Disclaimer: I own nothing and make no profit.

Acknowledgments: Rpeh on the beta work.

Author's Note: This was supposed to be the 2021 Christmas Fic, but given that I finished Iron and Gold in June, it seemed like I may as well try to get it done in 2020. The remaining bits of this should hopefully be published around New Years.

Chasing Snowflakes


Harry Potter flew around the pitch on the borrowed Comet 260. It wasn't a great broom, he thought, but it wasn't bad, either. It was certainly leagues better than anything he'd been able to find while digging through the school brooms. And it was better than the more recent Shooting Stars or Cleansweeps he'd sampled.

He vaguely remembered Ron, he thought, voicing that opinion when he'd received his Nimbus. At the time he thought his friend was just talking, just saying something positive like boys did whenever Dudley opened a gift at a party. But now, he suspected Ron knew more about brooms than he'd given him credit for.

Which, he had to admit, was stupid of him for not assuming in the first place. Part of him wondered why he didn't just buy another Nimbus. It was a solid broom and he'd had no issues with it. Sure, Malfoy having a newer one was annoying, and there was no way he'd be able to avoid annoying taunts from him regardless. If he bought another 2000, Malfoy would just sneer and say it wasn't as good as his. And if he bought a 2001, Malfoy would brag that he had one first and the entire Slytherin team would probably have newer brooms come next year as well.

Still, he thought as he whirled the Comet around and into a dive. The wind gusted and he fought the broom to correct his course as snow flurries started to fall around him. He cursed slightly to himself, thinking his old Nimbus wouldn't have had as much of an issue in the wind. But, part of him knew that wasn't true. Even his Nimbus would have struggled diving into the headwind of an oncoming blizzard.

He banked around, a glinting flash of yellow catching his gaze as his right hand left the broomstick. He caught the charmed ball acting as a fake Snitch easily enough and tucked it into his pocket with the other three he'd grabbed so far. Oliver had charmed five of them at the start of their practice scrimmage and he was determined to get all of them, even though Wood was coming up with some rather inventive ways to charm them.

He peeled upward, shifting himself around Angelina Johnson as she chased after a Quaffle and regained his position above the opposing hoops. Part of him just wanted to annoy Cormac McLaggen because the volunteer keeper bothered him. But it was also a commonly used tactic to distract an opposing keeper.

Harry ran through the previous Snitch catches in his head. Two had been charmed to flee, then fly high and dive, and two had been charmed to chase around the pitch. If he knew anything about Oliver, the fifth one would be hiding somewhere. And, he thought as the lights form the stadium created a halo glare on his glasses, the falling snow mixed with the lighting wouldn't make a small yellow ball any easier to spot.

He mirrored McLaggen's movements on instinct, creating a shadow behind the opposing keeper as he scanned the pitch for anything that seemed out of place. Unfortunately for him, nothing stood out. He saw Alicia Spinnet and Angelina Johnson steal the Quaffle from an overeager second year, who's name he didn't remember but was always one of the first volunteers whenever Wood needed more bodies, and watched as they sped down the pitch.

Alicia tossed the Quaffle to Angelina and then, as McLaggen started to list toward the center and left hoop to counter Johnson's oncoming rush, tilted her head sharply to the right.

Harry dived down to his left. His sudden movement froze McLaggen. Sure, it only took him a moment to recover, but in that moment Angelina had relayed the Quaffle back to a wide open Alicia, who tossed it lazily through the open hoop.

Lee Jordan, another of the fill-in chasers caught up just in time to do absolutely nothing. He cursed and chased after the Quaffle to prepare to inbound it as Harry floated back up above the hoops. He drifted away from Lee as his housemate set up the inbound pass. While the Seeker was allowed to be wherever they wanted on the pitch, it was considered bad form to defend an inbound.

Still, in a house match with the cup on the line he might have tried. But there was no need to in a scrimmage where the volunteers were already getting trounced. Even then, though, he couldn't resist the frustrated look on Lee's face as he tried to heave the Quaffle down the pitch toward Dean Thomas. Which, was a slight problem for Lee seeing as Dean was playing Beater in that moment. But it was also far too easy for Harry to shoot out, nearly knocking McLaggen off of his broom as he did, and intercept the Quaffle long before it reached any of his opponents.

