DISCLAIMER: The Harry Potter series and all the characters associated with it are the property solely of J. K. Rowling, her agents and publishers. No infringement of any rights is intended from the creation of this story. Nor is any money being made from it.

Author's Notes: "Hello, my name is Mad Martha and I am a Quidditch Geek ...."


Circles of Power

Part Twenty-Six - Snitch Snatch

By Mad Martha

       

Harry awoke on the morning of the Quidditch match to find Ron already awake and laying out Tarot cards at the foot of the bed.

"What are you doing?" he asked drowsily.

Ron looked up and smiled. "Just checking. I still can't see anything happening at the match today - I even tried the casting stones and crystal ball earlier, and all I get is a big load of nothing. I don't know what Gran's getting so worked up about."

He scooped the cards into a pile and tidied them up absently.

"You're awake early," Harry observed, pulling himself upright. "Are you still dreaming?"

Ron shrugged. "A bit. Don't worry about it - it's general gloom and doom, which could just be caused by stress as much as anything else."

Which was true. The atmosphere in the house hadn't lightened much; Seamus was still not on speaking terms with Harry and Ron, and Dean was being a little stand-offish too. And on top of that, at work Moody had been decidedly well moody with them, for want of a better word. It had been a tense week and Harry was hoping the game today, which everyone seemed to be attending, would lighten things up a little.

"I got an owl earlier," Ron said, breaking into his thoughts. "Charlie wants to know if he can borrow my broom today."

They looked at each other, and Harry grinned. "Yeah?"

"Hm. What do you reckon?"

Harry shrugged. "Ron, it's your broom."

"I know, but it seems a bit like an act of treason, considering that he's on the other team." Ron was clearly indecisive. "On the other hand, I don't know if Mum'll let me in the house if I don't lend it to him. He's my brother after all."

Harry chuckled. "Then lend it to him! It takes more than a good broom to catch the Snitch."

But still Ron hesitated. "I dunno . If you're sure?"

"I'm sure. Send him an owl." Harry began to slide out of bed, and paused. "Better not tell anyone, though, just in case. Dingbottle'll have my guts for garters!"

So after breakfast Ron headed out to deliver his Tsunami to his brother. Harry, however, feeling that seeing Charlie before the match would be pushing his luck, spent the morning at Godric's Hollow instead and made a nuisance of himself with Sirius and Lupin until it was time to take a portkey to the stadium.

       

It wasn't until he was in the changing rooms and could hear the noise from the stands above, that Harry truly appreciated the level of interest in this game.

"How many people are here, for crying out loud?" he demanded, as he buckled on the shin pads that were designed to reduce Bludger injuries.

"I think it's just the acoustics," Sirius replied, although he looked a bit doubtful. "All the Ministry departments are here, though, with their families. There are some people from the big league teams as well. And the press."

"Great," Harry muttered sourly. He hadn't sweetened on the press over the years, in spite of his recent decision to allow an interview.

He finished strapping the protective pads on, and began to pull on his outer robes. He wasn't fond of the colours of the Aurors' team; sky blue and beige, with a silly motif in the centre of the chest - two crossed broomsticks with a pair of wings and a halo, and the word "Angels" underneath.

"They're making enough noise for a World Cup out there," Cho Chang commented, wandering in from the women's side of the changing rooms. She gave the back of Harry's robes a tug, straightening them up.

She was just about to tidy his hair as well when Ron walked in, and she stepped back with a grin. Cho knew what Ron was like.

"Where's Draco?" Harry wanted to know.

"Out in the stands with Hermione," Ron replied. "It's heaving out there. Harry, Oliver Wood's here."

Harry groaned. "What idiot gave him a ticket?"

"One of the Tornadoes probably," Sirius put in, grinning. "He's the England Captain, Harry! What did you expect?"

Maud Dingbottle walked in then, bouncing on her toes with tension.

"Come on, you lot!" she called, and team began to assemble near the doors. She looked them over for a moment, chewing her bottom lip. "This is going to be a rough game," she said finally, her eyes raking over them all. "The Magizoologists aren't nicknamed 'the Beasts' for nothing. Don't give them any chances - especially you, Potter."

For a moment it looked like she might say more, but she shook her head and stepped back. "All right! Off with you!"

The team quickly began to file out to their launching point. At the last minute, though, Ron grabbed Harry's arm and held him back. His blue eyes were warm with affection.

