The puck is Snape. The puck is Snape.
Jimmy O'Bannon reared back with his stick and launched the puck with a vicious slapshot. The little round piece of vulcanized rubber snapped the twine at the back of the net.
Teeth clenched, he fired off one puck after another. He pictured a different face for each one. That annoying know-it-all Hermione Granger. That sourpuss board-up-her-ass Professor McGonagall. Those jackass twins Fred and George Weasley and their stupid practical jokes. His butt still itched from that Sit-and-Scratch seat they put at his desk in History of Magic.
With a snort he skated to the edge of the pond and shoved the pucks back out to center ice. All around him lush trees swayed in the breeze, the spires of Hogwarts sticking up beyond them.
Sighing, O'Bannon skated to the uneven grouping of pucks and lined them up. He pulled out his wand and cast a spell to smooth out the ice. That and the freezing spell were among the first ones he learned when he entered the Salem Witches' Institute five years ago.
O'Bannon let the blade of his stick clatter on the ice and stared at Hogwarts. He remembered how excited he'd been when Headmistress Esmeralda told him he qualified to study abroad for one year. When she gave him his choice of schools, he had eyes for only one. Hogwarts, one of the most renowned wizarding schools in the world. Why would he even bother considering any other school? Heck, the famous Harry Potter went here.
Now, however, he wished he was back at Salem.
O'Bannon fired off more pucks, the memories of his few weeks at Hogwarts racing through his mind.
The moment he stepped in the Great Hall for the start-of-term feast, McGonagall threw a fit when she saw him wearing a Boston Red Sox cap. Even Salem wasn't that uptight about its dress code. As soon as the Sorting Hat put him in Gryffindor, she docked the House ten points.
That endeared him to his fellow "Gryfs," as he liked to call them.
Then came the disaster in potions class. His Sleeping Dragon potion exploded right when Professor Snape stared into his cauldron. He got docked ten points for getting the potion wrong and twenty for ruining Snape's robes. It would have ended there had he just shut his smart-ass mouth and not said, "A little seltzer water should get that out, no prob."
That cost Gryffindor fifty points. Even worse, he got detention and the class got buried in extra homework.
Very few Gryfs had spoken to him since.
Grunting, he fired another puck at the net. It clanged off the post. His hands tightened around the stick, wishing he had some other kids around to shot pucks with. No way would that happen here, though. He got the sense the students at Hogwarts thought any purely Muggle activity beneath them. Surprisingly, even some of the Muggle-borns shared that attitude.
What, just because you learn you're a witch or wizard you have to distance yourself from anything non-magic related?
Yes, the Wizarding World was incredible, mind-boggling, and a hundred other adjectives. Yes, he enjoyed Quidditch. But he still loved hockey, football and baseball just as much now as he did before entering Salem. Hell, the school even had its own club hockey league to help foster a better understanding of how Muggles coped without magic.
Would Hogwarts even entertain the idea of setting up clubs for soccer or cricket?
Yeah, the day Professor Snape opens a no-kill shelter for puppies and kittens.
"Oi! Have you ever seen anything like that, Fred?"
O'Bannon looked up. He scowled when he saw the lanky red-headed twins.
"Batting at little black cakes with a stick. No flying, no snitches, no one trying to knock you off your broom . . ."
In unison Fred and George Weasley said, "Boooooring."
O'Bannon clenched his stick, wishing it was Fred or George's neck. "If it's so boring why don't you go somewhere else?" He fired another puck at the net, missing by five feet.
George's eyes widened. "Whoa-ho. What's got your knickers in a twist, mate?"
"Just being here." O'Bannon sent another puck soaring over the net.
"C'mon." This from Fred. "It's just new kid syndrome. The others will warm up to you eventually."
"After I put Gryffindor, what, a hundred points in the hole for the House Cup? Not likely."
"There's a lot of school year left." George shrugged his shoulders. "We'll recover."
"And if we don't, it's not the end of the world," said Fred. "Unless we wind up behind Slytherin."
"And what then? Do I wind up with another Sit-and-Scratch chair under my ass?"
The twins smiled. O'Bannon was tempted to fire pucks at them.
"Nullus Lapsus!" The Weasleys pointed their wands at their feet. Moments later they walked onto the ice as easily as walking across the grass. O'Bannon tensed. Who the hell knew what these idiots might have in mind?
"Look, mate," Fred said. "That was just our way of welcoming you to Hogwarts."
George nodded. "We wouldn't have done it if we didn't think you were an all right bloke."
"No hard feelings." Fred stuck out his hand, followed by George.
O'Bannon took a deep breath. Should I? These guys seemed to live for pulling practical jokes.
But this is the first peace offering I've gotten from anyone here.
Hesitantly, he reached for Fred's hand. The two shook. A moment later he did the same with George. Miraculously, his hand didn't fall off, nor did he sprout a baboon's butt, nor did his pants inflate and send him drifting over Hogwarts.
"There, you see." George slapped him on the shoulder. "Now we're all friends."
"And since we're friends . . ." Fred's eyes shifted between O'Bannon's stick and the pucks. "Maybe you can tell us what it is you're doing?"
"I'm playing hockey.
The twins looked at one another. Fred shook his head. "Never heard of it."
"And our Dad's really into Muggle stuff," George said. "Never heard him mention hockey."
"Not surprising. Hockey's never really caught on in England. Now Eastern Europe, Russia. Hell, some of the top players in the NHL come from there."
"NHL?" George gave him a quizzical look.
"The National Hockey League." O'Bannon gave the twins a brief history of the League, laid out the basic rules of the game and educated them on his beloved Boston Bruins.
"So can we assume you're pretty fair at this game?" Fred asked.
"I was an alternate captain for my club team back at Salem. We won our league championship two out of the last three years."
The twins looked at one another. "So can you teach us to play?" This from George.
O'Bannon's head drew back in surprise. "Seriously?"
Fred shrugged. "Why not? Besides, our dad will flip when he hears we've been playing a Muggle game."
O'Bannon chewed on the inside of his cheek. Were they setting him up for some kind of joke?
Aw hell. What do I have to lose?
"All right. Let's get to it."
Using their wands, the Weasleys chopped down branches from nearby trees and transfigured them into hockey sticks. Then they manipulated the soles of their shoes into skates. O'Bannon allowed them a spell to keep their balance on the ice.
He started out with the basics, showing them proper form when shooting the puck. After a while they moved on to bringing the puck down ice and shooting on the move. He was impressed at how quickly the twins picked up everything.
Soon O'Bannon suggested putting someone in goal. He took the net first, even though, as a forward through and through, he detested playing goalie. He cast a Bubble-Head Charm and lengthened it to cover most of his body, manipulating it so it resembled a goalie's mask and pads.
Most of the Weasleys' shots went wide. O'Bannon deflected the others . . . until Fred faked him out, looking as though he'd shoot low, but instead putting the puck over his shoulder.
"Brilliant, Fred!" George high-fived his brother.
"Way to go, Fred!"
O'Bannon's brow furrowed. He turned and saw a couple dozen students standing around the frozen pond.
"When did they show up?"
He recognized some of them, like Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, Lee Jordan and the other Weasley siblings, Ron and Ginny. He also noticed a few students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, who'd come here for the Tri-Wizard Tournament.
"All right, I've played brick wall enough. One of you switch out with me."
George took over in net. O'Bannon and Fred worked the puck down ice, taking turns with shots. Fred beat his brother only once. O'Bannon notched a hat trick.
