Mental Match

Chapter 9: Quidditch Before & After

Chapter 9 - Quidditch Before & After

Hermione awoke to a sunny Saturday. She stretched in her bed and against her habit of rising early, she snuggled back into her pillow and awaited the inevitable ache that she had come to expect each morning. She could not remember exactly when it had started but now she actually welcomed this new feeling that apparently had taken residence deep within her to suddenly raise itself at all times of the day, especially early mornings as she arose from her sleep. She referred to it as an ache but it would alternate between feeling like a hollow yearning sensation to an overflowing excited one that sometimes would start in her stomach or her chest or all over her body. She should really start referring to it as a mental ache because it was starting to send her a bit crazy. - Yes she did not know exactly when it started but she knew exactly who was responsible for it.

She turned on her back and as she pictured him in her head, the ache washed over her sweetly and silently as a smile creased her sleepy face. This was getting ridiculous! She was Hermione Granger brightest and most together mature witch of her time not a little school girl with her first crush...only this was far from a crush she knew.

Ever since their mutual "promise" on the evening of her accident, their relationship had been changing ever slightly and ever so often. At first she was satisfied to take things easy and to let herself ease into their friendship. She no longer had to watch every word she said or study every action between them. She just wanted to enjoy his company and they did just that. They returned to their evening meetings and she would often accompany him around the school as he worked. They still enjoyed their meals together and spent many nights talking in his office or just reading in the library.

Ron slowly opened up to her she perceived. He would speak of his past without fear of judgement and bit by bit the walls around him seemed to fade when they were together and he grew bolder in his physical interaction with her. She came to relish all the times when he would take her hand or rest his hand on her back or just touch her as they talked. She however sensed that he still seemed to be...waiting for her to pull back...waiting for her to change direction on him. It was if he expected her to suddenly realise that what was happening was inappropriate on some level and he was biding his time until then. She assumed that this was the real cause for him to still not make even a move to kiss her and this was becoming a problem for her.

It was becoming a problem because she had somehow unconsciously and surprisingly moved passed her satisfied stage weeks ago and was desperate to move unto something bigger, closer and...more defined. With all her previous relationships while there was the initial trill and excitement, her romantic feelings had all but tapered off in the end. She had always been in control as was her natural habit and she always knew where she stood. But now...she was in new territory...she was constantly in a struggle to stay in control of herself, and her feelings...whatever they could be defined as, had only multiplied as time passed. At the slightest gesture from him, whether it was his hand passing through his unruly hair or resting on her arm or the sight of his lopsided grin, she had to control herself from unashamedly throwing her body at him. She lived in endless daydreams of this happening and him responding.

Still...he kept on the other side of the invisible line and her doubts about his feelings for her increased with each day. Maybe he simply did not fancy her as she thought. Was she over reading this whole...situation between them? Her innate stubbornness and need for control had all but kept her from making the next move but every morning as she lay in her bed with the familiar ache inside her, she thought less of the consequences and more of the rewards for being more forward.

She sighed loudly as she sat up and dragged her legs over the side of the bed. There was no use in dwelling on the unknown...she had a good day to look forward to after all. She was going to meet up with Harry and Ron for lunch in the dining hall before Ginny met them. They would all go off to see the first Quidditch match between old house rivals Gryffindor and Slytherin scheduled to start at 2:00pm.


Hermione left her office for lunch later than normal or at least later than she had planned for today. Her less than usual late morning start has caused her delay but she was determined to finish her planned work as she knew she would not get any chance later, especially if Gryffindor won the match. Harry and some of her former classmates would ensure that the celebrations continue long after the snitch was caught. She shook her head in thought. She would never understand how this game could make grown men and women turn into idiots sometimes. She was just looking forward to enjoying the game in the company of her two favourite men at the moment especially the one who occupied her mind for a large chunk of her waking day.

Her face was still a little flushed with her recent thoughts when she swung into the dining hall and stopped dead in her tracks at the sight ahead of her.

Harry and Ron were at the dining table opposite each other having lunch together. That in itself was not so unusual but what made her stop and stare was the fact that they were both laughing hysterically and rather loudly, seemingly quite oblivious to the other guests in the room. Harry was intermittently pounding his fists on the table and looked like he was choking and crying at the same time. Ron had his back to her and was waving a piece of bread around in his hands and it was obvious he was the one causing the hysterics as he told his story to an incapacitated Harry. As she slowly approached the two men, the object of their mirth became clearer...