"Draco said to tell you that if you fall off, try to do it near our stand so he can grab your broom and take your place," he said, grinning.

"That's helpful," Harry nodded. "Thank him for me, will you?"

There was a pause. Then Ron leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. "Good luck!"

"POTTER!" the coach's voice roared.

Harry grinned. He grabbed Ron, dragging his head down for another kiss. "See you later!"

And he hastily jogged after the rest of the team.

       

The noise from the stands was deafening as the team climbed the steps up to the launching point. Harry took his position next to Sirius at the head of the group, and gripped his Tsunami firmly.

Feeling the adrenaline beginning to gallop through his veins, he did a few of the breathing exercises Oliver Wood had taught him ten years ago, when he had first joined the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

Forget that this is Charlie Weasley you're facing, he chanted to himself silently. Forget that you know any of them. Forget that they're even people. They're just obstacles in your way .

"Are you okay?" Sirius muttered to him.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" he muttered back.

The doors in front of them opened and sunlight streamed in. Harry blinked; the stadium was full to bursting point. This couldn't possibly be just Ministry people, their families and a few extras here and there. It looked like half the wizard community of Britain had turned up.

Then the magnified voice of Darius Kittle, one of the foremost wizard sports' commentators, rang out.

"GOOD AFTERNOON, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, AND WELCOME TO THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC INTER-AGENCIES LEAGUE!"

There was a roar of approval from the stands, along with a few blasts on horns and the odd sound of old-fashioned football rattles.

"WE WELCOME YOU TO THE SECOND SEMI-FINAL OF THE SEASON - THE AUROR ANGELS VERSUS THE MAGIZOOLOGIST BEASTS!"

Harry wondered how Kittle managed to say that without stumbling over the words; judging by the snorts and chuckles behind him, he wasn't alone. The crowd appeared to have no problem with it, though, and another roar greeted the announcement. No one could say the wizard community wasn't enthusiastic about its sport.

"WHICHEVER TEAM WINS TODAY WILL PLAY THE SPEAKERS - THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL MAGICAL CO-OPERATION TEAM - IN TWO WEEKS' TIME FOR THE INTER-AGENCIES LEAGUE CUP!"

Another roar of approval.

"SO WITHOUT DELAY, LET'S BRING ON THE TEAMS! PLEASE WELCOME THE MAGIZOOLOGIST BEASTS - CARNAHAN, INKER, BELMONT, WIGGINBOTHAM, BOOT, MURRAY AND WEASLEY!"

An almighty cheer went up from the crowd, especially from the Beasts' supporters' side where banners with their dragon logo were being enthusiastically waved. Seven figures on broomsticks, all dressed in the Beasts' colours of dark red and green, streaked out over the pitch from the opposite side of the stadium.

Harry let go of his Tsunami and the broom hovered at mounting height next to him. He mounted up, aware that his team-mates were doing the same, and waited tensely.

"AND ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE, PLEASE GIVE A BIG HAND TO THE AUROR ANGELS - BLACK, CHANG, CLARE, RITTEL, QUILLERS, MCGEACHY AND POTTER!"

Harry kicked off from the ground and shot out over the pitch, swooping up over the stands and around in a wide arc, making a full circuit of the stadium before sliding easily into position at the top of his team's formation opposite the other Seeker. He glanced around briskly when he got there, and saw that there was a tattered but prominent white banner being held aloft in the Aurors' stand that said POTTER FOR PRESIDENT! in slightly crooked, flashing letters.

Someone had retrieved the Gryffindor banner made for his very first game at Hogwarts. He smiled and relaxed slightly at the show of support from his friends.

The quick flight around the pitch had calmed and centred Harry, and he was now totally focussed on the game. Part of him was dimly aware that the Seeker opposite was Charlie Weasley - indeed, Charlie had grinned and tipped him a little salute when Harry took his place - but he was coolly ignoring that detail. The familiar red hair and blue eyes had no impact upon him.

This is no one you know. This is just another opposing Seeker you have to get past.

Meanwhile, Darius Kittle was continuing with his practised commentary.

"AND NOW, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WOULD YOU PLEASE GIVE A WARM WELCOME TO OUR REFEREE FOR TODAY - HEAD OF MAGICAL GAMES AND SPORTS, AND FORMER BEATER FOR THE WIMBOURNE WASPS, LUDO BAGMAN!"

