Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter


Chapter 9 Bednobs and Broomsticks

Harry's mind was in turmoil after embarrassing himself in front of the whole school after first having publicly committed himself and his fellow Gryffindors to a week's enslavement to a vindictive adversary, not to mention worry about Voldemort's next attempt to subjugate the world. It is perhaps understandable that Harry had forgotten his promise to Dobby.

The diminutive figure leapt up, ears quivering eagerly, "Mr. Potter, Sir! Thank you! Thank you!" Its huge eyes were brimming with tears.

Harry tried to hide his dismay. It wasn't as if he didn't want to see a little elf; just that he hoped to have some sort of solution to the Winky problem first.

Dobby grabbed Harry's forefinger in both hands and pumped it up and down. "I knew the Great Harry Potter would help poor unworthy Dobby!" he cried joyfully.

Harry smiled weakly. "Where's Winky now? She hasn't already, uh gone to the Malfoys, has she?"

"Oh no, I told her that Harry Potter would help and she agreed to wait." The elf looked up with shiny eyes.

"Did you tell her how bad it was working for the Malfoys ?" asked Harry.

"Of course, but Winky does not listen. She keeps insisting that the Malfoys could not be that bad if Mr. Crouch liked them."

"That's all the more reason to avoid them, as far as I'm concerned," said Harry.

"Dobby knows that but Winky, insists that Dobby is mistaken and that Dobby is very bad elf to speak bad of family. I tell her they is not Dobby's family, but she is not listening."

"Is there anything you can do to stop her?" asked Harry.

"No, once she performs the ritual, there is nothing I can do."

"But she hasn't done that yet?"

"No, she agreed to wait to hear what Harry Potter would say," said Dobby eagerly.

"We need to get Hermione," said Ron, "It's not as if I trust her to be sensible about house elves, but she's most likely to think of something."

"Yeah, we need to meet somewhere," Harry agreed, "The common room is too crowded just now," Harry thought ruefully. He was keen to stay away from just about everyone at the moment.

"Maybe Ginny is still up. I'll go ask her to get Hermione," Ron sighed and left, just as Neville was coming in.

Harry motioned Dobby to keep quiet but the elf had concealed himself behind his pillow and for once looked like he would cooperate. Harry pulled the curtains on his four poster bed closed hiding them from view. Dobby had a way of vanishing whenever anyone else came in. Harry wasn't sure if it was some sort of house elf rule or professional pride to keep themselves as unobtrusive as possible.

"Uh, Harry?" asked Neville.

Harry didn't answer. Maybe Neville would just go to bed. Harry thought briefly of letting the rest of the fifth year boys in on the problem. Perhaps with more heads working on the problem they would think of something. Then he remembered the way they had all looked at him as if he were a UXB and decided that revealing that he was involved in yet another problem wouldn't endear him to them.

"Harry?" Longbottom repeated, "I just wanted to say that – well, don't feel bad about falling into the Super-Slick that Peeves spilled. Really it's okay. Don't worry about people thinking you're an idiot because you did something embarrassing. I do that all the time."

"Uh thanks, Neville," said Harry feeling that he had to say something.

Neville stood shifting from foot to foot for a bit and then the other boys came in. They were laughing and talking. Harry was sure they were laughing and talking about him but they didn't talk to him. He could hear them getting ready for bed talking in muffled tones so that he couldn't make out the words.

Eventually, Ron came back. He pushed his head into the curtain and delivered a message from Hermione. "Ginny said to meet them in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. As soon as possible."

Harry knew he couldn't get out his invisibility cloak until the others had gone to sleep. He told Ron to wait for him in the common room. He told Dobby the plan. Dobby grinned, pumped Harry's arm again and vanished with a pop.

It seemed to take forever for everyone else to go to sleep. Harry was almost drifting off himself, when Ron shook him. He didn't speak but Harry understood. He got out the invisibility cloak and tiptoed down the stairs after Ron. Ginny and Hermione were waiting for them impatiently.

They left through the portrait hole under the disapproving frown of the pink lady. They had occasion to use the invisibility cloak to cover themselves before and even a small dragon but when used to cover four people, the going became extremely awkward. Finally, Ginny volunteered to go ahead and peer around each corner to see if it was safe because bits of them kept reappearing as they all tried to tug on the cloak and make it fit them all.

How they made it to the bathroom without anyone finding them, Harry never knew between the whispering and tripping over each others' feet but eventually they were all assembled in the bathroom. Dobby was waiting for them hopping from foot to foot. Moaning Myrtle made one of her appearances.

"Oh look, now more people have come to disturb my solitude," she accused.

"I'm sorry, Myrtle, we didn't mean to bother you," said Hermione apologetically.

"A likely story. First its house elves, now it's a whole crowed of people. Have you started selling ticket?" she asked testily.

"Oh no, of course not. We just came because…" Hermione looked around at the others for inspiration, "Uh we thought your wisdom might help."

"Oh that's it. Only come to visit when you want something." But the morose ghost seemed flattered. "Well what is the problem?"

They explained the situation. She took off her glasses and cleaned them, although Harry couldn't think of what good it would do.

"It's useless to keep a house elf from joining a human family. It's their nature. Anything else would make them unhappy. And believe me, I know about unhappiness. If you had been a ghost in a toilet for over fifty years you would too. I sometimes wish I didn't have a permanent commitment to haunt a toilet. It would be so nice to leave for a bit sometimes, but then again I'm not one who gives up after a decade or two, not like some I could mention."

Harry was trying to ignore Moaning Myrtle's rambling complaints.

Hermione seemed interested. "Myrtle, are you saying it is possible to have a temporary arrangement?"

"It all depends on what you're willing to commit to," she said lifting her head. "When I became a ghost, I knew I would suffer to the end of time."

