Chapter 10 : Quidditch Fever
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When the longed-for morning finally dawned, the whole castle seemed to be gripped by Quidditch fever. This wasn’t just the first match of the season; it was the first game played in almost two years. At breakfast, every single Gryffindor was sporting house colours, wrapped from head to toe in red and gold scarves or sweaters. Groups of students were busy enchanting flags and banners, and someone had charmed a stuffed toy lion to use as a mascot. It was strutting up and down the table, periodically stopping to roar at milk jugs and marmalade pots.
The Slytherin table was showing a similar amount of house pride, a mass of green and silver. Many of the younger students had used colour change charms to turn their faces green. Looking around, Ginny was pleased to see a smattering of red and gold on both the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables, although she nodded sympathetically when Hermione tutted, and gave a little speech about how divisive Quidditch could be.
The Gryffindor team all sat together, and Ginny took a moment to consider the contrasting attitudes of her players. Demelza was as self-contained as ever, exuding quiet confidence. Dean looked competitive and full of energy, as he surreptitiously used his wand to shoot a glob of porridge towards the Slytherin table. Jimmy and Ritchie both looked serious. They were deep in conversation, reviewing the herding manoeuvre that she had asked them to practice over the past few weeks. Of the first timers, Vicky looked very self assured, as she chatted to Demelza and laughed at Dean’s antics. Ginny hoped she wasn’t over confident, but was glad her keeper didn’t seem to be overawed by the prospect of the match. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Elfie. She looked even smaller than usual, hunched over as though she was trying to simply fold in on herself and disappear. Even Ron, famous for his crippling nerves, had never looked that bad. Ginny sighed and hoped that once Elfie got up on her broom in the thick of the game, she would be able to relax.
Ginny herself was calm, but she could feel the familiar butterflies building in her stomach. They were as much a reflection of her excitement as her nerves. She relished the sensation, and couldn’t wait to get up in the air. She remembered Charlie once telling her that nerves were good before a game, as long as you kept them under control. They made sure you were sharp and alert.
Her thoughts turned to Harry, as they so often did these days. He had originally intended to apparate to Hogsmeade to watch the game, but Ben had scheduled some extra training which had scuppered their plans. Ginny couldn’t help being disappointed, but when they had spoken through the mirrors the previous evening, he had been encouraging and supportive. She still wished he could have been there.
As if there wasn’t enough pressure on already, Ginny knew that the school governors were keen to use the inaugural game in the new stadium to demonstrate that Hogwarts was well and truly back to normal. Erasmus Ditchling, the Head of the Ministry’s Department for Magical Games, would formally declare the pitch open before the game. He was just one of a number of dignitaries with sporting connections invited to the game. There were also rumours that several ex-pupils who now played professionally would be attending. The thought that she might be playing in front of some of her Quidditch idols seemed to act as an additional impetus for Ginny’s butterflies.
A metallic tapping sound interrupted conversation around the hall. Ginny turned to look at the front of the hall, where Professor McGonagall was standing at the lectern. It was unusual for the Headmistress to address her students at breakfast, but this had become something of a ritual in the days leading up to the match. Several of the students were already smirking, knowing what was to come.
Professor McGonagall cleared her throat. “Good morning, everyone. I hope you are all looking forward to today’s Quidditch match. Following on from my announcement yesterday…”
“…And the day before that, and the day before that,” muttered Dean under his breath, clearly amused.
“…I should like to repeat that I want to share commentary duties across all the houses this year. So far only Miss Lovegood of Ravenclaw has offered her services, and I hope that someone will volunteer to replace... I mean, to assist her today. Would anyone who is interested, please make themselves known to me as soon as possible.”
It was a speech that the students had heard in one form or another at every meal time for the past week, as the Headmistress became increasingly concerned that Luna would be the only person prepared to commentate. A note of desperation had crept into her usually cool voice.
Dean sniggered. “She’ll be lucky. Everyone wants to hear Luna murder the commentary again. Personally, I’d pay good money to stop anyone else doing it.”