He saw Katie Bell, the third member of their chasing line, streaking toward him. She'd been the youngest player to make a Gryffindor team in nearly two decades, her August birthday making her just barely twelve when she'd tried out. A distinction she'd held for all of six days before he'd taken it from her.

It was her broom he forced upward as she charged at him. He timed his dropping of the Quaffle perfectly. It fell practically into her lap as he shot past him on the borrowed school Shooting Star. He rolled himself around and chased after her. She was alone on the breakaway and he knew she wouldn't look to him for help on the shot, but he provided as much of a defensive buffer as he could from the opposing Chasers.

She faked left, but McLaggen didn't bite, she moved back right and again he didn't bite. She eyed the left hoop and pulled her arm back for a shot as a crimson robed player flew over Harry's head. At the last minute she threw the Quaffle upwards and Angelina Johnson scooped it out of the air, her arm ready to throw as soon as the leather ball impacted on her hand. She hurled it to the right hoop.

McLaggen saved it, getting a bit of his leg pad on it and knocking it back. Unfortunately for him he knocked it almost perfectly in front of the hoops and Alicia grabbed it and scored, uncontested, on the left hoop.

Damn, was Harry's only real thought at the play. Katie had instinctively known where Angelina was and it wouldn't have surprised him if she'd thrown the shot expecting it to be deflected exactly to where Alicia would be. And they'd shot up the pitch so quickly their opposites had only managed to chase them.

Of course, he thought wryly, they'd probably only caught up to Katie because she was riding on a broom from nineteen sixty-seven. Still, she didn't look annoyed as she flew back on defense.

But that could just be because she liked playing defense. Of the three chasers on the team she was the most defensive minded. Which was a bit of an issue considering she was also the smallest of them, but she'd never let that stop her as she took up a position mid-center pitch and waited for the inbound.

Hell, that was the reason he was even on her broom now. She'd commented that she didn't need as much power to play defensively as the others did on a breakaway so in a simulated match she may as well have the biggest handicap. Harry wasn't sure he agreed with that, and by the look Wood gave her he was pretty sure the Captain didn't either.

Harry turned his attention back to the game then, drifting backwards slowly with Alicia and Angelina. He couldn't hear Wood yelling from the other end of the pitch but he figured he'd screwed around enough in the offensive zone and that he should at least look for the final ball in the defensive zone a bit so he wouldn't get a post-practice lecture about focusing too much on one area.

He'd lost track of the score, and he was pretty sure it didn't matter if Ginny Weasley caught her five fake Snitches before he did. But, well, he didn't want to hear the ribbing he'd get from Fred and George if he lost to their little sister. Although he was reasonably positive she only had two at the moment.

Well, three, he thought as she dived after one of her charmed green balls, catching it without too much issue as the snow picked up.

He flew down into the corner, as far away from Wood's sightline as he could. In the defensive zone he wanted to distract the keeper as little as possible. But he never liked looking up for a Snitch. And he liked it even less with the stadium lights and the falling snow. So he waited for an opening to move higher.

It took longer than he would have liked. Lee made a couple of nice moves forcing Oliver to make a few saves and they caught Katie out of position, and with little Beater Support, once or twice. Harry suspected Oliver had told the Weasley Twins to let up a bit on their housemates. Still, Oliver made all of the saves. He tossed the Quaffle to Angelina and all three Chasers moved up the pitch in formation.

Harry caught Oliver's eye as the chasers moved away and nodded up toward between two of the lights. Oliver nodded back without looking at him and Harry moved to the new position, surveying the pitch from above.

This time he ignored the players and instead focused on specific areas of the pitch, trying to see any flash of unusual color as he did. He waited until his team had the Quaffle to move, shifting between the stadium lights as he did, doing everything in his power to not create excess shadows for Oliver and he continued to look for anything that could be mistaken as a Snitch.

