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Chapter 7: Unexpected Interference
The afternoon of the Quidditch match was bright and clear, classes had been cancelled for Friday afternoon, and all Harry had to worry about was lunch and Herbology. But he discovered he was so nervous he couldn't eat much, and barely choked down a ham sandwich, crisps, and a banana. He cast an uneasy glance up at the staff table, expecting to see Snape glowering down at him, but the black-robed professor was absent. So Harry relaxed a little and nibbled his sandwichand drank his Nutrient Suppliment.
This was only his second Quidditch match, and given what had happened in the last one, Harry was understandably nervous. Inbetween bites of his breakfast, Ron suggested Quidditch tips to Harry, along with the twins, recounting former pro Quidditch Seekers moves and signature catches. On his other side, Hermione quizzed him on his Herbology notes, and in a matter of minutes Harry felt his head start to spin. "Wait . . .what was that last question?" he asked Hermione. "Half a minute, Ron!"
Hermione repeated the question and Harry answered it correctly now that he was concentrating.
"Harry, who cares about Herbology?" Ron groused. "You need to keep your mind on the game. The Ravenclaw Seeker is really good this year."
Harry sighed and turned to the redhead. "I hear you, Ron. But I need to get good marks in Herbology too. It's my next class. After that I can concentrate upon the game." He told the other boy.
Hermione asked him the last question upon the homework sheet and Harry answered it correctly.
Fred reached over and gave Harry a friendly cuff on the shoulder. "Don't worry so much, Harry. More than likely you'll be okay this match. If it wasn't Snape who hexed your broom last time—"
"It wasn't," Harry asserted firmly. If there was one thing he did know, it was that.
"Then whoever it was is going to have a hard time pulling anything with Snape as ref," Fred finished. "The man has eyes in the back of his head and on all sides too. George and I almost never—"
"—get away with anything in his class." His twin added.
Harry just hoped they were right. He never wanted to go through a ride like the last one. Even now, just recalling it made his stomach clench and roil. He never let on that riding a broom now made him scared and uneasy, every time he soared into the air he felt a trifle dizzy, as if he might fall. He had told no one, however, not wanting to seem like a coward, and also not wanting to let down his team. But in the last practice run, he had come close to losing his breakfast after making a single looping pass across the pitch. He prayed he could keep himself under wraps until the end of the game.
Then he recalled that Snape wanted to see him in his office before the match, and wondered what the teacher might want to speak to him about before the game. He forced himself to swallow another bite of toast. Guess I'll know when I go there. Maybe he wants to talk to me about the trip to Gringotts. I hope it's not to cancel it, because I'm really looking forward to going there.
Harry dressed quickly in his Quidditch uniform, carefully stowing his regular robes and clothes in his small locker, which had his name written on it in gold script. He removed his watch from his pocket, he never flew with it, he was too afraid of losing it if he made a quick turn or something. He carefully opened it and stared at the picture of Lily, which smiled and waved at him. "Wish me luck, Mum." He smiled back at the photo, then gently shut the watch and put it inside the locker. He shut the door and the lock magically locked itself. Harry opened it with the special key he had tied about his neck.
Then he picked up his broom, which was one of the school brooms, and tucked it under his arm. He headed quickly down the stairs to the dungeons, wishing he knew a secret passage that would get him to Snape's office faster. He knocked upon the professor's door.
Harry pushed open the door and shut it behind him before coming to stand before Snape's desk, which was piled with parchments and folders. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
Severus set down the essay he was attempting to read and focused upon the boy he had pledged to keep safe at all costs, the boy he was coming to see almost like a son. "Good afternoon, Harry. I see you're all prepared for the match."
"Yes, sir." Harry answered, leaning his broom against his shoulder.
Severus eyed the broom sharply. "May I examine your broom?"
"Uh . . .yes, but Professor McGonagall already did that. She said there weren't any hexes upon it." Harry handed his broom over to Snape, who muttered several detection spells and waved his wand over it.
Severus scowled down at the inanimate object. The broom was clean of Dark influences. And yet . . .he didn't trust Harry's safety upon it. Which was why he had sent to Quality Quidditch Supplies last night and paid extra to have them ship his purchase to him by Express Owl Post. It had arrived this morning, and he had spent the better part of breakfast casting Anti-Jinx wards upon it. He was taking no chances this time.
