Harry pulled the collar of his jacket tightly around him in an attempt to ward off the evening chill. Despite the biting wind, he kept his head up, taking in the sights and sounds as he walked along the pavement in Muggle London. He enjoyed the anonymity it offered. It was a Friday night, so the street was packed with Muggles heading out for an evening of food and drink. Ron had gone over to George’s shop to help out, but Harry had begged off. He’d kept the letter Dudley had sent him, uncertain what he wanted to do about it. Bored, he’d pulled it out and read it over again tonight. Finally, his curiosity had won out, and he decided to make the trek over to the Dirty Bishop to find out. He’d considered asking Ron and George to join him since Dudley usually had a group of mates backing him up, but he hadn’t wanted his friends to see just how sour things could turn if that was Dudley’s plan. He had his wand, he wasn’t underage, and he had no intention of playing any form of ‘Harry Hunting.’
It had been a long week, and a pint was well deserved. Between moving the Dementors, another pure-blood attack, and the approach of Rita’s trial, Harry was feeling most harassed. The one highlight of the long week came with word that Aberforth Dumbledore was seeking legal action against Rita Skeeter. He claimed she obtained false information through illegal means and published it without any form of consent. His lawsuit started a wave of others feeling misused, as well. The last Harry had heard, the Daily Prophet was inundated with lawsuits from angry former subjects of her articles. Kingsley had confided that it would take years for them to dig through what was true and what wasn’t, and the nuisance alone should ensure Rita never worked for the paper again.
Harry planned to toast for small favours.
When he reached the pub, his eyes roamed over the vicinity, noting the dirty alleyway that ran alongside. It would be an easy Apparition point. The windows of the pub were dark and smudged, and loud music blared from within. The clientele consisted mostly of university-aged patrons who entered through the sturdy wooden door at a regular pace.
Harry took a deep breath and followed a group inside the smoky establishment. It was crowded, but not overly so, and Harry was able to wend his way between the tables as he scanned for his cousin. Dudley was easy to spot, standing up near the back, his blond head uncovered, egging on a few blokes who were playing darts.
Harry stood back against the wall and observed for a moment before approaching. He didn’t recognize Dudley’s mates — although he hadn’t seen any of Dudley’s gang in years, so he could be mistaken. A barmaid approached, asking what he wanted to drink, and never having had any Muggle alcohol, he simply ordered a pint. He supposed they’d at least be similar to the ones he’d had in wizarding pubs. Once his beer arrived, he gripped the glass and warily approached the dart game.
Dudley noticed him straightaway. “Harry,” he said blankly, standing stock still. His mates continued playing darts, but Dudley lumbered over to Harry and stuck out his beefy hand. “I didn’t think you’d come.”
Harry shrugged, but shook the offered hand. “I was curious.”
Dudley nodded, indicating a nearby table with several jackets on the chairs. “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you’d ignored it, but I’m glad you came. Hestia said she thought you would.”
“You keep in touch with Hestia, then?” Harry asked.
“She was good to me,” Dudley said defensively, crossing his arms. Harry suspected it wasn’t the first time Dudley had to justify his correspondence with the witch.
“She’s a nice lady,” he said, taking a swallow of his beer.
Dudley’s mates paused their game and glanced over at their table. “Rhys, Danny, this is my cousin, Harry,” he said, making the introductions as they walked over and said hello. Both were muscular, and Harry suspected they might be part of Dudley’s wrestling team.
“You’re up, Dudley,” the taller of the two said. He was a dark-skinned boy with tightly cropped hair and a vivid tattoo. Uncle Vernon would’ve hated him.
“You two go ahead and play another round. I’m going to catch up with Harry,” Dudley said.
His mates nodded and went back to their game.
“So,” Harry said after taking another pull from his drink, “what did you want to see me about?”
Dudley raised his own pint to his lips and took a long swallow. “I… I thought… We should…” Dudley gave up and took another drink, looking muddled and confused.
“Do you want something from me?” Harry asked, genuinely intrigued now. Dudley was acting most odd… even for Dudley.
“No, I… It’s weird never seeing you anymore,” he said, chewing on his lower lip.
Harry frowned. “That’s what happens when someone moves out, see.”
“I know,” Dudley said, frustrated. “We were never friends.”
“I’m aware of that, oddly enough,” Harry said, leaning back in his chair and trying to work out where Dudley was going.
