Hello, again. I know you were all probably thinking I gave up on this story due to how long it took for me to get this chapter done. I assure you that I have not. I ran into a very severe bought of writers block and found a new level of respect for J. K. Rowling. I also agree with her about having difficulty writing quidditch matches. That was where I had my problems.

Thanks again for the reviews, I appreciate them greatly.

Once again, I don't own anything but the plot and new characters and am making no money from this.


Chapter 18 – Lions, Snakes, and Snitches, Oh My!

Harry left breakfast with mixed emotions. He was happy that Sirius' innocence might finally come to light, but was saddened by the loss of life in last night's attack. He was also feeling a little angry at the fact that all of Voldemort's supporters were now out of their confinement and back working for the snake. These overwhelming feelings caused him to once again thank Merlin for his lessons over the summer. If it hadn't been for his new found mental abilities, he would have been absolutely failing most, if not all, of his classes. His ability to organize his mind had advanced to the point where he could set aside his emotions for a time to concentrate on his class work, for which Professor McGonagall was quite grateful. She was extremely pleased with his new found abilities allowing him to excel in her Transfiguration classes.

Soon enough, it was time for lunch, which brought with it another surprise. As the students were packing up their things from Transfiguration, Professor McGonagall called out to Harry, "Mr. Potter, could you stay for a moment?"

Harry waited for the room to empty before heading up to the professor's desk. "What can I do for you, Professor?"

"Mr. Potter, the headmaster would like you to join him in his office for lunch." At Harry's confused look, she continued, "The minister is here and has some things she would like to discuss with you. The headmaster thought this would be the best way to have that meeting without drawing too much attention." She smiled at the continuing perplexed look on Harry's face, "He thinks the last thing you need right now is more rumors flying around about you, much less the fact you are meeting with the minister. I think it's safe to assume that there are some people who would be rather unforgiving on that subject."

Harry nodded in agreement, "I assume they're waiting for me now?"

"Yes, the password is Ice Mice."

Harry quickly made his way to the headmaster's office, making every effort to not be seen. Since he was expected, he decided not to bother knocking once he reached the office. He entered the now very familiar room and went directly to the only empty chair. "You asked to see me, sir?" he asked as he took his seat.

"Yes, Mr. Potter. Thank you for coming. I assume Professor McGonagall informed you of the reason for this meeting." Upon seeing Harry nod he motioned toward the minister and continued, "Minister Bones has some information she would like to share with you."

Harry looked toward the minister as she began, "Hello, Mr. Potter. I could have sent an owl with this information but felt it would be better received if I delivered it personally. You are aware of the events of last night, are you not?" She paused long enough to see him nod, "I must say, it was quite a surprise to bring a supposedly dead wizard into custody. However, that was nothing compared to the information we received during his interrogation." She paused once more, this time to gauge his reaction which was eerily stony. "Mr. Potter, I am afraid that we at the Ministry owe you an apology. It seems that two years ago you were proclaiming the innocence of Sirius Black for the crimes he was imprisoned for and that the Ministry at that time did not believe you. Due to the information provided by Mr. Pettigrew, I must say that you were quite correct and am pleased to tell you that an announcement proclaiming Mr. Black's innocence will be printed in the Prophet's next edition."

"I am also pleased to inform you that Mr. Pettigrew has verified your story from the end of your fourth year in regards to the happenings during the Tri Wizard Tournament. That information will also be reported in the next edition of the Prophet."

She paused for a while this time, being unsure how to continue gently. "Mr. Potter, I believe now I must offer my condolences. It has also been brought to my attention that Mr. Black was a casualty during the break in at the Ministry in June. I am aware that he was your godfather and have been told you had become close to him, I am deeply sorry for your loss. I realize that money will not bring him back, but the fact remains that seeing as he is now considered a free man his vaults at Gringots are now available to be passed on to you as his heir."

Harry sat in stunned silence for a moment. He had been expecting something like this since he had read the article that morning, but the fact that the minister had come to tell him in person was a little overwhelming. Once he gathered his thoughts, he replied, "Thank you for coming to tell me this in person. As difficult as it is for me to be reminded of his death, I really appreciate the fact that the truth will be coming out."

