POP

Harry stumbled but kept his feet, having apparated onto a boggy marsh somewhere in Yorkshire. His boots sunk slowly into the mud as he tried regaining his bearings, a task made more difficult by the blanket of fog surrounding him. Deciding there was nothing else for it, Harry unclipped his broomstick off his back and kicked off the soggy ground. He rose steadily, aware that there could be other wizards on brooms in the area who could barrel into him at any moment.

There was another reason he was rising steadily. This was his first time on this particular broom, a Cleansweep Twelve. His Firebolt, a gift from his Godfather Sirius, had been lost in the evacuation of Privet Drive last year and he hadn't had a chance to replace it since. Harry sighed at the prospect of the world's most expensive racing broom being used to sweep up dirt by the lucky Muggle whose property it had landed in. It'd been his intention to buy a new Firebolt, but fortunately Ron had intervened.

"Harry! This isn't Hogwarts, you can't just ride whatever broom you feel like! Everyone knows the NQL has a standard broom that every player uses!"

"The NQL?"

"The National Quidditch League! Blimey Harry, you don't even know the name of the league you're trying to sign up for!?"

Ron had been torn between excitement and jealousy at the news Harry was attempting to become a professional Quidditch Seeker. However in the end his best friend had been invaluable with filling him in on all of the details that Oliver Wood had assumed Harry already knew.

"First thing's first, no Firebolts! That broom is way too fast in the hands of professionals. It doesn't make for good viewing."

Harry frowned. "What about at the World Cup? Ireland had Firebolts!"

"Well of course, Harry!" Ron explained, exasperated. "That was an international game! Anything goes, kind of like at Hogwarts."

"What are the other differences then?"

"So, as I was saying before, everyone rides the same broom to make it a game of skill, instead of just who has the most money. Of course depending how recklessly you ride the broom some players can get more speed out of them than others"-

-"Which broom?"

"The Cleansweep Twelve. Good broom. Anyway, the other major difference is that catching the Golden Snitch doesn't end the game."

Harry nearly choked on his roast potatoes. "Catching the Snitch doesn't end the game!?"

Ron shook his head. "In the NQL they play two halves of 45 minutes, and whoever has the highest score at the end wins."

Harry's mind was racing as he put two and two together. "So that means…I can catch the Snitch as many times as I want, and our score just keeps going up by 150?"

"Only 50," Ron corrected, "but yes, Seekers can catch the Snitch as many times as they want during the game. Although some games end with zero Snitch captures!"

"Why did they change the rules?" asked Harry.

"Oh you know, fairness, accessibility, making the other 6 players on the team relevant to the outcome of the game…" Ron waved his hand airily. "You shoulda seen it when the Department of Magical Games and Sports announced the changes. The poor representative got pelted with golden hazelnuts. But people got used to it, and at least you know the game isn't going to take two weeks to end now."

After much deliberation, Harry had ended up agreeing with Ron that those tweaks were for the best in a professional league, although he did wonder if the personal thrill of catching the Snitch would be the same if it didn't end the game.

He was above the dense fog now and sure enough, a blip on the horizon was just visible. Harry took this opportunity to try out his new broom properly by zigzagging between some imaginary bludgers before flattening himself against the stick to test its limits. Ron had been right, it was a good broom. It lacked the punchy acceleration and insane top speed of the Firebolt, but Harry noticed it was much easier to change directions.

The blip had grown larger and larger against the marshy flatlands and now the stadium rose up before Harry in all its glory. Players sped in and out of view over the top of the stadium, and Harry thought he even caught sight of a Bludger, but before he could enter he needed to double check something first.

He dismounted outside the stadium and found a pillar to stand behind just in case anyone else was loitering around as well. He reached into his plain black Quidditch robes that Ron had made him buy ("It's a traditional thing, Harry. You're not on a team so you have to wear plain robes! It's about respect!") and pulled out a small hand mirror Hermione had lent him. He stared into the mirror, breathing a sigh of relief at the blue eyes that were staring back at him.

Harry was determined that whether he succeeded or failed to make the team, it would have nothing to do with him being 'The Chosen One'. Hermione had made a few visual alterations right before he'd disapparated, green eyes to blue, black hair now bleach blonde ("It'll help you stand out as well Harry, peacocking is very important!"), and a light pink scar ran diagonally across his left cheek. These measures were only temporary; Harry had no interest in living a double life after spending the last year on the run. He just wanted to do the trials as Vernon Dudley- normal guy, not Harry Potter- vanquisher of Voldemort.

Harry made one final adjustment, replacing his regular glasses with large Quidditch goggles (partially covering his real lightning bolt scar), and walked into the stadium.


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