Disclaimer: Harry Potter and its associated properties is owned by JK Rowling and her partners
It's only taken me 1½ years, but I've finally come up with a plot for this thing, which means I can continue it, as opposed to just the nonsense of the first one. I highly recommend rereading the first chapter if you haven't already - I've made a lot of changes to dialogue and the like, fixed errors, etc. Chapter 2 is also nearly 13000 words, so that's some consolation, right? And it only took me a week and a half to write, so I'm getting faster. Eventually I hope to be at a point where I can casually spit out 50000 words a day. That'll be great. Fingers crossed, eh?
The warrior sat in his battered clothes atop the corpse of the thing that had shattered the world. In the end, it seemed almost anticlimactic to destroy Voldemort after everything he had done to set the planet on fire. It seemed almost... too easy.
But it had not been a simple path to get to that point - the brave and blood-spattered wizard had lost so many friends it scarcely mattered that he had eviscerated so many foes as well. Countless Dark wizards and witches had died by his wand, including some that had brought him enormous relief.
Not one of those deaths could make up for the losses of his closest friends, dead for over a decade. Murdered by the machinations of the now comatose Riddle. If he was honest to himself, he always thought that Riddle would have had some exit strategy - a way to get out if he couldn't win. Although Riddle was so very arrogant, he might never have even thought to use it.
But that didn't mean that Riddle hadn't planned for such a thing. A quick and thorough search of the body revealed an item that sent a chill down his spine. An old artifact, but one of shocking power - modified by Riddle himself, if the warrior had it right. He looked at the devastation around him, the results of a pitched and frenzied battle - so much death. So much suffering.
There was always the possibility that it was a final trap by Riddle, something that would erase all the efforts done to avenge the death of Harry, of Ron, of Hermione... of all his friends. But as he looked down at the very old watch, he realized that it no longer mattered. He wanted a chance to change things for the better. Riddle had first been defeated on a Halloween so long ago, and now his final defeat was on the eve of the holiday nearly thirty years later. It seemed fitting.
It was so simple and easy to use the watch, but as it ticked backwards, it began to crumble into dust. A one-way trip then. Fair enough.
As the years had passed and the country healed from the scars of the war, he pretended it didn't bother him. One victory after another, and he fooled himself into thinking it mattered.
A string of World Cup triumphs, and he told himself it made up for the loss so long ago.
But then, after nearly three decades of blind and foolish living, he shattered his arm, and was forced into retirement - he would never be able to play again. After a hundred horrible, drunken nights, a bizarre thought came into his addled mind. If he could somehow go back and win that Quidditch Cup, then everything would somehow work out. He had an obscene amount of money from his many years playing and endorsing products - he had never much cared for spending the money, so it just sat there, building up over time.
Even with all the money a former World Cup star could bring to bear, the search took many years. Until one day he learned of an old shimmering of reality that happened on Hallow's Eve at Stonehenge once every century - and he just was in time to catch it in a year hence. At that precise moment, the eye of a thousand thousand rituals echoed throughout time would collapse on point, theoretically pushing anything in the circle to one point in time. And with a bit of manipulation, the destination could be controlled and determined. That final year of waiting and preparing passed slowly and terribly, but he passed the time planning play after brilliant play, ready to take the Quidditch world of the past by storm.
So when the day arrived, he stepped into the perfectly prepared spell circle in the middle of Stonehenge, more than happy to travel back to where it could all be fixed - probably. And then everything else would just work itself out - more than likely.
Poor Harry. The dying boy lay in his arms, a peaceful expression on his face.
"You did your best, truly," he said softly, coughing up blood. But the older boy couldn't help but sob - he had not been able to keep the young Gryffindor alive. And now Voldemort was out there, back again, ready to plunge the world into war.
The older boy's eyes narrowed and suddenly everything became crystal clear. He would avenge Harry's murder and take down Voldemort, whatever the cost. No matter what sacrifices were required. And somehow, someday, he would find a way to settle the score for not protecting Harry.
But it wouldn't be quite that easy. Although his girlfriend and Harry's friends were only too happy to help fight against Voldemort, or Riddle as it was soon learned was the bastard's true name, such efforts were just momentary delays in Riddle's mad attack against all the world.
It would be the turning point on the anniversary of the death of Harry's parents, a bleak and dismal Halloween, as the sad man sat and commiserated with the surviving fighters. Because Hermione, always a great resource and brilliant fighter, had finally had enough. She had a fantastic plan, one that apparently she had been working on for ages. Send someone back in time to save Harry and destroy Riddle. Everyone argued that she be the one to go back, but that was impossible - she was the only one who could trigger the time gate - by the eldritch and horrible sacrifice of her own soul.
So it turned to the now subdued but determined man, as their leader for so many years, to go back and leave everyone behind. He promised them all that his chief priority would be Harry's safety, and then to destroy Riddle. Although he could not take any physical materials with him, Hermione had given him ridiculous amounts of information to memorize about Harry's early life.
Hopefully he could remember it all. Hopefully he could finally settle the anger and hatred he had felt for himself since he had seen Harry die in his arms. Not this time. Harry would live - at all costs.
Far Too Many Time Travelers
Chapter 2: I Say, That's Enough of That
The next day got off to quite a rousing start when Ron punched Malfoy in the face.
It started innocently enough, of course, with Harry enjoying his breakfast with his crazy friends - and then Harry had received a brand new broom for his Quidditch training. While most of the table enthused and responded enthusiastically, Hermione kept looking over at the Slytherin and glaring at Malfoy, who glared right back at her. Eventually Ron stopped eating long enough to notice and then he stood.
"Malfoy, bee in your bonnet?" He yelled bizarrely across the room. "Something in your eye?"
"Shut your mouth, Weasley!" Malfoy yelled back.
Hermione hissed at Ron. "Sit down, Ronald! What are you doing? You'll get in trouble!" Then a very odd expression appeared on her face, and she looked back and forth between Ron and Malfoy. She frowned and then suddenly gasped.
"What is it?" Harry asked in curiosity.
"That was a mistake," muttered Parvati to him.
"Um, oh did you hear what Malfoy called me?" Hermione said and covered her face with her hands. "Something awful earlier today."
Ron looked over and there was a dark fury in his eyes. "What did that bastard say to you?" He asked in a low and angry voice.
McGonagall appeared suddenly near them. "Mr. Weasley, what is the meaning of this outburst?"
"Nothing," Ron answered with an overly calm tone. "Nothing at all." He sat back down and continued eating, although his eyes never left Malfoy across the Hall.
"I certainly hope not," the Professor told him, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "You have quite enough detentions already, I'd imagine." She then strode off dramatically back to the Head Table.
When she was out of earshot, Ron asked, "What did he call you?"
"Oh, I shouldn't repeat it, whatever it was," Hermione said dismissively, and pulled out some parchment. She wrote down something and then quickly folded it up. "I really must be off, I forgot something in my room. See you in class!"
This didn't seem to help Ron's mood, as he continued to brood angrily until they left the Hall and started walking to class. Unfortunately Malfoy then apparently decided to make another appearance. Normally this wouldn't necessarily be so bad, but Draco couldn't seem to stop himself from insulting Ron again.
"Why do you hang around this moron, Potter?" Malfoy asked derisively. "Granger I can understand to some extent - she's a smart one, for a mudblood."
"Is that what you called her?" Ron tightened his fists and glared at the Slytherin.
Malfoy shrugged dismissively. "And if I did?"
And then Ron punched him, before anyone else could react.
"Ron!" Harry gasped and pulled him back. "What did you do that for?"
Malfoy growled and pulled out his wand.
"Wait a minute!" Harry said quickly. "Let's not go crazy here. We don't even know any good spells for cursing yet anyway."
"I suppose that's true, Potter," Malfoy said slowly. "Just tell that to Weasley. Might take a few times to get through that thick skull of his." With a huff, he turned and walked away.
