At breakfast the morning of the Gryffindor v. Hufflepuff Quidditch match, the Gryffies' great return to the noble sport of warlocks, something extraordinary happened, the likes of which we never thought we'd see again: Micah Horowitz got his mojo back.
"How can you even say that?" the Micahnator demanded as we sat at the Gryffindor table, once again dressed in our scarlet Quidditch robes.
"It's my opinion!" said J.D. "Why must you always attack my principles?"
"This is the most ridiculous argument I've ever had the misfortune to be privy to," said Tegan, sitting beside me. She had begrudgingly forgiven me and the lads for any prior misogynistic comments we'd made (mostly J.D. and Micah) for the sake of productive Quidditch training sessions and general Gryffie cohesiveness, but I could tell she wasn't thrilled about it.
"You shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition," Micah said to Tegan, spreading a generous amount of marmalade on a piece of toast.
She made an obscene gesture with her middle and forefinger, which caused Micah to roll his eyes.
"I don't even remember what you two were arguing about," Freddie said to J.D.
"Arguing about this morning or last week?" asked J.D.
"What you were arguing about five minutes ago, until the unpleasant business of prepositions came up," I said.
J.D. shrugged. "Who can remember?"
"We're almost always arguing about something," said Micah.
"I believe it was whether wizardkind would be wiped out in a zombie apocalypse by traditional voodoo zombies or an army of inferi," said Tegan bitterly. "Not if we would all be killed by a zombie apocalypse, but how we'll be wiped out in the forthcoming zombie apocalypse that will, I repeat, one day kill us all."
"Inferi," said Rosie, sitting next to J.D. and helping herself to some breakfast. "Obviously. How are traditional zombies a threat to anyone with magical training?"
At which point, a short girl with yellow hair tiptoed over to Micah and said, "Good luck with the match today, Micah," in a soft voice.
But Micah didn't hear. "Have you no sense of history, Weasley?" he shouted at Rose. "Have you never seen a zombie film? They eat brains. Inferi just wander around looking mildly ominous."
"A Muggle film?" asked Rosie. "I've read about them - they're called talkies, yeah? - but no, I've not seen a Muggle zombie film. My parents are wizards."
Micah sputtered something that sounded like "Talkies?" before recovering and asserting, "My house. Over the holidays. I'm holding an intervention in the form of a horror movie marathon and I expect all of you to show up. There needs to be a serious education here."
"Hmm, no," Rose said abruptly.
The round-faced girl who'd wished Micah good luck coughed but lingered. He still did not notice her, and it was awkward.
"You are most egregious, Rose Weasley!" declared Micah. "Most egregious!"
"Well, your face is egregious," said Rosie.
"Stop arguing!" said J.D. "The two of you are supposed to fight with me, remember? That's how it's meant to be, separate and with me!"
"We have a Quidditch match in less than an hour," I said calmly, "so maybe this isn't the best time for any intra-Gryffie squabbles."
"Can I help that I feel jealous when I see Micah arguing with my girlfriend, or my girlfriend arguing with my Micah?" said J.D. "It's unsettling!"
"Seems fairly dysfunctional to me," said Fred, downing a shot of pumpkin juice.
"May I help you with something?" Tegan shouted at the girl hovering behind Micah, who appeared too frightened to move when all eyes fell on her.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," the girl said, her voice shaking. "I'm so impolite, pardon me."
"So what do you think?" asked Micah, unfazed. "Zombies or inferi?"
"Errrr," said Odd Rando Girl. "Both are quite formidable, I suppose."
"How diplomatic of you," J.D. murmured.
"Bah!" said Micah in a frustrated manner. "Away with you!"
But the Rando did not flee, as would have been wisest for anyone not wanting to provoke Micah's wrath.
"Who are you?" I asked, because somebody had to.
"Rachel Cohen," said the Rando. "I'm in your year."
"Really?" said Tegan, regarding her like an alien life form. "What house are you in?"
"Gryffindor," said Rachel Cohen, taken aback. "We've lived in the same dormitory for six years."
Tegan now looked embarrassed as well as befuddled. "We have?"