The minister smiled, "It's the least I could do, Mr. Potter. I realize that you have been treated quite unfairly by the Ministry for the last couple of years due to the actions of my predecessor and feel that this is just the beginning of my attempts to make up for it."

Harry cut her off before she could continue, "Minister Bones, I appreciate the effort but you don't owe me anything. I don't hold the actions of the Ministry over the last couple of years against you. That was between me and Mr. Fudge and I believe that we have taken care of that issue quite effectively." They all smiled at the memory of Fudge losing the duel to Harry over the summer.

"Nevertheless," the minister continued, "Mr. Potter, I still feel that the Ministry owes you an apology for the way you have been treated and would like to offer whatever help I can give if you ever need it."

Harry was about to refuse the favored treatment when a thought hit him, "Minister, if I were to give you a note authorizing you to make a purchase for me, would you be able to do something for me quickly?"

"That depends on the request, Mr. Potter."

Harry quickly conjured a parchment and quill and began to write a note, catching both the minister and headmaster off guard. It wasn't that he was making a request that caught them off guard or even that he conjured the parchment and quill. It was the fact that he conjured them without an incantation or even bothering with much of a wand movement. The two adults shared a look of amazement before schooling their features as Harry finished his note and handed it to the minister.

Would you be able to make that purchase for me and have it sent to Professor McGonagall's office by lunch tomorrow?"

Minister Bones read the offered parchment, her eyes widening as she read. "Mr. Potter, you do realize that this will cost quite a bit of money?"

Harry shook off the comment, "I'm not worried about the cost, I just want to know if you can do it?"

She reread the parchment, "By tomorrow at lunch?" Seeing him nod she finished, "Yes, Mr. Potter, I believe that I can accomplish that. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Harry thought for a moment then shook his head, "Minister, the only other request I have of you is to keep doing whatever you can to stop Voldemort and his followers. You've been doing good things at the Ministry and I just want you to keep up the good work."

The Minister smiled before standing up, "Very well. I suppose I must be going if I am going to get this transaction completed in time for your deadline. It was a pleasure speaking with you Mr. Potter, and you as well Professor Dumbledore. Good day, gentlemen."

Harry smiled and nodded, "Good day and thank you again Minister Bones."

The headmaster finally spoke again, "Yes, Minister, it was good speaking to you. Have a wonderful day." Once the minister had left, the headmaster turned a questioning eye to Harry, "That was a very interesting request you made, Mr. Potter. You do realize that your actions could be received as somewhat stuck-up, do you not?"

Harry shook off that notion quickly, "Don't worry Professor, I will be making more purchases like that in the future but this one had to be done before this weekend. I am willing to do the same thing three more times, so long as the other students abide by a few rules beforehand." At the headmaster's questioning look he continued, "Inter-house unity has to start somewhere Professor." They shared a smile before Harry took his leave.

Harry made use of every shortcut he knew trying to get to the Great Hall quickly. He needed to talk to Ron about his plans right away. He slowed and calmed himself as he reached the hall so he wouldn't bring any extra attention to himself upon entering. He headed straight over to his friends at the Gryffindor table and seated himself next to Ron.

"Ron," Harry started, "You need to book the pitch for lunch tomorrow and tell the team to meet in McGonagall's office at the start of lunch." Noticing the strange looks he was getting from his housemates, he added, "I'll explain tomorrow, just do it."

Ron made to question but that thought died as he took in the determined look on Harry's face and knew that asking questions was pointless. "Alright, I'll do it now."

As Ron ran his errand, the rest of Harry's friends looked on with a mix of amusement and curiosity, wondering just what could be so important that Harry would insist on Ron doing something in the middle of his meal. They continued to look at the extremely pleased look on Harry's face as he watched Ron complete his task and found themselves even more curious as they saw the pleased look on the headmaster's face as he entered the hall and headed to his spot at the head table.

No questions were asked for the rest of the day, even though the suspense was extremely uncomfortable. At breakfast the next morning, at least some of Harry's good mood was explained with the arrival of the Daily Profit.

