Disclaimer: Do I really need to say it any more? Not mine. Some of the dialogue is even more not mine than the rest of it.
Potions class was different than it usually was. When they reached the dungeon, Professor Snape was settled behind his desk in the chair he rarely sat in, and he stayed there the whole class. He didn’t pay any more attention to Harry and his cousins than he usually did, and Harry began to breathe more easily. Most of the class was spent cleaning the tabletops and every bit of glassware in the room until they were spotless. Even Malfoy, who was still milking his alleged lingering discomfort from the boils, was set to organising the ingredients in the supply cabinet.
“You know,” said Weasley as he scrubbed at a particularly annoying stain on his worktable, “I’ve always wondered why we can’t use magic to do this. Why vinegar and salt scrubs? We’ll all smell like pickles by the end of the class.”
Harry looked up from his table, which he and Wednesday were scrubbing industriously. “Think about it, Ron. Do you know half of the things that have been spilled on that table?”
“No,” said Weasley, frowning at the stain. “We’re not the only classes using them.”
“And do you know what happens when you mix unknown ingredients and then run a scrubbing charm over them?”
“Neither do Potions Masters. That’s why they have students or apprentices,” Harry said, waving his scrub brush at the rest of the class, “to do this for them. It’s safer without magic. It could be worse, you know. The Ravens and Puffs are going to get the cauldrons and the floors.”
Weasley glanced down at the flagstones at his feet and the crud in the cracks between them, and nodded in understanding before attacking his stain with renewed vigour, as if suddenly scrubbing tables didn’t seem so bad any more.
Professor Snape, from behind his desk, glared mightily at Harry. Harry gave him a small smile in return and resumed scrubbing his table.
By lunch, a new bit of news was circulating in the Great Hall. Professor Quirrell had not showed up for his morning classes, and substitutes had been arranged for all of his classes in case he didn’t show up in the afternoon. Rumour had it that he’d been so terrified by the troll that he’d run away in the night. Or that it ate him. Opinion was divided on the issue.
The Slytherins had double Defence in the afternoon with the Ravenclaws and were supervised by Madam Hooch, who had a free period at that time. She told the class to “do something to decorate the classroom” and then settled down to read the latest issue of Quidditch Monthly. Given such nebulous instructions, it was inevitable that the class would divide itself into two groups: most of the Ravenclaws and Harry’s half of the Slytherins, who started investigating the unknown depths of the Defence storeroom, and Malfoy’s half of the Slytherins, who goofed off.
Professor Quirrell had done the least of any of the teachers when it came to classroom preparation, and Harry thought that he understood why now – he’d never planned to be still at the school by then in the first place. As a consequence, the room was a trifle bare. The morning classes had put up a display of posters showing various duelling moves, but Harry wanted something a little more exciting.
The storeroom produced a seemingly endless supply of stuffed and mounted creatures, thoroughly covered with dust and cobwebs. Harry divided his team between those who went “ew ew ew!” on seeing the creatures and those who went “whoa, cool!”. The division was mostly along gender lines, but there were a few exceptions, such as Wednesday, who was in the “cool!” camp. The “whoa, cool!” team set about cleaning the specimens and posing them in gruesome tableaux around the room, while the “ew ew ew!” team researched exactly what they were and put up signs with explanations.
When they were through, Madam Hooch walked about and looked approvingly at the displays. She gave points to everyone who worked on them, awarded Harry an extra five points for organising everything, and told Malfoy and his group that they would have three detentions the next week, to be spent cleaning and organising everything else that was in the storeroom. She didn’t take points because that wouldn’t have been fair to those Slytherins who actually did the work.
“What?!” exclaimed Malfoy. “You didn’t say anything about detentions!”
“I shouldn’t have to,” said Madam Hooch. “I told you to do something, but didn’t say what. You’re old enough to start working out your own projects. When you’re grown up, you will frequently have to work without direction, and you should start learning how now. The rest of your classmates did an excellent job. You sat around and drew caricatures of them. It was entirely your choice, and you get what you deserve.”
“But my back … the pain …” Malfoy began.
