Heidi cringed away from the hands reaching across the barriers to touch them, as they made their victorious way off the pitch, towards the change rooms.
“Alright?” Ginny asked, nudging her discreetly even as she winked at a wolf-whistling fan.
Heidi sighed in relief when the door shut behind them, blocking away the crowd. “Fine now.”
“Oh, come on Heidi,” Ginny said, slinging her free arm around Heidi’s neck as she handed off her broom with the other, Heidi doing the same. “We’re young, gorgeous Quidditch stars. The newest, hottest bods in the Hollyhead Harpies starting lineup. Bask in the limelight for once!”
Heidi grimaced, ducking out from under her friend’s arm as they marched into the shower room. Still a little body-modest, even after nine years of professional Quidditch and shared changing rooms, Heidi closed herself in the low-walled cubicle before stripping off her sweaty uniform. She stepped under the hot spray with a sigh of relief as her sore muscles eased. Ginny, bold as ever, stripped right there in the middle of the room before taking the stall opposite.
“I mean,” Ginny continued as she shampooed her hair, “it’s not all bad, right? Having wizards want to kiss the ground you walk on?”
“If that was all they wanted,” Heidi muttered as she soaped herself up. “But no, instead they want to crowd and touch and harass.”
“So let them crowd you, touch you … harass you,” Ginny purred suggestively and then grinned as a teammate laughed in an adjacent stall.
“Fuck yes,” the woman said in agreement. “Seriously, we’ve basically got the pick of the lot. We can weed out the losers and go straight for the hot guys.”
“Or girls,” another teammate piped up from the other side of the room.
“You all want to be careful about that sort of thing,” their captain warned. “You’ll get a reputation.”
“Oh, come on Gwenog, not you too,” Ginny complained as she finished rinsing her hair and reached for the soap. “One prude’s enough for any one team, surely. And Heidi’s got the market cornered.”
“I’m not a prude,” Heidi objected, shoving back her shampoo-lathered locks to give Ginny a narrowed-eyed glare.
“You’re twenty-seven years old and you’ve had exactly one serious relationship,” Ginny said flatly. “And how many times did you sleep with him? Twice?”
“Three times,” Heidi mumbled, though she knew it wouldn’t help her case any. “I’m just not interested, okay? I wish the fans would back the hell off. I’m here to fly, not to be drooled over.”
“Everyone wants what they can’t have. Your hard-to-get attitude just riles them up. The more you turn them down, the harder they’ll try. They all want bragging rights, see. They want to be able to say that they were the ones that got into your very exclusive knickers,” Ginny pointed out. There were murmurs of agreement from around them. “Seriously, just take a couple for a spin and they’ll back off some.”
“Oi, leave her be,” Gwenog said in her sternest tone. “Heidi, don’t listen to these tarts. If I hear you’ve let them pressure you into sex I’ll have all your guts for garters.”
Ginny gaped in disbelief. “I’m not trying to pressure her into sex.”
“Kind of are,” Heidi disagreed as she closed her eyes and ducked right under the spray, rinsing off from head to toe. “Seriously Ginny, just leave it be, or I’ll be cluing your mother into that ‘reputation’ Gwenog mentioned before.”
Ginny froze. Heidi switched off her shower. She summoned a towel, dried off, then wrapped it around herself before exiting her cubicle and heading for the lockers. When Ginny finally regained her senses, she bolted after Heidi, still covered in soap suds and entirely naked, planting her fists on her hips.
“Heidi, don’t you dare. Mum would never shut up. Oh my god, she’d start looking up chastity-monitoring charms and tracking spells. Seriously, I’d just get to the interesting part and bam! She’d Apparate right into the middle of it to put a stop to things.” She made a despairing sort of sound. “You know she would. You will not do that to me! I thought we were friends?”
“For Merlin’s sake Ginny, put some clothes on or get back in the shower,” Heidi complained.
She tugged her knickers on under her towel, then dropped it as she turned her back and quickly put on a bra. Pants and a blouse followed soon after. Ginny still hadn’t budged, staring at her with narrowed eyes. Several of the other witches had moved on to dressing as well and watched the scene with unconcealed amusement.
Heidi sighed. “Fine, I’ll make you a deal. You back off about my avoiding the fans, and I’ll keep mum from your mum. Alright?”
Instead of heading back to the shower, Ginny impatiently vanished the lingering soap with a spell and started getting dressed herself. Heidi finished pulling on her boots and sat to wait, since they usually left together. The others trickled out as Ginny fussed with her hair in the mirror and did her makeup—the usual lengthy regime which somehow hid her freckles without looking caked on. Personally Heidi thought the freckles were fine, cute even, but Ginny loathed them. By the time Ginny was ready to go they were the last left, and Heidi hesitated before deciding to speak her mind.
“It’s not that I’m uninterested in relationships,” she said, and Ginny paused in her primping and turned her head to listen, obviously hearing the serious tone. “I just don’t want to get into anything casual.”
“Casual?” Now Ginny was facing her properly, giving her full attention. “Does that mean that you’re interested in something not casual?”
Heidi shrugged. “I’m twenty-seven. By the time my parents were my age, they had two kids, you know. Maybe it’s time I found someone who could give me that.”
“‘That’ as in kids?” Ginny asked incredulously, flopping down beside her on the bench.
“‘That’ as in a committed, loving relationship that would result in marriage and, yes, eventually children.”
“Oh Merlin,” Ginny said faintly. “You’ve gone and gotten broody on me.”
“Twenty-seven,” Heidi reminded defensively. “It’s not an unreasonable goal at my age.”
“Only a year older than me, and I’m nowhere near interested in that sort of thing myself. That can wait till I’m like … I don’t know, forty or something? Maybe fifty. Fifty sounds good.” Then Ginny paled, visible even under her makeup. “Merlin, if mum hears you’re out husband hunting, I’ll never hear the end of it. It’ll be all: give up that dangerous Quidditch business already Ginevra, it’s not ladylike, you’ll never get a man that way, and you want to find a nice man of course, settle down, give me some grandbabies like Heidi has her parents, she’s such a good daughter, why can’t you be more like her and— Stop laughing Hydrangea Jane Potter! This is serious.”