Sirius Black, Innocent of All Charges

That was the headline on top of the front page. The article went on to explain the true events of the night Harry's parents were killed and the following day. That wasn't the only information in the Prophet either. It seemed that Pettigrew actually knew a lot about the organization of Voldemort's forces and the identities of many of his supporters who had not yet been named and captured. That combined with the renewed twinging in his scar gave Harry the impression that Voldemort was once again quite displeased with events.

Looking around the hall, Harry couldn't help but notice the varying range of emotions on the faces of the various inhabitants of the castle. They ranged from astonished and pleased to absolutely livid. All of the really angry faces belonged to various students at the Slytherin table, most notably to Draco Malfoy. His father had been listed as a staunch supporter since almost the very beginning of Voldemort's first rise to power which caused the Ministry to freeze all of his assets. Harry thought it was quite ironic that their situations were quite the opposite now, Harry had access to an obscene amount of money while Malfoy would have to begin buying second hand things. He couldn't help but smile at that turn of events.

As Harry continued to scan the hall, he caught sight of Professor McGonagall and remembered that he still needed to notify her of the quidditch team meeting that was due to take place in her office at lunch time. He quickly excused himself from the table and made his way to where his head of house sat. She gave him a rather curious look which he shook off as he returned to his seat. She looked over to the headmaster to see if she could get more information only to be met by those rather irritating twinkling eyes of his. She quickly realized that she would just have to wait to discover what the surprise was until lunch.

As Harry was returning to his friends, he saw that Hermione was about to comment about the paper. "Yes, Hermione, now that Sirius has been cleared of all charges his accounts are now accessible to me. That is why I was late to lunch yesterday. I was being informed of the new status of things in the headmaster's office." Before she could comment, he added, "We'd better be heading off to class. I wouldn't want to keep Professor Flitwick waiting."

By this time most of the people in the hall had noticed Harry's almost gleeful behavior and were all wondering just what was making him so happy. They had all become used to the constantly angry and brooding Harry from the last couple of years and to see him happy was just weird. His friends just shook their heads as they stood up to follow him off to class wondering if he might have finally fallen off of his rocker.

Charms class couldn't have gotten over soon enough and once it was Harry, Ron, Neville, and Hermione quickly made their way to McGonagall's office. Even though Neville and Hermione weren't on the quidditch team they were allowed to be in the meeting because they were so curious about what Harry was up to. They entered to find a very shocked Professor McGonagall.

"Mr. Potter, What…"

Harry cut her off, "I'll explain as soon as the whole team is here. Can I assume by your expression that my surprise has arrived?" All she could do was nod. "Excellent!"

Soon enough the rest of the team was assembled, with Katie arriving last, "Alright Weasley, what is so important that we need to miss out on lunch today. I thought we all agreed that we were prepared well enough for the match tomorrow."

Ron replied defensively, "Don't blame me for this. Harry's the one who asked for this meeting and practice."

At this point all eyes turned to Harry. "Well, I guess that's my cue." He turned to Professor McGonagall, "Professor, after learning of my new financial status yesterday, I decided to do something to help out the house here. Would you please get out my surprise?"

She shook her head in amazement, "Very well." She then pointed her wand at a stack of long thin boxes standing against the wall behind the students. She levitated them over to her now-empty desk, laying them side by side. Once they were all settled, Harry vanished the lids, leaving the contents open for everyone in the room to see. What was inside caused the mouth of almost every person in the room to drop open in shock. Inside the boxes were brand new broomsticks. Not just any broomsticks, but Firebolts. Gleaming Gryffindor-red Firebolts with gold lettering on the handle of each one saying Gryffindor followed by each position.

Katie, Andrew, Jack, and Natalie looked about ready to cry tears of joy. Ginny and Ron on the other hand seemed to be trying to decide between amazement and anger. Harry began, "Yes, those are brand new Firebolts, and they are for the Gryffindor quidditch team." Seeing Ron about to object, Harry continued, "As you can see by the gold lettering on each broom, they are not for you personally. They are a gift from me to Gryffindor house for the quidditch team to use for quidditch only. Ron, I am not trying to flaunt my money in any way. I couldn't care less about my finances and you know it. I did this because I love to fly and play quidditch and I want to share with my friends. Besides, I heard from Professor Smith that in the United States people will do things like this for their schools all the time."

