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Chapter 34: Stress, Brooms, Robes, and a Jerk
“No, no, no," Harry called, zooming in on the Chasers, "you’re letting them draw too far away from you," he yelled to Gwyneth.
"We need a rest," said Ginny firmly, as Gwyneth’s face went wooden and she fought back tears.
"A rest? We only have four weeks to prepare for the first Slytherin match, and--"
"Harry, mate," said Ron, "sometimes the best way to fix a problem is to retreat for a while. Chase the Snitch, clear your head. And hey, if you catch it early, you don’t have to worry about whether they can do the correct formation or not."
"We’ll work on it, just give us a chance to talk it over," Graínne added. She had a worried expression on her face as she gazed at him.
"Fine," growled Harry, "Ron, go release the Snitch. I’ll mind my own business."
Graínne bit her tongue, drawing the other two Chasers off. "Don’t take it personally, Gwyn. He’s never been a Chaser. Okay, simple exercise. Keep your eyes on the center goal. Tell me when you can see my hand." Drawing up beside the girl, she extended her fist into what should have been peripheral vision. "Can you see it?"
"Er, there it is, yeah, I can see it."
"Okay. Keep looking at the goal." She moved away ten feet or so, and Ginny moved in the other direction. "Can you still see us without looking at us?"
"Er, yeah, I can tell you’re there, but I can’t tell what you’re doing."
"We’re flying in tandem with you, that’s all. And I can see you without having to look in your direction, I can stay on the goal without compromising my route. Switch positions with me."
Gwyneth obliged, forgetting Harry’s harsh tone and setting herself to learn. Graínne was a patient teacher, and had innovative ways of thinking about things.
"We need to be able to do this no matter which position we’re each in, no matter who has the Quaffle. And eventually we’ll pass it around. Okay, fly toward the goals, Ginny, set the speed."
Ginny flew forward at about forty miles an hour, and Gwyneth adjusted her own speed. Graínne then switched Ginny to center, and they flew toward the other goal. For the next half hour they practiced until they could do it at top speed in any position, and could pass the Quaffle back and forth a bit. By then, Harry had caught the Snitch and calmed down a bit.
He apologized during the meeting in the team room afterward. He made sure he complimented every team member about something, offered criticisms constructively without personal attacks, and tried to repair the destruction he’d done on team spirit. Then he went into the captain’s room to make his notes, and when he came back out, only Graínne was sitting there, waiting for him. She smiled in a distracted sort of way.
"All right?" he asked softly, watching her stand slowly.
"Just tired. You?"
"You were pretty tense."
He glanced at her, wondering how to deal with the coming conversation. He was tense, overworked, and he’d had a troubling episode in the middle of the night, a stress-induced dream concerning his parents and Sirius on the other side of the veil in the Death Room. "I don’t know how to keep up with everything, love. I’m thinking I should ask Dumbledore to appoint a new Head Boy."
"He won’t." She looked up at him as they walked along the path toward the castle. "I asked Hermione what the regulations were, you have to be dead or disgraced."
"Neither of those appeals, somehow."
She didn’t laugh, as he expected. "The discipline you’ve learned for Occlumency and Legilimency can be applied to other things, Harry. You’re allowing the feelings of frustration and inundation in some areas to leak over into others. You have a ton of homework, so you’re kicking the Chasers."
"But she wasn’t--"
"She wasn’t understanding what you were talking about. Once she did, she performed admirably. You’re used to having skilled players who know about team, she’s never played on a team before, she doesn’t understand working together. She has to be taught." She shook her head. "And it isn’t about Gwyneth at all, it’s about shutting the door to that particular cupboard so that the Quidditch cupboard doesn’t get all cluttered up with the Potions homework."
He sighed. "I hate being wrong."
"Welcome to the human condition."
He took her hand and smiled, and led her down by the lake. It was cold and damp, the wind was sharp over the water, but they were alone. "I see you almost all the time, why do I feel like I miss you and never see you?"
"We are at the mercy of others." She slipped her arms around him under his cloak and buried her face in his sweaty jersey, inhaling deeply. "I love how you smell, even when you stink."
He burst out laughing. "You are so romantic," he chuckled, brushing back an escaped curl from her face and kissing her. "I love how you smell, too. How about Puddles and Fluffy go out on the town tonight?"
