Author's Note: Special thanks has to go out to Christina, who helped to flesh out the final segment with Harry and Ginny. She really helped me to stay on track with their relationship. Not only is she a brilliant writer but a brilliant editor as well.
Within an hour, most of the crowd had settled into their seats. The stadium was infused with silver light, and the stairs were carpeted with in radiant velvet. A huge message board was centered on the oval field, quickly writing out advertisements. The three fifty-foot goal posts stood on either side of the field. The giant floating screens, situated around the stadium, were a major addition from previous events. Arthur Weasley got the idea after going to a Muggle concert the previous year.
"A presentation display from the all of the league mascots will precede today's matches," the commentator's voice boomed through the stadium.
"Oh, that'll be interesting," Ron commented. "I just hope there are no Veela or Leprechauns featured. Remember that time when we were kids? Could have bloody well started World War III."
The parade of mascots began, to the delight of the crowd. A giant juggled large silver balls the size of grown men before throwing them into a wide net that spelled out 'Vratsa Vultures.' Sparky, the enchanted mascot of New Zealand's Moutohora Macaws, wrote out the team's name in a trail of fire before performing a dazzling fireworks display. The team from Uganda, the Patonga Proudsticks, performed a tribal dance while flying, accompanied by massive drums floating above the crowd.
It was noon by the time the first game, the Holyhead Harpies vs. the Slovakian Grindylows, began. The match between the two all-female teams received muted attention, much to the irritation of the players. Considering the fact that the following game would feature Harry Potter playing against Julian LaRoy, the distraction was understandable. Some of the witches in the crowd, however, started to cheer the teams on while glaring at their distracted male counterparts.
Of all of the people in the Minister's box, Remus seemed to be enjoying the event the most. He laughed and smiled, causing Tonks to smile as well. It was such a welcome contrast to the pensive, dour, restless man she'd been dealing with for the last month. Remus stood up and shifted down to the bench where David, Joely and the other children were situated. He began to have a trivial chat with David, as it was becoming apparent that the match between the Harpies and the Grindylows was coming to an end. The Harpies were already far ahead; it was only a matter of time before the Seeker for the Harpies would catch the Snitch.
Tonks could not make out clearly what Remus was talking about to David, but she thought she heard Remus mention something about James. She gathered by Remus' hand gestures that he was explaining to David some play that James used back in his school days. A bell rang out through the stadium as the seeker for the Harpies caught the Snitch. If anything, the crowd seemed a little too eager to cheer the end of the game. Remus stood and made his way back to his seat.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, we present the first of several main events today," bellowed a voice through the stadium.
There was a huge roar from the crowds with anticipation as the voice continued.
"Kindly put your wands in the air for the Irish national team, the multiple champions with an unbeatable record for the last decade, the Kenmare Kestrels. I give you Becket, Little, McFarlan, Hiltz, Dennie, LaRoy and Snicket!"
All seven players flew out on brooms from one side of the stadium and soared over the crowds. The roar from the stadium was almost deafening. It quickly became apparent to all, even the Magpies' fans, that the Kestrels were a very popular team.
"The reserve players will be Murray and Rabnott." the voice continued, but the crowds were far too occupied with cheering for Julian LaRoy to pay attention to such minor details.
It took several minutes for the crowds to settle down enough for the announcer to continue. Everyone sitting on the stands seemed to be on pins and needles with excitement.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, kindly welcome the team that has won more Championships than any British team in the history of Quidditch and a record of several European championships, the Legendary Montrose Magpies! I give you…..McCormack, Tibbetts!"
The roar of the crowds continued to build.
The din kept building….
There was an audible shout from many of the women in the stadium at the mention of Oliver's name.
The reaction from the crowd caught Harry off guard as he flew in the air. The roar from the stadium was astounding. It even caused Ginny to shed a tear. Hermione and Ron beamed as they glanced at the adoring crowds. It went beyond being just a Quidditch match: this reaction was a confirmation, from average wizards no less, of how highly regarded Harry was in the Wizarding world. Even after so many years, Harry was still seen as a hero to people whom at times had felt powerless. Harry was one of them, a beacon of hope, not just a part of the elite, but someone who represented hope that half-bloods could rise above anything; that being a pureblood meant nothing, and what mattered more was a person's integrity, honesty, bravery and compassion.