"Something wrong, sir?" Harry asked uneasily, digging his sneaker into the floor. Why was the professor glaring that way at his broom, as if he wanted to break it over his knee and toss it in the fire?
Snape looked up into the worried green eyes. "This broom is not adequate enough for you to continue playing Quidditch on it." Severus set the broom behind him and retrieved a long brown package that he had stashed beneath his desk. "Therefore, as your guardian, I have provided you with a better one."
He handed the package to Harry.
"For me, sir?" The green eyes were bright with astonishment and delight.
"Do you see another eleven-year-old standing here?"
Harry smiled and tore open the package to reveal a brand new sleek racing broom. On the handle were the words Nimbus 2000 on one side and on the other was Potter engraved in gold script. Harry was so overwhelmed at the magnificent gift that he couldn't speak. He just remained staring down at the broom in his hand. "Professor . . .Severus . . .I . . .can't accept this . . .it's too much . . ." he began.
From what little he'd read about Quidditch and recalled from looking at Ron's Quidditch magazines, a broom like this cost a fortune. He made as if to return the broom, though he longed to keep it with everything in him.
Severus' hands closed firmly about his own. "You can and you will. Consider it a . . .belated birthday present, Mr. Potter. I will not have you risking your neck again on an inferior broom. If you insist upon participating in this bloody sport, you ought to have proper equipment."
Harry lifted his eyes and gave Snape a tentative smile. "Thank you, sir. What can this broom do?"
"I have woven several safety wards and charms into it. It will keep you safe. It is also very fast, however, so treat it with respect. This is the top broom used by the International Quidditch Association. Fly well, Harry."
Harry now allowed himself to smile outright. "I will. Are we still going to Gringotts tomorrow?"
"I said we would, didn't I? You ought to know by now I always do what I say. Be ready for ten o'clock tomorrow. You may eat breakfast in the hall and then we shall leave. One other thing. If anyone asks about the Nimbus, tell them only that it was a present from an old family friend, understand?"
"Okay. But why?"
"I will explain everything later. For now, do as I say."
Harry agreed, running his hands lovingly over the soft wood grain finish. "I'll see you on the pitch, professor."
"Yes. Go, before you're late," Snape waved him off.
"Thanks so much! It's the best present ever!"
He hurried out of the office, still overwhelmed with his unexpected gift.
As he was walking down the hall, a raven flew overhead, croaking, "Good luck, Harry!"
"Thanks, Skull!" Harry waved at the familiar before disappearing round a bend.
Now, if only he could get his stomach under control he'd be fine.
Oliver Wood's eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw the Nimbus Harry was carrying as he joined his team. "Merlin's ever-loving balls, Potter! Where did you get a Nimbus 2000?"
"A Nimbus?" Fred squeaked.
"Where? Let me see!" George gasped.
"I thought they were impossible to get now!" squealed Alicia Spinnet.
"Who did you pay off, Harry, to get that?" teased Angelina Johnson.
"Must have been someone with a lot of Galleons," added Katie Bell mischievously.
His teammates crowded around him, each one trying to see or touch the broomstick.
Harry was flustered by all the attention and just stood there while they all admired the broom. His mind was not on the game, but on how he was ever going to repay Severus' generosity. From the reactions of his teammates, he feared that the professor had put himself in debt to buy this broom and Harry felt sharp twinges of regret, for he felt he didn't deserve anything like this after he'd rejected Snape's offer. But wait! Maybe he could accept the offer . . .after all, no one would spend such a sum on anyone unless he really wanted a child to share his life, would he? Harry bit his lip. After the game, he would think about it, and then he would go to Snape and tell him what he had decided.
The Ravenclaw team saw the broom as well, and there was much sighing and envious looks shot the young Seeker's way, as well as much speculation about where Harry had gotten the Nimbus. Unknown to them, a small blond-haired boy was hovering behind a goal post and saw the Nimbus as well.
A Nimbus! Wonder where he got that? His fan club? Draco thought enviously. I've been asking for one from Mother and Father for ages. He scowled down at his rival, then stalked off the field, thinking that now he had another reason to detest the green-eyed Gryffindor. Normally, he would have gone directly to the stands with the other Slytherins to watch the match, for he loved Quidditch, but today he had another mission in mind. It was time to give Potter a taste of his own medicine.