"I never thought being a ghost was sort of a magical contract. I thought you had no choice about…uh how long…" Hermione trailed off.

"It is very complicated and mysterious," Moaning Myrtle said earnestly, enjoying the attention, "but some less-committed souls choose a contract with an escape clause, so to speak." She sniffed disdainfully at those not eager to suffer endlessly but Hermione was tapping her lips thoughtfully.

"Myrtle, are you saying that it is possible to have a temporary contract?"

"You really aren't too smart, are you?" the ghost observed from her place on the back of her tank. "Of course that's what I'm saying. Certain low-life ghosts just don't have the stomach for it."

"Is this true for house elves as well?" Hermione asked.

"Oh I suppose so, but only the dead can truly understand what is meant by forever," she moaned dramatically.

"Dobby," said Hermione, "Is it possible for Winky to take a temporary contract?"

"Hermione, are your nuts? We've got to stop Winky from going there at all," said Ron.

"I do not think that it possible," said Dobby sadly. "Winky is determined to go."

"Yes," nodded Hermione, "Once Winky sees how bad the Malfoys are, she'll be happy to leave them and become a free elf."

They discussed the matter for sometime but eventually, Dobby agreed to talk to Winky and see if they could convince her to take a temporary contract.

"Do you think the Malfoys will agree to it?" Harry asked.

"Of course," squeaked Dobby, "Malfoy was very angry when Dobby was freed, sir. He is concerned that other wizards think he was losing influence and money. I think he will agree to a temporary house elf if it is to be kept secret that it is temporary."

"Well we will have to be very careful about the binding spell so that she will be released when the time is up. I suppose there must be something about it in the library," she said almost to herself.

Eventually it was agreed that Dobby would convince Winky to accept a temporary contract and that Hermione and the others would work on writing it.

Harry considered it a minor miracle in itself that they managed to return to Gryffindor without further incident, especially when Dobby kept popping up to thank them again. Harry almost had to resort to threatening him to make the house elf leave them alone when they got to the portrait so they could enter.

Dobby vanished and Harry let out his breath in a whoosh. He and Ron said goodnight to Hermione and stumbled up to bed. Harry felt so tired that he kicked off his shoes and flopped on the bed without bothering to unpack his pajamas.

.

.

The morning started bright and clear. Ron was urging him to hurry up. Around him Dean and Seamus were climbing into their clothes. Seamus called a cheerful good morning.

"C'mon Harry," said Neville coming up to him, "breakfast will be ready."

Harry pulled his shirt over his head. They were all looking at him oddly.

"What's up?" asked Harry looking from one to the other.

"Nothing, really," said Dean. "It's just that – well, we had a bit of a chat and well…Ginny knows some wicked hexes…and Neville said…"

"What we mean," Seamus took over, "is that we're sorry we were treating you so…well, all those things in the paper and the rumors and such. We didn't know what to think. Anyway we're sorry we were treating you like a blast-ended skrewt that might attack any minute," he shuffled his feet, embarrassed.

"I should have known better than to listen to any of that slobber Slytherins say and we know that some of the stuff Rita Skeeter printed about you was totally bogus," said Dean.

"Can we just forget it?" Harry asked.

"Friends?" asked Neville, extending his hand.

"Yeah," agreed Harry clasping the hands held out to him, "us Gryffindors have to stick together." Suddenly he felt much better. It wasn't as if he had fewer problems to deal with but they didn't seem to weigh as much as they had a moment ago.

"We really are sorry,' said Neville.

"Just forget it," said Harry.

.

.

When they got to the Great Hall they found something that really did make Harry forget completely about it. Posted on the doors to the Great hall was a note.

Due to the revised Quidditch schedule

Tryouts will be held on Friday. Interested

Parties should see Madam Hooch by the

End of the day.

All around them students broke into a babble of excited chatter.

"Harry, do you know what's going on?" asked Ron.

"No idea. Tryouts are always held second week of term. I wonder what they mean about a revised schedule? I'd better find Madam Hooch," said Harry.

"Me too," said Ron. "I want to sign up for tryouts. Are you going to try out?"

Seamus snorted, "Are you kidding? I've no particular wish to spend a week being Slytherin house elves."

"Well, I thought about it," admitted Dean, "but for one thing, I'm from a Muggle family and I haven't been able to practice all summer."

"Don't worry about that," said Ron encouragingly, "Harry lives with the biggest bunch of Muggles you ever heard of. He hasn't been on a broomstick since the end of the third year, not counting the Triwizard Tournament, and he's acting captain."

Harry wished Ron hadn't brought that up.

"That's another thing," said Dean, "I've no particular desire to be on a team that's going to get totally drubbed in front of the whole school."

Harry could feel some of his new-found camaraderie evaporate.

"Come on, it's not that bad," said Harry, "We've got a lot of really good experienced players."

"No offense, Harry, but it's going to be different now that Wood's gone," said Seamus shaking his head.

Breakfast was a noisy affair. Since September first had been a Friday, the school term started with a weekend. Everyone was glad to be able to relax and settle in and the Great hall was filled with loud discussions of Quidditch, teachers, the Gryffindor-Slytherin bet, and just generally catching up with old friends.

Harry looked around for Fred and George. If anyone had information about the revised Quidditch schedule, it would be them. Harry spotted them talking earnestly with some new students at the Ravenclaw table. They had notebooks and were busily scribbling away.

Harry tapped Ron's shoulder to get his attention. "What are your brothers doing? They're not taking bets are they?"

Ron looked around where Harry pointed and frowned uncertainly but it was Ginny who answered.

"They are doing research for their chocolate hogs," she said, "They asked McGonagall for a school roster but she said she wasn't going to aid and abet one of their schemes."

