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Harry Potter And The Game of Death
Chapter Thirty-Four: First Flight
Several days after his duel against Draco found Harry nervously pacing within a wooden tunnel. Brand new Quidditch gear emblazoned with the colours of Britain's national team covered his wiry frame while his trusty Firebolt broom was firmly grasped in his left hand. Today would be the first of his professional Quidditch games and Harry could feel the pressure. Because unlike a school Quidditch game, in which the only thing on the line was pride, Harry was now playing for higher stakes. People's lives were depending on him to foil Lucius Malfoy's plot, and the next step in ruining it would be winning this game.
A sigh escaped Harry's lips. Gosh did he wish that Hermione was back from her trip. Butterflies the size of cocker spaniels were currently dancing in his stomach while his face felt tight and drawn from lack of sleep. Harry's every waking moment since the duel had been spent either out on the pitch with his new teammates or back at the Cottage training his spells. He felt stressed and on edge, and alone, just like he had back in his second year when everyone had thought he was the Heir of Slytherin.
But unlike then, Hermione was not anywhere nearby. So, Harry just had to carry on while making do with himself and those who were.
"Relax, lad, and try to stay calm," Bronwen said light-heartedly. The burly woman clapped his shoulder in a way that was probably meant to be reassuring, but with the size difference between them was more akin to being struck by a hammer. "You've been in games before, if not one quite so large, and you're a terrific Seeker from what I've seen in practice. You belong here, lad, and we wouldn't 'ave brought you onto the team otherwise."
Harry nodded and gave the captain a wan smile as she gave his back another pat. On a rational level he understood her words. They made sense and sounded like something Oliver Wood might have said back when Harry had first joined the Gryffindor team. But they did not do much for him. Not when none of the people around him had an idea as to what sort of stakes were riding on today's match.
"Och, laddie, there's nary a reason t'be all jittery like a wee bug on a hot stone. Ah ken ye can do it. Ye just need t'believe in yerself and trust in yer instincts." Alistaire McLeod's booming voice rumbled through Harry's entire body as the beefy Beater gave a hearty laugh. "Now, let's get a song going t'put the crew in the mood fer some fun. Who's up for a rousin' round o' 'I Love a Lassie'?
"Me! Me! I'm in!" Annabelle called out. The short, sun-haired woman bounced up and down as a look of childlike glee suffused her face. Meanwhile the rest of the team gave a chorus of 'likewise' and settled into a loose circle with their arms around one another's shoulders.
"Then here we go!" Alistair placed his arms across the shoulders of Bronwen and one of the male Chasers, Malcom, and began to belt out the well-known tune in a boisterous yet terribly off-key tenor. "I love a lassie, a bonnie Hielan' lassie…"
As the group cheerfully struck up the tune popular amongst muggles and magic folk alike, Harry gave them another wan smile and hummed along. Singing was not something he particularly enjoyed doing even in the best of times, but it was better than having the people around him give him more ham-fisted advice on how to relax and focus on the game ahead.
Then, just as the team started on the third stanza of the song, a familiar sound rang out inside Harry's skull.
You Have Received a Messages From One of Your Party Members
Select to Read
Harry blinked at the unexpected notification. Curious as to why Sirius had sent him a message at this time, for a recently released and mostly healed Sirius was the only person currently in Harry's Party, Harry turned away to hide his interactions with the Game's notification. He had no great longing to repeat the recent near miss that had occurred with Andromeda and Dora at St. Mungo's and made sure that none of his teammates were observing him before he selected the notification's read option.
Give 'em hell, kiddo! You're a brilliant flyer and I know that you'll give it your all. Ain't no one in the entire world who could beat you in a fair match once you're on a broom.
And though Dora and Remus might not be here today, they're still counting on you to stick the biggest spanner in the world into Malfoy's little scheme. Which means putting dark wizards out of your mind for the duration of the game and getting a win. Because that's where you'll be able to hit the smelly flounder right where it hurts him the most: in his misbegotten pride and arrogant nature at having his failed plan to fix the games ground even further into the dirt.
What you are doing today IS important, and when it ends you will have people to welcome you home with open arms. Including a familiar face or six who are in the viewing box with me right this very moment.
You're not in this alone, Harry. Ever. Remember that.
The message was… nice. And wholly unexpected. Very unlike the wild, silly man Harry had come to know over the summer, but nice nonetheless. It was rather calming, too, even if it did not vanish all the stress Harry felt. But it warmed him beyond measure and felt like something Hermione might have said were the brainy girl back from France.
As Harry smiled to himself and began to compose a reply, a loud buzzing noise blared into the tunnel. A sugary voiced woman soon began to speak in a professional manner. "Wizards and witches, this is your final call to reach your designated seating area. The Quidditch match will begin in less than ten minutes. En Français, Magiciens et sorcières…"
The announcement cut the team off mid-note with the effectiveness of a hot knife cutting through butter. Captain Bronwen began to bark orders as the group mounted their brooms, each person conducting a final pre-flight check on their gear and looking over the closest teammate once they had finished.
Once everyone had their gear double checked and their brooms looked over, the riders slapped their helmeted heads and kicked off the ground to hover in place. Harry's gloved hands tightly gripped the wooden handle of his broom as he followed their lead, using the movement to surreptitiously hit the send option on his hastily completed message. A short ding let him know that it was successful, after which Harry did his best to stop thinking of anything other than the upcoming match.
Win or lose, ready or not, it was nearly time for the game to begin.
Ludo Bagman grumbled aloud at the ridiculous security precautions he was currently being forced to suffer. Thanks to that classified little scrape Sirius had gotten himself into during Harry's duel – which Bartemius still had not cleared Ludo to know about in detail and had even gotten a gag order placed on him despite Ludo's department being the second biggest logistical partner of the entire bloody event – security at the Cup had been increased to a mind-boggling extent.
