Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Quidditch Final
The next day was Friday, and Harry was given the all clear early in the morning, so he had to attend lessons again. Even from when he first walked into Defence Against The Dark Arts, he could see that what Kainda had said about people being slightly suspicious was true. They all looked away from him, and he heard at least three people whisper, "Risotta," at some point as he passed to join Ron, Hermione and Draco. Though really, what people had to say about his absense didn't bother him at all. It was as though his brain had overloaded, and now had only space for two things - which were Kainda, or Quidditch, or sometimes both of them at once.
The progression of Harry's mind was shown in his doodles along the bottom of his page as Lupin took them through a list of spells to block physical attack ("You could have done with these earlier, huh?" said Ron). The first was the initials KZ, in his best handwriting, following smoothly on to a large note in a circle saying, "Remind Kainda to practice Dopplebeater Defence with Ernie", and then a picture of a Quidditch pitch, covered in lots of arrows that no longer made sense to him, then a series of more joined initials, a caricature that Ron had done of Draco that showed the Slytherin chasing along after a walking shirt, and then Hermione's neat handwriting which said, "You do realise you have to hand this in to Professor Lupin, don't you?"
It was the first time that Harry had found himself not paying attention in Dark Arts. Normally, he hung onto Professor Lupin's every word, but he found he just couldn't concentrate. His mood swung between fluttering at the thought of Kainda, and then cold and clammy at the reminder of how close their Quidditch match was. Just one day now. Tomorrow, at 3 PM, the Quidditch Final started between The Bright Sparks and The Dragons. Harry was captaining, and so was Blaise, and Harry knew that he just had to win this match. Not only was the chance to play against the teachers hanging in the balance, but Harry had the oddest feeling that Blaise had done something to him recently that he just had to pay the Slytherin back for it, even though he couldn't think what it was. And of course, Blaise reminded him of Kainda, and last night, and telling her that he loved her, and...
He looked up, jolted out of his thoughts. "Sorry, Professor... got distracted."
Lupin smiled kindly. "That's alright Harry. Try to concentrate a little more please."
That night, his sleep was erratic and vague. Just like his waking thoughts, his dreams dashed back and forth between Kainda and Quidditch, from kissing to trying to tug a Quaffle off Norbert, grapes to opsittops hiding under Hagrid's beard, and eventually the whole lot just melded together. He was at a tea party, singing to the opsittops while the garish kittens from Umbridge's old plates gambolled around the table, half-eaten, and he was just asking Sly if she'd like another Kainda Cupcake when he woke up with a start. Ron was lying next to him, rolling with laughter.
"What?" asked Harry, blinking vaguely at him, still wide-eyed from waking up so suddenly.
"A tea party?" Ron choked, trying to stop himself laughing so loudly.
Harry decided to wear a gag in bed from that moment on. Once Ron had stopped laughing, they got dressed, and ambled down to breakfast, as neither of them were in the mood for homework. A lot of people were already awake, and to Harry's amazement, the first thing he saw when he entered the Great Hall was a huge green and silver dragon made of fireworks swooping around over the Slytherin table. Blaise Zabini and the rest of The Dragons were looking very smug. Harry realised with an angry twinge that Snape was sitting with The Dragons, and he was apparently responsible for the dragon charm too. His wand was out, flicking gently every now and then to have the great glittering mass roar a jet of green glames into the air.
Ignoring what he felt was a blatant betrayal by his magical guardian, Harry swept passed the Slytherins, over to the Gryffindor table. To his surprise, they had a few new members there. Kainda was debating with Hermione about something in her textbook, Ernie and his Hufflepuff friends were all talking to Ginny and Neville, and Draco was saving two empty seats for Ron and Harry. They sat down in them, and before Harry could ask, Draco said, "Special permission from Dumbledore. He thinks it's time to "relax the standards" and encourage some inter-house friendships."
"It looks like we've got an awful lot of moving around in the Great Hall today," said Ernie, turning round to talk to Harry. "Look up at the staff tables!"
"Tables?" said Ron, as he and Harry peered around to look.
There were now two tables pushed together, and all the staff sat around them. To Harry's great surprise, all the ghosts were now sitting with the teachers, even -
Harry gasped. "It's Peeves! And Jinx!"
"Who?" said Ernie, confusing, leaning around to peer at the staff tables.
"Peeves and his sister," said Harry, pointing to the far right end of the table. Peeves sat cross-legged on the bench between Dumbledore and Jinx. Dumbledore was apparently telling a joke to Peeves, and when he finished, Peeves cackled loudly, so much that some of the staff shot angry looks at him.