"Hmm," Parvati frowned. "I hate to say it, but if Malfoy really did call Hermione that name, perhaps he had it coming."
Ron turned to her and grinned widely. "Thanks Parvati! Gryffindors forever, right?" He brandished a fist and winked at them.
"What was the name again?" Harry asked. "I didn't quite catch it."
Parvati looked around a bit with a worried expression. "Well, it's a very offensive word. You don't see any professors around, do you?"
"Nope!" Ron said, still smiling like a loon. "Otherwise I'd have probably gotten another detention."
"Very true," muttered Parvati. "Well, Harry, the word Malfoy used was 'mudblood' - it's an awfully cruel thing to call Muggle-borns, so mind you don't repeat it!"
Harry held up his hands. "Don't worry, I won't! Are you sure Malfoy knew what it meant?"
"Oh, he knew all right," Ron said with a scowl. "Probably heard it from Mummy or dear old Dad."
Parvati shrugged apologetically at Harry. "As mad as Ron usually is, he's probably right about that. The Malfoys are pretty big into blood purity."
"I see," Harry replied, thinking about it. There seemed to be layers to magical society he hadn't even considered. "I suppose that Malfoy seems like a jerk, but maybe he doesn't know any better if he was raised that way."
"Giving him an awful lot of credit," Parvati told him with a snicker.
"Too much," Ron growled as Hermione ran up just as they reached the classroom.
"Oh, good!" She exclaimed. "I'm not late. Did I miss anything?"
Later in the evening, while most people sat around working on their classwork, Ron just moped about and scribbled little drawings on his parchment.
"So bored..." he moaned.
Hermione glared at him. "If you're so bored you can't help but bother everyone else, you could always find a book in the Library you've yet to read. Or, if you're you, maybe you could write a list of things you need to accomplish."
"Huh." Ron grunted. "That's not such a bad idea. The second one, not the Library one."
"Or you could help Harry with his homework."
"Hey, I'm doing fine," Harry insisted, although this was only mostly true. He had missed some time to work that evening with his Quidditch training earlier, although that bit was actually fun. "Not everyone can be a genius like you two."
Ron laughed loudly. "Yeah, that's me, a genius. Shocking business, innit? Who'd have guessed little Ronnie would already know everything? My Mum'll be so proud." He stopped smiling and then looked quite contemplative. "You know, I should write to her. And Dad, too. Hell, I should write Bill and Charlie too, it's been ages since I've seen them." He got up and hurried out of the common area.
Hermione watched him go with a surprised look on her face, then she smiled slightly and shook her head. "Oh, Ron."
"Oh, Ron, is it?" Harry asked in exasperation. "I don't get you two. It's like you have your own secret genius language or something."
"Something like that," replied Hermione in a very soft voice. "Although I imagine he hasn't realized it yet."
Harry rolled his eyes at the cryptic nonsense, which was quite typical for Hermione or Ron. "As much as you two hate Malfoy, and I will admit he can be a bit of a pain, at least he's not a crazy genius above the rest of us. Sometimes I think he's actually more normal than you two."
"What a thing to say!" Hermione gasped. "Harry James Potter, you take that back!"
"Have you thought that maybe he's the way he is because of his parents?" Harry riposted. "And that perhaps he's trying to be decent, but it's hard for him."
Hermione huffed. "No, I do not." This seemed to end her side of the argument, and Harry didn't really feel like continuing it.
Soon enough, Harry grew too tired to continue working and began to gather up his things.
"Oh, before you go," Hermione said without looking up from her book. "I recently read in the newspaper about a disease that's been going around magical pets. You should tell Neville and Ron to have their little friends checked out by Madame Pomfrey."
"Okay," Harry said, a bit taken aback. "Do you think Hedwig might need to be looked at too?"
Hermione paused and she seemed to be thinking. "Hmm, I don't believe so. I'm pretty sure that the warning was only about mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Birds should be alright, otherwise they'd have to check the entire Owlery. And in that case, they'd get to Hedwig anyhow." She smiled at him. "Night!"
"Good night" Harry replied in amusement. He wasn't sure how she could manage to still be so chipper so late in the night, but perhaps she was used to it.
When Harry got to his dorm, Ron was in the middle of writing a long note and Neville was reading something in his bed. Seamus was staring out the window while Dean had already fallen asleep.
"Hey Neville, Ron!" Harry said a bit quietly, so as not to disturb Dean. "Hermione told me about a disease that's been spreading for magical pets."
Neville paled. "What?"
Ron looked up from his note in surprise. "Huh?"
"Yeah, so you should get Madame Pomfrey - um, whoever that is - to take a look at Trevor and Scabbers."
"She's the nurse and Matron of the Hospital Wing," Neville explained. "But I didn't know she could heal animals too."
"Scabbers." Ron said this word and then his eyes grew very wide. He sat up straight as he was about to jump out of bed. Then he took a deep breath and visibly calmed himself down. "Um, right. Thanks for the tip, Harry. I'll take him over tomorrow."
He then grinned a very nasty sort of grin and winked at Harry.
But in the scheme of things, this was hardly so unusual behavior coming from Ron, so Harry found it quite easy to ignore it entirely.
The next morning Ron got up shockingly early and seemed to be far too good a mood.
"I've got Scabbers all ready to be checked out," he told a still bleary Harry. "Neville, you coming?"
"Er, no, not yet," replied Neville slowly. "I'm not even dressed yet. And what about breakfast? Are you just going to skip it?"
"Hmm," Ron frowned as he considered this new bit of information. "I suppose you're right. I just worry so much about - " at this he held up his rat and made a silly face -"poor widdle Scabbers. Don't want him to be sick, right?"
"Just go after breakfast," Harry said, pulling himself out of bed, but really wanted to go back to sleep. "And don't let them on the table, it'd be gross."
"Well spotted, Harry," Ron shot him a wink. "I suppose you're the genius around here after all, eh?"
Harry just rolled his eyes and shared a glance with Neville, who looked just as confused.
Ron ate his breakfast even faster than normal, and then began to rock back and forth in anticipation. "Come on, Nev! We've gotta take our pets to be checked out!"
"One minute," replied Neville. "I'm almost done."
"What's wrong with your pets?" Parvati asked and then winced. "Why did I ask?" she muttered softly.
"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing serious," Hermione assured her. "Just something the Daily Prophet is advising - something about a new disease that non-owls might be susceptible to." She turned and smiled and Ron and Neville. "I can go with you for moral support, if you're worried about it."
Ron raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Alright," he said slowly. "Couldn't hurt, right?"
Neville got up and picked up a small box where he had been keeping Trevor. He took a quick look inside the air holes. "Good, he's still here. You ready, Ron?"
"Of course!" Ron said, leaping up in excitement. "Harry, are you coming?"
"I wasn't planning on it," Harry replied, a bit taken aback.
Ron leaned over and whispered, "but look at poor Neville. He's so nervous."
Harry tried to casually look at Neville without being obvious, a bit skeptical of Ron's claim. Although it was often true that Neville tended to be nervous - but on the other hand, Ron was nuts.
"And it's a good idea to know where the Hospital Wing is, anyway," Ron pointed out.
"Fine," Harry said finally with a sigh. "I suppose that much is at least somewhat logical."
"You're going too?" Parvati asked, looking quite worried. She grimaced and got up herself. "Very well, I suppose I don't have a choice."
"I'm sure it'll be crowded enough already," Hermione told her calmly.
Parvati looked at her with suspicion. "I don't know what you're planning with Neville or Harry, but I'm coming too."
"Parv!" Lavender Brown gasped with shock.
"I'll be fine," Parvati assured her friend. "Don't worry."
"Besides," she told Harry as they walked to the infirmary. "If you don't get some exposure to some normal people, you might end up like your crazy genius friends."
Harry laughed and then frowned. "I hope not."