Then there was a break in the conversation as a flurry of owls arrived, bringing messages and parcels of forgotten items from home. Hedwig landed on Harry's plate. She helped herself to a bit of sausage while Harry detached a note. It turned out to be from Madam Hooch telling him to meet with the rest of the team captains after breakfast.

.

.

Madam Hooch's office was adjacent to the locker rooms. When he got there he found a tall girl with light brown hair tied tightly back into a pony tail nervously pacing in front of the closed door.

When Harry approached, she thrust out her hand and said stiffly, "Hi, I'm Cassiopia Calloway, the new Hufflepuff captain." Harry took her hand and shook it awkwardly. He didn't see the point of introducing himself. Everyone knew who he was.

"So, they picked you for captain?" she asked.

Harry shrugged. "For now." He didn't feel like going into how he was switching off with Angelina. He could understand if the Hufflepuffs felt a bit resentful. Cederic Diggory had been their captain. He had also been the only opposing Seeker to beat Harry to the Snitch.

"Well good luck," she responded politely.

"Thank you. You, too," Harry nodded toward the locked door, "Do you know what Madam Hooch wants to talk to us about?"

"No, but since you and I are here, I guess she wants to talk to the captains."

Harry nodded, "I guess we'll find out about the Quidditch schedule and stuff." After a long pause where they stood staring at nothing in particular for a while, Harry asked, "Do you know who the captains on the other teams are, Cassy?"

"I guess we'll find out soon,"

They did. A few minutes later they were joined by someone who made Harry's mouth go dry. Cho Chang walked up and greeted Cassy.

"Hi," said Harry.

She spared him a brief glance and gave him a quick smile.

"Congratulation," Cho said to Cassy. "I think they made a good choice."

"Hi," said Harry again but they didn't seem to hear him.

"Thanks. You'll be hard to beat," Cass said warmly.

"Hi," repeated Harry.

"Do you know who is going to be the Slytherin captain?" Cho asked.

"Warrington, I guess," the Hufflepuff Chaser said.

"Hi," said Harry feeling foolish.

Cho finally turned to him, "Congratulations," she said.

"Uh, thanks," said Harry, "You too. You're a great player."

Silently Harry berated himself. He sounded so stupid. Desperately he tried to think of something clever to say but his mind had gone totally blank. They shifted in the awkward silence only for a moment when they saw a pair of figures approaching. It was Warrington and Malfoy. They all glared at one another for a moment.

"Only captains are supposed to come," said Cassy flatly.

"Which one of you is captain?" asked Cho unsmiling.

"I am," chorused Malfoy and Warrington together. They glared at each other.

"I am,' drawled Malfoy again.

"Only if we win," said Warrington. "If we lose, then I'm captain again."

"Don't worry; we'll win," Malfoy grinned evilly at Harry, "and I know you won't let us down, Warrington. Not just because you want to win, but because you don't want to lose one hundred galleons."

Warrington growled at Malfoy, "I have seniority and I'm a better player than you. I should be captain. You just got in because your family's so rich and you use sneaky bargains to win."

"Well, that's the captain's job," said Malfoy, "To make sure that we win. That's why the others chose me over you. They knew I would make a sure that we will win," Malfoy oozed confidence. Warrington looked around as if suddenly noticing the others.

"What are you looking at, you little mudblood?" he snarled.

The others tensed at Warrington's use of such a foul term. Harry shrugged. Having grown up with Muggles, the word just didn't carry the same weight with him. He always had trouble remembering not to say Voldemort's name around others.

"I'm not ashamed of who my parents were. At least they had the courage to face Voldemort instead of groveling to him and then pretending they never had."

If the others were disconcerted by Warrington's language, that was nothing to how they felt about Harry's casual use of Voldemort's name. Not to mention the accusation. But Harry had seen Malfoy's father obey Voldemort's summons and knew his barb hit home. The others gaped at Harry but Malfoy recovered quickly.

"The only reason that Gryffindor made you captain is because they needed a scape goat when we win."

It was probably a good thing that Madam Hooch chose that moment to appear. She looked around at them sternly. "Good; you are all here," and pointed her wand at the office door.

The latch released with a click and the followed her inside. The walls were covered with plaques and certificates, most of which had little Snitches, Quaffles, and Bludgers on them and were hanging at odd angles. As Harry watched, one of the Bludgers flew toward the frame and knocked it so that it hung at a different angle. There were also a lot of pennants from teams which Harry recognized from the book "Quidditch through the Ages".

There was a book shelf filled with books on Quidditch and other sports of the wizarding world. The corners of the room were filled with stacks of crates from which overflowed various pieces of sports equipment. She plucked a half-collapsed Quaffle off her chair and tossed it into a box labeled 'to be repaired' and sat down. She gestured for them to find seats. Harry moved a stack of broomsticks and leaned against a filing cabinet as there didn't seem to be enough seats.

Madam Hooch glared around her fiercely looking more like a hawk than ever. "I won't deny that I'm not too pleased with recent events. I'm for team spirit as much as the next person, but the school always has had a strict policy against betting and I don't see why a special exception should be made now."

She singled Harry, Malfoy, and Warrington out for a special glare that made Harry think he knew what a mouse felt like when Hedwig spotted it.

"But if it has to be done, the headmaster has decided that it is best to get it over with quickly. That is why we have modified the Quidditch schedule. We have bumped up tryouts to this coming Friday. I know, I usually like to give everyone a chance to settle in first week but you are going to need all the time you have to get ready. Well at least Slytherin and Gryffindor will; you have the first game two weeks after tryouts."

"Two weeks!" Harry gasped. "That's not enough time to train."

Even Malfoy looked stunned. "You two must be kidding, Professor."