"Who are all those other people?" asked Ernie. Harry let his eyes wander down the table, and saw people he'd never met sitting there talking to the staff. A few of them he recognised, from snatched glimpses he'd had. There was a reporter that Harry knew worked for The Daily Prophet, Rita Skeeter, some people he'd seen at Grimmauld Place, and a few faces that he'd only seen for a moment or two in the ministry of magic. He pointed out the faces he recognised to Ron.
Ron shrugged. "I dunno... Dumbledore's friends, aren't they? Probably here for a meeting or something."
"Why on earth would Rita Skeeter and Terrance McClavity be here?" asked Hermione. "They're not friends of Dumbledore. McClavity writes a lot of anti-muggle articles for the Prophet."
Harry glanced at the man she was pointing out. He was a rather happy looking man, with a round face, a lot of scruffy brown hair under a journalist-hat, and out in his hands even as he spoke to Professor Binns was a notepad.
"He looks alright to me," said Ron, frowning. "What's wrong with him?"
"He just doesn't strike me as the sort of person who would be invited to Hogwarts," said Hermione. "You know, he's anti-muggle, anti-muggleborns... remind you of anybody?"
"Malfoy?" said Ron, without thinking.
Draco gave him a very scournful look. "Weasley, I'm sitting next to you, for the love of Merlin. Do use your brain."
"Voldemort?" said Harry to Hermione, cutting across Ron's reply. A few people twitched around the table.
"Exactly," said Hermione. "Voldemort started out promoting pureblood wizards and anti-muggle things, and a lot of people agreed with him, but they pulled out after they realised what he was prepared to do to get nothing but a pureblood, wizarding world. McClavity's one of them."
Harry shrugged. "Does it matter? Dumbledore trusts him." There was a sudden volley of bangs from the Slytherin table, as Snape's dragon cart-wheeled up into the air and blew fireballs up towards the enchanted ceiling. "There are other things on my mind right now."
Hermione patted his arm genially. "Don't worry, you'll be fine... so what, they've got a dragon? We've got good players, Harry."
They've got my magical guardian, Harry thought, bitterly. And more support. And flashier decorations.
He glanced up at the staff table, as Lupin, Alrister, and the Galvez sisters all got up from the table and came towards him. He wondered for a moment what was going on, especially when they all crouched down in a huddle around him. All four of them were smiling.
"Harry, we think Professor Snape's a little out of order over there," said Lupin, quietly. "There are two Slytherins on your team, and much better Slytherins too."
"So we thought we'd come and give you a little push to get equal," said Alrister. He was grinning. "We're sure Snape has nothing against a little healthy, supporting rivalry."
Andralyn laughed softly. "He always did that dragon at family parties. It's getting pretty old, if you ask us."
"And so we're going to blow it out of the air," said Isabis, smiling. Her voice was a little lower than her sister's, more of a purr, though when he was this close to them, Harry still couldn't tell a single difference in their facial features.
Lupin, Alrister, Isabis and Andralyn all stood up. Lupin and Isabis drew out their wands, and with a thrill, Harry supposed that Andralyn and Alrister would be doing pure magic.
"Ready?" said Lupin, smiling around at them all.
"When you are," said Alrister, grinning back.
"On three then!" said Lupin, loudly enough for the whole school to hear, and almost everybody turned around to look. "One, two, three!"
"Hogwarts madria aris!" Lupin and Isabis cried, firing their wands to the ceiling. Alrister and Andralyn flicked their arms upwards at the same time, and everybody gasped in surprise as four huge shapes, far bigger than Snape's puny little dragon, soared upwards from the four teachers. Lupin's was a lion, magnificent and proud, glittering red and gold and giving off sparks that lit the entire hall. Alrister's badger was just as impressive, like a great sparkling swarm of black and yellow bees, perfectly formed. Isabis was ravenclaw, a grand bronze eagle giving out cries of joy as it swooped over the tables, leaving a trail of shimmering blue smoke, and Andralyn had conjured the huge glittering green snake of Slytherin, winding its way around the hall. The entire school apart from the Slytherins burst into applause, cheering and clapping, even more when the lion strolled calmly over to the Slytherin table, climbing up onto it and swallowing the dragon in one gulp. There was a great flash of light from the middle of the hall and the glittering, rainbow-coloured message of, "BRIGHT SPARKS FOR THE CUP" appeared there, winking and sparkling in the light. Harry couldn't help but grin and laugh, especially at the look of horror on Snape's face, as the lion belched, and expelled a twinkling mass of white bones onto the table.