The crowd didn't even seem to notice when the announcement was made that the reserve players for the Magpies would be Griffiths and O'Hare. Harry flew around the stadium for a minute before moving into position far above the other players. The referee, wearing robes of velvet and holding the ceremonial crate with the balls, walked out into the center of the stadium. He sat the crate down and blew a whistle just as the crate opened, freeing the four balls. Within a moment, the sky above the stadium was a bedlam of activity.
"And, they're off!" the voice said, with a roll of the tongue. "It's Tibbetts, McGreevey, Sands to Dennie, Hiltz, Little back to Tibbetts, McCormack, Wood."
The speed of the players was incredible; the Kestrels were not going to relent to the Magpies.
"Close save by Wood," the announcer called.
Beckett and Little were already bearing down on Tibbetts and McCormack as Snicket blocked another Chaser. Up on the stadium screen, the on-going plays were flashed upon it. PORSKOFF PLOY would flash, as well as fouls such as Blagging or Cobbing. The movements were furious within minutes of starting. The pace never changed for the next hour. Every time the Magpies would score, the Kestrels would match them. The situation between Harry and LaRoy was no less competitive; at various points they would be so high above the stadium they couldn't be seen.
LaRoy was a master of the Wronski Defensive Feint, which Harry had seen Krum use on Lynch as a teen, so many years ago. It was becoming clear to LaRoy that Harry studied all of LaRoy's most common defensive plays. LaRoy made his first calculated move over an hour into the game. LaRoy feinted to trick Harry. For a moment, Harry followed, but soon caught onto the deception. He followed, playing along with LaRoy before pulling up, causing Julian to nearly crash his own broom.
For the next three quarters of an hour, Harry and Julian continued to match each other move for move. There was a secret behind Julian LaRoy's ability: Harry had learned enough to prepare him for the match. Julian had mentioned it once in an interview with the Daily Prophet. Julian's parents were Wizard emissaries who spent many years in Africa, and later in Russia. When Julian was a boy, he lived in an African village where the tribal Wizard's first taught him to fly. Harry had learned that it was during this time that the tribesmen taught Julian a technique called mind flagging.
Mind flagging is a technique that only works for a limited amount of time; in a way, it is similar to Legilimency. Yet mind flagging, while not effective in most cases, as Julian had discovered, was perfectly ideal for Quidditch matches. Of course this magic technique in theory should be on the list of Quidditch fouls, yet Julian used the technique so sparingly, sometimes not at all depending on his rival seeker, that hardly anyone ever suspected. Yet this wasn't the only reason why Julian was such a successful Seeker. His plays alone would have still made him one of the greats. Mind flagging works by projecting mental hallucinations directed at other wizards; it also works like a Confundus charm, thus causing poor judgment.
When Julian was twelve, his parents moved to Russia where he attended a private wizarding school. Before long professors took notice of the lad's skill and he ended up receiving private training from Russian Quidditch players. Russian Wizarding athletes were known for being some of the fiercest and most focused players in the world. The Russian Quidditch training program was one of the most disciplined and organized programs in the Wizarding world. By the time Julian was fifteen, he was already a professional player.
The game was already edging into its third hour, with the score tied. The public was already paying more and more attention towards Harry and Julian; it was becoming apparent that the real story in this match was the drama being played out by the star Seekers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the next competition has been rescheduled until the conclusion of this exciting match," the announcer called.
Two players collided in midair. There was a gasp from the stadium. While McGreevey was able to quickly get hold of his broom, Hiltz wasn't as lucky and fell fifty feet before a charm broke the fall. McGreevey wasn't in any better shape as he headed back the ground.
"Ouch, that was nasty one, that was; looks like Reserve players Griffins and Murray will be finishing the match," the announcer said. "I wouldn't be surprised if there was another player taken out before the end. Some fierce competition on both sides."
Burke struck the Bludger so hard that the beater Dennie was forced to roll over in midair to avoid being struck square in the chest. At one moment, Harry thought he saw the Snitch clear across the stadium when it vanished. Harry was fairly certain that LaRoy was attempting to mind flag him. Stay alert, Harry thought, as he searched the skies. They continued to mark one another with no sign of relenting.
"Magpies in possession, Tibbetts with the Quaffle, heading straight for the Kestrels' goal post. Ooh, Quaffle intercepted by Murray. And….Murray drops the Quaffle, caught by McCormack, Magpies back in possession, McCORMACK SCORES, 240 to 230 MAGPIES."