"No, I'm not," she snapped. "You two have chosen to make a mockery of the great sport of Quidditch with this ridiculous bet. If it was up to me, I would have both of you thrown off your teams and call that an end to it. But professor Dumbledore thought it wiser to carry through with it. He does concur that it would be best not to drag it out any longer than necessary."

Harry opened his mouth to say something but nothing fell out.

Madam Hooch then handed them each a piece of parchment. It has the schedule of games. "There will be a gap between the first and second games, but that can't be helped."

Harry noticed that the Slytherin parchment has something written on the back. He flipped his own parchment over and noticed a practice schedule on the back.

Madam Hooch saw what he was looking at and explained. "Professors McGonagall and Snape thought it would be fair to make sure each team got equal time to use the field for practice, starting with Gryffindor right after lunch. Slytherins can have the field this evening."

Harry looked over the schedule. It seemed to be divided evenly with both teams getting a share of each time of day. Still it meant that out of the two weeks, they only really had one week of practice time.

Madam Hooch then proceeded to explain the tryout procedure. Harry had never actually been to tryouts. He had been chosen to play Seeker for Gryffindor after McGonagall had seen him catch a Rememberall thrown by Malfoy. At the time he had been so relieved that he wasn't going to be expelled to be expelled, that he hadn't given it any thought. Since then no one had cared to challenge the existing team members and no new positions had opened up. Madam Hooch finished with a stern lecture about not tolerating anymore nonsense and they all got the distinct impression that she would come down pretty hard on anyone who broke the rules.

Harry returned to Gryffindor tower. It seemed that everyone was out exploring the castle and grounds. Harry went looking for the rest of his teammates but it wasn't an easy task to round them all up. He filled them all in on the news and listened to their outraged protests.

"I mean how are we supposed to get back up to snuff especially after not playing last year?" yelled Fred.

"There's no way we're going to be able to teach someone new all our plays. This takes time. That's why teams usually flip for the order of the games," George fumed.

"Of course, the Slytherins will be in the same boat," said Alicia.

"Yeah but how long can it take them to find the worst broomstick in school?"

"I don't know," said Fred sarcastically, "you have all these difficult decisions to make. Is it worse to have a broom that skews to the left or one that can't climb too high?"

"On the bright side, if the Slytherins are trying to curse a broomstick, they won't have too much time to do it in. I mean first they'd have to learn the curse and then learn how to conceal it."

"Not that I'd put anything past Slytherin, but I'm not sure they'd take a chance on actually jinxing the broom. Magical contracts are serious stuff. If they weren't, Harry would never have had to go through with the Triwizard Tournament last year," Angelina said.

Harry fervently wished he hadn't had too also.

"They'll probably get expelled if they tried," said Katie hopefully.

"Being expelled would probably be the least of their problems. Magical bindings have been known to backfire in the nastiest of ways – fatal ways," said George with a shudder.

"Besides, Dumbledore is keeping an eye on things," said Alicia reassuringly, "Of course, on the other hand, we'll have to keep up the our end."

"Well it's only a week. It won't be fun, but if we have to, we have to."

"Hey, what's all this talk about losing?" asked Fred, "There a good chance we can win. I mean we've got a great team, if I do say so myself."

"Our biggest problem is going to be deciding how to spend all that gold," said Katie with forced cheerfulness.

"That's the spirit," said Harry. "Let's go to lunch. We need to find out who wants to try out for Keeper."

.

.

Over lunch they put their heads together for a quick strategy session. They decided that training backups for all the positions was still a good idea but for now they would have to concentrate on finding and training a Keeper.

"There's no use practicing on your Firebolt, Harry. I think you had better use the school brooms. Try out different ones," Alicia said.

Harry agreed it might be a good idea. At Harry's direction they spread the word that anyone thinking of trying out for Keeper should come down to the Quidditch field after lunch.

Harry went to Madam Hooch's office after lunch to pick up the Quidditch balls. He picked up the case and trotted over to where the team was waiting by the bleachers.

"All right there, Harry?" called a voice and Harry didn't even have to look up to see that it was Colin Creevy. His younger brother sat next to him. Colin was busy telling Dennis all about Quidditch. "And the Seeker catches the Snitch. Harry Potter is the best Seeker – never failed to catch the Snitch, except for the time with the Dementors."

Dennis gazed at him with shining eyes. Harry wished Colin wasn't giving him such a hard reputation to live up to.

"Of course if he can't use his Firebolt, we might get to see him miss," said Colin animatedly, "That's why I brought my camera; so I can take a picture if he does."

So much for confidence.

Ron came up with a bunch of old brooms. "Here you go, Harry. I looked for the worst ones I could find."

"Thanks."

"Who's interested in trying out?" asked Harry.

"I am," said Ron, "But I don't think there are going to be too many others."

Harry didn't say anything. He had heard Dean, Seamus and the others talking. Harry knew how much Ron hated Muggle cleaning but Ron showed no hesitation. He'd better pull himself together. "Okay everyone, grab a broomstick. Let's start with some warm ups."

Soon everyone was taking a few laps around the field. Harry mounted a rather bedraggled looking broom and joined them. He instantly missed his Firebolt; this broomstick was sluggish and as the team moved on to running loops and figure eights, Harry had to really fight to keep it on course. On the other hand, it was wonderful to be up in the air again. I felt so good to be flying again that he let out a whoop. Then he signaled Angelina to take out the Quaffle and they began tossing it to one another. It was quite clear Harry was pretty rusty.

Harry tried to remember all the drills Wood used to have them do. He found it a lot harder to keep an eye on everyone while trying to do the drills at the same time. After a while he noticed that a few students began drifting into the stands to watch. Now he felt self conscience with them there watching him, critiquing him as captain. Thinking of this, he became more awkward than ever. He just knew that everyone was noticing his every mistake. In spite of the wind from his maneuvers, his robes were sticking to his back with sweat. When their shadows started getting longer, he signaled everyone back to the ground.