After the third goal, he checked the small crowd again. The original two dozen dwindled to around eighteen. Two more, a boy and a girl, shook their heads, made faces, and left. The three Durmstrang guys watched impassively. The two hot blonds and a stout boy from Beauxbatons just looked confused.
A trio of very pretty girls cheered the loudest. He recognized them; Lavender Brown and the Patil twins, who'd never given him the time of day since he arrived at Hogwarts.
"Hey, Fred. Do you mind if I do some showing off?" O'Bannon nodded to Lavender and the Patils.
"Go for it, mate." Fred gave him a huge smile.
O'Bannon streaked down the ice, wound up and fired with his right leg in the air, the kind of form that looked great on a hockey card.
The puck missed five feet to the right.
Lavender and the Patils fell over each other laughing.
"Oh yeah, you'll be in their dreams tonight, Jimmy Boy."
O'Bannon looked at the grinning Fred and chuckled. He couldn't believe it. He was actually having a great day at Hogwarts. Even more surprising, Fred and George seemed to really enjoy playing this "Muggle Game."
He looked back to the crowd. Several of the students talked animatedly amongst themselves, occasionally pointing at him and the Weasleys.
O'Bannon leaned against his stick and continued to study the crowd.
"Hey, Jimmy." Fred skated next to him. "What's with that gleam in your eye?"
"Oh, I'm just getting an idea."
Monday morning, O'Bannon hung a notice at the entrance to the Great Hall.
LEARN HOW THE MUGGLES PLAY SPORTS
ANYONE INTERESTED IN HOCKEY
MEET AT THE SPARKLING POND
THURSDAY 4 P.M.
Fifteen students showed up for on Thursday. O'Bannon had hoped for more, but figured he should be happy that anyone actually came. Gryffindor had the largest contingent with seven, including Fred and George. Ravenclaw and Durmstrang each had three turn out, along with one from Hufflepuff. O'Bannon's jaw hit the ground when he the lone of the Beauxbatons representative, a six-one blond who looked more suited to volleyball than hockey.
O'Bannon laid down the rules. The only magic he would allow would be a spell for people to skate on the ice as easily as walking on solid ground. Other than that, everyone had to rely on natural ability. Upon hearing this, one Ravenclaw walked off.
After going over the basics, they did some shooting and passing drills. Most of the players were lucky to get the puck onto one another's sticks. Several fell down reaching out to haul in a puck. Lavender Brown cringed or screamed every time the puck flew near her.
I've seen pee wee teams do better than this.
O'Bannon shook his head. So what if they weren't any good. At least they were willing to give a Muggle game a try.
"What the hell?" Lee Jordan, the goalie, swung his arms wildly. Three pucks swarmed around him like angry wasps, pelted his mask, then flew into the net.
"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Time out!" O'Bannon skated toward the net. "Who the hell took that shot?"
"I did." He recognized the kid who raised his stick. Michael Corner from Ravenclaw.
"When I said 'no using magic,' did I also add, 'except for Michael Corner?'"
"C'mon, O'Bannon. Stuck on the ground all the time. This has got to be the most boring game ever."
"It's not boring."
"Trust me, it is. You need something to liven it up."
"Get off it, Corner." Fred skated up to them. "Jimmy's put this hockey thing together. If he says no magic, we should respect it."
Corner threw out his hands. "What's the point of being a wizard if you can't use magic?"
"That's it!" O'Bannon threw his stick to the ice and skated closer to the jerk from Ravenclaw. "I've had to put up with this attitude from the day I walked in here and I'm sick of it. You act like if something's non-magical it's not worth your time. And any wizard who wants to take part in any Muggle activities, you look down your noses at them."
By now O'Bannon went from addressing Corner to all the players. "This may come as a shock to you, but wizard, witch or Muggle, we are all the same."
Corner and a few others turned up their faces.
O'Bannon went on. "We're all human. So Muggles can't do magic and we can. As far as I'm concerned, that's the only difference between us. I think some of you have lived apart from Muggles for so long you don't think they can offer us a damn thing."
Corner shook his head. "You're out of your gord, mate. Go ahead and have fun with your stupid Muggle game."
Dropping his stick, Corner skated off the ice.
"He's right." Lavender Brown dropped her stick. "This game is stupid."
She left, along with one of the Durmstrang guys.
Scowling, he turned to Fred and George, standing behind him. "Well this looks like it'll be the shortest-lived club in Hogwarts history. I don't even know why I bothered."
"C'mon, Jimmy Boy."
He shrugged off Fred's hand, slowly skating to the banks of the pond. How could he have been so stupid? Like any wizard or witch here would accept a Muggle game. Like they'd accept him. God, why did he ever leave Salem?
"Jimmy, don't be like that." Lee Jordan skated after him.
"Yeah." Angelina Johnson followed him. "Honestly, I'm having fun."
O'Bannon looked over his shoulder. "You'd probably have more fun at Quidditch."
"Well we don't have Quidditch this year because of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and quite honestly it's driving me mad. This seems as good a way as any to make up for it."
"I find it very challenging," said a husky Durmstrang boy, Harkorth.
"My parents always encourage me to try new things," said Mireet Miradeaux, the Beauxbatons girl. "And it is a good way to get to know the other students at Hogwarts."
O'Bannon turned, his eyes slowly sweeping over the eleven remaining players on the ice.
"So the rest of you want to keep doing it?"
Everyone nodded. Fred folded his arms and smiled. "Looks like you're stuck with us, mate."
O'Bannon felt a smile overwhelm his face.
"Okay, then. Who's up for more shooting drills?"
Over the next few weeks, the hockey club met at least twice a week. They also encouraged others to come out. Unfortunately, many of the new faces rarely came back for a second time. Some of it had to do with their snotty attitude toward Muggle games. Others just got frustrated at playing so pathetically. One day Harry Potter himself gave it a try. For someone built up as larger than life, O'Bannon found him to be just an ordinary kid. He seemed to enjoy himself on the ice, even admitting to him later that it helped get his mind off the Tri-Wizard Tournament.
That turned out to be Harry's only appearance. O'Bannon couldn't blame him. The guy had enough on his plate between classes and the tournament.
The eleven core players – Fred and George, Angelina, Lee, Seamus and Dean Thomas of Gryffindor, Harkorth and Tortorov from Durmstrang, Anthony Goldstein from Ravenclaw, Mireet from Beauxbatons and Justin Finch-Fletchley from Hufflepuff – never missed a hockey date. A few others became regulars over the weeks, most notably Ron and Ginny Weasley. Hufflepuff's Ernie MacMillan also joined them, as did Ravenclaw's Terry Boot. No new players from Durmstrang or Beauxbatons stuck with the club for more than two dates. No one from Slytherin had set foot on the ice, much to everyone's delight.
Sometimes the hockey club drew crowds to their pick-up games. Usually no more than a couple dozen. O'Bannon noticed several students who gave the club a go amongst the crowd. They usually spent their time deriding the game and the players. One time O'Bannon had to keep Ernie from jumping off the ice and going after a couple loudmouth Gryfs.
"Calm down, Ernie. This is nothing compared to a Bruins-Canadiens game."
No one had a clue what he meant by that.
One of the biggest shocks came on a chilly Thursday afternoon. O'Bannon had just sent a wrister past Harkorth in net when he noticed none other than the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, in the crowd. He ignored the congratulatory slaps from the others when he saw the old wizard smile and applaud. Five minutes later, when Harkorth made an outstanding kick save on a Ginny Weasley shot, O'Bannon looked to the crowd again for Dumbledore's reaction.