“Sorry, sorry. It’s just that your Molly impersonation is spot on. You sounded just like your mum.”
“Humph.” Ginny cross her arms. “I’m serious here.”
As Heidi stifled her laughter, Ginny’s scowl slowly faded. And suddenly the redhead was grinning. No, beaming. Heidi felt a tingle of foreboding and subtly edged away, eyeing the girl warily.
“Ginny…” she said slowly. “Whatever you’re thinking? No. Just no.”
“Oh, come on. I’ve seen the bright side of this! If you want to settle down, you’ll have to go on dates to find Mr Right. We both know you’re useless at setting that kind of thing up. The day you approach a guy is the day I stop covering my freckles. In fact, it’s a bet. One I’ll never have to pay up. Luckily for you, you poor shy darling, you’ve got me!”
“No,” Heidi said again, but was ignored.
“I’ll have to confer with some other experts. People who know you as well as me. Probably Hermione and your mum.”
“Lily will know what sort of guy would suit you. Mums are insightful about their kids that way. And Hermione will be all over things, making up equations for ideal matches and such. There will probably be charts.”
“Ginny, you’re not listening!”
“And of course I’ll be there to judge the important things. Like whether they’re good-looking enough. Hermione just doesn’t understand the importance of a nice bum! Plus, you know, she dated Ron that one time, so her taste is suspect at best.”
“En, oh. Know what that spells? No. Am I talking to myself?”
Ginny squealed and bounced to her feet. She babbled something about how, “This will be great!” and dashed off, leaving Heidi staring after her and wondering what she’d gotten herself into.
A few months later Heidi came home from an intensive Seeker practice. Not with Ginny and the Harpies, but with the Welsh National Team. Her team for the World Cup. And hadn’t that been a thrill to be picked for!
Feeling tired but rather accomplished —it had been a good training session— she wandered by the living room only to freeze in her tracks at the sight that met her eyes: her two best friends and her mother amid some strange set-up, looking far too cosy and calculating for Heidi’s liking.
“Oh Merlin help me,” Heidi whispered, staring in horror as she realised what this was. “There are charts.”
“Yeah, they’ve had a busy morning.”
“Dad?” She turned to see he’d come up behind her to stand with arms crossed and a strange expression on his face. “What’s wrong?”
“You do know what they’re planning right?”
“Yeah, I suspect so.”
James nodded. “Right. Hmm. Well.”
“Dad? Spit it out.”
“You’re so young!” he finally complained, throwing his arms up. “They’re in there trying to find you a life partner, and I’d sort of started hoping you’d decided on a life of chastity.”
“Well, you dated that one boy in sixth and seventh year, and that was it. You’ve not show much interest in anyone since. I suppose it got my hopes up.”
“Ginny was right,” Heidi said, dazed, as she took in her father’s words. “I am a prude.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” James said stoutly. “In fact, why don’t you become a nun? A fine aspiration, the sisterhood.”
Heidi just gave him a pitying look until he wilted in disappointment and defeat, and slunk away muttering about how she was, “Growing up too fast.”
Heidi shook her head and decided to brave the metaphorical dragon’s lair. The moment she got close enough, heads snapped up with such intense expressions that she froze and considered bolting. But then Ginny was bounding over, and she found herself dragged to a seat.
Half an hour later, Heidi wished she’d run when she had the chance. Facts, figures and equations; personality profiles and background checks; photographs and what looked like age-progression images; family trees, along with family medical histories; social, political and business connections; the character of known friends and enemies; charts, graphs and tables … and more!
Hermione wasn’t the only one to blame for the information overload either. Apparently Lily was more pleased at the thought of her daughter settling down than Heidi ever could have dreamed, and had gone all-out.
“I’ve been so worried these last years that you would never find someone,” Lily explained gently. “The last thing I want for either of my children is for them to be alone. Besides: grandbabies!” And then she dove back into the horrifying world of match planning.
Heidi turned to Ginny, only to see her eyes were glazed. Apparently Heidi wasn’t the only one overwhelmed by it all. Though Ginny, terrifying Ginny, was equally if not more enthusiastic when it came to her ‘Aesthetics Rating System’. Listening to potential romantic partners rated and described in graphic detail in front of her own mother was mortifying. And Heidi was never, ever asking how some of the more risqué photographs were acquired.
But finally, after what seemed an eternity, the horror wound down.
Except then the three just stared at Heidi expectantly—even Ginny, who blinked out of her daze.
“This is all very … thorough?” she offered weakly.
Three identical beaming smiles.
Heidi beat a hasty retreat.
Heidi shouldn’t have beaten a hasty retreat. Apparently her absence, and thus the absence of her objections, was taken as permission.
The next evening her mother and two best friends descended on her like lionesses upon a gazelle. For a few moments there, Heidi genuinely feared for her life! But, at the end of it all, she emerged unscathed. Well, mostly unscathed. She’d been primped and preened to the edge of sanity, and some of what Ginny seemed to consider the ‘basics of beautifying’ were anything but basic to Heidi’s mind, and often horribly painful. Whenever she tried to object however, Ginny would just give her a withering look and say that, “Pain is beauty, Heidi. How can you not know this?”
Still, staring in the mirror as her attackers— ahem, mother and friends finally stepped back…
“Wow,” Heidi murmured, turning this way and that. “You know, I don’t think my hair has ever come this close to neat.”
“Hermione’s suggestion,” Lily said, hands clasped beneath her chin as she stared at Heidi with shiny eyes.
Hermione nodded. “Sleekeazy’s is the only thing that’s ever brought my hair under control. I figured it might work for you too.”
Ginny chewed on a thumbnail, giving Heidi a scrutinising once-over. “I still don’t know… I think we could have worked with the messier locks. A sort of wild, just-got-out-of-bed, tousled look, you know?”
“Ginny, we want her to charm him, not seduce him.”
There was a strangled noise from the ajar doorway where James was doing a very poor job of hiding his eavesdropping.