He had no luck. He moved almost entirely around the outside of the defensive zone, hoping with each movement that the new angle would create some type of opportunity. But it never did.

A streak of red hair flashed past him. Ginny, he'd noticed, had been spending a bit of time trying to help with the offense but now she streaked in the opposite direction of her chasers. Harry's eyes flashed after her and then on instinct he followed. After a moment or two he figured out her path and his eyes shot upward.

He had to squint against the lights but sure enough he saw one of the green balls contrasting with the seating in one of the spectator galleries. His first instinct was to pursue and to do everything in his power to knock her off track. But then he remembered that this was a scrimmage and there wasn't much of a point in him doing that when his fifth catch would end the game.

Harry followed her for a few moments, falling back as she sped toward the ball. He watched as she caught it and cursed under his breath as he knew they both now had four of five. A small cheer came up from her teammates as she soared above the pitch, eager to turn the momentum into a fifth catch. Harry flew upward to resume his perch and hope for the same.

They played on for fifteen uneventful minutes. Harry found himself growing more frustrated than he could remember being on a Quidditch pitch as he simply couldn't find the fifth yellow ball. And, despite knowing that cursing himself repeatedly under his breath wasn't doing anything, it was all he managed to do with any consistency.

He could feel Ginny's growing excitement every time he didn't get the fifth ball. She knew she was inching closer and closer to beating him. He grew too impatient to float and survey, but he knew getting involved in the plays would distract him from the catch. So instead he took to circling the pitch, zig-zagging across it at some points, and altogether just flying around.

Finally something changed. He saw a scarlet-robed figure shoot past below him and something glimmered in the hood of her uniform. He almost wrote it off as a hair accessory or a necklace billowing in the wind. But at this point, he was desperate so he followed.

It took him a moment to get into position above her to get a good look into the hood. And sure enough, there was a glinting yellow-gold ball floating along with her. Clever, he thought, it must have been floating there, following her perfectly so as the added weight didn't alert her to it. Wood must have had help charming that one.

"Katie!" he yelled after her. But she didn't hear him over the wind and the snow as she sped off in the other direction. He chased her. But while trying to catch up he flew nearly directly into Dean, and then Lee and then Ginny.

He cursed again and caught Ginny's giggle. She must have found his fifth long before he had. And now she was doing her best to keep him from Katie. He yelled whenever he got close but she never seemed to hear him.

In a real match he'd would have signaled Wood for a time out and then stayed close to Katie until play resumed and he could snatch it out of her hood. But that seemed a bit unsporting for a scrimmage so he kept up his chase. And Ginny kept up her defense, blocking him at every move. He tried to signal to the other Chasers, but his opposites were doing an incredible job isolating him from his team. It was surprisingly frustrating.

And then he saw a flash of Green on the opposite end of the pitch. His eyes darted toward it and he spun his broom around toward it. The ball darted toward the opposite end of the pitch. Ginny followed and then gasped as she saw the ball as well. And she reacted exactly as Harry hoped she would.

She abandoned her defense of him and darted off toward the other ball. Harry smirked and shot off toward Katie Bell.

"Katie!" He yelled again as he approached, but she sped off in the other direction, trying to get into a proper defensive position for the oncoming rush. Harry waved through the oncoming chasers and quickly realized he was helping with their rush. He backed off, letting them shoot past him as he watched the play develop. Katie shifted to her right, toward Oliver's weak side and did her best to force a weak shot.

But she drifted away from him as she moved defensively. And with each passing moment Ginny drew closer to ending their scrimmage. He cursed himself once more and then figured he had one last gambit to pull. He shot directly at Katie as fast as he could.

She noticed him too late to do anything about it. He flew into her with perhaps more force than was strictly necessary for a teammate. She shrieked loudly, drawing the attention of almost everyone on the pitch as he grabbed her off her broom. It wasn't as hard as he'd anticipated to use his momentum to pull her onto his broom. He could feel the school broom she'd been using fall down to the earth beneath them.