The number of on-duty Aurors had nearly tripled, the spell-wards around every stadium and area had undergone a complete rechecking, while all event staff – including Ludo himself – were now being subjected to identity confirming searches when entering sensitive areas.
Between the uncooperative Goblin bookie who had recorded his morning bets and that damnable red-haired toady of Bartemius who had conducted today's examinations, Ludo had barely made it to the stadium before the game started. It was a travesty! A blatant mark of disrespect to both him and his office.
But worst of all, his being late could ruin everything!
For with Potter's joining the national team in a quiet manner and with no official announcement whatsoever having been made on it, Ludo had a very small window to make a great deal of money. And in order to rake in as many galleons as possible it was imperative that his upcoming broadcast go according to plan.
Pulling his 'Boss Hawg' leather jacket back on while wondering aloud how Muggles could bear to wear such heavy clothing in everyday life, Ludo dashed up the steps to the announcer's booth with unseemly haste. He was not in the shape he used to be in his younger days and his lungs began to burn after just several seconds of sustained effort.
One of his employs, a Li Chang if Ludo remembered correctly, was standing at the top of the stairs and beckoning him on, a look of panic writ large over the man's unmemorable Asian features. "Move it, boss! The broadcast is supposed to begin in eight seconds!"
Ludo added on an extra burst of speed and made it to the top of the stairs in record time. He lunged for the window's opening as the last of the multilingual roll call announcements aired, casting a silent Sonorus charm on his throat as he moved. Chang grabbed Ludo's heavy jacket with both hands, steadying his boss from behind as Ludo drew deep breath of air into his burning lungs.
"Aaaaaaaaaaand here we go!" Ludo cried out in full spotlight persona. It had taken him years of effort, but by now Ludo could activate his most charming side with little to no effort at all. "In a day that will no doubt go down in history, the thirty-third match of the four-hundred twenty-second Quidditch World Cup is about to begin. Today's game sees the mighty Germans trying to maintain their iron-grip on the bracket. They lead their next closest competitor by more than one hundred points thanks to their brilliant Seeker, good ol' what's-his-name."
A few boos rained his way from the German section of the stands, but Ludo ignored them. He could not remember the bloke's name and honestly could not care less. Remembering some bit character's name was a waste of precious brain cells that could be put to far better use, like calculating how much money he would earn through his bets on Harry.
"Meanwhile," Ludo continued with a jaunty verbal flourish, "the plucky Brits are down their own star Seeker – their backup one too – and would seem to be in desperate need of a morale boost. Can they take down this seemingly indomitable German juggernaut, with a third stringer playing one of the most important positions in the game? Or will they instead be smashed into the dust of history in a soul-crushing defeat? Your guess is as good as mine, folks, but never count out a team that has its back pressed against the wall."
In a pre-scripted appearance guaranteed to maximize the coming drama, Li Chang suddenly appeared next to Ludo's side with a piece of bright yellow paper guaranteed to grab people's attention. Ludo quickly grabbed it and, after a short moment spent reading the contents, artfully arranged his features to resemble shock and awe for the sake of the cameras that were undoubtedly trained on his position. "What's this? Why in all my wildest dreams… Ladies and gentlemen, my assistant has just handed me the most incredible news! It would seem that, thanks in no small part to my own personal recommendation, the British team has accepted a new Seeker! One whose name is known in every household in all of Magical Britain."
Ludo paused for dramatic effect as the stadium settled into a questioning murmur at his words. Ludo could hear the names of various professional players bandied back and forth; it took every ounce of self-control he possessed not to laugh at them. This was a moment that would be remembered in British sporting history for decades to come and Ludo was determined to work it for all that it was worth.
Only when the crowd's hushed mumbles began to turn into an inquiring clamour did he at last deign to satisfy their curiosity. "And the person in question is none other than the one. The only. Harry. James. Potter!"
The stadium erupted into bedlam at Ludo's shouted exclamation. The largely British and Scottish crowd of spectators veritably burst with excitement at learning that the boy hero of twelve years ago was soon to take the field. National fervour for the kid was at an all-time high thanks to his fantastic duel against the Malfoy scion the week before, which had brought the usually reclusive boy back into the national spotlight for the first time since he had started at Hogwarts.
But best of all, that little announcement had just made one of his longshot bets pay off. And the more he hyped the kid up, the more likely some of his other longshot bets were to pay off in grand style as well.
Ludo did a short jig as the crowd continued to go wild. Oh, happy day! At long last life was finally beginning to turn around for him. The golden shores of financial solvency beckoned with a brilliant shine while the dingy shoals of insolvency vanished into the distance. No more Goblin threats of maiming and dismemberment for him, no sir. Not so long as the golden goose known as Harry Potter was around and competing in matches that Ludo could use the inside track to bet on.
"Let's hear it, folks, for the Boy-Who-Lived!" Ludo crowed as the crowd began to chant Harry's name.
Fleur Delacour sniffed at the announcer's blatant show of favouritism towards the home team. The man seemed to lack any shred of professionalism as he followed his earlier comments up by launching into a glowing rant on the new Seeker's school-level triumphs. She found some of them to be rather unlikely to have happened. Especially the clearly fantastical match involving Dementors. After all, Dementors in this country were regulated by the Ministry of Magic, and what sort of fool would station Dementors around a school full of children? It would be political suicide back in France.
However, not everyone in the private V.I.P. booth shared Fleur's scepticism.
"Mais oui!" Gabrielle cried out in joy. "Zis is wonderful, ma Souer! 'Arry will be playing! Here! At zis game! I must be the dreaming!"