But the headmaster was gone.
The first snowfall of the year coincided with a hockey date. For once, O'Bannon didn't have to cast a Freezing Charm on the pond. The crowd numbered a baker's dozen, half cheering, the other half jeering them. By now the club took the heckling as part of the game.
O'Bannon started a penalty killing exercise when a voice called across the pond. "Don't you people have anything better to do than waste your time with stupid Muggle games?"
O'Bannon cocked an eyebrow. It didn't sound like one of the usual hecklers. He turned to the right shore of the pond. A slender boy with a pinched face and pale blond hair stood by the edge, surrounded by six other students.
It was Draco Malfoy and his usual entourage of Slytherins.
"Bugger off, Malfoy," George hollered.
Malfoy ignored him and looked around at his sycophants. "It's like my father said. Standards are slipping at Hogwarts. What headmaster in his right mind would allow a Muggle game to take place on school grounds?"
"One who's not a complete git like you," said Lee.
Malfoy shot him an evil scowl before turning to O'Bannon. "Bad enough Dumbledore lets Mudbloods from this country in here. Now he's bringing in filth from other nations."
"Do us all a favor, Malfoy." O'Bannon aimed his narrow eyes at the Slytherin boy. "Go take a long walk off a short pier."
"My, my, don't you have a hot temper. Why don't you cool off."
Malfoy took out his wand and pointed it at the frozen pond. "Fundo!"
A red flash swept over the pond. The ice vanished underneath them.
A piercing blade of cold sliced through O'Bannon as he hit the water. He couldn't breath. Water closed over his head. He let go of the stick and kicked back to the surface. His teeth chattered at a machine gun pace.
"Help!" Justin Finch-Fletchley thrashed about. "I can't swim!"
O'Bannon tried to turn in Justin's direction.
Suddenly an invisible hand plucked him out of the water. He looked around and saw eleven other shivering players floating above the freezing water.
What the . . . He looked to the shore. The students who'd been cheering and jeering them had their wands out, levitating the players to solid ground. From the other side of the pond, Malfoy and his Slytherin jagoffs laughed hysterically.
When O'Bannon landed, he looked up to find, of all people, Michael Corner.
"You all right, O'Bannon?"
He nodded, his teeth chattering too much for him to talk.
Corner glared across the pond. "Malfoy, you little slug!"
The Ravenclaw boy raised his wand and fired off a hex. Seconds later Malfoy's fat lapdog, Crabbe, doubled over and started puking slugs.
More hexes shot across the pond. Malfoy yelped and beat a hasty retreat, knocking over two of his entourage. The other Slytherins followed, but not before Goyle received a vicious wedgie hex.
"What happened to you lot?" Hagrid asked as he stepped aside to let O'Bannon and the others into his cabin, the closest dwelling to the pond. Corner related to massive groundskeeper how Malfoy melted the frozen pond while they were playing hockey.
"Now why would he go and do that?"
"C-Cause he's D-Draco Malfoy." George shivered. "R-Reason enough."
Hagrid shook his head in disgust. "Well here. Sit yourselves down. Let's get ye all warmed up before you catch pneumonia."
Within minutes Hagrid gave all the club members blankets, threw more wood on the fire and brewed up a large pot of tea. The blanket O'Bannon got smelled rather musky, but he didn't care. At least it was warm.
"He is a barbarian, that Malfoy." Mireet wrapped the blanket tighter around her tall, athletic frame.
"Such behavior is uncalled for." Harkorth's face scrunched in anger.
"Unc-called for hell." Ron's shaking hands took a cup of tea from Hagrid. "We could have f-froze to death. J-Justin almost drowned."
"It's dangerous, what he did." Hagrid handed a cup to Terry Boot. "Dumping ye into a pond in the middle of winter. You lot should tell Dumbledore."
"D-Don't worry, Hagrid." Fred sipped his tea. "We'll come up with something g-good to fix that pile of d-dragon dung."
"How about we hit him with a hex that'll turn him into dragon dung?"
O'Bannon eyed the angry Corner with curiosity. "We?" This from the guy who stormed off the first day the club met, and only came back to heckle them?
Maybe he hates Malfoy more than he does hockey.
Hagrid held up his hands. "Now don't be doing anything that'll get you expelled."
"Well we need to show Malfoy we're not going to stand for this sort of indignity." Ernie Macmillan buried himself deeper in his blanket.
"We could always slip some Tongue-Scorching Powder into his Pumpkin Juice at supper," George suggested.
Angelina Johnson's hand shot up. "How about a creeping fungus hex in his trousers?"
"I'd rather get him out on the ice." Ginny took a sip of her tea. "Then we could all take turns throwing body checks at him."
Several heads nodded.
O'Bannon's eyes widened. "I think that's a great idea."
"You are serious?" Harkorth furrowed his brow.
"Come off it, Jimmy." Seamus Finnigan gave him a dismissive wave. "There's no way Malfoy would play hockey. He thinks it's beneath him."
"Oh, I'll get him to play us. I'll just have to use my other great talent besides playing hockey."
"What might that be?" asked Corner.
O'Bannon shot him a sly grin. "Pissing people off."
The next morning, O'Bannon walked into the Great Hall for breakfast and scanned the Slytherin table. Sure enough, he spotted Malfoy, with Crabbe and Goyle on either side of him.
Are those two permanently attached to him or something?
Much to the surprise of the other students, O'Bannon strode over to the Slytherin table. With a huge smile, he squeezed in between Malfoy and Goyle and put an arm around Malfoy.
"Malfoy, my man. How the hell are ya?"
Malfoy's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Take your filthy Mudblood hand off me!"
O'Bannon continued to smile. "Drake . . . can I call you Drake?"
Malfoy's pale face turned red.
"Well, I'll call you Drake anyway. You see, Drake, the hockey club is really upset with what you did yesterday."
"And why should I care?"
"Well, because they want to take a piece out of your miserable hide. Now guys like Fred and George are talking about nailing you with all kinds of hexes, like one that would turn your head into a troll booger, which, in your case, would be an improvement."
Malfoy's head trembled with anger.
O'Bannon went on. "Now me, a stupid practical joke ain't enough to resolve this. The only way to do that, is on the field of battle."
"Good God, you Americans are daft. What the hell are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about my club, versus Slytherin, in a hockey game."
The anger melted from Malfoy's face. He cackled with laughter. The other Slytherins around him did the same.
"You seriously expect me to play your stupid Muggle game? I wouldn't dare soil my family's good name by stepping on that ice with Mudbloods and blood traitors."
"Yeah, I figured you say that. Besides, it wouldn't be fair. I mean, my gang's been playing for a couple months now, and you know jack about hockey. I guess if I was you, thank God I'm not, but if I was, I wouldn't play and risk the embarrassment of losing to a bunch of 'Mudbloods and blood traitors.'"
Malfoy clenched his spoon.
"Then again, losing seems to come naturally to you, doesn't it, Drake? I mean, everyone here tells me Harry Potter's always kicking your ass in Quidditch."
Anger lines dug into Malfoy's narrow face.
"A shame you don't want to play us. Imagine if you win. You'd have the satisfaction of not only actually succeeding at something, but you'll be able to brag about how you beat the dregs of the Wizarding World and show just how superior you purebloods are. Hell, I'm sure you're old man will even be proud. He's a hard guy to please from what I hear. But, since you're scared of losing to -"
Malfoy slammed his hands on the table. He shot out of his seat. "I'm not scared of losing! I'll never lose to scum like you!"
