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Harry Potter and the Cannons Conundrum by Greythorne
Format: Short story
Chapter 1: Chapter 1: It Doesn't Get any Better Than This
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Harry Potter was in a considerable hurry. It was a Sunday, May 1st, 2016. He had been looking forward to this day for over a Month. His old Hogwarts potions professor Horace Slughorn had invited his entire family and a group of friends, probably in order to guarantee his acceptance of this social call, to join him in the top box at the Anglesy Arena for a match between the Chudley Cannons and the Holyhead Harpies. He had been working long hours, and for far too long lately, doing important casework for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The workload was starting to take more and more of his time, and even Harry began to realize that it had begun to take a toll on his family life. The May 2nd Holiday, the end of the Second Wizarding War, was approaching, and he was looking forward to ten glorious days with Ginny and their two youngest children.
Given the special occasion, it was a particular wrench for Harry to attend a professional quidditch match without his son James, but as school was still in term, students usually could not leave Hogwarts even for a weekend for something as trivial as a professional quidditch match. He knew that he had enough influence to where he could pull James out for a day if he wished, but he also knew such things generated juicy gossip, and he did not want to burden his son with any more unwanted notoriety. Excitement continued to buzz in Harry's mind. It had seemed ages since he had been in a fun outing with his family, and even though he saw Slughorn occasionally when he would visit the school to give guest lectures on Defense against the Dark Arts, they never really discussed anything besides work.
Surprisingly, Harry found that somehow, the older he grew, the better he seemed to get on with Slughorn. He regarded the old professor's penchant for connections with the powerful and influential members of the wizarding community with more humor now than contempt. Indeed, with each passing year his affection for all of the Hogwarts teachers grew, especially Headmistress McGonagall. Even Argus Filch was on comparatively friendly terms with him these days. He opened his desk drawer and smiled as he retrieved a purple silk bag full of one pound of crystallized pineapple secured with a golden colored drawstring. This was a gift for Professor Slughorn, who was by now of considerably advanced age. Harry had long suspected that this longevity probably had a great deal more to do with the old man's prowess in potions than “good genes”, as was often subtly implied when the subject of his considerable vigor and remaining wit were brought up in discussion. Harry had never really thought about it at length, but he supposed that Horace Slughorn had by now likely surpassed Albus Dumbledore in years.
He looked impatiently at his watch. He was not running late, but he was eager to get out of the office, and was feeling quite hungry. He was waiting on Ronald Weasley, and wanted to vacate the premises as quickly as he could in order to not be saddled with any surprise work that would obligate him to cancel his plans. Just as he opened his desk drawer to see if he could find one of Ginny's homemade ginger newts, he was startled by a sudden, and quite unnecessarily loud voice coming from the fireplace in his office. It was, sure enough, Ronald Weasley himself, and right on time.
Harry dropped the velvet bag onto his desk, and with lightning speed swiveled his chair around and quickly drew his wand at the ready as Ronald fully emerged from the fireplace, laughing immoderately. It took a brief moment for Harry to calm down, but his momentary shock and irritation quickly melted into mirth, and he joined Ron with a hearty chuckle. They clasped each other's shoulders, and Ron, Harry noticed, was wearing a new and rather nicely tailored cloak. To Harry's surprise, it was maroon, a color Ron claimed to hate when they were children and it had a rather nice sheen to it. After they had finished with their greetings, Harry looked at Ron's new cloak again in an appraising manner, and grinned, “Looks like business is going well. Your share of the wheezes really do seem to agree with you!”
Ron nodded, jokingly poking harry in the belly with his wand, and said, “The Ministry seems to agree with you, too.” Harry looked down; his waistband was getting a bit tight. Both he and Ron still saw action from time to time as aurors, but for his part those instances were becoming fewer and farther between since he had been appointed head of the Auror Office. He sighed as he tugged at his belt line. “I suppose I could do with a bit more exercise. I haven't flown a broom in ages.”
Ron nodded slowly and sympathetically, “Well, truth be told I'm hiding all my sins behind a cloak. I'm definitely not the athlete of the family. You ready? I expect old Slug's waiting for us.”
“Oh yeah!” said Harry, and he almost extended his arm. He stopped suddenly, and asked, “Wait, isn’t George coming?”
Ron awkwardly gave a slight grimace, and shook his head solemnly, “I'm afraid not, Harry. He doesn't trust anyone else to keep an eye on the shop, and this time of year he likes to keep busy. You know, keep his mind off of things. The day before is always a busy time anyway, and at least he'll be listening to the game on the wireless, though. He said to give you his best.”
Harry was doing his best to hide his disappointment. It had been some time since he had seen George Weasley, and it was something he was really looking forward to. He knew that accompanying Professor Slughorn, that everyone would be getting excellent seats for the match, and though it was a dead cert that the Cannons would lose, they would at least be in the top spots to watch the match. Ron could tell Harry was feeling a bit let down, and said, “It's his way, Harry. We'll all get together tomorrow for dinner at least.”
Harry smiled and said, “Right. Okay, you ready?” and extended his arm.
“Y-You can apparate from here?”
Harry grinned, and said in a hauntingly familiar tone, “Being head of the Auror Office has its privileges.”
Ron grinned, and snorted, “Alright.”, and grabbed hold of Harry's left forearm.
With the tiniest pop, the two disappeared, and re-appeared about hundred paces from the entrance path to the Anglesey Arena. Ron hastily checked his hair and eyebrows before examining his hands, and nodded at Harry, clearly impressed. “Nice one, Harry! That was so smooth I could have eaten before and all! Oh, Hermione and Ginny should be here in a minute with Rosie, Lily, and er.. Albus. I'm starving! I haven't eaten since breakfast. I'm going in to get us some food.”
Harry was hungry, too, and would have liked a quick bite before getting things started, but this was where they had all agreed to meet and someone had to stay, so he nodded, and Ron left. They were right on time, but Harry couldn't see Horace Slughorn anywhere yet. There was some music playing in the Arena, and he recognized the song at once as Celestina Warbeck's “You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me Again.” It wasn't a particular favorite of his, but Ginny and his mother in law Molly had a habit of turning the sound up on their wizarding wireless receiver every time it played. For a moment Harry daydreamed of his old Hogwarts quidditch days, and as he reminisced he felt a slight pang when he suddenly remembered Fred Weasley and Dobby. He looked up at the bright blue sky with only a few puffy clouds, and thought to himself that the conditions were absolutely ideal for both watching and playing a quidditch match. This was going to be great. His excitement for the coming match began mounting again. To his surprise he felt a hand gently touch his left shoulder, but it wasn't enough to startle him. He turned, halfway expecting to see Horace Slughorn, but saw Neville and Hannah Longbottom. He beamed at the both of them. “Neville! Y... You were able to come! You able to come for dinner after? I know you've got a lot going on for...”
Neville shook his head, “Not today, but I've got to prepare more for tomorrow's lesson after the match. We're getting a bit close to the end of term, but I wouldn't miss this for a sack of Galleons! Professor Slughorn told me he was meeting you here, and he invited us along. It's been too long, Harry! Er... Horace will be here any minute now.”
Harry and Neville shook hands, and just as Hannah was about to shake Harry's there was a cracking sound, and Horace Slughorn materialized about thirty feet from them. Horace grimaced a moment and rubbed his ample stomach before meeting eyes with Harry, and grinning broadly.
“Harry my boy! It's been far too long! How are you? How are you!?”
He quickly shuffled toward them with an almost manic smile. Harry quietly chuckled and smiled back at him, “I'm doing excellently, professor. How are you?”
Professor Slughorn dismissively waved both hands toward Harry, and said in a mock manner of impatience, “Oh, Harry, how many times do I have to tell you, there's no need to call me professor, anymore. Just Horace will do. Heaven knows you've earned that privilege long ago.”
Horace's eyes roved over to Neville and Hannah, “Ah, mister Longbottom I must have just missed you! Glad to see you made it, and you, Hannah! So glad you could come. I've had my last potions lesson ready for tomorrow, so I'm free the rest of the day. Just took the floo to the Three Broomsticks, and from there... Well, here we are!”