Fleur rolled her eyes in exasperation. Ever since they had come to this strange land, her little sister's crush on the boy had exploded. This event was only guaranteed to make it worse.
"Yes, yes, ma petite souer," Fleur stated. "I am excited too."
"Eh? You are?" Gabrielle turned to face Fleur in confusion. Until this time Fleur had not so much as commented on Harry Potter to the younger girl. The comment had clearly caught her off guard.
Feeling a little mischievous and seeing an opportunity for some harmless fun, Fleur decided to tease her little sister. "Oui. 'E eez quite cute, Gabrielle. And 'e seems to be deependable az well from all ze stories you 'ave told me about 'eem. Eef 'e were just a leetle older, I might pursue 'eem myself."
"Zat is not funny, ma soeur." Gabrielle said grumpily.
"Hm? I am serious, Gabby. 'Arry Potter really is cute. Especially those eyes of his." Fleur had seen a picture of the boy at a stall – and only barely convinced her sister not to purchase it – and could say that part in earnest. The boy was only a kid for now, but in several years' time those eyes of his would turn him into a lady-killer.
Gabrielle spluttered at Fleur's seemingly earnest comeback. "But… but… mais non! This is not fair! Not fair at all, ma soeur. You're going to be spending the entire year wiz 'im while I am trapped at Beauxbatons! 'oo knows what might 'appen. You might even ask 'im out to zat dance zey will be 'aving"
"Oh, eez zat so?" Fleur pretended to think about it, loving how she could nearly see smoke pour out of her little sister's ears. "Ah, yes. Ze wintery ball, I believe eet eez called. Do you zeenk I should ask 'im to be my date for ze evening? Eet eez a good suggestion. I don't zeenk zat zis dreary land weel 'ave much in the way of competition for 'eem."
"NO!" Gabrielle shouted the word out and began to pound her elder sister with her tiny fists. "Zat would be 'orrible! Zen 'e would fall in love wiz you and not me!"
Fleur laughed softly to herself at her sister's open display of jealousy. She caught Gabrielle's fists and wrapped the younger girl into a comforting hug. Gabrielle squirmed and struggled in the embrace, but she did truly try to push Fleur away. A good sign, Fleur thought, as it meant that the girl was not truly angry. But, alas, it was time for the joke to end lest she truly enrage her adorable younger sister.
After a moment had passed and she felt certain that Gabrielle had calmed down, Fleur drew back and stared into her sister's face. "I cannot control ze future, my adorable leetle seester. But I promise on my 'onour zat I will not seek to gain his attention first and zat I will not azk 'im to ze wintery ball."
Gabrielle's face somewhat relaxed at Fleur's words. But she still peered at her sister with a suspicious gaze. "And if 'e asks you to ze ball?"
"Zen I will say non."
"And if 'e tries to pursue you in ozzer ways?"
"Zen I will decide based on 'is personality," Fleur teased. Then, before her sister could even open her mouth to respond, Fleur placed a finger on the girl's lips. "But if 'e eez just anozzer boy 'oo falls for ze Allure, which is most likely, zen I will eegnore 'im like all of ze ozzer ones."
Looking only somewhat mollified, Gabrielle grumbled under her breath for a bit before turning away in an angry huff. "I suppose zat zat is an honest answer. Make sure zat you 'onour your word, ma souer. Or else I will be very angry at you when you return 'ome!"
Chuckling, Fleur tousled her sister's long hair before reclining into her comfortable chair. It did not take long before her sister darted off to a nearby concession stand located in the V.I.P. section to search for some Harry Potter Quidditch memorabilia, allowing a wonderful aura of pleasant quiet to fall upon the sumptuous V.I.P. booth.
Fleur took a sip from her glass of champagne and gave a sigh of contentment. She loved the days when it was just her and her sister, and the last week had been filled with such times. Appolline had yet to return after being called away earlier in the week to handle some Veela Enclave matter at the I.C.W., while Fleur and Gabrielle's fathers had chosen to spend most of the week exploring the fairgrounds on their own. These factors had left the two sisters to their own devices and the pair had made a number of memories which Fleur would cherish for years to come.
However, since she was currently alone and seated in a rather comfortable chair, there was no sense in letting the time go to waste. Fleur reached into the bag beside her chair and took out a heavy tome on advanced Charms and Transfiguration. She began to slowly leaf through its byzantine contents while the stupid announcer continued to drone on about Harry Potter's many accomplishments.
"In the upcoming professional season, ladies and gents, you could also get to see one of the few who individuals who can claim to have moulded young Harry's talents from the start. His old team captain, Oliver Wood, was recently signed by Puddlemere United to be their backup Keeper, though my sources tell me that the strapping lad has enough talent to start for any team in the league. Speaking of which, back when I was still active…"
Ludo's voice slipped from anecdote to anecdote as the man continued to milk Harry's debut for all it was worth. Ludo had the gift of gab to be sure and Sirius might have been impressed at the man's obvious talent for talking non-stop were it not for the efforts of a certain someone who seemed determined to out-talk him and drive Sirius completely insane in the process.
"So? Did you send it? Has he replied yet? Did something happen that you're not telling me about? I'm not in the Party so I cannot do it myself. Please, Sirius, I need information. I cannot do anything unless I have all of the facts and you are being completely unresponsive in giving them to me!"
With all the patience of a canonized saint, Sirius turned a single beady eye upon the young girl standing beside him. He absently noted that the girl's figure was beginning to curve and bulge out in all the right places. Combined with her rather frightening intelligence and strong sense of loyalty, the little lady would be quite the catch in a few years. Harry would be quite the lucky man when the boy finally figured out that the girl was on the turn for him.