“I want grandbabies, but I’d prefer they not be an accident,” Lily agreed firmly.
Heidi blinked, sense returning. They’d sprung the moment she got home. Only now was she finally getting a moment to catch her breath, stop worrying for her safety, and wonder just why she’d been gussied up.
“For your date of course!” her mother replied when she asked.
“Date?” Heidi frowned, confused. “What date?”
“The one we agreed on yesterday.”
“We? I didn’t agree on anything!”
“No, because you ran off and left us to do all the work,” Hermione said, arms crossed and foot tapping ominously as she wielded her best lecturing tone. “Do you know how many of my arithmancically-designed compatibility formulas I had to scrap and redesign because you didn’t stay to help fill in the missing variables for us? How many charts had to be redrawn? Do you?”
“I’m … sorry?” On the inside though, Heidi was very glad she’d skipped that mind-numbing tedium. And also a bit horrified at the lengths her friend had gone to for this whole thing.
Hermione huffed. “As you should be.”
“Since you left,” Ginny added cheerily, “we took it as you surely intended: a sign of your absolute trust in our judgement!”
“Wait a minute…” That didn’t sound right.
“Thus we selected the best candidate ourselves,” Hermione said. “For your first foray into the adult dating world, we decided on someone who you’re familiar with, who’s not a rabid fan, and who shares some of your interests.”
“Plus he’s hot,” Ginny piped up.
“You’re expected for dinner in ten minutes at the Golden Chimaera,” Lily added.
Oh Merlin. Heidi felt faint for a moment, at having this sprung on her with just ten minutes warning. She almost collapsed on the floor right there, except—
“Hydrangea Jane Potter, don’t you dare rumple your dress!” Ginny snapped, sounding eerily like her mother, albeit unintentionally for once.
“A date? Soon? Tonight?”
“Yes, dear,” her mother said. She was beaming, and had that shiny-eyed look about her once more. “And you look so beautiful. It’s hard to believe you’re all grown up. It seems only yesterday… But no, you’re clearly a woman now.”
There was another strangled sound from outside the door, and a barely-heard mutter of, “She’s still a baby. She is! Stop trying to logic me, brain. I won’t have it!”
“We’re running short on time,” Hermione announced and began bustling Heidi towards the fireplace. “No more questions. Go. Or you’ll be late. Oh goodness, where’s the Floo powder?”
“Here,” Ginny chimed in. She darted forward and tossed a pinch of silvery dust into the flames, making them turn green. She then turned and pushed the wide-eyed Heidi into the fireplace. “Golden Chimaera, remember? Repeat it for me.”
“Golden Chimaera?” Heidi said, dazed and not quite understanding. But then the fire flared and she was being spun away.
Heidi emerged with her usual Flooing-grace. Which was to say, none at all. Luckily there was someone waiting on the other side to prevent her from tripping, and consequently ruining her makeup and dress with a bleeding, broken nose.
“Thanks,” she said, barely paying any mind as she realised, “Oh god, I don’t even know who I’m meeting.”
At a chuckle, her head snapped up.
“Theodore Nott?” she said, surprised.
“Hydrangea Potter,” he returned.
She wrinkled her nose. “Oh, god no. Heidi Potter.” Mothers, Heidi strongly believed, should not be allowed to name their children until after the good drugs had worn off.
He nodded. “Miss Potter. I believe your dinner date is one Oliver Wood, and he’s waiting for you at your table.”
She blinked. “How do you know that?”
He looked amused. “This is my restaurant. I tend to be aware of who makes reservations.”
“Oh.” Heidi glanced through the door of the receiving room, seeing a classy-looking dining area beyond. She swallowed hard. “Right. I guess I should … get out there. Um, thanks for not letting me splatter my face on your shiny floor?” she offered lamely.
“Of course, only the best service for our customers,” Nott replied with barely-repressed mirth. He snapped his fingers and a well-dressed house-elf appeared. “This is Tilly. Tilly, please escort Miss Potter to her date at table five.”
“Yes, Master Theo.” The elf curtsied first to her owner, then to Heidi. She chirpily announced, “This way, miss,” and trotted off.
Once again, Heidi silently cursed her supposedly most-trusted for springing this on her with no time to prepare. But then she took one last, bracing breath, gathered her Gryffindor courage and followed after.
“It’s Oliver,” she murmured to herself as she went. “I already know him. He’s not a stranger. How bad could it be?”
“Heidi?” three voices chorused when she stumbled out of the Floo.
Heidi stared blankly at the three identically excited, inquisitive expressions and shook her head dully. “No.”
“Heidi?” the all asked again, a little worried now, and a lot confused.
“How bad could it be, I dared ask myself? So bad.” She turned and stumbled off, ignoring them. “There is such a thing as too much Quidditch, dammit, even at a dinner between professional players. My brain will melt out my ears any second now, I swear, if I hear so much as a whisper of another in-depth discussion on the pros and cons for the latest in elbow guards. Or, Merlin, have to suffer through another breakdown of Scotland’s odds in the World Cup. Which is none, Oliver. Wales so clearly has it locked down. We’re gonna kick your arses in next month’s preliminaries, just you wait…”
“World Cup?” Lily echoed.
“Elbow guards?” said Hermione.
“But what about the important part?” Ginny asked. “Did he kiss you goodnight?”
Heidi ignored all questions, making her steady way towards her bedroom. Outside her door her father was waiting. James perked up at the sight of her.
“Date not go well?” he asked, trying and utterly failing to look disappointed.
“So bad,” she repeated.
He grinned brightly. “Well, don’t worry. The sisterhood remains a perfectly respectable option!”
At that moment, Heidi was tempted. Oh-so-tempted.
“Heidi, stop ignoring me!” Ginny demanded. “I want details! Was there a kiss? Was there tongue?”
Heidi slammed shut and locked her bedroom door on all their faces, too tired to care that her father sounded on the verge of choking to death in his horror.
She collapsed face-first on the bed, not giving one damn if she rumpled the dress, silently swearing to never let them set her up again.
“Why am I here?” Heidi asked the universe at large.
“I believe you’ve come for dinner,” Nott replied, steadying her as she stepped from the flames.