Luna was a close friend, but even Ginny had to admit that her quirky commentary style was very entertaining. She was still laughing along with the rest of the team when the post arrived. The first owl to alight at the Gryffindor table landed in front of Hermione. Her expression was alive with interest as she read her letter. Ginny thought she caught a glimpse of a Ministry crest on the paper, but before she could be sure, Hermione slipped the letter into her pocket and fed the appreciative owl a bit of toast.
Ginny was about to ask her about it when something clipped her on the side of the head. She immediately recognised Ron’s tiny owl Pigwidgeon, his landing technique the usual triumph of enthusiasm over grace. She stuck out her hand to catch him, just before he tumbled into the butter dish. She untied the note that was attached to his leg, and was surprised but delighted when she recognised Harry’s untidy, spidery handwriting. He hadn’t mentioned writing to her when they had spoken the previous evening. However, since Pig always took a couple of days to make the journey from London, he must have sent it before their conversation. She opened it eagerly, her face lighting up as she read.
Surprise! I know you weren’t expecting a letter. If my cunning plan has worked, this should arrive at breakfast on Saturday, just in time for a final bit of encouragement.
I know how you must feel right now. You’re excited, you’re nervous and you’re impatient to get out on the pitch. I know, because that’s exactly how I felt the morning of my first match as captain. You’re probably also worrying about whether you picked the right team, and whether you’ve given them the right tactics. Put all that out of your mind right now – believe in your choices, and they’ll be the right ones.
You’re a fantastic player, and I know you’ll be a great captain too. And look on the bright side – at least you don’t have Ron to worry about!
Ginny smiled at that bit. She remembered Harry’s battle with Ron’s nerves and the lengths he had gone to in order to address them only too well. She stole a quick glance at her new Seeker and hoped that Elfie would come through in such spectacular style.
I’m sorry I can’t be there, but at least I can wish you good luck today – not that you’ll need it. Remember to give me a full match report through the mirror this evening. I can’t wait to talk to you then. Now, get out there and give those Slytherins some hell!
All my love,
PS - if my cunning plan didn’t work and Pig got lost again, then well played! Congratulations on the victory!
Bolstered by Harry’s words, Ginny drained the last of her tea and stood up to address her team.
“Come on then, everyone. It’s time to get down to the pitch. We’ve got a match to win!”
“So, let’s just re-cap on our tactics for the match.” Ginny stood in the middle of the changing room, her team sitting on the benches facing her.
“Win at all costs?” asked Dean. “Show no mercy?”
“Hit them so hard they end up crying for their mothers?” added Jimmy, to everyone’s amusement.
“Yeah, that too,” Ginny grinned at him. “But mostly let’s keep it really tight, really clean and remember all the set plays we’ve been practicing. We’ve all worked so hard, let’s get out there and show them we mean business. Any questions?”
“Nope. Let’s get at them, Boss,” replied Dean, standing up and taking hold of his broom. The rest of the team followed suit, and Ginny headed to the door to lead her team out on to the pitch.
As she set foot on the grass, Ginny looked around, proud of all the hard work she had put in. The rebuilt stands looked superb. One side was a sea of red and gold, the other awash with green and silver, and the air crackled with anticipation.
A familiar voice filled the stadium. “Hello, everyone!” said Luna, breathlessly. “There’s going to be a Quidditch match! How exciting.”
Ginny couldn’t suppress her smile. Apparently Dean had been correct in his assessment of the appeals of Luna’s commentary.
“And here come the teams! There’s Ginny Weasley. She’s the new Gryffindor captain. Doesn’t her hair look nice plaited? I wish I could do plaits, but I’m not very good with hair. And that’s Rory Urquhart with the Slytherins. Ooh! What a surprise! He’s picked Draco Malfoy! I didn’t think he would, since none of them seem to like him very much anymore.”
Many of the spectators laughed, as the Head Boy’s unpopularity within his own house was no secret. Ginny snuck a glimpse at Malfoy. His face was as impassive as ever. However, when she saw the rest of the Slytherin team, Ginny quickly realised that Urquhart must have had little choice but to select him, no matter how low his popularity rating was. He was quite clearly the strongest player they were fielding amongst a very weak and inexperienced side. Urquhart and Harper, both chasers, were both competent if unexceptional flyers. The other four Slytherins were all new, and all looked painfully young. Ginny’s confidence suddenly soared.