Dudley screwed up his face as he fought to find the words. “We’re cousins. Mum and Dad shouldn’t have let me… they shouldn’t have urged me… Hestia is from your world, but she was still good to me. Mum and Dad weren’t good to you – ever.”
Feeling stunned, Harry’s arm slowly dropped back to the table, still clasping his drink as he gaped at Dudley. The glass hit the table with a resounding thump, audible even in the noise of the pub. Was his bully of a cousin truly attempting to apologize for the way his parents had treated Harry? Did he somehow wake up on the wrong planet?
“What?” he asked stupidly, unable to completely wrap his mind around it.
“I know you don’t want to see them… and who could blame you, really? But I thought, maybe… maybe we could meet for a pint or two… once in a while,” Dudley said, his voice trailing as he beckoned the waitress over to refill their drinks. He pulled a few pounds from his pocket to give her, and waved Harry’s money away. “This one’s on me. I owe you.”
Harry felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. While sitting there with a gobsmacked expression on his face, he noticed Ron and George had entered the pub and were standing behind Dudley, scowling. It took Harry’s dull brain — already reeling with shock — several moments to comprehend that he was actually seeing them there in this blatantly Muggle bar.
“What are you lot doing here?” he blurted.
Dudley’s head swung around, and when he saw the two ginger heads, he attempted to slide his chair away, moving closer to Harry.
“We finished up early, but when we got home, we found this,” George said, holding up the letter Dudley had sent Harry.
“Why’d you come alone?” Ron demanded, glowering.
“How’d you manage to find this place?” Harry asked incredulously, imagining Ron stumbling around and standing out horribly as he tried to blend in.
“I know my way around Muggle London. Angelina lives in a flat about a block from here. I told her we were coming,” George replied, still glaring at Dudley.
“Everything’s fine,” Harry soothed. “We’re just talking over a few pints. Here, sit down.” He kicked another chair out, and the two brothers joined him and Dudley at their table.
Dudley glanced at Harry nervously and visibly swallowed. “H- Harry,” he spluttered.
“You remember my friends, Ron and George Weasley, don’t you, Dudley? We’re all sharing a house these days.”
“Hullo,” Dudley said warily. Harry really couldn’t blame him for being wary. The last time Dudley had seen them, his tongue had ended up swelling to three feet long. Dudley was much slimmer these days, and Harry wondered if his weight loss had anything to do with a newfound caution of sweets. “My mates don’t know about you lot,” he said, glancing nervously at his two friends who were still engaged over the dart board. “I’d like to keep it that way.”
“He brought his mates?” Ron asked, looking at Harry incredulously. “And you came alone? Haven’t you had enough of that?”
Before Harry could defend himself, Dudley burst out. “It wasn’t like that. I didn’t know he’d be here. I invited him months ago, and I didn’t really think he’d come. I wouldn’t have done.”
“Anyone with an ounce of self-preservation wouldn’t have done, but that’s Harry for you,” George said, taking a swig of the beer the waitress had placed in front of him.
“What’d you want him to meet you for, anyway?” Ron asked aggressively, still glaring at Dudley.
“To have a pint. We haven’t really talked since he left home,” Dudley said.
“It was never my home,” Harry said, slamming his mug down. He felt colour flooding his face. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Perhaps Muggle pints were stronger than wizard ones.
“I know that. That’s why I can’t work out why you’d meet him,” Ron snapped.
“We’re cousins,” Dudley said, twisting his lips. “My mum never talked to her sister, and then her sister died.”
Harry took a long swallow, uncertain what to say.
“Well, if you’ve decided you want Harry back, you should know we’re his family now, and it’s a package deal. You don’t get him without us,” George said firmly. “And we look after our own.”
“Sitting right here,” Harry said, exasperated.
“How are your parents? Have they even acknowledged Harry no longer lives there?” Ron asked, a speculative look crossing his features.
Dudley shrugged. “They never mentioned him much if they could help it. Although…” Dudley said, trailing.
“Yeah?” Ron asked eagerly, and George leaned forward on his chair.
“My mum is obsessed with his… with the cupboard under the stairs,” Dudley said, shooting a panicked look at Harry.
“They know about that,” Harry said wearily. The hair on the back of his neck was standing on end. Ron was up to something, he could sense it, but he hadn’t yet worked out what it was.