“If you couldn’t work moving things, you could have researched and made signs with the girls. This is not open to discussion, Mr. Malfoy. One more word and I add a fourth detention.”
Malfoy subsided with ill grace, and the class was dismissed to go clean themselves up before all the parents arrived for dinner.
Albus Dumbledore looked down upon the eight tables in the Great Hall. Things had got very much out of hand, and he wasn’t exactly sure when or how. It was true that Morticia Addams had insisted on the creation of the Hogwarts Parents’ Association, but he’d left its actual formation up to her, believing that an American Squib would never be able to organize such a thing, particularly given the disparities between pure-blooded and Muggle parents and her own unfamiliarity with the British Wizarding World. He had told Minerva McGonagall to act for him as Hogwarts’ contact with the nascent Parents Association and left it at that, assuming that she would squash it, or at least keep their activities minimally disruptive.
It had therefore been a complete surprise to him when Minerva had called a staff meeting and presented complete plans for not just one night, but a whole weekend of activities, which would keep him quite busy from the time the Express arrived before dinner on Friday night until it took them all away again after Sunday luncheon. All except the blasted Addamses and the officers of the Parents Association, who wanted to have a meeting with him and the senior staff on Saturday afternoon.
Guest quarters that hadn’t been used in two hundred years had been cleaned and prepared for occupancy, extra tables squeezed into the Great Hall, and all of the classes thoroughly upset for the last week.
Now there were Muggles – not Muggle-born witches and wizards, which he was quite used to and even approved of, but actual Muggles! – in the stately halls of Hogwarts for the first time ever, sitting at its tables and walking its halls, side by side with some of the worst pure-blood purists the Wizarding World had ever produced, for the next two days. The Addamses, true to form, had brought the whole family, including the butler and the hag. At least their arrival had Harry Potter smiling again, instead of displaying that blank mask he and his female cousin had been wearing all week, but now the whole family was giving the cut direct to the Malfoys. Admittedly, he wouldn’t mind giving the cut to Lucius Malfoy himself, but starting a feud with one of the most influential families in Britain was not a Good Idea.
The whole thing was quite enough to give him a migraine.
On top of all that, his Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher had inexplicably gone missing, on the same evening that three students had almost been squashed by a troll. Severus had reported that he had suspicions about Quirrell, and had followed him to the entrance to the gauntlet Albus had set up to guard Nicholas’ treasure, but he remembered nothing after opening the door, until he regained consciousness in a room that was empty but for himself and Fluffy. Albus had visited the room but discovered that some sort of powerful raw magic had wiped out all the magical traces of whatever had passed there, except for a single new Alarm Charm on the trap door. This he had left in place, along with one of his own, rather than alert the caster that it had been discovered and removed. It was clear that something had happened there, but he had no idea what. The trap door, however, had not been opened and the Cerberus was still on duty. Severus suggested that perhaps the timorous Professor Quirrell had just been so frightened by it that he ran off. Albus was dubious about this theory, but did not have a better one at the moment.
The loss of Quirrell did, however, leave him with an embarrassing gap in his staff that he needed to fill at the first opportunity. He would begin his search for a new Defence instructor as soon as this Parents’ Weekend idiocy was over.
The last of the parents had taken their seats, many of the younger – and some of the older – children were waving happily to their families, and the head Kitchen Elf had notified him that dinner was ready to be served when the signal was given. Time to get this show on the road, as his gypsy grandmother was wont to say.
He rose from his seat and smiled benignly down upon his audience as they turned as one to face him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, mothers and fathers, I bid you welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Some of you are strangers here, visiting for the first time. To you I say, Welcome! Some of you know these halls well, from the days you attended classes here. To you I say, Welcome back! We have many events planned over the next two days, including demonstrations of what your children have been learning so well in their classes, and I would like to invite all of you to attend a Quidditch game tomorrow morning between what promise to be two of our best House teams in years, Gryffindor and Slytherin!” He paused to allow the predictable cheers from the students to die down. “But for now, the Hogwarts kitchen staff have been working all day on a delicious feast for us all, so without further ado I say, let us eat!”