"Town? Hogsmeade?" Her eyes kindled with daring.
"No, if we transfigured there, we’d get caught. I just thought a walk, maybe."
She began picking her way along the shore of the lake, leading him by the hand. "Thinking you’ll get lucky?" she teased.
He pulled her around almost sharply. "Much as I’d like to make love to you, here and now or anywhere, I am not going to try to seduce you."
"Then why should I come?" she laughed, but he didn’t laugh. "I know, Harry, I was only joking. I didn’t mean to hit a sore spot."
"It’s all I think about, it’s hard to joke."
"Surely it’s not all you think about?"
"Okay, sometimes I think about food." This time he laughed with her.
"Potter, Weasley, Cameron, Ross," said McGonagall when the bell rang at the end of Transfiguration.
They stopped at the desk, along with Hermione and Parvati, whom McGonagall frowned at but did not address.
"The representatives from the Valhalla Broom Company will be arriving at five o’clock. They want to make the presentation to the team in front of the school, according to the letter, and to have team photographs taken somewhere picturesque. They would like you in full uniform with your hair combed. They have been screened by the Ministry, and there will be an Auror for every member of their group as escort. This is a rather historic occasion. Gryffindor has not had team brooms before, and only private donors have presented brooms to other teams. Please look your best. I have already informed the others."
"Yes ma’am," said Harry. "Perhaps they’d like to have the Quidditch Cup in the picture?"
"Good thought, Potter. They mentioned something about trophies, I had thought to have the pictures taken in the Trophy Room, that’s easily blocked off from the general population. The Quidditch Cup is definitely more to the point. Wear your old uniforms to supper, please, I don’t want the new ones seen by the whole school. Harry, meet me in the entry hall at five sharp, wear your uniform, be ready to meet and greet. Off you go."
They went out into the hall and looked at each other.
"Five, that only leaves us --" Graínne checked her wrist watch, "Twenty minutes. Since there’s about ten miles of corridor to travel, we’d better get moving."
"Think they’ll let us watch the photos?" Parvati asked as they started hurrying toward the stairs.
"Maybe," said Lyn. "They’re not going to like the old uniforms for pictures, though. Maybe we should bring the new ones to the Trophy Room afterwards."
Hermione, Parvati, and Lavender packed the new robes up and went along to carry them safely, calling themselves the Wardrobe Department.
"That’s not so far off," said Harry glumly. "This is going to be quite a production. I hate all this publicity crap, and if it weren’t for getting the best brooms on the planet for next to nothing, I would stand them all up."
"Want me to go down with you, mate?" asked Ron, "sort of a lieutenant?"
"Yeah," said Harry suddenly. "You should be Quidditch Captain anyway, you or Graínne, both of you come with me."
So the three of them came down the great marble stairs at precisely five o’clock, just as the big oak doors swung open and Professor McGonagall came in with eight others, seven boxes and numerous cases and satchels among them. Harry got a nod from Kingsley Shacklebolt, whom he had officially met at the Ministry of Magic. He winked at Tonks and got a grin in return. Graínne waved at all Aurors, who had been at Dorling with her. One of the strangers conjured a table with a white cloth that hung to the floor, and the boxes were stacked neatly, after being shuffled into some sort of order. In the meantime, McGonagall brought one man, the best-dressed and the oldest of the lot, over to the foot of the stairs.
"Mr. Middleton, this is Harry Potter, our team captain, and two of our star players, Ronald Weasley and Graínne Cameron."
Mr. Middleton was of medium height, but he had presence. His shoulders were broad, his features tanned and leonine, his sandy hair exquisitely styled. He had twinkly blue eyes and a hearty handshake. He was wearing a grey business suit and an American style robe, and on his feet were shiny grey cowboy boots. Harry thought he was about forty-five, maybe near fifty, but not over.
"Pleased to meet you, Harry, Ron, Graínne. Were you on the committee that worked with our people to get the brooms?"
"Yes sir," she said calmly, firmly. "Committee is a stretch, though, Miss Weasley was in charge of raising the funds, I just made the suggestion and helped her find out whom to contact."
"And she is another team member? I look forward to meeting her. Professor, we would like to make the presentation before the entire school. And we’d love to be introduced to the other Heads of House. Would it be possible to address the student body and the faculty at supper?"
