Eighty-four Days: A Good Match
The wind was gusting from the north, and its arctic blasts were cold enough to make Harry's cheeks sting. He looked up into the clear and cloudless sky; it was the sort of flying weather Ginny loved. As he followed the chattering orange-clad crowds through Uppandown Wood, Harry wondered which combination of Beaters the Harpies would be playing. He had his own ideas of course, every fan did.
As Harry neared the stadium he spotted his two best friends in the distance. They were standing outside the Gold Club entrance, waiting for him to arrive. Ron, like most of his fellow fans, was in orange. He wore a bright orange sweater with the double-C logo of the Cannons on the front, together with a matching hat and scarf. Hermione had, as she usually did during these games, decided to remain neutral. She wore a smart burgundy-coloured coat with matching gloves and cloche; she was a solitary red berry on the edge of a sea of orange.
On seeing that Ron was already wearing his team's colours, Harry pulled his own hat and scarf from his pockets and put them on. It would help his friends to spot him in the crowd, but it was also a provocative act, he knew that. He was still adjusting his scarf when someone shouted at him. It was friendly banter; the Cannons fans were a good-natured bunch, and they rarely indulged in serious name-calling or violence. Ginny always told Ron that it was because they weren't very good at hooliganism, either.
'Yeh migh' need a new pair o' glasses, pal. The visiting fans entrance is the other side o' the ground.' The dumpy little middle-aged man who shouted at Harry was wearing a knitted orange pullover Harry glanced at the orange sphere, which was straining under enormous pressure as it fought a losing battle with the man's belly, and tried not to think of him as a giant Satsuma.
Harry caught the man's eyes and grinned. 'I only come here once a year and I always sit on this side of the ground. My mate's a Cannons fan,' he called. 'He's so daft about them that my girlfriend and I bought him Gold Club membership for Christmas.'
As Harry shouted back, he saw the man's eyes widen in recognition. Glancing around, he realised that many other fans had recognised him, too. He heard the name "Harry Potter" as it whispered its way through the crowds.
Now it will really start, Harry thought. He was right.
'Do us all a favour, Potter. Get your girl up the duff sharpish-like,' someone shouted. Harry looked, but was unable to identify the owner of the voice.
'He don't need to, the Harpies are off their game anyway. Their new beaters are crap,' someone else said.
And so the banter ended and the heckling began. Words; some sharp, some blunt, some witty, some witless, buzzed around Harry like maddened bees. Many were attempting to sting him, but he was immune to most. He caught only a handful of the dozens of shouted comments, and they were easily swatted away.
'The Harpies Chasers aren't much better. That's why they're dropping down the league.'
'Yeah, they've almost dropped into the bottom half of the table! They won't be getting into the European Champions League this year.'
'Huh, so what? When's the last time we qualified for Europe?'
'I know that. It were a rhetorical question, ye' nugget.'
'Weasley's still scoring.'
'I'd like to score wi' 'er.' Harry heard that particularly gruff and lust filled voice with perfect clarity. He usually did, his ears seemed to have an uncanny ability to attune to the words he didn't like to hear. He looked around, but the owner of the voice was well hidden within the crowd. That was when the swarm of words turned a little nastier, and really tried to sting him.
'What's she like in the sack, Potter? If she's as energetic as she is in the air, I'm surprised that she hasn't broken yer broom.'
'Seen the calendar? They've used the pictures in the match programme.'
'Yeah, it's true what they say, Ginny has her knockers.'
'Yeah, and I'd like to get a hold of 'em.'
'She should play in that bikini.'
There was a lot of laughter, but Harry clenched his teeth and didn't rise to the bait. He'd heard it all before, he reminded himself sternly. After three years of following Ginny to almost every game, both home and away, he'd eventually become used to the catcalls. Every Harpies player was subjected to ribald, rude and sometimes sexually explicit comments by the opposing teams' fans. As the final few comments proved, the Official Harpies 2003 Swimsuit Calendar hadn't helped matters.