Tureens of soup appeared on the tables in the usual way, causing a murmur of surprise and appreciation to arise from the parents’ tables, and Albus sat down and began his first course.
“Quite a turnout, isn’t it?” asked Minerva happily.
“Quite,” Albus said, sourly. “I must say you outdid yourself.”
“Why, Albus,” she said chidingly, “anyone would think you didn’t approve.”
“Hogwarts has done quite well for a thousand years, and we would have continued to do so without these American innovations.”
“Don’t be so negative, Albus. A little innovation now and then is a good thing.” She beamed down at the students and parents at their tables. “For example, Remus came up with the most charming little maps. They show a dot labelled ‘You are here’ and the rooms and halls in the immediate area, and if you tell the map where you want to go, it shows little footprints taking you in the right direction. I’ve no idea where he got the idea, but it means we won’t have people getting lost all weekend. I’m seriously considering giving them to all the first-years next year.”
Albus looked down at the same congregation and was less than happy. The neat, orderly table groupings were dissolving. Less than five minutes into dinner, students were leaving their tables to sit with their parents, and parents were sitting at the student tables, and soon enough … yes, one of the Ravenclaw students and her parents were talking to the Addamses at the Slytherin table, and was that Madam Longbottom heading over in that direction as well? At least she didn’t stay there long, returning to the Gryffindor table to sit with her grandson, but the very fact that she’d been there was worrying.
He would definitely have to take a headache potion when this was over.
Harry, Pugsley and Wednesday welcomed their family warmly as they entered the Great Hall, promptly moving over to the parents’ table after the Headmaster’s speech, filling in the gap left between the Addamses and the other Slytherin parents. After a short time, Hermione brought her parents – both obviously Muggle – over to join them. The Malfoy parents, along with the Goyles, made an ostentatious display of moving from the parents’ to the students’ table, sniffing disdainfully when the Granger parents thanked them for moving and took their places.
Harry and Hermione made introductions, though it seemed that Aunt Morticia and Mrs Granger had already met through the Parents’ Association, and soon Mr Granger was chatting affably with Uncle Gomez, although his wife was a little more reserved.
“Pleased to meet you, Addams,” said Mr Granger. “I’ve heard quite a lot about your boy, and your nephew, was it? Our Hermione’s been writing us every week, and it’s all about Pugsley this and Harry that. I wasn’t sure until we got here that there were actually any other boys in the school!” He chuckled as Hermione buried her face in her hands, then had mercy on his mortified daughter. “So, I understand you’re from America? May I ask what you do there?”
“I’m a lawyer. And I handle a few family investments. What do you do?” Gomez asked politely.
“My wife and I are both dentists,” said Mr Granger proudly.
“Oh, really?” asked Gomez, with a wide and interested smile. “That must be fascinating.”
Mrs Granger blinked and then leaned forward. “Mr Addams, do you … I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a human being with that many canine teeth before. Would you mind coming down to our clinic some time? I’d like to take some x-rays … and perhaps some of your family might come too? Maybe there’s a paper in this …” All the while, her gaze was fixed on Gomez’s teeth.
“Please forgive my wife, she gets a little … intense when something grabs her interest,” said Mr Granger. “Our daughter is the same way sometimes…”
“No, I couldn’t have guessed,” Harry murmured sotto voce to Pugsley. Hermione blushed heavily and concentrated her attention on her soup.
The soup plates and tureens vanished, to be replaced by the salad, and then the main course. The kitchens had outdone themselves, and there were many selections, served family-style so everyone could choose whatever they wished. Aunt Morticia helped herself to several items, tasted each one, and looked blankly down at her plate. “Is this what you normally eat?”
“Nope. This is feast food,” said Harry. “It’s better than usual. Normally it’s meat, potatoes, choice of veggies. We do get a nice curry on alternate Tuesdays.” He shrugged philosophically. “It keeps us going, but I’m really looking forward to Grandmama’s cooking when we get home for Christmas.”
When the pudding came, it was the Grangers’ turn to be horrified by the vast array of tarts, trifles, cakes and sweets that appeared. “Not a fresh fruit to be seen. Hermione, you have been brushing, haven’t you?”