“You mean the cupboard they locked Harry in? George asked, disgust dripping from his words. “Why is she obsessed now?”
“I dunno. She just checks on it sixteen times a day, and she’s put all the locks back on the door. As far as I can tell, she’s stuffed it full of pillows and blankets,” Dudley said, scratching his head in confusion. “She runs whenever she has to pass it. It’s mad.”
A gleeful grin spread across Ron’s face. “Sounds like she’s trying to muffle something.”
“What did you do?” Harry asked suspiciously. Although, how Ron could have done anything was beyond him. He’d never taken him there, and Harry would have heard complaints if wizards had shown back up on Privet Drive.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ron said far too innocently for Harry’s liking.
“What’s going on?” a female voice asked, distracting them.
They looked up to see Angelina Johnson standing over them, glaring. Her tightly braided hair shook as she swung her head around to take in all of them.
“Angelina!” Harry said. “What are you doing here?”
“I got a Patr… a message from this one,” she tossed her head in George’s direction, “that you were here, and there might be trouble. I come here sometimes with my flat-mates because the pints are cheap.”
“Glad to see you’ll come to my aid so quickly,” George said smugly.
“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m only here because you said Harry needed help,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“What the… I’m only an Auror who took out Voldemort. Don’t anyone think I can look after myself or anything,” Harry said, taking another sip of his drink, feeling nettled.
“Mind what you’re saying in here,” Ron said, glancing around quickly.
Harry couldn’t believe he was sitting in a Muggle pub with his cousin and Ron, and they were reminding him to maintain the Statute of Secrecy. The world had gone mad.
“Who’s this?” one of Dudley’s friends asked. The two had re-joined the table and were looking at Angelina appreciatively.
Harry made the introductions, watching George’s face darken as Angelina blatantly flirted with the two Muggles. They all shared another round, carefully watching what they said around Dan and Rhys, who were quite friendly. Harry kept thinking of Piers and Gordon and the other members of Dudley’s childhood gang. Dan and Rhys didn’t appear anything like them.
“D’you play?” Dan asked Angelina, holding up the darts.
“I’d love to,” she said, smiling widely. George scowled as the two walked over towards the dart board.
“What’s up with you?” Ron asked as soon as they were out of earshot.
Harry snorted into this glass. Even he could see what was going on. Ron really was thick.
“Something funny, Potter?” George asked, a harder edge to his voice that always crept in when he was drinking.
“When did you decide you had feelings for Angelina?” Harry asked without preamble.
“What?” Ron asked, gaping.
“I don’t have feelings for her,” George said sullenly, averting his eyes.
Harry folded his arms across his chest and leaned back. “Could’ve fooled me.”
“Yeah, I barely know you, mate, and I can see you don’t like Danny paying attention to her,” Rhys said, grinning into his beer.
“I think that’s why Dan is laying it on so thick. He likes to wind people up,” Dudley added.
“Wait… You fancy Angelina?” Ron asked incredulously, apparently unable to wrap his mind around the idea.
“Eat dung. I don’t fancy her… we just… we just shagged is all,” George said, finishing off his beer.
“You shagged Angelina?” Ron asked loudly, causing the girl in question to look back at them and scowl fiercely. She threw the dart she was holding with much more force than was necessary and hit the target dead centre.
“It was after the New Year’s party. We were both pissed, and it just happened. She was gone when I woke up,” George said, nodding to the waitress who had refilled their drinks.
“But you wish she hadn’t left,” Harry said, filling in the blanks.
“So, then what’s the problem?” Dudley asked. “Just ring her up. She came here when you called tonight, didn’t she?”
George winced. “It’s complicated.”
“Because of Fred?” Harry asked knowingly. Ron shifted in his chair.
“Who’s Fred?” Rhys asked.
Ron and Harry’s eyes met across the table. Ron looked away first, so Harry answered, stumped for a moment on how to explain. “Fred was George’s twin. He… er… he was a soldier who was killed during a conflict where civilians were in danger. He was protecting them.”
George, glassy-eyed, stared fixedly at the wall, but Harry was certain he saw his lower jaw tremble. Dudley reared back, his eyes widening. Oddly, it was his friend who nodded in sympathy.
“I had a cousin who was killed while serving in the military, as well. So… was he involved with Angelina, then?” Rhys asked.