'Don't listen to 'em,' a wizened and ancient witch who was hobbling along next to Harry observed under her breath. 'Hearing this lot, you wouldn't think that, even though they're off-form, the Harpies are a lot higher up the league than us. We're still rubbish; I don't know why I bother coming here.'
'I do,' Harry told her. He leaned in close and whispered conspiratorially. 'It's because you're a fan.' The old lady chuckled and patted his arm.
Because Harry wasn't rising to their baiting, the fans simply began chanting: 'Cannons! Cannons!' The chant increased in volume as the crowds approached the turnstiles. The queues were forming rapidly, snaking their way into the woods from the entrances. Harry moved sideways past the queues and towards Ron and Hermione, who were still standing outside the ornate glass canopy which sheltered members of the Cannons' Gold Club.
'Hi, Ron, Happy birthday,' said Harry, giving his friend a quick brotherly hug before turning to Ron's wife. 'Hi, Hermione.'
'Hi, Harry,' said Hermione, hugging him and kissing his cheek.
'Your present is still at Grimmauld Place, Ron. We'll give it to you after the game,' Harry told his friend.
'Thanks, mate. Ready for a trouncing?' Ron asked. He stepped back and rubbed his hands in anticipation.
Harry snorted with laughter. 'The Harpies haven't been playing well this season, Ron, but they aren't so badly off form that the Cannons will be able to beat them.'
'Huh,' Ron gave a dismissive shrug.
'How is the wedding planning going?' Hermione interjected. 'Is everything organised?'
'Almost,' Harry lied, not looking her in the eyes.
Hermione didn't argue, instead she simply showed her disbelief with a sceptical look powerful enough to make his stomach churn. Turning away, she led her husband and her friend into the Cannon's ground. While Hermione was showing the Gold Club season pass to the reception-witch, and ordering teas and pies for their box in the executive area of the ground, Ron took the opportunity to return the conversation to the Quidditch match they were about to see.'
We're sure to win,' said Ron as they made their way through the corridor which led to the executive box.
'No you're not,' said Harry confidently.
'We are,' said Ron. He raised his fist to count the points in his team's favour, and began by unfurling his little finger. 'One, your team lost their International Seeker last summer when she went back to Australia and her replacement—what's her name?'
'Jeannette Pinder,' said Harry.
'Yeah, her! She has a snitch-catch percentage of only thirty-seven,' said Ron dismissively.
'Which is twelve percent more than the Cannons Seeker,' Hermione murmured. Harry looked at her in amazement; she didn't usually remember Quidditch statistics.
Ron ignored his wife and unfurled his ring finger. 'Two, they've played a different combination of Beaters in every game since Christmas, and their Beaters' strike-rate has plummeted since both Gwenog Jones and Blodwen James retired.' He unfurled his middle finger. 'Three, Gillian Gilfillan is injured, so they're playing some girl called Raveena Singh, she's just eighteen and she's never had a first team game.'
'She's the age Ginny was when she had her first game,' said Harry, grinning.
Ron ignored the comment, straightened his forefinger held his hand in front of Harry's face. 'Four, Tegan Godolphin is nowhere near as good a Captain as Gwenog Jones was.' Ron triumphantly extended his thumb. 'And, five, last weekend the Harpies lost their first home game since they signed Ginny. Ballycastle Bats, of all teams, beat them. Even we can beat the Bats!'
'Twice in the last five years,' said Hermione.
'Have you been swotting, Hermione?' asked Harry curiously.
'She bought me the Official History of Chudley Cannons for my birthday,' said Ron. 'I think she read it first.'
'It was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be,' said Hermione. 'They've got a huge number of league records, you know.'
'Yeah, they're the only team in the league to have completed a season without winning any games, or even catching the Snitch, and they also hold the all time record for least goals scored in a season,' said Harry knowledgeably. He grinned at Ron.
'That was forty years ago,' said Ron grumpily. 'You won't be laughing after we trounce the Harpies. Your team was rubbish last week.'
It was true, Harry knew, and he knew how hard Gwenog, who was now the Harpies trainer, had been pushing her team. The constant practicing and the tactical changes had intensified almost to the point of insanity after their home defeat the previous weekend.