“Da-ad!” moaned Hermione, who was beginning to wish she’d never brought her parents over.
The meal finished with coffee, tea and petit-fours. Many adults and their older children lingered in the Great Hall, while the younger students dragged their families off to see the Common Rooms and their dormitories. To an interested viewer, such as Albus Dumbledore, Harry and his cousins were just like all the others, tugging their relatives out of the room. Remus Lupin left the Head Table and tagged along with them.
The children, however, did not take the Family to the Slytherin Common Room immediately. Instead, they led them to the smallish dungeon where they’d hidden Quirrell’s remains.
Lupin immediately recognised the filthy purple fabric that had been Quirrell’s turban. “How did you get this, Harry? Dumbledore’s had us all looking everywhere for Professor Quirrell.”
“Quirrell’s dead. I killed him,” said Harry flatly.
“I assume you had reason,” said Uncle Gomez. “You can’t go killing teachers just because you don’t like their class, you know.”
“He was holding Wednesday hostage,” said Harry.
“And he was going to feed Hermione to a huge dog, and use us to trip booby-traps,” said Pugsley.
“He had Voldemort on the back of his head,” said Wednesday.
“Two-faced, eh? In that case, he needed killing. Congratulations, Harry!” said Uncle Gomez, handing Harry a cigar.
“I’m not upset that it happened,” said Harry, tucking the cigar in his shirt pocket. “I guess it’s just my Destiny and all – I guess that makes the score me 2, Voldemort 0. I didn’t expect it this soon, but …” He shrugged. “The problem is how I did it. I don’t know what happened or why, and I don’t know if it will happen again accidentally.”
The children explained what happened, in great detail and with occasional backtracking to fill in points that weren’t clear the first time.
“That’s all clear as mud,” said Uncle Gomez when they were done. “I think the first thing to do is find out if Harry can do that to anyone else, on command.” He reached out and grasped Harry’s hand firmly. Harry gasped and tried to pull his hand away, but his uncle’s grip was unyielding. “Nothing. So it’s not going to just happen anytime you touch someone. Now try to hurt me. Try to burn me.”
“But I don’t want to!”
“There are lots of things you’ll have to do that you don’t want to,” said Uncle Fester. “Do it!”
“But what if I kill you?”
“You didn’t kill Quirrell right away. It took time. I think I can get away from you if necessary,” said Uncle Gomez. “And if I don’t, at least we’ll know.”
Reluctantly, Harry closed his eyes and concentrated on making Uncle Gomez burn. Then he tried to pretend it was Quirrell who was holding his hand, and he was trying to burn Voldemort again. Burn, he thought. Burn burn burn burn … Suddenly he smelled smoke, and let go of his uncle’s hand with a yelp.
“Why did you stop? I didn’t feel anything.”
“Well, something’s burning!”
“Harry, look!” exclaimed Wednesday.
The tip of the cigar sticking out of Harry’s pocket had ignited and was sending up a plume of fragrant smoke.
“Not bad,” said Uncle Gomez, as Harry plucked the cigar out of his pocket before it could burn his shirt. “I didn’t master that trick until I was fifteen.”
“Okay, so at least I won’t burn random people,” said Harry. “That’s really what I was worried about most.”
“Right. If you’re going to incinerate people, it should always be on purpose,” said Uncle Fester. “Trust me, I know.”
Uncle Gomez nodded agreement. “Smoke your cigar as long as you’ve got it lit. It’s good for you.”
“So what do I do now?” asked Harry, taking a tentative puff. “It’s nice to know I won’t burn anybody else up, but I still don’t know why it happened in the first place.”
“I have an idea,” said Remus. “But I want to check something before I go trotting it out for everyone to laugh at. Think you could come round to my office sometime this weekend? Maybe Sunday afternoon? Then we’ll have a chance to work things out before the family leaves.”
“I suppose so, yeah. But in the meantime I’ve got a box full of dead Professor here and that dog is still up there sitting on God-knows-what, and …” He looked at Remus, who had a guilty expression on his face. “You know what’s under there, don’t you?”
