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Chapter Twenty-Seven: Why Ravenclaw Is Proud

Ron and Hermione slumped off to their detention that night just after dinner, leaving a dejected and bored Harry to put on his Quidditch robes, get his gloves and broom, and make way down to the pitch in silence.

It was a dark night, and the sky above looked just like an inky blue blanket, encrusted with tiny jewelled stars twinkling in the blackness above. There wasn't a breath of wind to speak of, and the ground was powdered, as always, with a light sheen of pearlescent white snow. It was a very beautiful night. Harry found himself wishing the rest of the team were here, or at least a little company. As breath-taking as it was to the eyes, it was bitterly cold, and Harry knew he'd have to do an awful lot of practicing to make up for this.

Realising he was out on his own in the dark of night, he paused, considering going back to the castle. He lifted a hand to his neck, making sure the collar was there, and just to test that Snape was watching, he wrapped his hands around his neck and pretended to throttle himself, choking, "Aargh, I'm being strangled!" Sure enough, next second, his collar buzzed angrily making him jump and a voice from nowhere said, "Potter, stop it. I'm only here to protect you from others, not yourself."

"Just checking," said Harry, pleasantly, tucking his broom under his arm. "Professor?"

"Potter, I'm marking essays and extremely busy at - "

"Yeah, yeah," said Harry, and his interruption probably made Snape take notice more than anything, "I'm out on the pitch on my own because you've got my team with you. Just so you know that I'm out here."

"I'd prefer you to get inside, Potter. If there's nobody out there looking out for your wellfare, you're open to attack. At least go to Madam Hooch's office so she can watch you train."

"It's alright, Professor," said a voice behind Harry. "I'm here with him."

Harry looked around, surprised, and saw Kainda grinning at him, her broom neatly resting on one shoulder.

"Uh... Professor. Kainda Zabini is here with me," he said, aware he was talking seemingly to himself. "I'll be okay."

"Very well, Potter. Do not interrupt my detentions again." The voice in his ear faded away.

Harry grinned sheepishly. "I... uh..."

"I won't ask what that was about," she said, smirking.

"Good," said Harry. "Because you probably won't believe me. What are you doing out here anyway? It's really dark and cold."

"Don't be a prat Harry," she said, grinning, getting onto her broom and sitting on it bench-style, just floating pleasantly in front of him. "You're out here as well. We've got our second match tomorrow, and you're expecting me not to practice? Flint would have shot me if I wasn't out here."

Harry chuckled, mounting his broom easily, kicking off into the air. Kainda flew up with him, and he had no idea how she could control her broom so well whilst sitting on it like that. She look as calm as though it was just a stool. Harry would have been terrified of falling of and cracking his head open on the ground. "By the way," he said, as they glided through the gentle night air across the pitch. "Did Blaise get that sausage out of his ear?"

"No, I wedged it in good and proper," she replied. They both laughed, as Harry flew gently across to one of the stands and jumped nimbly off his broom, sitting down. Kainda remained in the air but changed her position to sit on the broom properly. "So. You know how to conjure, right?"

Harry wondered whether this was a trick question for a minute. "Yeah, why...?"

"Conjure some stuff to throw at me," she said, smirking. "We are here to practice, after all, if you'd forgotten." She twirled her Beater's bat lazily, looking down at him, hanging in the sky as though she was supported by invisible hands. "Hey, Harry."

"What?" he said, as he drew his wand from up his sleeve, and started to conjure apples while still listening.

"What are you going to do when you leave school?" she asked, curiously, as she absent-mindedly rolled right the way around on her broom, hanging upside down so her hair stretched way out below her.

He finished the last few apples on his pile, just checking them over to make sure they all were apples and not something else. "I'm thinking on being an auror, like my dad. Mad-Eye Moody... well, the guy who I thought was Mad-Eye Moody said that I had the right makings." He picked up the apple, and asked as he threw it hard towards her, "What do you want to be?"

