the Darymples—half-naked and painted in Cannons colours. I've seen pudgy babies dressed as cannonballs. I even once saw a Wimbourne fan Transfigure himself badly into a kind of human wasp.
Given that this was a special occasion, though, we decided to play it up a bit. Harry painted his face orange and I put my hair in two plaits woven through with black ribbons and tied off in orange. If the Cannons won tonight, there would be plenty of photos in the Prophet and I wanted to have a good chance of making it into them. And if they lost, at least I'd have had fun doing watching it.
Normally, when we went on a trip, we would make a weekend of it. It had been years since I'd seen a match on Irish soil and I knew Harry had never been to the Ring of Kerry, so we could have had a nice romantic getaway.
But the fact of the matter was, the only thing we cared about more fervently than the outcome of the Kenmare-Chudley match was seeing Hufflepuff v. Slytherin. If they didn't overlap, we were determined to turn up at both and finding a nice B&B in Cahersiveen where we could be uninterrupted by Peeves was not in the plan.
The problem was, something else not in the plan turned up at the match. Chudley was up 50-40, a properly close score, when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
"Ginny," Maggie said cheerfully, "you remember our John, don't you?"
I remembered John Lwellyn as a specky teenager who spilled his butterbeer in my hair during the League playoffs four years ago, but I wasn't about to say that. I turned around quickly and gave him a polite handshake.
"Harry, this is John, Maggie's oldest. John, this is my husband, Harry."
"I recognize you right enough," John said over the screams of the other fans when Chudley scored a moment later. "Me and Wendy were in Oliver Wood's year."
"John was in Hufflepuff and his sister is the Elsie Llwellyn who's a second-year Gryffindor now."
"Wendy, though…" He hooked an arm over the shoulders of a thin, black-haired girl who was looking a little too pleased to see us both. "Third-generation Ravenclaw."
"If he marries her, there'll finally be some brains on the male side of the family," Maggie muttered to me.
"Nice to meet you both," Harry said politely, shaking hands as was expected of him. "Harry Potter."
"Wendelyn Woodward," Wendy replied.
The name clicked immediately and it must have shown because she grinned even more broadly. "I'm guessing you got my owl?" she asked innocently.
"Must have missed it," I said honestly, "but we've heard of you."
"I'm not here on business," she promised.
I didn't believe that for a second, but as long as she wasn't about to break down and demand an interview right then and there, I wasn't letting her spoil my match. I gave her my most winning smile and turned back to see Kenmare's Elspeth Finch score. The scoreboard flashed 70-50. At least I hadn't missed anything terribly important.
A few minutes later, though, just after Chudley had lengthened its lead to 90-50, there was a groan from the crowd. Sullivan, the male Beater on Kenmare, had smacked Gorgovitch upside the face and there had to be a time out for the mediwizards to do their thing. I was tugging nervously on the ends of my plaits and straining to see if he was at least conscious when I heard Harry ask Wendy for a quick word. Gorgovitch forgotten, I turned to him.
"Want me to…"
"Fancy a walk?" he asked.
We headed for the entrance to the pitch and followed the path under the stands where people were usually selling candy floss or roasted chestnuts. I found Harry's hand and latched on firmly so he knew whose side I was on.
"I told you I'm not here on busness," Wendy said with a tight smile.
"And I appreciate that," Harry said quietly. "You're doing me a favor by not cornering me, so I'm going to do you a favor and answer your owl now."
"Me, too," I added.
Harry's grip tightened on my hand and he pulled a straight face. "I know that you've got your reasons for wanting to talk to the survivors," he said. "Hermione tells me you're new at the Prophet and you're probably tired of writing the adverts for Madam Malkin's…"
"Mrs. Skower's," she corrected, the edges of her mouth twitching. "I'm not doing this for the glory, if that's what you're saying."
"I don't know you, so I don't know why I think you're doing it." I had to admire Harry's lack of prejudice. I'd made up my mind to dislike her as soon as I heard that she wanted to interview us. "And I'm not going to insult you by making a guess. But there are a lot of things that happened last year and I've told the public everything they need to know. I don't like to talk about it and that's not going to change just because you ask nicely."
"But there are so many unanswered questions," she pressed, dropping all pretense of not being here on business. "You spoke on Severus Snape's behalf, called him a hero. You disappeared for months and returned just to turn yourself in. You…"
Harry held up his free hand. "I've told the public everything they need to know," he repeated himself. "I will promise that, if I ever decide to change my mind, I'll think of you first."
She turned a warily hopeful expression to me, but I shook my head. "I don't have as thrilling a tale to tell," I informed her, "but I like talking about it even less. If I ever change my mind, you'll know that I'm either dead or under the Imperius curse."
"I'll remember that," she said with a sigh. "Anything else?"
"Yeah." I dug into my pocket and pulled out a few sickles. "Care to join us in a butterbeer?"
We got back to the pitch just as the ref called the appropriate foul and the announcer called out that reserve Chaser Laura Fretwell was being substituted in for Gorgovitch.
"Oh, good," Harry said. "We didn't miss anything."
The problem with a player injury in Quidditch is that it makes everyone play like schoolchildren for the next little while. The Chasers passed the Quaffle so slowly that a very determined hornet could have intercepted it without being knocked off course. The Keeper barely had to try to guard the posts. For the next thirty minutes, we watched avidly and tried not to yawn.
I wasn't sure who decided to stir things up, but forty-five minutes after Gorgovitch had been carried off to the locker room, something snapped. One of the Chudley Beaters darted between Finch and Dyer and, instead of hitting a Bludger, slammed his bat into the Quaffle itself. Fretwell seized it and streaked up the pitch, scoring on Kenmare before the ref could even decide if that counted as a foul or not. When no whistle blew, there was an even louder roar of enthusiasm from Chudley's fans than when the intercept had happened.
"YES!" Darby shouted from the announcer's box. "Fretwell's filch stands and the score is now 120-60 to the Cannons."
"Brilliant!" I shouted towards the unappreciated Beater who had let Fretwell filch the Quaffle in the first place. "Come on, then!"
Harry was on his feet as well, but for a completely different reason. Knightley had swerved around a Wimbourne Beater and seized the bat. The Beater, swung it angrily over her head, trying to shake off the insane Seeker…
And on the downward swing of the Beater's bat, Knightley swiped the Snitch from the air less than a foot from the opposing Beater's head.
I was practically knocked to the ground as Maggie leapt onto my back from the row behind us. Charlie Darymple grabbed us both and swung us around, knocking into Harry as the scoreboard flashed 270-60.
For the first time in years, the Cannons were officially first in the League.