“Yes. Yes, I do. It’s something that belongs to an associate of Professor Dumbledore’s – something that could be dangerous if certain parties got their hands on it. I believe there was some threat against it where it was, and Dumbledore agreed to keep it here for protection. Most of the teachers were asked to contribute sort of a booby trap against anyone getting at it. He thinks I’m his man, and I want to keep him thinking that, so of course I kicked in my bit.” He looked uncomfortable. “I really didn’t anticipate your getting involved with it, which is why I didn’t say anything before.”
“I suppose Quirrell kicked in his bit, too?” asked Harry.
Remus nodded. “The idea was that none of us would be likely to be able to get through the whole gauntlet of traps, and if we couldn’t, then nobody else could, either.”
“Then how is anybody going to get through it when they need to give it back to whoever owns it?”
“Oh, Dumbledore can get through it. But probably no other wizard in the world can.”
“So it’s perfectly safe, then?”
Harry paused to blow a cloud of smoke, then said, “Fine, then that’s something I don’t have to worry about. I doubt Voldemort’s going to try to get into the school riding on the back of someone’s head again, and all we have to do to be sure is start a fad for knocking off people’s hats. Then if we see someone suspicious, whammo!” He grinned. “So all I have to do is deal with Quirrellmort, here.”
“That’s easy enough,” said Uncle Gomez. “Finish the job you started. This looks like it will burn well,” he said, fingering the dirty turban. “Then flush the ashes down the john. Or dump them in the lake.”
“Not going to tell me to report it to the police?”
“That’s the Aurors, here, and no. I’ve seen enough of the Ministry to know they’d have you convicted of murdering him and whisked off to Azkaban before you could say ‘turban’. And Azkaban, while it has a rather bracing climate, is no place for a growing boy. Dumbledore wouldn’t be any help either. He’d just take it as an invitation to get involved with your life again, and any man stupid enough to hire a teacher wearing his worst enemy on the back of his head can’t be trusted. Rumour says Quirrell ran off. Let’s leave it at that.”
So Harry tucked Quirrell’s wand into the bundle of clothing, and was just about to stuff it into the fireplace in the dungeon, which had apparently not been used in some years, judging from the cobwebs that festooned it, when Remus stopped him. “Learn from a pro, Harry. Evanesco.” The cobwebs vanished. “Now put the clothes in.”
Harry put them in the fireplace and set them on fire with a quick “Incendio!” The cloth didn’t burn up as fast as Quirrell himself had, although his wand went up with a flash. Soon enough there was only a second pile of ash, together with the buttons from Quirrell’s clothing. They scooped the ash into an empty coal scuttle that stood next to the fireplace.
“Scourgify,” Remus muttered, cleaning the last of the ash and traces of smoke from the fireplace. “Now here’s the beauty part … Exorior!” With a swish of his wand, the cobwebs reappeared in the fireplace, making it look as if nothing had ever disturbed them. “Now let’s deal with those ashes.”
During their previous explorations in the area, the children had found an ancient toilet, consisting of a shaft with a wooden seat over it. When they tossed a button in, they heard a splash far below. “Probably leads down into the lake. Or an old cesspit. Either way, it’ll do,” said Harry, and he promptly poured the contents of the coal scuttle down the shaft. There were a few more quiet plops as buttons hit the water. Harry threw the stub of his cigar in for good measure.
“Now then,” said Aunt Morticia, “why don’t you show us your Common Room, and then take yourselves off to bed? You do have a Quidditch game tomorrow, you know.”
Harry sat on the edge of his bed, pensively turning his wand end over end with a one-handed finger twiddle. The rest of the boys had just gone to bed, and the only light in the room was from the candle on Harry’s snake skull. Pugsley lay in his own bed next to Harry’s, lying on his side so no one else could see his signals.
“What are you thinking about? Quirrell?”
Harry put his wand aside and signaled back. “It’s perfectly safe."
“What Remus said. It’s perfectly safe."
“It’s down a hole with a dog sitting on it and a bunch of boobytraps protecting it. Do you call that perfectly safe?”
“Not really, no.”
