When they finally Flooed back home an hour or so later, Mrs. Murphy declared herself too tired to make dinner and ordered in huge amounts of food from a little wizarding café in Bury St. Edmunds. Everyone was invited to help eat the food, which Mrs. Murphy said was far too much for her family to eat alone. As they dug into heavenly casserole-style macaroni and cheese and steamed vegetables, Isobel brought up her idea to everyone else.
"Us? Try for the EAST win? But most of us haven't even played on a proper team!" Andrew protested.
"Not to mention the fact that Eleanor can't fly to save her life," Art pointed out. "No offense, El. But you know it's true."
"We've all been playing for as long as we've been able to fly, though," said John. "And we can always find someone else for our seventh; lots of small-town teams go outside their town for talent."
"I think we should do it," said Cal.
"Yeah, but you're up for anything Quidditch-related," said Art. "Not to say it's a bad idea, just that Cal doesn't really count as a vote for. Personally, I think it sounds like fun." He shrugged. "What about you, Jules? Up for the challenge?"
"Sure," she said. "I could use something to occupy me next summer, you all are that boring." Art rolled his eyes at her, knowing she was teasing.
"Andrew?" Isobel asked.
Andrew thought for a minute or so. "It's not going to interfere with school stuff, is it?"
"I think you can handle it," said John. "You're probably the most responsible person I know."
"All right, then," said Andrew. "But if I can't handle it on top of everything else, I reserve the right to quit."
"Do you want to play, Eleanor?" John asked.
"Like Art said, I can't fly to save my life." Eleanor fiddled with the end of her plait meditatively. "But I'll help any way I can."
"Isn't anyone going to ask John if he wants to be on the team?" Art asked.
"John's the one who told me we should go for it," said Isobel. "I figured his being on the team was a given."
"Well, plus, it's John. Anything Isobel asks of him, he does," said Julia mischievously.
"Oh, shut up," he said. "I'm on the team, are you happy?"
"We knew that," said Julia.
Over the next week, Isobel frantically brainstormed ways to find a seventh player. She considered flyers – but where would she put them? There were few all-wizarding places in the surrounding towns, and even fewer patronized by the younger set. The only place outside of Eleigh St. Mary where she could think to put flyers was the café in Bury St. Edmunds, so she Flooed over that Wednesday to hang up a notice –
Seventh player needed to fill out an amateur Quidditch team, with a view to competing in the EAST next summer. If interested contact Isobel Jones, 13 High Street, Eleigh St. Mary, Suffolk.
The sign had been worded by Andrew, who had a knack for sounding official.
She still had another copy to hang when she came home, however, for in Eleigh St. Mary itself there was a place for wizards to gather: The Sign of the White Cat. The hidden room at the back, with a second fireplace hooked up to the Floo network, was a relatively new addition – fifteen years old, if that. That was a short time, if measured beside the many generations the pub had been in the ownership of the Murphy family. Mr. Murphy had been a Muggleborn, but after his years at Hogwarts, he wasn't content with being far from the wizarding world. So instead of abandoning his family's legacy for London with its many accommodations for wizards, he'd made his own slice of the wizarding world, just a short walk from his familiar old timber-framed farmhouse. More and more wizards had come to the Cat over the years, until its secret room had become more popular than the one in plain sight. Isobel's own dad worked the bar there. It was as good a place as any to get the attention of a possible seventh player, Isobel thought cheerfully. Probably a better bet than the café in Bury St. Edmunds.
She made sure her wand was hidden securely in the pocket of her jeans and set out to make the walk down the road to the Cat. The village seemed typical enough, she supposed. None of the Muggles ever seemed to suspect it was anything but normal, anyway. It was strange for Isobel to imagine Eleigh St. Mary without the memories of Quidditch behind the Murphys' house, or the grandfatherly old wizard who ate at the Cat at least once a week and produced flowers out of thin air whenever he saw Julia, Isobel or Eleanor.