Severus put Hooch's whistle to his lips and blew a loud blast. The Quaffle, Bludgers, and Snitch were released and the players soared into the air, scattering across the sky like stardust. Severus rose upwards at nearly the same time as the two teams, keeping a sharp eye out for any attempt at foul play and also watching his unofficial ward.
Harry seemed to be relaxed and calm, he sat the Nimbus like he'd been born upon it, and for an instant, Snape turned his gaze away to watch the battle for the Quaffle and how the Beaters for both Ravenclaw and Gryffindor attacked the Bludgers. Lee Jordan, the announcer, was already giving the spectators a running commentary, Snape thought if he kept it up, he might have a future with the Wizarding Wireless.
Harry found that he felt safer on the Nimbus than he had upon the other broom he'd been riding. So he was able to relax more and concentrate upon locating the Snitch. His previous tactic was to track the winged globe from the moment it was released, and he had tried to do it this time as well, only he hadn't been prepared for the sheer speed the Nimbus possessed. When he had kicked off, the Nimbus had exploded under him like a rocket, carrying him high into the air before his eyes managed to fix upon the Snitch.
The Ravenclaw Seeker spotted the Snitch as well, and dove down towards it.
Harry managed to neatly intercept her and the Nimbus whipped him about in a corkscrew 180 that left the other Seeker gaping. Harry narrowed his focus and streaked after the winged golden ball, which moved like lightning, like a hummingbird on speed, it danced and twirled about, here, there, and everywhere.
Harry followed it across the sky as best he could, relying on the Nimbus' speed and the alertness of Fred and George to keep the Bludgers from interfering in his pursuit.
Severus' eyes were drawn once more to his ward, and inwardly he cursed the insane impulse that had led him to buy a professional racing broom for a mere eleven-year-old. Snape, what the HELL were you thinking? His conscience scolded him fiercely. I must have had a bout of temporary insanity. Look at how fast he's going. Like a bat out of hell and then some. If Lily were here now, she'd probably hex you to pieces.
Even though he'd personally placed charms upon the broom, he knew that might not be enough to keep Harry safe. Quidditch was a dangerous sport, anything could happen. Severus felt his heart crawl into his throat as he watched Harry slingshot about a goal post, narrowly avoiding crashing. He wondered if the boy was crazy, filled with arrogance, or simply fearless. He cursed Dumbledore for making him referee this match—the Headmaster knew he detested Quidditch! He spun about, narrowly avoiding the Quaffle.
Fifteen minutes had gone by and the score was tied at 10 to 10. The Gryffindor and Ravenclaw teams were evenly matched, it seemed. Harry had lost the Snitch in the clouds, but soon spotted it again at the opposite end of the field. He urged the Nimbus faster and weaved in and out of the other players squabbling over the Quaffle.
No one could have predicted what happened next.
Severus saw an oddly shaped cloud gliding across the sky, it looked like a narrow strip of silver and black, like a storm cloud, but there wasn't another sign of inclement weather about. He dismissed it briefly to look over at Harry and it was then that the cloud expanded and spat out steel gray creatures shaped like vicious hounds with bat-like wings and eyes that burned a lurid yellow, formed of smoke and swirling storm winds.
Hermione stared at the strange swirling things that had appeared out of nowhere and tapped Ron on the shoulder. "Ron, what are those things over there?"
"Huh?" Ron had been focusing on Alicia Spinnet scoring another goal and had not seen the smoke creatures appear. "What things?"
Ron gasped. "Merlin's pants! They're storm spirits."
"What are they?" Hermione asked. "What are they doing here?" A moment later her question was answered and she screamed as they dove down towards her best friend. "Ron! They're . . .attacking Harry!"
Ron's eyes bulged as the deadly spirits surged towards Harry on his Nimbus, who was so intent upon catching the Snitch that he didn't realize the danger he was in. "Harry! Watch out!" he screamed, knowing all the while that it was hopeless, his friend couldn't hear him over the screaming wind and even if he did, an apprentice wizard was no match for three hungry storm spirits.