“They dated, yeah,” Ron said gruffly, the colour high on his cheeks.
“And he’d be angry?” Rhys asked curiously.
“No, Fred was never angry at George,” Ron said firmly. “Are you worried that people might think it’s weird?”
George shrugged. “It is sort of messed up,” he mumbled.
Since when did you ever care what anyone except Fred thought?” Ron asked incredulously. “I always envied that about you.”
“I think Fred would be very happy if you both found a way to move on,” Harry said, staring at George intently. George reluctantly dragged his eyes away from the wall.
“It’s like… It’s like Fred is still there when we’re together, but it makes everything… complicated,” George said, ignoring all the others and speaking to Harry as if they were alone. “I don’t know if it’s him that’s making me feel the connection.”
Harry ran a hand along the back of his neck. “It doesn’t have to be complicated. Fred was a happy bloke. He’d want you to be happy, too, George. In fact, I think the only thing that could make him unhappy is knowing it was down to him that you weren’t letting that happen. He wouldn’t be upset that you try and find out.”
“Harry’s right. Fred would call you a lucky sod… or a daft sod if you didn’t date her. Angelina’s great,” Ron said earnestly.
“What about him?” George asked, sulkily staring at Dan and Angelina who were laughing over the dart board.
“Well, she’s not going to wait forever, you git. Get a move on,” Ron said.
“Dan never has trouble with the ladies. He’ll find another, I guarantee it,” Dudley said.
Harry took a long swallow from his drink. He was sitting here talking girls with Dudley, and Dudley was encouraging a witch and wizard to get together. He felt as if everything had turned upside down. Still, all in all, the night had gone much better than he’d ever imagined.
Ginny took a deep breath, staring up at the massive Quidditch stadium where the League try-outs were being held. She clutched her broom in one hand, and a rucksack in the other. Her heart thudded, and she felt giddy with excitement. She was here. This was really happening.
She’d left Hogwarts along with her classmates who were returning home for the Easter holidays, but rather than taking the Hogwarts Express, she’d Apparated to Dorset where the stadium was hidden by anti-Muggle charms. She was wearing a brand new pair of jeans that Harry had bought for her. Women’s jeans. Jeans that weren’t second-hand. It was a very rare thing for Ginny to have something brand new — something that didn’t once belong to one of her brothers, even — and it somehow made her feel strong and powerful.
She was going to make certain one of these teams knew they couldn’t go forward without her on their team. She was here to make an impression.
She followed a queue inside and gave her name, internally delighted that they had her name on the list of fellow hopefuls. She made a silent promise to herself that it might be the first, but it wouldn’t be the only time her name would appear on a Quidditch list. They gave her a number to attach to her back, a blue arm band that all Chasers would wear, and assigned her a bunk in the dormitories. All teams were required to stay together during pre-season training, so each stadium was equipped with temporary living quarters. These were obviously expanded for the try-outs, but she couldn’t help but wonder if any other Quidditch star had ever shared this same bunk.
She stored her things and dressed for training, taking particular pride in the league-quality gloves Harry had given her for Christmas. Taking one last, calming breath, she joined the other hopefuls out on the pitch. It was a partly cloudy day, but pleasant with a hint of spring warmth in the air. Ginny breathed deeply, casually sizing up her opponents. That’s what they all were, even if they were paired on the same team during try-outs. They all wanted a spot as much as she did, and she had to fly better. She couldn’t afford to get attached to any of them.
There were a few faces she recognized, but she was surprised by the variety of ages. It had never occurred to her that if someone didn’t make it, they’d come back the following year to try again. She knew not everyone went to Hogwarts, but these weren’t all strictly British witches and wizards. She distinctly heard a few accents in the excited chatter.
Her eyes narrowed as she recognized one lone wizard standing toward the end of the row. Phelix Harper was the Seeker on the Slytherin team. He’d taken over for Draco Malfoy, and he was decent. He’d beaten Wendy to the Snitch in Gryffindor’s opening match this season, although they’d still managed to pull out a win. Harper was a sixth-year, and Ginny wondered why he’d chosen to try out now rather than wait until he’d left Hogwarts.
Her eyes kept being drawn back to a tall girl with long dark hair that she wore pulled back in a thick plait that hung to her waist. There was something regal and aloof about her, and Ginny felt as if she’d seen her before, but for the life of her, she couldn’t place her.