The atmosphere of the day after that was very much the same. The Bright Sparks had been warned by Draco to stay together, in case Dragons fans tried to attack them. People were following the team down the corridor, wishing them luck and telling them that Dragons were rubbish. The rumour was that Blaise Zabini and the rest of his team were lurking around the dungeons, so The Bright Sparks made sure to stay clear of there, and spent the day instead outside, throwing things back and forth. Ron was perfectly on form, catching and throwing like a professional, the Chasers were working perfectly together, Ernie and Kainda were sending apples rocketing in all directions, and over all, Harry couldn't have asked for better conditions.
When two o'clock came, they all went off to the changing rooms to get into their Quidditch robes. There was an hour to go, but Harry wanted them all ready and perfectly comfortable before the match. He felt as though his whole life had been leading up to this point. It was the most scared he'd ever felt before a Quidditch match, and as he looked out on the stands, fully changed and ready by ten past two, he prayed that he didn't lose. Blaise Zabini would eat him alive if he did.
Draco was rushing around, doing his usual, "Where are my socks, where's my glove, has anybody seen my lucky rabbit's foot?" routine. Harry was going to have to sedate him if he didn't stop panicking, and really, he didn't want a drugged Draco trying to throw a Quaffle back and forth. On Hermione's suggestion, Ron was eating as many sweets as he possibly could. "Sugar gives you energy," he protested, after his fifth chocolate bar. "I want energy, don't I?"
"You're going to throw up if you eat any more," said Ginny, shaking her head. "And we can't afford to lose you."
Draco went skittering past with a frantic squeak of, "I can't find my socks!", unaware they were on his feet and under his shoes already.
Harry was practicing. He'd seen his father do something like this before, but of course, James Potter had had a real Snitch. Harry had the next best thing. Hermione had charmed a muggle golf ball they found in the grounds so that it tried to get away from him if it wasn't in his pocket. He'd let it go, allowing it to fly a few inches then he'd snatch it back. His father's reflexes were better than his, but he was getting steadily better at it.
Kainda came into the boys' changing rooms, looking completely and utterly calm. Harry found himself in awe at how unruffled she was. Everybody else was in various degrees of nerves or in Neville's case fright, but Kainda looked as though it was just another practice session. She glanced around at all the worried faces. "Hey, what's up with you lot?"
Draco rounded on her. "We're about to play the most important Quidditch match of our lives, that's what's up with us."
"Leave her alone, Draco," said Ginny. She took another sip from the pumpkin juice bottle she had. "Just because you're going to need a change of underpants doesn't mean she will."
Everybody snorted, then shut up after a swift glare from Draco. He turned to Harry. "You should be keeping order here. You're the captain."
Harry shrugged, smiling. "I can't be bothered anymore. My worry level's gone past being scared. What happens happens, right?"
"Right," said Ron. "If we win or lose, we've been completely unbeaten before now. Nobody else has been good enough to face up to Blaise yet, and he's the only one who can laugh at us. And if he does, we can beat him up anyway."
"I think we should just go out there and play the best game we ever have," said Ernie, thumping his bat on the floor. And whatever happens, we're at least the second best Quidditch players in the whole school! So what if we can't quite manage best? What do the winners really get, except twenty house points per person more than we will, and the chance to go against the teachers?"
"I wouldn't mind that," admitted Kainda. "But qué sera sera. What will be, will be."
"You're right," said Harry, smiling to her. "As long as we do our best everybody, nobody can ever expect any more from us."
"Yeah!" everybody cheered, clapping.
"Quidditch cards are in order, I think," said Kainda, grinning. She leapt onto her broom. "How many packs, people? Gold now, by the way."
Everybody surged forward to place their orders, and then she rocketed off. Harry watched her go with a smile.
The next fifty minutes crawled by. The stands filled very gradually, until every single seat was filled. Fireworks and rocket charms were zooming all over the crowds, banners reading "BRIGHT SPARKS" or "DRAGONS" were fluttering from every single hand, and even the teachers had taken sides. Harry was delighted to see that most teachers were firm fans of The Bright Sparks. Sinistra and Snape sat behind the Dragons goals, surrounded by a knot of gleeful Dragons fans, but the rest of the teachers were clustered behind the Bright Sparks goals. Lupin, Alrister, McGonagall and Flitwick were on the front row, waving a banner, even though Professor Flitwick was dangling about a foot from the ground holding onto it. Dumbledore and his guests were around the centre of the pitch, politely not taking sides, even though Harry could see what was unmistakably a Bright Sparks badge under Dumbledore's robes.
"It's three o' clock," said Ron, checking the magical watch around his wrist. "We'll be starting soon."
"Don't remind me," Draco groaned, rubbing his head. "Longbottom, have you been practicing your throwing?"
Neville nodded frantically. He picked up one of his school shoe, and threw it cleanly across the changing room to Draco. The Slytherin caught it, threw it back, and it hit Neville in the head, successful kicking him with his own shoe.