“Never again. I told them ‘never again’.” She sighed, looking down at a new, but no less fancy dress. “And yet … here I am. Again. Who is it this time?”
Nott cocked an eyebrow. “Blind dating I take it? You’re meeting one Percy Weasley, I believe.”
Heidi blinked, recalling something Ginny had muttered during this evening’s attack/primping: “Not the one I would’ve picked for you, but I suppose if you’re interested in something serious, rather than fun, he’s the best of the six. Or, well, of the five that are available.”
Her brothers. Ginny had been talking about her brothers. And apparently Percy was the prime choice because he was … not fun. Did that make any sense? Should she take offence?
“I see,” Heidi finally said, frowning.
“Look on the bright side,” Nott said, a barely-there smirk on his face. “At least you won’t have to worry about Quidditch-madness from this one.”
Heidi wasn’t surprised he knew about that. Oliver was passionate about Quidditch and not afraid to show it. She’d more than once, the evening before, found herself hiding her face behind a napkin when he ranted loudly about the fouls Slytherin racked up against Gryffindor in the latest Hogwarts match he’d stopped by the school to see, not caring that he was drawing the attention of everyone around them.
“Right, Percy really doesn’t give two figs about Quidditch,” she agreed, brightening. “Maybe this won’t be as bad as yesterday was.”
“Worse than yesterday,” Heidi said before they could ask.
“How could anything be worse than yesterday?” Hermione demanded. “You said the date with Oliver was a total loss!”
“Percy is Oliver,” she said, heading for her room. “Just with the Ministry and bureaucracy in place of Quidditch and flying.”
Lily winced. “Oh dear.”
“I told him not to drone on about work,” Ginny sighed. “But no, he does it anyway, and gets to be a worse date than Oliver.”
“I don’t see how the Ministry is a worse conversation topic than Quidditch,” Hermione said, then remembered that she was trailing after a professional Quidditch player with another in tow, both of whom would probably disagree with her. “Ah, right.”
“Oh no!” James cried, grinning widely as Heidi stormed towards her bedroom where he’d once again waited to see how her evening had gone. “Looks like it went terribly!”
Heidi narrowed her eyes at her father’s good cheer, then at the three women responsible for her suffering. “I hate you all right now,” she informed them, and slammed the door in their faces.
“Back again, Miss Potter? Third night in a row.”
“Thank you,” she said in response to the hand at her back preventing another potential faceplant. Then, “The team coach is bound to get impatient and veto this whole ‘every night off’ business sooner or later. I hope.”
“Desperately hope. In the meantime … I have dates. And this is apparently the official ‘first date’ venue. When I hit on a winner, I’ve been told we can move on to some ‘second date’ venues elsewhere.” She sighed heavily. “If their choices continue to be so appalling… Well, you may as well just call me Heidi. You’re going to be seeing a lot of me.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Heidi then. And if I’m allowed to be more familiar, dare I ask who this ‘they’ is, that have been setting you up with such … gems?”
She sighed again. “I made the mistake of mentioning to Ginny that I wasn’t interested in casual relationships. I just wanted her to stop trying to get me to sleep with the fans,” she explained, then paused, flushing a bit. “Too much information,” she muttered, and cleared her throat. “Well, the point being, next thing I know she’s roped Hermione and my mother into a matchmaking nightmare.”
Heidi didn’t miss the faint grimace he sent towards the restaurant-proper, and groaned.
“Oh Merlin. Who is it this time, Nott?”
“I think if you’re Heidi, you really should call me Theo,” he hedged.
“Do you want to be Hydrangea?”
“Point. Now stop stalling. Who am I eating with tonight?”
He took a breath and schooled his expression, tone perfectly bland as he uttered, “Seamus Finnigan.”
He nodded and she winced, looking down at her latest dress. It was … a bit more risqué than the previous two. Ginny’s doing. Ginny had also won the hair argument this time. Her father had had some sort of an epileptic fit when he saw the resulting look, and was still flailing about when Heidi was pushed through the Floo.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Heidi said in a hopeless tone, “I like Seamus well enough. We were house-mates and year-mates at Hogwarts. Shared a common room and classes for seven years. We’re friendly even, but…”
“But?” Theo asked with a knowing, sympathetic look in his eyes.
“He’s a self-declared man-whore,” she said flatly. Then she muttered, “And Ginny, that traitorous bitch, put me in this dress.”
At her words, Theo’s eyes took in said dress, sliding from top to bottom—and perhaps lingering a little too long at the deep neckline, and on the very large expanse of leg left bare. Heidi cleared her throat and Theo’s eyes snapped to hers, before he glanced away, cleared his throat as well and murmured, “Apologies.”
Well, typical male reaction, Heidi figured. She decided not to hold it against him. It was even a bit flattering. Flattering in a way she knew Seamus’s inevitable leers would not be.
Really, she would have words with Ginny when she got home. The girl had obviously slipped back into a ‘just get Heidi laid’ mindset, and that was not on.
The hand at her back to steady her was entirely familiar by now. Two months and countless terrible dates later and they had it down to an art form. She even had her own hand extended to take Theo’s free one, which he would inevitably offer to help her out from the hearth. Yes, there it was, right on cue.
His pureblood upbringing shining through, Heidi supposed. Those gentlemanly gestures her parents and had tried and failed miserably to instil in her younger brother—mainly because her father got bored of them before too long, and also because Sirius had been far too great an influence on his godson. Lily, her daughter knew, despaired of them all.
“You look lovely as always, Heidi.”
“Thanks, Theo. I do wonder how on earth they keep putting me in a new outfit each night.” She shrugged. “I suppose, at the least, some dress shop is doing well for itself lately. That’s good. Someone should be benefitting from all this frippery, because I’m surely not.”
“Hmm. Ready to hear who’s your latest dinner-date?”
Heidi gave a loud sigh and hung her head for a moment. Theo chuckled at her reaction. She forced herself to straighten and nod. “Yes, alright, who now?”
The twitch of his lips put her on guard. “You have the pleasure of dining with an enthusiastic young gentleman called Collin Creevey,” Theo said grandly.