"Whew!" said Alicia, wiping her sweaty face, "That was a good work out."

"And here I was hoping that without Wood, I was going to have an easy time of it," said Fred, dropping down beside them.

"Not bad for the first time out. Good job," Angelina commented as she joined them. Harry knew she was trying to be kind and say something nice. He knew he must have looked like an idiot up there. He didn't know what was worse; having Angelina telling him that he had done a good job when he stunk like a pole cat or if she just came right out and told everyone they were sunk without Wood.

He looked at his watch it read, "Time for Quidditch Practice". He sighed with exasperation. Not that he didn't appreciate the watch Ron and Hermione got him but he already knew it was practice time. What he wanted to know was how much time was left. He asked Katie for the time.

She said there was only fifteen minutes left of their practice session. How could their time be almost over when they hardly started?

"For the rest of practice, I think it would be a good idea to let anyone who is interested in trying out to give it a go."

Ron's face broke into a smile and he eagerly hopped off his seat and trotted over to the collection of school brooms and chose one.

"Anyone else?" Harry asked, "After a bit, Colin Creevy handed his precious camera to Dennis and hesitatingly made his way over to the brooms. He picked up a broomstick, tripped over the handle of another, but was smiling when he got to his feet. He mounted and made it move toward where Harry and Ron waited.

"All right Harry?" he asked. Collin was practically bubbling over with enthusiasm. He waved at his brother.

"Can I really fly with you?" he asked breathlessly.

Harry swallowed his first impulse to tell him no. "Try outs are open to anyone second year and up."

"Thanks Harry!" then he waved to his brother again. Suddenly Dennis was running over and grabbing a broomstick too. Dennis, if possible was even more accident prone then Colin or even Neville Longbottom.

"Anyone else?" he asked, but there seemed to be no takers.

"Are you kidding?" scoffed a voice from the crowd, "No one wants to be on the losing side except Weasels and Creeps."

Harry turned to see Draco Malfoy. Next to him stood Crabbe and Goyle like two personnel warts.

"The Weasleys are so used to being losers that they can't resist another opportunity and the Creevy brothers just don't know any better."

"Oh, we're not really going to try out," said Colin unfazed. "We just wanted a chance to fly with you."

Harry couldn't decide if he was relieved or angry.

"What are you doing here, Malfoy?" Harry tried to keep his voice even.

"Just checking out the competition," he said causally. "If this is all you've got to offer, then I'd go ask Filch for some cleaning supplies if I were you." Crabbe and Goyle laughed like idiots.

"Yeah, sez who?" they all turned to see a small girl push her way out of the stands.

Harry recognized her as the first year he had met at the table last night. Tenobia was a tiny slip of a girl. The top of her head world barely reach his chest but she angrily strode over and one of the broomsticks.

Malfoy burst out laughing.

"Up," she commanded and one of broomsticks popped up into her hand. She mounted it, and smoothly to hover next to Harry. "Let's go."

Malfoy leaned on Goyle for support. "You're going to let the little pip-squeak try out?"

"If she wants to," said Harry. He gave the girl an encouraging nod, but she didn't look nervous. She looked furious.

"Don't you know, little girl, that first-years aren't supposed to be on the house teams?" Malfoy informed her. "On the other hand, a little pixie like you might be the perfect choice. You're about the right size for a house elf."

At that moment she did remind Harry of a pixie. One of the viscous little villains Lockhart had once set loose. They had only taken a matter of minutes to effectively disassemble a classroom. She dove at Malfoy, who belatedly realizing his danger, ducked as her broom passed over his head, knocking off his hat.

Malfoy swore furiously and she laughed. Malfoy pulled his wand out of his pocket and aimed it at her. Harry shouted and reached for his own wand but it was too late. A beam of red sparks shot out toward Tenobia. Gasps came from all around but the spell never connected. At the last moment, Tenobia had wrenched her broom into a tight circle and the jet of sparks passed beneath her swinging braids. She laughed again and flipped Malfoy a rude gesture.

"Stop right there, Malfoy," Harry shouted in the same cold voice Snape used in class. To his surprise, it worked. Malfoy froze long enough to see all the wands pointing menacingly in his direction. Practically every Gryffindor present had drawn his or her wand. Even Crabbe and Goyle could do the math and see that they were outnumbered.

"Try again if you think you'll have better luck," taunted Tenobia, waggling her fingers in her ears.

Harry was afraid that Tenobia might provoke Malfoy into trying to take revenge in spite of the twenty or so wands pointing in his direction. So he called loudly for them to stop wasting valuable practice time on slimy Slytherins and line up. Ron, Tenobia, and the two Creevy brothers pulled even with Harry.

"Right," he said ignoring Malfoy, who was making vague threats. Harry could hear Malfoy in the background. Draco hated being ignored. Harry knew he could count on the others to make sure he didn't try anything. "Now, I want to see how you fly. Just take a lap around the field and then see if you can do that figure eight."

Tenobia flashed Ron a challenging grin beneath her pigtails.

"Ready? Go!"

They dashed off. Colin and Dennis were soon left far behind. Side by side, Ron and Tenobia rounded the far end of the field and began making their way back. Dennis and Colin had a near collision with the goal posts and were just righting their wobbling brooms when neck and neck with no more than inches between them, Ron and Tenobia flashed past. Harry could see that Ron was gripping his broomstick urging every ounce of speed out of it. They swooped into the figure eight maneuver, each trying to pull the tightest turn at top speed. For a moment it looked like they were going to collide but they swerved aside and the last moment. In a matter of seconds it was over. Panting, they brought their brooms to a stop before Harry.