All heads in the Great Hall turned their way.
With a mischievous grin, O'Bannon got to his feet. "You think you can beat our club, Drake. Prove it."
"I will! I'll play your stupid Muggle game and you and your worthless friends will be the ones embarrassed!"
"All right, then. Let's say we take two months to practice and put our teams together."
"And the only magic we use is on our skates to keep our balance."
O'Bannon gazed around the Great Hall. So many faces held excited looks. "Well then, it looks like Hogwarts is about to have its first hockey game."
He stuck out his hand. Malfoy gave it the briefest of shakes.
Grinning wide, O'Bannon said, "As we say in my country, it's on."
O'Bannon nearly choked in surprise when he arrived at the pond Saturday for tryouts. Over a hundred students representing Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons crowded around the snow covered banks.
"How in . . . what . . . look at them all."
Fred smiled and clasped O'Bannon's shoulder. "What can I say? Give a reason to embarrass Slytherin and you'll get a big turnout."
O'Bannon took a few deep breaths to regain his composure and marched down to the pond, with Fred and George flanking him.
The first order of business was having everyone write down their names and houses or schools on parchment. Then O'Bannon called for nominations for team captain. He figured it would be him by default, having played hockey since the age of four. But knowing how important team unity was, he wanted everyone to have a say in the decision.
The students voted him team captain unanimously. O'Bannon then nominated Fred and George for alternate captains. Not only had they been the first ones at Hogwarts to try hockey, but, despite their history of practical jokes, they seemed to command a lot of respect from the student population. It showed when the team voted overwhelmingly in their favor.
Now came the hard part, teaching them to play.
The first few days were spent learning the basics of the game. With so many at tryouts, O'Bannon divided everyone into smaller groups and let Fred, George or one of the other core players train them.
At the end of the first week, ten players quit the team. O'Bannon wasn't too disappointed. Eventually he'd have to make cuts to get the roster down to twenty-two.
One night in the Gryffindor common room, George suggested using sneak-o-scopes to check out how the Slytherins were making out.
"Well if we're gonna spy on them, you can bet they'll do the same to us," O'Bannon pointed out.
That's when a few of the Gryfs stepped up and agreed to patrol around the pond during practice. This included, of all people, Hermione Granger.
"If it means the chance to take down Malfoy and his vile friends a few pegs," she told him, "I want to help."
Hermione and her patrol did find a few magical spying devices around the pond during the next few practices. Fred and George, somehow, managed to conceal their devices very cleverly. The Slytherins never found one.
One night after supper, Fred and George hurried into his room, holding up a sneak-o-scope.
"Jimmy! Jimmy!" Fred sounded out of breath. "Wait till you see this!"
O'Bannon looked into the sneak-o-scope and played back its findings.
"What the hell?"
The Slytherins, who just two days ago could barely manage a clean pass, zipped around the ice, throwing one another crisp passes and making some incredible shots. Fat Crabbe, who the Slytherins stuck in net, made saves that would impress greats like Martin Broduer and Dominik Hasek.
"There's no way they could have gotten this good this quick." O'Bannon threw the sneak-o-scope on his bed.
"They're cheating," George declared. "I knew those snakes would pull something like this."
The next day after Defense Against the Dark Arts, O'Bannon and the twins approached Mad-Eye Moody and asked him what could turn a group of kids who just figured out which end of a hockey stick was which into a team that looked like Stanley Cup contenders.
Instead of answering them, Moody stormed out of the classroom. Later, O'Bannon learned the professor tracked down Malfoy and read him the riot act. It turned out his father sent him some books on the history of the NHL. The Slytherins took photos of great players like Gordie Howe, Patrick Roy and Wayne Gretzky and mixed them into a very complicated potion that had been banned for years by Quidditch leagues the world over. When consumed, the potion gave the person the talents of the athlete in the picture. Moody had Snape whip up a counter-potion, much to the Potions teacher's disappointment from what O'Bannon heard. Further, Moody docked all the Slytherin players fifty points, gave them detention every day for the next month and informed them he'd be closely watching both sides to ensure they adhered to the rules of no magic.
When word of the Slytherins cheating got out, sixty more students descended onto the pond. It got to the point O'Bannon had to find another pond to accommodate everyone.
After four weeks of practice, O'Bannon decided it was time to make his cuts. He and the Weasley twins spent much of that Saturday in Hagrid's cabin, far removed from the castle, to decide who would stay and who would go.
O'Bannon barely slept that night, his stomach twisting into a painful knot. He'd heard interviews with coaches who said cutting players had to be the worst part of their job.
They couldn't have been more right.
Professor McGonagall allowed him to use her Transfiguration classroom to meet with his players. Some of the cuts turned out to be rather painless. Students like the Creevey brothers knew they possessed nowhere near the talent of other players. They took the news in stride and said they would be there to root on the team against Slytherin.
Not all the cuts went as smoothly.
The arrogant Cormac McLaggen argued for five minutes on how O'Bannon would be "a complete idiot" to cut him from the team. While McLaggen had a lot of talent, he acted like he should be the one in charge and treated everyone else like morons. O'Bannon had to threaten him with an exploding eyebrow hex to get him to leave.
Marietta Edgecombe broke down and cried before running out of the room yelling, "I hate you!"
One of his biggest worries concerned Lee Jordan. He'd been with the team from the beginning. Unfortunately, when it came to talent, he was on the bottom rung of his core players and couldn't match the skills of many of the newcomers.
Thankfully, he took it well.
"Don't worry, Jimmy. I'd rather commentate on the match anyway. You have no idea how much I miss calling Quidditch matches."
Ron Weasley turned out to be another hard one. Even though the guy seemed prone to mood swings, O'Bannon did get along well with him. Ron probably thought he'd be an automatic pick what with Fred and George alternate captains. But while Ron did pretty well in their pick-up games, competing against nearly 150 other kids seemed to shake his confidence, and that translated into poor play.
When O'Bannon offered him the job of team manager, Ron snorted, "Forget it," and trudged out of the classroom.
Through all the angst and drama, he did get joy out of telling students they made the team. Mireet had been rather surprised, though O'Bannon couldn't figure out why. She skated with the grace of a ballerina and possessed a great deal of speed. So did the other Beauxbatons girl he selected, a wispy brunette with the heart of a lion named Eloise. Ginny was another speed demon and one of his most aggressive players. No way he'd cut her.
Michael Corner also showed his surprise when O'Bannon picked him. Even though he started out hating hockey, he brought a lot of talent and leadership to the ice.
He also took two more boys from Durmstrang, Kurdzeli and Velich. Both looked like tanks, skated like tanks, and couldn't shoot worth a damn. But every team needed goons, and these two would fit that role perfectly. What Hufflepuff's Susan Bones lacked in talent she made up for with hard work and a determination to beat Slytherin. She stayed. O'Bannon also took Martin Chambers from Ravenclaw, Gordon Summerby from Hufflepuff, and Katie Bell from Gryffindor, all Chasers for their house Quidditch teams.
After making his cuts and selections, O'Bannon slumped in his chair. Relief washed over him. Finally, he had his team.
So, what do we call ourselves?
He fell asleep before he came up with an answer.
"Mister O'Bannon! What are you doing here?"
"Huh?" O'Bannon's head snapped up. His bleary eyes swept the classroom, lit by the rays of the morning sun. Professor McGonagall came into focus, along with a host of Second Years. He looked at the aged witch with a half-grin. "Oh. I guess nappy time's over, huh?"