"Oi!" Ron said. "Stop injuring Neville, Malfoy, or we'll all injure you!"
Draco smirked. "Just testing his reflexes, Weasley."
"Will you two stop with this macho surname thing?" said Ginny, annoyed. "Will your tongues fall off if you call each other Draco and Ron?"
Draco and Ron both glared at her, but they didn't answer, because next second, a sound that sent chills of fear down Harry's side blared out around the stadium. Lee Jordan on his magical microphone. "Good afternoon everybody, and welcome to the eagerly awaited Quidditch final of the season!"
The crowd roared. Suddenly, they sounded a million miles away. Harry had the sudden urge to run away and hide somewhere nice and quiet until it was all over. He swayed, and Ron grasped him by the shoulder. "Oh no you don't, you're our Seeker. Get on the broom."
Harry clambered onto his broomstick, holding it in place, ready to kick off, as he listened to Lee's voice booming out. "The match is between The Dragons, captained by Blaise Zabini, and The Bright Sparks, today lead by Harry Potter. I don't think I'd be far wrong to say that this is easily the most eagerly anticipated match of the whole league, and riding on the outcome of today is The Quidditch Cup, house points, and the opportunity to play against the staff team. I've got a copy of the team list here folks, and boy, I know that everybody would just love to "accidentally" maim a few of THESE teachers!"
"Sorry, sorry, Professor... just a joke... okay, let's bring out the teams. Bright Sparks, are you ready?"
Harry kicked off from the ground, but something went wrong mid-kicking, and he caught his foot, so that his broom did an odd flip and bucked him off onto the ground. Ron laughed, hauled him back onto his Firebolt, and clapped him on the back with a shout of, "Get going!"
Harry's broom rocketted off, like a bullet fired from a gun, heading for the entrance to the pitch. It was like speeding down the corridor leading to the Department of Mysteries, in a way. Harry had no idea what would happen once he got there. Then again - qué sera sera. What will be will be.
He bloomed out into the warm afternoon air, and was greeted by a wall of noise, cheers and clapping, and a shower of glittering rainbow sparks from most of the crowd. He could see Luna and Hermione on the front row next to Professor Lupin, cheering for all they were worth.
"Potter, Malfoy, Weasley, Weasley, Zabini, Longbottom and Macmillan!" Lee roared to the delight of the crowd, and glancing up into the box, Harry saw that Lee was wearing a woolly hat, with a Bright Sparks badge pinned to the front. "Very good team there, all perfectly matched to each other, and I know we can expect some high class Quidditch today. Alright! Are The Dragons ready?"
The other half of the stadium started to cheer, and there were a few roars of dragons played from the banners, but the noise was instantly beaten right down, as a gong sounded somewhere. The noise shivered out across the stands, and everybody fell quiet, watching the mouth of the changing rooms. Music was starting to play. It was oriental, loud, and a chill shot down Harry's spine at how impressive and powerful it sounded. The crowd started to roar their approval, and then, with no warning, a huge fireball burst out of the tunnel mouth, followed by another glistening black firework dragon. The Dragons followed it, flying in a perfectly straight line, with Zabini in front.
Their robes were black, and on the back, flames were inked onto the fabric, but they were fluttering, as though The Dragons' robes were actually ablaze. They were incredibly impressive. Harry felt his stomach twisting. If their Quidditch skills were even half as good as their spectacular entrance, The Bright Sparks had a severe problem on their hands.
Madam Hooch strode out onto the pitch, carrying her broom, to tumultuous applause from the crowd. "Captains!" she called. Harry flew forwards to meet her, and Blaise joined them. His eyes were fixed on Harry. He was smirking from ear to ear. "Shake hands!" Madam Hooch commanded. Harry grabbed Zabini's hand, and they glared at each other, gripping each other's hands so hard that Harry could see both their wrists going slightly purple. After a moment, Madam Hooch swatted their handshake apart, frowning at both of them. "Let's have a clean game," she said. "We've got a good amount of the school year left, I don't want any fatal injuries. Agreed?"
They both nodded. Harry looked at Blaise, and Blaise looked back, and Harry knew that Blaise was going to try and put as many of his team out of action as possible. Physical contact was not allowed in Quidditch, but there were other ways of severely hurting a player. He tried not to think about this, and settled on his broom, ready and waiting.
"On my whistle!" Madam Hooch called. She lifted it to her lips. Harry waited with baited breath, his nerves so tight they would probably snap.
