A Quidditch Match
For Arctic Fire:
Because even Harry Potter can't be saving the world every minute of every day!
Harry stepped out onto the Quidditch pitch and took a deep, cleansing breath of warm air, slightly damp and smelling of new-mown grass. It was in great shape for the coming Quidditch season; all the goal hoops were freshly painted and one whole section of stands had been rebuilt after Letty Burns had nearly fallen through a rotting board last year. It was good to be back here, after the terrible summer they'd had in the United States. Coming home released a constriction on his breathing that had seemed to build up all summer, like he wasn't properly alive unless he was home. And the Quidditch pitch was a place where he could forget Annie Bradshaw's death and all the frustrations that were sure to come with Shawn Randall adjusting to his new life here.
All in all, he was sad about giving it up.
There was little choice about it, since he couldn't make the full-time commitment Minerva needed from a Quidditch coach. He'd barely scraped together enough time last year, and Hogwarts was rapidly becoming the bustling, packed castle it had been when he first remembered it. They needed a real Quidditch coach, and this girl who had applied seemed perfect. She had just moved into a little cottage in Hogsmeade, so she was apparently certain of landing the position—as well she should be, she was a former professional Quidditch player who'd retired from the Holyhead Harpies last year.
Harry just hoped she showed up soon. Ginny wanted him to get back home to help her with a doxy infestation she'd found in the attic, and that would probably take all afternoon. Harry wanted to have time to play with the kids tonight. After their weird summer, he wanted to make sure they were settling back in. He usually didn't care if people were a couple of minutes late, but it bothered him that she was late to a job interview when she lived only minutes away.
The sight of someone on a broom caught his eye from the down the hill that led to Hogsmeade, and he assumed it was her. He judged her riding form. Low against the broom for speed, good control, and as she got closer, he saw that she had a good grip, knew the proper hand placement. She swerved around a bird taking flight from a tree with quick grace, and recovered her riding position easily. Harry didn't know much about this girl, but he pegged her as a Chaser immediately.
As she descended and came down to land, she nearly drove her broom into the ground—about an inch from Harry. Her landing was perfect, meant to make him jump, but he didn't. He had seen show-offs before. When she got off the broom, she stumbled, no surprise after that landing, and she nearly fell over, regaining her feet while her hair spilled over her face.
One arm swept around, gathering the tangled mess of blond curls, and pushed it back to tumble behind her shoulders. Fetchingly pink lips parted in a smile that ignored her terrible landing, and she put out her hand.
"I'm Scarlett, you must be Mr. Potter."
"It's Harry, Ms. Dewberry."
"Likewise, Harry, as I said, I'm Scarlett."
They shook hands, then she reclaimed hers to finger-comb her hair. A second's work and suddenly the mess was just an elegant tumble of gorgeous hair. Harry was astounded by the trick. Scarlett Dewberry, he'd imagined, must get a lot of very silly comments about her name. But not if the person was looking at her. She wasn't beautiful at all, her face was strong and square, but the exuberance in her posture and sparkle in her eyes, complemented by a rose-petal complexion and those beautiful blond curls, were stunning.
Harry recovered quickly. He was married to Ginny, after all. Questions of marriage aside, this girl did not hold a candle to Ginny's blazing enthusiasm for life and her spirited beauty.
"I must say, Harry, it's a real pleasure to meet you," she gushed. "I'd heard that you could have easily gotten yourself a position on a pro Quidditch team. It's astounding that you'd give up such an amazing opportunity to do police work, but—"
"I love my job immensely," Harry broke in. "Besides, you're the one who played professionally, not me. I hear you just left the Harpies last year. I guess I was expecting you to be a bit older."
"I had to retire because one of our Beaters last year decided to play without telling anyone she was on medication. She passed out cold when she was supposed to be blocking me. She landed in the grass and barely bruised, and there I was with no elbow left to speak of after the Bludger made a dirty great mess of it." Scarlett held out her arm on display, and Harry couldn't help but grimace at the way her forearm didn't really align with her upper arm properly. "I can't throw a Quaffle to save my life anymore."
"Have you had a Healer take a proper look at it?" Harry asked, frowning with curiosity over the oddly angled arm—smooth, pale, skin clear as day barring a thick scar near her wrist, and lightly corded with muscle. She was a Quidditch player, all right. "I know that they can do wonders with injuries to joints, my—"
"It's been looked at," she said impatiently. "Besides, teaching the youngsters will still allow me to do what I love, after all. I don't have to play the game to be involved in it. I was considering a job in the Department of Magical Sports and Games, but I couldn't be stuck behind a desk like that."