Professor Slughorn chortled a moment, then assumed a rather serious, pensive look, “A pity the school doesn't observe the holiday same as everyone else. I keep telling Minerva that we ought to, but she insists that everyone be there. I don't think she holds well with breaking tradition, and well... Well, I suppose the students will have the rest of their lives to celebrate it.”
Horace animatedly gestured as though he just remembered something important, “Oh, I must thank you again for those excellent dittany and asphodel plants, Neville. They are positively marvelous. I don't know how you do it, I daresay they're just as good as Pomona's if not a wee bit more robust. Er... Don't tell her I said that, though, it might hurt her feelings, and she still does give me a lot of er... Additional potion ingredients from time to time.”
Hannah extended a hand towards Professor Slughorn, who beamed, and shook it with both of his. “My dear Hannah. Lovely as always. I hear you're being considered for a position as a Mediwitch at Saint Mungo's! If you need a referral, I'd consider it an absolute privilege to put in a good word on your behalf.”
Horace gave an almost conspiratorial smile, “I am close friends with Boderic Bonham. It'd be no trouble at all, I assure you!”
Horace suddenly winced, and grabbed his stomach again. “Dear... I'm getting a bit old for all of this excitement, I'm afraid. I think this will be my last year at Hogwarts. I daresay I have no idea who'll replace me, Harry. The mind and body aren't what they once were, and I could do with a bit of peace and quiet in my autumn years. All this fatigue, and aching joints.”
Harry could see that professor Slughorn had seen healthier days, and though it made him sad, he forced a cheerful disposition, and put his hand on Slughorn's shoulder, “Well, for what it's worth you were the best potions professor I'd ever had. I'd also consider it a true loss to Hogwarts if you left.”
Horace smiled appreciatively, “Well, you were as gifted as your mother, Harry. I must say I've only had a tiny handful of students with anything close to your natural talent. Alas... The children of today don't have the same interest in the subject that they once had. And I'm afraid it's getting to be a bit difficult to keep with the material. I'm starting to forget a few things here and there, and I can't seem to build up the enthusiasm I used to. You know what I mean, Harry? Rehashing old material time and again. All too often to the uninterested. Fascinating subject with a lot of art and science behind it, but there you are.”
Just then there was another pop, and Ginny and Hermione appeared almost simultaneously with their children. Hermione Granger-Weasley was holding hands with Rosie, while Ginny Potter arrived with their children Albus and Lily. Almost immediately Lily let go of Ginny's hand and ran to Harry, giving him a big hug. Albus put his hands in his pockets, and smiled shyly. At that moment Hannah, Ginny, and Hermione came together for an animated chat. Neville beamed, and crossed his arms, and Harry smiled, and beckoned to Albus, who nodded and slowly strode towards him. Harry brushed Lily's hair with his hand.
Horace stood transfixed with what looked like shock. He began wringing his hands, and just froze for a moment. He seemed to almost tremble. His lower lip quivered, and he said with a light stutter, “Y... Your d-d-daughter, Harry? Why... Why she looks well enough like your mother! Sh.. She... Oh, Harry, I never knew you had... Oh please tell me you named her Lily!”
Harry laughed loudly, and nodded, “Yes, yes, of course. She's Lily Luna, and that's Albus Severus. He'll be going to Hogwarts the year after next, he'll be starting with Rosie, in fact. Lily has a few more years yet.”
Horace nodded politely to Albus and waved at him and Rosie, but it seemed he only had eyes for Lily. He looked from her to Harry and Ginny, and his eyes began to water. He suddenly sniffed, and stood straight upright, and cleared his throat. He unwrinkled his green velvet smoking jacket, and waved his hands as if to shoo off mosquitoes. “Harry, forget everything I just said about retirement. I'm going to give this young lady the finest potions education she could ever hope for. I'll give her seven great years, and I'll make her the greatest potions mistress the world has ever known if it is the last thing I do!”
Rosie looked up from a very large book she was reading with a mildly interested gaze at Slughorn. She raised an eyebrow and stifled a smile. Harry could tell without looking at the cover that she must have been reading Hogwarts: A History.
Slughorn suddenly stood importantly, suppressing a smile, and with surprising agility, bent low and put forth his hand to shake Lily's. Lily smiled at him and took it. Horace looked up at Harry with what he knew was half excited, half determined sort smile, and then gazed proudly at Ginny. He balled his fists, and put them on his hips, and said, “Excellent, Ginny... Harry. Most excellent!” He clapped his hands, and said, “Well! Shall we?”
Just as Horace ceremoniously waved his hand towards the entrance to the Arena, Ron Emerged with a mouth jammed full of food and two armloads of bags of treats. He was wearing around his neck six omnioculars and a Chudley Cannons flag was visible, poking through his cloak. Horace momentarily stopped in his tracks, surveying Ron with a bit of uncertainty, and nodded, “Hello, Rupert! Good to see you old boy!”
As he strolled past Ronald with the rest in tow, Ronald gave a look of mock indignation to Harry, who shook his head while laughing quietly. Slughorn turned and met Harry's eye behind Ron's back and winked, leading the group into the entrance with a new swagger.
Harry was pleased to see that the crowd was not too dense, and that most of the attendees were already seated. There was certainly some excited chatter, but this was nothing compared to the jam packed 2014 Quidditch World Cup between Brazil and Bulgaria, which was so crowded that it was difficult to find a seat, and so noisy it was almost impossible to hold a conversation. Horace led the group through a VIP corridor entrance guarded by arena wizards who seemed to know that they were expected guests. Harry, Ron, and Neville walked close behind abreast. Ronald loudly gulped his food, and muttered, “What's he calling me Rupert for? He knows who I am. Has he gone potty? What's he driving at?”
Slughorn raised his voice, and said, “By the way, Ronald, we are here at Gwenog Jones invitation, and it would be very poor form for you enter the box flashing that confounded Cannons flag about. Do tuck it in, or I will have to reconsider who I allow to accompany me to these things. I mean for heaven's sake, my dear man, your sister played seeker here for a few years!”
Ginny, Hermione, Hannah, and Rosie giggled, and Ron nudged Harry in the ribs. “See! Told you he knew who I was.”
Ron carelessly attempted to tuck the flag deeper into his cloak out of sight, but having two armloads of bags made the endeavor virtually impossible. The corridor was illuminated with a line of magically lit quaffles adorning the ceiling. Amid moving pictures of the Holyhead Harpies flying all over the corridor in resplendent dark green quidditch robes, zooming with purpose all up and down the hall, the children gasped, and oohed. The group strode up to a golden lift door with a large talon handle clutching a pearl in the center. Slughorn gave the pearl a squeeze, and a bright bluish light shined along the frame of the lift. The doors opened, and at first it did not seem that everyone would be able to fit, but one by one, as the group entered, the lift expanded to accommodate them. As the lift door closed, a pleasant female voice said, “Welcome to the Anglesey Arena, home of the Holyhead Harpies, managed by our very own Gwenog Jones. When you reach the top please wait to be seated. Your attendant will be with you shortly. Thank you for coming, and we hope you enjoy the match! Don't forget to try our house gillywater, and all VIPs receive a complimentary issue of Which Broomstick.”
Harry turned and smiled at Ginny, who caught his eye while she quietly chatted with Hermione and Hannah. She winked at him. Lily had taken hold of Harry's hand, and was brandishing a licorice wand while they ascended. Albus stood in the corner with his arms folded, and bore a half proud, half excited smile. Ronald nodded approvingly as he appraised the lift, “What great service! I think I'll spend some extra galleons for a VIP seat for the next World Cup match!”
Hermione immediately cut him off, and said, “Not!”
Ron grinned slyly, and nodded slowly and surreptitiously as if to say, “Just you wait...”