Another cheer rose from the stands as Bagman's familiar and rather portly figure strode onto the pitch, carrying his broomstick and waving genially. Someone had clearly managed to prevail upon him not to wear his faded old Wasps kit, and instead he was wearing the crisp black and white striped robes of a League referee.

There was a tense pause as Bagman stopped by the wooden chest containing the balls, and gave the usual admonitions to the team captains, Martin Inker and Sullivan McGeachy.

Silence fell in the stands.

Bagman kicked open the box and the Bludgers shot into the air, closely followed by the Golden Snitch, which seemed to hover indecisively between Harry and Charlie before shooting off at high speed.

Then the Quaffle was tossed into the air and Bagman's whistle blew.

"AND THEY'RE OFF!" Kittle shrieked.

Cho snatched the Quaffle almost before the whistle blew and was gone, streaking through the air towards the goal with Simeon Clare and Monica Rittel swooping after her, weaving through the opposition.

She ducked a Bludger, nearly collided with one of the opposing Chasers and lost her grip on the Quaffle. Quick as a flash, one of them knocked the ball out of her hands and was whisking away down the pitch, hotly pursued by Simeon and Monica. Beth-Ann Quillers lobbed a Bludger in the Chaser's direction, making him swerve, but it wasn't enough and within seconds the Quaffle was whistling towards the hoops.

Bam!

There was a roar from the crowd - approval from the Aurors' side, disappointment from the Magizoologists - as Sirius knocked the red ball away almost casually and straight into Monica's hands. She whirled in a steep arc and almost immediately ran into the Beasts' Chasers but Harry, seeing a gap, swooped down and scattered them. Monica was through, tossing the ball to Simeon, who almost at once lobbed it back as one of the opposing Beaters hit a close Bludger at him. He caught a passing blow to the shoulder which knocked him briefly off course, but Monica was already gone, marked by Cho, Beth-Ann and Sullivan as she streaked up the pitch.

Harry's diversionary tactic had given her an almost completely clear run and within seconds the Angels had scored their first goal.

The spectators went mad.

Harry, very pleased, swooped back into position high above the main action of the game and resumed his search for the Snitch, aware of Charlie Weasley's startled and suddenly grim stare.

Harry didn't play at Quidditch, as the other Seeker had just discovered.

       

"Weasley, lend me your omnioculars, will you?"

"In a minute!" Ron had the glasses Harry had bought for him years ago at the Quidditch World Cup practically glued to his face as he followed his friend's swift movements around the pitch.

"Can you see the Snitch at all?" Draco demanded, exasperated. His own omnioculars were in his bedroom at Malfoy Manor, of course, and he felt like he was missing half the action on the pitch.

"No," Ron told him shortly. "The Beasts haven't scored yet Sirius is a better Keeper than Marius!"

"That I could work out from here! What's Harry doing now?"

"Making a nuisance of himself to the Beasts' Chasers ow! Damn! That was close!"

The Beasts' supporters were going mad; one of their Chasers had scored. A Beater had lobbed a Bludger at Sirius just as he swooped to block the Quaffle, and he had received a nasty blow to the shoulder, knocking him off course at the crucial moment. The Aurors' supporters were screaming foul, but as Ron was already saying, technically it was a legal move.

"Damn!" he shouted in disgust, taking the omnioculars from his eyes. "Ten all! Come on, Cho!"

The Chinese woman was in possession of the Quaffle again, swooping and diving up the pitch.

Draco grabbed the omnioculars while Ron's attention was elsewhere.

"Hey!"

"Come on, Potter, what are you playing at? There are a hundred diversionary moves you could make to get Weasley off your back!"

Charlie was indeed tailing Harry very closely now, apparently determined to foil any more moves he might make to interfere with the Beasts' players.

Cho had passed the Quaffle to Simeon Clare, who was shooting into the goal for another try. He ducked a Bludger, avoided one of the Beasts' Chasers and threw the red ball, but unfortunately he was at the wrong angle, and the Beasts' Keeper fended it off easily. It was back in the hands of the other teams' Chasers, although Beth-Ann got in a very pretty blow with a Bludger that knocked Lucy Wigginbotham into a tail-spin.