Arms akimbo, McGonagall glared at him as he darted out of her classroom.
When dinner ended that night, O'Bannon gathered his team at one of the long tables.
"Okay. Now that we are an official team, it's time to discuss something very important. What do we call ourselves?"
"You mean 'That Team' won't cut it any more?" Fred chuckled.
O'Bannon responded with mock laughter. "So, any suggestions?"
Katie Bell raised her hand. "The Hogwarts Hockey Team?"
"But we do not go to Hogwarts." Mireet straightened in her seat.
"Nor do we." Harkorth spoke for the Durmstrang contingent.
"But we are playing at Hogwarts," Katie persisted.
"Okay." O'Bannon held up a hand. "Mireet and Harkorth have a point. So let's skip any names having to do with our schools or houses."
For the next hour, the players bandied possible names back and forth. No one could reach any consensus.
"Look," Anthony Goldstein spoke up. "We've got people from three of the four houses at Hogwarts, plus people from two other schools on this team. We need a name that shows how united we are against Malfoy's bunch."
Harkorth shrugged. "Then why don't we simply call ourselves The United?"
"No way." Dean Thomas scowled. "I'm not playing on any bloody team named the bloody effing United."
"What's wrong with the United?" A quizzical look came over Ernie's face.
"Hello? United, as in Manchester United. As in arrogant, greedy, spoiled wankers who believe they're God's gift to football."
"I second not calling ourselves the United." Seamus raised his hand. "Bad enough I have to listen to Dean whine about them in our room. I don't want to deal with it on the ice, too."
Dean's fiery gaze locked onto Seamus.
"Okay . . ." O'Bannon scanned the team. "For the sake of Dean's temperament, and Seamus' sanity, United is crossed off the list."
They debated for another half-hour without coming to a decision. Finally O'Bannon broke up the meeting and told everyone to sleep on it. His mind continued to spin with ideas as he walked back to the Gryffindor tower.
Goldstein made a great point. They needed a name that showed how players from three very diverse schools had come together for a common cause. Something to demonstrate that even though Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang each vied for the Tri-Wizard Cup, they could still work together.
Tri . . . Tri . . .
The next morning, O'Bannon rushed down to the Great Hall early. Instead of sitting with their houses, he directed all the members of the hockey club to the end of the long Hufflepuff table. When all twenty-two members had gathered, he unfurled a parchment with one large word written on it.
"Triad?" Dean Thomas' face scrunched up.
O'Bannon nodded. "Think about it. We have students from three different schools here. Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. Yet despite all our differences, there are two things that unite us. Hockey and wanting to beat the snot out of Slytherin. Three schools, coming together as one, to take on a common enemy. A triad."
Mireet's head bobbed back and forth. "I like it."
Ernie MacMillan shrugged. "It's better than anything anyone else has come up with."
Harkorth thumped the table. "I am in favor of it."
All around him heads nodded in agreement.
"Then I guess it's official." O'Bannon pushed himself out of his seat and stuck his fist over the table. "Let's go, hands in the center."
Several players looked at each other with quizzical expressions.
The others soon stood and put their fists in the middle.
"Right here, right now," O'Bannon spoke loud enough to be heard throughout the Great Hall. "We let everyone know who we are, and we let Slytherin know who they're up against. Triad on three, one, two, three . . ."
Several of the players cheered, a few pumping their fists in the air and chanting, "Triad! Triad!" High fives were exchanged all around.
Applause erupted from the other tables . . . except Slytherin. Terry Boot held up the parchment that read TRIAD. Fred and George did him one better. They flicked their wands and created three golden glowing hockey sticks floating in the air. In the center TRIAD blazed in a multitude of colors. The names of all the players circled around the triangle of hockey sticks.
The applause from the other students grew louder by the minute. A chant of "Triad! Triad!" echoed off the Great Hall's high ceiling.
And to O'Bannon's delight, he spotted Dumbledore at the front of the room, also clapping.
O'Bannon noticed an entirely new tone to their practices over the next few days. The focus, the intensity, reached a level he never saw during pick-up games or initial tryouts. Just naming the team seemed to be the final unifying factor. And that team spirit carried over off the ice. Triad members spent much of their free time hanging out together. During meals the team ate together instead of with their respective houses or schools. Even in their school work, members of the Triad helped one another. Everyone's grades soared over the next couple of weeks.
Two weeks before the big game, O'Bannon finally settled on his line-up. Harkorth would start in goal, with Susan Bones as back-up. His top line would consist of him as center, the Weasley twins as wingers, and Angelina Johnson and Seamus Finnigan as defenders. As they were all Gryffindors, O'Bannon dubbed them "The G Line." Next came "The Rocket Line," so named for their speed. Michael Corner took center, with Ginny Weasley and Mireet the wingers and Justin Finch-Fletchley and Anthony Goldstein on defense. Ernie MacMillan anchored the third line, with Katie Bell and Gordon Summerby the wingers and Eloise and Tortorov on defense. They didn't have a nickname until one practice when Katie sprang to the net, got tripped up by Seamus' stick and flew through the air, but not before she pushed the puck past Harkorth.
"This isn't Quidditch and she can still fly," Fred joked.
From that point on, they became "The Fly Line."
Finally, there was "The Bruise Line," made up of his best checkers and goons. Martin Chambers played center, with Terry Boot and Dean Thomas the wingers and the two tanks from Durmstrang, Kurdzeli and Velich, on defense.
Less than a week before the game, the entire school buzzed in anticipation of the hockey game. One day after Care of Magical Creatures Class, O'Bannon crossed paths with Harry Potter, who still hadn't figured out the secret to the dragon egg he won in the tournament's first task. He called the hockey game a welcome distraction from the tournament, and Hermione's nagging, and Ron's sulking. With a smile Harry said he looked forward to being at the game and urged him to do whatever it took to beat Slytherin.
When Saturday rolled around, the excitement over the Triad/Slytherin hockey game reached a fever pitch. Several family members from both teams came to Hogwarts for the game. The Daily Prophet even sent a reporter and a photographer to cover the game.
Breakfast was a quiet affair. Everyone on the Triad seemed preoccupied with their own thoughts. O'Bannon didn't each much, since it felt like an entire swarm of butterflies with razor sharp wings flew through his stomach.
What if we lose? Will everyone at Hogwarts hate me? Will all the friendships I've made disappear?
After breakfast the team headed outside, three hours before game time. No one wanted to stay in their rooms and wait and fret over the game.
They wouldn't be playing on their usual pond. Dumbledore had ordered a larger pond closer to the castle be converted for the hockey game. Large grandstands surrounded the frozen water. Tents sat on opposite sides of the pond, one for the Triad, the other for Slytherin.
As one, the team moved wordlessly. Despite the cold O'Bannon's palms grew moist with sweat. He bit his lip. If he, a hockey veteran, could be this nervous, he didn't want to think how nervous the wizards and witches behind him were.
Once inside the tent, Susan Bones and Eloise had the perfect icebreaker. The girls had finished their jerseys. In the middle of the white jersey was the three hockey sticks triangle, with the logos of each school on the points. The name TRIAD was written in fancy scroll in the middle of the triangle, and changed color every few seconds.
An hour before face-off, students, faculty and parents made their way to the pond. When the Triad came out for their warm ups, the whole place went bonkers. Slytherin came out to loud boos, except from their own stands.