Sirius sighed. A shame that she did not have an older sister he could hook up with. A terrible, terrible shame. He needed a good woman to get his mind off his little dalliance with Rita and thus far he had been coming up empty. A hound he might be, but a sober and no longer desperate for sex Sirius Black had high standards for the women he chose to lay.
His thoughts must have been showing, though, for the bushy-haired girl soon ceased her attempts to bludgeon him over the head with her non-stop dialogue. Instead, Hermione placed both of her hands onto her hips and shoved her face as close as it could get to his own. "Sirius! Wipe that perverted smirk off your face right this instant and answer my questions. Or so help me I will find a way to make you do so!"
Sirius raised his eyes to the room's ceiling and sighed again. The girl's tendency to ask questions non-stop – and hyper focus on whatever answer she was given – was beginning to wear on him. It was like someone had distilled the worst qualities of a young Remus and Lily, combined them into one human form, and then sent that form into his life just to bother him.
Which, considering his family upbringing, was not the worst thing that could have happened to him. But it was still rather annoying.
For what felt like the umpteenth time since the girl had arrived at the Cup with the Weasley's as part of a surprise for the boy upon winning, Sirius placed a hand over his eyes and responded to her question with a low grumble. "Relax! Like I told you earlier, I just sent the message a few minutes ago. Considering that the kid's getting ready for a major Quidditch match, and is around other people who aren't in the know about the Game, then my guess is that Harry probably hasn't even had time to read it."
"But what if he did, and he replied, and you somehow missed the sound of the notification because you weren't paying close enough attention?" Hermione questioned intently. "Sometimes Harry is a really fast reader. He might've read and replied to you when the crowd went crazy over the announcer's broadcast. Could you check the Game's system again? Please? Maybe it can tell you if he's read the message."
"Hermione, the Game doesn't work like-"
"And on second thought, I didn't mean to suggest that Harry is ever a slow reader – though sometimes I do think he takes more time on things than is strictly required, like whenever he sits down to work on his written essays or write a letter to someone important –"
"If you'll just let me fini-"
"But those are some of the things I like about him the most. You see, Harry is very well grounded for our age and that is a wonderful quality to have in a friend. He is always calm when it matters and he is very good at thinking things through logically whenever it concerns something truly important, and –"
Sirius shut his mouth as the girl continued to go on what was clearly a nervous rant. If he had possessed any doubts at all about her intentions towards his godson, then this continuing spectacle would have cleared them up in a heartbeat. Talking like this had to be a defensive mechanism of some sort. Just like how James had clammed up every time Lily came near him in Year Two and Three at Hogwarts, or how Remus scratched himself behind the ear whenever he flirted with a good-looking man.
Luckily, Sirius' past experience with those similar issues and more meant that he knew just how to end this rant in a way that would be both effective and amusing. For him, at least. Probably not for her, but that aspect would be payback for having dragged him into this insane vortex of teenage emotions against his consent.
"Alright! Enough of that, Hermione." Sirius said as loudly as he could without drawing the attention of everyone else in the booth. "Since you can't seem to settle, Hermione, then I won't bother telling you when a message comes in. We need to keep the Game a secret and you babbling non-stop about it isn't likely to do so."
It was like a tap had been turned off. The girl ended her rant mid-sentence and whipped around to stare at him with a look of shock painted on her face. One which was both priceless and adorable and made Sirius wish that he had thought to carry a wizarding camera with him.
"B-b-b-ut why not?" Hermione stuttered after several seconds of stunned silence. "I'm his best friend. I care for him. I even helped you write the message to him in the first place! And I've kept his secret just fine, thank you very much."
Serious mulled over her rejoinder. The girl had a point there. She had contributed a great deal to the message, adding in all sorts of mushy stuff that Sirius was never good at expressing to the people he loved. But now was not the time for logic. Not when he finally had her on the back foot and not constantly talking.
Or was it?
After a moment's thought, Sirius made a change to his plan on the fly.
"I appreciate your assistance, Hermione," Sirius replied with a nod of his head. "But you see, I'm afraid that we'll miss the start of the match if I keep mucking about with the damn Game; I'm not very good at using it, and the blasted noise it makes every time I open up some new page can be deafening. And it would be horrible if that caused us to miss Harry's big entrance, right?"
Hermione's gaze turned thoughtful at his reply; her lips pursed together in obvious contemplation. "Yes. Yes, I can certainly see your point. I agree that it would be very bad if we were to miss Harry's entrance just because we were overly focused on something else. Even if that other thing had to do with him."
Sirius crowed inwardly at the sight. Score one for the master of diversion! Not even a mental messing by a Death Eater could dull his talents in this area for long.
But just as Sirius was getting ready to smile and declare victory, the girl's sweet little face turned determined once again as she glared at him intently. "But if you get a message from him before he appears, please let me know. Instantly!"
Sirius held his hands up in a mollifying gesture. He had already won the battle and had no desire to start a new one. "Yes, yes. I promise."
The young lady gave him a return look that Sirius knew very well. Loosely translated it meant something along the lines of 'don't you coddle me when I want to know something about the boy I adore, you chauvinistic bastard'. If Lily were still alive, then Sirius would have suspected the fiery haired woman of having taught that look to the brown-haired girl. As it were, he would just have to settle for blaming the corrupting influence of Minerva and Molly, who were clearly setting a bad example.
Dealing with the three of them all at once, plus Andromeda, almost made Sirius wish that Lucius had made an appearance at the game. He could have used it as a valid and manly excuse to duck out of the private box in order to follow the evil ponce around. But Lucius and his goons had been silent ever since the duel between Harry and Draco. They had stuck to their respective mansions and not even the bevy of undercover reporters Andromeda had let loose on them for the past week had seen anything to suggest they were up to no good.