Ginny and Urquhart met in the centre of the pitch and shook hands in front of Madam Hooch. Then, all fourteen players mounted their brooms, kicked off, and rose up to the level of the crowd. They waited, hovering in the centre of the arena, lined up in their own halves of the pitch.
Over in the staff box, Ginny saw Professor McGonagall take the commentary megaphone from Luna. She made a short speech, welcoming their special guests. As well as Erasmus Ditchling, there were representatives from the British and Irish Quidditch League and Q.U.A.B.B.L.E in attendance. The rumours that there would be professional players in the stands had turned out to be true. As Ginny had hoped, Gwynog Jones, the captain of the Holyhead Harpies was there. Sitting near to her, Ginny immediately recognised Oliver Wood, who now played for Puddlemere United. Galvin Gudgeon, the Chuddley Cannons Seeker, was also among the professional players. When Jimmy Peakes, a die-hard Cannons fan, saw him, he looked mortified.
“Oh gods”, he muttered to Ginny. “Why did they invite him? He’s dreadful! When we played the Arrows last year, the Snitch hit his nose twice, and he still didn’t catch it.”
Once Professor McGonagall had finished speaking, Erasmus Ditchling amplified his own voice and addressed the assembled crowd. He rambled on for such a long time that Ginny’s broom began to grow distinctly uncomfortable beneath her and she could see that the other players were all fidgeting too. Glancing at the staff box, she had the distinct impression that Professor Flitwick had fallen asleep.
Finally, Ditchling declared the pitch open. Madame Hooch immediately released the balls, blew her whistle, and the game erupted into action.
Ginny immediately took possession of the Quaffle, with Dean and Demelza dropping in on either side of her in a Hawkshead attacking formation. One of the Slytherin Chasers attempted to block Ginny’s path, but she made a swift reverse pass over her shoulder to Dean on her left, looped around the Slytherin defence, dropped back in on Demelza’s right hand side just in time to take the quick pass back. Rounding on the Slytherin keeper, she faked a shot to the right hand post, drawing him away, before firing the Quaffle home into the centre ring. Gryffindor were ten points up, barely seconds in to the game.
“I like your hat, Professor McGonagall,” said Luna, who apparently hadn’t noticed. The headmistress put her head in her hands.
Ginny was delighted with the opening goal. It was a new move that the three Chasers had been practicing, and it had worked like a dream. It set the pattern for the rest of the match, which quickly turned into a rout as the well-drilled Gryffindor Chasers and Beaters dominated the game. On the rare occasions when the inexperienced Slytherin team got their hands on the Quaffle, they were rapidly dispossessed by a well-aimed Bludger or a quick interception. Ginny, Dean and Demelza were all scoring at will, with the hapless Slytherin keeper unable to provide any obstacle at all.
Ginny herself was playing the match of her life. Her performance was near-faultless. She made catches, dodges and interceptions almost constantly. At times it was as though the Quaffle was her own personal possession. As captain, she marshalled her team with military precision, calling plays and giving encouragement throughout the match. She also kept a close eye on her new players, anxious to justify her choices.
Vicky wasn’t under much pressure, but coped well whenever the Quaffle came near her. She comfortably made a couple of easy saves, but was otherwise untroubled by the Slytherin attack. Her assured start was in stark contrast to Elfie, who was shaking so violently that Ginny was worried that she might actually fall off her broom. The two girls were a few hundred feet apart, but Ginny could clearly see that Elfie’s face was so green that she could have been mistaken for one of the Slytherin supporters with their colour-change charms. Luna had noticed too. She chose to express her sympathy by telling the crowd about the time she had made herself ill eating too many peppermint toads, missing four more goals in the process.
After almost three quarters of an hour, the score was a massive 280 – 0, and Ginny was leading the Chasers on yet another attack. Then, a flash of gold streaked through her field of vision. The Snitch!
Both the Seekers had seen it too and darted towards it. Elfie was much nearer, and soon she was within catching distance. Ginny willed her to reach out and grab it, but her eyes were wide in panic and her hands might as well have been glued to the handle of her broom. Malfoy’s turn of speed in pursuit was impressive. He seemed determined to rescue at least some pride for Slytherin, and he quickly caught up with the young Gryffindor. Ginny winced when Elfie meekly allowed him to cut in front of her. As Malfoy plucked the snitch out of the air, Madame Hooch blew the whistle to end the game. Gryffindor had won by 280 – 150.