"What's going on here?" An older woman that could only be Madame Pomfrey frowned at the various Gryffindors approaching. "Is there some kind of emergency?"
"No, nothing like that," Ron said quickly and then brandished his rat. "I brought Scabbers and Neville brought his toad Trevor to be checked out."
"You can do that, right?" Hermione asked in a slightly worried tone.
Pomfrey made a disapproving sound. "I can," she said after a moment. "But I tend not focus on animals - specifically there are issues with magical animals you should really go to Professor Kettleburn for. But for simple pets as rats or toads, I suppose I can perform a limited review. Is there a particular reason you all came today?"
"There was a rumor of a disease spreading against magical pets," Hermione cut in. "So I passed that information along."
"I hadn't heard anything like that," Pomfrey said with a frown. "But I suppose I can ask the Headmaster to make an announcement about it. We wouldn't want an outbreak after all. And I think I will be speaking to Silvanus - that's Professor Kettleburn - about it to make sure I'm not forgetting something." She looked over at Harry and Parvati. "And you two, why are you here?"
"Moral support," Harry grumbled and then tried to smile at the nurse.
Pomfrey looked like she did not quite believe this, but then she nodded. "Very well, as I don't have anyone else here at the moment, I suppose it's acceptable for now. You are Neville Longbottom, correct?"
Neville nodded and held up his perforated box.
"I make it a point to learn all first years by name and face," the nurse said a bit smugly. "Hand your pet over then." She waved her wand and the box opened. Another quick wave and Trevor was suddenly absolutely still.
"Wow, what was that spell?" Hermione enthused.
"A simple binding spell," Pomfrey explained. "It's entirely painless but we don't want the 'patient' running off, do we?" She performed a few other spells, lighting up the room with various bright colors for several moments. "Hmm, I don't see anything abnormal. Perhaps a bit underfed, but that's easily remedied if you remember to feed him on a regular basis."
"I try, Madam," Neville insisted, looking a bit scared. "But sometimes he disappears for hours or more. I assume he's eating flies or something."
Pomfrey pursed her lips. "Be more careful in the future," she told him sharply. "Toads are easy to overlook, and you wouldn't want anyone to hurt him, would you?"
Neville shook his silently and accepted back his toad.
"Now, for Mister Ronald Weasley, correct? And your pet is a rat?"
Ron nodded and proffered the rat, who seemed quite insensate.
"Hmm," Pomfrey waved her wand in a similar fashion as before, then she frowned. "What's his name?"
"Scabbers!" Ron told her with a grin. "I inherited from Percy, my older brother."
"Yes, yes, I know who he is," the nurse said with a bit of a catch in her throat. "And how old would you say Scabbers is?"
Ron scratched his head. "Hard to say, really. Gotta be at least ten years. Is that odd for rats? I've always assumed he was quite old."
"I think we had better get Silvanus up here to take a look at him," Pomfrey said worriedly. "Something's not right."
"Is he okay?" Ron asked loudly.
Harry looked at him strangely - it was odd, Ron seemed almost... happy that his pet might be ill. Or perhaps it was just additional craziness.
Pomfrey lit up an odd green fire in a nearby brazier. "Silvanus, a word if you are there."
"What is that she's talking into?" Harry asked in a low voice.
"Floo" - this came from every other person at once, so Harry was more than a bit taken aback.
Parvati scowled at them. "Why don't you let me explain it for once?"
Ron held up his hands to fend her off. "Fine, fine. Do what you want."
Hermione rolled her eyes but nodded.
"Floo is the way wizards and witches talk to each other over long distances," explained Parvati brightly, turning away from the others in what seemed quite intentional. "We use a special sort of powder, called Floo Powder naturally, and the hearth or fireplace or whatever has to be connected to the Floo Network."
"The Ministry controls the Network and sets it up," Ron put in, but then stopped speaking when Parvati glared at him.
"Anyway, the Ministry does have a special department to manage Floo connections, adding them to people's houses or business," Parvati continued with another glare at Ron. "You can also use it to travel between two places in a moment if you know the name of the place where you're going. Like The Leaky Cauldron or the Hog's Head, and so on."
"Oh, I get it," Harry said. "It's sort like a mix between telephones - that's a Muggle thing - and something truly magical. I suppose I should've expected a kind of teleporting thing."
"Fellytones, you say?" Ron asked with a grin. "My dad's mad about them. Has no idea how they work, mind you."
Hermione looked a bit annoyed at this. "Ron, they are called telephones. Te-leh-phones. Not feh-lee-tones. It's not that hard."
"I can say it!" Parvati interrupted quickly. "It's telefons! Is that right, Harry?"
"Close," he told her apologetically. "Not telefons, tele-phones."
"Not so easy, is it?" Ron quipped.
"Shut it, Weasley!" Parvati scowled at him.
Then Harry saw a man step out of the fire into the infirmary. He was an older, very scarred man, with a wooden leg and an actual hook for a hand.
"Let me take a look at the creature," the man said.
"Children, this is Professor Kettleburn," Madame Pomfrey told them. "He's the school's leading expert and instructor on magical creatures. You'll get a chance to learn with him if you wish starting in your third year."
"If I haven't retired by then," Kettleburn muttered, looking closely at Scabbers. He waved his wand and looked quite puzzled. "Homenum Revelio." He then gasped suddenly. "Poppy, please get the Headmaster here immediately. This is an Animagus."
The nurse's eyes widened in shock. "Impossible!" She turned to the fire again and called out, "Headmaster, please answer."
After only a few seconds, what appeared to be Professor Dumbledore's head seemed to be in the fire.
Harry almost moved forward to do something before realizing that it was probably quite safe - they'd hardly be using it otherwise.
"Is he okay?" He asked Neville quietly.
Neville nodded. "Yeah, Harry. Floo fire can't hurt you."
"What seems to the problem?" Dumbledore's flaming head asked.
"Potential emergency," Pomfrey told him. "Please come through."
"At once," the Headmaster replied and then came through the fire in much the same way as Kettleburn had. He looked around the room and blinked. "My word, there are quite a few of us here, aren't there?"
Kettleburn grunted, not having moved his eyes from the rat. "Albus, this here rat is an Animagus."
"But it's my pet!" Ron said with alarm.
Dumbledore moved quickly over to the rat and pulled out his own wand. After a few brief silent waves, he looked very surprised and turned to the students. "Children, I must ask you to return to your rooms. We will likely need to contact the Ministry about this."
"I don't get it," Ron whined in what Harry considered quite an overdramatic manner. "How can Scabbers be an Animagus? He's been with the family for years."
"You know," Hermione said slowly. "If Scabbers was really a hidden man or woman in disguise, don't you think Ron has the right to know? After all, the rat has been sleeping in his and Percy's beds for years, right?"
Dumbledore's face darkened and he looked almost angry. "Perhaps you are right, Miss Granger. But if there is a security concern, I would not wish to risk anything in regards to the safety of students. Please, all of you, stand back so I can prepare a bit of protection."
Harry quickly moved back to the nearest wall, and Neville and Parvati followed right after. Hermione joined them after surreptitiously pulling out her wand.
"You too, Mister Weasley," Pomfrey said crossly. "Do as the Headmaster requests."
Ron winced. "Ah, right, sorry." He moved back with the other Gryffindors.
"Silvanus, please place the rat on the floor and step back," instructed Dumbledore. "But keep your wand at the ready."
Kettleburn nodded and complied, slowly placing the rat's cage on the floor and then backed away with his wand pointed at Scabbers.
Dumbledore mumbled some words and waved his wand several times. Instantly a bright circle burst into light around the rat, then faded as though nothing was there. After another minute or so of quick silent spellwork, the Headmaster lowered his wand and moved to stand between the rat and the students.
"Silvanus, if you will, the Homorphus charm."
Harry peered forward around the Headmaster's robes to watch. The rat shuddered and then suddenly grew into the shape of a short, portly man, in very ratty clothes.