You Have Received a Messages From One of Your Party Members
Select to Read
"Sheesh. Speak of the Devil long enough and it will certainly appear," Sirius muttered. He tapped Hermione on the shoulder and gestured for her to come closer so he could relay the information without fear of being overheard. The girl was almost bouncing on her toes as he relayed the short message.
Thanks for the pep talk, Sirius. I love you too.
I'll meet you at the agreed upon location after we win the match.
Hermione's excitedly shoved Sirius' shoulder as soon as he finished speaking. "See? I told you that putting that into the end of your message would be a good touch! I mean, I could tell that Harry had come a long way over the summer from the letters we exchanged, but to actually see Harry tell someone that he loves them…"
The girl shook her bushy head in seeming wonder. "Considering his upbringing with those nasty, horrible, terrible people, and everything that happened to us at school in the years since, I didn't think that would come about until well after we had graduated from Hogwarts. Though I am incredibly glad to be proven wrong in this one instance."
"Now that's a statement I feel should be put down in writing," Sirius teased. "Or should I ask Minerva to come over and record it with a Charm? I think that would make a wonderful birthday present for Harry magical folk everywhere, right?"
The girl flushed red and tried to swat Sirius' arm in retaliation, but he was much too experienced and saw it coming a mile away. He dodged back, laughing aloud as Hermione tried to pursue him around the tent in an angry huff. Then a shrill whistle blasted through the air and the crowded stadium went absolutely bonkers.
It was time!
Hermione left off her pursuit and rushed over to where Molly's daughter, Ginny, was standing by the windows. Once together the two young girls clasped hands and started whispering excitedly to one another as the German team burst into the sky. Their faces shone with a shared joy as they began searching for the tunnel marked for the home team.
A strange warning bell went off in Sirius' mind as he watched them interact. He was not sure what it might herald as it sounded different from the ones he knew best, the bells which meant danger or opportunities for mischief.
After a few seconds of fruitless thought in which he could not figure it out in the slightest, Sirius put the two girls out of mind and dashed to the windows of the viewing box. He could puzzle over it later after he watched his godson kick some German arse.
"Woohoo! C'mon Harry!" Sirius screamed through cupped hands."Show 'em what a Potter can do!"
Ginny held tightly onto Hermione's hand as the English team flew towards Sirius' private booth. Her heart momentarily came to a stop when Harry slowed on his broom just long enough to wave at their box and wink, his flashing green eyes drawing her spirit in like iron to a magnet. Then the handsome boy of her dreams was off, joining his new teammates in the sky as the referee ordered them to their respective places.
"Bloody hell! This is one of the best days ever!" Ron crowed from a few feet away. His freckled face was flushed with excitement. "If Harry helps England take the Cup, he'll be more famous than Dumbledore! Defeating You-Know-Who is one thing, but taking the Cup is something else."
Ginny rolled her eyes. Trust her youngest elder brother to focus on fame and glory. "Yes, Ron, we know. We all know. You've been saying the same thing on repeat ever since mum n' dad told us that Harry was on the team nearly a week ago."
"Yeah, but only 'cause it's true. Blimey, though, am I glad that I'm not the one up there right now. I'd be a right nervous wreck."
From her place on Ginny's right, Hermione leaned over so that she could look directly at Ron. The girl's golden-brown eyes looked puzzled as she spoke. "Do you really mean that, Ron? About being glad that it's not you up there?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I think I do." Ron hesitated for a moment, then continued. "Y'know, I've been doing a lot of thinking. Since we left Hogwarts and all for the summer. About where I should go, and what I should do, since I'm leaving our – I mean, they were really always yours and Harry's – adventures. And though I haven't really gotten any answers yet – aside from thinking that maybe I should try to study a little more during the school year so I don't fail any of my O.W.L.S. and get mum angry at me – I think that I'll get some answers as long as I focus on all of the good things I have going on around me."
"That's great, Ron!" Hermione said with what sounded like genuine joy to Ginny. "I think that's a wonderful way to look at it. You've really grown up a lot this summer, haven't you?"
Ron opened his mouth to respond, a defensive look firmly placed on his reddening face, when he was shoved back into his seat so one of the twins could join the conversation.
"It's weird, but for once we can't disagree with you, Hermione. You should've seen him this summer. It was like someone replaced that lazy, freeloading git of the past with an actual person!" Fred – or was it George – chipped in, his freckled face shining with laughter as he spoke.
George – or maybe Fred, it was hard for even Ginny to tell them apart whenever they dressed alike as they had done today – joined in as well. "Yeah, you were only at our house for hardly half a day before we came here so you didn't really have a chance to see for yourself. Ron's been working hard at his chores, writing letters to schoolmates other than you and Harry, and even," the twins gave a synchronized melodramatic gasp, "studying! In his spare time, no less! It was like seeing a troll trying to write poetry. And succeeding!"
"And just about as smelly too. That part wasn't included in his sudden growth of personal responsibility, sadly."
"Oh, shove off, prats," Ron grumbled. "You make it sound like I was some worthless ponce before this summer."
Ginny groaned and smacked her forehead. Seriously, when would Ron ever learn that one should not give an opening like that to Fred and George. Because you could always, always, always count on them to seize on it.
Sure enough, both boys got massive grins on their faces as they pounced on their brother's poor choice of words.
"Only because you were, oh dear brother of ours."
"That's right. Until this summer your only real value to the family was that of a test subject for our experiments. Which, by the by, will be resuming tomorrow morning. Sharpish."
"I'd recommend that you bring a pail with you as one of the side-effects we'll be testing for involves sneezing slimy squid tentacles straight from your nose."
"Hm. Y'know, once we figure out the cause of that particular effect, maybe we can market it in an entirely different product. What do you think, Gred?"