Heidi paled. “Sorry, can you repeat that?”
Heidi buried her face in her hands.
A snap of fingers and a call for, “Tilly,” was followed by a sympathetic-yet-amused look thrown her way. And then Heidi was trailing the elf to her table.
Collin Creevey. Really? That younger, hyperactive kid that had a huge crush on her at Hogwarts? The one who now stalked each and every one of her Quidditch games and took hundreds of photos? The guy who wrote her the most obnoxiously soppy fan mail, complete with poorly-written love poetry?
Her mother, Ginny and Hermione were getting desperate now, Heidi could tell, and she silently dreaded who they’d come up with next.
Theo paused, and there was something strange to his tone as he said, “Cormac McLaggen is awaiting your company this evening.”
Heidi froze in horror. Slowly, very slowly, she turned to look at Theo and echoed, “Cormac McLaggen?” in a tone of disbelief. She remembered the scornful nickname he’d been given by the female population back at Hogwarts: “Handsy McLaggen? That McLaggen?”
Theo nodded, staring at her intently.
“They’re really scraping the barrel now,” Heidi said faintly.
And she’d thought Creevey at month two had been bad! If month three had them resorting to McLaggen she didn’t want to even contemplate who she’d find herself eating dinner with at month four. But, oh Merlin, her brain was thinking about it anyway —entirely against her wishes, stupid brain— and came up with the appalling possibility of Gregory Goyle for some reason. Ugh!
But future horrors could wait. Heidi had to deal with the current problem first.
She looked down at herself, glad that Hermione had won the right to decide how she’d be dressed this evening. Her hair was back in a sleek twist. Her dress was elegant but reserved: high-necked, reaching her wrists and ankles. It … wasn’t enough. Handsy’s persistence was legendary.
Heidi threw Theo a pleading look. “Save me?” she asked pathetically.
Warmth filled his expression and he smirked at her. “Hmm, well I suppose I could… Tilly?”
“Yes, Master Theo?”
“Please inform Mr McLaggen at table two that his dining companion Flooed to make her excuses. She’s ill, and won’t be able to meet him after all.”
“Yes, Master Theo.”
“Ill with horror,” Heidi muttered, slumping against Theo in utter relief. She blinked when the hand at her back became an arm wrapped around her waist. “Huh?”
“Come on,” he said, leading her back towards the fireplace. “In case he decides he doesn’t want to eat alone, gets up to leave and spots you.”
“Right.” Her expression fell as something occurred to her. “If I come home this early, I’ll never hear the end of it. They’re really put out that their very obsessive efforts have been unsuccessful so far.”
Theo paused in thought for a moment. “How does an evening of listening to the Egypt versus Brazil match and eating sticky date pudding sound?”
Heidi blinked. Sticky date pudding was her favourite. “How did you—”
“You order it for desert seven out of every ten meals.”
“Right. Of course.” She considered it. “Quidditch and sticky date pudding sounds … really excellent, actually.” Much better than an evening with Handsy.
Theo nodded, a glint of satisfaction in his eyes, and stepped into the Floo-green fire with Heidi still pressed to his side.
“Fort Nott,” he called, and they were whirled away.
Heidi hummed pleasantly as she stepped out of the hearth. She barely noticed the silence, or the way the matchmakers-three stared before jumping up to follow her—she was in too good a mood to care about such trivialities. This was the first evening in what seemed like forever that she’d returned home and not felt like wringing some necks.
“Really?” she vaguely heard Hermione say.
“I’m surprised too,” Lily agreed, sounding confused.
“Handsy?” Ginny exclaimed as Heidi reached her bedroom, the tone of lascivious delight finally catching her attention. “I thought you weren’t interested in … casual. I suppose if you’ve changed your mind, McLaggen’s always up for it.”
James, leaning against the wall waiting for her as always, gave a horrified squawk and lost his balance, crashing to the floor.
“But he’s an arse,” Hermione objected.
“And he has a fine one,” Ginny countered. “I’ve always wanted to pinch it, but he’d probably take that as an invitation, even when it’s not. So did you, Heidi? Pinch it? Was it as firm as it looks?”
“This evening was meant to make Heidi aware of all the good ones she was letting go! A wakeup call of what a bad date really looked like!” Hermione’s hands were clenched in her hair, messing the frizzy curls more than ever. “If McLaggen is what she looks for in a man, then—”
“Then the idea of her becoming a nun might just be for the best,” Lily mused, looking pale.
James popped to his feet like a demented jack-in-the-box, throwing his wife a wide grin and dopey-eyed look. “My love, I knew you’d come around! I’ve been looking into convents, and there’s a very nice nunnery in Mould-on-the-Wold that—”
“What!?” Heidi finally managed to gain enough sense to shriek. “You think that I—” She choked. “That I would—” And again. She couldn’t even say it! “With McLaggen?”
“Heidi,” Hermione said in a pitying, faintly-repulsed tone, “you came home humming.”
“And smiling,” Lily added with a frown.
“And not looking like you wanted to wring our necks,” Ginny pointed out.
Oh. Heidi hadn’t known she was being so obvious about the neck-wringing thing.
But that was not the point! The point was that they thought she’d hit it off with McLaggen of all people, which was just…
“I have no interested in McLaggen,” she very firmly assured them all. “My miraculously good mood is in spite of him, not because of him. Good Merlin, never because of him. I have more self-respect than that. And a hell of a lot better taste.”
She stood patiently as she was subjected to three piercing, judging looks. Looks which soon morphed into utter relief when they decided she was indeed being honest.
“Thank god,” Hermione muttered, rubbing her face.
“We’ll pick someone better next time,” Lily swore. “I can’t go through this dread again.”
“Much better,” Ginny agreed. Then, with a wink, she added, “But just as pinch-able.”
As her bedroom door clicked shut behind her, Heidi heard James mournfully whimper, “But what about the nunnery?”
“Hi Theo,” Heidi greeted.
He smiled as he guided her out of the flames. “Heidi.”