She belted the apple hard, shattering it into pieces that showered over everywhere, falling pleasant back to the ground far below. "I dunno really. I was thinking about going into Quidditch, but there are very rarely any female Beaters in professional stuff. Males are just physically stronger and they'll always get the position over a gal like me."

"I think you could do it," he said. He picked up another apple, pitching it towards her, there was a loud smack and it went zooming off behind her shoulder in pieces.

"Thanks," she said, grinning, steadying herself on her broom again. "You'd make a good auror too. Shame you're not a prefect, that always adds good marks to your entrance form. Ron got the position, didn't he?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah. Dumbledore said he didn't want to put anymore pressure on me." He shrugged vaguely. "You know, it's not like I wanted to do it. Ron and Hermione are always out patrolling and going to help teachers with everything. Are you a prefect?" he asked, suddenly realising he'd never asked before.

"Nah," she said. "Not me, no way. I'd love to be one of course, but I guessed I just missed out."

He picked up some more apples, and starting throwing them for her to hit. She didn't miss a single one, and Harry's mind ended up so absorbed in the throwing that he started to think about other things. Kainda finally got tired, and went for a quick fly around the stadium to wake herself up. He watched her as she flew, his thoughts wandering.

Kainda was... well, she was great. She was friendly and cheery, she was laidback. She didn't giggle and gossip like all the other girls Harry knew, and her greatest love was playing Quidditch. Cho was a good player, there was no doubt about that, but she didn't seem to enjoy the game as much as Kainda did. Kainda lived and breathed Quidditch. He'd seen her around school, and she never ever took off her precious Quidditch gloves, even in lessons. It gave her a really cool, carefree sort of image. "I can't wait to get out of here and go have fun" sort of thing.

Harry didn't even realise he was watching her as intently as he was, as she looped around the goalposts a few times. He was too busy trying to subconsciously work out whether she was pretty or not. This had been baffling him for a while now. The thing was that there wasn't anything really wrong with her. She had no visible flaws, but she wasn't the sort of person who was known for being physically attractive.

He watched her corkscrew carefully through one of the goal hoops, then curve right round and dart back along the pitch. She was pretty. Tomboy pretty. That was another thing that made him think about her. She just wasn't like other girls. She was the sort of person who would make the perfect cousin. Ron always complained about his cousin, saying they always had to go shopping when she came to visit, but Kainda was probably the sort of girl who only liked going into Zonkos, Honeydukes and Quality Quidditch Supplies.

"Harry! Stop staring, you're putting me off!"

He grinned. "Sorry! I'll just sit here and put my hands over my eyes, shall I?"

"If you would!" she called, grinning, corkscrewing down the pitch again, rolling over and over, somehow managing to keep her food down.

Harry found this whole thing rather odd. Around Cho, he couldn't talk without blushing or losing his voice, or falling over, tripping up, making a complete fool of himself. His brain always turned to mush around Cho. But he felt easy with Kainda.

"Are you actually going to do any flying today?" she asked, smirking, cruising gently over his head.

"No, I think I'm going to just sit here, stare at you and put you off," he called back.

She laughed, spiralling down around him, swapping position in mid-air to take the bench-seat on her broom, watching him, smiling. "Then I'll sit right here and stare back at you, shall I?"

"If you want," Harry shrugged. "Just don't take too long, we've got a Quidditch match tomorrow and I'd like to be able to play."

She laughed, a proper laugh, not like Cho's insolent little giggle. She actually found him funny, instead of pandering to his ego and pretending to think he was. He realised now that Cho was completely fake. Had he actually taken her apology seriously?

She flipped carefully backwards, easing herself slowly to hang completely upside down, with just her legs hooked over the broom. "I should warn you, I'm the master of staring competitions."

"I spent eleven years staring at a dead spider on the ceiling of a cupboard under the stairs," said Harry, grinning. "You might be handing that title over some time soon."

She chuckled, spreading her arms out and swishing gently at the surrounding air, almost as though swimming, managing to guide her broom forwards. "I wouldn't sound so confident, if I were you," she teased. "You see, I've got the Beater's bat. So you won't dare win anyway or I'll give you such a beating you won't be able to walk properly again."