The shriek of the whistle pierced the stands, the crate flew open and the game began. Draco was straight in and down, grasping the Quaffle, off down the pitch with Neville and Ginny in hot pursuit. Harry realised that Blaise must be the Seeker - the Dragon chasers were obviously the ones who were tailing Neville, Ginny and Draco, so close to them it was nearly unallowed.
Harry caught the tiny glimmer of gold as the Snitch emerged from the box, then flittered away, moving too fast for him to even contemplate giving chase. Blaise thought the same. He gave Harry one last glare, a smirk, then he turned away and rushed down the pitch after the Chasers. Kainda was after him in a shot. Harry smiled. There was nothing quite like sibling rivalry.
"And they're off! Malfoy gets the Quaffle, he's off towards the goal, Dragons Chasers straight after him, followed by Zabini and Zabini. Macmillan - lovely Bludger work there, but... oh no! Bludger deflected by Sprakes, that's the Dragons Beater there, and Malfoy drops the Quaffle! Griffiths picks it up, Griffiths heading for goal, guarded by Sprakes, Bright Sparks Chasers following... come on, get it off him! Just hit him!"
"JORDAN! If you don't stop promoting physical violence - "
"Alright, alright... anyway, Griffiths going for goal. Sprakes deflects another Bludger, hit back at him by Macmillan, and Sprakes hits it back... Macmillan misses! But it's hit McArthur! Sprakes knocks his own Chaser off his broom, and unfortunately, Blaise Zabini catches McArthur. McArthur back on his broom. Sprakes and Griffiths still heading for goal, blocked by Weasley Junior there, and - yes! Yes! She seizes the Quaffle from Griffiths! Weasley Junior back up the pitch like a rocket, come on Ginny, score! She squares up to the Keeper, she throws - it's saved... how disappointing..."
The crowd all groaned as the Dragons Keeper, one of Blaise's bodyguards, beat the Quaffle away with his outstretched fist. It sunk towards the ground, and Harry saw Draco and Griffiths grappling over it before Griffiths tugged it away, and sped off towards Ron, Quaffle firmly tucked under his arm.
It was absolutely agonising to watch. Harry flew over the pitch, high in the air, keeping a look out for the Snitch, watching the Quaffle fought over, seeing it dragged back and forth up and down the pitch. Both sets of Chasers were doing all they could to score, but every single time, it was intercepted and stolen by the other team. Ron and the Dragons Keeper saved every goal, and the match was starting to get more violent.
Everybody was so frustrated with being unable to score that the Chasers were flinging themselves at each other, wrestling over the Quaffle, and Zabini's boys were resorting to things like spitting in people's faces to get possession. Madam Hooch couldn't find a rule that disallowed this. Ginny, Neville and Draco eventually got so scared of being spat at that they weren't fast enough to intercept McArthur. Ron dived for the Quaffle, but he was just an inch out, and the red ball sunk through the hoop. Half the stadium exploded in cheers and dragon roars, the other half groaned exasperatedly.
"It's ten-nil to the Dragons," Lee announced to the stands, though everybody already knew this. "McArthur scores. Hurray. Potter is signalling to his team for a quick word, and off they go."
When all the team were clustered around Harry, they all broke into a tirade of anger about being spat at, and Harry said, calmly, "There's nothing we can do, just spit back at them, or if they go to spit at you, swat at them. As long as you don't contact, it's not illegal. Or just knock them off their damn brooms, that should teach them. Ernie, Kainda, start getting more aggressive. If they're going to be violent to us, we'll just do it back, right? Hit the Bludgers and aim to knock them off their brooms, no just stopping them scoring."
Kainda and Ernie nodded, and Harry went on. "I want to see lots of Dopplebeater Defence, too. Two bats are better than one, right? And Draco, you're our faster Chaser, Ginny, you're the most aggressive. Draco, you fly below Ginny, so Ginny, when you get the Quaffle just drop it to Draco and he can score quick before anybody can change direction to get after him. Neville, you stay constantly near the hoops, so Draco and Ginny can just throw it for you to tap through the goal if they need to. Okay? Let's go then."
They split apart, and zoomed off, as Madam Hooch signalled for the game to restart.
Now that The Bright Sparks had new confidence, they could play properly again, and the game started to get even more intense. People were flying faster than Harry could watch, and fake punches and pushes were going on so much that it looked as though people really were fighting. Ginny, Draco and Neville were teaching the Dragons a very good lesson. Everytime a Dragon Chaser spat at them, they spat back twice and then aimed a fake swat, grasped the Quaffle and went for goal.