She entered the Cat and hurried through the Muggle part, waving hello to her neighbor Ms Winthrop as she passed. The entrance to the wizard bit was much like the entrance to Diagon Alley - it looked like a solid wall in the hallway to the left of the bar that led to the bathrooms. But if you tapped your wand on a certain part (you could tell which part because it looked like the paint had chipped off, leaving a bare grey bit vaguely the shape of the British Isles), you could slip through into a room nearly identical to the one you had left behind.
She did that now, and almost immediately had to duck her father's hand as he attempted to tousle her hair.
"Hey, sweetheart, how's it goin'?"
"Good. Can I hang this up?" She held up the notice.
"Sure thing. Why don't you hang it up over there?" He indicated the wall by the fireplace. "People are sure to see it when they're leaving."
"Thanks, Dad!" she said, and he turned back to talk with a skinny wizard at the bar.
As Thursday passed, and then Friday and Saturday, with not a single answer to Isobel's signs, she began to worry. It was irrational to expect to have a seventh player firmly landed by then, but to have not a single nibble – after all, they only had the rest of that week and one more and then it would be back to Hogwarts for all of them.
Sunday dawned, and with it the day of the final match of the EAST. Everyone gathered early that morning at the Murphys' house to Floo to the pitch at Mousehold Heath. This time Mr. Murphy and Isobel's dad joined them in addition to Mrs. Murphy, laughing and wide-awake, in stark contrast to the huddled group of bleary-eyed teenagers.
"Why did they have to schedule it this early?" Julia moaned.
"It's only seven in the morning. You'll have to get up this early soon enough anyway," Isobel's dad informed her.
"Don't remind me," she said disgustedly and took the Floo powder Mrs. Murphy offered her. She threw it into the fire, said, "Norfolk Summer Tournament Pitch," and spun away in a gout of green fire. John followed, then Cal, Art and Andrew in quick succession. Eleanor was next, carrying a picnic lunch Mrs. Murphy had packed. Isobel went after her with a hamper with a Cooling Charm on its lining, filled with little glass bottles of butterbeer. Mrs. Murphy had claimed that the prices at the last game had been "simply despicable," so they were bringing their own refreshments this time around.
When Isobel had got her bearings after her dizzying trip through the Floo network, she watched as the emerald flames spewed forth her father and Mr. and Mrs. Murphy.
"All right, kids, let's go find seats," said Isobel's father. The lot of them trooped off towards the stands, finally finding an open row a little bit farther down than they'd have liked. Isobel could practically see the expression on the plump official's face as he moved to the center of the pitch to give his spiel – never a good sign.
"Welcome, one and all, to the final match of the East Anglia Summer Tournament! Teams have been competing in games throughout the summer, and these two have come out top in their regions. Representing Suffolk in today's game, let's give a round of applause for the Newmarket Newts!" Noise erupted from all sides, boos and cheers mixed, as the Newmarket team walked onto the pitch. The official waited for the noise to fade a little before continuing. "And representing Norfolk, the Norwich Natterjacks!" The noise returned full-force as Norwich's team made their entrance.
At the official's instruction, the captains shook hands. A moment later, the teams had taken to the skies. The game had begun.
It quickly became apparent that John had been right during the last game – Newmarket's captain didn't really know what he was doing. John kept commenting on how much tighter Norwich's strategy was.
"Not that they're exactly playing by the rules," he said to Isobel as Newmarket took their third penalty shot of the game. "But they're playing well.That last foul was definitely a calculated risk. Their Keeper was in the wrong part of the scoring area and distracted to boot, and Newmarket's Chaser might well have scored. Now their Keeper's focused on his job." One of Newmarket's Chasers took the shot. Norwich's Keeper saved it. "See? He's phenomenal. The captain knew he could trust him to save that, I'll bet anything."
As the game progressed, Norwich's captain seemed to be taking more and more of these "calculated risks." Newmarket's Beaters became positively vicious in revenge, and in one particularly spectacular instance, Newmarket's Chaser scored a goal when the Keeper was distracted by a Bludger nearly taking off his right arm, bringing the score up to 40-80 Norwich.