Harry grinned, and went to jibe back, but the collar on his neck buzzed and he jumped, that familiar prickle shooting his spine, starting to scratch his neck. "I must have a permanent itch or something, I always - "

Kainda reached out, her face creased in a curious frown, and Harry felt an even greater prickle go jittering down his spine as she touched his neck. She toyed absent-mindedly with the invisible collar. "How interesting. Somebody's got you on a leash. Perhaps Cho's getting a teensy bit paranoid now." She smiled.

He chuckled. "No, it's something else... kinda not allowed to talk about it... I get a shock everytime I do something bad or I'm putting myself in danger."

She raised an eyebrow, still watching him upside down, fiddling with his collar absent-mindedly. "And the great master who has you attached to this thing seems to think that you're doing something dangerous now? Odd."

He smiled, trying hard to ignore suddenly how close she was to him. "Yeah, he's protective of me." The collar buzzed. Kainda laughed and withdrew her hand quickly.

"I guess he doesn't like being talked about either," she said, smirking, and then to the delight of the butterflies in Harry's stomach, she reached out again, touching his neck gently. Her fingers played along the collar to the back of his neck, and with a thrill, Harry felt her undo the buckle and slip it off. It flickered into visibility, hanging in her hand. "Oh, my rottweiler has one like this. It's not got such a pretty jewel in it though."

"You'd better put it back on," he said, worriedly. "I don't want to get a lecture from Sn- from him."

She smiled. "Fair enough." She leant forward, reaching around to the back of his neck, slipping it gently into place and fiddling with the buckle. Harry found his eyes fixed on her face, barely inches from his, and suddenly, he couldn't care less if a Heliopath was about to burst out of the trees and cook him. Kainda's diligent fingers got the catch done, and the collar flickered into invisibility again. Harry got a reprimanding buzz from Snape, and somehow, he knew that he was in for a telling off when he got back to the castle. But that suddenly didn't matter.

Kainda smiled at the enthralled look on his face, and idly let her eyes flicker away from him, roaming around the snowy treetops of the forest and the soft navy sky above. "Beautiful, tonight."

"Yes, you are," he murmured, moving forward.

It was an awkward angle, as she was still upside down, but Harry didn't care at all. He didn't care about anything. She smelt so sweet and she felt so soft. There was something lodged in Harry's throat, which considering the situation was most likely his heart. His eyes fluttered shut instinctively, and he realised with a thrill that he was kissing Kainda. Cho would hate him, Ron would envy him, Hermione would probably say something about it being too soon after Cho, Snape was going to massacre him for taking off the collar and he didn't even want to think about what Blaise would do... but did it matter?

After a few of the happiest moments of Harry's life, Kainda drew back, biting her lip and looking rather worried. Harry searched her eyes carefully. "What's wrong?"

"We shouldn't have done that," she said.

He raised an eyebrow. "Oh, you think?"

"Harry... we're on a Quidditch team together..." she said, sadly. "With... with Marcus..."

"You think I'm like Marcus Flint?" said Harry, feeling very hurt at this.

She shook her head slowly. "No, not at all... it's... I try not to link them. If I miss a Bludger and it hurts one of your friends, you'll hate me."

"I won't," he said. "I promise."

"It's not that simple..." She averted her eyes. "Blaise doesn't - "

"Blaise has no business in who I date," he said, simply. "And he doesn't have any with you either. Come on Kainda..."

"And what about Cho?" she said, searching his face sadly, her hazel-coloured eyes looking so soft and hopeful.

"I don't care about Cho," he replied, stoutly. "Not at all... I... I care about you..."

She smiled softly, reaching out, playing with his collar again. "We can't, Harry... there's things about me you just don't know... all sorts of things... you're The Boy Who Lived, you're famous, you're like the emblem of everything good and right."

"So? What difference does it make? You're a good person... I'm proud of you, you're the best Beater I've ever seen, you're funny, you're friendly..."