A mad sort of determination had come over everybody. Pretty soon, it was 90-80 to the Dragons, and Lee Jordan was going frantic with excitement. "Malfoy to Weasley to Malfoy to Longbottom to Malfoy again! Malfoy going for goal! Intercepted, McArthur to Griffiths to McArthur and intercepted by Weasley, and - damn, I'm getting a headache! Dragons have the Quaffle, Dragons going for goal, Bright Sparks get it back, Bludger nearly unseats McArthur, Bludger back nearly kills Macmillan but no time to check that, Bright Sparks are going for goal and Malfoy passes to Longbottom and Longbottom drops it through and he scores!" Lee gave a great gasp of relief, and they all heard him slide to the floor, panting for breath. "Alright, alright, hold play for a minute, I can't breath... phwew... okay, I'm alright, I'm alright. No, I'm fine Professor, really. It's 90-90, and if I feel like this, I don't even want to imagine what the players are like!"
It was starting to get into late evening now. The sky on the horizon was darkening from pink to a deep blood red, streaked with stripes of blazing gold, and high above them, the stars were starting to glow. Harry didn't know what time it was. Twice, it started to rain, showering them all lightly, as though the heavens were trying to refresh all the players and wake them up.
Everybody was getting gradually more and more tired, but nobody would back down on the level of play, and so the aggression and speed continued. The Quaffle flung from end to end of the pitch, sometimes going into the goals, sometimes not, and the score was darting wildly about. Dragons would surge ahead, then The Bright Sparks clawed after them and powered in front, Dragons caught up, and the pattern all repeated. The crowds were screaming and gasping regularly, chanting, urging their teams on.
Harry could feel his brain becoming numb. It was as though all the players were turning into robots, their bodies forcing them to go faster and harder and better, fight more, though their minds couldn't keep up.
The first major casualty of the match was poor Neville. Harry was searching the outer edges of the pitch for the Snitch at the time, and he didn't even realise something had happened until the quiet came, and Madam Hooch's whistle blared out. "Stop, stop!" she shouted. A mid-air grappling match between Ginny and McArthur came to an abrupt hault.
Looking around, Harry saw a figure lying on their side in the mud, limp and still. He leapt off his broom, and ran over. Neville was unconscious. Madam Hooch knelt over him, checking his pulse and his temperature. "He's dropped from exhaustion," she sighed. "He couldn't carry on. We'll need time-out." She stood up, faced the crowd and gave two short blasts on her whistle, showing a 'T' with her arms. They all sighed, clapping weakly, just a light patter of applause. The crowd were getting tired too.
Madam Hooch got two Ravenclaws from the crowd to carry Neville off to the hospital wing, then she addressed all the players. "Twenty minutes recovery time, then you need to be back here and ready to play again. If anybody is missing, their team forfeits the match."
With many groans and grumbles, the players staggered limply towards the stands. Harry collapsed into the front row, instantly picked up and shoved in a seat by Hermione.
"Are you alright?" she asked, tentatively.
"No," said Harry.
Lupin handed something warm to Harry. "Drink it. Hot chocolate."
With a grateful moan of thanks, Harry lifted the flask to his lips and drank wearily. The rest of the Bright Sparks were staggering over and falling just limply on the ground where they stood. Draco was almost scarlet in the face and could hardly breathe from exhaustion. They were all wet, muddy, sweaty and more tired than they had ever been in their lives.
"What time is it?" Harry murmured indistinctly to Luna as she leant over him, poking his forehead for some reason.
She checked her watch idly. "The time is ten past six," she said, dreamily. "You have been playing for over three hours."
He groaned. "Three hours? I can't go on... no way..."
"We're not forfeiting," Ron growled, as Hermione zapped a cleaning charm over his dirt-encrusted face. "There's no way in hell that you're going to let us give up now Harry, not after I've been nearly killing myself for three hours. If we've got this far, we're going all the bloody way."
"Somebody's going to DIE at this rate," Harry groaned, swatting at him vaguely. "And if it's me I'm going to kill you."
Nobody had the strength to point out he couldn't kill Ron if he was already dead. Kainda took the bottle of water that Alrister offered her with a grateful murmur of, "Ta, sir... Harry... Ron's right. We've gotta keep going." She sat up vaguely and eased Harry so he was slouched over himself, like a cuddly toy with no spine, and she idly started to rub his aching shoulder blades. "It's going to be great if we beat Blaise after this, huh?"
He rubbed his face, wishing he could just curl up on the ground and go to sleep. "Nurgh."
Ernie's Hufflepuff friends came clattering down the aisle of seats, holding bags full of brightly coloured packets. "Ernie!" Justin Finch-Fletchley was in the lead. "Ernie, how are you?"
"Dying," Ernie groaned.
Justin crouched down by his friend, and started taking the packets out of the bags, handing them out around the team. "Here," he panted. "Take these, they're Zonkos energy sweets, they'll keep you awake."