Tenobia and Ron were looking at each other. It was obvious they had each expected to easily outstrip the other and were adjusting to the nasty shock that they had real competition.

Laughing, Colin and Dennis came up. They practically fell out off their brooms dismounting. "Thanks Harry. That was fun."

"Can we do it again, sometime?" Dennis bounced up and down.

"I'm going to write to Mum and Dad, telling them all about it," crowed Colin as the two of them resumed their seats.

"Very nice, both of you," said Angelina. "If you can stop the Quaffle as well, I'd say you both have a shot at it."

Harry looked at his watch. It read 'Time for Lunch.' "Looks like our practice session is over," he sighed. "We have the field at 7:00 am. Tomorrow morning. Don't be late. You two can come if you want. You can take turns being Keeper and see how it feels."

.

.

Back in the common room after dinner, Harry found Hermione ensconced in one of the overstuffed chairs turning thought the pages of a thick book with lots of complicated looking diagrams on it.

"Hello," said Harry sitting down next to Ginny, being careful not to sit on Crookshanks who was using a very large book fallaciously entitled "A Brief History of Elves, Fairies and other Magical Peoples" as a pillow.

"Don't worry, Crookshanks, Professor Bins has that effect on all of us," he said.

"That's not for professor Bins," said Hermione. "Ginny and I have been to the library trying to find out about making a magical contract. It's going to be harder that I thought to make a temporary one. Magical contracts tend to be rather permanent by their very nature."

"Does it have to be a magical contract?" asked Harry.

"That's the problem. Elves are magical creatures. I'm not sure a Muggle type would work." Hermione buried her face in her book again.

"How did Quidditch practice go?" Ginny asked.

Harry filled them in on what Madam Hooch had said. He pulled the schedule from his pocket. Hermione took it from him and studied it. "That's not going to leave you much time for doing your homework," she frowned.

"Did Ron play?" asked Ginny "How did he do?"

"He flew pretty well but he has competition," Harry explained about the first year girl who had challenged Malfoy.

"Ron really wants to make the team," confessed Ginny with light laugh. "He was talking about it all summer and kept pestering Fred, George, and Charlie to practice."

Harry had a new reason to regret being captain. What if this girl turned out to be a better player. He didn't want to have to choose between friendship and fair play. Well she was a first-year so maybe that would disqualify her. Of course Harry had only been in his first year when he became Seeker.

He looked at the schedule again. They were going to have to get some more practice time in. Maybe they could use the field over by Hagrid's hut when they couldn't use the Quidditch pitch. He'd also need some time to try out different brooms and get some extra practice in himself. He also better make a list of skills they most needed to practice and plays they should work on. He borrowed a quill, parchment an ink from Hermione and began sketching out a detailed practice schedule.

He was so engrossed in his work that he didn't even hear his name being called until Ron threw a cushion at him. He looked up from a chart every bit as complicated as the one Hermione was poring over.

"Where were you?" Harry asked as Angelina, Fred and George came in.

"Watching the Slytherins practice.'

"How does it look?" Harry almost wishing he didn't have to hear the answer.

"Actually not too bad," said Katie coming through the entrance.

"That is not too bad from our point of view," amended Alicia.

"The Slytherins have a few positions to fill and it seems they spent most of their practice session – ahem 'discussing' – the possibilities," said Angelina.

"They were doing a good job of trying to murder each other," translated George.

"If they keep this up, there'll be no one left to face us," said Fred cheerfully.

"On the other hand," said Ron gloomily, "We get to play whoever proves to be the strongest, toughest, and nastiest."

.

.

The following morning found them all shivering in the early morning light. Harry had already been up for hours. He had woken in the dark and being unable to fall back asleep, spent time going over the practice schedule. He wracked his brains trying to remember all the drills Wood used to have them do. He thought of the charts and intricate maneuvers Wood used to show them. There was not going to be time to work up many new ones from scratch. Besides, this game was going to call for a different strategy. Harry felt sure that Gryffindor had better Chasers and Beaters, but he had to face it; the weak spots on the team were going to be whoever played Keeper and himself.

No offense to Ron or Tenobia, but they just didn't have as much practice working with the team and honing their skills under Wood's tutelage. He'd only be kidding himself if he thought that he'd be anything other than a laughing stock on whatever broom Malfoy picked out. He needed a strategy that took advantage of good beaters and Chasers. They'd have to keep control of the Quaffle and hope to score enough points so that they didn't lose by too much. He'd tried to think of what plays would do them the most good.

Thoughts like these went round and round in his head as he paced the common room before the glowing embers from last night's fire.

When he tried to share some of his thoughts with his teammates, Fred yawned loudly and complained, "Now you are starting to sound like wood."

"Thank you," Harry said, pleased, "But I'm new at this, so if you have any ideas…"

"That was not a compliment," said George.

"I'm sorry, but I didn't pick the practice schedule," He handed them each a copy of the schedule Madam Hooch had given them with some of his own additions marked out in color coded ink.

They quickly warmed up and then began to practice some of their old moves. There was no doubt about it, they were rusty, but none more so than himself. He was riding an old shooting star which tended to buck as it gained altitude. Harry was twisting this way and that, trying to keep an eye on everything at once. How was he going to look for the Snitch and keep an eye on the opposing team as well?

When their session was over, they headed into the castle for breakfast.

"How did it go?"asked Ron as Harry dropped into a seat beside him.

"'Bout what you'd expect. Our next practice is the afternoon slot. I'm going to use the morning to try out school brooms and try to get a feel for some of them."

Hermione rolled her eyes as Harry was about to launch into a long lecture about broomsticks, practice sessions, and Quidditch in general. She was saved by Professor McGonagall who arrived to hand out course schedules.

"Oh great, we have Snape first thing Monday morning," groaned Ron.