Kainda shook her head sadly, looking away. "My... my father is a Death Eater, Harry. The whole of the Zabini family are. Blaise wants to join up too."

"But you don't, do you?" said Harry, his eyes wide.

"Of course I don't," she said, shocked at the thought. "I'd never do anything like that. It's just that people won't accept it. A Death Eater's daughter and The Boy Who Lived? They'd twist your mind about me. You won't be able to trust me... how do you know I'm not working for Voldemort? How do you know that I'm not about to just pull out my wand and kill you?"

"Because you wouldn't do something like that," he said, quietly. "You're better than that. Please Kainda... you make me happy... I like you..."

She turned her eyes away for a second, and said, "I'm sorry, Harry... I wouldn't want to ruin you." She placed a last, gentle kiss on his lips, turned the right way up on her broom and murmured, "I'll see you tomorrow at the match... I'm really sorry..."

He watched her fly away over the pitch, little more than a black outline against the moon bathing in the silky sky above the castle. He sat in silence for quite a long time after she'd disappeared in through a window of one of the towers, and then picking up his broom and the pieces of his broken heart, he walked out of the stands, across the grounds, and into the entrance hall with his eyes turned to the ground.

"Well, well, well," said an icy voice from in front of him. "Finally, our hero decides to return back to the castle."

He looked up and saw Snape watching him from the mouth of the dungeon corridor. He could see the black-haired, pale woman behind him in the darkness, just watching silently.

"Sorry," he murmured. "Lost track of time."

Snape crossed over to him, not looking pleased, studying his collar closely and hissing in his ear, "I didn't give you this so you could let other students remove it. Nobody is to know about this Potter. Nobody at all."

"Sorry," Harry said sadly again. "I won't let anybody near me again." Snape didn't catch the double meaning there. He continued to fiddle with the collar for a while, making sure it was on properly, and then he looking into Harry's eyes, frowning. Harry shut them fiercely. "You're not seeing it."

"Potter," Snape growled.


Harry opened his eyes, looking up at the soft voice. The woman was walking across the hall towards them, her hair short around her chin today, moving as though she was gliding rather than walking. She stood behind the Potions master and put a hand on his shoulder.

"He's safe... let him go back to bed," she said, softly.

Snape glanced up at her. "But - "

She laughed softly, a noise like wind chimes on a breezy day. "I know you enjoy punishment, Severus... isn't he tired? And you are too... just let him go, this once."

Harry looked up at her, blinking in amazement. Snape thought for a moment, then his expression softened a little, turning back to Harry. "Very well... to bed, Potter. And do not do it again. Five points from Gryffindor."

Harry nodded, "Alright... sorry again, Professor..."

The corner of Snape's mouth twitched as the woman gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Just this once, Potter."

Harry shouldered his broom, and left the hall silently, his eyes turned towards the floor. As he disappeared up the marble staircase, he heard Snape say to the woman, "At times I wonder whether you have the Imperius curse over me, you know."

There was another soft, melodious laugh as they left, back down to the dungeons. "No, Severus, you just love me."

Harry looked down at the floor again in silence, suddenly wishing he didn't have a heart.

Harry woke very early the next morning, unable to sleep. He laid under the pile of duvets in the Gryffindor common room for quite some time, just staring at the ceiling, trying to sort out his thoughts, before he got up, dressed in his Quidditch robes, and sat on one of the sofas to wait. Ron and Hermione seemed perfectly content to keep sleeping. After half an hour of sitting and watching Ron blow bubbles, the clock on the mantelpiece read six o' clock, and so he left the common room, broom over his shoulder, heading down to the Great Hall for breakfast.

Hardly surprisingly, he was the first one there, and he'd gone through eight goblets of pumpkin juice and two bathroom trips before the doors opened again. Blaise Zabini and the rest of his Slytherin friends swept into the hall. Pansy was clinging to his arm. Harry had the sudden urge to kill something.

"Oh, good morning Potter..." said Blaise, silkily. "Where are your little chums? Starting more fights?"