“Lots of hopefuls here, eh?” the witch standing beside her said. She was a sturdy girl with short, curly hair and well-muscled limbs. Ginny would bet she was a Beater.
“More than I expected,” she said honestly.
“I’m Willow Gordon, Beater,” the witch said.
Ginny felt her eyes widen as she fought to control her features. There was absolutely nothing willowy about the girl standing alongside her. “Ginny Weasley, Chaser.”
Willow hadn’t missed Ginny’s initial reaction. “I know… my parents think they’re a lot funnier than they are. If you saw them, you’d know there was no chance either of them was going to have a slim, wispy child,” Willow said, rolling her eyes.
Ginny found herself warming to this girl, despite her previous warning to herself that everyone was competition. “I’m a seventh child, and the first girl. My parents named me Ginevra — I think it was to prove I was female amongst all the boys. I go by Ginny.”
“I know who you are,” Willow said, smiling. “I don’t think there’s anyone in our world who doesn’t. Your whole family fought in the war, and you’re dating Harry Potter, right?”
Ginny frowned. It was most important to her that she earned this on her own — that it had nothing to do with her family, or Harry. She didn’t want to make a team because someone thought they could get to Harry through her, she wanted it on her own merit. She supposed it was silly to believe people wouldn’t be curious. It hadn’t even been a full year since the Battle.
“My brothers were Beaters,” Ginny said at last, trying to steer the conversation back toward Quidditch. “I also have brothers who were a Keeper and a Seeker, all on the Gryffindor team.”
“I never went to Hogwarts, but I would’ve loved to play on a House team. I always wondered which House I would’ve been Sorted into,” Willow said.
“How come you didn’t go?” Ginny asked.
“My mum has a lot of health issues, and I’m an only child. She didn’t want me so far away,” Willow said.
Ginny didn’t know what to say about that. “Sorry,” she said, tentatively.
“It’s all right. I was home-schooled, but I was never stellar at marks, anyway. We have a sheep farm, and I always preferred working outside with Dad. We could fly when we herded the sheep.”
“I used to nick my brothers’ brooms to fly at night because they wouldn’t let me fly with them during the day,” Ginny said, smiling at her younger self.
“Oh, if I had brothers who tried that, they would’ve found frog spawn in their skivvies,” Willow said, irritated.
“Oh, don’t worry. I was very good at payback,” Ginny said, her eyes twinkling.
“I’ll remember to watch out for you,” Willow replied.
“If you didn’t go to Hogwarts, do you have a wand?” Ginny asked curiously.
“Of course I have a wand,” Willow said. “I got it when I was eleven, same as everyone else, and I went to the Ministry for my Qualifications when I was sixteen. I never did learn to Apparate, though. If I make a team, I suppose I’ll have to learn. I’d much rather fly.”
“All right,” a voice boomed over the pitch. “Chasers and Keepers to the left side of the pitch, Beaters and Seekers to the right.”
“Good luck,” Ginny said, hoping she’d see Willow again.
“You, too,” Willow replied, heading to the opposite side.
Ginny spent the day being put through her paces. There were a number of training exercises the Gryffindor team had used, but some others she was itching to try with her team. She was happy she and Demelza had worked on the physical side in the Room of Requirement all those months because the exercises were extremely demanding. She thought she’d caught a glimpse of Gwenog Jones behind a window at one point, and she knew she’d seen the captain of the Wimbourne Wasps standing out on the field.
The try-outs worked in phases. The first two days were strictly training exercises to watch how they moved and compare their stats. The end of the second day, they’d be paired off against one another. The first round of cuts would happen on day three. After that, they’d put them together on temporary teams to have shortened matches. Any interviews with interested teams would happen on day four.
She was happy to reach her bunk at the end of the first day and wondered where she was supposed to go for dinner. She was starving. She noticed Willow entering the dormitory and stopping at a bunk several spots away from Ginny’s.
“Willow,” she said, approaching the witch, “how did it go?”
“My arse is killing me, but I think it went well,” Willow replied, sitting on the edge of her bunk. “You?”
“I think it went well, too. I think my times were fast, but it’s hard to tell when you can’t watch what everyone else is doing. I have to try and score off some of the Keepers tomorrow,” she said.