He felt her arms and legs wrap around him, clinging to him as her head pressed into his chest. Her hair tickled his nose as he leaned over her, a flowery scent with a hint of pine filling his nostrils. He reached around her, his hand finding her hood and then a moment later the yellow ball. He held it up as he spun around to see Ginny grab her final one as well.

Katie's limbs relaxed in time with Wood's shrill whistle ending the match and he turned his attention to the Chaser on his broom.

"What the hell was that?" she squealed, her dark eyes darting around the pitch. Some of the snow had started to stick into her dark hair.

"You weren't responding to my shouts and I didn't want to lose," Harry said with a smile as he started to lower her broom toward the pitch.

"Yell louder," she scoffed. He noticed she was still shaking a little on the broom. Nerves, he expected, being forcibly pulled off of a broom in midair couldn't have been a fun experience.

"Next time I will," he smiled. She glared at him, her eyes narrowing and a flush spreading through her olive-toned skin.

"There will so not be a next time," she said.

"Nice catches Harry," Wood said as he flew over toward his seeker. George Weasley followed him.

"Yeah all six of them," the Weasley twin added.

"Shut up, George," Katie said.

"I'd like to do a quick shootout before we're done," Wood said, speaking more to Katie than anyone else. She nodded.

"Okay," she said. She looked at Harry. "Can I have my broom back for that? I hate to fly that Shooting Star after what you just did to it."

"I'm not the one that fell off," Harry countered.

"I did not fall off," Katie shot back.

"Then why aren't you on it?" he asked. She responded by hitting him on the chest with both hands. He laughed and fell backward off of her broom, landing on the snowy grass. She shifted around on it and sped off back into the air.

"Hell of a move," George said as he landed next to Harry and offered him his hand.

"I get the feeling she doesn't like me very much right now," Harry said.

"Would you?" George laughed as Fred landed next to them. "I probably wouldn't ask to borrow her broom at the first practice after the holidays."

"I should buy a new one by then," Harry said. He picked up the Shooting Star form the snow nearby and examined it. More of the bristles were bent than he remembered but it seemed fine to fly.

"I hope you do. I think it's my turn next and letting other guys on my broom feels weird," Fred teased. "Like sharing your girl."

"What do you do with your broom?" George asked with a brow raised. Harry rolled his eyes.

"Let's go cheer on our Chasers," Harry said as he rose up toward the center of the pitch where the rest of the volunteers waited, watching the Chasers lineup for a shootout. All six of them, the three starters and the three volunteer Chasers, took runs at both McLaggen and Wood and, if Harry was honest both keepers acquitted themselves well.

Wood; however, did stop more shots than Cormac. Toward the end of it, as the reservists were taking their lasts runs against McLaggen, Wood flew over toward them.

"Good practice, Harry," he said.

"Thanks," Harry stifled a yawn as he watched Lee fail at juking McLaggen.

"Tired?" Wood asked.

"Yeah, happy it's a holiday break," Harry affirmed.

"I'm just hoping you have your own broom by the time it's over," Wood said.

"I should get on that," Harry sighed.

"Yes, you should," Wood said.

"I'll order something in the next few days," Harry said. Part of him knew he was stalling just hoping his broom would magically return, and that ordering a replacement meant it was gone for good. But he also knew he needed his own broom. And, his mind was mostly made up. Although the more he thought about it the more he questioned himself. He brought his hand up to his mouth and covered another yawn.

"You should go get some sleep," Wood said.

"I'll stay and help clean up," Harry said.

"Nah," Wood said. "That's what the reservists are for. Go get some sleep. Enjoy your holiday."

"Thanks," Harry said. He started to float away before Wood continued.

"Wait, you shouldn't go alone," he said.

"Please," Harry sighed. "All of Slytherin will be too focused on Christmas to bother hexing Harry Potter."

"Still not worth the risk," Wood said.

"I'll go with him," Katie volunteered. Harry peered at her, she looked about as he felt. Wood nodded but then paused again, as if thinking about it, his gaze looking between the two of them.