..."and I swear Harry there was fire coming out her nostrils and steam blowing out her ears...and when I called him Dickwood you should have seen her face when she realised the joke...I tell you I still have the scar on my shin where she kicked me. She's a real dragon that one." Harry was now halfway off his seat with laughter.

"Maybe I'm more suited for your brother in Romania you think?" she inserted behind him.

Harry fell completely off his chair with a thud and the piece of bread flew out of Ron's hand up into the air and landed with a splash in a bowl of soup in front of a startled teacher on the other table.

"Hermione!" Both boys shouted her name as they scrambled to stand and gather themselves. The look of fear on both faces was evident as they both tried to think of a suitable explanation for their present behaviour. It was Harry who tried first.

"Hermione...erm...we were just having a...conversation about...people...you know...people who we know from school yeah...right Ron?" as he trailed off sheepishly with the fear still on his face.

"Yeah...And I was just saying what an ass old Dick... Mr. Ellwood was and how you reacted that day remember?" Ron was pink in the face as he looked at her.

"Apparently like a fire breathing dragon right?" she twitched her eyebrows as both men flinched at the description.

Hermione was having such fun at the expense of her two friends that she had a hard time keeping a stern face. Even with herself being the subject of their laughter, it was more rewarding to see them together and sharing a story about her...and when was the last time she had seen Harry in such a state! It was a relief to her that he could relax like this and with Ron of all people. The one person who she wanted Harry to be comfortable with and it certainly looked like that was the case and she hadn't even introduced them as yet!

"Well a very nice one I was going to add." Ron tried explaining before going completely red. "Oh come on Hermione...I'm really sorry...I was just embellishing the story for effect. You're not going to hex us...are you?" he squeaked out.

She held her most vicious stare for a few seconds before letting out a sudden laugh.

"Of course not you idiots...well not now anyway. I'm glad you both met and seem to be enjoying yourselves even at my expense. Come give me hug Harry." she laughed again.

Harry let out a sigh of relief and leaned over the table and gave her a tight hug as he smiled at her.

"Nice to see you Hermione and yes we were enjoying ourselves. Ron is a real crackpot with his stories I tell you." he smirked

"Oi! I'm right over here you know... and you weren't doing so badly yourself with your dragon tales as well...but I won't repeat any to Hermione and risk our bullocks." Ron quipped, smiling at her with that lopsided grin she knew so well now. He touched her arm with a wink and she settled down next to him at the table. Her heart swelled in her chest as she looked at both of them.

"Well it seems like no introductions are necessary." she smiled. "Have I been the only topic of discussion or have you had more meaningful conversation?" she ended with a smirk.

Harry pushed his spectacles up on his nose as he returned her smile. "You know I love boasting about you and that wonderful brain of yours right? so no need to worry. I was just appraising Ron here but he already knows about your ability it seems. Actually Ron has been telling me about the work you all are doing here and I am really impressed Hermione. You guys are doing an amazing job." he said with a hint of admiration in his voice.

"It's mostly Ron and his team Harry. I'm just her to ensure the smooth running of the school." she informed him. "He's the brains of the operation this time believe me." she glanced and gave a smile to Ron as she instinctively moved closer to him. He bumped her shoulders with his as he turned to Harry.

"Don't believe her a bit Harry. We just make a good team together that's all. Wouldn't you agree Hermione?" he turned back to her with a knowing smile and the ache started again in her stomach as she lost her way for a few seconds.

Harry was studying them closely when she finally came out of her slight trance and tried to shift the conversation.

"He's such a prat isn't he. Tell me Harry what's going on with you. I haven't heard from you in ages not since my birthday. Are you getting my owls?" she asked.

Harry again glanced at the both of them and he seemed to give a small knowing smile at her before speaking.

"I'm sorry for the long silence Hermione. It's just that we have been very busy at the Ministry and I have been out on the field almost every day I'm afraid. You see..." he stopped here and gave a quick glance at Ron as if he was making a decision to continue or not. Hermione knew Harry could tell her everything but he had just met Ron and speaking of highly confidential matters of the Ministry in front of strangers was not something Harry would ever do.

"It's ok Harry. You don't have to say anything. I just hope you are being careful and not taking any unnecessary risks." she told him.

Harry gave them a third look over before he seemed to make up his mind.