"I'm not taking no drugs," Ron groaned.
"They're not drugs," said Justin. "Just try them, honestly."
Harry tore open his packet vaguely, and picked out one glowing orange capsule. It looked a little like a cube of tangerine jelly. Deciding that anything was worth a try, he put it in his mouth, and instantly felt a tingle skitter up his arms and legs. Seeing the surprised expression on Harry's face, Justin grinned. "You see? Good, aren't they?"
"Thanks, Justin," said Harry. He chewed the cube gradually, feeling his aches and pains starting to receed.
"Hey, hey," said Kainda, smiling, still rubbing Harry's back. "Does Miss Beater Of The Year not get some thanks too?"
Harry grinned a little. "And thankyou, Kainda." He offered her some of the energy sweets, which she took gratefully.
"Blimey O'Reiley," she said, chewing them. "These are great, Just. Are you sure they're allowed?"
"Oh yes, yes," said Justin. "The Dragons have got the liquid form over there, but between you and me, the drink's not half as energising as the sweets."
"What else have the Dragons got?" said Harry, feeling a cold flush, as he realised that Snape was supporting the Dragons, and so they were probably being pumped to the gills with invigorating draft and energy potions.
"They're not allowed anything but energy drinks and tablets," said Justin. "New rules brought into place just on the weekend. It's all a lot fairer now. And Madam Hooch is watching to make sure Snape and Sinistra don't slip them any super speed drafts under their cloaks." He tossed a few more packets of the sweets to each player, and said, "Must dash, we don't want anybody to steal our seats. Cheerio!"
"Thanks!" Harry called after him, as he and the rest of the Hufflepuffs hurried away up the stairs.
Ron tore open another packet of the sweets, and just poured the lot into his mouth, muttering, "I'm going to kill Hermione. She said chocolate would give me energy, the liar."
"I am right here, you know," Hermione said, waspishly.
"I know," said Ron vaguely. He forced another few cubes into Ginny's mouth. "Don't you ever give me any more of your weird muggle remedies any more."
Madam Hooch was striding across the pitch towards them. Everybody crammed as many energy cubes into their mouths as they could, so they all looked like hamsters. She came to a halt in front of Harry. "Ready to resume play?"
Harry looked around at his team. They all nodded, their faces shining with energy and enthusiasm. He looked back at Madam Hooch, and nodded stubbornly, getting to his feet and helping Kainda up. "Yeah, we're ready. Are the Dragons?"
She smiled a little. "Yes, they are. Back on your brooms then, and may I just say before the match restarts, Potter, this is possibly the most exciting game I've seen in my life."
Harry grinned, as he clambered back onto his broom, swallowing the last of his energy sweets. "We're not even done yet."
Play began again. Both teams were recharged, the crowd had been given the opportunity to go and buy drinks and sweets from Colin Creevey's stall, and everybody was excited again. It was Quidditch like Harry had only ever seen at the world cup, but now, it was almost completely dark, and the pitch was only lit by four glowing spheres of light at each corner. Harry knew he'd have a job seeing the Snitch in this, but he was so determined to beat Blaise by now that a little darkness wouldn't stop him.
The scores started to rocket again. 210-220, 260-270... Harry lost count fairly fast, and Lee Jordan had to be corrected several times by Professor McGonagall. Nobody had ever seen two teams so well matched in their lives.
"And I think that's Weasley Junior with the Quaffle there," Lee announced through the blackness, squinting out of his lit commentator's box. "And she's going towards goal again, Keeper ready to intercept - she shoots! Come on, is it a goal? No...!! Weasley Junior misses, it's still 320-310 to the Bright sparks. Haven't seen any sign of the Snitch this match - well, I can't see anything really, so I'm hardly surprised."
Harry sped down the pitch, looking left and right, flying along the ground through the darkness like a shadow. This was his first Quidditch match in the dark. There was something that made it all even more exciting than it already was. Players would suddenly burst out of nowhere, fly past him and go on, without him knowing whether they were Dragons or Bright Sparks.
He found out to his expense that Bludgers were especially dangerous in the dark. He was curling around the Dragons goal post on the hunt for the Snitch when one came hurtling past and nearly shattered his broom in two. He narrowly avoided it with a flush of relief, and was about to keep going, when there was a horrible crack from nearby and a cry of pain. The Bludger had got somebody.
"PAUSE PLAY!!" Madam Hooch cried, a burst of purple sparks erupting from her wand. "Somebody's been hit! Who is it?"
"Me," came a weak voice from near the ground. Harry reached out through the darkness, and found somebody's arm lying just inside the pool of light from the globes. It was Ernie. His arm was bent backwards, very badly broken.