There was a hair-raising moment when it looked like the young woman might actually fall from her broom; then Charlie Weasley broke off his pursuit of Harry and swooped in to help her. Martin Inker signalled Bagman for time-out as the mediwizards hurried onto the pitch to look over the Chaser. Meanwhile, the Angels were taking the opportunity to go into a huddle.

"What's going on now?" Ron demanded impatiently.

"I'm not sure Harry seems to be arguing with McGeachy."

There was definitely some kind of tense discussion going on, Harry gesturing sharply to Cho and Monica.

"I should think Harry's quite a difficult player for a captain to have on the team," Hermione commented, taking a sip from a bottle she'd stowed inside her robes. She hadn't said much up to now, as she was concentrating on the game.

"Why?" demanded Ron.

"Well, he's used to being captain himself, isn't he? You only have to listen to him commentating the games on WWN to know that he has strong ideas about player deployment."

Ron looked at her as though she was crazy. "Hermione, we're all like that when we're listening to the game on WWN."

"I'm not." She took another sip from her bottle.

"Can I have a swig of your drink? I'm parched."

"No. You should have brought your own."

"They're off again," Draco said. "Wigginbotham's back in the air."

"Gimme my omnioculars "

"Hey, I'm watching!"

"Piss off, Malfoy, they're mine "

A brief wrestling match ensued, making Hermione roll her eyes in exasperation. "Honestly! Children will play ...."

"And fools will watch," Ron retorted, wrenching the glasses out of Draco's hands. "Thank you!" he snapped sarcastically and put them back to his eyes, spinning the dials to adjust the focus. "Monica's got the Quaffle! GO MONICA!"

Monica streaked up the pitch, but was ambushed by two of the Beasts' Chasers. She lost the Quaffle to Colin Boot, and was reduced to chasing him back down the pitch.

"Pity," Ron said, disappointed. "That was a good run. Come on, Harry surely you've had a sniff of the Snitch by now?"

       

Harry hadn't seen the tiniest flutter from the Snitch yet, which was rather frustrating. His only consolation was that Charlie evidently hadn't seen it either. The opposing Seeker had been marking him very determinedly since Harry's last diversionary manoeuvre against the Beasts' Chasers, and it was beginning to annoy Harry. He needed uninterrupted space to look for the Snitch, which Charlie clearly wasn't going to give him ... but Harry had a plan.

He waited until a slight tussle developed between the two sets of Chasers, then suddenly whipped his head around as thought he'd spotted something

- and launched into a terrifying high-speed dive straight into the centre of the group.

Quick as a flash, Charlie was after him.

This was the Wronski Feint as it was meant to be used, by a very good, very determined Seeker on the very best and fastest broom. All the same, it was also a very dangerous manoeuvre. The knot of Chasers scattered as he ploughed through them but Harry was pleased to see, out of the corner of his eye, that Cho, as per their plan, was poised on the edge of the group.

The ground was coming up horribly fast, far faster than it ever would have on his old Firebolt. Harry hung on to his broom and his nerves, hearing the wind howl past him. He could hear the sound of a second broom just behind him and, dimly in the background, the noise of the crowd screaming.

At the last minute, he hauled back on the handle, throwing all his weight towards the bristles. With less than a foot to spare, the Tsunami levelled up, tilted back and he was screaming back upwards in a dizzying corkscrew.

How Charlie managed to pull out of that dive as well, Harry wasn't sure. When he was finally able to look back, the other Seeker was swooping very low and fast across the pitch, trying to regain some control. His face was red and set an expression Harry knew all too well from having seen it on Ron's face a few times.

Charlie Weasley, the most phlegmatic of all the Weasleys, was absolutely furious.

Harry shrugged inwardly, coolly amused. That Charlie had been fooled was entirely his own fault. What he found far more interesting was that the opposing Seeker apparently didn't have quite as much control of his broom as Harry did. It would take another Seeker someone like Maud Dingbottle perhaps to see it, but there was the tiniest hint of an imbalance in the way Charlie was flying. He had pulled out of the dive but at a cost, and he had been lucky not to be ploughed. The new, faster Tsunami had almost proved too much for him.