There was a pleasant dinging sound, and the doors opened extra wide so that everyone was able to exit at once. Waiting for them was Gwenog Jones herself, who had just left the commentary booth attached to the right of the top lobby. She beamed at Horace, and said, “You're very nearly late, Horace! And I was wondering why the top box was growing so much, it seems you brought quite a group!” Her eyes met Harry's, and she smiled expectantly. She stood on the tips of her toes to look behind him, and saw Ginny. She squealed, and ran forward to embrace her. Horace, not having time to make any introduction or greeting, merely muttered, “Oh dear... Well.”
Gwenog and Ginny shared a big hug, and she said, “It's wonderful to see you again! Your protege does you justice, Ginny. But you were the best seeker we've ever had while I was captain. So good to see you!” She stood back to greet everyone, but saw the tip of the Cannons flag poking through Ron's cloak. She gave a disapproving stare at Ron, who hastily shoved it further down, nearly dropping the bags he was carrying. Harry caught one while Ron saved the other. There was a faint whistling sound coming from his bag, and Harry gave him a questioning look. Ron surreptitiously shook his head as if to say, “Not now.”
Gwenog gestured to the group to take their seats, and winked at Ginny as she strode behind them. The chairs looked like small thrones. They appeared to be made of gold, and had green velvet cushions. The VIP box seemed ready-made to accommodate their group. There was not an empty chair left. Both Harry and Ron were very impressed. Hermione smiled, and said, “You know, Ron, this really is an extraordinary bit of magic. It sort of like... Like...”
Ron finished the sentence for her, “Another room of requirement?”
Hermione nodded, “Yes. The charms put here are really good. I wonder what they are?”
Ron raised his eyebrows, and muttered to Harry, “I think our house is going to have some more changes. She's brilliant and all, but there's something about knowing what to expect when you get home. Know what I mean?”
Harry shook his head quickly, and gave Ron his own, “Not now...” Look. Gwennog cleared her throat to get everyone's attention, and pointed to a large pearl colored button with a gold swirl on the front left armrest of Ginny's seat. Harry and Ron looked at their chairs and saw their own personal buttons. “Make yourselves comfortable. If you need anything just press this button here, and a house elf will be with you to get you anything you would like to order.”
Hermione raised her eyebrows, and gave a stern look at everyone in the party that plainly said that there was going to be absolutely no button pushing by anyone in this group. Ron gave Harry a very knowing look. Gwenog walked around the seats and put her left hand on Slughorn's shoulder. He patted her hand appreciatively, and said, “My dear, you are the finest hostess of our time. Thank you so much for brightening my autumn years with your generosity and your presence. Will you do us the privilege of sitting with us?”
Gwenog shook her head sympathetically, “I'm sorry dear, I have to manage things in the booth. In fact I need to get back there now, the game will start in a few minutes! You all enjoy yourselves!”
Everybody waved to her as she hurried back to the commentator's booth. Just before Gwenog opened the door, she caught Ginny's eye, and gave her a thumbs up. Ginny beamed, and winked back at her, and proceeded to check her handbag. After they had all seated themselves, Ron gave Harry and Slughorn a pair of omnioculars, and turned to Hermione with another, and she whispered, “I had brought all of ours in my bag. What's wrong with the old ones?”
Ron blushed scarlet, and grinned. “I didn't think about it, dear. Sorry.” She took two omnioculars from him and gave one to Ginny, who thanked her. Ronald looked at Neville and said, “Oi! Neville! And tossed one, then another his way. Neville caught them both and gave one to Hannah, who grinned appreciatively. Ron smirked at Harry, and pat his own chest to grab an omniocular that wasn't there. A look of growing disappointment materialized on his face. At that moment, Hermione produced the World Cup pair Harry bought for him twenty two years earlier, and held them over his right shoulder. They were in pristine condition, and immaculately clean. Ron took them and smiled. “You're absolutely amazing, Hermione. I love you! You're the best!”
Hermione smirked, and muttered, “Is that a tone of surprise, I hear?”
Ron snorted, and slapped Harry on the shoulder, “Doesn't get any better than this, does it, mate!”
He reached down and grabbed a pack of ice cold butterbeer. He held it up, and said, “Oi! Neville? Hannah? Ginny?” Neville politely refused, but Hannah and Ginny eagerly extended their hands. Hermione nodded, and took one while Ginny and Hannah clinked their bottles. Hermione was whispering something to Rosie about something she was reading. Harry had a passing though that it probably had something to do with house elves. Ron offered a butterbeer to Slughorn, who seemed as though he were going to refuse at first, but thought better of it, “I shouldn't, really. My system isn't usually up to this kind of thing these days, but I'll make an exception here.”
Harry sat straight up, and said, “Oh! Horace! I almost forgot!” Harry waved his wand and conjured the bag of crystallized pineapple he had left on his desk, and handed it to Slughorn. Ron snorted again, and said, “Nice one, Harry! Cut that one close didn't you?”
With the exception of the commentators, all magic is expressly forbidden during quidditch matches in order to prevent anyone from interfering with the game. As if on cue the magic detectors, which closely resembled nineteenth century lightning rods, slowly rose all over the arena, and music began to play. Slughorn eyed the bag in astonishment, and grabbed it eagerly. “My dear boy, you shouldn't have!” He chuckled as he fished for a suitable first piece. He popped one in his mouth he appeared positively rapturous. Horace gave an expression of appreciation that made Harry smile, and chuckle quietly to himself. A familiar voice suddenly boomed from the commentator's booth.
“Witches and wizards! Welcome one and all to the Anglesey stadium for this afternoon's match! Facing off in this exciting Sunday event will be the hometown Holyhead Harpies against the Chudley Cannons! Let's give our gallant challengers a big round of applause!”
The crowd in the stadium cheered, and Ron hastily pointed at a row of four large orange cannons on their right end of the pitch, which shot orange smoke rings in the general opposite end of the field. On the other side were scantily clad witches in Harpy costumes performing acrobatics that even in the wizarding world were very impressive, and rather sultry.
Harry had a strong idea of who the commentator was, but he had to see for himself who was in the booth, and as he arced his head to get a good look with his omnioculars, his suspicions were confirmed. He nudged Ron, and pointed. It was Ludo Bagman, former beater for the Wimbourne Wasps. Ron snickered, “Nice, mate. He ought to keep this entertaining eh?”
Bagman continued his commentary, “This fine Sunday game is brought to you by Clean Sweep Broomsticks, available in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade at a discount at Quality Quidditch Supplies. Flourish and Blotts, for all your book and magazine needs, Gringott's Bank, and Weasley's Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Try their new Chomper Charming Chews! Terrify your mum with invisible teeth! Let's give a big hand for our sponsors!”
There was a subdued applause. Nobody liked advertisements, even short ones, but it was well-understood that this was a necessary inconvenience.
“And here we are live via the Wizarding Wireless Network. Hoping for a great game. The weather is absolutely perfect, and we have a nice crowd here. And just look right here in the VIP slot! Why we have Harry Potter in the stands with us! Ho ho! Let's give the old boy a warm welcome, shall we?”
Harry's heart sank into the pit of his stomach. He never even gave a thought to the possibility of this kind of thing happening. The excitement and enjoyment he was experiencing felt as though it were being extinguished with ice cold water. He gave a forced smile which more closely resembled a grimace, and he waved politely. There was a lot of cheering and whistling and Ron, never fully appreciating the awkwardness of situations when it came Harry's discomfort, burst into hysterical laughter. Hermione frowned, and gave a disapproving glare at Ron, and Ginny gave Harry a sympathetic look. Neville and Hanna smiled at Harry, and Slughorn predictably seemed to be basking in the moment. Albus and Lily blushed, while Rosie buried her face into her book.
The voice from the commentator booth continued to boom, “Annnnnd without further ado, heeeeere's our lovely hosts, the Holyhead Harpies!”
The crowd cheered loudly, and he continued, “Under the esteemed management of Gwenog Jones, the most winning captain of the franchise in her career, here comes their sensational seeker, Belinda Swattingsworth!”
The harpies fans chanted loudly, “Red! Red! Red! Red!”