"That is the only place you’ll likely find them all together," said Professor McGonagall dryly.
"Great, just great. Where would that be?"
"In the Great Hall, just through those doors. But they won’t be assembled until five thirty. Would you like to take some photographs?"
"Oh, there won’t be enough time before then to get all the shots we want. Ben, Tansy, get the table and the brooms moved in there, front and center. Maybe we could get some quotes from Harry and his lieutenants here about Thor brooms?"
"I’m the only one who has ever actually ridden one," said Graínne, because Ron and Harry both turned to her. She glanced apprehensively at one of the others, a young woman who was taking notes.
"Quotes?" echoed McGonagall, intervening. "The agreement, Mr. Middleton, was for publicity photos. No one said anything about interviews."
"Well, no, but is it really a problem?" he asked reasonably, modulating his voice confidentially.
"It has been in the past," said Harry bluntly.
"And there are laws, in the States, about misquoting someone," added Graínne coldly. The woman’s pen stopped scratching. "Especially in the MRA. The contract, which I understand you signed as the representative of Valhalla Broom Company, was for six Quidditch brooms of the latest model and one racing broom of the latest model at a reduced rate per broom plus specified photos of the team and individuals. There was never a request for interviews."
"I see," said Middleton, his tone growing chill. "I had so hoped you would be reasonable," he added as he turned to Graínne, presenting her with a slip of paper.
"What’s this? she asked.
"We already paid! I have the receipt." She stared up into his eyes, suddenly fierce. As Harry looked at her, she seemed to grow, shimmer with power, as she shifted her feet slightly, as if for attack.
"Do you really believe we’d sell you those brooms at that price without additional compensation of some sort?" he snapped. "With the name Harry Potter alone I could sell a thousand brooms, and with his voice, five thousand! That would make up for the loss on these, and for having to come out to this backwater--"
"According to the terms of the contract," said a composed voice from the door, "the only compensations were the reduced price, which has already been paid, and photographs of team members receiving their brooms, along with no more than four photos of each team member riding his or her broom, and an agreed-upon team photo, which of course you are free to use in your advertising."
Harry turned to see Charlie Cameron coming in, his dark suit a bit better than Middleton’s, his blond hair cut even more immaculately, his traveling cloak impeccable. Graínne grinned, relieved.
"So in answer to your question, sir, you’d better. I have a notarized copy of the contract here, if you would like to review the terms," he added lightly, patting his brief case as he came in. "I’m sorry we’re late, there was a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic that made travel difficult. I’m Charles Stuart Cameron of Fitch, Brewer and Nelson, legal representative for the Gryffindor team. As I mentioned, I have a notarized copy of the contract, dated August 5 of this year. Was there a later one made without our notice?"
"No," said Middleton through clenched teeth. "We assumed it was not a legal matter."
"Ah, but when one is dealing with a person as famous as Harry Potter, and a legal contract of any kind is made, one cannot assume otherwise. Surely a businessman of your experience would understand such a situation. I’m afraid, unless Mr. Potter agrees to give you a quote, for which he would need to be compensated, you’ll have to settle for the pictures."
From behind Charlie there appeared a woman in her late twenties, wearing a tailored business suit of electric blue broadcloth and a black silk robe hanging from her shoulders, a fur traveling cloak over one arm. She had dark hair drawn back severely, an oval face that was currently very hard and furious-looking, and in her free hand she held a wand so tightly that her knuckles were white. Middleton’s eyes went to her and he blanched.
"Ms. Savich!" he cried, recovering enough to greet her. "What a -- surprise!"
"Indeed," said the woman, gazing at him. "Life is full of surprises. I had a chance to get away for a few days, and decided to accompany Mr. Cameron over and visit some old friends. I’m so glad I came, but it looks like it’s going to be billable hours." She handed her cloak to Ron.
"Oh, I’m sure none of this will require your attention," he hastened to assure her. "It’s a simple matter of delivery, taking a few photos, that kind of stuff."
"Indeed," she said again, plucking the invoice out of Graínne’s hand and reading it. "This is a bill for an additional two hundred Galleons per broom, marked as charges outstanding." She looked up at Middleton with raised eyebrows. Harry thought of a younger McGonagall.
"That must be a mistake."