Harry had a hard time imagining this young woman behind a desk for five minutes, much less all day. He wondered how she had survived school. She must have begun at Hogwarts just at the time he'd left the school to hunt down Horcruxes with Ron and Hermione.
"Let's take a walk," Harry suggested, leading them on a path across the pitch to the equipment shed, a large stone building that had obviously been built as part of the castle. "I want to show you everything."
"Oh, don't worry, Harry, I've seen it," she said with assurance. "I was Hufflepuff team captain during my time at the school, so I'm pretty familiar with everything."
"Oh, good," he said. "Well, I'd better show you just exactly where everything goes in the equipment room, anyway. Draco spent most of his first year here sorting it out—you wouldn't believe how unorganized Charlie Weasley was—and it's stayed that way during my time because I've been threatened with death and dismemberment if I don't keep it straight. I imagine you'll get the same treatment."
Scarlett's face looked curious, though she couldn't seem to find the words for her question.
"Yes?" Harry prompted.
"What's he like?"
"Malfoy. I've heard he's very nice and good with children and a real family man, but . . . he did belong to Voldemort, once."
Harry scowled. "Why don't you find out for yourself?" he answered.
"I'm sure I will," she said, still confident she would be hired for the position. "As soon as I start teaching—"
"Or right now," Harry cut her off, giving Draco a nod as he came across the grass toward them, looking excited. He'd already given up the cane again, having only needed it for a few weeks while he was recovering from the Ran incident, but he was still limping very noticeably.
Scarlett spun around, her blue eyes wide. "Oooo, is that him?" she asked in a low voice of almost sultry excitement.
Harry rolled his eyes. Yet another woman who loved the bad-boy image. It got to be rather annoying, after a bit. How come women weren't flocking to him all the time? Aurors were just as sexy as former fugitives from justice—or so Ginny repeatedly assured him. Maybe he ought to rough up a prisoner or two, get it in the morning paper. Of course, he was nearing thirty, and he had three kids and a wife. Perhaps having a sexy public image ought to be a little lower on his priority list.
"Good day," Draco called. "You must be Scarlett Dewberry."
Harry tried to tell himself he was imagining Draco's smirk over the mouthful of her name, but he knew better. Draco could get away with it.
"Please call me Scarlett," she said, suddenly demure.
"All right, Scarlett, it's a pleasure to meet you. I know Harry's the one showing you around today, but I wanted to introduce myself. I'll be the one to talk to if you need any help while you're here."
Scarlett returned the warmth with enthusiasm, and followed them both to the equipment shed, then Draco left to oversee a shipment of some sort of venom or another while Harry took Scarlett through the locker rooms to show her what he'd changed in the last couple of years.
At the end of it, Harry had to admit that Scarlett's confidence was more than just bravado. She was a competent, intelligent woman as well as an experienced Quidditch player. He supposed he ought to be concerned that she was so young—only twenty-three—but he didn't have much room to talk, and the kids listened to Greg Kilburne, roughly her same age, just fine.
Talk turned to her past Quidditch career while they were winding down, and when Harry heard the wistfulness in her voice about how much she missed playing, chivalry demanded his response.
"I know you can't play professionally anymore, but a few colleagues of mine get together for a little match every week or two, just for fun. It's mostly Ministry employees, but Draco's joined us before, and it's pretty casual. Would you like to come sometime?"
Her eyes lit up so brightly that Harry almost had to squint. She exclaimed with eagerness, flung her arms around him, and hugged him tightly, shocking him speechless.
"Thank you, Harry, that's wonderful of you! Oh, I'd love to!"
After she'd gone, Draco reemerged from the castle while Harry was meandering out of the wards to Apparate home, and followed him down the lane toward Hogsmeade.
"That woman is in love with you," he observed.
"She just hugged you, or didn't you notice? Harry," he said mockingly, fluttering his eyelashes as best he could.
"I did, actually. You're the one she was getting all gushy about!"
Draco shrugged. "Maybe she's just exuberant, then."
"Yeah," Harry grunted, kicking a rock. Maybe he ought to rethink this invitation. Maybe he could pretend to break his leg at work so he couldn't go. No, they'd expect him to be ready if it was just a broken leg. Damn. Well, he'd think of something.