Pomfrey gasped. "It cannot be!"
"Stupefy," Dumbledore said quickly and the man collapsed onto the floor. "Well, it seems we will need to contact the Ministry after all." He looked back at Ron and the others. "I am afraid, Mister Weasley, that your pet rat was someone we will need to question extensively. Do not worry, we will be sure to explain everything as much as permitted. But for now, I think it best that you all return to Gryffindor Tower."
"But - " Ron started to say.
"No, no," Dumbledore interrupted him. "You do not need to speak with whoever this might be. If we need your help, Mister Weasley, I will let you know. Understood?"
Ron nodded, but looked a bit grumpy.
As they walked back to the Tower, each one guessing randomly who the man might be, Neville suddenly gasped.
"Oh no! I left Trevor back there!"
Ron laughed and patted Neville on the back. "No worries, Nev. I rather think he'll be okay. You can get him back later."
Neville nodded with a frown.
"You must feel... terribly violated," Hermione said to Ron archly. "I am quite sorry."
"Eh?" Ron looked at her in confusion. "Oh, yes, I see. You're right, I feel awful."
Parvati sighed and made a huffing sound. "You two are just plain awful."
Soon after, a great many things suddenly happened all at once, mostly explained to them by McGonagall. It appeared that the man was actually someone named Peter Pettigrew, who had been a friend of Harry's parents, and had been assumed dead, murdered by another of James and Lily's friends. The man, named Sirius Black, had been thrown in the Wizarding prison Azkaban but was now being held in a holding cell for a retrial.
"I cannot believe this nonsense," Hermione spat, throwing down a copy of the daily newspaper. "The Ministry is talking about trying Sirius for attempted murder instead of just murder. Can't they see Pettigrew was the real killer?"
"Why would you say that?" Harry asked her. "I mean, Professor McGonagall told us that it was likely Pettigrew escaped after Sirius cursed him, and was driven mad enough afterwards to hide out as a rat for years. Hardly the actions of a sane fellow."
Ron shuddered. "Still gives me the creeps, though."
Hermione gave him an odd look. "Is that so?"
The redhead looked right back at her. "I'd say it is."
Harry sighed. It appeared that his friends were still completely and utterly out of their minds, as per usual. He wondered if his other crazy friend Malfoy had any insights on this Pettigrew business, or if he was still too angry at Ron to bother. So Harry decided to intercept Draco later that day after one of their classes.
When Malfoy spotted Harry by himself, he looked a bit surprised. "Potter, where are your little annoyances?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "You know, you're not exactly the friendliest sort either."
Malfoy chuckled a bit and grinned. "You've got me there, Potter. Did you want something?"
"Yeah, you know about this stuff with Sirius Black and Pettigrew?" Harry realized he had meant to bring a copy of the newspaper with him for reference but had forgotten. "Did you hear about it?"
"How could I avoid it?" Malfoy made a face. "It's clear what happened, of course. Black went mad after the Dark Lord killed... well, you know."
"My parents?" Harry asked, knowing the answer. "It's okay, you can talk about them. Just don't insult them or anything."
Draco nodded. "Fair enough. So Black was friends with them, and their deaths drove him insane. He went after Pettigrew, because the little rat clearly betrayed the Potters. Once he realized Pettigrew had him beat, he gave up and let the Aurors arrest him."
"That's almost what Hermione said," revealed Harry, a bit surprised they agreed on anything. "But it's hard to believe that. It's so... complicated."
Malfoy huffed. "Well, I suppose Granger is likely the smartest in the year. If hopelessly naive. You should listen to her. And me, of course."
Harry laughed. "Right. Did you hear about me getting on the Quidditch team?"
"Obviously," grunted Malfoy. "I saw the broom as well. Just try not to embarrass the Slytherin team too much if you can help it. Unfortunately Snape won't let me on the team, otherwise you'd have some actual competition."
"Well, perhaps if you were very polite, he might let you," Harry told him with a grin. "But didn't I outrace you once already?"
Malfoy made a rude gesture. "Conversation over, Potter. If I want to be insulted, I'll talk to Professor Snape."
"Fine, fine," laughed Harry. "Later, then."
And for a little while, nothing particularly out of the ordinary occurred. Other than it being a magical school for wizards with a game played on brooms, of course.
The night before Halloween, Harry awoke suddenly at the stroke of midnight at the sound of a loud crash of thunder. Through the window, a cascade of odd colors flashed and undulated and then thunder sounded again, almost at a subvocal level. Harry imagined he could almost feel the sound in his bones. He sat up, grabbing his glasses, and peered out the window to see a shockingly violent storm, clouds rolling and electric charges shuddering through the sky over Hogwarts - but no rain. And then the sound of wind grew and grew, a whistling sound that rumbled just at the edges of his hearing, and then it stopped. Without warning, the storm clouds began to collapse and disappear, and within a minute, the sky was clear and beautiful.
It seemed like an unnatural sort of storm, but then again, this was Hogwarts, and Harry supposed that perhaps it was actually normal weather for a magical school. He turned to try to go back to sleep, his nerves still a bit twinged from waking up so suddenly. The other boys seemed not to have even noticed the thunder at all, except possibly for Neville, who was writing something on a piece of paper.
Harry wondered how Neville could see what he was even doing in the minimal light.
Neville looked over at Harry and smiled. "Okay there, Harry? You have your glasses on. Can't sleep?"
"The thunder woke me up," answered Harry in a soft voice as he adjusted his frames. "Why are you up?"
"Couldn't sleep," Neville replied with a shrug. "But sometimes I like to write down my thoughts of the day, but I seem to have forgotten to bring a diary from home. So it's been random pieces of parchment until Gran owls it over."
"That's a nice idea," admitted Harry. "I guess I just write so much already for homework already, I'm not really in the mood to do it again for myself."
Neville nodded in understanding. "Perfectly logical, Harry. How's the work been so far for you? Pretty easy? Potions aside, of course."
"Actually Potions hasn't been so bad, although I know Snape doesn't like you - on the other hand, he utterly hates Ron and Hermione, after that first day. Well, you remember that, obviously. Those two and Draco getting into a shouting match with Snape." Harry shook his head and smiled sadly. "The three idiots just can't avoid getting into trouble."
"Hmm," Neville said, looking over at Ron's sleeping form with a discerning eye. "I see what you mean. What about Quidditch? Looking forward to the game?"
"I'm a bit nervous," Harry said slowly. "Oliver and Professor McGonagall seem to be expecting an awful lot from me, but I've never even played a full game before. Only practice so far."
Neville grinned. "Harry, you're the best flyer in the school, you just don't realize it yet. You'll kick Slytherin's arse, trust me. And that's coming from the worst flyer in school."
Harry laughed a bit too loudly, then put his hand over his mouth to avoid waking anyone else up. He yawned suddenly, feeling a bit tired. "Nice talking to you Neville, but I think I'd better go back to sleep."
"Right," Neville nodded. "See you in the morning."
"Let's go, Potter!"
"Wha...?" Harry fumbled for his glasses to see who had woken him up. Oliver Wood, the Quidditch captain, was standing near his bed impatiently tapping his foot.
"Oliver, what time is it?" Harry asked, looking outside to see a still fairly dark sky.
"I dunno, like five thirty or something," Wood said in a hurry. "I've been working for hours to write down some notes. Just get dressed, get your gear, and meet us out on the field in five minutes."
"Five minutes?" Harry gasped in alarm.
"I've already woken the twins and the girls," Oliver told him. "So stop being lazy and get a move on!" With that, the captain left the dorm leaving a still exhausted Harry behind.
"Just two more minutes, Mum," Ron mumbled into his pillow.
Harry sighed and pulled himself out of bed. He still wanted to win the game against Slytherin after all.