Harry found himself thinking about Snape, suddenly.
"You will apologize to our clients for the mistake of threatening them and attempting to extort additional gold from them." She took a step closer to him, her wand still clenched in her hand. "Now."
He looked like he had swallowed something extremely nasty. "I’m sor-sorry," he choked, and apparently could not go on.
The hallway was beginning to fill with students on their way to the Great Hall for supper, and most of them were staring in unbridled curiosity at the Gryffindor team and a group of strangers. Ms. Savich looked at Professor McGonagall and held out her hand. "I am Sarit Savich, Vice President of Valhalla Broom Company. You must be Professor McGonagall. I’m so sorry for the confusion."
"Not at all," said McGonagall graciously.
"Looks like we’re staying over; it’s already getting dark, there’s no way we can get the riding shots tonight," said another member of the crew, who received for his trouble a glare from Middleton. The crew had been looking around with interest, and none of them looked sorry to be delayed here.
"Tomorrow works for us," said Ron affably.
Graínne coughed and turned away.
"Of course, you can get the presentation photographs this evening, during the meal, and any team photos you would like in the Trophy Room afterwards, and return tomorrow afternoon to take the rest of the photos." McGonagall smiled sweetly. "You’ll dine with us, I hope?" McGonagall transferred all of her attention onto Sarit Savich, and Middleton looked rather panicky. He scowled at Charlie, but got himself under control as he turned to McGonagall again, still trying to maintain control of the situation.
"Thank you, you’re too kind. Is there a hotel where we might get rooms?"
"I recommend the Three Broomsticks, as the Hog’s Head doesn’t have a launderer in house, and their sheets can be dodgy, or so I’ve heard." She turned again to Ms. Savich. "Won’t you come right in? You can get your equipment organized and your people deployed."
Middleton turned with them and walked smack into Hagrid, and sat down abruptly on the floor.
"What’s all this?" Hagrid demanded, hauling Middleton up off the floor by one arm. "All right there? Didn’t hurt yourself, did ye?"
"I’m all right," said Middleton, his well-modulated voice pitched a bit higher than it had been. He looked flustered and a little rumpled, having dangled by his arm in Hagrid’s grip.
"New brooms, Hagrid," said Ron cheerfully. Harry couldn't trust himself to speak without laughing.
"Is that right? And they’re makin’ a presentation? Excellent. Sure you’re all right?" he asked Middleton kindly, who nodded in answer.
"This way, Mr. Middleton," said McGonagall, and guided the visitors into the Great Hall.
"Nice place," said one of the strangers, a young man about twenty-five. Dawlish lingered nearby, trying to be inconspicuous. "My school wasn’t anything like this."
"Which one?" Graínne asked, looking at him.
"Thunder Hall. Looks like a cracker box compared to this."
"I went to Thunder Hall," she said immediately. "Did you know Bart Cameron?"
"Oh yeah, West Tower Beater. He was excellent. You know him?"
"My brother." She waved at Harry and Ron, who nodded and went into the dining hall ahead of them, and she paused to speak to the American.
"What are you doing here?" he exclaimed, shaking her hand. "It’s an honor to meet a Cameron. I didn’t know there were any girls."
"Just me. I’m Graínne. Who are you?"
"Oh, sorry. Matt Mills."
"You were a Beater for South Tower, weren’t you?"
"Yeah, good memory. That was a long time ago."
"We breathe and eat Quidditch at our house, and have done since before I was born. What’s the scoop on this Mr. Middleton?" she asked, dropping her voice confidentially. "Would he really try to screw us for fourteen hundred Galleons?"
"He’d try to screw his mother for it if he thought she had it," he muttered. "Jerks like him are going to give Valhalla Broom a bad name in the international market, no matter how good the brooms are. Upper management doesn’t know the half of what he does. If you hadn’t stood up to him, he might have pocketed the difference, and the company wouldn’t have been any wiser."
"I guess it’s a good thing Ms. Savich showed up, then. Nice to meet you, Matt." She waved at him as she went over to the Gryffindor table.
"Did you find out anything?" Ron asked, as she slid in between him and Harry.
"He was a Beater for another House at Thunder Hall, we had to talk Quidditch. Sarit Savich is an old family friend, that’s why I suggested we go to them in the first place. I had an in. Apparently she didn’t know how this jackass--pardon me--"
"Truth’s truth," said Ron philosophically.