"Well look at the bright side, at least we get it over with," said Hermione.

Harry's plans for the morning was disrupted when Wendel Marshwaddle, the new Gryffindor prefect announced that since most first-years are habitually late for classes first week owing to the difficulty in learning their way around the huge castle they were each to take a first-year and walk them through their schedule and show them around.

Fred and George protested, "But we were going to use this time to do a little research."

Wendel gave them a lecture on how they were going to take advantage of having a weekend before start of classes to help new students get acclimated and it was their duty to help new students out. Harry could have told Wendel that appealing to the twin's sense of duty wasn't going to work. But they agreed it was an opportunity to meet some first-years.

To Harry's surprise, he was teamed up with Tenobia. He looked her schedule over and then began walking her through the classes.

"I'm not sure this will help much," she said when Harry showed her a hidden passage that could only be used on Wednesdays. "I won't remember all this."

"Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it. The teachers are pretty understanding the first week. They know everyone always gets lost. Don't be late for Potions though, whatever you do. Snape is always looking for an excuse to take points off Gryffindor. His class is in the dungeons but fortunately, its generally easy to find.

"So, do I really have a chance to get on the team, or are you just wasting my time?" she asked staring at them in a slightly defiant way.

"Well you are a first-year. First-years usually don't get on the house teams."

"You did," her voice was more than slightly defiant now.

"Well yeah, but that was partly just being in the right place at the right time. I started here just after the pervious Seeker graduated and there really wasn't anyone else."

"Everyone says you're really good. But I watched you. You're not bad, but I'm not sure you're as great as they say you are," her tone was matter-of-fact as if she was just mentioning that there were omelets for breakfast.

"You really just say what's on your mind," said Harry, taken aback.

She shrugged, "Well, what do you think my chances are?" she said again.

Harry walked along the corridor. "Well, you seem to be able to handle a broomstick well enough,' said Harry guardedly.

"You're not just stringing me along are you?" she accused.

"What?' asked Harry surprised.

"I get the impression you have already decided on Ron and you're just letting me try out because no one else wants to because they figure Gryffindor is going to lose.

"Tell me, does your mouth get you in trouble a lot?"

"Yeah, I guess it does," she answered frankly.

"I kind of figured the way you told Malfoy off."

She shrugged again, "He irritated me."

"He's good at that," Harry agreed.

Harry showed her the Charms classroom.

"So do I have a chance or what?" she asked again almost fiercely.

"Yes you do have a chance," Harry told her.

She considered him for a while as if she were weighing him to the last molecule then she nodded. Harry consulted her schedule and set off toward professor Bins' class. He looked at her sideways and asked, "So, do you think I have a chance?"

"Chance for what?"

"Does Gryffindor have a chance?"

She was quiet for a while, considering. "Well I watched Slytherin during practice today. Everyone seemed to think they looked pretty bad because they spent half their time arguing."

"But you don't think so.'

She gave him another one of her shrugs. "It seemed chaotic because there were so many people who wanted to try out. But most of them didn't really look serious. Once they get weeded out, things will settle down. I kept an eye on the veteran team members. They're not so bad. That Malfoy may be a jerk, but he looked better than you. Of course he had a Nimbus 2001, so maybe it's not a reasonable assessment. After tryouts, when things settle down, they could shape up to be formidable team."

"Gryffindor has a pretty good team," Harry pointed out.

Yeah it does. But it's going to have a weak defense. New players always are," she flashed a grin. "less experienced; even me. Then again, Slytherin has new players too."

"Maybe Slytherins will be so worried about competing with each other that they won't work together?"

"No, I don't see that happening. They want to win enough to cooperate. Success breeds success. They'll follow anyone who can give them victory. But the biggest problem, she went on "Is that our team is going to be virtually playing without a Seeker. On some crummy old broom, there's going to be little you can do to keep them from just stomping all over you."

"Well you may have a big mouth," said Harry, "but it's an honest one. So if you think Slytherin is going to win, why do you want to be one the team?'

"I love the game. If the Sorting Hat put me in Slytherin, I'd be slugging it out there instead. I figure being a house elf for a week is worth it," she said defiantly.

"You're only saying that because you don't know Slytherin, "Harry warned. "Why don't you wait until next year? Then you will have a better shot at more positions. As a second year there will be no question about your eligibility and you won't have to be a Slytherin slave for a week?"

Her tone was nonchalant, but a faint flush crept across her face. "The odds are against us, but I think there is a chance we could win. Having a big mouth isn't my only problem. I'm also an incurable optimist."

It was only after handing Tenobia over to Colin Creevy to finish the tour, that Harry realized she hadn't asked him about his scar or You-Know-Who even once. Harry grabbed a bunch of broomsticks and went out to Hagrid's hut.

.

.

Hagrid was busy constructing something that looked rather like a bird cage. That is if a bird cage was made out of barbed wire and big enough to hold a flying school bus.

"Hello, Harry. Sorry I can't stop for a chat just now, but I've got to finish this," he apologized. "Professor Flitwick is coming this afternoon to weld everything together and I have to get it all into place by then."

Harry eyed the reinforcing steel bars Hagrid was adding to the structure. Hagrid hadn't taken these precautions with the horrible Blast-ended Screwts. Harry was apprehensive about anything Hagrid thought needed a cage like that. He tried to reassure himself that it was too small to hold a dragon.

"That's okay. I just wanted to know if I could practice my flying here for a bit."

"Oh sure, Harry. Go right ahead, I heard about the bet an' all. Ya probably shouldn't have gotten mixed up with Malfoy, but I don' car what anyone says, I know you can do it."

Harry spent about an hour trying out different brooms. He tried not to think of his Firebolt locked away in his room. Tenobia's comment about him not being that good had stung. When lunch time came, he was damp with sweat but although the school brooms had poor handling, he could feel some of his old skills coming back.

