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Lion, Eagle, Badger, Snake by Sheriff
Chapter 20: Total Quidditch
The Holyhead Harpies’ home stadium stood on the north-eastern corner of the Isle of Anglesey, less than half a mile from the cliffs that dropped away into the Irish Sea. The pitch was hemmed in along one side by the steep scarp slope of Mynydd Eilian, the hilltop that lent the ground its name, and encircled on the other by high stacks of terraced seating.
Glyn’s mother had ensured that the eight boys had some of the best tickets in the stadium, straddling the halfway line and towering above the pitch, as well as providing padded seats and more than enough legroom. They watched, enraptured, as the two teams ran through their warm-up routines at a speed the boys could only dream of emulating, whilst a man and woman with two infant children took their own seats at the other end of the box.
The boys’ attention, however, was not to be distracted from the green and gold banks of fans at either end of the ground, or the intricate action that unfolded before their eyes.
‘Your Mum’s good...’ Theo managed, open-mouthed, as he watched Gwenog strike a bludger into the middle of one of the Falmouth chasers’ brooms, splintering the wood and sending it teetering into a spiralling descent.
‘Yeah,’ Glyn muttered.
‘Beater’s temper?’ Greg suggested, drawing a thin smile from the Welsh boy before ducking to avoid Theo’s swinging arm. ‘See what I mean?’ He laughed. ‘You’re all psychos!’
‘Maybe,’ Theo shrugged, ‘but you’d be lost without us.’
‘Yeah, cause you’d score so many goals without us, wouldn’t you?’ Isaac stuck his tongue out.
‘And none of you would get anywhere without brooms to fly on!’ Cameron interrupted.
Lucas rolled his eyes. ‘How about you just watch the game?’ He suggested. ‘You just missed Williams make an amazing save.’
‘She’ll make another,’ Isaac argued, ‘she’s not in the Wales team for nothing.’
‘So watch her and see why she’s so good then!’ Lucas shook his head. ‘How often do you get to see Quidditch from this position?’
‘He’s right, Zac,’ Greg reasoned. ‘Let’s see if there are any moves we could try and use next term.’
‘Fine,’ the other chaser agreed, settling to peer out over the Mynydd Eilian stadium as twelve players battled over the bludgers and quaffle, whilst two hovered watchfully, alert for the presence of the snitch. Neither seeker enjoyed any success in the first period, however, and the hour ended with Holyhead holding a narrow lead over their Cornish opponents, 90-70.
‘We take a well-earned break from the action,’ the crisp voice of the Harpies’ announcer carried across the pitch, ‘ten minutes down-time before the second period gets underway. In the meantime, however, we have a couple of special guests here today in the Gwendolyn Morgan boxes. Please give a massive Mynydd Eilian welcome to former Harpy Ginny Potter, her rather well-known husband Harry, and their two little boys – James and Albus!’
The two adults sharing the first-years’ box got to their feet, balancing their infant children on one arm as they acknowledged the crowd’s applause with the other.
‘Is that really...’ Isaac asked, dumbfounded, as his friends gazed, open-mouthed, down the rows of sheltered seats, ‘the Harry Potter?’
Lucas nodded slowly. ‘Who else is it going to be?’
‘Is he the guy who, you know...’ Theo clumsily managed, ‘the guy in the War, who...’
‘Killed Voldemort.’ Lucas filled in the answer to his friend’s unfinished question. ‘At the Battle of Hogwarts.’
‘Wow,’ Greg could manage nothing more than a single surprised exclamation as he gaped at their celebrated neighbours whilst the stadium’s cheers died down.
‘Glyndwr Jones, isn’t it?’ The boys’ trance was interrupted as the woman, red-haired and smiling, noticed their gaze. ‘Gwenog’s boy?’ Gently cradling the smaller of her two children, she picked her way down the aisle of seating.
‘Yes,’ the Welsh boy blushed, nodding hurriedly.