After taking a warm up shot, O'Bannon circled around the pond and spotted four black and white clad referees. Real honest-to-God NHL refs. From what he heard, Dumbledore brought them over and fixed their perception so they believed they were calling an NHL game, not one involving wizards.
Ten minutes before face-off, Mad-Eye Moody went around to both teams to confiscate wands and make sure that, other than their skates, no one had anything of magic on them.
Five minutes before face-off, Lee Jordan introduced each member of the Triad and Slytherin. The butterflies grew worse in O'Bannon's stomach. When he got to the bench, he gazed at his teammates. He took a breath and said, "All right, gang. I'm gonna make this short and sweet. Man, I'm just damn proud of all of you, and I want to thank you for making me feel like I belong at this place. I may have played for championship teams back at Salem, but right now there's only one team in the whole world I'd rather play with, and that's you guys. I know some of you didn't like this game, maybe didn't like me, when we started out, but I don't think there's any group in any of our schools that's tighter than us. And that's what's gonna carry us through this day. You guys have worked your asses off, and now it's time to do this for real. So let's go out there, and let's get the job done. Triad on three. One, two, three . . ."
With one last exhale, O'Bannon led the G Line out on the ice.
Malfoy slid up to the face-off circle, a twisted look on his face. If the boy's eyes could fire laser beams, no doubt they'd cut O'Bannon in two.
The referee held his hand out. O'Bannon took a deep breath and tightened his grip on the stick.
The puck dropped.
Wood smacked together as he and Malfoy went for the puck. After three whacks O'Bannon got it and whipped around Malfoy. He skated barely ten feet when he noticed a Slytherin defenseman, Urquhart, flying toward him. O'Bannon passed the puck to George, who took it around the boards, pursued by Miles Bletchley. O'Bannon headed to the right side, with Malfoy and Urquhart flanking him. He had a feeling they'd try to double team him. After all, he was the most experienced member of the Triad.
Good. Concentrate on me and ignore the others.
George tried for a wrap-around only to have it blocked by Crabbe. The big goalie passed the puck to Malfoy, who started down ice . . .
"And it's stolen by Angelina Johnson!" Lee Jordan's voice boomed through his magical microphone. "The prettiest girl at Hogwarts passes it to O'Bannon. One-timer . . . oh, it bounces off Crabbe's very, very big stomach."
"Rocket! Rocket! Rocket!" O'Bannon called for his second line a minute later. Corner, Mireet, Ginny, Goldstein and Justin hopped over the boards. Slytherin also inserted their second line. Goyle led a couple broad shouldered boys after Corner and the girls. Just like the scouting report said, Malfoy's number two line was built for strength, while his revolved around speed. No one from Slytherin could keep up with Ginny and Mireet. The youngest Weasley made a great cross ice pass to the French girl, who raced to the net and slid the puck past Crabbe. The goalie slammed his stick as Ginny and Mireet hugged, joined soon by Corner, Goldstein and Justin.
Three minutes into the game and the Triad led 1-0.
"This is gonna be easy." Dean Thomas pounded on the boards in celebration.
"Don't get overconfident," O'Bannon said. "We've got a lot more game left."
The goal seemed to wake up Malfoy's bunch. At 14:22 the hulking Graham Montague delivered a crushing hit on Ernie MacMillan. After that the physicality increased and the shooting decreased. Velich splattered a Slytherin winger against the boards. Bletchley sent Angelina flying through the air with a vicious hip check. Corner got called for cross-checking Blaise Zabini. Fred drew the biggest cheers when he crushed Malfoy against the boards.
At 3:26, O'Bannon led the G Line back onto the ice. Malfoy responded by sending out his own goon squad, led by Millicent Bulstrode, who resembled a female Crabbe. This group skated even slower than Goyle's line. Fred easily avoided a hip check from a Cro-Magnon looking Slytherin and went on a two-on-none breakaway with O'Bannon.
"Fred Weasley rears back for the shot . . . no!" Lee's voice nearly cracked with excitement. "He passes it to Jimmy O'Bannon! He shoots . . . he scores! Our favorite Yank goes top shelf for the Triad's second goal of the match!"
The crowd went nuts at the end of period one as the Triad led 2-0.
"Get in there, dammit!" Malfoy's shouting could be heard over the cheering. "What the hell's wrong with you lot?"
Smiles and high fives went around the Triad tent. A Seventh Year Hufflepuff named Fiera Sloan, who O'Bannon selected as team trainer because she planned on going into medicine, went around to tend to everyone's bumps and bruises.
"Man, did you see us out there?" Martin Chambers all but bounced up and down. "We're killing those cockroaches."
"Hey, none of that talk!" O'Bannon pointed to him. "You guys played a hell of a period, but we're only up two-zip. Quite frankly I hoped it woulda been more, but Crabbe's doing a lot better in goal than I expected."
Actually, the entire Slytherin team played better than he expected. He knew Malfoy's father got four Muggle coaches from Eastern Europe and modified their minds to make them think they were coaching a Muggle youth hockey team.
Looks like Draco's dad got his money's worth.
Slytherin came out in the second period with renewed fire. Fred, Corner, Ginny, Ernie and Summerby all took some wicked hits. O'Bannon used his Bruise Line more than he wanted, but it did bring the fans out of their seats when Kurdzeli turned Bletchley and Goyle into stains on the ice. O'Bannon also took a wicked check from Malfoy, then paid him back with an elbow to the face that earned him two minutes in the penalty box.
Forty seconds later, Blaise Zabini snuck past Goldstein and slid the puck between Harkorth's legs. Triad 2, Slytherin 1.
"Come, guys!" O'Bannon shouted as he emerged from the box. "Don't get suckered in to their game." Yeah, that's advice I should take.
"He's right," said Fred. "Hurt 'em where it counts. On the scoreboard."
Two minutes later, O'Bannon and Fred led by example. Fred worked the puck out of their right corner and sent it down the ice to O'Bannon. He took it just past the neutral zone, then unleashed a wicked slapshot. The puck screamed past Crabbe.
Triad 3, Slytherin 1.
The play became more vicious. Malfoy got called for a slash on Mireet, who sat out a couple shifts while Fiera sealed up a cut on her chin. Finnigan got nailed for a high stick that blackened Pansy Parkinson's left eye. At 8:17, Velich and Montague dropped the gloves and pounded the snot out of one another. The crowd screamed like mad as both players went to the box. Two minutes later, Goyle got called for tripping. The following Triad power play lasted for twenty seconds until George Weasley got tagged with a high stick on Urquhart.
"And it looks like that blow knocked out Urquhart's front teeth," announced Lee Jordan. "Now he looks uglier than he did before."
While Professor McGonagall scolded Lee, O'Bannon led Ginny and Angelina in the three-on-three battle. The Slytherins played tic-tac-toe with the puck until Blaise Zabini went to shoot it. Ginny moved up to block him. Zabini smiled and slipped the puck to Malfoy, who fired a one-timer at Harkorth. The Triad goalie got caught leaning to his left.
Triad 3, Slytherin 2.
Fiera was extremely busy in the tent during the second intermission. She reattached Justin Finch-Fletchley's front teeth, fixed Angelina Johnson's swollen lip, and applied cold wrap spells to ankles, shoulders and knees, including O'Bannon's left ankle.
"We're getting battered out there." Dean Thomas rubbed his left shoulder. "We've gotta start knocking some more heads together."