That too was Charlie's own fault, Harry thought clinically. He had only flown the Tsunami once and very briefly, on the day when Ron had taken delivery of it. Harry, on the other hand, had had nearly a whole month to get used to the feel of his new broomstick. The irony was that Charlie's own broom was a perfectly good Golden Arrow and had he been riding that he might have given Harry a run for his money, despite the greater speed of the Tsunami. Speed, after all, was not everything manoeuvring counted for more, as did familiarity with your broom. On top of that, Harry for once had a size advantage; being shorter and far lighter in build than his opponent, he had less handling and manoeuvring problems.

Now Charlie was fighting to get his broom back under full control and up in the air. And in the meantime, not only did Harry have time to search for the Snitch, but Cho Chang had been able to take advantage of the other players' distraction and grab the Quaffle. Even now she and Simeon Clare were streaking down the pitch, way ahead of the opposing Chasers and Beaters, towards the goal.

The crowd was going mad.

       

Ron chuckled wickedly as he watched Harry's performance and Charlie's reaction.

"Oh dear it's not going to be a happy party tonight," he commented as he handed the omnioculars over the Draco.

To add insult to injury, Cho had potted the sweetest goal and despite the Beasts' Keeper doing his best to grab the Quaffle and push it back to his own side's Chasers afterwards, Monica had flitted in and grabbed it from under their noses. She, Cho and Simeon were now tossing it almost casually back and forth between themselves as they shaped up for another try. Meanwhile, the Beaters on both sides were doing their damnedest to knock out both Seekers and failing miserably. Both Harry and Charlie were far too good to be caught out by mere Bludgers.

Draco was viewing the two Seekers with a sportsman's eye.

"Is that your broom your brother's riding?" he asked Ron.

"Yeah he asked if he could borrow it this morning."

"What does he normally fly?"

"A Golden Arrow, I think - it was a present from his in-laws. But he didn't want Harry to have the advantage with the Tsunami."

"Pity." Draco handed the glasses back. "He should know better; riding an unfamiliar broom is almost always a mistake. He's not quite properly balanced, can you see? The tail-twigs are a fraction too high. He should have adjusted his seat and the foot-rests the broom's calibrated for you, but he's not as tall."

"Huh." Ron studied his brother through the omnioculars and was forced to conclude that Draco was right. "He's a bloody good rider, though. He's probably noticed by now, and he'll adjust it if they go into time-out again."

"If he does, don't forget to adjust it back before you ride it again, or you'll find yourself sliding off the end." Draco had a sudden thought. "Has it occurred to you that if you get called in as a reserve today, you won't have a broom to ride?"

"I've got Harry's Firebolt in the changing rooms, but I won't be called. Sullivan and Beth-Ann are too good."

"That depends how long this game goes on for," Hermione commented. "Since they haven't even seen the Snitch yet, we could be here until midnight YES! Well done, Monica!"

"Thirty: ten brilliant!" Ron was delighted, although he would have been even happier if the Snitch had shown itself.

This was shaping up to be one of those drawn-out games that had flurries of action interspersed by long periods where the Chasers did nothing but pass the Quaffle around and dodge Bludgers. Although it was equally a let-down if the Snitch was caught within the first hour. You wanted some kind of game for your money, after all.

"Tell me something," Draco said suddenly, after a moment or two of silent watching, "why is Potter messing around as an Auror? It doesn't take a talent scout to realise that he'd make a first class professional Quidditch player, so why isn't he earning himself a small fortune as a real Seeker, instead of wasting his time on this amateur rubbish?"

There was a pause as Ron tried to decide how much of this statement had been a compliment to Harry, and how much a backhanded insult to the Angels. In the end he decided simply to answer the question.

"He was offered trials by the Wigtown Wanderers and Chudley Cannons when we were still at school," he replied, his attention apparently still on the game.

Draco shot him a look. "I heard rumours of that, but I assumed it was just the usual Gryffindor posturing ."

"Well, it wasn't. He really wanted to take one of them up on it, but Dumbledore advised him not to because of You Know Who. Aside from making him a flying target, it would be too big a risk for the rest of the team. For the same reason, he hasn't taken up any of the offers of trials from other teams since then. And he's a had a few - Oliver Wood never lets up on him."

"Pity," the blond youth said quietly. "He's good. Certainly he's a lot better at this than he is at being an Auror."