“Ooh look! A rainbow!” said Luna.
With the match over, the Gryffindor team spent a few minutes accepting the congratulations of the crowd, then Ginny shepherded them back to the changing rooms. Once inside, the atmosphere was predictably jubilant, with the exception of poor Elfie, who was sitting in the corner with her head in her hands. Ginny wanted to join in the celebrations, but felt her captain’s responsibility keenly and instead went to comfort her young Seeker.
Once she had given Elfie a rousing pep-talk, she changed out of her robes, wondering what else she could do. She was convinced that the younger girl had talent, but was very worried by her poor performance. By the time Ginny was ready, the rest of the team had already left, and she realised she would have to hurry to catch up with them. However, when she got outside, she was surprised to find Draco Malfoy waiting for her.
“Hi, Ginny,” he hailed her, “I just wanted to say well played today. I thought someone should come and congratulate you on a great performance, although Urquhart seemed quite vehemently opposed to the idea. You were on fire out there. Your whole team flew brilliantly.”
Ginny was a bit surprised he was being so magnanimous, but she returned his smile anyway. “Thanks, Draco. Nice catch, by the way.”
Malfoy pulled a face. “Yes, well. At least it made the score line look vaguely respectable. But mostly, I just wanted to stop the torment.”
Ginny groped for some conciliatory words. “Oh no! You were… unlucky. I’m sure you would have got back into the game if the Snitch hadn’t turned up when it did.” She tried not to wince at the obvious lie.
Malfoy couldn’t hide his amusement. “Thanks, but you don’t need to spare my feelings. I know we were dreadful.”
Ginny inclined her head to acknowledge the truth in what he said. “I think it’s just that your team is very inexperienced. I’m sure they’ll improve with more practice. I’m lucky I’ve still got so many old hands available. It makes a big difference”
“Yes, you’re certainly right about that. Are you heading straight back to the castle?”
Ginny nodded. “Yes, I am.”
“Me too. I’ll walk back with you if you don’t mind?”
Ginny was unable to think of an excuse not to walk with him, and she was surprised to discover that the thought no longer appalled her. She reflected on how different her world was now, compared to what it had been a year beforehand.
As they made their way back up to the castle, they talked easily about their school work. Ginny complained bitterly about Professor Sprout’s latest Herbology essay, while Malfoy bemoaned his lack of progress in Professor Peabody’s quest to improve his non-verbal defensive skills.
“I don’t know why I find it so difficult,” he complained. “Everyone else seems to be able to do it already.”
“Don’t forget that a lot of us have had more practice than you,” Ginny reminded him. “Me, Hermione, Dean, Seamus – we’ve all had to fight for our lives for real. It’s amazing how the threat of imminent death sharpens your skills.”
Malfoy looked embarrassed, “Looks like falling behind in class is yet another consequence of picking the wrong side.”
Ginny realised she had made him feel uncomfortable. “Seriously, Draco – I really wouldn’t recommend it as a training method.”
“What would you suggest instead?” he asked.
“It really is just practice,” she assured him. “You just need someone to hurl the nastiest curses and hexes they can think of at you until you get it.”
“I don’t suppose…” Malfoy paused for a long time, and when he finally carried on speaking, he sounded uncharacteristically nervous. “Ginny, I don’t suppose you’d mind helping me? You said it yourself, it all comes down to practice. If I have you to help me out, hopefully I’ll get the hang of it. We could just find an empty classroom one evening, and you can hex me until I get it right.” He laughed nervously.
Ginny was taken aback. Half her brain was screaming at her to decline, and run for the hills rather than agree to spend any time stuck in a classroom with just Draco Malfoy for company. The other half told her not to be so silly. It really wasn’t that big a deal, and that if Malfoy could make such an effort to be nice to her, the least she could do was return the favour. It was as though Ron and Hermione were having an argument inside her head.
Finally, Hermione won out. “Sure,” she said, but with rather more enthusiasm than she actually felt. “We have Quidditch practice on Monday, but I’m free on Tuesday.”