“Yeah. I have to try and knock a few Seekers off their brooms with a Bludger tomorrow, too. Looking forward to it,” Willow said, looking positively delighted.
‘D’you want to go see if we can find where they keep the food?” Ginny asked, her stomach rumbling.
“That sounds fantastic. I’m starving,” Willow said, jumping off her bunk. Ginny knew she was going to like her.
The next day went much as the first had done with the groups split up and competing in a bunch of training exercises. It was toward the end of the day when they started pairing off to compete that Ginny began to feel that familiar rush of nerves and exhilaration. She noticed the witch with the dark plait again, and it tickled at the back of her mind how she knew her.
There were more Chasers than Keepers trying out, so they paired the Chasers together, two Chasers against one Keeper. Since in a game it would be three Chasers, Ginny thought it would be a fair test for the Keeper. The Chasers would have to work in tandem despite still competing against one another. Ginny was paired with a bloke she hadn’t seen before, and it wasn’t long before she could see the problem. The other Chaser absolutely refused to pass to her, instead holding the Quaffle too long in an attempt to score himself while Ginny was wide open.
She grew frustrated quickly, and after the third time, called him on it. “Oi, we’re supposed to work as if on the same team. If I’m open, pass the bloody Quaffle,” she snapped.
“Keep your knickers on, Red,” the other Chaser said dismissively.
This time, Ginny started with the Quaffle, and although she wanted to give him a taste of his own medicine, when it came down to it, he had the better shot, so she passed and he scored. Ginny noticed one of the judges marking something on a checklist. The other Chaser smirked at her.
The next exercise had the Chasers playing as if on opposite teams, although still aiming for the same goal. They kept the pairings the same. This time, Ginny aimed her broom directly at the opposing Chaser and barrelled into his shocked face. He dropped the Quaffle as he grabbed his broom to keep from falling. Ginny snatched it up and scored herself. This time, when she saw the same judge again marking her checklist, Ginny smirked over at the other Chaser, who scowled at her.
He was a big, burly sort of bloke who reminded her of Cormac McLaggen — full of himself and feeling better than everyone else. Ginny hoped she’d be paired with someone else the next time. As the second day came to close, the potentials were all assembled on the pitch while the judges made their final notes. Tension was high as everyone was aware the first cut would happen the following morning.
Her eyes searched the crowd for Willow, but she couldn’t find her in the mass. She did see the dark-haired girl again, and noticed she wore the same blue band around her arm that Ginny wore, indicating a Chaser. She saw Phelix Harper, chatting with the bloke who’d played Keeper against her. She wondered how they knew one another since Ginny hadn’t recognized him.
As she was standing there observing the Slytherin, she overheard a snatch of conversation behind her.
“Well, Rita Skeeter says he has some odd connection to Dark magic, and that’s why he’s always around it. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why You-Know-Who kept attacking him, because he saw him as a threat,” a short witch who wore her T-shirt very tight said to the circle of witches around her. She had a red arm band designating a Seeker.
Ginny’s temper spiked instantly. This ridiculous buzz of conversation had been going on since the last article. Rita’s arrest had only increased the rumours. Harry brushed them off — she didn’t know if he’d become so accustomed to being disparaged that it didn’t faze him anymore, or if it was just that he was used to being insulted. Either option wasn’t acceptable.
She spun on the witch, automatically reaching for her wand, “So, you decided to believe the gossip of a woman who makes a career out of ruining people’s lives rather than the man who sacrificed his own life to save all of yours?” she asked scathingly.
The witch looked up, startled. A few of those around her looked chagrined, and averted their eyes uneasily.
The girl who had spoken plucked up her courage and tried again, “Well, he hasn’t commented on any of it. He hasn’t even clearly told us what happened in the forest during that final Battle.”
“And why should he? How much is he supposed to give before people like you are finally satisfied? He doesn’t owe you anything, he never did — but he saved your sorry arses, anyway,” Ginny said, disgusted.
“She’s right,” a wizard who had been standing behind them spoke up. He wore a green armband that signified a Keeper. “We all owe him our lives, and the only reason this gossip about him continues is people like you keep buying it.”
Ginny nodded at the wizard, who returned the gesture.
“Well, I know we owe him our lives—” the witch began, but Ginny interrupted her.
“You have a funny way of showing it.”