"Yeah," said Harry, vaguely.

Blaise snickered. "And my sister?"

Harry glared up at him, at that vile face. Did he know? Maybe Kainda had told them all in the Slytherin common room. "How am I supposed to know? She's your sister."

"Unfortunately," said Blaise, silkily, sinking into a seat at the Slytherin table. His friends sat around him, laughing, egging him on. "How was your late night practice last night, huh, Potter?"

"Fine," Harry said, vaguely, finishing his ninth goblet. He didn't want to talk about it, least of all with Blaise.

The rest of the Bright Sparks came down over the next half an hour, all patting Harry's shoulder, telling him to cheer up and that it will all be okay. They all seemed to think he was just worried about the match. Maybe it was better that way. When everybody had had enough with picking vaguely at their breakfast, it was time for everybody to go out onto the Quidditch pitch, and so the Bright Sparks trooped out across the grounds.

"Hey, Harry," said Ron, hurrying to catch up with him. "You okay?"

"Fine," said Harry, vaguely again. "Just a bit tired."

"Was your practice okay last night?" asked Ron.

Harry nodded numbly, feeling another twitch in his stomach at the thought of Kainda hanging upside down in front of him, and her lips...

Ron frowned. "Maybe you've got Gryffindor Risotta."

"I hope so," said Harry, dully.

As the others all got changed into their Quidditch robes, Harry sat and tried to cheer himself up by trading Quidditch cards with Neville, who was hopping around, trying to get his socks on. That usual pre-match nervousness was starting to affect him, and he had no more time to think about Kainda.

"Has anybody got any information on The Pride of Ravenclaw?" said Draco, absent-mindedly belting his boots against a wall to get the mud out of them. He was captain for this match, and had been running around like a headless chicken for half an hour, only half-dressed himself.

"Mark Erith's the captain," said Harry. "Not sure about anybody else, but they're probably Ravenclaw."

"Clever of you to notice, Potter," said Draco, vaguely, heaving his boots on and doing up the straps with the air of somebody doing the locks on the cage of a tiger.

"Shall we go spying?" said Ron. He was already changed, and the image of cool.

"No, they might see you, Weasley." Draco went hurtling past, pulling his robes on over his head vaguely, looking for his gloves, but he skidded to a halt as he passed a mirror, wincing at his hair. "I need a haircut. Does anybody know any good severing charms?"

"Yeah, I do!" said Ron, eagerly, drawing out his wand.

Draco eyed him suspiciously. "On seconds thoughts, I'll pass for the moment, Weasley."

That moment, a voice boomed out over the stadium, "Goooooooooood morning everybody! Are you ready for some Quidditch today?"

Draco froze. "Oh Merlin's Auntie, where are my bloody gloves?!?!" Ron grabbed them and shoved them at him vaguely. Draco pulled them on, entoning, "Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no," over and over again.

"Today's Quidditch match is between the Bright Sparks, captained today by Draco Malfoy, and The Pride of Ravenclaw, captained by Mark Erith! We've got news that both teams have new players with them today, so we're hoping to see some top quality Quidditch today! Let's bring on the players! Bright Sparks, are you ready?"

"No," Draco squeaked. Harry laughed, leaping onto his broom and speeding straight forward, taking flight into the crisp morning air instantly. The crowd roared with delight as he blossomed out into the air, whisking straight up into the air, letting the cool dew spatter his face, waking him up completely. The rest of the team came rocketing out of the tunnel mouth, and the crowd all cheered.

"And new player today is Chaser Neville Longbottom!" said Lee. "He's just there at the back trying to get on his broom. Ouch, that looked painful. Alright, let's get on The Pride of Ravenclaw!"

The other half of the crowd jumped out of their seats, cheering and clapping, as seven players in shimmering bronze robes whooshed out of their tunnel entrance. Harry wasn't overly interested in them, too busy glaring at Mark Erith, to notice something he should have done instantly.

"Alright, and here comes Madam Hooch to start the game! Places please!"