“So, who’s up today?” she said with genuine unconcern. She’d been taking this blind-dating stuff a lot better since Theo made it clear he’d help her fob them off if they were too loathsome. “Anyone worth my time, or am I skipping straight to your place?”
“His place?” a familiar voice repeated.
Heidi whipped around and her eyes went wide. There, standing by the door to the restaurant’s dining room, was a familiar figure: a young man with messy red hair and hazel eyes. He had one eyebrow raised high as he stared speculatively between her and Theo.
“I think you won’t mind today’s pick,” Theo murmured as he squeezed Heidi’s hand before releasing her, giving her brother a nod.
“What, no hug?” Michael asked with a pout.
Shock forgotten, Heidi squealed, “Mousey!” and threw herself into his arms.
“Need. To. Breath,” Michael gasped out till she loosened her grip around his neck. “And what have I told you about that nickname?”
“You love that nickname!”
“Loved, past tense. Back when I was eight and mum took us to Disneyland and I decided Mickey Mouse was the coolest, creepiest thing I’d ever seen.”
She huffed. “Fine. Michael.” She quickly perked up though, grinning. “Merlin, it’s good to see you. You haven’t been home in three years, you prat!”
“Work keeps me busy. Those tombs won’t raid themselves.”
“So what brings you back?”
He gave her an incredulous look. “You think I was going to miss seeing you in a World Cup final?”
She laughed, a little embarrassed and a lot proud. “Heard about that, did you?”
“Of course I did! It’s only the first time Wales has made the final in seventy years, and more than twice that since they won. Which they will, since they’ve got my big sister as Seeker!”
“Just barely,” she said modestly. “Eurig Cadwallader almost beat me out for the position. You know, from the Caerphilly Catapults?”
Michael waved a dismissive hand. “Almost schmalmost. You totally kicked arse and sent him back to the Catapults in tears, I’m sure.”
“Oh, I did not.” Still, Heidi couldn’t help grinning. Michael had always been the biggest supporter of her Quidditch career. Somewhat odd, considering he’d inherited their mother’s utter lack of skill on a broom.
“Mum sent me Top Box tickets so I could attend with the rest of the family. Two, actually. Think she was hoping I’d bring someone with. Someone ‘special’,” he said, finger-quotes and all, “if you know what I mean.”
“And?” Heidi asked teasingly. “Is there a girlfriend for me to meet?”
“Nope. The world’s ladies can rest easy, because Michael Potter remains one hundred percent open to offers.” He waggled his eyebrows, and was unrepentant in the face of her eye-roll of exasperation. “Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m still waiting to be struck by ‘the one’, you know. But what about you, sister-mine? I’ve got some pretty tragic letters from dad lately. From what I could make out around the tear-stained smudges, mum and your friends have been trying to set you up.”
Heidi really wished he was joking about the tear-stains, but he probably wasn’t. Her dad really wasn’t taking her dating well. Even five months in, he was as horrified as ever. It was kind of hilarious actually. Hilarious … and a lot pathetic.
She nodded. “Trying to set me up. Also? Failing spectacularly.” She made a pained face. “Michael, Mousey, brother dearest?”
“I had a date with … Percy Weasley.”
“Yes. There’s more. Collin Creevey.”
Michael looked perplexed. “What were they thinking?”
She shook her head, face grim.
“It can’t get much worse than that, surely?”
She leaned in and whispered, “McLaggen.”
Michael reared back in horror. “Handsy?”
Her brother just stood there blinking for a long time. Then his gaze cleared and fell on Theo. “Huh, well, suddenly I’m not so bothered about you sneaking around with a Slytherin. Not if Handsy McLaggen is one of the alternatives.”
It took Heidi a moment to process that, and then she blushed. “What? No! We’re not—” She cut off, shaking her head.
“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow in what could only be considered a tauntingly fashioned “So I didn’t just hear you contemplating standing me up to go back to his place?”
Her face. Oh Merlin, it was going to light on fire any moment now. She probably looked like a tomato!
Heidi made some angry, choked noises, trying not to meet Theo’s eyes.
“Purely for escape and sanctuary,” Theo said. “She asked me to save her when ‘Handsy’ was her dinner partner. It became a habit.”
“And you graciously open up your house to all your customers on bad dates?” Michael countered challengingly.
Theo inclined his head, a smile hovering around his lips. “I suppose not. Heidi’s good company though.” He managed to catch her gaze then, and for some reason she couldn’t look away. “I don’t think it’d be presumptuous to call us ... friends?”
“No,” she said quietly. “No, we’re definitely, ah, friends.”
There was a long moment where they just stared at one another.
And then Michael clapped his hands, making her jump. And then blush again, for some confusing reason.
“Anyway,” Michael said, “we’ve got a dinner to get to, sister-mine.”
“Oh, right! You’re my date?”
“Yep. I told mum and dad I wanted to surprise you that I was visiting. They took it a step further.” He extended an elbow to her pompously. “I hope I’m ‘worth your time’.”
She rolled her eyes and smiled at him fondly. “Of course you are,” she said, taking his arm.
Theo nodded. “Tilly! Please show Miss Potter and her brother to table six.”
“Of course, Master Theo.” The elf curtseyed to them. “This way, sir and miss.”
They followed smoothly after the elf, until Michael paused in the doorway, dragging Heidi to a halt as well.
“Michael?” she asked.
But he ignored her, calling, “Hey Nott!” over his shoulder.
Something small and flat went sailing across the room. When Theo held it up, Heidi’s eyes widened, as did his.
“My spare ticket,” Michael said, grinning between Theo and Heidi for some reason. “Wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”
Heidi froze halfway through brushing her teeth, staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her toothbrush stuck out of her mouth, and there was toothpaste froth on her lips. Her face was slightly red from being scrubbed clean for bed, her hair was half-falling out of its tie, and she was wearing a comfortable but old and worn nightgown.
She looked the furthest thing from attractive, and she was pretty sure this, now, wasn’t meant to be the moment she realised she was in love.