“Whatever it is, Voldemort wants it. So it must be important.”
“Think he’s going to let what happened stop him?”
“We need to get it first.”
“Would you put that bloody candle out? Some of us are trying to sleep here!” came Malfoy’s voice from the other end of the room.
“We’ll get the girls in on it first chance we get.”
Harry blew the candle out and lay down, but sleep was a long time coming.
Saturday morning found Harry almost too excited to eat, although he didn’t show it, of course. He managed to get a few bites of toast down, and then pushed food around on his plate for a bit. Finally Marcus Flint signalled to the team that it was time to go, and they marched briskly out of the Great Hall. Most of the team were older students, and Harry looked very small and young tagging along behind Higgs.
In the locker room on the west side of the pitch, the team changed into their green Quidditch robes. Madam Hooch, the referee, made a quick visit to check the equipment and then left again. While she had the door open, Harry could hear the sounds of the students and their families chattering while they filled the stands outside, and he fancied they sounded like a flock of exotic birds.
“All right, men,” growled Flint. “You all know what’s at stake here – the honour of our House … and the chance to give those Gryffindor pansies what for. Word is all three of their Chasers are girls this year. They’re young and won’t be able to take a good Bludger hit, so they’ll have to dodge a lot.” He turned to the two Beaters, both fifth-years. “Bole, Derrick, keep ‘em on their toes. If you can take any of their Beaters or Chasers out, do it. They’re probably playing without reserves again this year, and if they’re a man down, we’ll roll right over them.”
The Beaters nodded. They knew the drill.
Flint addressed the Keeper next. “Bletchley, most of their shots on goal will be fast and short-range. Those girls don’t have the upper body strength for long shots, so watch for them coming in and stay centred. Be ready to jink in any direction, but don’t let them lure you away from the goals.”
Bletchley just grunted in reply.
There were two Chasers other than Flint. “Pucey, you remember the Weasley twins from last year. Warrington, this is your first time facing them. Deadly accurate they are, especially with that dopplebeater attack. Keep your eye on ‘em, don’t let them take you by surprise. Keep ‘em separated if you can, they’ll do less damage that way.”
It was Higgs’ turn next. “Higgs. I don’t know who they’re flying at Seeker this year, but they haven’t had anybody decent in years. Test their new man, and if you can outfly him, try to distract their Chasers as much as possible. Let us get the score up a bit, then catch the bloody Snitch.”
Finally, he turned to the three Reserve players, one Beater, one Chaser, and Harry. “I don’t anticipate any of you getting in the air this match, but anything can happen once the whistle blows. You’re all new to the team – I want you to study the first-string players and see how they work. It’s different in a real game than in practice.”
“All right. They’ll be ready to start any second now. You all know what to do, and you’re going to go out and do it or answer to me. And if you survive that, you’ll have to answer to Professor Snape.” A bell rang, to signal that they were wanted on the field. “Now let’s get out there, and kick some Gryffindor arse!”
They picked up their brooms and moved out to the launch gate, Harry pausing only to grab a golf pencil and a piece of paper out of the supply section of his broom case.
“Wossat for?” asked Montague, the Reserve Chaser.
Harry shrugged. “Notes. Keeping score. Whatever I feel like.”
“You sure you’re not a Ravenclaw?” Montague asked, laughing.
They trooped out to the gate, where the seven first-string players got into formation and flew out onto the pitch, to the cheers of the students in the stands. The three Reserve players settled down to watch, with Harry paying rather more attention than the other two, simply because it was the first time he’d seen a game being played.
“And Madam Hooch gives the signal, and … they’re off! And the Quaffle is taken immediately by Angelina Johnson of Gryffindor – what an excellent Chaser that girl is, and rather attractive, too –”
“Sorry, Professor.” Professor McGonagall, Gryffindor’s Head of House, attempted to keep the rather exuberant student announcer in check.