After lunch the team returned to the Quidditch pitch. They spent part of their time practicing some of their plays. They broke into groups to practice against each other. Toward the end of the session Ron and Tenobia each took a turn playing keeper while the Chasers scored goals.

Ron was right; he had improved over the summer. He crowed, face flushed with excitement and exertion as he deflected on of Angelina's shots. Tenobia scowled then grabbed the Quaffle and batted it at the left goal hoop. Ron who was busy looking at Angelina moved too late to stop it.

"Hey! I wasn't ready," protested Ron.

"Well the Slytherins won't wait until you're ready,' she retorted.

Ron swooped to retrieve the Quaffle. Harry could hear him muttering angrily "….kid thinks she's so smart."

Deciding it was a good time to step in before things got out of hand, he called them down to the ground. 'Well, we did better than yesterday, but we're a long way from where we were towo years ago. The Slytherins have the field this evening, but Hagrid is letting us use the area near his hut. Maybe you can give me a hand with testing out some of the broomsticks. Also hagrid has this big cage thing. That might be the perfect place to practice some of our tighter maneuvers. Trust me, you don't want to miss."

.

.

That evening they trudged back to the castle in the fading light, Fred grumbled. "You know, Harry, I think you're trying to imitate Wood maybe a bit too much. Here it is the night before the start of tem and instead of thinking about where to hide some dung bombs so as to amuse Filch, I'm thinking about going to bed."

George moaned in agreement, "Who would have thought we would come to such a sorry state. It was a good thing we had this morning off or we never would have been able to get the powder for the chocolate set up."

"Are you still making those chocolate hogs?" asked Harry.

"Yep. We've been working on the cards all summer. We got some of the older students done but we haven't done any of the new kids, of course," explained Fred.

"And we couldn't make any of the chocolate at home. Mum would have skinned us. We made the first batch of magical powder so that when the chocolate arrives we'll be able to get started," George said in a conspiratorial whisper. "If that goes well, we'll make a larger batch next time."

That evening the common room was filled with happy chatter as they anticipated the start of classes. Soon the room was decorated with filibuster fireworks. Even Hermione had set her books aside and was giggling with Ginny about something. Ron was sitting a little way away and scowling.

Harry plunked himself down next to Ron and blew out his breath. Ron continued to glare at the girls. "Girls. I always thought Hermione was intelligent but you'd think she would have something better to talk about than Krum."

"I thought you and Krum were okay?" said Harry cautiously.

"Well yeah, but there he is the greatest Seeker of the decade and do you think she even says one word about Quidditch? No they're over there giggling about the color of his eyes."

Harry, whose mind was tuned to Quidditch said blankly, "Eyes? What does his eye color have to do with catching the Snitch?"

"Exactly what I mean," said Ron. "Sometime girls make no sense at all. I mean they're always saying we're childish and immature and there they go—"

They were interrupted by a burst of laughter. Not surprisingly, Fred and George were the cause. They appeared to have two of their legs tied together and were attempting to get across the room. Exactly what they were doing was unclear, but it involved pretending to argue about which way to go and falling down a lot.

Then George dropped a Filibuster firework down Fred's robes. It went off with a terrific bang. This knocked Fred flat and pulled George over on top. Fred retaliated by force-feeding George a ton-tongue toffee. George howled around his rapidly swelling tongue, which flopped slimily out of his mouth. They began screaming insults at each other. George was hampered by his tongue and the Filibuster firework that was still sending up sparks from Fred's pants.

They began to accuse each other in more and more ridiculous ways until they challenge each other to a duel. It was sort of hard to tell in George's case as he resorted to hand motions. Everyone laughed and clapped at their antics. But their smiles slipped when the twins actually did pull out their wands.

The bowed to each other, knocking their heads together, and then held their wands ready, glaring at each other. Around the common room people looked at each other. Were they serious? They were always joking around, maybe they had finally pushed things too far?

"Fred…George…" began Lee Jordan.

"It's too late for that now," shouted Fred.

George sputtered something unintelligible but gestured with his wand.

"On three, then," growled Fred, "One, two…"

Several people leapt forward to stop them. There was a brilliant flash and when Harry blinked his sight clear, he could see Fred holding a large bowl of oatmeal and George appeared to be holding a steering wheel. Both were laughing. Fred took out his real wand and restored George's tongue so they could laugh better. They toppled to the floor in paroxysms of mirth. Everyone clapped and cheered their performance.

They helped each other up and announced, "We'd just wanted to announce that we will be offering these and other wonderful items for sale this year. The common room laughed and cheered again. The twins pulled out a stack of order forms so that everyone could get a look at the types of things they could buy and the prices.

"Not all of the merchandise is ready yet. But we figured it would be good advertizing to let you have a sneak preview.'

After a time they made their way over to the couch and flopped next to Ron.

"Better not let Mum find out Weasley Wizarding Wheezes has risen again," said Ron.

"That's new," said Harry pointing to the ring that was still binding their ankles together.

"We're still working on this one. Its sort like a leg-locker curse, only you don't have to be there to do it. You just leave this ring somewhere and if someone steps on it, it will bind their legs together. We decided it would be funny to stage a fake duel while we waited for the spell to wear off," said George.

"It's not really ready for market yet. We can't seem to get the release spell right so we have to wait for the charm to dissipate," explained Fred. They put their bound legs up on a table.

"Well it better wear off by morning," said Harry, "You have to be up by for Quidditch practice at dawn tomorrow. We've got the field before breakfast."

At Harry's urging, the team turned in relatively early. Fred and George hobbling together up the stairs. It was only when Harry was pulling on his pajamas that he remembered the dream catcher. He wondered where Sirius was and if it was possible to send him an owl.