Norwich retaliated by scoring two goals in quick succession, and the game became even more competitive after that. Newmarket's Keeper seemed to be losing his nerve, for he let in more and more goals that he could well have saved. Suddenly Norwich was up 130-60, and Newmarket was getting desperate. Their Chasers got sloppy, and Norwich got three penalty shots, only one of which was saved.
And then, Norwich's Seeker was streaking off across the pitch, the other Seeker in close pursuit. The Snitch hovered, golden and blinking in the summer sunlight, by Norwich's goalposts. Newmarket's Seeker strained, flattened against her broomstick, and pulled ahead.
Suddenly a Bludger came, seemingly out of nowhere – everyone was too busy watching the Seekers to see who had sent it their way. Newmarket's Seeker fell behind, doubled over, clutching her stomach and obviously in pain. Norwich's Seeker darted ahead and grabbed the Snitch, holding it over his head triumphantly. A roar broke out from the crowd, half cheering from Norwich's supporters, half outrage at the foul play.
"That's just dirty," Julia commented.
"It's perfectly within the rules," Cal said. "People just don't normally think to do it because it seems wrong."
Julia looked at him in disgust. "It's a wonder you weren't in Slytherin. She could have been badly hurt."
"Chasers face the risk of being hit by Bludgers all the time, and no one thinks that's bad," Cal said.
"Chasers expect it. Seekers don't." Julia turned away and they all watched the drama on the pitch unfold.
Newmarket's Seeker had gotten to the ground safely, but was still clutching her ribs and looked on the verge of fainting. Her team's Beaters were supporting her, each with an arm around her, as she sat down on the grass. A Healer fussed over her, probably casting diagnostic and healing spells.
Several feet away, Newmarket's captain was arguing with Norwich's captain, while the referee tried to break it up. Various team members from both sides joined in on the quarrel, until the pair was ringed by a tight group of angry teenagers. It looked as if they would come to blows at any moment.
The pudgy little official appeared on the scene and drew the referee out of the mêlée. They had a brief, intense discussion and then waded in to separate the combatants. More officials came onto the pitch to help.
"I'm off," said Art, standing up. "I don't want to stick around to watch them argue."
"Fine, but meet us back here in ten minutes," said Mrs. Murphy. "I don't want you to get lost in all this."
"Mum. Calm down. I'll be fine." With that he walked off, making his way towards the ground. It was obvious that Norwich would come out on top, despite the uproar; if Cal said that hitting a Seeker with a Bludger wasn't a foul, it really wasn't. Cal was more Quidditch-mad than all the rest of them put together. With that settled in his mind, there was no reason to keep watching.
And wasn't this just typical? Suffolk hadn't won the EAST since the summer between his first and second years at Hogwarts – two years ago. It wasn't for lack of good teams; Norfolk just seemed to have been coming out with better ones. It was fun to watch, but ultimately it was disheartening to lose year after year.
He knew it was probably insane to hope, but it would be great if this team Isobel was putting together – their team – could win this. Suffolk needed another winner.
He reached the grass at the bottom of the stands and looked around. Other like-minded people were beginning to mill out towards the Floo station, some looking angry, others happy. It was easy to tell who was from Suffolk and who from Norfolk by their expressions.
Suddenly a face stood out from the crowd, unexpectedly familiar. A seventh year at Hogwarts, he realized. A fellow Ravenclaw. He was one of the angry ones – so he must be from Suffolk too.
The seventh year seemed to recognize him as well. He walked over, his expression changing to a genial smile.
"You're in Ravenclaw too!" he called when he'd gotten closer. "Fourth year, right? Friends with our Seeker?"
"That's right. What's your name again?" Art asked.
"Martin Babbitt," was the seventh year's reply.
"Art Murphy. So you're from Suffolk, then? Whereabouts?"
Martin looked taken aback. "How'd you know I was from Suffolk?"
"You didn't look very happy," Art said. "I assumed it had something to do with our losing just now."
"You were right, of course," said Martin, his smile back. "I'm from Nedging-with-Naughton. You?"
"Eleigh St. Mary," Art replied.
A look of comprehension dawned on Martin's face. "Oh, I know where that is – my dad likes the pub there – the Sign of the White Cat?"