Severus saw the storm spirits converge upon Harry, and for a moment he watched in disbelief. Storm spirits were not something that occurred naturally, not even in Hogwarts, which was drenched with magical influences. They had to be summoned, though once summoned, they gleefully wreaked havoc wherever they happened to be. They were devious, cunning, and delighted in causing mayhem. Right then they were diving at Harry, screeching wickedly.
Harry felt something icy cold snatch his arm and yank hard. "Hey! What the bloody hell?" he screamed, before feeling something hard and cold, like a frost-coated knife, grab his other arm and drag him off his broom. He tried to hold onto the Nimbus, but his arms went numb and heavy, cold shooting through him. His fingers opened, unable to feel the broomstick and he heard the treacherous howl of the wind as it swept him away.
The storm spirits threw Harry into the air, swirling about him like a tornado, their long muzzles gaping, spewing out icy cold laughter as well as arctic winds that formed ice crystals across Harry's glasses. He was simultaneously sucked downward into a vortex and then released to bounce atop the air currents.
Severus flew faster than he ever had in his life, right into the teeth of the capricious and vicious spirits, his wand out and giving the first spirit a concentrated blast of magic that blew the hound-shaped creature into wisps of smoke. But in his fury he had not reckoned that doing so might cause the spirits to drop Harry.
By then, the other players were also becoming affected by the spirits and they were banging into each other and screaming, the game forgotten as they sought land their brooms before they spun out of control. Within minutes all was chaos in the air.
Harry tumbled through the air like a ragdoll, only to be caught by Severus.
Severus grunted as sixty pounds of falling boy collided with his chest, and unable to brace himself for the impact, he was knocked backwards off his broom.
He had barely time enough to cast a Cushioning Charm and another to slow his flight so he wouldn't end up with his brains splattered all over, before the two storm spirits attempted to rip Harry from his arms. Terrified that they would succeed, Severus locked his arms about the boy and prayed they would hit the ground before the wicked things succeeded.
Skullduggery had been observing the match and his wizard master from his perch in the stands on the Slytherin side. The raven was amused at how the silly two-legs attempted to fly like birds, and he enjoyed watching them, even if they were clumsy as chickens in the air. But when the storm spirits attacked Harry and Severus, the raven cawed in alarm, sensing that his wizard and the raven boy were in peril.
The raven flapped upwards into the sky, releasing a long loud cry as he did so. Ravens were Keepers of the Old Magics, and on rare occasions could use this knowledge to summon help for themselves and their wizard companions when needed. Thus Skullduggery used his knowledge of ancient magic to call upon a powerful ally, one who had always aided the trickster ravens, though the help was never without a price.
But the price would be reckoned later.
There came a terrific BOOM!
Then the sky grew dark and the clouds opened up and rain came pelting down.
Accompanying the rain was a huge raptor with wings of red, black, yellow, and white, thunder boomed with every beat of its wings and lightning flashed from its eyes, reducing the pursuing storm spirits to mere puffs of ash. The Thunderbird, sacred magical beast of Native American myth, circled the pitch once and inclined its head to the tiny raven. Little brother, I have come as you wished, and saved those in need. You owe me a debt, be ready when next I Summon you.
In the next instant, the thunderbird vanished, taking the rain and lightning with it.
Snape and Harry fell to the ground, striking the ground hard in spite of the charms Severus had cast.
For one moment Harry lay still, gasping for air, until he sat up and realized that he was lying on top of his teacher, who was motionless upon the ground.
"Professor?" he called, fear making him unable to speak in more than a whisper. "Professor Snape, are you okay?"
The man's face was wet from the rain, pale, and his eyes were closed. Harry quickly scrambled off him, terrified that Snape was dead. Tentatively, he put a hand against the professor's nose and felt warm breath hit his palm. He's breathing, that's a good sign, Harry told himself, but terror still crushed his throat. Don't die, Severus! Please! I never got the chance to tell you that I . . .want you for my guardian. I really do! Please, please . . .don't die! He didn't even realize he had spoken those words aloud until he heard Snape groan and open his eyes.
"Not dying . . .Cushioning Charm helped . . .might have broken something though . . ."
Severus attempted to sit up, gasping as a bolt of agony shot through his shoulder and back. Before he could say anything else, Dumbledore was there, kneeling beside him.