Professor McGonagall interjected, "This is a very generous gift, Mr. Potter, but I think the members of the other houses might feel the same way everyone felt about Slytherin when Mr. Malfoy bought his house top of the line brooms."

Harry smiled and shook this comment off, "There is a big difference between the two instances. Malfoy did it to get on his house team and try to show up the rest of the school." Harry could see the protests arising and continued, "These brooms are for the team, whether I'm on it or not."

"What do you mean, whether you're on the team or not?" Ron interjected, "Why wouldn't you be on the team?"

Harry looked at Ron with a somewhat sad smile, "Ron, in the five years I've been here, how many times have I actually gotten to play for a full year? I know that the seasons being canceled in second and fourth years weren't my fault, but the fact remains that of the five years I've been here only once have I been able to play for the entire year. Last year we were lucky that Ginny, Andrew, and Jack were able to come in on short notice and play as well as they did. This gift will make anything like that a little easier to handle, if it happens."

Having heard the whole explanation, Ron and Ginny finally began to grin like the rest of the team. Ron shook his head in amusement, "So this is the reason you wanted me to book the pitch? You wanted us to get some practice in on the new brooms before the match tomorrow."

"Right in one, oh captain of mine. I also thought if we got comfortable on them quickly enough we might change our strategy for the match a little."

Ron's curiosity was peaked, "What kind of change?"

Harry smiled and held up a hand, "Let's see about getting comfortable on these brooms first and then we can talk about that."

Ron agreed, "All right team, out to the pitch for practice."

Once they reached the pitch, everyone was very quick to get in the air. Katie, Ginny, and Natalie grabbed the quaffle and began to pass it around and work on some of their maneuvers to see what difference the faster brooms made. Ron, Andrew, and Jack just flew around for a few minutes to get used to the speed the new brooms were capable of. Harry couldn't help but smile at the pure joy that the other members of the team were feeling.

Once the chasers seemed comfortable with the change in speed, Ron had them try some shots on goal to test him some and a little bit later had Jack and Andrew start sending bludgers into the mix to get everyone up to speed. It was quickly apparent that the new brooms improved the quality of their game a lot. The chasers could get through their moves faster and crisper. The beaters could track down the bludgers in less time and maneuver to send them more accurately. Ron's reaction time defending the goals was even more pronounced than the others. All in all, if anyone were to look at them on the pitch they would only see seven red blurs streaking to and fro.

After their practice, they moved into the dressing rooms to discus some new strategy ideas. Harry started, "Alright guys, I think instead of me finding the snitch as quickly as possible, I should shadow Malfoy and allow you guys to score as many goals as possible until he spots the snitch. If they happen to be able to keep us from scoring much or score on us a lot then I'll end the game before it's too late."

"Why?" Katie was asking, "Why put off catching the snitch?"

Ron had cottoned on to Harry's thinking, "The bigger points lead we can build up, the safer we'll be in the later matches if we happen to lose one. The more points we can get, the better our chances at keeping the cup."

There was a round of nods and smiles as everyone agreed with the new strategy. Feeling better about their chances for the cup this year, they headed back up to the castle to clean up and prepare for their afternoon classes. Throughout the rest of the day, there were lots of questions floating around the school about the last minute Gryffindor Quidditch meeting and practice. What was interesting about this event was that, unlike other events, this time the secret remained just that, a secret. Slytherin wouldn't know what hit them tomorrow.

Saturday morning found the entire castle abuzz in anticipation of the upcoming match. The Slytherins were their same surly selves, trying everything in their power to get under the Gryffindors' skin. The fact that their attempts at intimidation were being completely ignored just caused them to try that much harder. Malfoy and his cronies were by far the worst offenders, most likely due to the fact that they made the mistake of mouthing off in front of Professor McGonagall and lost their house 20 points each.