Ron broke off his intense scrutiny of the game to glare at him. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Come off it, Weasley! I'm not saying he's bad at the job, but compared to the rest of you his heart obviously isn't in it. You, Granger, Cho Chang - you're naturals at the job. Harry? He's like a Cleansweep Seven in a rack of Firebolts. In fact, I'd say that in his heart of hearts he probably enjoys the job about as much as I do - and trust me, at the first possible opportunity I'm looking for something more cerebral."

Silence. Ron was stuck for something to say to this, and Hermione, though plainly eavesdropping the conversation, was keeping her own counsel.

Finally Ron turned back to the game, but Draco's comments had clearly struck a chord with him.

"I'd like nothing better than for him to be a professional Quidditch player," he said quietly, "but with You Know Who on the loose, what point is there in even thinking about it?"

"Well, with any luck His Nibs won't be on the loose for much longer, will he?" Draco replied equally quietly, and he turned back to the game too. "Come on, Potter - where's that damn Snitch?"

       

Harry was growing a little frustrated himself. It wasn't often the Snitch disappeared for the whole first hour of the game, and it left him with nothing to do except play tag with Charlie and dodge the Bludgers. And Charlie was sticking so close to him now that even that was difficult.

The game was definitely getting dirtier. Bagman, Harry decided, was almost as bad a referee as he was a Ministry official. There was quite a bit of cobbing going on during the scrums between the Chasers, especially on the part of the Beasts, but so far a foul had yet to be called by anyone but the spectators. On the other hand, Quidditch was not a game for the faint-hearted and you expected the action to get very rough indeed, regardless of whether some of the moves were strictly legal or not.

Besides, Bagman had utterly failed to learn his lesson over the years; he was still an inveterate gambler and he'd probably wagered a year's earnings on this game, if Harry knew him. Rigging the game, even if it was by something as minor as poor refereeing, was certainly not beneath him.

A sudden flash caught Harry's eye, and without even consciously thinking about it, he was gone, straight after the tiny flicker of gold that was almost certainly the Snitch finally making an appearance.

With a whoosh, Charlie was right beside him.

The tiny winged ball whipped up high above the stands at a dizzying pace, some three or four broomlengths ahead of the two Seekers. Harry had a small advantage over his opponent, when the Snitch performed one of its gravity-defying changes of direction -

SLAM!

Charlie hit Harry side-on. Technically this was a foul called 'blatching', but it was a grey area as the victim had to be able to prove that the perpetrator was actually "flying with intent to collide", which was nearly impossible. And besides, everyone did it. It was like being hit in the hip and shoulder simultaneously by a pile driver; for once Charlie's extra size was an advantage against the lighter player. Knocked violently off course, Harry recovered himself to find that his opponent had gained a lead of nearly two broomlengths and was rapidly closing on the Snitch.

Harry didn't waste time swearing or losing his temper. Bringing his Tsunami around sharply, he urged it on in a sharp arc, hoping to come around at the Snitch from the other direction. They were both closing on it now, Charlie in the lead, hand outstretched -

- when the Snitch changed direction again, dropping sharply by as much as ten feet and veering slightly from its previous course.

Harry was after it in a heartbeat. He felt rather than heard Charlie pull alongside him and knew that the other Seeker would lose no opportunity to blatch him again if he didn't move now. The centre of the pitch ahead was almost clear, the other players having pulled back to watch the two plummeting Seekers, probably remembering Harry's earlier feint.

And a manoeuvre came to Harry in a flash, although in the speed of the chase it almost seemed that his mind was moving in slow motion. It was enormously risky, but if he could just pull it off ....

Charlie was on his left side, so close that Harry could feel him gathering himself to slam into him. Without allowing himself to think of all the things that could go wrong, Harry threw himself sideways to the right and into a tight rolling motion that took him upside down ... underneath Charlie ... and out on his other side, upright again -

- directly into the path of the Snitch.

Once again time seemed to slow slightly. The ground was still coming up to meet them fast, but Harry was stretching out his hand -

- opening his fingers -

- urging his broom ahead just that little bit more -

And the Snitch seemed almost to fly into his palm. Harry closed his fingers around it and felt the tiny wings beating frantically against his knuckles as he pulled his Tsunami up out of the dive, and the world zoomed back into focus.

He had caught the Snitch. The Angels had won, two hundred to thirty.

The crowd was screaming, hollering, waving and jumping, Bagman was swooping up to declare the match over, his team-mates were zooming in to grab him in a massive group hug, and Darius Kittle was bellowing the result over and over.