If life worked like those sappy romances Hermione pretended she didn’t read, the revelation should have come when they were together, possibly doing something romantic. Looking at the stars, maybe? Oh, or in the wake of some heroic rescue. Really, for such a strong and self-sufficient woman, Hermione had an inexplicable love for stories where the female lead played the damsel in distress.
Ginny’s reading choices however… Heidi blushed. Ginny read ‘romances’ too, but they tended more towards the lurid. Erotica, if you will. If life were like Ginny’s stories, the revelation would probably have come … ahem, ‘in flagrante delicto’.
Lily on the other hand, was oddly taken by historical romances. Ones with proper society and social strictures. Going by her mother’s stories, Heidi’s revelation ought to have come later. There would have been a practical, arranged marriage, and love would have developed slowly over time.
Heidi herself preferred comedies to romances. Which … yeah, okay. By her own literary standards this was probably the right and proper time to realise things. Appropriately ironic, and all that.
She spat out her toothpaste and washed her mouth out, then set the toothbrush aside.
Leaning forward to stare at her reflection she decided she didn’t look entirely unattractive in this moment after all. The scrubbed-red had faded from her face, replaced by a more becoming flush of her cheeks. Her eyes had widened in her shock, the pretty emerald green all the more obvious.
She looked like a woman in love.
“But what if he doesn’t feel the same?” she fretted, brushing back a stray, unruly lock of hair.
“Who’s that, dearie?” the mirror asked.
Heidi bit her lip. She felt like saying it aloud would make it more real or something. Nonetheless, she admitted, “Theo.” She took a deep breath. “I’m in love with Theodore Nott.”
“Well of course you are.”
“What?” she squeaked in surprise.
If mirrors had eyes, Heidi was sure hers would be rolling them as it replied, “You only talk about him all the time.”
“No I don’t!”
“Well, not to your fellow humans. But to me, your privacy-spelled mirror? You’re very chatty. You practically gush about him, dearie, and all those romantic evenings you spend together at his place.”
Heidi flushed. “It’s not like that.”
“Are you so sure?” the mirror said, tone arch. “You asked ‘what if he doesn’t feel the same’. Well, consider this dearie: when have you ever heard of a restaurant owner being there to greet diners every time they arrive? That’s the maître d’s job. And if for some strange reason it wasn’t, if it really was his responsibility, then he could hardly be disappearing off with you and leaving his post empty every time you get a bad setup, could he?”
She opened her mouth to argue—then snapped it shut. The mirror had a point.
“As much as I love a happy ending,” the mirror continued, “now’s not really the time to be pondering your love life. Don’t you have an important game tomorrow?”
Heidi’s eyes went wide. “Right! The World Cup final. Crap, I need to get to sleep.”
“Good luck!” the mirror called as Heidi left.
Whether she was referring to Quidditch or Theo was anyone’s guess.
Heidi had adored flying from the first time she got on a broom at just a year old. And she was good at it. She’d managed to place on the Quidditch team her first year at Hogwarts, breaking a long-held record, and it didn’t take long after that for her to decide what she wanted to do with her life.
She’d been flying for so long that there really should have been no room left for surprises. But apparently she was wrong. Because playing in a World Cup final match? It was an even greater thrill than Heidi had ever thought possible.
When she caught the Snitch, winning the game and sending the crowd roaring and her teammates screaming in joy as they flew toward her... Well, Heidi was pretty sure the elation of the moment would stay with her always. One day she’d be old and grey and doddery, and unable to remember where she put her glasses or what day of the week it was, and still she would remember this moment, the incandescent joy of it, with picture-perfect clarity.
Heidi was still riding a natural high and beaming as the team alit in the Top Box where the announcer, even with his voice amplified, had to scream to be heard over the crowd. He declared Wales as the winner of the World Cup for the first time in more than a century and a half, and Heidi laughed as the trophy was handed to the captain and they all gathered close to stare at it with bright, awed expressions.
Cameras were flashing and the crowd was still screaming as invited friends and family, who had watched the game from the Top Box, were finally allowed to approach.
James and Lily were there in an instant, hugging Heidi and offering praise and congratulations and laughter to match her own, telling her they were so proud.
Hermione’s congrats were a bit more reserved, because she would never understand the importance of Quidditch —it was a terrible defect in her— but Heidi appreciated that she came and sat through the game anyway.
And then Ginny crowded close, alternating between shrieks of delight and moans of envy. “One day Heidi,” she declared with every ounce of seriousness, “one day I’ll be the one on a World Cup team, just you wait!”
Michael was next. He swept her up and, little brother or not, he was a full-grown man and so strong he practically hugged the stuffing out of her until Heidi kicked his shin and demanded to be put down.
As her feet once more touched the floor, Heidi’s eyes somehow fell directly on Theo. He stood across the room, out of the press of the crowd. She paused for a minute because she suddenly realised, glancing with wide eyes between him and Michael, that her baby brother knew, had known it even before her.
She gave Michael a mild glare. Realising at once what it was about, he just laughed at her and said, “You figured it out! Thank Merlin. I thought I’d have to lock you two in a closet or something.” She swatted at his head for the cheek.
Heidi pushed through the crowd of her fellow players and their loved ones and the photographers and officials. She finally reached Theo and then she stopped, not sure what to do or say. He was smiling at her, and saying … something. Probably some form of congratulations. She didn’t really hear it though, because her ears were ringing with leftover adrenaline and giddiness and before she realised what she was doing, she blurted out, “Will you have dinner with me?”
Theo’s eyebrows shot up, but his eyes were twinkling. “Are you asking me on a date, Miss Potter?”
Her heart, which had stopped for a moment, started up again twice as fast. “That’s exactly what I’m doing,” she said, feeling hopeful because Theo was smiling, maybe even grinning, and then she was doing the same.
“Well, I want to say yes, I really do,” he said. No, teased. “But I know you’ve a horrible dating history, Heidi, and—”
“That’s not my fault!” And it wasn’t. It was her terrible mother and friends behind those disasters.
“—and,” Theo continued, “I think I need a little bit of a guarantee, you know, that we’ve got the proper chemistry first.”
“The proper…” She trailed off and narrowed her eyes at him. She tried to look stern, but was pretty sure she failed spectacularly. “Is this you angling for a kiss?”