"Who's coming today?" Ginny asked, toweling her hair dry after her shower. She peeked out from under the towel, standing bent half-over, when Harry didn't answer. "Harry."
"Huh?" he responded, still looking at his profile in the mirror.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "You're still looking very trim, darling," she said. "I wouldn't worry about love handles just yet."
Harry made a face at her, and pulled his shirt on. He smiled when he watched her start combing her hair back into a tight ponytail for the game. She had such beautiful red hair, even more beautiful by candlelight . . . well. That was last night, and this was today. They had a Quidditch match to prepare for.
"So," she said loudly, "who's coming today?"
Harry squinted thoughtfully. "The usual crowd. Fritz is going to come, I think. Bartles, from the Internal Affairs office. And I invited the new Quidditch coach at Hogwarts."
"That Newberry girl?"
"Dewberry," he corrected. "Yes, her. She's thrilled, by the way."
"After spending all this time without being able to play, I can imagine," Ginny answered, and turned around. "There, how do I look?"
"Like my one and only Sunshine," he answered, and gave her a kiss. He took his time. Granted, he had limited experience with women, but he was pretty sure no one tasted as good as Ginny did.
They Apparated to the farm owned by Muggle Relations employee Paul Whickers. They played Quidditch above his cow pasture and tried really hard not to fall off their brooms. Of course, nothing had been funnier than the day Brandy had fallen. She'd missed all the cow patties by a happy miracle, but the look of surprise on the cow's face had been unforgettable.
"Hey, Ginny," Harry said slowly. He was just now coming to the realization that Ginny, as their best Chaser, and Scarlett, undoubtedly as good, would be put on opposing teams. This seemed like a recipe for trouble, if Draco was right about her. "Want to do something different?"
"I don't see Chester. Play Seeker?"
"You want me to play opposite you?" she confirmed.
Harry nodded, smiling brightly. She squinted as if she saw through him, then grinned.
"This should be fun."
Ginny greeted Miss Dewberry coolly, as if she was already aware of the situation, but more likely because she was feeling a pang of regret for never having the opportunity to join the Harpies herself. As usual, they didn't have enough interested people for a full game. There were only two Chasers and one Beater per side. Since Chester wasn't there to play Seeker and Ginny filled in the role, it opened up a space for Scarlett to play. She was obviously in her element as they mounted their brooms and got underway. She was swooping around the other players with ease, coming up with silly taunts, and basically inserting herself into their routine smoothly. Ginny was just as good as Scarlett was, Harry noticed, so it wasn't throwing anyone off to have a professional-level player around. Still, Scarlett was having to push herself. She couldn't throw the Quaffle like she used to, so she had to outmaneuver everyone to get herself closer to the "goal hoop," a ring of light Mrs. Whickers maintained during their play. He found himself watching Ginny, comparing her movements to Scarlett's, and realizing that Ginny could have gone pro so easily. He felt really, really guilty. It was him, and Matt, that had made it so she couldn't.
"Hey, Potter!" Ginny shouted from halfway across the pasture. "I know you're distracted by your attraction to the opposite team—" she struck a slightly suggestive pose to indicate herself "—but as a Seeker, your job is to look for the Snitch!"
"It is?" he called out in mock surprise. "Merlin! All this time I thought it just provided me a better view of the other team's Seeker!" He forced away his melancholy. They'd dealt with this issue already, and Ginny was happy with the life they had.
"I always knew there was something between you and that Seeker Cedric Diggory!" she shouted.
"Nothing between us but my attraction to women!"
"Women, you say?"
"Well, a woman," he conceded, wiggling his eyebrows at her. He'd sort of forgotten about the rest of the team, but he heard Kyle groan when Scarlett got past him.
"Damn, woman!" he said in frustration. "Stop moving!"
Scarlett retorted, but Harry had been reminded of the match they were playing, and his attentions were refocused on actually playing Seeker and finding the Snitch. He knew Scarlett must have overheard him outrageously flirting with his wife, as they often tended to do during the games, so he hoped that had solved the problem entirely.
He was swooping low to look at something shiny when he heard Ginny shout,
He grinned without taking his eyes off his course for a second. She was always like this when they played.
"Yeah, Potter?" he responded.