“Great. Yes, Tuesday’s good for me too.”
By that time, they had reached in the entrance hall, where their paths back to their respective common rooms divided.
“Well, this is where I leave you. Bye, Draco,” she said, turning to head for the staircase. Malfoy reached out and touched her lightly on the forearm to stop her.
“Thanks for agreeing to help me, Ginny,” he told her, his hand still on her arm. “And you really were amazing today. Just amazing.” He smiled warmly, and waited for her to respond.
Feeling suddenly awkward and uncomfortable, she moved her arm away. “Erm… Thanks. I’ll see you in Potions tomorrow,” she replied, before heading up the stairs.
Malfoy stood and watched her hurry away. His smile had faded, and he was as unmoving and expressionless as the stone statues that surrounded him.
The Gryffindors were quick to start celebrating their victory. Any win was special, but utterly destroying Slytherin in such epic fashion was particularly sweet. As soon as Ginny stepped through the portrait hole into the common room, there was an enormous cheer.
“Here she is! Captain Fantastic herself!” Seamus clapped her on the back and drew her into the centre of the crowd.
“We were beginning to think you’d got lost, Ginny!” called Neville, as someone pressed a glass of butterbeer into her hand.
She lost count of the number of people who were falling over themselves to tell her how brilliant she had been. Even Professor Peabody stopped by to offer his congratulations. Ginny rather enjoyed feeling like a hero, but she was pleased to see the rest of the team getting their share of attention too. Even Elfie was looking considerably happier.
After a little while, Ginny checked her watch and realised that there was somewhere else she had promised to be. She quietly slipped away from the party and headed to her dormitory. She drew the curtains around her bed, and cast a silencing charm to make sure that she could not be overheard. Then she reached under her pillow, pulled out the mirror, and propped it up against her knees.
She was a few minutes early, and Harry wasn’t in his room yet. She smiled affectionately at how messy it was. She could see his bed was unmade, there were piles of clothes on the floor, and a random collection of possessions was strewn across the top of the chest of drawers in the corner. She knew it pained Kreacher to leave the bedroom untouched, but Harry was adamant that even the house-elf was not to intrude into his haven.
She hadn’t been waiting long before Harry’s face appeared. Before she even had time say hello, he began to question her anxiously.
“Well? What happened?” he asked, urgently.
“And it’s lovely to see you too, darling,” she teased him.
“Oh, right. Yes. Hi Ginny, how are you?” He ran his fingers through his hair, the way he always did when he was embarrassed.
Ginny laughed softly. “I’m absolutely fine, love. And I’ll put you out of your misery. Yes, we won – thrashed them, in fact. The final score was 280 to 150.”
“Fantastic! I knew it! So come on then – talk me through it. I want all the details.”
Ginny gave him a blow-by-blow account of the entire game, happy to relive it with him. He laughed at her description of the hopeless Slytherin keeper, and looked very satisfied when she told him how thoroughly they had outplayed Harper and Urquhart.
“… so all in all, it couldn’t have gone much better, right up until the Snitch appeared,” she concluded, before acknowledging the one weak point to the game. “Poor Elfie. She really didn’t have a good game.”
“Your new Seeker? What happened?” asked Harry, his face clouding.
“She had an easy catch on the Snitch, but she completely froze up. Just let Malfoy bully her off line,” she explained.
Harry looked concerned. “You can’t win the house cup without a decent Seeker, Ginny. There’s definitely no one else any better?”
Ginny sighed, lying back against her pillows. “No. I’ve been worried about her all week, so I went back through my notes on all the people that trialled, just to be sure. There really wasn’t anyone else that I think could be half as good. She has so much potential. I think if she just got some specialist coaching from a really good Seeker, she could be fantastic.”
Harry looked suspiciously at his girlfriend for a moment. She returned his gaze expectantly. Then his face relaxed and he gave her a rueful smile.
“Let me guess. You were hoping I might be able to give her some tips while I’m there next month?” he asked.
“Would you?” she wheedled. “The timing would be perfect. We don’t play Hufflepuff until the end of next month, so there are four full weeks for you to help her. I’m sure it would make a massive difference.”