He grinned at her. “Maybe?”
And, well, she’d already thrown caution out the window, hadn’t she? She’d asked him out, and she’d never asked anyone out before. It was always the other way around. What was one more bit of courage?
Heidi nodded firmly and Theo’s eyes widened, almost like he’d thought she’d deny him, tell him off, say ‘no kisses before a proper date’ or something. Which … might have been exactly what he expected. For a moment Heidi faltered, second-guessing herself. But then Theo’s expression turned intent, expectant, and he took a step forward. It was the last push Heidi needed and before she knew it her arms were around his neck, his own around her waist, and their lips met.
Heidi barely noticed the renewed flashing of cameras. Probably later it would register and she’d be mortified, but for the moment she had more important things to think on. Things like the way Theo’s hand stroked up her back and cupped her neck, tilting her head, deepening the kiss. Yes, that was much more important.
She didn’t realise her friends and family had followed her over until she heard a familiar choking sound. Blinking a bit dazedly, she ended the kiss and turned her head, not leaving Theo’s arms. Sure enough, that was her father just behind her, flailing impotently on the spot and looking like someone had killed his puppy. Lily looked surprised but not disapproving as she gave Theo an assessing look. Hermione was clearly shocked, and maybe on the verge of a pout—Heidi had just negated the usefulness of every one of her many and numerous charts. As for Ginny, she was … checking Theo out?
Heidi glared at the redhead, but Ginny just winked, unrepentant. Heidi’s eyes narrowed further until she recalled a certain something, and then a devious sort of grin spread across her lips.
“What?” Ginny said, wary at once.
“I believe we made a bet,” Heidi said with relish.
Ginny looked confused. “A bet?”
“That the day I took the initiative to approach a guy, would be the day you’d stop covering your freckles.”
Ginny’s expression was dismayed. It was very satisfying. That would teach her to keep her leering looks away from Heidi’s … er … her Theo? She made a mental note to clarify their relationship later. Probably after that date. And there would be a date, she knew. It would take a masterful liar indeed to claim they didn’t have chemistry after that kiss.
“But, Heidi, that was—” Ginny squealed as Heidi, uninterested in her stalling and attempts to squirm out of the deal, drew her wand and vanished the makeup right off Ginny’s face then and there. “Heidi! I hate you!”
Heidi was about to say something —she wasn’t sure what, exactly, except that it would be so very gloating— but then she caught a look at Michael’s expression. Her brother was just … staring at Ginny. He looked almost awed.
“Freckles,” Michael murmured. Ginny whirled towards him, clearly ready to do violence in the face of his mockery, but then he said, “You have the most adorable freckles I’ve ever seen.”
Ginny, thrown, just gaped. Michael was quickly regaining his own composure however, though there was still something a bit entranced about his expression as he looked at Ginny. Actually, it rather reminded Heidi of the way her dad looked at her mum, all dopey-eyed.
She cut a glance towards her parents to see they looked shocked, and maybe a bit delighted, as their gazes jumped from Michael to Ginny and then back again.
“Huh,” Heidi said, leaning back against Theo, who tightened his grip on her waist in response and rested his chin on her shoulder. “I guess I’m not the only Potter who’ll be fishing for a date this evening.”
But then Michael opened his mouth and didn’t ask for a date. No, instead he said, quite sincerely, “Marry me?”
James laughed, saying something about, “Just like his dad,” while Lily rolled her eyes fondly and said, “Poor Ginny.”
Ginny herself flushed fire-engine red. It clashed horribly with her hair. “You haven’t even asked me on a date!”
Michael’s expression brightened, like that was a suggestion rather than a scold. “I know the perfect place!” he said. “Pick you up tomorrow at seven?”
Heidi met Hermione’s gaze as Ginny spluttered, and they both grinned. It was a rarity and something of a treat, seeing Ginny flustered. And by a guy no less. Normally it was the other way around, because Ginny was nothing if not shameless. Apparently sincere interest —interest in more than just a night with a hot Quidditch player— was something Ginny was less prepared to handle.
“Speaking of dates,” Theo murmured in her ear. “My place? I’ll cook of course. And sticky date pudding is a given.”
Heidi blinked, because that… Well, it sounded like a typical night at Theo’s. And then she flushed as she realised they’d been sort-of dating for a while now. Did that negate her bet with Ginny? Watching her friend stare wide-eyed at Michael as he fawned over her, Heidi decided not to mention it.
Theo misunderstood her silence. “I also happen to own a very fine restaurant, if you’d rather?” he offered. “I just thought you’d prefer something casual.”
“I would. Prefer something casual. Dinner at yours sounds great.”
Heidi smiled softly to herself. He’d really gotten to know her well these last few months. They’d gotten to know each other well, actually. She could hardly believe she’d fallen in love by accident.
A thought occurring to her, Heidi glanced over her shoulder with a mischievous look. “Though … whatever will your restaurant do without you to greet the guests?”
Theo huffed a quiet laugh. “Finally figured that out, huh?”
“Hmm,” Heidi said vaguely. She wasn’t about to admit it took a talking mirror to clue her in.
“The first time was an accident. I was on my way out when you appeared. The second time… You had looked so very beautiful the evening before. And you were amusing—it’s not every day someone comes for a date looking so bewildered and full of dread. So when I saw your name on the reservations’ list again, I made sure to be there.”
“And then kept being there,” she said, a bit delighted.
“Yes, well. I’m sure my maître d’ will be pleased to have me stop interfering with his job.”
Heidi looked around. She’d just won the World Cup, she was in love and it seemed to be reciprocated, her brother was apparently in love too, Ginny was getting her just deserts, Hermione looked amused, her mother looked pleased, and her father was torn between grinning at Michael and throwing cringing looks at the sight of Heidi in Theo’s arms.
All in all, life was pretty much perfect.
And then Theo pressed a soft kiss the crook of Heidi’s neck that made her want to melt … and caused James to suddenly blanch and then wail, “But really, what’s so bad about a convent!?”
Yep. Life was perfect.
She really couldn’t ask for more.