The match against the Bats had been farcical. A misunderstanding between the two Harpies Beaters had resulted in them both being drawn to one Bludger, and "Gil-Gil", as the fans called Chaser Gillian Gilfillan, had taken the other Bludger to the back of the head. She had been carried off, seriously injured and it would be weeks before she'd be fit enough to fly. One Chaser short, and with the Beaters' confidence shattered by their elementary mistake, the Harpies had fallen to pieces. Harry, however, was not particularly worried, as he knew a few things about the restructured squad which Ron didn't.
Ron opened the door to the warm and cosy private box, but Harry remained outside and gave his friend a knowing smile.
'Five interesting points, Ron, but they aren't important. I only need one,' he said. 'You're coming to our place for a birthday meal tonight, and we're going to your mum's for Sunday lunch tomorrow. There is no way Harpies Captain Ginny Weasley will allow her brother to get bragging rights.'
'There… wait… what?' said Ron. 'They've made Ginny Captain? Seriously?'
Harry nodded. 'Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to sneak down to the Visitors' changing room. I have to ensure a Harpies victory.'
'Are you still doing that?' Hermione asked.
'Ginny's pre-match warm-ups are very important for both of us,' said Harry, nodding. He turned to his best friend and stared up into his face. 'The real reason the Harpies lost last weekend, Ron, is that Ginny couldn't warm up properly. We had an unscheduled "All Auror alert" only twenty minutes before the start of the game. Polly and her team walked into a carefully prepared ambush.'
'Bloody hell,' said Ron. 'It wasn't in the papers. Was anyone…'
'Some minor injuries, but we caught most of the gang who carried out the ambush. It hasn't made the papers. There were no other witnesses, and I've told the Press Office to keep it quiet, I don't need to tell you two not to tell anyone. You won't read about it for a few weeks. Someone had Imperiused the gang leader, and we're still trying to find out who. But that's work, and you aren't an Auror any longer, Ron.' He grinned at his friend, and strode out from the box. 'You know where I'm going; I won't be long,' he called over his shoulder.
Harry strolled along the corridor, used his wand to open the door marked "Staff Only", slipped down two flights of stairs, and stepped out into the players' tunnel. About ten yards away to his left, on the opposite side of the tunnel, was a door marked "Visitors". To his right, about thirty yards away, the three security wizards who had been looking out over the pitch turned and marched towards him.
'What're ye' doin' down here?' the nearest began.
'Visiting my fiancée,' said Harry.
'What? Fiancée? You can just stop right there, mate,' the man called threateningly. 'This is a staff and players only area, you're not allowed down here.'
As the security wizards had been facing away from him, looking out onto the brightness of the pitch, they had not recognised him in the semi-dark of the corridor. The three men began marching towards him, so Harry moved rapidly away, dashed up to the door to the visitors changing room, and gave three rapid knocks.
The door was opened immediately, and Ginny jumped into his arms. It was a manoeuvre with which they were very well practiced. Harry stood just outside the door. Because of the foibles of the Harpies Keeper he wasn't allowed to enter and Ginny wasn't allowed to set foot outside the changing room.
'Warm up time,' said Ginny happily.
They kissed. It was a slow and gentle kiss. After a few moments Harry was vaguely aware that the security wizards had arrived. However, they did not interfere.
'It's only Potter and Weasley,' said one of the security wizards gruffly. 'They were at it last year, as well.'
'They do it before almost every game,' Tegan Godolphin called from within the changing room. 'My advice is that you leave them to it. You don't want to cross either of them.'
There was some grumbling, but by the time Harry carefully lowered Ginny back inside the changing room, the security wizards had left.
Remembering his earlier discussions with Hermione, Harry decided that he'd better warn his girlfriend. 'Oh, Hermione's worried that we haven't got the wedding completely organised yet, Ginny. Expect…'
'I'll tell her that I threw that damn stupid wedding organiser she bought for us in the fire,' Ginny snapped. 'It's our wedding, and we'll organise it in our own way, and in our own time.'