“OK, OK, I’ll do it. But only because it’s you that’s asking,” he conceded, secretly thinking it would be good to have an excuse to get out on a broom again.
Ginny beamed at him. “Brilliant! Thank you, Harry – it means a lot to me.” She began to reel off the times that she had booked the pitch for the Gryffindor team to practice.
Harry laughed. “Slow down! Let’s wait until I’m actually there and I’ve got my timetable first!” he exclaimed. Thought even as he spoke, he was running through the kinds of drills he could go through with Elfie in his mind, caught up in Ginny’s enthusiasm for the idea.
Delighted to have recruited Harry’s help, Ginny changed the subject. “So what did Ben have you doing today?” she asked.
Harry pulled a face. “Apparently it isn’t enough that we can disillusion ourselves in a million different ways at the drop of a hat, we have to be able to do it under pressure too. Ben’s definition of ‘under pressure’ is ‘while you’re hovering on a hubcap and levitating yourself across all eight lanes of the M25’. I spent most of the day trying not to fall off in front of however many million Muggle cars were using the motorway today.”
“Oh gods, that sounds awful!”
“Yeah, he agreed. “It was pretty nerve-wracking, and I’m not in a hurry to do it again. We both wobbled a lot, and Ron had a really close shave with an articulated lorry, but we did OK, I think. And it was good to get out of the office, even if it was on a Saturday. I can’t wait until we’re allowed to do some proper fieldwork.
“I’m sure it won’t be long, love,” she consoled him.
“I know. But don’t get me wrong - I’m still convinced I made the right decision. I love feeling like I’m making a difference. Even if it is from behind a desk,” he added wryly.
“I’m glad you’re still enjoying it,” she told him. “I hope I can find a job that I love as much.”
“Are you still worrying about that?”
“Well, it’s difficult not to. In six months time, I’ll need to fend for myself,” she sighed. “It’s such a strange feeling. Up until now, my life has always been mapped out. At home with Mum, then Hogwarts, then O.W.L.s, then N.E.W.T.s. It was so simple; finish one thing, then on to the next. Now, suddenly, there is no ‘next’. It’s like I’m standing on a precipice and I’m expected to jump without having the faintest idea what’s waiting for me. I really envy you, knowing what you wanted to do with your life.”
“There must be loads of things you could do,” Harry encouraged her. “Anyone would be lucky to have you working for them. Why don’t you apply to be an Auror with me?”
She smiled at him. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, love, but I’ve seen quite enough dark magic to last a lifetime.”
Harry shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, I suppose not everyone’s as much as a glutton for punishment as me and Ron. But there must be something that you like the sound of?”
“Yes, of course I’ve had ideas,” she agreed. “I was thinking about applying to train as a Healer, but I have to wait until I get my NEWT results before I do that. And I wondered about writing too. You know, for the Prophet or something. I always got so angry reading all that crap they wrote about you, stuff that I knew was just made-up drivel. I always thought I could do so much better.
“Yes, I’m sure you’d make up a much better class of drivel than Rita Skeeter,” he teased her.
“Watch youself, Potter!” she shot back, affectionately. “Don’t get too used to making cracks like that, it’s only a week until you get back here, and then I can hex you when you’re rude to me.”
Harry grinned at her, doffing an imaginary cap in her direction. “I’m so sorry, your wonderous-ness. You’d make a marvellous writer.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, then remembered something that she had meant to say to him. “Speaking of writing, I’ve just realised that I never thanked you for your letter. It was so lovely to get it this morning. It gave me just the boost I needed.”
His face immediately brightened. “Good. That was the general idea. But I can’t wait until next weekend, when I get to see you in person. Mirrors and letters are all very well, but it will be so much better to actually be there.”
Ginny took a moment to look at Harry. His unruly black hair, his beautiful green eyes, that scar that would forever mark him out. All so familiar, and now all hers. She felt like the luckiest girl alive.
“Me too, Harry,” she said softly, “Me too.”
A/N - Thanks for reading Evolution! If you can spare a few moments to tell me what you think, reviews are very welcome!
Thanks, as ever, go to my fab beta reader, CambsAngst. Do yourself a favour and go read his amazing story Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood.
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