Harry allowed himself a tiny grin as his eyes met the rueful blue orbs of Charlie Weasley, who was hovering a few feet away.

He'd caught the Snitch. They'd won.

       

Draco surprised himself by leaping up and down almost as much as the other people in the stands.

"Brilliant!" he cried. "An inspired manoeuvre! Did you see that, Ron? I haven't seen a move like that since Bulgaria played Peru!"

To his surprise, there was no reply. He looked around sharply and was astonished to see that Ron and Hermione were missing.

"Where'd they go?" he demanded of his nearest neighbour. "They can't have gone down to the pitch yet, none of the players have landed ."

But no one seemed to have seen them leave. Draco began to fight his way through the stands, grabbing everyone he knew or sort of knew, and even those he had never met before in his life but who were wearing Ministry robes, and demanding to know if they'd seen either of the Aurors. No one had seen them, not even those nearest the exit, who would certainly have seen the pair if they'd tried to leave via the stairs.

It was when he reached the stairs that Draco began to panic slightly. People hadn't begun to leave yet, preferring to stay in their places in the stands to hear the last of the commentary and view the two teams while they were still in the air. It was traditional for the winners to take the losers up on their brooms and do a couple of laps of honour of the pitch.

The stairs out of the stands were empty. He ran down the steps, nearly tipping himself down them head first in his haste and belted out into the corridor. One way led to the main exits and the other to the changing rooms. It was inconceivable to him that Ron would leave the stadium without Harry, so Draco jogged down the passage to the changing rooms.

They were empty. He checked everywhere, even the showers, but there wasn't a soul in sight.

And it wasn't as if you could easily miss a six foot two man with flaming red hair, wearing a buff-coloured robe, or a young woman with an abundance of bushy brown hair and a commanding air about her.

They had to be somewhere, for God's sake. They had to. Dammit, he'd turned his back for all of half a second how could they possibly have vanished in that time without someone seeing them go?

Feeling the fear clawing up the back of his throat, Draco turned and ran back down the passage. He needed help - now.

       

Harry was feeling pretty high on adrenaline and general euphoria by the time he and his team-mates tumbled into the changing rooms, all laughing and talking at once.

Predictably, Maud Dingbottle was trying to shout over their voices, telling them that this was only one win and that they still had to face down the Speakers in a fortnight, which was nothing to get complacent about ....

Harry ignored her and began unstrapping his gauntlets, although it wasn't easy with the other members of the team continually trotting up to hug him and slap him on the back. The noise was incredible, although most of it was coming from people just outside the door who were trying to get in and being repelled by Dingbottle and a couple of the stadium marshals. He grinned a little when he heard the indignant voice of Oliver Wood out there, although he did wonder where Ron was and if he would be allowed through.

This was something worth celebrating! Harry was looking forward to the party at the Burrow now, especially since Charlie had already good-humouredly told him exactly what he thought of him as Harry flew him around the pitch in the victory lap. He grinned to himself as he dragged the Angels team robes over his head and tossed them into a large heap in the middle of the room with everyone else's.

"What are you grinning about?" Sirius's voice said suddenly at his shoulder.

Harry turned to look at him. "Nice moves out there, Sirius!" he told him, grabbing his hand and shaking it affectionately.

"Pretty nice moves yourself," his godfather noted. He pulled Harry into a rough, affectionate hug and slapped him on the back. "Oliver Wood's going to be bending your ear again after that flip you did under Charlie."

Harry laughed, and stretched luxuriously until his joints popped. "God, I need a shower! Are you invited to the party tonight?"

"Me and Remus both," Sirius replied, "speaking of which ...."

Lupin was in the doorway. Strangely, he looked grave and anxious. "Sirius, can I have a word?"

"What, now?" Sirius said, surprised.

"Please."

Sirius frowned, but followed his friend out of the room.

"What's biting them?" Simeon Clare asked Harry.

"Dunno." Harry shrugged, not really concerned, and went back to removing his protective gear.

He was just hauling his shirt over his head when Sirius and Remus reappeared in the doorway. With them were Draco ... and Mad-Eye Moody.

An odd little silence fell in the changing rooms as everyone registered the presence of their elderly leader. Harry stared at the four of them uncomprehendingly. They were all of them looking at him; Moody grim-faced, Lupin very grave, Sirius blank-faced but clearly agitated, and Draco ....