"We'll go too," Fred said, gesturing to George. Wood's gaze turned to them and he nodded. Harry flew down toward where the school kept the communal supplies and dropped the broom off before starting the walk out of the pitch. Katie, Fred and George landed near him as he walked away.

"What was that about?" Katie asked, stifling her own yawn.

"Oliver didn't think it was a great idea to have the two smallest members of the team out together," Fred said.

"He can be a bit paranoid," George added.

"I can take care of myself," Katie scoffed.

"I'm not that small," Harry said in a small voice.

"I'm sure," George said.

"And I can take care of myself too," Harry said.

"I'm sure," Fred added.

"But we're known trouble makers," George said. "So people will be less likely to try something stupid if we're around."

"For some reason I doubt that," Katie said.

"Are you saying we bring out the stupid in our fellow schoolmates?" Fred asked.

"Yes," Katie said.

"I'm hurt," Fred faked his best pout.

"You'll get over it," Katie said.

"You're quite catty tonight," Fred teased. "Upset that Harry took you for a ride in public?"

"Excuse me?" Katie blinked as they entered the castle.

"Flying on that old shooting star is enough to make anyone a little annoyed," Harry said.

"I bet there's something else she'd rather ride," George teased. Harry watched Katie turn a deep crimson and start walking faster. The twins kept up without any issue.

"You guys are gross," Katie said.

"I suppose we should give Katie a break," Fred said. George nodded.

"You're right. So Harry, how was the Comet?"

"It's a good broom," Harry responded instantly.

"You did look quite comfortable on it," George commented.

"What?" Harry asked.

"Particularly when Katie was all wrapped around you. Was that your favorite part?" Fred asked.

"Uh, she was warm," Harry said, confused. Katie glared at him and Fred and George laughed.

"Really? Warm? That's the best part?" Fred teased.

"I guess," Harry said, not sure what the twins wanted him to say.

"Well then, Katie, was Harry warm enough for you? Or is he not as warm as that Hufflepuff you've been quite close to? He's certainly not as robust," George said.

"Shut up, Ernie is nice," Katie said.

"Ernie Macmillan?" Harry asked.

"Yes," Katie admitted.

"You're with Ernie Macmillan?" Harry scoffed. He never remembered disliking the Hufflepuff before that moment. In fact, he remembered thinking he was a bit pompous but otherwise an alright bloke. Now he was convinced he was a magical Dudley Dursley. And he wasn't quite sure why.

"I guess," Katie shrugged. "We went to Hogsmeade once. He was nice."

"Nicer than a good Gryffindor boy?" George asked.

"Or girl," Fred added.

"So far, yes," Katie said. She crossed her arms as they walked through the castle halls, toward the Gryffindor common room.

"I think we've teased them enough," George said.

"Yeah, so back to Harry then. You better have that new broom by the time Wood comes back from the holidays or he's liable to murder you," Fred said. Harry only heard part of it, his mind filled with images of Ernie Macmillan with an arm around Katie Bell. George hit him on the shoulder after a few minutes.

"What?" Harry asked.

"Broom. Which one are you going to get?" Fred asked.

"Oh I dunno," Harry said. He paused for a bit and then something in the back of his mind told him which one he should say. "Probably the Comet."

"Liked the 260 the best?" Fred asked.

"It's a good broom," Harry said. He saw Katie's lips curve into a small smirk.

"Yes it is," George agreed.

"You should write to Comet," Fred said.

"Wood said ordering it direct would be easier than writing to Quality Quidditch Supplies," Harry agreed.

"Not what I meant," Fred said.

"A nice letter to them about Harry's interest in using their brooms would likely result in, you know, brooms showing up," George teased.

"And hell, the two-ninety is out this summer. Probably get a prototype of that. Maybe seven if you're lucky." Fred added.

"And if their early rumors about the three-ten are true, maybe a couple of those next year," George said.

"Gross," Harry said.

"Oh? Better equipment for your teammates is gross now?" George asked.

"I'm not going to do something like that," Harry said.

"Why not?" Katie asked. Harry paused. He hadn't thought she was paying much attention to the conversation. He'd expected a rebuttal from one of the twins, not from Katie.