"I thought you were busy viewing the other Seeker!" she growled in frustration, blazing alongside him. So, he was right, the shiny thing was the Snitch, and he'd seen it first. She was trying to distract him because she hadn't seen it in time. He put on an extra burst of speed, then the Snitch took an abrupt turn upward. He cursed, watching Ginny, still above him, correct herself much more quickly than he did. He shot up with desperate speed, nearly giving himself whiplash, but Ginny was way ahead of him.
"Got ya!" she crowed in triumph, stretching out her hand. Then the Snitch darted sideways, right around Scarlett Dewberry, whom Ginny smacked into so hard they made an audible thunking noise. They both cried out in pain and fell from their brooms, landing on the ground while the rest of the players gasped and tried to catch them. Harry had been only a second behind his wife, and narrowly avoided the same collision. He quickly joined them on the ground.
"Are you all right?" he asked anxiously.
"Fine," Scarlett answered first, a little grin on her face. "God, I haven't played a rough game in ages!"
"I'm not," Ginny answered sourly. She made no move to take the hand Harry was extending toward her. Fritz was helping Scarlett up, even though she was looking at Harry as though expecting his assistance. Harry had grabbed Ginny's broom, and he set their two brooms down gently, kneeling beside her.
"What's wrong?" he asked, reaching into his hip holster for his wand.
She waved her hand at the wand, dismissing it. "I can't get up."
"Ginny, what happened?" he asked in a breathless voice.
She grimaced. "I don't want to get up, I mean."
"You— oh," Harry said, and a smile crept over his face. "Oh."
"Don't you dare enjoy this, Harry," Ginny said in warning, her face dark and scowling.
"I can't help it, Sunshine," he nearly giggled. "I got the Snitch—" he showed her the ball he'd grabbed on his way down to check on her, making her scowl even deeper "—and you got shit."
"Thank you for summing it up so nicely," she snapped. "I want to go home now."
"Oh, Ginny, no one will blame you," he said, really giggling now. "Falling off your broom can be really scary. They'll understand if, in your moment of panic, you lost control of—"
Ginny had scooted herself several inches to the right while he was talking, revealing that she had indeed landed squarely on a cow patty. When he started laughing, she grabbed him firmly by the neck, and with a sudden and sharp movement, yanked his head down as hard as she could. Completely surprised, Harry flung himself forward to avoid face-planting in it. Instead, he slid nearly a foot in it and smeared it down his shirt all the way to his waist.
"Ginny!" he hollered, jumping up.
She was clambering to her feet, too. "Teach you to laugh!" she said austerely.
The incongruity of her haughty attitude while she had cow poop all over her butt was too much, and Harry just started to laugh again. At least, until he turned around, and sucked in a deep breath.
"Greg! When did you get here?"
"Just now," Greg Kilburne answered, clearly enjoying the entertainment. He had linked his arm with Scarlett's, and she leaned into his side comfortably.
"Scarlett, I didn't know you and Greg . . ."
"Of course," she said brightly. "Didn't I tell you? I moved to Hogsmeade so I could be closer to him. He only thought to tell me about the new position opening up at the school a few weeks ago, the silly boy." She leaned over to peck him lightly on the cheek. Unembarrassed by the affection, Greg just smiled.
"Looks like you had a good game," he commented casually.
"Right up to the part where my husband won while I was still falling through the air," Ginny said, punching Harry lightly on the arm. "You all really must excuse us. I'm going home to burn my clothing and stay in the shower for three days."
"Likewise," Harry said, lifting a hand in farewell. "Fritz, see you Monday."
"Bye, Harry, bye Ginny," everyone chorused.
"Why did Brandy get to be the one to fall on the damned cow?" Ginny grumbled as she waved goodbye.
"Yeah?" Draco asked, not looking up from the chess game he was playing with Ran. The women were in the kitchen. Harry was just watching the game.
"You know that Greg and Scarlett just got engaged, right?"
"Greg might have mentioned it today when I talked to him."
"So that whole Scarlett-being-in-love-with-me thing . . ."
"I guess it was just exuberance, then," he murmured, moving a piece so slowly that Ran rolled his eyes and huffed impatiently.
"Oh, you think?" Harry said irritably.
"Well, it might have been flirting. It's hard to tell, sometimes."
"Yes?" he said, finally looking up.
"You're a bloody idiot."
"I know," he replied, grinning. "But you love me anyway."
"Hmph," Harry answered. That was really all he could say.