Harry, flying at a high elevation, could see that the score announcement triggered a flurry of activity with the Kestrels. Harry saw LaRoy fall into a dive as he spotted the Snitch flying above the field. Within seconds, Harry was level with LaRoy as they were hurtled across the patch at staggering speeds. Is Julian smiling at me? Harry asked himself as Harry noticed LaRoy's expression of humored admiration. By the time they forced themselves level to the ground, the Snitch had already sped away and out of sight. It was edging toward the fourth hour of the game. With the intensity of the game, Harry knew that exhaustion would set in soon.
"Ladies and gentlemen, in all my years of commentary I have never seen anyone match LaRoy with an equal focus or determination than Potter. This Quidditch game will be historic; definitely one for the record books."
Harry and Julian were already back in position, high above the stadium. In the stands, Ginny could sense that Harry had already made a clear decision; he'd already accomplished what he had set out to do for the day.
"Ooh, and that's a penalty to the Kestrels," the announcer commented, as Little seemed to bump into Tibbetts.
From Julian and Harry's perspective, the crowd below could barely be heard. There was a light breeze that would have been soothing to Harry, were he not so preoccupied. It was at that moment that both Julian and Harry spotted the Snitch, racing back toward the stadium. They both shot in the same direction, their bodies becoming a mingled streak of black, emerald green and yellow as they flew. They were side-by-side as they reached for the Snitch. The crowd roared, their cheers resounding across the pitch.
Ease up, let it go, Harry thought. At that moment Julian caught the Snitch. He gave Harry a surprised glance. As the both of them eased up, there was another glance, a shared understanding between them: it didn't matter who won.
"LaRoy has the Snitch! The Kenmare Kestrels have won! What a thrilling competition!"
Ginny completely understood what had just happened, although she would never share that with anyone. For Harry, going the distance with someone as skilled as Julian was more important than a win. Ginny glanced over at Ron, who surprisingly appeared unfazed by the loss; if anything, Ron looked thrilled by the drama of the tournament. Hermione even seemed caught up in the excitement. The only faces that looked disappointed by the outcome were Shacklebolt and Doggins. Ginny guessed that they must have placed bets on the Magpies.
For the last four hours, Harry had gone back to feeling thirteen again. He was blissfully happy, and that was enough for Ginny.
"Gin, that was brilliant!" Harry exclaimed, as he followed her into their bedroom, still coming down from the euphoria of the competition.
"No, you were the brilliant thing, husband of mine," she corrected him as she took his hand and pulled him close to her.
Harry smirked before brushing his lips gently against hers. The kiss started small, gently; but soon developed into something else. Harry let his hands get lost in her hair.
They both knew the kids were preoccupied elsewhere in the house and Dobby was away; they had a least a good hour before they would need to leave for the banquet. Doing the math in his head and figuring he had just enough time to really feel young again, Harry made the kiss more demanding and pushed her up against the wall. Ginny continued to let him have his way for a few minutes longer but then he felt her shift; some fleeting thought of worry entered her mind and he pulled back, casting her a concerned look.
She smiled gently at him. "Sorry, reckon I can't keep that odd dream we've been having out of my head, even when you're snogging me senseless."
Harry sighed and led her over to the bed. They'd both been having the same dream for several weeks now. As it always was with their connection, they'd both realized fairly soon that something was amiss. The dream itself wasn't scary so much as just plain odd; strange images would stay with them that didn't make any sense. But the worse part was that over it all there was an impending sense of foreboding that stayed with them, even after they awoke. Ginny in particular seemed most affected by it.
"Harry, I just wish I knew what it was all about. It's frustrating not being able to See something or to make any connections." She bit her lip as though trying to remember more.
"No luck trying to divine any more details then?" he asked.
"No, none at all. This is so unlike me! The only thing that stays with me is the image of two people fighting on a cliff somewhere."
Harry nodded. "I know it's frustrating, and I know you think one of the people is me."
Ginny met his eyes, and he knew how truly anxious the vision made her. She reached for him as he tried to comfort her.
"Gin, I am not going to be picking a fight with anyone on the side of cliff. If someone wants to chat with me by a cliff, or even talk about a cliff, I'll just...run the other way, okay?"
Ginny nodded and smiled slightly, her worry fading from her brow. Harry wrapped his arms around her and tilted her chin up with his hand.