“May I have your attention, please?” one of the judges called. Ginny turned back to pay attention, but she kept her wand in hand and a wary eye on the witch in question. “We’re done for today. The names of those we’re asking to continue will be posted in the lobby at half eight tomorrow morning. Team practices will begin at ten. That is all.”
Nervous chatter filled the pitch as people began jostling to find their mates and compare notes. Ginny lost sight of the witch who’d been mouthing off. It rankled her so badly that people continued to have a go at him. What would it take?
“Ginny!” a familiar voice said, and she turned to find Willow pushing people aside to reach her. “What d’you think?”
“I think people should show a bit of gratitude,” she snapped.
Willow’s eyes widened in surprise. “What crawled up your arse?”
The two girls began walking back toward the dormitories. “Sorry. I overhead a comment about Harry, and it ticked me off. People always have misconceptions about him.”
Willow turned sharply and studied Ginny’s face. Thus far in their friendship, Ginny hadn’t mentioned anything about Harry, and Willow had followed her lead.
“People are curious, and he doesn’t share much,” she said sagely.
Ginny nodded. “I know. He’s very private, but he’s given so much already, and all he wants now is to make his own life, without Voldemort shadowing everything. I wish they’d let him do that.”
Willow winced at the mention of Voldemort, which surprised Ginny since the impression she had was of someone so unflinching. She sometimes forgot how much the rest of the Wizarding world reacted to using the name.
“I’ve heard he’s a good flyer,” Willow said noncommittedly.
“He is,” Ginny said, smiling widely.
Willow snorted. “You look besotted. I bet there isn’t anything you don’t think he does well.”
“That’s not true. He has a terrible temper, and he rushes in without thinking. He also has an annoying overprotective streak,” Ginny said, frowning.
Willow laughed. “Isn’t that what saved us all, though?”
Ginny scowled at her new friend. “Shut it, Willow.”
After showering and stowing their gear, Ginny and Willow went to get some dinner. The dining area was much more crowded than it had been the previous day, and they ended up sharing their table with several of the other candidates. There were two other Chasers, and Ginny did her best to remain aloof. She didn’t want to become friends with any of the competition.
“She’s a sure bet, which tightens the odds on the rest of us, though,” said one of the Chasers, a wizard with curly blond hair. Ginny thought she recognized him as an older student at Hogwarts, a Hufflepuff from George’s year.
Ginny couldn’t squelch her curiosity, and despite her desire to remain distant, she blurted out, “Who’s a sure bet?”
“That one,” the Hufflepuff said, nodding toward the witch with the long dark plait that Ginny had been observing since she’d arrived. “She’s a fantastic flyer. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I’ve heard that both the Holyhead Harpies and the Falmouth Falcons have open Chaser positions on their starting line. I know someone from the reserve squad will most likely take them, but that leaves open reserve spots on at least two teams,” another one of the Chasers said.
“And the Chudley Cannons are always looking for new talent,” another added.
“I haven’t seen that witch much during the trials. She’s good?” Ginny asked, still staring at the dark-haired witch.
“I competed with her when they paired us off yesterday,” one of the witches said gloomily. “She beat me every time.”
A sudden image of a dark, wind-swept woods and an illegal broom race filled Ginny’s mind. She remembered a witch they’d dubbed ‘Pirate Girl,’ when she’d gone to watch the race. That’s who the Chaser reminded her of, and Ginny wondered if they were one in the same.
“What about Beater positions?” Willow asked. “Any rumour on which teams have Beater positions open?”
“I think the Montrose Magpies do,” the blond Chaser answered.
“Oh, perfect. I look good in black,” Willow said, turning back to her chicken casserole without another comment.
The others stared at her mutely for a few moments before conversation resumed. Ginny found herself hoping Willow made a team almost as much as she hoped that she would.
The next morning, Ginny and Willow made their way down to the crowded lobby. People were huddled in groups, although the notice board remained quite empty. Ginny saw the Chasers they’d eaten dinner with the previous evening huddled in chairs opposite the board. The witch who’d competed against Pirate Girl was in tears, and her mates were attempting to cheer her up. Phelix Harper stood against the wall biting his thumbnail and looking agitated. The Keeper she’d scored against paced anxiously along the opposite wall. At exactly half eight, a list magically appeared on the board. The volume of chatter in the lobby increased exponentially as people jostled for position. Several of those at the front either whooped in joy or burst into tears. One brawny Beater stormed away, slamming the door behind him as he left. The queue to peer at the list moved forward, though a bit more apprehensively after seeing the reactions of the first few.