Just then a green and gold streak zoomed by the top compartment, and a small, agile young woman came to a halt in mid air, pumping her fist to the rhythm of the chanting. She escalated her movements by doing some very short loops and spins in time with the chanting. It seemed miraculous that she was able to stay on her broom. She had long, bright, ruby colored hair that seemed quite windswept, and a bright red mouth guard. Harry remembered Ginny speaking highly of her, but he had never seen her in person. She was incredibly fast, and an absolute natural on a broom. The Wizarding Wireless did not do her flying performance justice.
Bagman continued, “Annnnd here come their choice chasers, Cho Wei, Tatyana Ivanova, annnnd Amanda Chase!”
In perfect synchronized flight were three of the Harpy chasers who circled their seeker with a trail of green smoke. Harry could see an olive skinned, black haired player who reminded him a bit of Cho Chang, a long blonde haired player, and another with a brown ponytail. He knew right away that the Cannons were going to have their work cut out for them. The Harpies were having a spectacular season so far, and though Harry secretly cheered the Cannons at least a little because of his and Ron's history of fandom, he knew that unless their seeker was going to get a lucky catch of the snitch, they were going to be crushed. The Harpy fans began wildly chanting, “Harpies! Harpies! Harpies!”
Bagman, riding the tide of enthusiasm, raised his voice still further, “Ha ha! And let's not forget their brilliant beaters Tamara Tyson annnnd Rose Remington!”
Two young black women came tearing across the pitch to the center, riding in a wider circle produced an incredible spiral green and golden smoke trail around the deep green one made by the chasers. They tossed their clubs to one another on opposite sides with precision, which was not only immensely entertaining to watch, but also had to be intimidating to the cannons, who certainly could not match their finesse or showmanship. Ginny bellowed a loud whoop while Hannah, Neville, and Slughorn applauded appreciatively. Horace was careful not to spill any of his pineapple, but he was clearly thrilled at the spectacle. He brushed his hands on his trousers to get the sugar off his fingers and he grabbed his omnioculars for a better view.
There was a drumroll, and Ludo said, as if on cue, “And here comes now their killer keeper and commendable captain, Bertha Ballinger!”
A very tall, stocky, curvy auburn haired woman flew with surprising speed quite low across the pitch, and seemed to shoot up through the center towards the rest of the team who scattered like billiard balls. She flexed and roared, and the crowd changed their chant to “Bertha! Bertha! Bertha!”
Thunderous applause erupted, and Harry saw Slughorn, red-faced and laughing hysterically with a complete mouthful of pineapple. He secretly hoped more than anything that he would not start choking.
Bagman continued, “It looks like the cannons are going to have their work cut out for them today! Can these underdogs pull off a win? Let's hold on to our seats and find out, as we.... Oh dear, this can't be good...”
Harry looked over at the commentator's booth again, and Ron's face fell. Their captain, the stocky ginger-haired Roderic Valentine was flustered, and terribly upset. He was astride his broom conversing directly with Bagman. Harry couldn't hear what he was saying, but he could tell even at this distance that something wasn't right. Ludo Bagman suddenly looked crestfallen, and what happy momentum Harry began to recover again began to plummet.
Ludo Bagman cleared his throat awkwardly, and said, “Ahem... Well... This can't be good, er. The Cannons' seeker seems to have er... Taken ill, and... Well...”
There was another long pause, and Bagman seemed to be getting increasingly upset. For an instant he grabbed a handful of his light blonde and grey hair. Harry was able to read his lips somewhat, and knew that he swore loudly, but seemed to compose himself quickly as though some marvelous back up plan had formulated in his mind. He hastily grabbed the microphone again, and said, “But! But! W… We can still have a game, witches and wizards. Yes! Oh, yes! We just need, er... A loyal Cannons fan who just might have the stuff to volunteer as acting seeker!”
For a few seconds there was this sudden silence that Harry thought was actually rather painful. It seemed a sort of emptiness with an unwholesome being. Ron nudged Harry, and snickered. Harry shook his head angrily, and mouthed, “No way!”
Ludo seemed to become increasingly desperate, “Anyone? Oh, come on now, there must be a strapping young lad or witch who's good on a broom! There's two hundred galleons in it for the er… Volunteer! Witch or wizard! Anyone? Anyone? Three hundred galleons!”
What started out as a wonderful afternoon suddenly turned dreadfully sour, and to Harry's absolute horror, and somehow he just knew it would come to this, Bagman said, “Harry! Harry Potter! Our triwizard champion, and former seeker for team Gryffindor! What say you, Potter? Still got it? There's a good lad, show us old-timers you've still got the stuff! How about it old boy?”
The entire arena suddenly erupted into screaming cheers and applause, and gradually formed a stomping chant, “Harry! Harry! Harry!”
Harry first looked at Ron who had begun laughing so hard he dropped his butterbeer bottle. He then looked at Slughorn who gave him a look of admiration and appreciation he felt he did not even begin to deserve, then to Ginny, who seemed to be trying to look upset, but hiding a smile. Rosie's jaw had dropped. Lily bellowed, “Do it, Daddy! Do it!” Albus was clapping, and nodding. Neville pumped his fist, and said, “You show 'em, Harry! You've still got it!” and started clapping. Harry stood up quickly, feeling a panic that he had not felt in ages. Hanna cupped her hands around her mouth, and shouted, “Go on, Harry! Show them how it's done!”
Ron was still laughing so hard he could hardly breathe. Hermione's face turned red, and she slapped his right shoulder. Ron, still laughing, though not as hard, massaged the area she hit, he took a deep breath and sighed, “You're in for it, mate. You've got to do it. Go on, we'll be cheering you!”
There was a numbness mixed with a sudden thrill of excitement that Harry couldn't clearly understand. He looked up at the commentator booth, and not really feeling as though he were in control of his own body, he gave a thumbs up. The crowd became absolutely mad with excitement. A house elf dressed in a silver sequined toga with gold trim, and bejeweled fingers suddenly apparated into the booth, bowed low, and grabbed Harry Potter by the wrist. They quickly vanished, and suddenly Ginny’s curious excitement gave way to much more serious concern. She and Hermione looked at one another nervously. Slughorn and Ronald seemed to be caught up in the frenzy, and were appearing to be having the time of their lives.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2: A Battle of Bludgers and Broomsticks
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Harry materialized into the guest locker room. He saw the real Cannons seeker on a stretcher in his undergarments in what, to Harry's abject horror appeared to be a sort of coma. The house elf presented Harry with a quidditch uniform, and said in a very high pitched voice, “Hurry up! Get these on swiftly! Swiftly!”
Red-faced and sweating, the Cannons captain, Roderic Valentine ran into the locker room, and shook his head, “I'm terribly sorry, Mister Potter. Thank you for this. You've just saved our team!”
The team manager, Ragmar Dorkins sat on a bench ashen faced with a vacant forward stare at the opposite wall. He bore the unmistakable signs of someone who has clearly had enough of his job, and simply could not cope anymore. He barely moved, or uttered a single syllable. It unnerved Harry how much it reminded him of someone who had been tortured.
Harry stammered. He didn't know what to think, or even what to say. He looked at their unconscious seeker, and pointed at him, “What the... HELL happened to Simon Gudgeon?”
Roderic squinted and pursed his lips, “I'm... Not completely sure. We think someone may have slipped him some draught of living death.”
This was too much. Harry's eyes widened, and he slowly combed his hair backward with both of his hands. The insistent house elf jabbed the orange quidditch robes into Harry's stomach, and yelled, “Swiftly, Potter!”
With a grunt, Harry took the robes, and stared at the unconscious Gudgeon and then to Mister Valentine. This was absolutely mad. The whole thing was ridiculous. Was this some sort of dark plot? Who else knew that he was coming to the game? He was having doubts about the whole affair. He became increasingly agitated, “Look, I don't know what's going on here, but I want some damned answers NOW. I came here with friends to watch you get your arses ground to powder by the Harpies, and now you're telling me to don a uniform and be your... SEEKER because something's put your real seeker into a bloody coma?”
Roderic frowned, and nodded solemnly, “I... I think that puts it rather well.”