"Capital idea, Forge! I'll make a note of it in the log. We should be able to begin human testing for a prototype in earnest once tomorrow's session is complete."
Ginny giggled to herself as Ron started to bellow at the twins, horror writ large across his face as he disagreed with their plans. Volubly. But the unwavering smiles on Fred and George's faces meant that there was no way on Earth that Ron would be getting out of the situation. Once the terrible duo had made up their minds like this, it would either take a force of nature or their mother to talk them out of it. And even those were not always certain to succeed.
Still giggling, Ginny leaned in to whisper to Hermione while the three boys continued to argue. "Joking aside, Ron really has grown over the summer in more ways than just upwards. I think his decision to leave your adventures, like he said, really was the beginning. But it was when he won the junior international chess championship a few weeks ago that Ron received a giant boost to his confidence. Winning it showed him and everyone else that he really was good at something. And that he could stand on his own two feet without relying on the two of you or some other member of his family for constant support."
Hermione nodded thoughtfully. "I always knew that Ron had potential, but no matter what I did I couldn't get him to see it in himself. It's… odd, and maybe a little weird, to see him doing so well without me."
"That's just because he's a gormless prat who won't see what's in front of him unless you smack him across the head with it. And you were always too nice to go the distance necessary to really drive the lesson home." As his darling younger sister, Ginny could say these things about Ron. And as her sister in all but blood, Hermione was entitled to hear them as well. "But enough about Ron's startling transformation into an actual human being. It's time to watch the game and support Harry!"
The two girls shared a smile and ran over to where Ginny's mother and Andromeda were talking while sipping what were clearly some sort of fruity alcoholic beverages. There the two young girls picked up several poster boards charmed to spell out variations of 'Go Harry! Win it for Gryffindor' that Sirius had just convinced Professor McGonagall to craft on the spot. Giant blocky letters glowing red and gold sprang into being, dancing in the air as the signs were waved about.
Meanwhile, the normally dour faced professor herself was veritably jumping up and down in glee while she screamed at the top of her lungs for Harry to do them proud. "Go Mr. Potter, go! Give 'em a good one for Gryffindor and Britain!" The woman's pale skin and gorgeous features were flushed as she hugged Molly Weasley tightly. "Ha! I knew that he was born to be a Seeker. I knew it!"
"Yes, yes, Minerva. You were the first one to recognize his talent, we understand!" Molly replied with a laugh as she did her best to keep her fruity drink from spilling.
"And lookit 'im now! Playin' in the World Cup before he's even graduated Hogwarts? I don't think the school's had a more talented Seeker in its entire history! Severus is going to look positively murderous when I bring this up at tomorrow's meeting."
"Ooh! Minerva, can you take a picture of it for me? Please? I'll pay you my weight in gold."
"I'm sorry, Sirius, but you'll have to do your own dirty work," Professor McGonagall replied with a wag of her wand. "My fun at Severus' expense is separate from your boyhood feud with the man."
Ginny imagined that conversation taking place and immediately laughed. She agreed with Sirius and wished that the usually stern professor would take a picture to commemorate the event for all of time. So far as Ginny knew, Professor Snape had never been fond of Harry. Or anyone, really, other than some rare few members of House Slytherin. Losing the Hogwarts Cup to Gryffindor in the same year that Harry played in the World Cup was sure to drive the greasy-haired git insane.
"Now that's some energy!" Bagman's voiced boomed through the air, putting an end to the group's ongoing discussion. "Harry Potter's appearance has lit a fire within this stadium, and it is rollicking! Save it for the game, folks, because it's time for the coin toss. Captain Reinhardt and Ludwig have come out from the German team while Captain Bronwen and Annabelle have come out for England. Oh drat, and here I was hoping to see young Harry make the call."
The two captains shook hands as they met. A few polite words were exchanged before they each moved back on their brooms. After which a shiny glint of gold flew through the air as the referee tossed a golden galleon and the team representatives called out their wagers.
"Drat again! It's Germany's ball first. Well, ladies and gents, keep a stiff upper lip and all. I'm sure that our brave men and women of the sky will take the Quaffle back in no time. And on the bright side, the completion of the coin toss means that we've now reached the start of the match. Hold on to your seats everyone, because it's game time in 3… 2…"
"1… start! Reinhardt has the ball and is zooming along. He does a fake out on Miller, who took a bad angle anyway, and pulls upward to gain some distance while the beaters slug it out. Smith comes in from behind, Reinhardt rolls and tosses the ball down and left to Ludwig. Ludwig grabs the Quaffle and – ohhhh, now that was a nicely hit Bludger! In a neat move reminiscent of my own playing days, captain Bronwen walloped Ludwig right across the shoulders; that's going to sting tomorrow. Meanwhile O'Toole grabbed the Quaffle for England and is now racing to the goals."
As Harry listed to Bagman narrate the play by play of the Chaser battle it seemed that the man hardly draw breath. Harry had gotten used to Lee Jordan's fast paced commentary, but Bagman's non-stop verbal assault put the older boy to shame.
"There's no one around him, it's one on one versus the German Keeper. O'Toole pumps right, then left, he shoots right and… Yes! The Quaffle goes through the hoops with feet to spare as Keeper Schmidt bit badly on O'Toole's double fake out. The score is now 10-0 for the home team as mighty England draws first blood!"
From his spot high in the sky Harry looked down and nodded. The British Chasers did not seem to have the same dominating air around them as the Gryffindor trio, but scoring first was always a good morale boost. The team kept its celebration to a minimum as the German Keeper tossed the ball to one of his team's three Chasers. Then the game was afoot once again as the Chasers jockeyed against one another in the air while the four beaters battled it out with the Bludgers.