"Look it's really nothing as yet but I think I should tell you Hermione... just keep it quiet." he stared at Ron to let him know the implication to him as well. He leaned a bit closer over the table.

"It seems that a large part of remaining Death Eaters from the war may be planning something...we think...but we are not too sure. They have never before banded together but we have been seeing signs of a few gatherings and in an abundance of caution we have been gathering information. We have nothing concrete to go on yet but it seems they are waiting for something. Waiting for an opening. I personally think they are just getting frustrated in their individual little efforts and want to plan something big together." he spoke softly.

"It might be nothing but I just want you to be careful Hermione. I know Hogwarts is safe but just be on the lookout...you know." he added with some concern.

"Sure Harry I'll be fine, just take care of yourself please." she implored him her concern showing on her face. Harry appeared a bit regretful for his dark news.

"I'm sorry if I spoilt the mood before the match but don't worry too much." he smiled as he looked at Ron again. "Do you follow the games at all Ron? It's one of the few things that gets me to relax a bit."

"I like the game but I don't really have time with my work and all. I try to see a few games when my sister is playing but that's not often." he said. Hermione suddenly remembered to bring Harry up to date with Ginny.

"Harry, I forgot to tell you that Ron's sister is coming to meet us in a while to see the game together. I invited her as my guest so I hope..." she faltered as Harry suddenly dropped his mouth open and his face took on a flushed appearance. "Harry are you ok?" she asked

"You mean Ginny...Ginny Weasley of the Harpies...she's your sister?...really?...she's coming here...now? I just got her latest poster...oh crap!" Harry face suddenly turned pink as he avoided Ron's stare.

"What's the matter mate. She's a right pain in my arse sometimes but she's ok. Do you know her? Hey what poster are you talking about? She didn't tell me anything?" he suddenly looked concerned as well.

Harry had his mouth open but was finding it hard to say anything. It dawned on Hermione that there was something amiss going on here and she wanted to know what.

"Yeah Harry why may I ask are you suddenly buying posters of female Quidditch players?" she raised her eyebrows at the question as she folded her arms in front her chest.

Harrys face was now beet red as he looked at the both of them.

"Well...erm...it's just that...well...and I don't mean any disrespect to Ron here but the female Quidditch League in an effort to raise some money just released a new set of posters with some of the players posing in their...you know...swimmers...nothing indecent I assure you...and I wanted to support the effort so I bought one." he studied his plate as he finished.

"What! Posing in their swimsuits! Mom will kill her I tell you!...I will kill her! What next will they do. Put Viktor Krum in a swimsuit poster too!" Ron now yelled out.

Harry now took a quick glance at her but she ignored the look. Better that Ron not know that Viktor was the one responsible for her first innocent kiss. She was still intrigued that Harry had somehow picked out Ginny as his poster to buy. This could be interesting indeed. Instead she held on to Ron's arm to settle him down.

"Will you calm down Ron. There's nothing wrong in the league trying to raise funds as long as it's not indecent as Harry says. Ginny is a strong independent woman and you should respect her decision." she reasoned. "Now I want you to promise that you will not fly off the handle when you go meet her...which is in a few minutes by the way."

The presence of both her hands on his arm seem to calm Ron down a bit and he soon settled back down in his seat but Hermione kept her hands on him for her own selfish reasons.

"Well ok...but I still think Mom will kill her when she finds out." he muttered as he looked over the table. "and no offense to you too Harry but I'm watching you closely by the way." he said with a knowing smirk.

"Fair enough." Harry replied. "Just like I'll be watching you too." he raised his brow as he glanced at Hermione's hands around his arm.

Ron stood up suddenly as his ears began to turn pink. Hermione's face also had a flushed appearance as she dropped her hands from him.

"Right...I guess I'll be off to meet Ginny. We can meet in ten minutes at the North Tower and then we can all walk over to the pitch ok?" he stated quickly before giving her a small smile. He nodded at Harry and then left.

Before Harry could make any choice remarks she took in front.

"Don't you say a thing Harry. We're still just good friends so hush it before I start on you and your poster girls." she huffed with a grin.

"I wasn't going to say anything Hermione. Like you just said, you are a strong woman and I respect your decisions ...just be careful that's all." he said with his hands up. "and I really meant what I said earlier, keep a look out for anything strange. I suspected that you and Ron were...close and that's why I told him too. I hope he looks out for you as well." he explained.

"I know he will Harry." she said with a sign. "Come on let's get going. We don't want to be late."