Out on the field, Harry was glad to see that the others (excepting Wood, of course) were just as knackered. One of the twins, either Fred or George, Harry wasn't sure which, was still basically asleep on his feet.
"Right!" Oliver shouted, slamming his hand on a large book. "I've come up with a few ingenious maneuvers for our upcoming match." He quickly conjured a large board and began sketching several complicated diagrams, explaining everything in rapid fire speech as he went. Finally he turned back to the team, and asked, "Everyone got it?"
"No," one of the twins said and yawned.
"I did," the other one said. "But I suppose Fred must've left his half of the giant brain we share back in the Tower."
Fred punched his brother on the shoulder, who only laughed loudly (although he did wince a bit).
"It's very complicated, Oliver," Alicia Spinnet said slowly. "I mean, I get... most of it, and I will admit, it's quite clever. I've never seen anything like that before."
"I know!" Oliver grinned and clenched his fist. "Now let's get into the air and get this routine down."
It took nearly three hours, but the team finally managed to complete the Wood's brilliant but insanely convoluted plan. Harry was barely able to move, let alone continue flying, but he could admit that it all seemed like it'd work well indeed.
"We'll have to go through it a few more times this week," Oliver told them with a big grin. "It isn't quite seamless enough."
Oliver scowled at them. "Whinge all you want, but just picture the looks on those bloody Slytherins' faces!"
Groans of mild agreement met this pronouncement.
"Great," Oliver clapped his hands loudly. "Now go eat breakfast. Don't want to lose strength, eh?"
Harry accidentally missed his mouth several times during breakfast due to his twitching muscles, but soon he felt well enough to appreciate the delicious smells of baking pumpkin and spiced cider that wafted through the halls. Ron and Hermione seemed a bit on edge, although with them, who could say if it was truly unusual behavior?
The first class of the day was Charms, and Professor Flitwick told them all with a joyful voice that he thought they might be able to handle a bit of object flying.
Harry ended up paired with Seamus Finnegan, who winked at him.
"Bet yeh're glad to have some time away from nutto one and nutto two, am I right?" he asked with a sly grin.
"You might say that," Harry said with a grin of his own. "Just don't you show off too."
"Wouldn't dream of it, Harry," Seamus told him. "I'm just as rubbish as you."
Harry rolled his eyes. "That might be taking it a bit too far."
Flitwick went over the instructions for the Levitation Charm, being quite clear about the pronunciation and wand movements. "Now get to it!" He said with a big smile.
"Wingardium Leviosa!" Ron shouted out, and his feather jumped into the air at the perfect position, steady as a mountain.
Hermione, who was paired with him, scowled and then waved her wand, causing her feather to jump up - although she hadn't actually said anything. They looked at the Professor a bit expectantly.
Flitwick frowned. "I hope you aren't expecting any points for such an ostentatious lack of discipline," he chided them. "And Miss Granger, might I suggest you ensure you can cast the spell first before attempting it silently?"
Ron ducked his head and Hermione's face turned scarlet.
Feeling a bit frustrated at his so-called friends always having it so easy, Harry tried the spell himself. "Wingardium Leviosa!" But nothing happened.
"Oh, Harry, your pronunciation isn't quite right," Hermione told him.
Ron looked over. "And your wand should be doing more of a swish and flick, not a swish and tap."
"Fine!" Harry said in a seething tone. He turned to look at his feather. Seamus had just accidentally set fire to his feather, so Harry had it put it out. It seemed like he was always being the responsible one.
"Wingardium Leviosa!" Harry yelled, and his feather jumped up and embedded itself in the ceiling.
Flitwick walked around and chuckled mildly. "An excellent effort, Mister Potter. Just a bit too much force, that's all. You'll get it soon enough, I'm sure. I think five points for coming quite close."
Harry smiled at this unexpected bounty of points.
Ron and Hermione didn't seem to like this particularly. But while Hermione seemed content to stay silent on it, Ron said, "Professor, why didn't we get points?"
"Because, Mister Weasley, there is no place for points-grubbing in my classroom." Flitwick gave the two a fierce look. "Are we clear?"
After the class ended, Harry still felt quite annoyed at the way Ron and Hermione had been behaving and didn't feel like talking to them.
"What's wrong, Harry?" Ron asked in concern.
Hermione bit her lip in worry. "Is it about the Levitation Charm? I'm sure you'll get it."
But before Harry could yell something rude in response, Parvati beat him to it.
"You two have been thoughtless the entire class!" she shouted at them. "To everyone, but especially to poor Harry, who's the only one who can stand you, if you've been keeping track."
Ron scowled at her. "You stay out of this, Parvati! It's none of your business."
"Oh, I think it is," the darkskinned girl said with a sort of righteous fury. Lavender tugged on her arm. "No, let me talk, Lavender. Everyone likes Harry, have you realized that?"
"They do?" Harry asked, quite surprised.
"And they think he's quite nice for letting you get away with your mad nonsense," Parvati continued. "So perhaps you should start thinking about his feelings for a change, and not just how you can be perfect at yet another bloody spell."
Ron frowned and looked a bit embarrassed.
Hermione nodded. "I'm sorry, Harry," she said sadly. "I wasn't trying to humiliate you or anything. I just want you to do well."
Harry sighed heavily. "Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. Just... try, okay? That's all I ask."
As they all sat around for lunch, Parvati seemed to make it a point to ignore Ron and Hermione, although Harry couldn't exactly blame her. And then there was a sudden commotion, so Harry turned to see poor Professor Quirrell racing into the Hall, looking white as a ghost.
"Troll — in the dungeons — thought you ought to know." He then collapsed in a dead faint.
The students began to clamor around in panic, but Professor Dumbledore made a loud banging sound from his wand. "Prefects," he rumbled, "lead your Houses back to the dormitories immediately!"
They began to quickly line up, and then Ron looked over at Hermione with an odd look. "Is something weird going on?"
"Other than a troll?" Harry asked. "I mean, I assume that's weird enough already, although I suppose I don't actually know if it's normal for Hogwarts."
Hermione snorted. "I think you'd be surprised. But..." Then she looked around and gasped. "Neville! He's missing!"
"What do you mean, missing?" Harry checked the crowd of Gryffindors over a few times, but couldn't spot the often nervous Neville. "Are you sure he isn't somewhere ahead of us?"
"I think he was with us after Charms," Ron said slowly.
"Oh, he was," Hermione agreed. "But where could he be? We should go find him."
"Or..." Harry said slowly, wondering how his friends could be so smart yet so stupid. "Maybe we could tell Percy or a Professor?"
Ron scowled. "Fine, then. Oi, Percy!" He shouted above the din, getting his older brother's attention, who hurried over.
"Ronald, what is it? You need to get to your rooms."
"Neville Longbottom is missing!" Hermione said quickly.
Percy paled. "Are you quite sure? He's not somewhere in the crowd."
"Is there some way you can check where he is?" asked Harry.
After a moment of thought, Percy blinked rapidly and nodded. "Yes, yes, of course. Well thought out, Mister Potter. I have just the spell." He pulled out his wand and placed it on his palm. "Point Me Neville Longbottom." The wand twirled around a bit, before pointing quite definitely back in the direction of the Hall. "Oh dear," Percy said worriedly. "I had better inform the Professors about this. You three get to the Tower immediately. I'll take care of it." He then raced off.
"Great," Harry said in relief. "So that takes care of that."
"I don't know," Hermione frowned. "What if he can't find Neville in time?"
"You're right!" Ron smacked his fist on his palm. "We've gotta find him before the troll does!"
"What?" yelped Harry. "Are you two crazy?" Then he rolled his eyes. "What am I saying? Of course you are."
"No need to be rude, Harry," Hermione told him with a sniff. "We just want to be sure Neville is safe. I don't plan to be in any danger, do you Ron?"
"Nope!" Ron said with a smile and pulled out his wand. "Now let's go get Neville."