As the game went on Harry's assessment about the three English Chasers was proven correct. For a professional level squad, it seemed that the three of them were above average at best. The German Chasers routinely outmanoeuvred them and beat them to the ball. But England's Beaters and Keeper were stellar and neatly countered the German squad's advantage. Alistair and Bronwen wreaked havoc on the German Chasers whenever they tried to get a formation going, while Annabelle was able to smack down nearly every shot taken in her direction.
But though the crowd below could appreciate the aerial battle for all its beauty, Harry had his own job to do. He flew around the stadium in a circular pattern, swooping up and down at regular intervals as he sought to locate the golden Snitch. As time went by the last of his remaining nerves went away. The only thing left was the sheer joy of flying, of being able to soar through the sky and have fun. Thoughts of dark wizards, the Game of Death, and even his friends disappeared as Harry focused on the feeling of pure glee which flowed through him.
At one-point Harry caught a glint of gold streaking through the air in a nearby section of the stadium. He aimed his broom at the glint and started to accelerate, a wolfish grin coming onto his face as he felt his blood begin to pump.
But before he could travel more than a few feet a sudden impact nearly jarred him loose from his broom. Harry firmed his grip on the wooden handle and looked over his shoulder to see the German Seeker giving him a nasty smile.
"Oops, my mistake there. You're so tiny and have so much gold on that uniform that I wasn't able to tell you apart from the Snitch." The dark-haired man took a hand off his broom's handle in order to pantomime a person falling to the ground from high in the sky. "You should be more careful where you fly, little British Seeker. A terrible accident could happen if you aren't."
Harry narrowed his eyes at the cocky man. Considering that Harry had not been taking any evasive manoeuvres for the past few minutes and that, unlike his Gryffindor uniform, there was hardly any gold on the national uniform, the opposing Seeker's words just screamed dishonesty. But this was a part of Quidditch no matter what level you played the sport and Harry had known it would be coming.
He gave the dark-eyed man a jaunty wave and pulled out his best cheeky smile. The one Harry had been practising since starting to live with Remus and Sirius.
A muscle moved in the older man's cheek at the sight while his face darkened.
"Thanks, mister," Harry gushed in faux reverence. "I'll be sure to remember that. But be more careful next time too; your old bones might not be able to handle such a hard impact and I really wouldn't want you to get hurt, either."
The German Seeker glowered at Harry's comeback. But before he could respond, Ludo's voice crowed out in victory as the English team scored another point. "And with that the score is now 90-20! The English team is on fire today, folks! It seems that Harry Potter's ascension to their ranks was just the boost in confidence this team needed to bring out their best. Ha ha! What a game!"
Harry gave the opposing Seeker another cheeky grin and turned away. He looked at where he had seen the glint of gold earlier in hopes of being able to end the game quickly. But nothing was there other than soft green grass and. If that golden glint really had been the Snitch, then it was long since gone. Harry gave up on it and gained altitude, where he started circling the stadium in a new hunting pattern while also keeping a steady eye on the German Seeker.
Sure enough, once a few minutes had passed the German Seeker tried to ram him again. Harry narrowly dodged the man with a snap-roll to the right. The two of them started to soar over and around the other as they continued to search for the Snitch, daring their opponent to try and make a move to knock out their competitor.
As time went on and Harry proved himself to be the more adept flier, easily dodging the man's more obvious ploys, the German player tried to get in close so that he could kick Harry's unpadded flesh. Knowing that he would lose any direct physical confrontation thanks to his smaller size, Harry focused on flying over and under the other man's handle to break his flight pattern. It took a while, but he succeeded when he made a sharp leftward cross at the same moment a gust of wind hit them. The German Seeker had to desperately swerve aside lest he get a face full of Harry's knee protector, yelling out a string of what had to be German swear words.
Smiling at having beaten the man at his own game, Harry resumed his search for his elusive quarry. Only to reel in pain when one of the German Chasers slammed into his left shoulder. The sneaky move halted Harry in place long enough for a Bludger to smack him directly on the broadside of his back, spinning Harry through the air as he fought to keep his broom from entering free-fall.
"Damn that man! Isn't running into Harry before a Bludger strike illegal? I could swear that that sort of play isn't allowed at Hogwarts!" Hermione felt her face heat up as she imagined all sorts of terrible things happening to the two German players celebrating in the air as Harry fought to stabilize his broom. Doing that sort of thing during an honest match was just wrong! Especially when it was directed at her Harry!
"Unfortunately not, Ms. Granger. Seekers aren't bound by the same rules as other positions and ramming the opposing team's player off their broom is a standard tactic many teams employ against an opposing." Professor McGonagall's sharp features tightened in displeasure as she spoke. "So long as they don't grab his broom with their hands or use magic to interfere with his flight in any way, their actions fall well within professional rules. But it is a dirty tactic, and one that I rather dislike seeing."
"Ugh! I really hope Harry catches the Snitch first just to rub it into that other man's face. I saw how he kept trying to kick Harry whenever they got close."
"Another legal tactic that I would prefer not to see. Especially when directed against one of my own." Professor McGonagall said with feral smile. The woman's eyes glinted in the light as they followed the aerial battle. "But trust me, Ms. Granger, when I say that Mr. Potter will find a way. He has a rather remarkable gift for pulling out of tight situations."
Feeling only somewhat reassured by her Quidditch loving professor and her own memories of Harry's past heroics, Hermione returned to holding Ginny's hand. The red-head's grip was the most calming thing about the situation and reminded Hermione of better times to come. They had not yet had the chance to sit down and discuss her idea for sharing Harry, but Hermione was certain that it was only a matter of time before she brought the younger girl around.
Ginny's grip suddenly tensed. The small red-head's entire body burst with excitement as she bounced up and down within her seat. "I see it! I see the Snitch!"