“And she’s really belting along up there, a neat pass to Alicia Spinnet, a good find of Oliver Wood’s, last year only a reserve – back to Johnson and – no, the Slytherins have taken the Quaffle, Slytherin Captain Marcus Flint gains the Quaffle and off he goes – Flint flying like an eagle up there – he’s going to sc – no, stopped by an excellent move by Gryffindor Keeper Wood and the Gryffindors take the Quaffle – that’s Chaser Katie Bell of Gryffindor there, nice dive around Flint, off up the field and – OUCH – that must have hurt, hit in the back of the head by a Bludger – Quaffle taken by the Slytherins – that’s Adrian Pucey speeding off toward the goal posts, but he’s blocked by a second Bludger – sent his way by Fred or George Weasley, can’t tell which – nice play by the Gryffindor Beater, anyway, and Johnson back in possession of the Quaffle, a clear field ahead and off she goes – she’s really flying – dodges a speeding Bludger – the goal posts are ahead – come on, now, Angelina – Keeper Bletchley dives – misses – GRYFFINDORS SCORE!”
Gryffindor cheers filled the cold air, with howls and moans from the Slytherins. Most of the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs seemed to be rooting for Slytherin too.
Slytherin gained the Quaffle after the Gryffindor goal, and play continued until both Seekers spotted the Snitch and raced after it. Harry held his breath, willing Higgs to catch it, but it looked like the Gryffindor Seeker was slightly in the lead, until Flint blocked him and knocked him away. The Gryffindor team screamed foul, Madam Hooch awarded a penalty shot to Gryffindor, and the Snitch got away again in the confusion.
Flint didn’t seem to be terribly upset that Gryffindor was up by twenty points after one of their Chasers scored on the penalty shot.
Harry frowned, and started taking notes.
An hour in, the game was getting even rougher, the fans were hoarse from shouting, and Professor McGonagall had threatened to remove the announcer a dozen more times. The Gryffindor Seeker, a third-year who was new to the team, was pale and shaking from the number of close calls he’d had from the Bludgers. Harry had the impression he’d stopped looking for the Snitch and was mostly trying to keep from getting killed. Higgs wasn’t particularly looking for the Snitch either; he was spending most of his time interrupting passes between the Gryffindor Chasers.
Finally, as Higgs dove between the Chasers and clipped the twigs on Katie Bell’s broomstick, the Gryffindor Beaters decided they’d had enough. One of them sent a Bludger straight at Higgs, who jinked to the right to avoid it – and the second Bludger slammed directly into his head. The crowd gasped as Higgs parted company with his broom and plummeted to the ground, which fortunately was only twenty feet away. Unfortunately, the November frost had rendered it as unforgiving as cement, and the sound of his arm breaking as he hit could be clearly heard in the sudden silence.
Madam Hooch blew her whistle frantically, and play came to a stop as she checked Higgs’ condition. Shortly he had been placed on a stretcher which was floated back up to the castle by a squad of Hufflepuff volunteers.
“Uh-oh,” said Montague. “Bad luck for Higgs. They’ll be calling you in a minute, Potter. Think you can avoid getting killed?”
Harry nodded, and rapidly began folding his notes into a paper airplane.
“Whatcha doin’ that for?”
“You’ll see,” he said, as he drew his wand just long enough to place a quick charm on the paper.
Out on the pitch, Madam Hooch turned to Flint. “Captain Flint, you’re down your Seeker. Do you want to forfeit the match, or switch one of your Chasers to play Seeker?”
“We have a Reserve Seeker,” he said, signalling to the entry gate.
Harry mounted his broom and launched himself into the air, as the announcer started speaking again.
“Slytherin have opted to bring in a Reserve Seeker … I’m being handed the details by the Slytherin scorekeeper now … Holy cats! Is this true? Ladies and gentlemen, the new Slytherin Seeker is none other than Harry Potter! Still in his first year, he’s easily the youngest player in a school match in over a century! I’ve heard rumours about how this boy flies, it’s going to be something to see. He’s riding an American model broom – we’ll see if it can keep up …”
Harry smirked and patted the shaft of his Silver Streak. They were in for a surprise. He made a quick circuit of the stadium, and as he passed the stands where Wednesday sat in the first row with the rest of the family, he launched his paper airplane. The charmed paper sailed directly into her hands and unfolded itself. She read it and then looked up and nodded. He gave her a quick salute in reply, then turned his attention to the game.