"I'm not Malfoy," Harry said. "I don't like having people dote on me. And I don't want to owe anyone anything."

"Told you," George said. Katie sulked as Fred laughed. Harry frowned as he peered at his teammates.

"What?" he asked.

"Oh it's nothing," George said. "And now that you're escorted safely back to the common room we're going to the kitchens."

"Bring me some fruit," Katie said. "Pears would be great."

"Got it. Harry?" Fred asked.

"I'm fine," Harry said, his gaze fixed on Katie as she gave the Fat Lady the password.

"Suit yourself," Fred said as the twins started their way back down toward the Great Hall. Harry stepped into the common room with Katie. There was quite a bit of activity as it was the final night before most of them would head home for the holidays. Harry saw Ron and Hermione in the corner. They were playing chess, although Hermione seemed more interested in a textbook than the game. He turned to walk over toward them but he saw Ron was close to winning and he wasn't in the mood to play a game at that point.

So instead he paused and looked for something else to distract himself until Ron convinced Hermione to play another game. He turned and saw Katie was still standing next to him. Her large dark eyes were focused on him and a thought welled to his lips.

"You don't like me, do you?" he asked.

"What?" she asked.

"I never really thought about it. But you don't talk to me as much during practice as say, Alicia or Angelina and you didn't volunteer your broom, Wood made you do it," Harry said.

"I don't like sharing," Katie said.

"What did I do to make you not like me?" Harry asked.

"Nothing," Katie said, stiffly. Her eyes flashed around the common room as well. Harry suspected she was looking for a way out of the conversation.

"So why don't you like me then?" Harry asked.

"It's dumb," Katie said.

"Tell me anyway?" Harry asked.

"I was the youngest person to make the Gryffindor Quidditch team in twenty years," Katie said.

"Oh," Harry said.

"And then you didn't even have a tryout," She frowned. "I went from having the best Seeker tryout since Charlie Weasley to the number three Chaser without having any say in the matter."

"And you don't think I earned it," Harry said as it all fell into place in his head. He paused for a moment as Katie looked at him. Her dark eyes focused on hers, her lips were set.

"You didn't," she said. His hand clenched into a fist on instinct. His jaw set hard and he fought down the urge to argue with her.

"I see," he said, feeling the tension rise into his shoulders. He turned to walk toward Ron and Hermione before she spoke from behind him.

"Harry, wait," she said. He turned back to her.

"What?" he asked. She flinched away from him and he immediately felt like an idiot but after a moment she continued.

"You've more than proven yourself since then. I'm sorry if I'm not little miss bubbly or anything. I told you I was being dumb," she said.

"It's alright. Uhm. Thanks for telling me," Harry said, unsure of what else to say.

"Anyway," she said. Harry noticed she was blushing. His own face felt rather hot.

"Bell, Potter!" one of the sixth year Prefects yelled. They both turned to face the voice. Harry could feel his blush growing deeper.

"What Lynch?" Katie snapped.

"You've been under the mistletoe for like five minutes. Either cast or put away the wand!" Lynch snapped back.

"What?" Harry blinked. But Katie rolled her eyes and leaned over toward him. She pressed her lips to his cheek in as chaste of a kiss as possible. Harry swallowed at the contact, feeling his cheek warm at her touch. There was a smattering of light cheering as she turned around to face Lynch.

"Happy?" Katie retorted.

"Three out of ten, Bell," Lynch laughed. Katie rolled her eyes and turned back to Harry. To his surprise she hugged him, briefly and loosely, but a hug none the less. He wouldn't have thought it out of place for Alicia or Angelina, but as he thought about it, Katie had never shown anything resembling affection to him before. One arm wrapped around her on instinct.

"Have a good holiday, Harry," she said. She slipped out of his grip.

"You too, Katie," Harry said. She gave him a half smile over her shoulder. A smile that he had the strangest urge to stare at, and then try to commit to memory. And one that he wondered if Ernie Macmillan ever saw. But then she was gone, fluttering over to join a few other fourth years in the corner for what appeared to be a game of Exploding Snap.