Harry was furious, “Wh.. WHY!??? How did this happen!?”
Roderic sniffed deeply, and swallowed, “We think there's someone else who wants to marry his girlfriend. We have an idea of who it might be, but we're not completely sure. W... We think he spiked his pumpkin juice there.”
The house elf screamed, “NOW!”
Roderic pointed to a bottle on the floor, much of the contents of which had spilled. Harry shook his head in disgust, and began dressing in earnest. “Do not... DO NOT... Touch... ANYTHING! I will be back after the match. Don't let ANYONE touch anything. My friend in the VIP box, Horace Slughorn is an expert in potions, see what you can have him do. Bring what mediwizards you can find down here and work on Gudgeon, but stay away from that drink, and do not go near it. It’s… Evidence. ”
In what was probably record time, Harry got into quidditch robes, which were more than a bit too small for him, and he could tell straightaway that this was going to restrict his movement. Just as Harry tucked his wand into the wandguard in his robe, and snapped the lid shut, the house elf handed him a broom, and to his dismay, it looked a good deal smaller than he had remembered brooms being. This was going to be very uncomfortable, and he knew it. He ran towards the exit to the field, and Roderic followed closely behind him. As soon as they walked onto the pitch, Valentine mounted his broom, and gestured for Harry to do the same. He did, and the two kicked off together and began to circle the field.
Bagman continued with renewed vigor, “Good man! Good man, Potter! The Boy Who Lived, the bane of you know who and his dastardly Death Eaters, the former Gryffindor quidditch captain, winner of the triwizard championship, one of the greatest seekers Hogwarts has ever seen, hero of the Battle of Hogwarts and the head of the Auror office of the Ministry for Magic will be playing seeker for the Chudley cannons! Ladies and gentlemen, It doesn't get any better than this does it! Let's give him a warm Anglesey welcome!”
The entire stadium exploded in cheers, and Harry could see more people below positively pouring into the stadium due to what he well knew was this new bit of sports intrigue. The last thing he wanted was an even bigger audience to watch him make a complete fool of himself. Already Harry was getting to be terribly nervous, and he could feel his “few extra pounds” bruising his backside. The cushioning charm on his broomstick was woefully inadequate, and even his twenty three year old classic Firebolt had better handling than these quidditch brooms the Cannons were using. He wondered what on earth he had gotten himself into. He waved to the crowd, and as he neared the wonderful VIP box he so desperately wished he was sitting in, he saw clearly the concerned faces of Ginny and Hermione, while everyone else in there happily cheered him on. Ron, to Harry's dismay, seemed to think the whole thing was positively hilarious.
Bagman continued, “Also playing for the cannons are the Chudley chasers Anton Molovic, Peter Pentington, annnnnd Fillibert Philby!”
The crowd cheered and whistled. The pain in Harry's backside was beginning to vanish as adrenaline began to course through his veins. He began to feel light as a feather, and Harry hoped this would last. Ludo Bagman continued his commentary, “And with Harry is the team captain and superb beater Roderic Valentine and just now coming in is the other beater, Heldric Hoffman! Put your hands together for the Chudley Cannons beaters!”
There was a lot of whooping and whistling in the stands. Whatever happened in the match, the weather was at least good, and Harry hoped that it would all pass quickly enough. Harry saw the team keeper kick off, and pump his fist into the air. He was actually quite good, and Harry knew of him. He was very tall, stocky, muscular, and renowned for his bad temper. These are usually fine qualities to have for a keeper, and as far as the Cannons were concerned, was probably the only teammate that truly knew what he was supposed to be doing, but Harry also knew that the finesse and sheer speed of the Harpies was most certainly going to be decisive. All of the Harpies' chasers had a serious edge over him with their agility and light weight, and he suspected that even the Cannons keeper Hugo Voss knew it. Ludo continued, “And finally, the Giant of Geiselberg, the gifted grabber, the cantankerous keeper of the Cannons, the one, the only Hugo Voss!”
The Cannons fans, fewer in number by far, but passionate and vocal just the same, chanted “Hugo! Hugo! Hugo! Hugo!”
The referee, the renowned Bob Higgleston blew the whistle loudly, and everyone assembled to position, he eyed both teams, and said, “Right! I expect a nice, clean game, all of you. Any funny business and you'll have me to contend with! Keep it proper, keep it real, and give it your best! Get ready!”
Just about everyone, including Harry, nodded, but the Harpy seeker pretended to shake, and put both of her hands in her mouth as though she were terrified of all of the potential torture the referee was capable of. Even Harry had to stifle a laugh. The whistle blew, and the Quaffle was tossed into the air. Immediately there was pure mayhem on the pitch. Harry climbed as quickly as he could go into the air, searching frantically for snitch. Within seconds he saw a bludger out of the corner of his left eye, and barely ducked in time to avoid it. The movement almost caused him to fall forward off of his broom, but outwardly it appeared as though he took a deliberate, dipping dive. Harry could hear Ludo chime in, “Ooh, that was a close one. Looks like our old hero's got a good eye, still!”
Harry had to try and block out Ludo's commentary. It was already threatening to irritate him. For the next few minutes he watched for bludgers and tried to keep an eye on Belinda Swattingsworth in case he saw her dive. Not that this would matter too much, he could never hope to catch up to her if she did dive on the snitch, but this was professional quidditch, and competing seekers could get away with a good deal more “checking” than they could get away with in school. It was all coming back to him, his concentration was building, his eyes flashed all over the pitch. He could hear Bagman's rambling commentary, and only a few short moments into the game, the first goal was scored by the Harpies. Tatyana Ivanova pumped her first into the air and the crowd cheered. Voss cursed loudly. Bagman said, “Oh my, he didn't like that, and he isn't afraid to show all of Wales how he feels. Don't keep it bottled in old boy, show us what you really think! An excellent goal by Ivanova, by the way! First score of the match making it ten to naught in favor of the Holyhead Harpies!”
Voss shook his fist at Bagman, who seemed to become invigorated by what Harry was sure was going from irritation into outright loathing from Voss. Harry, who had every intention of watching this match as impartially as he could, was unable to keep from feeling some resentment himself. Just then Valentine swooped in front of Harry and stopped a bludger from hitting him directly in the face. Rodric had sent it hard right towards Belinda Swattingsworth, who narrowly avoided it. She then charged him, screaming. Valentine winced and dived out of the way. Harry resumed his search, and could not help but think to himself that Swattingsworth was really going overboard with the irreverent showboating. She did however have a way of putting on a show for everyone while doing her job as a seeker. He could see her head swiveling and bobbling this way and that, and it was only a moment later when the Harpies scored again. This time it was Amanda Chase who sunk the quaffle into the center hoop. Voss roared in indignation.
“Another goal for the Harpies, this one masterfully done by the lovely Amanda Chase! Bravo! Twenty to naught, with the Harpies hot!”
It had been ages since Harry played any quidditch. He did not know why he stopped, really. He used to hold such a passion for it. He certainly still loved watching it these days, or catching a game on the wireless, but after the Battle of Hogwarts, actual participation seemed so trivial somehow. He forgot how singular the position was, and appreciated just now how purposeful his actual job really was. He was actually doing something very important with his life and career, and the position of seeker seemed so insignificant all of a sudden. Bringing him back to focus at the task at hand was a pain in his backside that was increasing, and just now really beginning to hurt him, among other parts, and he was getting restless fast. He wanted to do something, and so he decided to dive in front of one of the Harpy chasers just to try and throw her off her game. He almost chose Ivanova, but changed his mind at the last second. He just knew that Wei was soon going to be open for a pass. Feigning concentration as though he had seen the snitch, he dived towards her as fast as the broom could take him. The wind blew in his hair, and his glasses were starting to flutter a bit. He managed to time it just right, he missed Wei by inches, and he could hear her swearing at him. Swattingsworth followed him as quickly as she could. She had no idea what his intentions were, but as Harry pulled up, and to the left, he crossed Wei's path again and kept her from getting the quaffle a second time. A moment later, Philby scored a goal, having made an excellent trick shot that threw Bertha Ballinger for a loop. The Cannons fans erupted into cheers.