Flint was arguing with Madam Hooch that the Bludger attack against Higgs had been a foul, but she said it was a fair play, and blew her whistle to resume play with Gryffindor in possession of the Quaffle.
Harry stayed above the skirmishing teams, circling while looking for the Snitch and dodging the occasional Bludger and listening to the commentary with half an ear.
“Potter’s staying high – can’t say I blame him, one good Bludger shot would break him in half – Flint intercepts the Quaffle, there he goes up the pitch – he takes his shot – he scores! And it’s fifty to ninety Gryffindor. The Quaffle is back in play and there goes Potter!” the announcer practically screamed into the microphone. “Gryffindor Seeker Towson is after him, but Potter’s in the lead, heading for the Slytherin end of the pitch, and Great Merlin he’s made a hairpin turn in one broom length and he’s headed the other way – Towson floundering, can’t make the turn, he’s way behind – Potter corkscrewing between the Slytherin Chasers – the rumours were right, that boy can fly – and he has the Snitch! Potter catches the Snitch in less than five minutes in his first game, and the game ends with Slytherin scoring two hundred points to Gryffindor’s ninety!”
The Slytherin stands broke out into cheers. A number of Ravenclaws, a few Hufflepuffs, and one Gryffindor – Neville Longbottom – were cheering as well, and Harry waved to his friends and family as the team took a victory lap around the pitch. The paper airplane sailed up to him as they passed the Slytherin section of the stands, and he pocketed it unnoticed among the silver confetti and green streamers that were pouring down upon them.
When they were back in the locker room, the first thing everybody did was check their brooms and make sure no damage had been done, then put them away. Flint came over to Harry’s bench and slapped him on the back. “Good job, Potter! We’ve got a hundred ten points to the Cup! Higgs is going to have to work to get his spot back – if he gets it back. But next time, just let us get the score up a little first, eh?”
Harry turned to face Flint. “Higgs can have his spot back any time he wants it. If you’re going to play the game that way – I quit!”
“You heard me. I quit. I’m not going to bail you out when you’re practically giving the game away!”
“What the hell are you talking about, shrimp?!” Flint roared.
Harry dropped his broom to the floor and stood on it, willing it to lift him up so he could see Flint eye to eye. He waved the unfolded airplane in his face. “I’m talking about this, Flint! I kept score all the time I was watching. And I had Wednesday do it while I was playing.”
“So what? We got a scorekeeper.”
“And I bet you’re not paying enough attention to his tally, either. You guys were fifty points down when I came on.”
“We’d have got it back. I scored just after you started, remember?”
“You’d never have caught up. Look, in regular shots on goal, you guys are about the same as the Gryffies,” said Harry, waving the paper. “You both take about the same number of shots and make about the same number of goals. But when you foul them and they get a penalty shot, they make almost all of them. I bet those girls’ve been practicing penalty shots more than anything else. Those are free points you’re giving them. And they were provoking you. The madder you get, the more fouls you make. They don’t foul you on purpose, so you don’t get anywhere near as many penalty points. The way you were playing, if I hadn’t caught the Snitch early, they’d have won sooner or later anyway.” He slapped the paper into Flint’s hand. “If the Gryffies can figure out a strategy to take advantage of you, you can bet the Claws and the Puffs have figured it out too. And we can’t count on them having lousy Seekers.”
He let the broom lower him to the ground again and sat down on the bench.
“If they all play to it, we’re not going to have anywhere near a big enough margin to take the Cup.”
“One game and you’re an expert?”
“He’s right,” said Bletchley. “Those girls are deadly accurate on penalty throws. They got six penalty shots by me. If you guys hadn’t fouled them, we’d have won by one seventy instead of one ten.”
“And if you’d blocked those shots like you’re supposed to, we’d …”
Harry sighed, put his broom on its chain, and closed up the case that he toted around as a decoy. The argument rolled around him. He’d had his say, and Flint would learn that he meant it when he didn’t show up for the next practice.
In the meantime, his family was waiting for him, and luncheon would soon be served.
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