Harry flew forward to square up to Mark Erith, his jaw set, glaring at him spitefully. Mark stared back at him with just as much loathing.

"Ready?" said Madam Hooch. "One, two, three!!" She flipped the box open, and Harry darted forward, seizing the Quaffle and going rocketing off down the pitch, heading straight for goal, that vision of Mark Erith lodged firmly in his brain. He was getting closer, about to enter the scoring area, when a player streaked past him in bronze robes that made him drop the Quaffle instantly, just letting it fall.

It was Cho. The blue lettering across her back read "Seeker".

Harry's blood seemed to boil instantly. The treacherous - how could she? She'd betrayed him so many times now. This was it. All his anger over Cho, Mark Erith and Kainda just hit a peak, bursting out through a damn in his chest, as he roared with frustration, wheeling his broom around and going after Mark Erith, who was clutching the Quaffle and going for goal.

"And here's Harry Potter, streaking after Erith, he's gaining on him! Look at him go! And Potter seizes the Quaffle, Erith snatches it back, and - TRANSYLVANIAN TACKLE! A fake punch aimed at the nose by Potter, Erith is knocked back, Potter with the Quaffle, Potter going for goal!"

The Keeper locked eyes with Harry for one moment, and Harry saw the fear in his eyes. Harry was one angry Chaser, and a Chaser on a mission. He flung back his arm, and threw the Quaffle as hard as he could. It shot through one of the hoops under the Keeper's arm, and the stadium exploded in cheers.

"It's ten-nil to the Bright Sparks! One hell of a goal by Potter there, and we're off to a great start already!"

Twenty-nil. Thirty-nil. "Third goal by Potter this match, he's really going for it today!" Forty-nil. Fifty-nil. Fifty-ten. "Ooooh, disappointing leap by Weasley there, never mind, resume play!" Sixty-ten. Seventy-ten. Eighty-ten. "Where is Potter getting this from? Can somebody find out what that boy has been eating lately? Eight goals from Potter alone this match!"

Another thrown-in from the Ravenclaw Keeper, and this time Ginny got the Quaffle. She sped for the unguarded goals, and then a Bludger seemed to come from nowhere, swiftly followed by Kainda. She drew back her club and swung, missing Ginny by inches, belting the Bludger with all the strength she had. It went rocketing away down the pitch after Draco. Kainda whistled after it, and as she passed, Harry felt an odd prickle in his stomach, but he didn't have long to dwell on it as Lee was happily shouting that it was ninety-ten to the Bright Sparks.

Another throw-in, and Harry had it this time. The Keeper groaned, rushing to protect the hoops, but Harry was too determined now. Quidditch adrenaline and anger had got the best of him. He darted forwards, but one of the Ravenclaw Beaters jumped in his way, blocking him everyway he tried to turn.

"Get out of my way!!" he snarled, angrily.

"Make me," the Beater laughed.

Harry was about to go for another Transylvanian Tackle, but he heard somebody yelling at him from behind the Beater. "Harry! Harry!" He saw Neville gesturing wildly from behind the Beater's arm. "Pass it, pass it!"

Harry flung the Quaffle as hard as he could over the Beater's shoulder, darting past him, and as though in slow motion, he saw it descend through the air. Neville was reaching up, bouncing on his broom, ready to catch it, looking absolutely ecstatic at being able to do something -

There was a smack as it hit him in the face, and the crowd all "ooooooooooed" as one, but then a massive wave of laughing and clapping broke over as the Quaffle, inexplicably, bounced off Neville's face and shot through one of the hoops.

"LOOK AT THAT!!" Lee yelled, laughing so hard he could hardly breathe. "Longbottom scores from the face! And there he is, cheering through a nosebleed, what a goal! Ten points to the Bright Sparks from Neville Lonbottom, and it's one-hundred points to ten!"

Almost all the players were doubled over laughing, even Neville and the Ravenclaw Keeper, but then Cho streaked past on the hunt for the Snitch, and Harry stopped laughing. There would be time for fun later. Now was the time to make prove he was the better, and what a mistake Cho had made. He suddenly thought that maybe, if he proved he was a marvellous Chaser, Kainda would be more impressed and might change her mind.