"That's the last thing we need to do." O'Bannon groaned as he stood. "You saw what happened when we retaliated. We were down to three-on-three and Slytherin scored on us. I know you hate these chumpstains and want to smear them all over the ice, but we're only up by one goal. We gotta play more disciplined hockey and not retaliate on every little hit."
"That's gonna be hard to do," Corner said. "Slytherin's all over us."
O'Bannon chewed on his lip. "Then we'll just have to change our game."
When the third period began, O'Bannon altered his lines. He brought up Eloise from the Fly Line to replaced Finnigan in order to add more speed to the G Line. His Bruise Line defenders, Kurdzeli and Velich, replaced Goldstein and Justin on the Rocket Line in hopes of drawing fire away from Ginny, Mireet and Corner.
After O'Bannon won the face-off, Urquhart and Malfoy double teamed him as they had throughout much of the contest. But that gave Eloise the break she needed. Twice she stole the puck. The first time she got out on a breakaway, only to have her shot stopped cold by Crabbe. On the second steal she set up a great scoring opportunity for George, but his shot went wide.
O'Bannon called for the Rocket Line. Malfoy responded with Goyle's line. When they saw the walking rock piles Kurdzeli and Velich, most of the Slytherins took the bait and went after them for payback. While the two Durmstrang guys knocked the Slytherins aside, Corner, Ginny and Mireet raced to the net, with only a terrified Pansy Parkinson to beat.
"Corner feeds it to Mireet," Lee Jordan said. "The lovely girl from Beauxbatons who turned me down for the Yule Ball goes cross ice to Ginny Weasley. One-timer . . . scooooore! It's Triad four, Slytherin two!"
The crowd went insane.
Where most coaches may have concentrated on defense at this point, O'Bannon decided to go for the jugular. Tack on a few more points and put the game out of reach.
Triad took shots at every opportunity. O'Bannon wanted them to put all kinds of pressure on Crabbe, get him flustered, tire him out.
Crabbe, unfortunately, seemed up to the challenge, even making a diving stop on a Katie Bell wrister that O'Bannon begrudgingly admitted was one amazing save . . . dammit.
At 10:57, the great discipline the Triad played with throughout the period fell apart. Ernie MacMillan received a vicious cross-check into the boards by Goyle. Before the ref could escort the Slytherin center to the box, Ernie turned around and shoved Goyle. The gloves came off, fists flew and jerseys were pulled over heads. What would have been a Triad power play turned into five minutes of four-on-four hockey.
After a Katie Bell shot went wide, O'Bannon, the Weasley twins and Eloise hit the ice to cut off the Slytherin attack. Malfoy, Urquhart and Blaise Zabini passed the puck to each other. O'Bannon tensed, waiting for the shot. His eyes swept over the Slytherins. Suddenly his breath caught in his throat. Wait a minute. Where's . . ."
Zabini zipped the puck between O'Bannon and George. Standing to the right of the net, unguarded, was Pansy Parkinson.
Before any of the Triad members could get to her, Pansy went for the wrap-around and squeezed the puck past Harkorth.
O'Bannon slammed his stick on the ice.
Triad 4, Slytherin 3.
Things got even worse at the 7:36 mark. Michael Corner was on Bletchley's rear as he streaked toward the net. Corner's stick got tangled up in the Slytherin boy's skates. The puck got away from Bletchley as stumbled across the ice and into Harkorth. Both players hit helmet-to-helmet. They fell into the net, out cold. Fiera helped some of the professors cart the two off the ice and to the infirmary.
"Bones!" O'Bannon pointed to the Hufflepuff girl. "You're in net!"
Susan Bones sucked down a slow breath before putting on her goalie mask. O'Bannon gripped the side of the boards. Susan had nowhere near the physical presence of Harkorth, but she did have pretty good agility. He hoped that would be enough to hold the lead for the next 7:36.
The Triad's next two assaults on the Slytherin net ended in a save and a wide shot. Malfoy and Urquhart firmly planted themselves in O'Bannon's pockets. He managed to take one pass from George, but couldn't get a good angle and passed it to Eloise, who fanned on the slapshot. Another pass to him was intercepted by Malfoy, who joined Blaise Zabini for a two-on-two against Angelina and Fred.
"Malfoy feeds it to Zabini . . . now back to Malfoy. He takes the shot . . . oh no!" Lee Jordan sounded as if he would cry. "The puck goes right over Susan Bones' shoulder. Now the match is all tied up at four apiece."
The Triad mounted another all-out assault on Crabbe, who stopped four shots. Susan made two saves on rather soft shots from twenty or thirty feet out.
The clock wound down to zero, the score still tied at four. The noise from the stands was deafening.
Triad started the 4-on-4 overtime with the Rocket Line . . . Corner, Ginny, Mireet and Justin. They managed one unsuccessful shot before switching off with the G Line. George's shot went wide, and O'Bannon and Eloise deflected two Slytherin shots on net.
The Rocket Line came out next, but couldn't set up a scoring chance. The Fly Line followed. That's where Tortorov turned the puck over to Zabini, who got out on a breakaway. By the grace of God, he fanned on the shot. The puck trickled into Susan's glove.
1:20 left in OT. George stole the puck from Malfoy and fed it to O'Bannon. He flew through the neutral zone and right past Urquhart, who looked shocked he'd been beaten. The only thing between him and Crabbe was empty air. He licked his lips. He just had to get close enough to . . .
Something hard struck his leg. That was followed by a sickening snap. Pain burned up from O'Bannon's leg into his brain. He collapsed to the ice, reaching down for his ankle.
"O'Bannon's down!" Lee Jordan screamed. "Urquhart hit him in the ankle with his stick! What a despicable, dirty play by that no-good, scum-sucking piece of . . ."
O'Bannon couldn't hear McGonagall ream out Lee as he cried out in pain.
"Jimmy!" George sped toward him, followed by Eloise.
"What's the big idea, Urquhart, you maggot!" Fred screamed.
O'Bannon's face twisted. He groaned so hard he nearly shredded his vocal cords. Fiera came out and felt around his ankle. O'Bannon yelped in pain.
"I'm sorry, Jimmy. Looks like he broke your ankle."
Tears welled up in his eyes. He pounded the ice with a gloved hand. Not like this. Dammit, not like this.
Fred and George helped him off the ice. Urquhart received a game misconduct and was escorted off the ice.
O'Bannon muttered a stream of curses under his breath as the twins brought him to the bench. Expressions of shock, sympathy and worry greeted him. O'Bannon swallowed. The pain suddenly vanished. Just by the looks on their faces he could read their minds. What are we going to do without Jimmy?
"Quit worrying about me. You still got a game to win."
"But you are our best player," said Eloise.
"Maybe I am. But I'm done for this game."
A few Adam's apples bobbed up and down in nervousness.
"Look! Sometimes the player you depend on the most won't always be there for you. You can either do two things. Quit or step up. You really want Slytherin to win?"
"No way!" blurted Corner. All the other players shook their heads.
"Then get out there and play this game like you know how." O'Bannon stuck out his hand. The others did likewise.
"Triad on three. One, two, three . . ."
"All right. Angelina. You take my place on the G-Line. And someone get me a crutch!"
"Jimmy, you have to go to the infirmary," Fiera told him. "Your ankle's . . ."
"I'm not leaving until this game's over."
Those words seemed to renew the fire in The Triad's eyes. As the G Line took the ice, O'Bannon used his stick for support while Fiera put a numbing spell on his ankle.
Fred and Eloise each took a shot on Crabbe, who saved them both. Goyle and Montague then headed for the Triad net. O'Bannon held his breath as Goyle skated within feet of Susan Bones and flipped the puck in the air. She brought up her stick and batted it down.