The two raced off, and the Harry realized that everyone else had already left for their dormitories. So he had a choice - either go by himself to the Tower and risk the troll finding him, or follow his crazy genius friends on their quest to find and rescue Neville Longbottom, a friendly guy that was neither crazy nor a genius. Well, put that way, Harry supposed he didn't have much of a choice.
As Harry followed after Ron and Hermione, he wondered for a brief moment how they could possibly know where Neville might be. And then he recalled the spell Percy had used.
"Wait, wait a sec!" He called out. The two other Gryffindors halted suddenly and looked back at him. "Maybe we should use that locating spell Percy cast before we just run randomly - or maybe right into the troll."
"The Four-Point spell," Hermione asked. "Hmm, that's not a bad idea, Harry." She placed her wand on her palm. "Point Me Neville Longbottom." The wand twitched and pointed slightly to the right. "Oh dear," she said in concern. "I believe that's the direction of the lavatories near the Charms room."
"But that's nowhere near the dungeons!" Harry protested, but it was no avail, as Ron and Hermione had began to run off again. "How'd you even figure that he was near the lavatory?" Harry grumbled to himself as he managed to run a bit faster to catch up.
As they approached the lavatories in question, a terrible smell wafted towards them and Harry gagged. "What is that?" he asked, pulling his robes around his nose. "Is that the troll?"
Hermione frowned and held her wand aloft. "It's almost too unpleasant, isn't it?"
"Wits about you, Harry," Ron said quickly, brandishing his own wand. "Try not to breath it in too much."
Harry, who could still smell the stench through the robes, glared back. "Why don't you use those genius brains of yours and come up with a way to block the smell?"
"Oh, good idea!" Hermione said with a nod. "The Bubble-Head Charm, of course." She waved her wand and suddenly the smell was gone. "There you are."
"Hmm, I forget how to cast that one," Ron grumbled, scratching his head with his wand.
Hermione rolled her eyes but repeated the spell for him.
"All right, let's be as quiet as possible," advised Hermione. "And if the trolls happens to still be around, we'll distract it and you can run for help."
"Me?" Harry asked in surprise.
"Unless you'd rather fight a troll, Harry?" Hermione gave him a sly smile.
"Fine, fine," grumbled Harry in agreement.
But they spotted the troll right away, as it was laying on the floor near the lavatory. With its head missing.
"That's... that's not normal, right?" Harry felt a bit nauseous at just the sight of the decapitated creature, even with the charm holding awful smells at bay.
"No, it's not, Harry," Ron chuckled, although he seemed a bit confused as well. "I rather think the troll needed his head. Which is right over there, by the way." He pointed across the hall where the troll's ugly face had rolled, a look of surprise on its face. "But what happened? Who killed it?"
"Trolls aren't easy to damage," Hermione told them. "Highly resistant to spells, frightfully strong, and so on."
"Maybe a Professor took care of it," Harry reasoned. "Or someone like Kettleburn; he's an expert, right?"
"Hmph." Hermione didn't look convinced. "Then why leave it here for anyone to stumble across?"
"They did expect students to be safely in the rooms," Harry pointed out to her. "So let's quickly look for Neville and head back. I'd expect Percy or someone else has found him by now."
Hermione cast the Point Me spell again, but the direction was now back in the direction of the Tower. "Huh." She looked up in annoyance. "Perhaps he did make it back okay."
The sound of someone running towards them caused Ron and Hermione to whirl about suddenly, wands at the ready. Normally Harry wouldn't think much of a first year's ability to fend off someone, but these two might pull it off.
A boy in Hufflepuff robes ran around the corner, looking to be about two or three years older than them - he was actually slightly taller than Ron, who was freakishly tall already. He had his own wand out and seemed very confused to see them.
"Cedric Diggory?" Hermione asked in surprise.
"Er, yes," the older boy said. "That's right, actually. And you're Hermione Granger, true?" He smiled brightly at her. "I've heard about you and the Weasley kid - two smartest kids in the first year, right?"
Hermione blushed at this and nodded, while Ron looked simultaneously annoyed and pleased.
"Did you do that to the troll?" Cedric asked in an awed tone.
Harry shook his head. "No, it was like that when we got here. We were just looking for Neville Longbottom, he's a first year like us."
Cedric frowned and nodded. "Yes, right. I overheard one of the prefects mentioning something about a missing Gryffindor boy, and then I saw you three running through the halls. Didn't really have time to alert anyone." He peered at the troll's head and whistled. "Well, whoever killed this thing might be back any moment, so I suggest we get out of here. It it was a Professor, they'd give you a detention for still being here, and it's someone else..."
"Sounds good to me," agreed Harry. It was the first reasonable thing he had heard all day. "What year are you in?" he asked Cedric as they hurried away.
"Third," the Hufflepuff replied and then grinned. "I'm looking forward to the game against Slytherin. I wish I could play, but I'm only on the Reserves."
"Maybe next year?" Hermione asked with a smile.
Cedric shook his head. "Nah, couldn't happen. Gemma Puffett - she's the current Seeker - is only a sixth year, so unless she quits, the team rule is to let members stay on until they graduate."
Ron grimaced. "That seems stupid. What if you have someone better who's younger?"
"Hufflepuff team tradition," Cedric answered with a shrug. "Just the way it goes. Gemma's decent, but I doubt she stands a chance against any of the other Seekers, you included, Harry, from the rumors I've heard."
"What rumors?" asked Harry curiously. Oliver Wood had been quite paranoid about letting anyone watch their practices.
Cedric laughed a bit. "Oh, you had better go," he said suddenly, as they were close to the Gryffindor Tower. "My room is in the other direction."
Hermione looked up at Cedric with a bit of worry in her eyes. "Are you sure you'll be okay getting back?"
"Of course!" Cedric said brightly. "After all, the troll's dead, right? So there's nothing else to worry about."
"I guess," Ron replied slowly, and then Cedric nodded his goodbye and ran off.
"Wait!" Hermione gasped. "What about whoever killed the troll?"
A loud voice startled her, and she almost cast a spell in reply.
"What are you three still doing out here?" It was Percy, looking quite furious. "I told you to get in the dorms."
"We're practically there," Ron scoffed at his older brother. "We just wanted to wait for Neville."
"Neville Longbottom is the Tower, as you'd know if you had been waiting there."
"Really?" Hermione frowned. "But what about the Point Me spell you cast?"
Percy looked at her disapprovingly. "He just got bustled up with the Hufflepuffs, that's all. I escorted him back here, and now you should come with me immediately before I take any points off." He looked at Harry and sighed. "Mister Potter, you really shouldn't let these two drag you all over the place, it isn't safe." Percy shook his head sadly. "And here I thought Ron might be a responsible one for a change, instead of taking after the Twins."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Sure, Percy. I'll be responsible from now on."
"I'm sorry," Harry quickly said to Percy. "Won't happen again."
Percy looked at him carefully. "I hope so, Harry. I really do." Then he smiled. "Well, the good news is that I believe the Professors found the troll. Which means you'll have a chance to finally trounce the Slytherins, eh?"
Harry couldn't help but laugh. Fanatical love of Quidditch was one thing every wizard and witch seemed to have in common, crazy or not. It was sort of comforting. "You've got it, Percy. In fact," he whispered so Ron and Hermione couldn't overhear. "Oliver has a really great plan that will blow everyone away. Just don't tell anyone."
Percy raised an eyebrow and looked quite intrigued. "I won't, Harry. Wood's an excellent Keeper, so I hope he manages to do also well as a Captain."
"Other than waking us up too early for practices, no real complaints," Harry told him with a grin. "I can't wait for the game."
There were only a few short days until the game against Slytherin, and Harry's days were filled with so much practice and homework he barely had time to think. Hermione's worries about Cedric's safety had been allayed by him showing up as normal the next morning, sending over a wave and a wink that made her blush and Ron mutter under his breath. As for the troll, Professor Dumbledore had merely said that the staff had found and disposed of the smelly creature, and there was nothing further to be concerned about.