Bagman laughed appreciatively, “Ho ho! Look at that! Old Potter's brought his game with him! Singlehandedly disrupted their chasers. Such guts! Scratch one for the Cannons!”
Harry felt uncomfortable at being singled out for this attention. It was after all Philby who actually scored the goal, and Bagman seemed to be giving Harry all of the credit. It was a team effort, and his annoyance with Bagman grew. Suddenly, Harry's jaw clenched. Agony, the likes of which he had not experienced in ages radiated from his backside up his front to his lower abdomen. That aggressive dive and pull out was not going to be something he did again this match if he could help it. Swattingsworth almost collided with him and shouted something as she flew past. Trying to catch his breath, Harry tried to keep his speed, and focused on looking again for the snitch. Another bell rang, and he knew the Harpies scored again. His mouth began to salivate uncontrollably.
“Another one for Ivanova! Looks like she's come back with a vengeance, Harry! That makes the score thirty to ten, Harpies are keeping the lead!”
Harry continued to circle the pitch in search of the the golden snitch. It was nowhere to be found. He simply could not believe how difficult it was to spot. Usually a clear day like this meant superb visibility, and a quick game. They were only ten minutes into the match, and already Harry felt like he was likely facing a trip to St. Mungo's. The next few minutes were a blur. Harry continued circling the pitch as quickly as he could while tuning out most of the outside noise. This became rather easy to do as the combination of mounting pain and need for concentration finding the snitch became increasingly important. He did not even have the heart to get feisty when Swattingsworth took a moment and dived in front of him and shook her broom tail at him. Another ding, and the Harpies scored again. Voss swore horribly again, even at the other end of the pitch, he could certainly hear him bellowing quite clearly. One thing he could say about Hugo was that his voice really did carry.
“Another goal for the Harpies, sunk in speedily by Cho Wei! Look at her go! And someone get a teething toy for Voss, he's being a spoil sport! Forty to ten, Harpies in control!”
Harry shook his head in disgust. He had been to many quidditch matches, and heard many more on the wireless, but he had never heard a commentator antagonize a player so much. He certainly had not heard Ludo Bagman commentate on the wireless, and it seemed to him that he must be doing all he could to get sacked. A second argument entered Harry's mind after that one which told him that as much as these antics annoyed him, there were bound to be others highly entertained by it, and rather than punishment, Bagman might find himself enjoying a meteoric rise in fame again.
Harry then saw what he was sure was a glint of gold, and he dived as quickly as he could towards it. All misery and pain momentarily forgotten, he swiftly streaked towards the ground for the low flying snitch. He really was going fast now, and the snitch was clearly visible he quickly looked behind him to see Swattingsworth pelting towards him as fast as her broom could take her. She too had clearly seen the snitch. With deliberation, harry swerved in her path and put the tail of his broomstick towards her. The impact of her torso hitting his broom jerked Harry forward and jarred his already sorely injured parts. If his tailbone could scream, it would have done so in utter protest loud enough for the entire arena to hear, and he could hear her roar behind him. Unfortunately though, Harry had also completely lost sight of the snitch. He eyed Belinda, who was checking her mouth and nose for blood. She too had clearly lost sight of the snitch.
Ludo Bagman was absolutely thrilled at the play. “Did you see that! Whoever thought Harry had it in him to do that! Ha ha! I bet you she'll work to put paid to him for that one!”
Bagman virtually cackled into the microphone. Harry could not help but think that all of this colorful commentary was well beyond the usual conduct even for someone like Bagman, whose standards were already so low that some of his antics and practices were probably questionable enough to earn him a short stint in Azkaban. A bell rang again, and to Harry's dismay Ivanova had scored again.
“Another goal for the Harpies put in by the incomparable Ivanova! Fifty to ten, Harpies holding a commanding lead!”
The arena burst into cheers again. As Harry rounded again he saw four chasers headed in his general direction. Cho Wei and Amanda Chase in hot pursuit of Peter Pentington, and trailing behind heading forward for all he was worth, Anton Molovic, with a look of frustration and mingled determination. Harry decided to try for an aggressive forward charge towards the group in a sort of game of chicken, feigning to look for the snitch. He had formed a hasty plan to try and disrupt the opposition's pursuit while hopefully leaving Anton in a good position to provide support for Pentington.
“Ooh, this is going to be good ladies and gentlemen! Oh my!”
Crunch. There was a flash of light, and what looked white sparks dancing in front of Harry's eyes. Harry felt something warm drip from his nose and streak across his cheeks. He had no idea what happened, but he knew he had collided with somebody, and the only player he could see in front of him was Hugo Voss who was wincing at Harry. That move did not seem at all to work out the way he had hoped it would. There was a sudden ding, however, and when Harry dazedly looked round behind him he saw Philby pumping his fist in the air amidst a triumphant roar.
“Another score by Philby! There's a good lad. Hard to get one past Bertha when she's on form, but er... Well, you can't do much when that happens, can you! What an exciting match this has turned out to be, eh?”
Harry focused his attention on the Harpy keeper for a moment and she was scowling with her left hand to her head. She, too seemed to be checking to see that she was not bleeding. The others must have lost control when they crossed paths near the center of the pitch. Just when harry realized that Belinda was nowhere to be seen, he felt a quick pat on his head, and heard a whooshing sound. He quickly flinched and ducked his head down and saw Swattingsworth twirl around in front of him waving a warning finger at him.
“That was quite a collision! It's a wonder they all stayed on their brooms. I don't know what Harry was trying to do with that, but the Cannons did score, so good on you, Harry. Score is fifty to twenty, Harpies still in clear command of the game.”
Harry was starting to feel some real panic. He was in a good deal of pain, and his entire head was throbbing and pulsing. He really wanted the match to be over. He sped on forward, keeping a wary eye on Swattingsworth, who kept her left hand up with her index finger in the air, prompting the crowd to chant, “Red! Red! Red!” Once they'd done this, she was pumping her fist in time to the chant. She had some real nerve, and showmanship. Harry half admired her spirit, but was not one who appreciated gratuitous grandstanding. The older he became it seemed, the less tolerant he became of it. He obsessively looked for the snitch. Mixed with the muddled commentary from the booth, and the screaming crowd was a slight ringing in Harry's ears. He realized that not only was he bleeding, and sweating quite a bit, but his neck began to feel really stiff. He also felt a bit of a draft in the area of his back, and rightly guessed that his robes must have ripped between the shoulders. There was no time to worry about that though. At the very least he now had a bit more freedom of movement, and the broomstick he was riding did feel a bit more responsive.
Circling the pitch again, he watched the chasers and beaters below in their chaotic dance, with Valentine faithfully maintaining a position as best he could between Harry and the rest of the group. Swattingsworth, seeming to take a page out of Harry's book of strategy, began screaming and charging towards the Cannons beaters, and working to distract their chasers. Harry secretly hoped that this could keep her distracted enough for him to catch the snitch.
There was another ding, and Voss bellowed a virulent tapestry of profanity. Much more of that, and the Cannons were likely going to be facing a hefty fine by the Department of Magical
Games and Sports . Perhaps though, Hugo was doing his own bit of showboating, Harry thought. He continued to circle the pitch, now actively working to avoid getting too close to the other competitors. He had enough of risking his life and health over something that he really had no serious stake in. He completely ignored the commentary, but still vigilantly scanned the area for any sign of the snitch. There was yet another ding, and this time Cho Wei was pumping her fist into the air.
“A score by the Wei! Hee hee hee. Masterfully done, Miss! You show them how it's done! Score now is seventy to twenty, Harpies in complete control of the match now! The cannons once again are being played like a fiddle. These lovely ladies are not just pretty, they're downright dangerous!”