"Madam Hooch! Over here!" Harry shouted. "It's Ernie! Ernie's been hit by a Bludger!"
Madam Hooch appeared, landing beside the two boys and inspecting Ernie. "Dear me... that's a very nasty break... Poppy isn't going to be pleased at all... well, let's get him to the hospital wing. Lumos!" Her wand tip lit up, and she called, "I need two students to help Mr Macmillan back to the school!"
Harry looked around at all the worried faces of the spectators, and eventually, two girls clambered out from the stands. Ernie was carried away back to the castle, and the Bright Sparks watched him go, looking very downhearted. They were now two players down, and Kainda had to deal with both Bludgers on her own.
Play resumed. It was getting very, very late now. The moon emerged gradually from over the tops of the trees, lighting the pitch to some extent, at least so Harry could see which team the players belonged to, which ball he should catch, and which he should avoid. The score's rapid ascent was slowing down, because nobody could see where to score. The Dragons scored twice in their own net, and Ron lost his hoops, wandering vaguely around the pitch, unable to see, unable Harry guided him back there.
The exhaustion of Quidditch started to get to them. Once again, both teams fell into a state of mechanical play, forcing themselves onwards, when their minds could no longer think or feel properly. They were all numb with the cold and exhausted, but neither wanted to back down. Harry found himself praying that he found the Snitch soon. Visions of the match going on for weeks, maybe even months, came to mind.
One of the Dragons Chasers couldn't go on, and left the pitch, hardly able to walk with the pain in his legs. Following was one of their Beaters, Sprakes, and so the teams were evenly matched. Neither had any substitutes, and Harry had the feeling that both teams would just play until every player fell from exhaustion. The last man standing would be the winner.
The next to fall was Kainda. She was busy with another Bludger, aiming it for her brother, when the second hit her in the leg and bucked her from her broom. Madam Hooch caught her before she hit the ground. Harry desperately wanted to call time out to see if she was okay, but Madam Hooch said no.
The Dragons Keeper was the third member of the team to drop. Exhaustion got him, and he simply rolled off his broom, hitting the mud with a splatter. The Bright Sparks score surged ahead, but then Ginny was taken by a Bludger to the ankle. It was now Draco, Ron and Harry versus two Dragons Chasers, one Beater, and a Seeker.
Lee Jordan was yawning constantly throughout his commentary, so much that eventually, nobody could hear what he was saying and he was sent to bed. Professor McGonagall took over, and the people in the crowd who had been slipping to sleep were woken up by her rather unusual technique at commentating.
"Malfoy has the Quaffle, held a little loose under the arm, but he rectifies that, and goes to score. If he had been watching, he would have seen the two Dragons Chasers both heading for him, and he loses the Quaffle. Weasley tries to save it, but does not push himself hard enough, and falls short. The Dragons score. 380 points to the Bright Sparks, and 340 points to The Dragons."
Harry could feel his eyes drooping. He didn't know how on earth his body could even think about falling asleep on an airborn broomstick, but it somehow could. He fought to stay awake by zipping back and forth up and down the pitch a few times.
One of the globes was fluttering slightly, probably as the magic began to wear off. It was such a gentle, rhymthic flitter. Maybe he could just have a quick nap. Nothing bad would happen... just watching the globe flicker and flutter, and the miniature one stuck to it trying to get off. He was so tired. Even those energy sweets couldn't help him. He wondered whether Neville, Kainda, Ernie and Ginny were okay. Maybe if he faked collapse from exhaustion, he could go and see them... or...
He blinked, suddenly realising what he was seeing.
He stared for a moment, then in a dazed, disbelieving way, he leant out, grasped the Snitch, and tugged it free of the pull of the globes. He blinked at it in his hand. How on earth had it got stuck to the sphere? Ah, he realised... the magic had got some sort of magnetic pull on it. So something in the Snitch must be metal.
"Hang on..." he said, quietly. "I've got the Snitch." And then again, the effect of these words sunk in. "I've got the Snitch!" he shouted. "Look! I've got it, I've got it!"
It took perhaps two seconds for everybody to realise what was going on. He saw hundreds of faces turning to stare at the tiny fluttering ball tight in his hands, and then -
The night shattered and exploded instantly, as the stadium lit up, and everybody in every seat started to scream. Some were yelling in frustration, some were laughing, some were cheering, but everybody was applauding, and whether it was in celebration, or relief that the match had ended, Harry didn't care. It was almost an overload of noise and relief. It was over. At last. After hours and hours and hours of playing... finally...
With a hazy smile, he slid off his broom sideways, his eyes melting shut, and his head hit the pitch as he half-fainted, half-fell asleep, the Snitch still pattering around in his fist.
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