They both headed out of the dining area and made their way to the North tower along the same outside corridor she frequented when she wanted to watch her red haired friend on his run. They paused as they neared the last corner as the distressed voice of the man in her thoughts became clearer. She knew he could not let it go!

'I'm just saying Ginny...Mom is going to throw a fit when she hears about it. I just hope George doesn't make it worse by showing her an actual poster...you know he would."

"Honestly Ron. Will you just shut up about it! I'm a big girl and besides it was in my contract. I have to appear in these promotions. You can tell Mom that." Ginny's voice sounded exasperated.

Before Hermione had a chance to grin at the overheard conversation Ginny and Ron swung around the corner and all but ran into them. Ginny stumbled into Harry's outstretched arms as he braced himself and Ron caught her by her waist and steadied her.

"Whoops...sorry." he laughed at her as she grinned up at him. "Right on time I see."

They both looked at the other two people who were both staring at each other with their mouths open. Harry still had his hands on Ginny's arms and they both appeared frozen.

"Harry?" she started.

They both suddenly jumped apart with flushed faces and smiled at each other.

"Harry, this is Ron's sister Ginny, you know the one that plays for the Harpies?" she couldn't help herself. "and Ginny this is my good and dear friend Harry Potter."

"Er..Hi Ginny...it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm a big fan of yours." Harry shook her hand with a big impish grin on his face. Ron gave a light snort next to her.

"Really? Well you can also say I'm a big fan of you too Harry. It's really nice to finally meet you." Ginny had obviously recovered faster than her spectacled friend but she too had a huge grin on her face. She finally turned and gave her a hug.

"Nice to see you again Hermione and thanks again for inviting me" she said with her smile. Ginny had her hair tied back and she was wearing a long elegant blouse under her jacket. She looked very pretty and Hermione could not help noticing Harry staring unashamedly.

"No problem. Let's go shall we?" Hermione again put her arm through Ron's as they made their way over the grassy field to the now bustling Quidditch pitch. She had never felt happier as the cool breeze hit her face.


They had just ascended the first couple of stairs up to the stands when Harry pulled at her with a slight scowl on his face.

"What's he doing here?" he asked as she looked around and immediately recognized the sickly while hair of the man approaching them.

"I heard he's sponsoring the Slytherin team this year Harry. Just keep your cool please." she warned.

"Well well...I see that you are still supporting another losing team Potter. Slytherin hasn't lost all last season and I believe they shall again whip poorly prepared and poorly equipped Gryffindor." Malfoy stressed the word "poorly" with a snarl. He turned to Hermione.

"And I see you are still associating with...the same sorry bunch as before." he dared not mention the word he loved to spit at her. That was before the war. He now turned to Ron who was straining against her arm.

"And what do we have here...ah..is this the lowly squib that I have heard about? My my Potter...you surely are lowering yourself and the standards around here.." he meant to continue.

Hermione was now desperately holding on to Ron's arm preventing him from making a scene while keeping herself in front of Harry when all of a sudden someone bumped into Malfoy sending him sprawling down the two flights of steps in a yelp.

Ginny Weasley looked down at the sorry figure with an innocent face.

"Oh I'm so sorry mister. I really did not see you there. Did I hurt you? Are you ok?" she feigned concern as she pretended to help him up. "Funny how a little girl like me could send you flying. You must be a lot weaker than you look." she told him.

Amidst the sudden laughter all around the stands, the white haired man brushed himself off hurriedly and with a last scowl aimed at them, he ran off.

"Well that's that. Shall we proceed Harry? I think the game is about to begin." Ginny said calmly as she took Harry's hand and pulled him up with her. Harry continued to gawk at her with admiration in his eyes which now appeared larger than his spectacles it seemed. Hermione chuckled under her breath as she looked at Ron who was also appeared to be speechless.

"I told you she was strong and capable didn't I?" she told him as she grabbed his hand and led him up the stands.

As they proceeding up to the tier reserved for teachers and guests, the crowd slowly noticed the red haired girl leading Harry quickly up the steps. At least the boys in the crowd did.

"Hey isn't that Ginny Weasley from the Harpies. Wow she's even hotter than her poster."

"That's the girl from the Harpies with Potter I'm sure. Let's get a closer look"

"Wait...that's Mr. Weasley's sister isn't it? Shit! We should have asked him before you dumb gits!"