"Yes," said Rachel Cohen, uncomfortable. "With that girl called Marinda and her two friends."
"Ohhh, Miranda Matilda Melinda Shitforbrains," said Tegan. "I've had a fifth roommate for all this time?"
Rachel Cohen blinked. "Yes."
"Well, I've never seen you before," said Micah with an air of authority.
"We've taken all of the same classes for six years," said Rachel Cohen after a moment's hesitation.
"Yeah?" said Micah, sceptical.
"Yes," she said, not so much insulted as bewildered. "And we were in the same Hebrew school class for five years before that, I think."
"Errrr," said Micah, "I never paid much attention in Hebrew school. You're sure you don't have me confused with someone else?"
"I don't think so," she said. "There aren't that many Jewish Muggle-borns from Durham in our year. Plus you sort of look like you did when you were younger, except taller and stringier."
Micah thought for a moment. "Oh."
"So you're some girl," said J.D. smugly, "who's lived with Tegan for six years and gone to school with Micah for eleven, and both of them are so self-centred that they never noticed?"
"To be fair, we've been in the same house as her for six years and haven't noticed, which speaks volumes for our cognisance," said Freddie.
"It's quite all right," said Rachel Cohen. "I'm very quiet."
To break the silence that followed, I said, "Excellent. Pleasure to meet you, Rachel, but I'm afraid we must be off. Quidditch duty calls, yeah?"
"Oh, g'bye!" said Rachel the Rando, scuttling down the Gryffindor table. "Good luck with the match, Micah."
The six of us abandoned our plates and grabbed Mattie Thomas on our way out of the Great Hall, heading down to the Quidditch pitch slightly early but to avoid any more bizarre showdowns.
"Well, that was horrible," said J.D. as we galloped past the greenhouses. "Why'd you have to be so bloody cordial to her, J.S.?"
"So bloody cordial to whom?" asked Mattie Thomas.
"Rachel Cohen," I answered. "And it's because my parents taught me to treat everyone, even randos, with dignity and respect, J.Diz."
"What the hell was her problem?" said Micah. "She's like, 'We've been in all the same classes together since we were born,' and I'm all, 'I've never seen you circus freak before in my life,' and then she says, 'Because I have the stealth of a particularly cunning zombie, duh.' She's mental, Whatsherface is."
"Perhaps, but she fancies you," said Rosie sagaciously.
Micah stopped so short that he kicked up a cloud of dust where his heels dug into the path. "Come again?"
"That girl Rachel fancies you," said Rose, skipping down the hill.
J.D. and I each took one of Micah's arms and towed him behind us, so as not to dawdle.
"Whaaaa?" said Micah.
"Most definitely," said Tegan, marching along. "She likes you, Mike. Why, I haven't the faintest idea. You've ignored the girl for over half your life and you're showing no sign of ever getting a clue."
"At least I know everyone I live with!" said Micah. "You never even noticed Whatsherface until today, and you still don't know Miranda Matilda Melinda Shitforbrains's real name!"
"Stop fighting," I said, irritated. "Let's agree that we're all self-centred pricks."
"I'm not," Rosie insisted. "I've seen Rachel around before. Her best friend is a Slytherin called Kalliope Morningside, she's a prefect, and she plays the cor anglais in the Hogwarts Symphony Orchestra."
"How d'you know all that?" asked J.D.
"Because I'm terribly clever, love," Rose replied.
"Hold on," said Micah. "Rachel Cohen fancies me?"
"She does," said Rosie. "Girls don't wish good luck to boys they've known since Hebrew school, unsolicited, unless there's an ulterior motive."
"Agreed," said Tegan.
"Ulterior motive?" said Micah. "Quick, James: Was she well fit?"
"Pardon?" I said.
"Don't poof out on me now, Potter!" cried Micah. "Fred, J.D.?"
"I only like redheads," J.D. automatically answered.
"She's cute, maybe," said Freddie. "I dunno. We just saw her, Micah - don't you remember what she looks like?"
"I've never noticed her before, Alfred, so I'm probably gonna have some trouble noticing her now," snapped Micah.