'Don't you think…?'
'Merlin, Harry, now is not the time to start on this! I've got a match to win. Besides, if you want Hermione to run your life, why didn't you ask iher/i to marry you?'
'She's my friend, Ginny. She worries about us,'
'She worries about everything, Harry,' said Ginny forcefully. 'She's my friend, too, remember. She'd have plans and lists and notes and charts, because it helps her. It drives me crazy! And it drives you crazy, too.'
'True,' admitted Harry. 'But she has a point, Ginny, we…'
'Tomorrow, Harry! We do need to sort stuff out, I know that, but we can do it tomorrow. It's been a busy few weeks for both of us.'
'Is everything okay, Captain?' Harry asked. He could see her nerves. They were obvious in her slightly lop-sided stance, and the way she was unconsciously fiddling with the Captain's armband she was wearing. It was apparent that her outburst wasn't entirely due to Hermione's interference.
'Fine,' Ginny told him, but when she looked up into his face and smiled, he could see the anxiety in her bright brown eyes.
'You'll make a great Captain, Ginny,' he told her with certainty. He reached forwards and tenderly stroked her cheek with the tips of his fingers, trying to physically pass her his support and encouragement.
Ginny's hair was, as always during a game, tied into a ponytail with ribbons of Harpies green. She smiled at his words and her nerves were replaced by a look of fiery determination. She threw off her worries with a sudden shake of her head which sent the flaming red rope of her hair flying, and caused Harry's heart to skip a beat.
'Thanks, Harry. I think that the changes are going to work,' she told him. 'Everyone knows what they're supposed to be doing.'
'Don't forget that it's Ron's birthday,' he said.
'I've told the team,' said Ginny, grinning. 'We're going to make sure he'll never forget it.'
'It's time to go, Harpies,' a voice called.
'Bye, Harry,' said Ginny. She blew him a final kiss, and then reluctantly closed the door in his face.
'Bye Ginny, and good luck Harpies. Go out there and win,' he told the door quietly.
'Cheer up, Ron,' said Ginny. 'It's your birthday.'
The four friends were sitting in the dining room at Grimmauld Place, and Kreacher had just placed a steaming steak and kidney pie on the table in front of them. The room had been decorated with banners proclaiming "Ron Weasley: 23 Today" but Ron wasn't in a mood to celebrate.
'Yeah, it's not the first time the Cannons have been beaten by a one thousand point margin,' said Harry. He tried his best to sound consoling. Unfortunately, his pride in his fiancée's achievements in her first game as captain won out, and what he'd his intended to be soothing words came out sounding very much like a gloat. Ron's scowl deepened.
'Although we did manage to it in one hour and fifteen minutes, which is a record fast time,' said Ginny, who obviously had no intention of letting up on her brother.
'Making the book I bought you out of date,' added Hermione, who, it seemed to Harry, was more annoyed about that fact than anything else.
'Gits,' Ron told them.
'Happy birthday, Ron,' said Harry, concerned by his friend's mood. He gave Ron an apologetic smile and handed him a small rectangular parcel. 'I hope that this will make up for your team's defeat.'
'At least a little bit,' added Ginny.
Ron took out his frustration on the wrapping paper, ripping and tearing it into tiny shreds before carefully opening the flat orange box inside. As he looked inside, he gasped, and stared in astonishment at both Harry and Ginny. He opened his mouth, but no words came out.
Curious, Hermione tried to take the box from her husband's hands. He simply tightened his grip, staring into the box as though he was afraid to give it up. Hermione stood and moved behind Ron in order to better see the framed photograph he was holding so tightly. The photograph was black and white, and was of a team in old-fashioned Cannon's robes jumping for joy, waving happily, and passing a shining cup from player to player. Underneath every player, there was a signature.
'It's the League Cup squad from 1950. The last time we won anything! And it's autographed. Is … is it really genuine?' asked Ron, his voice hoarse with emotion.