It seemed that all the 5th to 7th year Gryffindor boys were now scrambling towards them as they made their way to their seats. No sooner had they sat when one by one they approached Ginny with requests for autographs which she gave gladly. It seemed that the swimsuit poster was really paying off. Ron of course tried to display a permanent scowl on his face but she was sure she saw equal amounts of pride in his little sister on his face in between. Only the intervention of the Headmistress, stopped the ruckus that was threatening.

Harry for one was completely taken as he grinned at Ginny.

"You know Ginny. This is the first time that I have been completely overshadowed coming to this game. I'm a bit jealous to be honest but hell I can understand why." he continued grinning until Ron hit him on his shoulder.

"Hey remember I said I was watching you mate." he laughed out in jest. Hermione elbowed him and Ginny gave him a terrible glare just as the four balls were released into the sky and the game began with a loud cheer.

Even after their encounter with Malfoy, things seemed to proceed smoothly among the four of them. Hermione was overly pleased that Harry was having a good time with Ginny at his side. They would constantly rave at the play and talked with each other throughout the game. She wondered if Harry would finally open up and let someone into his life. She wished for him what she felt for Ron at this moment.

They were a lot more subdued than Harry and Ginny. She never had a great feel for this game as she really only ever enjoyed the atmosphere with her friends. Not being exposed to the game as much, Ron was also not involved as his sister but he seemed to be enjoying her company. They chatted quietly together and he continued to press against her ever since they were seated. She was having a wonderful time.

The Slytherin team got off to a quick start but soon it was evident who was the better prepared team. Apparently all the extra work that the Gryffindor team had put in early in the season showed as they slowly caught up the score and easily passed the flaying Slytherin players. By the time the Gryffindor seeker caught the snitch, they were already way out front. The game ended as the stands around them erupted in a loud roar.

They were about to make their way out when Hermione heard a familiar shout.

"Hey Harry, Hermione. It's great to see you both." She turned to the voice with a smile on her face.

"Neville! How wonderful to see you again." she cried as she fell into an awkward hug with her friend.

Harry gave him a pat on the back as he greeted his old housemate. Hermione introduced both Ron and Ginny and they continued to stand around and chat.

"Hey you guys are coming back to the Three Broomsticks to celebrate are you? Everyone will be there. You have to come. Dean and Seamus have gone already and it's going to be like old times Harry." he beamed.

Ron seemed to hesitate for a moment but Harry didn't.

"For sure Neville. We'll be there." as he turned to Ginny. "You don't mind do you. I would like for you to meet our old friends." he asked a bit nervously.

"I would love to go and celebrate with you and your friends Harry. Lead the way." bubbled Ginny as she made to move.

Hermione was struck with a bit of nerves as she looked at Ron.

"You don't mind going do you? It would be nice to see all our old friends." she asked hopefully.

"You know I'm not good with crowds...not like here... but I guess it will be a nice change. Are you sure you want me to come?" he asked.

"Of course Ron. Why would I not want you to. We have had a wonderful day out together and there is nothing I would like better than to finish it...with you...if you want to." she asked. Hermione understood Ron's hesitance but she had hoped that with her he would let go of his insecurities a lot easier. She watched as his wonderful grin appeared on his face and she smiled with him.

"Sure let's go. Besides I still have to watch Harry with my sister remember?" he laughed and she welcomed the ache in her chest this time.

"Come on, we have to meet some of the gang by the front gate." Neville informed them as they duly descended the stands and walked across the field.

Harry was still in deep conversation with Ginny as they came to the front entrance. It seemed that they would be together for the rest of the evening to the satisfaction of Hermione who was arm in arm with Ron as they made their way out.

"Harry, Hermione. It's lovely to see you." she heard another familiar singsong girlish voice and she turned to verify her suspicion.

"Luna!" How are you?" Harry cried out as he gave the strangely dressed girl a hug.

'I'm good thank you Harry." Luna replied as she suddenly drew Hermione into a quick hug. "and it's nice to see you again Hermione. You look radiant I must say." she exclaimed softly in her unique voice before turning to the man by her side.

She went still for a moment at her recognition before she quickly stepped forward.

"Ron? ...is that you? What are you doing here? Oh gosh it's great to see you again. You look wonderful." she gushed out as she stepped up again and launched herself into a kiss with Ron straight on his lips.

The pleasant ache that resided in Hermione suddenly turned into something different and cold.

xxx

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