"What's it matter what she looks like, hmm?" said Tegan. "Looks fade over the years, so isn't it her personality, or lack thereof, that matters?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Tegan," said Micah. "With youthfulness potions and cosmetic surgery, looks never have to fade."
"She's not my type - blonde, short, hovering," I said, "but she's pretty enough, I s'pose."
"Hmmmm," said Micah, deliberating.
As we passed Hagrid's hut (which was now in a dell halfway between the Whomping Willow and the Quidditch pitch) I heard a familiar, pubescent boy's voice call my name. "James, James! I have some news that I think you'll find of great interest!"
I turned around and saw Dobby Longbottom charging down the hill, his clothes dishevelled and his Psychological Healer glasses askew. He looked as if he'd been sprinting for quite some time, but as he wasn't the most athletic of young men, it was difficult to determine how much physical toil caused his fatigue.
"What's the crack, Dobmeister?" I inquired when he caught up with us.
"There's been a breakthrough with," Dobby paused to wheeze heartily, "Snorky Scamander. He remembers - oh Merlin, my aching lungs! - who he is and he wants to - ach, need oxygen! - commentate the Quidditch match. I've just left my office for the first time in seven days and I think it's going to be all right!"
"You fixed Snorky's brain?" I said as we approached the pitch. "He's back to his old ways?"
"I reckon so," said Dobby. "I've only just let him go but he appears to have no memory of his abduction or incarceration, so you lot probably won't be arrested for that."
"That's a relief!" said Micah.
"Dobby, you've spent the entirety of this past week in the cupboard under the stairs with Snorky?" asked Tegan, stopping in front of the girls' changing room. "What about lessons, or bathing, for that matter?"
"The commitment of a Psychological Healer is second only to his dedication," said Dobby Longbottom. "I'm going to run back to the castle and find some less fetid clothing, but best of luck with the match!" And with that, he spun around and wheezed his way towards the exit of the Quidditch pitch.
Tegan and Rosie ducked into their changing room while the lads and I entered ours.
"What a strange, strange morning this has been," Freddie remarked. "Let's hope it doesn't get any worse."
It did. Granted, the match began well enough with Gryffindor leading Hufflepuff 70 points to 10, but everything was about to go horribly, horribly wrong.
Later, we would recognise that it was all Snorky Scamander's fault.
"Oh, look at that, Rose Weasley of the Gryffies scores another goal," he droned from his perch high in the stands. "Can you spell 'nepotism'? I sure can! W-E-A-S-L-E-Y."
"Pick one or the other, you hypocritical piece of shit!" Rosie shouted as she flew by Snorky. "Am I on the team cos I kick ass or cos I'm related to two of 'em?"
"Bad form!" Snorky retaliated. "Did you hear that, Mr Bagman? Throw her out of the match!"
Snorky Scamander, looking haggard and manic, had asked Ludo Bagman (the Hogwarts Quidditch referee) to disqualify each of us Gryffies for bad behaviour at least once during the match thus far. Fortunately for Hufflepuff, he wasn't paying much attention to their side, but chances were that he didn't know their names anyway. Contrary to what Dobby Longbottom had assured us, Snorky did have some idea of what had transpired over the past week.
"Micah Horowitz in possession of the Quaffle," announced Snorky. "It's strange, because I have this recurring dream where Mr Horowitz and his comrade Fred Weasley kidnap me and hold me hostage in the Shrieking Shack and try to brainwash me in a terrifying attempt to achieve their insidious ends. But it must be nothing more than a nightmare, or else the Gryffindor Chaser and Beater could be convicted of abduction with malicious intent and could be locked away in Azkaban for sixty or seventy years, I reckon."
"Mr Scamander," Neville said sternly from the row behind Snorky, "your reinstatement as Quidditch commentator is valid only if you actually commentate on the match."
"Back off, Longbottom!" cried Snorky as he poked at Neville's eye patch with what appeared to be a very pointy stick. "I'm the most powerful sixteen-year-old wizard in Western Europe and you do not want me to call another strike!"
As one might imagine, it was very difficult to concentrate on the match when most of the real action was centred around Snorky Scamander, and what with my short attention span I did not play the greatest game of my life. Most of Hufflepuff's Chasers were distracted as well, a fact that Rosie took full advantage of, scoring again and again on the Hufflepuff Keeper.