Harry debated joining her, but he saw Ron and Hermione looking at him, undoubtedly from the commotion caused by Lynch, and instead he walked over to his friends. He relaxed into one of the comfortable chairs in the corner as he watched Ron finish the chess game against Hermione.

"How was practice?" Hermione asked, without looking up from her book. He wondered if that bothered Ron, that she barely looked away from the book as they played. But given that he was winning Harry doubted he cared.

"Pretty good, really. We're playing well," Harry said. "How was the common room?"

"Fine," Hermione said. Harry noticed she turned a shade of pale pink as she said it.

"We only got a two," Ron said. Harry blinked and looked between Ron and Hermione. They were both rather crimson. It took Harry a moment to realize just what Ron was talking about.

"Well Katie did all the work," he said. Ron opened his mouth to comment but he was interrupted.

"Don't you dare blame me, Ronald," Hermione snapped.

"I kind of wish I hadn't missed this," Harry smirked as he peered between them. "What happened?"

"What happened with you, just with more hesitation," Hermione said.

"Lynch been doing it all night?" Harry asked as Fred and George Weasley entered the common room with what appeared to be a couple of cases of Butterbeer, other assorted foods, and two chasers.

"Yes," Hermione said. "It's not really nice."

"It's harmless fun," Ron blushed. Moments later a cheer went up from the rest of the common room as George and Alicia earned a seven. And then a louder one when Fred and Angelina earned a nine.

"If you say so," Hermione snapped. Harry couldn't help but smile as he slipped away and grabbed a butterbeer for each of them. He gave one to Hermione then put one down next to Ron before tossing himself onto the couch with Hermione.

"So," He said as Ron reset the chess pieces. "Two out of ten?"

"Oh shut up," Hermione blushed more. Harry smirked at her and then told his knight to come out as the chess game began.

They spent the rest of the night playing various games and chatting about the upcoming holiday.

It passed in a blur for Harry. He'd been shocked to find the Firebolt Racing Broom at the end of his bed on Christmas morning. A sense of elation filling him. The broom he'd coveted since he'd first seen it in Diagon Alley months before was his! But it quickly faded into despair as the broom was taken from him.

Part of him knew it was the correct decision. That the broom could have been dangerous, might have been hexed. Logically, he knew that was all correct. But it didn't matter. They'd just taken it, with no thought of him, without even talking to him. And somehow, that made Hogwarts feel oddly like Privet Drive.

Before he knew it the holiday was over and he'd couldn't recall exchanging two words with Hermione since Christmas. Part of him vaguely recalled her talking to him. But for the life of him he could not recall responding. Ron tried to help, but nothing he'd said had.

He woke early on the final morning of the holiday break, largely because he'd gone to bed early because he couldn't think of anything better to do. He went down to breakfast alone and wasn't surprised to find the Great Hall nearly empty. Two Ravenclaws sat at their house table, and Professor Vector sat at the staff table. Harry walked halfway down the Gryffindor table and tossed himself onto the bench.

He piled some sausage, eggs, and toast onto a plate. Far more than he thought he was going to be able to eat, but it smelled good so he poked at it with a fork, occasionally putting some of it into his mouth.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there, poking at his food. At some point, a few other students entered the hall. Judging from the gentle chill that emanated from them as they walked past he assumed they'd been outside. One of them sat next to him at the Gryffindor table, a familiar pine scent lingering in the brief chill.

"You look grouchy," Katie Bell said. She picked up a piece of toast from the table and started to nibble on it. Harry blinked at her. People always said she was friendly and kind, but they'd talked so little he'd never seen it.

"Eh," he said.

"Dementor got your tongue? You have that bad of holiday?" Katie asked.

"I guess, you?" he asked. She raised her thin brows at him but shrugged her shoulders.

"No, mine was good. Exhausting though. Looking forward to being back so I can relax," Katie said.

"School is relaxing?" Harry asked.

"My parents don't think a little thing like Winter Break should get you out of chores," Katie said. "If anything I'm convinced they try to jam four or five days' worth into one."