"And Potter! Potter, Potter, that's his tenth goal of the match! Incredible! Where DOES he find the inspiration? It's a hundred and twenty to ten! Looks like we've got clear favourites for the Quidditch cup this year! Wait a moment - is that the Snitch?"

Harry whirled around, just in time to see Draco descend into a dive, streaming towards the ground like a bullet fired from a gun. Cho was after him, gaining on him, and Harry found himself screaming at Draco to hurry up, go faster. The two Seekers were neck and neck, hurtling after a tiny sparkle of gold as it fluttered desperately, trying to escape, narrowly avoiding the ground and rocketing right along the grass. Harry could see Draco's expression of complete and utter panic as they rushed underneath him, both of them equal, scrabbling at each other's hands to get at it. But then -

The goal post pole seemingly came out of nowhere. Both of them collided with it head on, and Harry could see the vibrations spreading right up it, making the hoop shiver.

"Oooooh, double collision with a goal post!! And the Snitch is gone, disappointing, but neither of them look hurt! Oh, by the way, Neville Longbottom had the Quaffle and has scored twice if I was counting properly, so that's an amazing three goals for Longbottom and the score is now a hundred and forty to ten! Resume play!"

Draco looked very cross-eyed as he floated upwards, rubbing his forehead vaguely. "You okay?" said Harry.

"Murrfh," was Draco's reply.

There was no more time for worrying about Draco however, as the match stopped for nothing, and Mark Erith had somehow got the Quaffle. Harry streaked after him, and he saw Mark's angry face as he saw Harry flying along at his elbow. "LEAVE ME ALONE!!" he roared.

"No!!" Harry shouted, snatching at the Quaffle. He saw Mark's elbow jerk backwards, and next second -

There was a roar of fury from the Bright Sparks supporters, as Harry keeled over on his broom, clutching his stomach, completely winded.

Lee Jordan bellowed, "FOUL! FOUL! COBBING, EXCESSIVE USE OF ELBOWS! And yes! Here comes Madam Hooch to sort out that filthy cheating scumbag Mark Erith! Oh, sorry, Professor... sorry... anyway, Erith being given a good shouting at, and it's a penalty for Potter. Potter making a funny gesturing - oh, he wants Weasley Junior to take it. She's got the Quaffle and flying forwards to take the shot..."

Harry groaned, rubbing his stomach, feeling his vision swimming. He felt as though he'd got a Bludger in there battering his insides, listening to Madam Hooch lining Ginny up for the penalty vaguely, wishing the world would stop spinning. A hand appeared on his shoulder, and a kind voice said, "Harry? You okay?"

"Oh, yeah, I'm fine," he groaned, absent-mindedly, as his insides twisted and writhed. He looked up, about to tell whoever it was to get flying again, and saw Kainda looking concernedly down at him. "Oh... you..."

"Me," she said, smiling. "Concerned. You sure you're okay?"

He nodded. "Yeah, I'll live... go on, get going, Malfoy'll shout at you."

She smiled softly, and then said, "Look, Harry... I've thought about what you said... maybe... just take it easy, keep it a secret, you know..."

Harry looked up, as the whistle blew to signal Ginny had scored, though he didn't really care about that. "You'll go out with me?"

She grinned. "We'll say that if you can score again, yeah, okay."

Barely thirty seconds passed between then and when Lee Jordan was yelling, "Potter scores! Potter scores! 160-10 to the Bright Sparks! It's a goal!"

Harry turned around on his broom, grinning from ear to ear, the image of cool. Kainda laughed, shaking her head, shooting off after another Bludger. Harry did a little dance in mid-air, then got going again, straight after the Quaffle again. He seized it off one of the Ravenclaw Chasers, thinking he might as well score twice just to make the job a good one, flying towards the hoops - and everybody in the stands suddenly started screaming. He frowned, wondering what all the noise was for. He'd scored plenty already. What was going on?