Soon the team members found themselves sitting in the changing room awaiting the start of the match. The pressure of his first game as quidditch captain had finally caught up with Ron as was evidenced by his pacing back and forth in front of the entrance. He seemed to be struggling to come up with what to say to the team. As captain, it was his responsibility to prepare and motivate the team to do well. However, his brain seemed to be frozen at the moment.

Ron finally seemed to get his wits about him and turned to face the team. He could see the nervous yet excited energy that most of the members exhibited. Well all of the team actually, except Harry. Harry was exuding a quiet confidence and calmness that Ron was starting to find somewhat contagious. His nervousness was soon transformed to his own minor confidence, which in turn was passed on to the rest of the team.

Finally, Ron found the words he wanted to speak, "All right team! This is the day we've been training for. We know what our strengths are and how to make up for our weaknesses. We've got the best team in the school and the best brooms too. We know our plan and know we can rely on each other to do our jobs. Now let's go out there and show the rest of the school that we don't plan on giving up that trophy this year, and if any one wants to take it from us, they have their work cut out for them." Ron's confidence grew as he spoke and by the end the entire team felt unstoppable. They let out a collective cheer as they stood and made ready for the match.

As they stood near the entrance to their changing rooms, they could hear the restless milling of the students and professors in the stands all around them. Soon they found themselves shooting out onto the pitch as though shot from a gun, seven red blurs soaring around the stadium eliciting cheers and looks of wonder from the assembled mass of people.

Harry didn't think he could feel any better then he did right at that moment, with the wind whipping his hair and whistling in his ears. Up in the air was where he felt the best as if nothing could affect him, or control him. Up here was where he had the control of his life and he realized for the first time that this was the feeling of true freedom.

As the teams took their positions for the start of the match, he began to actually listen to the things being spoken around him. The first thing he deciphered was the mutterings of the few people who had figured out what his gift to the team was. He next noticed the amplified voice of Brock Gilbert, a fourth year Hufflepuff, who was the new announcer since Lee Jordan had finished school last year.

"Yes, I believe they are!" Brock exclaimed, "Those look like brand new custom Firebolts the Gryffindor team is riding this year. On brooms of that caliber, they will be quite hard to beat, if they can control them that is."

Harry rolled his eyes as he tried to tune out the commentator until the match started. He made eye contact with Malfoy and had to try very hard to suppress his smile as his blond nemesis became aware of the new brooms. The look of utter loathing on Malfoy's face was almost enough to match the looks Harry received from Snape. The only thing that kept it from being as good was the fact that there was a look of fear mixed in with it. Harry knew that Malfoy had figured out he was in very deep trouble today. His teams Nimbus 2001s were no match for international standard brooms.

Suddenly, Harry's world changed as a whistle sounded and at once fourteen brooms shot into the sky and the match began. Harry quickly began to shadow Malfoy while vaguely listening to Brock comment on the game. He was glad that the headmaster had seemed to find a replacement that was both excited about the game and fair in his reporting of it. He smiled as he heightened his senses and began to feel everything around him. He could almost close his eyes and still navigate around the pitch with full knowledge of where everyone and thing was at all times. Within one minute he had picked up the location of the snitch and began to track it while annoying Malfoy by not seeming interested in finding it at all.

By the ten minute mark, Harry could see the frustration and understanding on Malfoy's face as he picked up on the Gryffindor strategy. Gryffindor was already up 100 to nothing and didn't seem to be about to let up any time soon. Thus began the Slytherin team's descent to dirty tactics. The unfortunate thing for the Slytherins was an inability to account for the speed of their opponents' brooms, meaning their dirty tactics were far too slow and ill-timed to have any effect.

Malfoy had become more noticeably haggard and distraught as the match wore on, finally causing him to lash out at Harry, "Enjoy yourself while you can, Potter. The Dark Lord's ranks are growing and soon he'll be coming for you."

"Let him come then," Harry replied, "I'm getting tire of waiting for him to get brave enough to try again."

Malfoy shot Harry one of the most severe glares he could manage, "The next time you meet him, he'll finish what he started when you were a baby. You're through!"