Harry gave a mirthless chuckle, and once again saw a quick flash of gold. He dived as quickly as he could towards the snitch, which suddenly rose up high, and towards Harry! He couldn't believe his luck. Harry stuck out his hand to catch it, and once again endured a completely unexpected collision. This time he knew it was Swattingsworth. For a brief moment the two were entangled, but holding determinedly to their brooms. Harry's chin was on her shoulder, and being a good deal more massive that she was, propelled her sideways. They both grunted loudly, and Harry was gasping for breath. Swattingsworth managed to peel herself gracefully away while Harry kept flying straight forward, coughing and spluttering. A mix of anger and frustration was boiling inside him. He honestly thought he had the snitch, and was going to be able to end this agonizing madness.
“Dear me! That had to hurt! Such raw toughness those two have, eh? Let me tell you, I can say from personal experience that odds are good you'd rather take a bludger than... Ooh, Cho Wei scores again! That makes it eighty to twenty ladies and gentlemen!”
There was another ding, and Harry held his head down, still gasping. He glanced at Voss, who seemed consumed by rage. He had successfully blocked a few shots, but it wasn't enough. The Harpies were still scoring, and doing it quickly.
As he climbed again to get a better view of the pitch, Harry saw what he was sure was the glint of the snitch again, zigzagging forty feet above the pitch near the left edge. He glanced at Swattingsworth whom he could tell had not seen it yet. He tried to fly as casually as he could closer to it, pretending not to see it, but his attempted play at being calm and casual was not enough. Swattingsworth had spotted it too, so Harry dived for all he was worth towards it. At this point the game began to feel very personal to him. It was not just a game anymore, it was a life or death test of will again, and everything else of importance was thrown from his mind. As the two converged towards the snitch, the both of them just a few feet from it, a bludger caught Belinda directly to the face, bounced off, and hit Potter in the face as well. Again the two collided, with Harry shoving her sideways again. The both of them were screaming in pain and rage. The right lens of Harry's glasses was cracked, and he could both smell and taste blood. Flecks of it were spouting from Belinda's face as well. She peeled off again, but her manner of flying now seemed much more subdued.
“Ohhh, my! This certainly is not a game for seekers today is it? Those two are going to need a lot of butterbeer to put out those flames!”
There was another ding, and Harry looked towards Hugo again, but it wasn't the Harpies who scored, it was the Cannons this time.
“And there goes Molovic with an excellent sink to bring the score to Thirty for the Cannons! The Harpies maintain the lead with a very respectable eighty points!”
Hungry, thirsty, bloodied, and hurting in more places at one time than he had in ages, Harry was absolutely miserable. He was still flying very fast in a desperate search for the snitch, but his problems were mounting. Even with a durability charm on his glasses one of the lens managed to crack, and it was clear to him at this point that the charm placed on it to mend itself had worn off. Having suddenly lost much of his bravery and desire to take risks, Harry began to climb again, not even seeing the bludger that wound have hit him had he kept his previous course. The commentary droned on, and, feeling dizzy, and terribly dispirited, he heard another ding. He knew the Harpies scored again, and he didn't even have the heart to look at Hugo.
Bagman snickered mischievously into the microphone, and excitedly yelled, “Ivanova scores again ladies and gentlemen! That makes the score ninety to thirty, with the hot Harpies on top!”
Harry spat blood and sneered in Bagman's direction, still keeping an eye out for the snitch. He noticed that Swattingsworth had stopped showing off, and seemed just as interested as he was in putting an end to the match. As Harry turned near the Harpies’ hoop, he heard a loud crack, and instinctively ducked his head down again. A bludger just brushed against Harry's head, and he nearly collided with Valentine, who stared at Harry with concern, and very noticeable pity. He gave an apologetic shrug, and bolted forward towards a swirling mass of green and orange quidditch cloaks. Harry frantically resumed his search, panic mounting in him as he realized that his vision was starting to get a bit fuzzy. Between repeated blows to his head, and sweat burning his eyes, he knew he was getting into even more trouble. After just one more lap around the pitch, there was another ding, and Harry hung his head down and took another deep breath. Both Harry and Belinda seemed to be losing focus on one another and independently searching for the snitch.
“Another superb goal sunk by Amanda Chase! That makes a solid hundred points for the Harpies to the cannons thirty! This is turning into a rout for the Cannons again, and old Harry's looking like he's been through the mill!”
Harry gritted his teeth and climbed. He looked again towards the VIP stands, and into the faces of his friends and family. There was no laughter or cheering from the box now. They were all looking horror struck, and there was something about seeing Ron in a state of clear worry that Harry found oddly satisfying. This was the farthest thing from the relaxation he desperately needed, but he was really getting too angry to feel sorry for himself. He looked left, right, and center across the field, and could not believe that he wasn't seeing the golden snitch. Suddenly, a horrible, agonizing, piercing, shocking pain that coincided with an almighty slap to his left buttock sent Harry roaring, and looking left behind him. He heard Belinda cackle and shriek some insult at him towards his right, but looking behind him he saw it! He saw the snitch! He dived with all of the speed his broom could give him right towards it. He heard Swattingsworth's manic shrieks closing behind him, but he knew, he just knew there was no way she was going to be able to overtake him in time. He closed in on the snitch with his hand outstretched, and he caughtit just as Belinda drove the front of her broomstick between his shoulder blades. The pain was unimaginable, but Harry refused to let go of the snitch or his broom. He was slow in pulling up, so with stiff legs, he tore a double trail with his heels twenty feet across the pitch before coming to a stop, and tumbling forward, sliding on his backside ten more feet on the grass. Belinda had flipped herself over, and lay sprawled on the field with her broom tumbling further downfield, seeming to convulse in protest without a rider.
“Would you look at that! Would you look at that! He got it! He got it! Harry Potter caught the snitch! He caught the snitch! He beat Belinda to it and Potter caught the snitch! This is one for the history books ladies and gentlemen! Harry Potter has won the match for the Cannons! A hundred eighty points to a hundred! Cannons win! Way to go, Harry! Good lord, I don’t think any of us expected that!”
The stands erupted into explosive, deafening cheers, and Harry held the snitch up for all to see. Completely triumphant, he slowly and cautiously stood up, feeling an intense tearing sensation from his shoulder blades all the way down his lower back and right knee, while keeping the snitch in the air. He staggered slowly forward towards the entrance to the Cannons locker room with a grimace. His jaws felt as though they were locked shut. The rest of the Cannons landed around him, screaming praise and gave him hearty pats on the back, and were yelling inaudibly. Harry yelled hoarsely, unable to move his jaw for them to not touch him, but they could not hear him above the screaming crowd. Harry, still holding the snitch, tucked his elbows towards his ribs, and bent forward to try and protect himself as best he could. There was much painful tousling of his hair, and he quickened his pace and looked at Belinda as he walked past her. She was brushing grass off of her cloak, and was scowling at him, shaking her head with mingled disbelief and disgust.
As soon as Harry passed the entrance way into the locker room, Hannah Longbottom followed a group of three mediwizards who quickly surrounded him, and helped him to a seat. Harry transferred the snitch into his left hand, and tried to take a deep breath, and was wheezing badly. After hearing some wretching he looked to his left and saw Simon Gudgeon vomiting into a wooden pail with a short, balding sandy haired mediwizard patting his back. Harry saw a bright flash, and heard a clicking noise as someone hastily removed his glasses and summoned a stretcher. Harry felt as though he floated slowly forward into darkness, and the next thing he knew he was on his back on towel covered cushioned bench. He certainly did not feel well, but he did feel better. He tried to sit up, but an excruciating pain along his entire back and left buttock immediately put an end to that idea. Everything was a blur, and the next thing he knew, he felt his repaired glasses being put onto his face. He saw Hannah's smiling face looking down at him, and Neville beside her.
“How long was I out?” Harry said hoarsely.
“Two minutes.” Neville chuckled. “They'll have you sorted out in a bit. That was some superb playing, Harry! Really! I've never seen you do so well!”
Harry knew that Neville was only saying this to make him feel better, but he appreciated the compliment just the same. Just then he thought about Ginny and the children. What must they be thinking after having seen all of that? The pandemonium was continuing in the stands, and Harry could still hear it. The ringing in his ears was gone, and he could breathe a bit easier. His wheezing was gone, thankfully. Hannah unstoppered a small blue bottle, and placed it upright in Harry's hand while two young mediwizards in white robes muttered spells with their wands pointed near Harry's hips. “Drink up, Harry. Quickly. It should speed things up.”