O'Bannon, the Triad bench, and the fans erupted in cheers.
Slytherin took one more shot that went wide. Overtime ended with the score still tied at four.
"All right." O'Bannon looked around at the Triad. "We survived that. Now it's shootout time. Susan . . ." He put a hand on her glove. "You made some good saves out there. Just keep it up, and let the shooters do the rest. You can do it."
The other players gave her words of encouragement and slapped her shoulders and helmet. Susan forced a smile on her round face.
O'Bannon sent out the Weasleys, while Slytherin countered with Malfoy, Zabini and Goyle. Ginny made her shot. So did Malfoy. O'Bannon chewed on the inside of his cheek. He prayed that wouldn't shatter Susan's confidence.
Fred's shot went wide. Zabini's shot found the mark.
O'Bannon's heart pounded. George had to make this goal or that was it.
The final Weasley shooter worked the puck toward the net. Crabbe stood taller than a goalie should, anticipating a top shelf shot.
George fired the puck between Crabbe's legs. The place exploded in cheers.
Now came Goyle. Several Triad players clasped their hands together and held their breath. A Slytherin goal would end the game.
Goyle deked left, then right, then left. Susan anticipated a shot from the right.
Goyle shot from the left.
O'Bannon closed his eyes.
The ping rang throughout the pond.
"IT HIT THE POST!!" Lee Jordan screamed. "IT'S A METALLURGY SAVE!!"
O'Bannon nearly collapsed in relief. The Triad was still alive.
Mireet was the next shooter for The Triad. She faked out Crabbe and beat him on the right side. But Adrian Pucey came back and scored for Slytherin.
The Triad went with Eloise as their fifth shooter. She faked out Crabbe and went top shelf.
Graham Montague also went top shelf on Susan.
O'Bannon stifled a moan. God, but he missed Harkorth.
Michael Corner went out as the Triad's sixth shooter. O'Bannon briefly shook his head. The guy who couldn't stand hockey at first now had the game on his shoulders.
Corner started out. Right, left, right, left . . .
Come on, Mike. Shoot!
Corner got within a few feet of Crabbe and flipped the puck over his stick for the goal.
Slytherin trotted out Pansy Parkinson. O'Bannon clenched his hockey stick until his knuckles turned white. Susan Bones had yet to make a save on her own.
Please . . . please.
Pansy headed toward her. The Slytherin girl didn't do much in the way of deking. She just came at Susan in a fairly straight line. Maybe she'd wait until the last second and . . .
"Pansy breaks to the left," Lee Jordan announced. "She shoots . . ."
The sound of rubber against leather resounded through the air.
"BONES CAUGHT IT!! SHE CAUGHT IT!! THE TRIAD WINS!! THE TRIAD WINS!!"
Everyone on the Triad bench jumped for joy and hugged one another. O'Bannon ignored his broken ankle and jumped right along with them.
Slytherin left the ice, heads down, while the Triad all skated out to center ice, sticks raised. Everyone in the grandstands, with the exception of the Slytherins, were on their feet cheering their heads off. Fireworks in the shape of hockey stick triangles burst overhead.
O'Bannon gazed at the smiling faces around him. Then his eyes swept over the stands. Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, Durmstrang. Just like his team, they were no longer separate houses and schools.
They were a single entity.
They were truly a Triad.
After Madam Pomfrey took care of their injuries, the Triad raced down to the Great Hall, where the usual supper turned into a celebration of their victory. As soon as they entered the hall, each player was mobbed by students and parents. O'Bannon had to endure questions from a rather eccentric woman from The Daily Prophet named Rita Skeeter. She seemed more interested in which players were dating whom and his thoughts on Harry Potter than in the game.
"Brilliant job out there, Jimmy!" Harry Potter came up to him and pumped his hand vigorously.
"That was great!" Parvati Patil beamed at him. "I never thought a Muggle game could be so exciting."
Then Ron Weasley approached. "Sorry I acted like such a git, Jimmy. Good job of putting Malfoy's bunch in their place."
The two shook hands.
Minutes later the Great Hall quieted down as Dumbledore made a speech. He congratulated the Triad on their victory, and pointed out how everyone came away with a better understanding of the Muggle world and forged new friendships.
As soon as he finished, Dumbledore departed the Great Hall.
"Hang on a sec, ladies," O'Bannon said to Mireet and Susan Bones. "I'll be right back."
He ran out of the Great Hall as fast as his newly mended ankle allowed and caught up with Dumbledore.
The old wizard turned around. "Yes, Jimmy?"
"There's something I wanted to ask you. It's just . . . well, I know you gotta be busy running this school and dealing with the Tri-Wizard Tournament. I'm just surprised that you'd take such an interest in a bunch of kids playing pond hockey."
Dumbledore's long gray beard twitched as he smiled. "Do you really think this endeavor of yours was just about playing pond hockey?"
"Huh?" O'Bannon canted his head.
"Do you remember at the start-of-term feast, when I talked about the Tri-Wizard Tournament fostering cooperation between Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang?"
"Whether you knew it or not, you were doing exactly what I had hoped. You took students from three different Hogwarts houses, from three different schools in three different countries. You gave them a common goal. Because of you, the students on your team did not see themselves as Gryffindors or Ravenclaws or Durmstrangs. They saw themselves as the Triad. Your fellow students who were in the stands today did not cheer for their individual houses or schools. They cheered for a single team. And more important than your victory over Slytherin, your team, that game, created lasting friendships between the houses and the three schools. The unity you helped create will be needed for what lies ahead."
"What do you mean?" O'Bannon furrowed his brow.
"I'm referring to something I've feared for a long time. For thirteen years, in fact."
O'Bannon gazed at the headmaster, his mind clicking away. Thirteen years? Why so exact? What happened thirteen years ago?
Then it hit him. "Are you . . . are you talking about You-Know-Who?"
Dumbledore nodded. "I have never believed him to be dead. I firmly believe he is still out there, seeking to regain his powers. And when he does, Merlin help us all."
A shiver went up O'Bannon's spine. He wanted to tell Dumbledore he was off his rocker. You-Know-Who was dead. Period. But . . .
"I know some wizards and witches back in America who say the same thing."
"And you trust them?"
"Yeah." He nodded. "Yeah I do. They told me some absolute horror stories about what You-Know-Who's followers in America did during the war." He paused to swallow. "You . . . you really think he's gonna come back and start another war?"
"I do," Dumbledore said solemnly. Then his ancient wrinkled face brightened. "But thanks to you, many of your friends will have the tools necessary to fight and win when the time comes."
O'Bannon's face scrunched in bewilderment. "Huh?"
"Your team, the Triad, had to use ways other than magic to defeat Slytherin today. When you, their leader and best player, could no longer continue, they had to reach down and find an inner strength to carry them on to victory. You taught them that even in the most desperate of times, they can find a way to triumph."
With that, Dumbledore smiled and left.
O'Bannon stood frozen, replaying Dumbledore's words in his head. When he started out, he was just looking for a way to enjoy himself, maybe share his passion with a few other students.
Who knew one game of hockey could change the world.
- THE END -
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is just the beginning of Jimmy O'Bannon's adventures. Check out his further adventures in one-shots like "The Luna Effect" and "Cold Laughter." As the war heats up, see how Jimmy handles it both in America and in Britain in my multi-chapter fics "Air of Disharmony," "Dark Horizon" and "Midnight's Blood."