Each Quidditch practice had them going over and over Oliver's carefully determined plays, and it actually seemed like they might pull it off. Oliver was quite happy at their progress, but he still managed to come up with seventeen contingency plans, of which Harry could only consistently remember two.
Finally the day of the big game against Slytherin had arrived, and the captain was literally vibrating in anticipation as they went over their plans at the last minute.
"This is it, boys and girls," he said excitedly. "We are not only going to win - that much is obvious - we are going to dominate them."
"Crush them!" Fred called out.
"Smash them!" George put in.
Katie Bell looked a bit nervous and took a deep breath in and out. "I know we've practiced a lot, but I'm not sure we can pull this off."
Oliver Wood's face became instantly grave and quite serious. "Team, I have played more than a few Quidditch games over the years, and watched countless more. And I can tell you that this group here, this raw talent and skill in this room - well, let's just say that I doubt any team will manage to come close in the next fifty years. The only thing that can stop us is the interference of monsters or demon gods from the pits of Hell. And in that case, we'll probably just tie."
The twins burst into laughter.
"That was truly and utterly the greatest speech you've ever given," Fred said, waving tears of laughter from his eyes. "It's almost like you've developed a sense of humor. And I don't think you've repeated a single thing from last year's speech!"
An eerie light glinted in Oliver's eyes. "We have you two nutjobs, the Beaters that share a brain dedicated to suffering."
"Ha!" George grinned. "I like that."
"And our three superb chasers, with such grace and speed, they might as well be descended from a mighty Phoenix."
The girls all preened at the praise, and Harry wondered what Wood might possibly say about him, someone that had never even played a single game.
"And of course," Oliver said slowly, turning to face the youngest member of the team. "The greatest Seeker in wizarding History."
Harry's jaw dropped in shock.
"Bloody hell, Ollie," Fred said. "Put a little more pressure on him, while you're at it."
"Oh, I'll be proven right soon enough," Wood said dismissively. "And I suppose I'm a decent Keeper. But if you lot do your jobs, I won't have to do a thing other than sit and watch."
"Um..." Harry was suddenly very nervous.
"Remember, Harry," Oliver told him. "The Snitch is worth 150 points, so keep it at bay until we've hit twenty goals. By my calculations, that should keep us comfortably in the lead even if something goes wrong with the next game."
Harry nodded, gripping his broom tightly. "Right. And you'll signal too?"
Oliver grinned widely. "Naturally. Now let's go out there and embarrass some Slytherins!"
They walked out to the pitch to the sound of loud cheers. Harry felt his knees shake a bit and gripped his broom a bit tighter. Oliver seemed to have noticed and moved close to him.
"Harry, I know you're nervous," he said softly, so the others couldn't hear. "But just remember this: that feeling of freedom while you're in the air. The way the wind calls to you and how the ground is a distant memory. Sure, it's Quidditch - but when you're as good as us, you don't need to be nervous."
Harry closed his eyes and nodded, willing the memories to wash over him, relaxing and comforting him. After a moment of contemplation, he opened his eyes and smiled. He was ready.
As Madame Hooch watched warily, a supremely confident Wood stood next to Marcus Flint, the brutish captain of the Slytherin team. "All right then," she said to all of them. "I want a good, clean game. All of you!" With a glance at the two captains again, as if to reassure herself they weren't about to start brawling, she nodded and pulled out a silver whistle. "Mount your brooms!"
Harry eased onto his broom, hardly able to wait a moment longer.
Madame Hooch blew a sharp, loud blast from her whistle and everyone ascended instantly. Each of the Gryffindors immediately fell into their planned formations. Fred and George each darted to opposite sides, tracking down the two Bludgers. Alicia and Angelina flew directly at two of the Slytherin Chasers, each of whom swerved aside instinctively.
"An early aggressive maneuver from the Gryffindor!" The loud voice of Lee Jordan, a friend of the twins, boomed out magically loud through the air. "And Katie immediately has the Quaffle, didn't even see her grab it - and she's already scored! I've never seen such speed. And... wait... Fred or George Weasley just sent one of the Bludgers back at the other twin, can't figure out which, and the other one is returning the favor!"
Harry grinned. He knew what was coming, but he kept an eye out for the Snitch and watched the Slytherin Seeker out of the corner of his vision.
"Wait!" Jordan yelled. "The twins are... passing the Bludgers back and forth. Ooh, and Pucey gets in the way, that's gotta hurt. The Bludger's gone off a bit, but Weasley - one of them - has got it back. What are they even planning? And wait, Alicia and Katie suddenly pair off in some sort of spiral, knocking Baddock nearly off his broom - bet he didn't see that one coming! Oh, and Angelina Johnson, beautiful girl, has the Quaffle - where did she get it? I can't even keep track."
It only got worse from there, as the Chasers scored goal after goal. The Slytherins began to resort to obvious fouls - Higgs, the Slytherin Seeker, even tried to knock Harry off his broom, but Harry turned sharply to avoid him. And then, without warning, his broom suddenly lurched and Harry almost lost his grip. Then it happened again, and again, like the broom was trying to throw him off.
Harry began to panic, grabbing the broom as tightly as possible. He looked around for any help, but everyone seemed too busy - except Wood, who looked over and then suddenly his wand was out. Harry's broom stopped shaking, and he breathed a sigh of relief, assuming Wood had cast some sort of stability spell. But he began to feel a bizarre heat at his back, and Harry turned to see that the Quidditch stands were currently on fire.
Oh. Well, he hadn't expected that.
Harry then saw Wood gesturing at him vehemently, and Harry realized - the signal! He zoomed about, looking for the Snitch - he had unfortunately lost track during the little incident. But a glint of gold that seemed immediately so obvious, Harry wondered how how he had missed it. After brushing past several other players, it was a simple matter to grab the little darting thing out of the air.
He looked back at the stands, which looked to have been extinguished, albeit now quite blackened and smoky. What had happened?
Almost immediately after landing, Professor McGonagall appeared and brought him and Wood to the Headmaster's office, where Snape and Madame Hooch were already waiting. Harry couldn't tell if she was furious, happy, or both.
"So, Harry?" Professor Dumbledore looked over his glasses at him. "What precisely happened out there?"
"I'm not sure," admitted Harry. "My broom started going out of control - almost knocked me off. Then I saw Oliver pull out his wand, I think to stabilize it, and then I realized the stands were on fire."
Snape frowned deeply. "Your so-called captain was the one that raised that fire."
"What?" Harry turned to Oliver in shock. "Is that true?"
"So what if it is?" Wood asked indignantly. "I saw that Harry's broom was being hexed by someone, and that someone had to be in the stands. Someone that was trying to kill him! There were too many people to target just one person, so I had to distract everyone."
"Ridiculous," scoffed Snape. "You could have killed everyone there with such incompetence. I think expulsion is in order at the very least - and certainly an overturning of the Quidditch victory."
"You can't be serious!" Wood's eyes widened in alarm, and he turned to McGonagall. "You can't punish me for trying to save Harry! And besides, there's nothing in the rules against setting fire to the stands."
Professor McGonagall pursed her lips and looked over at Madame Hooch. "Rolanda, is that true?"
"Well..." Madame Hooch winced slightly. "Technically he's right. There was a specific instance..."
"Caerphilly versus Lancashire, 1842," Wood interrupted.
"Yes, that's right," Hooch said, giving him an annoyed look. "One of the audience members in support of Lancashire threw a hex at the Caerphilly Keeper. Some of the others on the team retaliated and... well, riots aside, it was determined that outside interference would not affect the game. It's supposed to be the referee's job to ensure that sort of thing."
"You cannot possibly be serious!" Snape snarled. "This little idiot set the Quidditch stands on fire, and you won't even punish the brat. I never figured you to value victory over human life, Minerva."