Harry didn't even ask what it was, and he downed it in one gulp. It tasted a bit like sweet pine needles, and left a fizzing feeling in his mouth. Almost instantly he felt a warm, tingling sensation that ran from the top of his head, down his entire body, and to his toes and feet. A relaxation overtook him, and he actually felt like he could move again. He felt his back crackle and pop in several places, and his left foot jerked. He was still sore everywhere, but he knew now that he could move about again. The mediwizards stopped their incantations and nodded approvingly at Hannah, clearly impressed.
Harry gingerly sat upright and shook his head. He was still sweating profusely and panting. He smiled, and looked at the Longbottoms, and said, “Thanks, Hannah. That was... That was excellent.”
Just then Simon Gudgeon roared into the bucket with renewed vigor, and Neville winced. The two mediwizards that were tending to Harry quickly left in order to tend to Simon Gudgeon. Hannah also shot Simon a concerned look, and walked hastily over to him. Neville stared a moment at the sick seeker, but decided to sit down on a bench opposite Harry. He nodded in Hannah's direction. “She really knows her stuff. St. Mungo's would be in good hands with her. The potion was from Professor Slughorn, by the way. It's his own creation. He calls it a fixer up potion. I knew he wouldn't give you anything dangerous. Can you move?”
Harry nodded, but winced as he turned to put his feet onto the ground. He gave Neville a stern look, “I hope that hag broke every finger in her hand slapping me in the arse like that.”
Neville laughed, “You know we could hear that slap all the way up there. That actually made Ginny quite hot. She whipped out her wand in a towering temper, and I thought she was going to hex Belinda to pieces. Hermione and Hannah stopped her. She wanted to come down here, but Hannah talked her into staying with Lily and Albus and the others. They cleaned you up pretty good while you were out for a bit. They got all the blood off your face and out of your hair. You er... Well, you were in a right state when you first got back. Here's your wand, by the way.”
Harry thanked Neville as he took back his wand, and looked around for his clothes. He didn't really fancy sitting there in nothing but his knickers much longer. Hannah sprinted out of the locker room while the mediwizards continued to work on the Cannon's seeker. Every potion they gave him just would not stay down. Harry was glad that the rest of the team were leaving him alone. The crowd outside was starting to simmer down, but they were still creating quite a raucous stir. Harry took a satisfying series of deep breaths, and toweled his face. “We shouldn't keep them waiting, you reckon?”
Neville gave an open mouthed smile, and nodded slowly. He stood up and tossed Harry's slacks and shirt to him, which were neatly folded, most likely by the house elf attendant. Harry noticed that his clothes were actually cleaned by the way they smelled, and they were even a bit warm. He chuckled quietly to himself as he stiffly dressed, and Neville put Harry's shoes on the bench next to him. After putting on his clean, dry socks, and shoes, Harry felt like a new man. A beat up, terribly sore, half-broken new man with a left buttock that felt as though it could fall off at any moment.
Harry limped forward a few steps, and put his hands on his lower back and groaned. Hannah returned just in time for poor Simon to wretch and growl into the bucket once more. She was doing her best to hide a look of disgust as she maternally presented Simon with what looked like a torn purple half of a round piece of chewing gum. Harry couldn't hear exactly what she said, but he knew that she was insisting that he try and eat it. Simon forcibly chewed between wretches and swallowed the purple morsel, and closed his eyes as if he were in prayer. A brief moment later he sighed with relief. “Oh, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you! You're an angel! A beautiful angel!”
Hannah laughed, and smiled at him, “Well, I'm glad that worked! We've got to tell George about this, Neville!”
Neville joined in the laughter, and as soon as Harry caught on, he burst into hysterical laughter, too. It was the purple half of a puking pastille that saved the day for Simon Gudgeon. Half of the the mediwizards stared at the laughing trio completely nonplussed, and Harry bent over to try and stretch his aching legs some. He lifted his right knee, and left knee alternately to check them, and said, “Let's leave them to it, shall we?” After a few paces, Harry stopped to looked at Simon, “Oh, Simon. I want you to send me an owl as soon as you can to explain to me what all this was about.”
Harry gestured toward the area where Simon's pumpkin juice was, and he looked piercingly into Simon's eyes, “This is no laughing matter. That was a criminal act, and a serious offense. I am going to be investigating this personally when I get back to work, and it will be at the top of my heap. Understand?”
Simon nodded, and gave Harry a thumbs up as he quietly hiccuped. Harry smirked, “I hope you're back in full form soon. Good luck out there. Oh, and the cushioning charm on your broom is a bit... dodgy.”
Harry flashed a smile at Simon and showed him the snitch he was carrying in his left hand. Simon gave him a weak smile and a short nod before lying back down, and covering his face with his hands.
After leaving the locker room, Harry put the snitch into his pocket, and struggled a bit to keep pace with Neville and Hannah, but he was pleased to see them holding hands and talking happily with each other, and that he was all set to enjoy ten days of leisure and relaxation, finally. He couldn't wait to see Ginny and the rest of the family and start his vacation at long last. As they neared the golden lift, Hannah and Neville turned to look at Harry, and Neville gave a quick nod, “You alright, Harry?”
Harry grinned and nodded, “Absolutely not.” and chuckled silently, while his stomach growled very loudly.
Hannah squeezed the pearl, and the lift opened once again. The three stepped in, and as it ascended, Nevilled turned towards Harry again, “That really was a damned good game you played Harry. I'm going to keep that one safe for all time.”
Harry was reasonably sure what he meant by that, and it gave him the idea of putting a memory aside, too. He was quite touched by the remark. The doors opened, and as soon as Harry Emerged, Ginny ran towards him and hugged him tightly. It hurt, but Harry wasn't about to protest. He hugged her back, with his eyes closed, and smelled her lovely red hair. It seemed to him that he could have held her forever at that moment. Just then he felt Lily and Albus join in, and there was a big round of applause in the room. Harry looked around, and saw Slughorn with his empty purple bag tucked under his arm clapping, and smiling at him, and Ron and Hermione joining in. Ginny kissed him passionately on the mouth, and Harry lifted her up off of the ground. There was the sound of some whooping in the room. Rosie held her book to her chest and couldn't seem to look Harry in the eye, so she stared at the floor. Gwenog Jones stood in the corner with her arms crossed, but she was smiling admiringly at him. Harry couldn't help himself He reached into his pocket, and thrust the snitch into the air. Ron blew a loud whistle and pumped his right fist into the air. Slughorn burst into renewed laughter, and Gwenog applauded very slowly, wearing a rueful, but somewhat impressed grin.
The next morning Harry Woke up early, and stiffly walked into the kitchen still wearing his pajamas for some tea before sunrise. He put the water kettle on the stove and strode into his home office. He smiled as he grabbed a small phial from a cupboard. He pointed his wand at his head, and with great feeling produced a bright, shimmering memory that he gently eased into the phial, and stoppered it. He cast an unbreakable charm upon it and affixed a label to it that simply said, “May 1st, 2016 – Cannons”
Waving his wand at an ornate dark stained cherry armoire, it opened, and Harry gently placed the phial into the slot of a bronze multi-layered revolving round rack containing many other memories, and which was shelved above a smoothed marble pensive. He closed the armoire and magically locked it. He ambled out the office towards the kitchen, and met Ginny as he exited his office. He smiled at her, and Ginny blearily beamed back. As Harry was putting his wand into his pocket, Ginny suddenly motioned as if she were about to give Harry a tremendous swat to his backside, and Harry opened his mouth and squinted in indignant expectation of a heavy blow, and tightened every muscle in his body. Ginny laughed silently, but to the point of tears, as she buried her face in his chest. Harry relaxed, and laughed quietly while combing her hair with his hand. They kissed, and had some tea with the sunrise before the children woke. A grand feast was planned at the Potter’s house for later that day, and all was well.