‘It’s a long time since I’ve seen you,’ she sat down a couple of seats away from him, angling her body so that her son could lie sideways in the space in between. ‘How old are you now?’
‘Twelve,’ Glyn answered quietly. ‘I was twelve on Thursday.’
Ginny beamed. ‘Well a happy birthday from me and Harry,’ she inclined her head a fraction as her husband settled into a seat in the row behind. ‘You must be at Hogwarts now?’
Greg felt his throat tighten as he watched the boy alongside him nodding his head, realising what the next questions would surely ask even before he overheard his friend’s answer.
‘I’m in Hufflepuff.’
The two Potters nodded, before Harry spoke next. ‘I knew some fine wizards from Hufflepuff. I take it your friends are, too?’
By now, the other children had forgotten about the second period of the Quidditch match and, even as the players returned to the pitch below, their attention focused instead on Glyn’s nervous answers.
‘Some of them are,’ he managed, ‘not all of them.’
Harry smiled. ‘Good to see you’re making friends with the other Houses,’ he acknowledged, wistfully. ‘It took us four years before we really managed that.’ His gaze travelled from Glyn’s eyes, along the armrest of the boy’s seat, and up to his neighbour. ‘Are you alright, young man?’
Greg coughed. ‘Y... yes,’ he stammered. ‘I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?’
Harry raised his eyebrows. ‘Because you’re squeezing that armrest like nothing on earth.’
The eleven-year-old snatched his left hand away from the offending chair, guiltily cradling it behind his right. ‘No, I’m not,’ he lied.
‘What’s wrong?’ Glyn turned to his friend.
‘You know,’ the other boy whispered, pulling Glyn close. ‘You know exactly what’s wrong. If he found out...’
Glyn shook his head. ‘He wouldn’t.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I’ll prove it.’ Before Greg could stop him, the Welsh boy had turned around to face Harry once again. ‘He’s worried about what you’d say if you knew he was in Slytherin.’
‘Glyn!’ Greg stood up as moisture began to burn the backs of his eyes. ‘How could you tell him!’ He swivelled, facing directly at Harry. ‘I’m not like Voldemort! I’m not a Death Eater! I’m a muggle-born, and so are some of my friends. I’m not, I’m not...’ His vision blurred as the figures in front of him swam into mists of tears, and he slumped back into his chair, hiding his head behind his forearms. He didn’t notice Glyn and Harry quietly swapping seats, nor the man’s arm gently slide over his shoulders.
‘Greg Bennett,’ Harry whispered softly, a handful of moments later. ‘Do you know who the Headmaster of Hogwarts was before Professor McGonagall?’
The eleven-year-old didn’t respond.
‘It was Dumbledore, wasn’t it?’ Isaac offered into the silence.
Harry shook his head. ‘There was somebody in between,’ he explained.
‘Snape,’ Lucas murmured.
‘Correct.’ Harry glanced at the redhead. ‘Severus Snape. Slytherin. Do you see my young man, here?’ He gestured towards the smaller of the two infant children, sucking happily on its own fingers. ‘Meet Albus Severus Potter.’
Greg lifted his head fractionally: enough to peer over the tops of his forearms and pick out the oblivious baby, who gurgled merrily before beginning to crawl over his father’s knees towards the eleven-year-old.
‘I think he likes you,’ Harry grinned as his son reached out towards the fringe of Greg’s blond hair, successfully persuading the boy to peel his forearms away from his face. ‘I never had any Slytherin friends at school,’ he continued, ‘but I have a godson now – he’s eight next week – and his grandmother was Slytherin. I wouldn’t want anybody else raising him.’
‘So,’ Greg swallowed, ‘you’re not, you’re not...’
‘Don’t finish that sentence,’ Harry pulled the boy closer. ‘I’m not. If Teddy ends up in Slytherin when he starts at Hogwarts, then I know there’ll be someone there who’ll look after him.’
Greg looked up. ‘You wouldn’t mind...?’