"--treats the clients. But she getting it now, I guess." She looked up toward the head table, where a second table had been added to the end and additional chairs were being brought. The vice president had her eye on Mr. Middleton, and neither of them looked happy. "I wonder why she hasn’t sent him home."
"He’d skip, wouldn’t he," said Harry. "The moment he’s out of her sight, he’d run. And who knows what he would steal or hide before she could get back."
"Why, Harry, dear, you’ve been around me too long, you’re starting to think deviously," Graínne said in fond surprise.
The presentation went off in the middle of the meal, and was properly and painfully intrusive. Each member of the team was handed a spanking new Thor 2030, the latest Quidditch model, except Harry, who received a Thor 3000, the new racing model. The handles were finished in a transparent scarlet over the highly grained wood, and the twigs of the brushes were the best birch. They were awesome brooms, and if the applause at the end of the presentation was weak, it was because all the other Houses were envious.
"Would you like to speak a few words, Harry?" invited Mr. Middleton, even though Ms. Savich had made the presentations. She was not elaborate at all, only straightforward and formal. Harry had been relieved that she handled it, and she had limited her remarks to Gryffindor’s Quidditch record and the qualities of the new brooms. Middleton would have been much more painful.
"No," answered Harry, horrified.
He tried the rest of the team, but they all refused. He was in an ill humor as they moved up to the Trophy Room for the team photos, but his entire crew was now ignoring him, taking all their orders and directions from the vice president. Hermione, Lavender, and Parvati helped the team suit up, steaming out creases and applying combs wherever possible. The photographer, a lanky man named Tim Stamp, took over, positioned them in various ways, with McGonagall and without, succeeding in drawing laughter from them at the right moment, while Middleton sulked and Sarit Savich chatted with Charlie and the Wardrobe Department.
Stamp even posed them astride, hovering, out on the marble stairs. As it was well after supper, there were no witnesses to the new uniforms.
"I don’t like pictures of me on a broom," Graínne said clearly as he towed Lynford and Ron into place. "Makes my butt look big."
"Let me see!" Harry craned his neck to see while everyone else laughed.
"I promise no one will notice your butt," said Tim Stamp with a grin.
"What’s the point, then?" Harry demanded, getting another laugh.
"And I better not read about it, either," she called to the woman below, who grinned.
"Not from me," she answered.
"Okay, we’ll come back tomorrow," said Tim Stamp, finishing up his last shot. "What time?"
"Er," said Harry.
"I have checked the schedule for the pitch, and it is free from three to four," said McGonagall. "I will reserve it for that hour in our name."
"I have Potions then," said Bran.
"And I have Magical Creatures," Ginny piped up.
"We have Charms," said Hermione.
"You also have excuses, if you’re on the team. Sorry, ladies, you’ll have to remain in class. All right, off to the common room, I know you all have homework."
Harry went to Ms. Savich and offered his hand while Graínne gave Charlie a hug. "Thank you," he said simply, shaking the hand that she automatically put out. "Your generosity will serve the team for years to come."
"It was a pleasure, Mr. Potter. Of course for Graínne I’d buy the brooms myself and bring them over, but I’m glad the company decided to become partners in education. And I’m sorry about Middleton. This was a deal I did not want to sour on so many different levels."
"Think nothing of it. The world is full of people like him. I’m just glad you came."
Graínne came over and got a hug. "How are ya, Cousin Sarit?"
"Good, Squirt. Nice place ya got here. Any messages to your folks? Going down tomorrow."
"I’ll have a letter ready, if you don’t mind carrying one, thanks. And thanks for showing up here. Was it you brought Charlie?"
"We’ve been having complaints from former clients, and I happened to hit on Middleton first, for a spot-check. I’ll keep checking around, but I’m betting we can trace all the complaints to him. I asked Charlie to come, since he had handled the contract in the States for you-all, and I’m glad I did."
"Well done and over," said Graínne softly, joining Harry at the foot of the stairs.
He automatically dropped an arm over her shoulder, and smiled at her. "I’m quite relieved. Have I told you today that I am madly in love with you and I want to marry you and have more kids than we can count and --"
She laughed. "Me too," she answered.