"He's gone mental, he has," said Tegan as she flew beside me. "None of the teachers seem terribly concerned that Snorky just accused Fred 'n Micah of kidnapping him."
"Snorky is like the boy who cried basilisk," I said as I floated on my broomstick. "He's always going on about something ridiculous that when he's actually telling the truth, no one cares."
"And how," Tegan agreed. "Well, I should continue with my quest for the infamously elusive Golden Snitch before that Hufflepuff bugger gets it. Pip-pip!"
"Cheerio," I said as she flew off.
"And Rose Weasley of Gryffindor scores yet another goal, surprise surprise," Snorky said into his voice amplification device. "I strongly advise Mr Bagman that she be tested for performance-enhancing potions, because we wouldn't want the fair sport of Quidditch to be tainted by a doping scandal, would we?"
It was at this point that J.D. whacked a Bludger at Snorky, which unfortunately only narrowly missed his head.
"Foul!" Snorky raved. "Foul on Nott for the attempted murder of the commentator!"
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Neville whisper animatedly to Professor Viridian, but the headmaster just shrugged.
"I'll allow it," came Viridian's faint voice over the voice amplification system, as he was sitting right behind Snorky as well. "I can't afford another national economic depression on my hands."
"And Tegan Llewellyn, Seeker for Gryffindor, is circling the pitch," Snorky announced languidly. "Where should I start with Tegan Llewellyn? Well, I can't prove that she was involved with her friends' abduction of me, and maybe she is just an innocent bystander."
"Oh shit," said Freddie, who had flown beside me and had also given up on the match, for all intents and purposes, in favour of listening to Snorky's rambling. "This cannot end well."
"Tegan Llewellyn," continued Snorky, "is a wretched, depraved harpy of a woman who preyed upon my tender heart and ripped it from my thoractic cavity with her cruel, terrible talons."
I looked around for Tegan and spotted her hovering about halfway down the pitch, her mouth agape and her search for the Snitch momentarily forgotten. Almost all of the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff players appeared to have forgotten about the match, actually.
"We went on a date for Valentine's Day in Hogsmeade," said Snorky, "and she could not have been more disinterested. You hear that, Tegan? I know that you bought D. Francis Longbottom's If Itís Not You, Then Can It Really Be Me?: Uncovering The Truth About Your Misadventures In Love And Coming To Terms With The Fact That It Probably Is Your Fault at the bookshop while we were on our date!"
"Dobby's self-help book?" I whispered under my breath.
"And then you spent the rest of the day, or at least what I can remember, agonising over James Potter and that Pineapple broad," said Snorky, his voice echoing in the Quidditch stadium. "I declared my affection for you and you agreed to accompany me to Hogsmeade, and yet you cannot help your hopeless transparency, Tegan! You are completely in love with James Potter and everyone knows it, except possibly Potter, depending on how thick he really is."
There were a little over one thousand people in the area of the Quidditch pitch and at that moment, almost all of them began to stare at me. My gaze, however, was on Tegan, and she in turn was glaring daggers at Snorky.
"This is grossly unorthodox, Mr Scamander!" declared Neville.
"Down with censorship!" squawked Snorky, waving his very pointy stick around like a madman. "Oi Tegan, there's something I bet you didn't know about Potter and his mates' kidnapping of me. I think you'll find it pretty interesting, especially because you're so vocal about the fact that you hate your mum. Yeah, that's right: Your mum was the master architect of the plot against me. James sought out her help despite knowing about your estranged relationship with her. The participation of Pineapple Wig makes much more sense now, yeah?"
The world around me seemed to freeze - the players, the spectators, the Bludgers - and the only thing in which I could take comfort was the fact that circumstances could not possibly get any worse. Tegan had never looked so intensely ireful.
But in his attempt to constantly prove me wrong, Snorky added, "Oh yeah, Tegan? Your parents are also getting divorced."
A/N: I'm not quite satisfied with how this chapter turned out but I've made y'all wait for far too long already, so here ya go. Thanks so much for reading and for all your thoughtful reviews.