"Severus, you need to go to the Hospital Wing. After a fall like that, you've probably broken something. Let me summon a stretcher, my boy." Waving his wand, a stretcher popped up, and then the old wizard gently levitated his injured Potions Master upon it. "Harry, are you all right? Do you need Poppy to have a look at you too?"
Harry shook his head. "No, sir. I'm not hurt. Professor Snape broke my fall," he managed to say. He struggled to keep from crying like a baby.
"Albus, how is he?" asked McGonagall, rushing over to them.
Severus had suddenly gone grey and passed out.
"We need to let Poppy heal him, Minerva." Albus replied. "Mobili Corpus!"
"Merlin's bones, Albus! What happened out there? I've never seen anything like it in all my years as a teacher here."
Before Dumbledore could reply, Skull landed upon the comatose Potions Master and made a sound that was half-sob and half-cry. "Storm spirits! Poor Sev!" He huddled against Severus' chest like a black sentinel.
Minerva gasped. Then she saw Harry, who was still standing next to Severus' stretcher. "Potter, are you all right? Were you hurt?"
Harry shook his head. "I . . .they didn't hurt me . . .not like . . .the professor," he mumbled.
Minerva looked at him sympathetically. "Nevertheless, you've had quite a shock and should let Poppy examine you. Get your broom and go and get changed, then report to the Hospital Wing as soon as you're presentable. Understood?"
"Yes, ma'am," Harry said, not bothering to tell her he would have gone there anyway to see how Snape was. He glanced about for his broom and discovered it lying a few feet away. Miraculously, it seemed undamaged. He hurried to pick it up and then followed the two teachers off the pitch, ignoring the other students who tried to grab his sleeve and ask him questions.
All he cared about now was getting out of his uniform and into dry clothes, he was soaking wet, cold, and sick with fear over Snape. Once more Snape had been injured trying to save him. He didn't know what the hell "storm spirits" were, but for some reason they had been trying to kill him. That thought turned him cold and he fought to keep his teeth from chattering as he ran from the pitch back to the Gryffindor locker room.
He was the first to arrive, the rest of his teammates were still on the field, discussing what had happened with their friends. Trembling, he started to remove his robes and shirt. There were long scratches upon his shoulders, scratches that were rimed with white skin, which burned icily when he ran a finger across them. But he ignored them, instead unlocking his locker and pulling out his dry clothing.
He tossed his wet robes on the floor and began to dress hastily. But it wasn't until he pulled on his school robes and reached in his pocket to pull out his watch and see what time it was that he realized it was not there. My watch! It's not here. But that's impossible. I put it in here, I know I did.
He peered into the locker, it was empty. He looked about on the floor, but it was nowhere nearby. He pulled out his pockets, first one and then the other, growing more and more frantic. Where was it? How could he have lost it? It was the only thing he had with his mother's picture, the only thing he had to remind him of her face. He patted his jeans, praying it had gotten stuck in his back pocket. Nothing.
He dropped to his knees and crawled about, looking under the benches and all along the floor.
Once again, he turned up empty-handed. He had lost the gift Severus had given him. He didn't know how it could have happened, but there was no arguing facts. Feeling even more nauseous than before, aching all over, Harry trudged from the locker room and up the corridor to the Hospital Wing. His hand slid automatically into the right pocket of his robe, where the watch used to be, hoping that by some miracle it would reappear. But his hand closed over empty air. The watch was gone.
Head down, he walked quickly through the hallway, hoping that Severus was not awake yet, for he did not know how he could face the wizard and tell him that the watch Snape had entrusted him with was now missing.
In the previous chapter I had made a mistake and had Gryffindor playing Slytherin in the second match, but I changed it to Ravenclaw. Why Ravenclaw? I just felt the eagles needed to play Gryffindor first. And yes, i know my timing for the matches is off a bit, but since this is my AU, events occur differently than the book. VERY DIFFERENTLY.
Hope you enjoyed this chapter, usually I don't like writing sports scenes since I'm the world's worst sports fan, I don't much care about any sport played, not even soccer, which my dad played professionally. The only sport I can watch is show jumping, because I love horses.
How did you like the Thunderbird appearance? I love Native American myths and felt that he deserved a place here, alongside Skull, who personifies Raven, the clever trickster and keeper of ancient magic.
I'm sure you can guess who stole Harry's watch, right?