‘Greg,’ Harry confided, ‘the Sorting Hat nearly put me in Slytherin. If I hadn’t have asked it not to, I think it would have done.’
‘It told me that it was our choices, not our abilities, that really mattered.’
‘Did it really?’
‘Yes,’ Greg nodded. ‘That was what one of the Headmasters once said.’
‘Dumbledore,’ Harry smiled. ‘I remember, because he said it to me, when I was feeling the same way that you are right now.’
Greg wiped the back of his hand across his eyes. ‘Sorry,’ he sniffed. ‘I didn’t know. Sorry for going off on one like that...’
‘Don’t worry about it, kid. I’ve done the same,’ he glanced down towards Ginny, ‘too many times.’ Harry ruffled the boy’s hair, before searching to change the subject. ‘I take it you’re a Harpies fan?’
‘Do you think you’ve got a chance tomorrow?’ Isaac cheekily called after the Hufflepuff first-years as the Slytherin boys followed their friends out of the Potions classroom. ‘Anyone we need to worry about?’
‘There’s always a snitch, Zac,’ Jai pointed out. ‘If Langford gets it, then we’re going to win. It doesn’t matter how much we practised, you’re not going to get 150 points clear.’
‘Ossie will get it before he does,’ the brown-haired boy shrugged. ‘You’ve got less chance than the Cannons have against Puddlemere.’
‘Or Puddlemere had against the Harpies last week,’ Glyn delighted in butting in. ‘What was the score again? 200-0?’
‘Only 190,’ Isaac corrected as the other boys snorted with laughter. ‘And anyway, we’re still above you, and you only won because all our best players are injured...’
‘Oh, tell someone who cares, Zac!’ Theo grinned. ‘The Harpies haven’t lost in ages.’
‘Five wins in a row since we beat Falmouth,’ Glyn added. ‘Another one and we catch you up.’
‘Yeah, well,’ Isaac huffed, ‘but that’s like saying Hufflepuff could catch us up if they win tomorrow. It could happen, but it’s not going to!’
‘Now you sound like Dawlish,’ Jai rolled his eyes. ‘Like you think everything’s going to go your own way just because you say so.’
‘No,’ Greg answered back. ‘Things are going to go our way because we’ve practised, and we’re going to practise again tonight. We can still win this Quidditch Cup, and whilst we’ve still got a chance then we’re going to give it absolutely everything.’ As the first-year waved goodbye to his friends to turn towards the Slytherin dormitory, he realised that he genuinely believed everything that he had just said. Now, he knew, it wasn’t like that quarter-final with Chudleigh Primary School any more.
‘That was the end of the second period, ladies and gentlemen, and we have a Hogwarts Quidditch first for you today,’ Dan Beretta’s voice echoed smugly around the school pitch. ‘Daniel Buckley does not know the last time a beater scored a goal in the Quidditch Cup.’
‘That’s not necessarily true,’ Buckley argued back. ‘This might be a Hogwarts first for a very different reason,’ he contended. ‘It might be the first time a beater has ever been on the scoresheet.’
‘And the second,’ Beretta corrected his friend. ‘I’m not sure where Slytherin got these ideas from, but I know they’ve been practising long into the evenings, and quite frankly Hufflepuff haven’t got a clue what to do about it. It’s 160 points to 70, and I can see why: five against three just isn’t fair!’
‘Who’s to say it couldn’t be more?’ Buckley asked. ‘Could we see the seeker join in to these attacks as well? How will the other teams counter it? I’m sure they’ll have to concentrate better on the bludgers, but if Slytherin have five pairs of eyes going forwards, there’ll be ample time for them to dodge as they have today... Is this the start of a New Quidditch? Are we watching a change in the way our game’s going to be played across the world?’ His sentences began to run into one another.