"My dad runs it," said Art with a touch of pride.
"Really!" Martin seemed quite interested in this coincidence, and they fell into a comfortable conversation, standing there with the crowd moving around them.
Meanwhile on the pitch, the officials had succeeded in separating the rowing Quidditch players. The Newmarket team gathered together – sans their Seeker, who had been carried off the field by the Healer – around their goalposts, while the Natterjacks remained close to the center of the pitch. The plump official who had been making the announcements renewed his Sonorus spell and cleared his throat loudly.
"Ladies and gentleman, I know there has been some disagreement over the Norwich Natterjacks' tactics, but by the rules of Quidditch there is no foul and they are thus the winners of this game and the East Anglia Summer Tournament. We'll bring the trophy out in a few moments, but in the meantime, let's have a round of applause for the runners-up."
There was nothing half-hearted about the cheering from the stands, as the Norfolk supporters seemed to think it would be bad form to boo. It seemed to brighten up some of the players on the Newmarket team a little; one of the Beaters even smiled cheekily and waved.
And then another official came onto the pitch with the trophy, and the announcer said, "And now we present the trophy to the winners of the 2007 East Anglia Summer Tournament – the Norwich Natterjacks!"
There was screaming and applause from Norfolk's supporters; many of the people who had come out to cheer Suffolk on sat in stony silence. There were even a few scattered boos.
After that the stream of people moving towards the Floo station thickened. The Eleigh St. Mary group stayed back, waiting for Art. Isobel passed around butterbeers from her basket; the sandwiches in Eleanor's were long gone.
"So you lot are going to be here next year, is that right?" Mr. Murphy asked as he accepted a butterbeer from Isobel.
"We're here every summer," said Julia.
"Competing, though." That was Mrs. Murphy.
"Yes," said Isobel. "And we're going to win."
"If we can find a seventh player," said Andrew practically. "And even then you can't say for sure."
Julia hit him on the arm. "Stop being such a pessimist. We will."
"Will what?" Art asked, coming back to the row as promised, with one change: he'd brought Martin with him.
"Win the tournament next year," Julia said distantly, distracted by the new arrival. "Aren't you in Ravenclaw?"
"Martin Babbitt," he said, holding a hand out. After a moment, Julia shook it. "And you're our Seeker – Julia Wu, right?"
She nodded, and then she and Art introduced everyone else. Martin stayed and chatted for a while. Cal brought up the previous year's tournament loss, and the conversation turned to griping about Suffolk's losses, past and present. After much discussion of tactics and players, they came to the consensus that a good portion of it had been luck and both sides had had good teams and Norfolk had just had a lucky streak. Even John, ever a believer in skill over luck, had to reluctantly agree.
"That's the problem with the tournament's format," he said. "It's so easy to win or lose by a hair, with the outcome decided by whose Seeker is fastest."
"Hogwarts does it a bit better," Martin said. "You know, with the whole accumulation of points scheme deciding the outcome of the entire thing, not just who gets to the finals."
"Sometimes I wonder if they do it for the entertainment value." Art rolled his eyes. "At the finals you're always on the edge of your seat watching the Seekers when the Snitch is spotted." He paused, considering it. "No, it's probably just that the Board of Directors are idiots." He shook his head.
"Hey, kids, you ready to head home?" Isobel's dad called, interrupting the conversation. The adults had been having their own conversation, standing around several feet away, but now Mrs. Murphy was packing up the hampers and the other adults were standing around looking bored and ready to leave.
"You can invite your friend back if you like," Mr. Murphy added.
"Want to come back to our place?" Art asked Martin.
"Sure," Martin said.
"Do you have to go find your parents and tell them?" Mrs. Murphy asked.
Martin shook his head. "I was here with friends, and my parents didn't really expect me back anytime soon."
That settled, they all began to make their way towards the Floo station. The stands around them were empty but for a few stragglers like them.
At the back of their chattering group, John murmured to Isobel, "I wonder if this guy plays Quidditch."
Isobel smiled. "You know, I was wondering the same thing."
A/N: Thanks again to my lovely beta, Iris, and Brit-picker, Russia.