"Now, how about Mr. and Mrs. Potter get back to some serious snogging? I daresay we don't want to fall out of practice."
Ginny laughed softly and they kissed again, getting lost in each other. Ginny sighed. She ran her hands through his hair, smiling at whatever it was she was doing to make it stand up even more than usual. Harry reckoned he'd have to wet it through before leaving for the banquet.
"I know you think I'm being silly, and I don't want to bother her, but why don't we see what Laura has to say about it?"
Harry sat back and studied his wife. She really was worried about the dream. They hadn't had to contact Laura Miracroix in a long time. He nodded at her.
"If you feel it's best to involve her, then I reckon we should. I trust your judgment. But let's not fret too much right now, okay? We'll contact her in the morning."
Ginny nodded, happy that it was settled. Harry took advantage of her relaxation and pulled her close again. He started kissing her neck and felt her respond. Now...if I could just get her out of those robes...
Harry winced as his arm gave a painful throb, forcing him to stop the ministrations he'd planned for Ginny's bothersome clothing. She giggled at him and shook her head, slipping out from under his embrace. He sat back and frowned, unbuttoning his shirt and rubbing his arm. Perhaps he'd over-extended himself during the match.
"Take your shirt off, Harry," Ginny said, as she returned from the loo, a bottle of ointment in her hand.
Harry would have replied with a sly comeback to the innuendo in that statement, but his arm gave another painful throb, and he dutifully did as she asked. He let her begin to massage the ointment into his apparently aging body. He suddenly felt very old.
"You know, I'm not as spry as I used to be, am I? I feel like life has been playing a bit of a cruel joke with me. Maybe it's true about time catching up to you, I mean, I know everything is great and all, but all things change, don't they?" he mused out loud as Ginny clucked her tongue at him.
"Remember what you just told me, Harry. 'Don't fret'. I think that's sound advice. Even for an aging invalid such as yourself."
Harry gave her a wan smile and she stopped rubbing his arm. He looked at her, unable to shake the sudden feeling of his age catching up to him.
"Have I been a good enough husband, Gin? Are you happy? Truly?" He took her hand. "Have I done enough with the kids? If anything were to happen, would they be all right?"
Ginny's eyes were kind as she looked at him, and her expression was one he'd seen her use with one of the kids when they were upset or frightened. She squeezed his hand reassuringly.
"Harry, you have been an amazing husband. How can you even ask that? Don't you know it when you listen to my heart? You're my Soulmate, my other half. You're like air to me; I need you to survive. Of course you've done enough with the kids; they adore you. David is so proud of you - he looks up to you so much, don't you see that? And Joely is going to have a hard time finding another man that she loves as much as her father. Nothing is going to happen to you. We've faced too much for something as silly as a dream and old age to stop us now."
"Well, as far as Joely is concerned," Harry replied playfully, "that'll depend if I'm not beating them off with a Quintaped, or casting jinxes. It takes a bloke to know one."
"Ah," Ginny laughed. "My gallant husband, always looking out for the virtue of our daughter."
Ginny smiled at him, and she let him into her head for a moment, showing him the depth of her feeling. He felt foolish, suddenly, for despairing. He pulled her down to him and kissed her deeply. He fell backwards onto the bed, taking her with him and they moved gently together. Ginny's hands caressed his shoulder briefly and then moved onto his chest; he pulled at her blouse and she half-moaned, half-sighed into his ear.
"Oh, Harry, we have to get ready for the banquet!"
Harry ignored her for a moment and only pulled back when she swatted playfully at his arm. He chuckled as she fixed her blouse and then sighed, pretending to pout.
"Fine, then, if we don't have time for a quick shag -"
"I don't know, Harry… Can men your age do a quick anything?"
"Very funny, Mrs. Potter, you're a right old -"
Ginny stopped his retort with another kiss and then pulled back, smiling at him. She got up off the bed and headed toward the loo.
"I'm showering first for that remark, Harry. Be a dear and check on the kids for me? Make certain David isn't wearing that awful bright orange robe of his...it's hideous."
He watched her head into the loo, his eyes following her. Well, at least tonight, after the banquet, they'd have more time. More time to prove he wasn't that old, at least not yet. He could still show her a thing a two, that was for certain. Whistling as he got up, he headed out to check on the kids, and reckoned that for once, his father-in-law might be happy with them for not being late to one of his parties.