Willow and Ginny looked at one another, and Willow shrugged. “It’ll still say the same thing no matter what order we see it in.”
Ginny grinned. “Cheers, Willow.”
“Good luck,” Willow said solemnly as they finally reached the board.
Ginny scanned it quickly and felt her heart thump with pride when she saw her name. The team she’d been assigned to was to meet in the far left-hand corner of the pitch. She didn’t recognize any of the other names on her team, but she’d see them when practice began. Willow’s name was also on the list, although she was assigned to a different team.
They high-fived one another. The first cut was done, and they’d both made it through. She allowed herself to bask in the glory for about half an hour before the butterflies descended once again. She wasn’t finished yet, and she’d only made it past the first hurdle. Although she wished she could share her joy with Harry and her brothers, she knew giving into it could distract her from her goal. She had to focus.
Team practices that afternoon were cut-throat and competitive. Everyone was eager to show themselves in the best light. They were all excruciatingly aware that besides the judges watching below, there were league owners and various members of the teams hidden behind the dark glass in the observation booth watching them. Ginny’s team won their first two matches, although they were narrowly defeated in their third after the Seeker on Pirate Girl’s team caught the Snitch.
After dinner that evening, Ginny and Willow returned to the dormitory weary and exhausted. Ginny was startled upon entering to realize the room had been magically shrunk to accommodate the smaller number of candidates. It gave Ginny a certain thrill of accomplishment.
A sharp pain in her arm startled her, and she looked down to see Willow’s fingernails digging into her skin. “Look at the envelopes on our beds,” Willow whispered, standing stock still. Several of the other witches were already perched on their beds and tearing into their own envelopes.
Pulling out of Willow’s grip, Ginny walked tentatively toward her bed and found a stack of envelopes on her pillow. She picked them up and counted. Five. There were five envelopes, which meant there were five teams looking for a private interview the following day. After that, they’d be released while the teams made their final decisions. Ginny planned to go straight to Harry’s house and spend a long weekend. She hadn’t let her parents know that try-outs only went through Thursday, and she was looking forward to some uninterrupted time with him.
She swallowed against the lump in her throat, and with shaking hands, opened the first envelope. It was written in grey ink and read:
The Falmouth Falcons wish a private audience at 11:00 tomorrow morning.
When she opened the second envelope, her heart thrummed in her chest, and she had to steady her hands in order to read. It was written in green:
The Holyhead Harpies wish a private audience at 9:00 tomorrow morning.
Ginny wanted to whoop with glee. Not only was it the team she’d hoped for, but it was an early morning interview. Teams tended to try and interview their top choices first, depending on the candidate’s schedule. Once a team picked a slot, the other teams interested in the same candidate had to take a later slot. If a team liked what they saw, they tended to make offers straightaway before the candidate could be scooped up by another team.
She’d also received interview requests from the Pride of Portree, the Wigtown Wanderers, and — Ron would be delighted — the Chudley Cannons.
Five. Five chances at making a professional league team. Exhaustion forgotten, Ginny had the urge to go dancing. She looked over at Willow and grinned. Willow stood and approached Ginny’s bed. She silently held out her three envelopes, and opened her hand for Ginny’s, who complied.
Willow had interviews with the Montrose Magpies, the Chudley Cannons, and the Holyhead Harpies. There was a chance both she and Willow could be on the same team, something Ginny had been afraid to hope for, but secretly wished would happen. Their eyes met over the envelopes.
“We do have the right names for the Harpies,” Willow said, biting her lip.
Ginny, too, had noticed it but was afraid to mention it in case she jinxed it. The Holyhead Harpies nearly always chose players who either had a first or a surname that began with the letter ‘G.’
She nodded solemnly. “We should get to sleep so we can be at our best tomorrow.”
She hadn’t brought her mirror with her for fear she’d be distracted, but at this moment, she’d do anything to talk to Harry. She’d see him on Friday, but it felt like a lifetime between now and then. A life-altering lifetime.
A/N: I’m really not certain how Quidditch try-outs work, or even all that familiar with the Premiere League, so these try-outs are based more on the American Football combine. My apologies for any glaring errors, but I was pleased with how it turned out.