"Oh," Harry said. "I sort of know the feeling."

"You do?" Katie asked.

"My relatives try to fit a year's worth of chores into the summer when I'm home," Harry said.

"What kind of chores?" Katie asked.

"Cooking, cleaning, general stuff mostly," Harry said. "You?"

"Whatever needs to be done that day," Katie shrugged. "It varies. There's some routine to it in the summer. But it's always hard to get into the swing of things when back for the winter."

"Oh," Harry said. Part of him was screaming to ask what that entailed. But a more sullen part of him was more interested in destroying scrambled eggs with his fork, and that part of him won out.

"So why are you so grumpy, no new broom?" Katie asked.

"No, I got a Firebolt," Harry said, more anger shifting into his voice than he expected.

"What?! Really?" Katie said, a genuine excitement worked into her voice. It was so infectious that it made him smile.

"Really," he said.

"Want to swap brooms for our next practice?" she asked with a very bright smile.

"I'd love to but I'm not sure you'd want to," Harry sighed.

"For a Firebolt? Are you nuts?" Katie asked.

"I don't have it anymore. Hermione told McGonagall about it and they confiscated it," Harry said.

"What? Why?" Katie frowned as she spoke, a look of genuine concern flashing over her face.

"They think it's from Sirius Black and hexed to try to kill me," Harry said.

"Ah," Katie said. "I overheard the twins talking how he might be after you. I'm sorry,"

"Not much I can do about it. They're stripping down the broom to check for enchantments," Harry said.

"Why?" Katie asked. Harry turned to stare at her, his brows furrowed, wondering if she had heard him at all.

"So it doesn't try to kill me?" Harry said, confusion evident in his tone.

"Well sure, but why not just write to Firebolt and have them come inspect it? They have to know more about brooms than the teachers," Katie said. "And they have to be more familiar with what's supposed to be on it. Should making finding imperfections easier."

"I never thought of that," Harry said. "Maybe I should write to them."

"Maybe," Katie said. "Anyway, is that what has you down here pouting at seven in the morning on a Sunday? Normally no one is even awake when I get back from the Holiday."

"Why are you back so early?" Harry asked.

"My family are big believers in getting an early start," Katie said. "But you're avoiding the question."

"I guess. No. I don't know. It's…" he let his voice trail off.

"They didn't talk to you about it did they?" she asked. She speared a couple of sausages from the platter and cut them into dainty pieces, eating them one at a time while Harry found himself rather surprised. That was bothering him, perhaps more than anything else. But his mind still wasn't sure just why he felt so dour.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"I guessed," she said. "That would annoy me the most in your shoes. And you said Hermione did it and she tends to think she's always right."

"She often is," Harry said.

"That still does not mean she gets to act without impunity," Katie said. "But…"

"What?" Harry asked.

"I don't know," Katie sighed. "You're close friends with her. And you look just awful. Maybe you should talk to her? Unless you think she was doing it out of spite."

"No. I think she was legitimately concerned," Harry said. Saying it aloud made it feel true. And it made him feel worse about himself. But there was still an empty feeling inside of him when he thought about it. It still sat wrong with him. He still felt betrayed.

"Well. I guess if one of my friends did something similar I'd be annoyed but I don't think I'd let it end the friendship if I thought they had my best interest in mind," Katie suggested. She picked up a pear from the table and bit into it as she finished speaking.

"So you think I should apologize?" Harry asked.

"I don't know," Katie said. "Only if you think you did something wrong. But if you're sitting around waiting for one and not talking about it with her, well, I think you'll be waiting for a while."

"I'm not waiting for anything," Harry said as he went back to stabbing his eggs.

"If you insist," Katie said. She rose from the bench. "I'm going to go relax in the common room and make sure I finished all of my winter assignments. Enjoy the rest of your day."

"Uh, you too," Harry said and watched her go. His eyes lingered on the gentle sway of her hips without really realizing he was doing so. Her words echoed through his mind, after a few more stabs at his food before he peered up at the ceiling. Judging from the morning light he figured Hermione was awake and they should probably have a talk.