A collective shout of 'where' followed the remark as everyone in the box tried to find it. Professor McGonagall pointed her wand at her eyes while Fred and George whipped out a set of some sort of wizard binoculars Sirius had purchased for everyone earlier in the day. The three of them were jostling with Sirius and an overexcited Ron to be the next one to sight the Snitch.
Then Hermione saw Harry's distant figure dart downward, almost as if he too had seen Ginny point it out. Hermione gasped out loud and gripped Ginny's smaller hand ever more tightly.
"And the hunt is on!" Bagman called out as the stadium cheered ever more wildly. "Potter is the first one to spot the Snitch and he has a massive lead over his competitor; the smarmy German Seeker is clear on the other side of the field. But Harry shouldn't get cocky yet because every other German player is nearby. In order to get the Snitch, it looks like he'll have to run a veritable aerial blockade."
For the first time since Harry had met the man, Ludo's words were the absolutely truth. Seeing their Seeker way out of position caused the entire German team except for the Keeper to bunch up and attempt to take Harry out of the sky.
He dodged one Chaser that tried to hit from below by throttling back on his acceleration. A roll to his right caused a second Chaser to miss as well. But the third managed to bump the tail end of Harry's broomstick and alter his trajectory just enough to make him miss out on catching the Snitch. Harry swore aloud as he fought to regain control and get a bead on the fast-moving Snitch before it could get away entirely.
The sound of moving air behind him caused Harry to instinctively execute a barrel roll while still moving at full throttle. The dark form of a Bludger whipped through the air he had just vacated. One of the German beaters had gotten a shot past Alistair and it had nearly managed to clobber Harry in the head.
The magical piece of iron tumbled through the air in front of him before Captain Bronwen swooped in to give it a solid thwack of her own. It shot out like a rocket, going just over his head and letting out a meaty sound as it hit someone trying to ram into him from above. Then Bronwen and Alistair bracketed Harry from above and below, forming an iron wall of defence around him as they switched to maximum protection. All while the English Chasers took advantage of the German team's distraction to run up the score against the beleaguered German Keeper.
Slam! The unnamed German Seeker who had caught up and pulled alongside Harry was taken out by a Bludger. A frustrated yell came at the edge of Harry's hearing, but he was too busy dodging another German Chaser to focus on it. The situation repeated itself several more times as the German team desperately sought to keep Harry from catching the Snitch and ending the game while Alistair and Bronwen kept them at bay.
Harry sent his broom into a steep dive as the Snitch went low. The fingers of his left hand stretched out, wriggling through the air as he sought to clutch hold of the tiny darting form. The constant thwacking of Bludgers being smacked back and forth like ping pong balls between the Beaters faded away as his vision narrowed. Soon enough the only things left were the sound of the air around him, the front of his broom, and the darting Snitch just beyond his reach.
Five yards away. Three yards away. One yard away.
Harry raised his left hand and stretched, reaching out as he focused on making the minute flying corrections required to catch the shifty golden ball. It darted left, right, and rolled over his head. Harry followed it, never letting his focus waver even after he finally managed to snare it. His hand clamped down on the small piece of fluttering metal, drawing it tight to his chest to ensure that no one could knock it loose from his grasp. He had learned from his practice match against Ginny that just catching the Snitch in a professional game was not enough to guarantee victory and had no desire to repeat that loss ever again.
Only when the Snitch stopped moving and a massive buzzer rang through the air did Harry allow himself to relax. He raised his arm high as the crowd burst into cheers, chanting his name as his teammates flew towards him to celebrate. Ludo Bagman's booming voice filled the air as the excitable man seemed to burst with joy.
"He did it! By Merlin's great white beard, Harry Potter has caught the Snitch! Ladies and Gentlemen, you have just witnessed history in the making. With this catch Harry Potter has become both the youngest person to ever complete a full game in a World Cup and the youngest Seeker to ever catch a Snitch at the professional level! Final tally has the Germans with a mere 30 points. While the mighty English bulldogs have barrelled ahead with a smashing 360 points thanks to the opposing team's gamble on throwing everyone other than the kitchen sink – er, I mean Keeper – at Harry in a failed attempt to stop him from catching the Snitch. Give our lads and lasses in the air a rousing cheer and show them that Britain appreciates their astounding effort!"
The raucous crowd followed Bagman's directions and let loose with thundering approval. Harry's teammates crowded close, slapping his back and arms and anywhere else they could reach. His cheeks burned as he listened to the crowd chant his name, but for once in his life it did not bother him.
A/N: Before anyone gets too excited, there will be a long delay before the next chapter is released. I wanted to get this chapter out because I've been fielding PMs seeking answers as to why I seemed to stop writing this story. As for the reasons behind my unforeseen hiatus, suffice to say that the Covid-19 situation in my area (when combined with multiple rather pressing but unrelated personal matters) have made it impossible for me to gather the wherewithal to consistently write for quite some time. But the writing is continuing (slowly), and I will post again once I have fully completed Level 1. Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding.
I really enjoyed writing this chapter. I went for cross between a Book and Movie vibe where you see things from the perspective of both Harry and members of the Quidditch audience. Hopefully I pulled it off :). Also, any similarity between the events portrayed in this chapter and the R.A.F. versus the Luftwaffe in WWII are purely coincidental. I picked a random country from the list of competitors in the '94 World Cup and did not realize the parallels which could be drawn until well after the chapter was written lol.
Last but not least, if you live in America and are properly registered, don't forget to go out and Vote in the upcoming election! Follow your State specific guidelines (which can be found by looking up your State's Secretary of Elections web page) and make sure that your voice is heard come November!
Stay Safe and Healthy!