‘Or are we listening to a statto losing his mind?’ Beretta sniped. ‘I’m not sure Appleby are going to be changing their gameplan for this afternoon based on a couple of first-years scoring against the worst Hufflepuff team I can remember. Don’t forget, they haven’t won yet, either. If Langford can find the snitch, as unlikely as the form book suggests that might be, Hufflepuff are still in this game.’
Buckley chose not to rise to his partner’s goading. ‘How do you think they’re keeping hold of the beater’s bats like that? It must be quite a simple charm – given that they’re first years...’
‘First years who have parents, Buckley,’ the other voice corrected his friend. ‘If they’ve been planning this over half-term, who knows what’s been going on. In fact,’ the commentator paused, gathering himself to launch a volley of speculation, and oblivious to the fact that the third period had begun, ‘I’ve got a theory. We all know that Cameron Ollerton is friends with these Slytherin boys, don’t we? And it doesn’t take a genius to guess what Cameron’s Dad does for a living with that surname, does it? Five galleons says we’ll be seeing these brooms hit the market just in time for the new season.’
‘Today only, free economic analysis with every Quidditch commentary,’ Buckley responded, caustically. ‘Only available whilst your commentator isn’t watching Isaac Davies score his fifth goal of the game.’
‘Everyone saw that happen,’ Beretta was undeterred. ‘We’re not here to tell everyone about every last detail that’s happening in front of their own eyes.’
‘No,’ the other sixth-year conceded, ‘but I think goals are pretty important – because Jamie Tyler is single-handedly keeping Hufflepuff in this game! It’s 170 to 80.’
‘How far have Slytherin come since the first game of the season?’ Beretta asked, rhetorically. ’No goals in two hours whilst most of the crowd decided to watch the grass grow instead – and now this.’
‘They needed to know they could compete, Dan,’ the other voice responded. ‘Had they come out against Gryffindor and tried to play like this in November, they would have been taken apart. Now they’re twenty points away from the top of the table.’
‘That could soon be ten, Dan,’ Beretta cut back in, ‘Davies has the quaffle in the Hufflepuff half. He lets it drop to Forrest, who’s totally unmarked – Forrest flies straight at Aysgarth, who just gets out of the road... he’s in the scoring area... so’s Bennett. Isn’t this stooging?’
Buckley shook his head as he spoke next. ‘No, Dan. Stooging is more than one chaser in the scoring area. Forrest can pass to Bennett, no problem. Is this the shot? No it isn’t, because there’s someone else up in the scoring area too! Bennett’s picked out Brand, the other beater, who can’t miss. It’s 180-80, and now both Slytherin beaters are on the scoresheet... I’m sure that’s never happened before.’
‘You’ll have to update all those stats sheets for next season if they keep playing like this, mate,’ the other commentator chided. ‘Most goals in a season by a beater; most takedowns by a chaser...’
‘How about you just do your job and watch the snitch? It’s Symons and Langford in the dive, Symons is ahead; Symons cuts across his opposite number...’
‘SYMONS TAKES THE SNITCH!’ Beretta yelled over his colleague’s commentary. ‘SLYTHERIN WIN!’
‘It’s a final score of 330 to 80,’ Buckley remarked, unperturbed by the other boy’s screams. ‘That’s the biggest score of the season by any side – and by some distance, too – and Slytherin are now on top of the Quidditch Cup standings as well. Obviously, Gryffindor just need the win next week to seal the title, but if they miss out... well, Slytherin or even Ravenclaw could still steal it.’
‘All to play for in next week’s game, then. Join us next week for the finale of the 2006 Quidditch Cup. I’m Dan Beretta...’
‘... and I’m Dan Buckley.’
‘Do you think we’ve got a chance?’ Lucas asked his friends as the Slytherin and Hufflepuff boys gathered together in the stands one week later. ‘Ravenclaw win, but score less than 310, and Gryffindor score less than 150?’
‘Of course we’ve got a chance,’ Isaac recalled Jai’s response to his own similar question seven days before. ‘There’s always the snitch. We’ve got to pray that Neal gets the snitch before Jason Newitt does.’