'That's an Autoquill Dictation Deluxe,' Hermione began, pointing to one of the signatures. Ginny looked up at Hermione, and motioned her into silence.
'It's as genuine as we could make it, mate,' said Harry. 'Ginny should tell the story, she bought the photograph, and it was her idea.'
Ginny, too, stood. Walking around the table to stand next to her brother, she pointed to a woman standing in the centre of the photograph. 'The photograph is genuine, Ron. It's an original, that's Naomi Godfrey,' she said. 'The Cannons owners sold most of this team during the closed season, just after they won the cup.'
'They made a fortune, and retired, and the club never recovered,' Ron grumbled.
'Naomi Godfrey was signed by the Harpies,' said Ginny. 'She played for us for the rest of her career. Her daughter, Isabel, still works for us, she's head of our grounds staff. Naomi died just before Christmas.'
'Yeah, there was an obituary in the Cannon's programme the following weekend,' said Ron.
'Isabel Smith—Godfrey as was—found this photo when she was clearing out her mum's house. She brought it into the stadium—just to remind us who her mum was, I think. I asked her what she was going to do with it, and she said she was going to try to sell it. I knew you'd like it, so I contacted Harry and he agreed that we should make her an offer. It's Naomi Godfrey's official copy of the team photo, Ron, one of only a dozen in existence. The players all got one, and so did the management. The official Cannons stamp, and issue number is on the back. This is number six of twelve, but you'll have to take it out of the frame if you want to check it. When we bought it, it had been signed by Naomi and four of the other players. And that's where Harry comes in.'
'I wondered whether we could get the missing signatures,' Harry told his friend. 'So I tried to track down the two remaining players. I didn't have much luck until I discovered that one of the players who'd signed it had never left Chudley.'
'Nobby Carlton,' said Ron, nodding. 'He's still on the Cannon's board. In fact, he's the only sensible bloke we've got on the board.'
'I spoke to Nobby, and he told me about the two players I was looking for. He'd lost touch with them. He had no idea where they were, but he gave me a few clues. I got enough information for me to be able to track them down. Mary Spinnaker took me a while. She lives in France, but I found her and persuaded her to sign it.'
Ron peered at the signature. '"To Ron, Happy Birthday, Mary Spinnaker". 'Wow,' he whispered.
'That left only Albert Barrington…' began Harry.
'The infamous "Bazza",' said Ron, looking at the Autoquill signature sadly. 'He was the only player who wasn't sold, because no one would have him. The joke was that he was an average player who was never average. The trouble was, half the time he was brilliant, and the other half he was absolute rubbish. The club fired him a couple of years later. He had a serious drink problem. I assume he's dead, and that's why…'
'No, he's not dead. He still has a drink problem, in fact I think he's pickled in alcohol,' said Harry. 'I eventually traced him in a retirement home. His hands shake so badly that he can't write. It is an Autoquill signature, but it's Bazza's own Autoquill, and they're his words, Ron, that's what he dictated to his quill. I tried to make him understand what I wanted, but think he thought you were someone else. He certainly had no idea who I was.'
Ron read the words, "To my old drinking buddy, Ron – from your mate, Bazza".
'That's…' Ron stifled a sob and began to laugh. 'That's bloody brilliant. It's typical of Bazza; he never seemed to know what was happening, even when he was playing, and he must be at least ninety now. Thanks, Harry. Thanks, Ginny.' He looked across the table at Harry, and gave his friend a watery-eyed smile.
'Any time, mate.'
'You're welcome, Ron,' added Ginny. 'Now put the photo away, you don't want to spill gravy on it, and you don't want this pie to go cold, either.' She served her brother a large piece of pie, and then impetuously kissed his cheek. 'Happy birthday, Ron. Now, can we eat? I'm famished. I always am after a match.'
'About the wedding, Ginny…' Hermione began while Ginny walked back to her seat.
'Planning meeting here, tomorrow morning, at ten o'clock!' said Ginny. 'It's Ron's birthday, we're not talking about it tonight. This is Ron's special day, and I want to spend the evening gloating about the Harpies win.'