Harry shrugged him off, "Yeah, yeah, like I haven't heard that one before. I'll believe that when I see it." Harry then got very serious, "Next time you talk to your father, have him give Tom a message for me. Tell him that I'm not the helpless little boy he dueled two years ago anymore, and the next time I meet him I plan to finish him!"

Before Malfoy could respond to that, Harry shot off in the opposite direction. He felt he had taunted the Slytherins enough - it was time to catch the snitch! By the time Malfoy registered what was happening, Harry was circling the Gryffindor goal posts clutching the snitch with his fist raised in victory. He had allowed the Gryffindor chasers to score 300 points before grabbing the snitch, meaning they won 450 – 0. The Gryffindor supporters had erupted into cheering while the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw houses applauded politely yet unenthusiastically. They knew that this Gryffindor team would be impossible to beat with those new brooms and didn't relish the prospect of playing them.

Malfoy sensed the unease of the crowd and decided to play it up, "What's the matter, Potter? Didn't think your team was good enough to win on their own so you had to buy new brooms? Have to buy your victories now?"

Harry smiled and replied, "Not at all, Malfoy. I simply wanted the rest of my team to feel the joy I feel when I fly on my own Firebolt. The fact that it made beating you a little easier was just a wonderful side effect. Besides, I think the fact that Gryffindor has beaten Slytherin every year I've played against them shows that it's not the broom but the player that makes the difference."

By this time the entire crowd had quieted to listen to the exchange between the bitter rivals. Harry took this opportunity to push his plans to action, "In fact, I'm willing to prove it." He cast a quick sonorous charm on his voice, casing it to boom out across the stadium, "As everyone is no doubt aware, I have purchased new brooms for the Gryffindor house team. They are a gift from me to the school because I know how much I enjoy flying on them. I am prepared to do the same thing for all of the other houses. Of course, your brooms will be the appropriate color for your own houses."

The reaction to this was a stunned silence. Harry smiled and continued, "Yes, you all heard me correctly. I will supply each house with identical brooms, so long as a few conditions are met." The silence was now absolute. "The fighting between the houses needs to stop! The sorting hat has been telling us that we need to unite and work together and up until now that hasn't really been happening. Well, I think it's time to push the issue. So long as there is no open hostility from one house to another, I will be more than happy to make everyone equal."

There was a lot of excited muttering going on now. Many of the other quidditch teams were already contemplating the thought of flying on their own Firebolts and smiling avidly. Malfoy decided to break in again, "So all we have to do is be what Potter wants us to be and we can have new brooms? I suppose you're going to find reasons not to pay up on your promise."

Harry shook his head and continued, "If it is decided that the houses are not instigating hostilities toward each other then I will gladly pay up on my promise."

"You say that as if you aren't the one who is deciding." Was the reply from Cho Chang the Ravenclaw seeker.

Harry shook his head, "I will only be one voice of many. I was hoping that I could get the Headmaster's help on this part." He turned to Professor Dumbledore, "Professor, would you be willing to have all of the teachers and the head boy and girl work with me to determine which houses are worthy of this gift?"

Professor Dumbledore answered with his ever-twinkling eyes, "Are you sure that you would be willing to accept their judgment in this?"

"Yes, sir. As long as there is actual discussion and no overwhelming objections. But there is one more thing," and at this he turned to look directly at the potions master. "These rules are to apply to the staff as well as the students. There is to be no evidence of favoritism or antagonizing from any member of any house toward each other unless provoked."

If Harry had thought that he had seen the most hateful glare from Professor Snape before, he was very wrong. The look of disgust the potions master wore now was worse than ever before, which just made Harry smile a bit more. One way or another he was going to break down the barriers that separated this school. Professor Dumbledore on the other hand was smiling not unlike the cat that just ate the canary. His admiration for his pupil's efforts was growing more everyday.

"Very well, Mr. Potter, we shall begin discussions at once to make some assessments on this matter." Then turning to the rest of the students, "Well this has been an eventful day. I believe it is now time to retire back to the school." And with that, the assembled mass began to make its way noisily back to the castle, wondering what the results of the upcoming meetings would be.