McGonagall glared at the Potions professor. "I assure you, he will be punished. But under the circumstances, if he was really trying to save Harry's life... perhaps some leniency may be in order." She turned to the Headmaster. "Albus, what do you think?"
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair. "Well now, do we have any proof that Mister Potter's broom was being attacked?"
"Isn't there some way you can check it magically?" Harry asked desperately. "I'm sure you'd find a problem then."
The Headmaster nodded and smiled. "Yes, indeed we can do that, if you would be willing to let us borrow it for a little while. Severus, do you concur?"
Snape curled his lip and looked unhappy. "I suppose that it is logical enough. But in the meantime, Mister Wood must be kept on probation and his wand held - for safety, of course."
Dumbledore looked over at the Gryffindor Head of House. "Minerva?"
After a moment of looking like she thinking about it, McGonagall nodded. "Very well. Mister Potter, you can return to Gryffindor. But keep your broom here."
"Right, of course," agreed Harry easily with a nod. He was just glad Oliver would get a chance for mercy. "And what should I tell the others about the game?"
McGonagall smirked and looked over at Snape, who snorted and turned to the wall. "I think," she said. "You can tell them Gryffindor took the day."
When Harry arrived at the Gryffindor common room, it seemed as if the entire house was there, all looking at him as he came through the portrait.
"So, Harry?" Fred walked over. "What happened?" He asked this softly enough that others couldn't overhear.
Harry said, "Oliver set the stands on fire on accident, because he was trying to save my life."
"What?" Fred almost shouted this, but then composed himself. "I noticed the fire too, but I didn't realize he had done it - you say he was doing it save you?"
George and the Chaser girls pushed their way through the crowd to come near enough to hear the conversation.
"What did you tell him?" Katie Bell asked.
"That Ollie apparently used the fire to save Harry's life," Fred explained to the team. "But I'm not sure why he was in danger in the first place."
"Something was wrong with my broom," said Harry quickly. "It seemed to be trying to throw me off. Oliver saw but didn't know who was doing it, so he tried to create some sort of distraction."
George chuckled. "He did at that. But.." He frowned and looked serious, an odd look on him. "Is he expelled? Going to Azkaban for it? Snape must want to murder him."
"I turned in my broom so they can check it for proof of hexing." Harry sighed. "And he has to give up his wand while they look into it. But hopefully it'll turn out okay for him."
"And are they going to even try to figure out who attacked you?" Angelina Johnson demanded.
Harry blinked and realized he didn't know the answer. "I guess once they know about the broom, they can investigate."
"I bet it was Snape," Fred said darkly. "Never did get why Dumbledore trusts him."
"I don't think so." Harry shook his head. "If it was Ron or Hermione, who he hates, then maybe... but he was friends with my Mum. I wouldn't say he likes me, but he doesn't want me to die, I'm sure."
"Well, if all that's settled," Alicia Spinnet leaned in close. "Did we still win? You caught the Snitch when the score was 160 points to nothing."
"Was it that much?" Harry asked. "Although I think Oliver wanted me to get the Snitch at two hundred. But he made the signal; probably because of the fire."
Fred snorted. "Yes, undoubtedly."
"Indubitably," George added.
"But..." Harry held their attention for a moment and then grinned. "We still won."
Fred whooped and someone called out from the crowd, "did we win?"
"We won!" Fred shouted and the room burst into cheers and applause.
Before he realized it, Harry had a cup of pumpkin juice pushed into one hand and he was surrounded by people shaking the other one. After nodding politely to too many people, Harry moved to stand near the other first years.
"You were utterly amazing out there!" Parvati told him with a huge smile. "You all were, really. Except for the fire - or I should say, even with the fire."
"Utterly beautiful," Seamus enthused and then took a big gulp of a bottle of something.
"Was anyone hurt?" Harry asked in concern.
"I don't think so," Parvati said with a shrug. "It was more scary and shocking - nobody was paying attention for a few minutes. Although I wasn't sitting near where the fire was, so it's hard to say."
Harry looked around and realized that there seemed to be some people missing.
"Where are Ron and Hermione? I don't see them anywhere."
Parvati scowled. "Oh, who cares? Probably off doing stupid nonsense, as per usual. You really need to stop being friends with those two."
"But..." Harry trailed off and then took a deep breath. "I can't... I can't do that."
"Why not?" Parvati demanded, getting close to him and looked directly in his face.
Harry mumbled something.
Parvati raised an eyebrow and leaned over. "Just whisper it," she said softly.
"They're my first friends," Harry whispered to her. "I can't just stop being friends with them."
Parvati looked at him with surprise. "That can't be right."
"Well, it is," Harry said sullenly. "And I don't feel like getting into it."
"Hmm," Parvati frowned. "I suppose it isn't fair for me to just say you can't have the friends you want. I just think they're bad for you, that's all. And they aren't your only friends. We all are! Like Neville over there!" She gestured to Neville. "Neville, come over here."
"Parvati, you don't have to..." Harry started to say.
"Neville Longbottom," Parvati interrupted loudly. "You should tell Harry what you thought of the game. I'm going to sneak a butterbeer before they're all gone." She walked over to Lavender and said something to her, then they both walked off.
"Um," Neville looked at the ground in an embarrassed manner. "Harry, you were good in the game."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Neville, you don't have to pretend."
Neville looked up at him and frowned. "I'm not pretending. It's just a little odd, being put on the spot like that. I like to think that all of us Gryffindors are friends."
"I guess," Harry said slowly. "I mean, that'd be nice, anyway." He sighed. "I just don't get why Ron and Hermione didn't even bother showing up. Did they think I was still mad? Because I'm starting to be."
"Oh!" Neville suddenly laughed. "No, that's not it at all. Actually, they told me that they wanted to talk to you privately about something when you got back. Even gave me directions to a secret room."
Harry's eyebrows shot up. "Really? A secret room?"
"It's Hogwarts, what do you expect?" Neville grinned and Harry laughed a bit. He was probably quite right.
Neville managed to sneak Harry out of the room without anyone noticing, and they walked through the halls, going up floors until they reached a corridor with many tapestries. Neville looked at each one before finally stopping at a bizarre one of a wizard in a ballet outfit near a bunch of trolls. He nodded and turned to Harry with a smile.
"This is the one," Neville said quietly. "Now I have to walk back and forth three times and the hidden door should appear."
"Kinda complicated." Harry looked at the tapestry and the wall around it. Seemed perfectly normal, for Hogwarts anyhow.
Neville walked forward and back once, twice, and then as he came back a third time, a door appeared suddenly on the wall.
Harry stepped back in surprise. "It worked!"
"Of course it worked, now let's go!" Neville opened the door and held it open.
Harry walked in to see a very odd surprise - Hermione and Ron were tied to chairs, seemingly unconscious. And then he heard the door slam shut.
"What's going on?" Harry whirled to see Neville with his wand out. "What happened to them?"
"Calm down, Harry," said Neville evenly. "I'm going to resuscitate them."
"Do what to them?" Harry asked in confusion.
"Wake them up," explained Neville and held up his wand. "Rennervate. Rennervate."
Instantly the two tied up Gryffindors came awake, looking about in bewilderment.
"What the..?" Ron looked over. "Harry? Neville? Are you here to rescue us? I was attacked by someone."
Hermione tilted her head and looked to be thinking about something. "Which one of us was it then?"
"We didn't attack you!" Harry said angrily. "What a thing to say!"
"Oh no, Harry, it was me," Neville said with a smile.
Harry turned to him in total shock. "But... why?"
Ron snarled. "What's your game, Longbottom?"
"I thought we all needed to just get in one room all of us together."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Neville waved his wand and two comfortable chairs appeared. He sat in one and gestured to Harry. "Please, Harry, have a seat." He looked over at the other two and gave them a small smile, an odd look in his eyes. "I think it's time we all had a little chat."