He flew straight forward anyway, and flung the Quaffle forwards. The Keeper jumped for it but missed, and it shot straight over his arm through the hoop. The whole stadium simply erupted in cheers and screaming, everybody was yelling, and Harry turned around, confused.

Cho had the Snitch.

His face fell completely. But... if she'd caught the Snitch first, it was 160 points all. And a Snitch-catching team won in the event of a draw.

But if he'd scored first, it would be 170-160...

Silence fell across the stands as everybody realised this at once, and Lee Jordan choked, "Well - we've got quite a problem here, folks... Harry Potter scores and Cho Chang catches the Snitch in I'm pretty much sure the same instant. Did anybody see who it was first? I think we're going to need a replay on this. Yes, Madam Hooch is calling the teams together..."

Harry flew down to the ground before Madam Hooch, wishing the crowd would make some sort of noise, but everybody was just breathless with excitement. He landed and hurried over. Madam Hooch was white in the face.

"Alright... very good game, very good, most exciting game I've ever seen... okay..." She drew her wand shakily from up her sleeve, and announced, "Cimicifuga!"

Two smoky images appeared in the air, one of Harry scoring, one of Cho snatching the Snith out of the air, just repeating over and over. Madam Hooch paused them with a flick of her wand, rewinded the scene so that they were in their start positions, and levitated them up into the air.

"If Potter scored," she said, and she didn't need a magical megaphone or sonorus charm for the whole school to hear her, they were listening so intently. "Then Bright Sparks won. If Chang caught the Snitch, the match is a draw and so goes to the Snitch-catching team - The Pride of Ravenclaw. Ready then..." She took a deep breath, and flicked her wand.

Everybody watched the replays in absolute silence, all praying. Harry pulled back his arm, Cho flung hers forward, the Quaffle was released, Cho scrabbled for the Snitch...

The Quaffle sunk through the hoop barely fractions of a second before Cho's fingers closed around the Snitch. Harry had scored first.

There was total silence for a few more moments, and then with a roar so loud Harry felt crushed by all the screaming, the entire stadium started to shriek and yell, applauding and jumping up and down and hugging each other. Harry disappeared under a pile of hysterically sobbing Bright Sparks members, and Lee Jordan was yelling, "BRIGHT SPARKS WIN!!!" over all the noise. Harry closed his eyes, grinning almost manically, and then more shouting, closer by, could be heard.

Cho and Mark Erith were nearby, and Harry could hear what they were saying.

"I'm sorry," said Cho. "I'm really sorry Mark... I really tried... I can do better, honestly I can."

"It's okay," said Mark. "I'm sure our next Seeker will catch the Snitch..."

"N-next Seeker?" said Cho, her voice strangled. "You mean.... you're dropping me from the team?"

Mark laughed. "I'm dropping you full-stop. You're useless. I only ever went out with you to get you on my team, and you're rubbish at that anyway. It's over." He walked away across the grounds towards the changing rooms, his Quidditch robes swirling behind him.

Cho choked. "But - but - " She burst into tears, and fled the pitch, fighting through the crowd. Harry watched her go, and wasn't sure whether he felt sorry for her or not. She'd betrayed him, so many times it was untrue. She left him for another boy, then ditched his team right before a match to swan off with her new boyfriend. He still had the feeling he should be sorry for her, but he wasn't. He had no duty to do that. He'd been hurt too much by her to let himself feel sorry anymore.

"Harry?" said Ron, staring at him.

"What?" said Harry, looking back at him.

"Lost you for a second there," said Ron.

"No, just thinking," said Harry. He grinned. "You know, I do believe we've got a good chance at this Quidditch league affair, dear cousin."

Ron started to laugh, and Harry laughed with him, grinning so widely that it hurt. Somebody was thumping him on the back, Draco was still in tears from their win, and Harry could hear the crowd all chanting, "POTTER! POTTER! POTTER!"

I rule, he thought, glowing with pride.


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