‘It could happen,’ Greg insisted, as he had done every time the boys’ conversations had turned to the fate of the Quidditch Cup. ‘You’d never have believed we’d be sitting here, top of the table, would you? Stranger things have happened...’
‘Yeah,’ Glyn added, grinning. ‘Even Puddlemere won a match last weekend!’
‘Oh, piss off!’ Issac reached across, shoving the Welsh boy on the arm. ‘We’re still above you in the table!’
‘Oh, just watch the game,’ Greg advised. ‘Gryffindor have already nearly scored...’
It wasn’t long, however, before Gryffindor did score –and several times over, for good measure.
‘Slytherin might have been able to use five chasers, but right now it feels like there’s even more out there in red and orange robes,’ Dan Beretta enthused. ‘Trebarah, Fellows, and Indigo Yorath. They’re everywhere. It’s magnificent, majestic...’
‘Magisterial?’ Dan Buckley suggested.
‘Well... yes!’ The first commentator agreed, stun ed. ‘What is it with you this season, Dan?’ He asked. ‘Not knowing your stats last week, coming up with synonyms today...’
‘It’s 80-0 to Gryffindor,’ the other boy ignored his friend’s veiled jibe. ‘Seven more goals will do it... and even Jason Newitt’s joining in the fun. We haven’t seen him on the scoresheet since that game against Slytherin last season, but it looks like the Lions’ captain wants to defend his title in style – and by rubbing Ravenclaw’s noses in it as much as possible!’
‘It’s a procession,’ Matthew shook his head as he watched from the terraces. ‘They’re taking the piss.’ He kicked out at the air in front of him as Indigo Yorath made the score 90-0, and although Ravenclaw pulled a goal back, Gryffindor had added five more before the end of the first period. The whistle blew with the defending champions just one score away from retaining their title.
‘Next year,’ the Slytherin captain insisted as the match restarted after the break. ‘Yorath will have left, they’ll need a new chaser...’
‘Newitt will still be here,’ Oscar pointed out, ‘and no-one’s beaten him since third year.’ He shrugged. ‘But look, we’re going to finish second – who’d have thought that...’
‘NEAL KENNEDY HAS CAUGHT THE SNITCH!’ Dan Beretta’s excitable yell ripped across the stadium. ‘The second period is just 20 seconds old, and the match is over! Jason Newitt’s unbeaten record stops here!’ The commentator took a breath. ‘Did you see what happened, Dan?’
‘I think so, Dan,’ the other boy responded, ‘it looked like the snitch just flew right at him – I think he’s as surprised as we are.’
The stadium fell silent as the watching students realised what had happened, before the delighted shouts of celebration from the Ravenclaw supporters split the air.
‘So what happens now?’ Greg turned to the boys around him. ‘Ravenclaw won, so they’ve got four points, just like us and Gryffindor.’
‘They haven’t scored enough, though,’ Lucas added. ‘That’s the only time Neal’s caught the snitch. They’ve got...’ he lifted a piece of parchment out of the pocket of his trousers, but was beaten to the punch of his announcement as Dan Buckley gathered his thoughts in the commentary box.
‘It’s a three-way tie on four points each, Dan,’ the sixth-year echoed Greg’s deduction, ‘so we split the Cup on total scores. Ravenclaw have 370, Slytherin have 520... and Gryffindor also have 520.’
The ground fell silent again as Buckley’s words sunk in.
‘It’s a draw...’ Isaac observed, disbelievingly.
‘So...’ Theo had begun to ask a question before Buckley’s voice crackled out again, answering it before the first-year had spoken.
‘This is the first time the Quidditch Cup has been tied since 1773,’ Buckley continued, ‘and now, as it was then, it is Gryffindor and Slytherin who are locked together. So now, as it was then – and unless there has been a change of rules which I don’t know about – the 2006 Quidditch Cup will be decided with a play-off match.’