Draco looked like a ghost, his pale face almost translucent with shock, distress and apparent even to Harry guilt. Harry had never, in all the time he'd known the blond youth, seen such an expression on his face; not even the on night when they'd found Pansy dead in his bed.

Even then, seeing that, Harry didn't quite understand what was going on.

"What's the matter?" he demanded, taking a step forward. Then he registered who wasn't with the little group. "Where's Ron?"

It was Lupin who stepped quickly forward, reaching out to grip his shoulder in what was supposed to be a comforting gesture. It didn't work.

"Ron is missing," he told Harry, in a terse voice that belied the sympathy in his eyes. "And Hermione. They disappeared just as the game was ending. We've got people combing the stadium now and ...."

He was still talking, detailing what was being done, what actions taken, but a weird buzzing sound was filling Harry's ears, making it impossible for him to understand what his father's friend was telling him. Then he realised that the floor was coming up to meet him and ....

 

End Part 26/30

 

 

Quoth the Raven We deal with NIMBYs a lot where I work but I hadn't thought of Seamus in quite that way before! It fits, though. He likes to think he's enlightened, so long as he doesn't actually have to confront the issue head on. The funny thing is that if someone like Malfoy was homophobic to Harry or Ron, he'd slap him down for it with complete conviction. This felt like a bit of a scrappy chapter to me when I wrote it, but most of the topics covered needed to be covered at that point. I'm glad it turned out well for you!

Ice Lupus My Dad's a lot better, thanks. Hopefully he'll be home again soon, but it was a bit worrying for a while. Who is Seamus in love with and jealous of? *grin* I don't think he is! Although I suppose it could be looked at that way .... (He's definitely not stuck on Draco honest! Not that I'm aware of, anyway.) To be honest, this isn't something that will magically be resolved, because you can't change the way people feel about these things he has to get over it by himself, if at all. But it does explain the house rules. Percy oops, I didn't think that would be horrific. Although admittedly I didn't like the idea of his head turning into a banana, either.

Rainyday Thank you for the good thoughts! They definitely helped. I don't think Harry's going to be confrontational with Seamus about his attitude I think he'll just come up with a way around it *smile* As for the interview, well you won't see it in this story. It's possible I might write it as a separate piece afterwards though.

TheSeer The house rules were always a bit unfair, but they were written when they were all younger, as a way of dealing with an unexpected and uncomfortable situation. It's past time they were amended. But then, they're all (excepting Ginny) over 21 now, so it's past time for a lot of things to change. Regarding the Order of the Phoenix, Harry's reasons for refusing the invitation were genuine. If he joined, he would probably be even more hemmed in than he is as an Auror, which, when you think about it, could be quite dangerous to him and everyone else around him.

Iris I'm glad you're enjoying this, and particularly Ron's role. I'm a big Ron fan myself. The detail ... to be honest, I think I tried to cram too much into the story. When I started editing it, I found it almost overwhelming to read in one go. But it is what it is, and I hope people continue to enjoy it.

Beth Ann I got one of those wretched 'site error' messages when I was trying to post a chapter the whole lot vanished and I had to start from scratch, which was pretty annoying because I was having a bad connection day as well. As for Harrow!Harry, I had to get out of there quick before I did something embarrassing in front of that poor lad and all his school-friends! Not to mention his house-master, who probably would have called the police.

Jennavette I'm glad you had breaks in between reading, or we might have had to whip up a Restorative Potion for you! I'm really glad you liked it that much. I just pray the rest doesn't disappoint.

SparkySparkles Glad you're still enjoying it!

Sally You can say the chapters are spiffing if you really feel you must *grin* You'd be in good company with Hermione in the first movie .... I think the tensions are semi-resolved, but to totally resolve them would probably be unrealistic. They'll work it out though. More Harry/Ron stuff ... yes, I think so *smile* Are you taking exams still? Best of luck!

PotterBrother Glad you liked the dinner table discussion. I wasn't too sure about the Harry/Draco/Ron bit, but it seems to have worked out okay.

BGirl I didn't think Harry was surprised at Ron showing affection! He is quite a reserved person, though. As for rule 7, I think it's been firmly crossed out now, in spite of Seamus.

Jen Seamus's problem is simply that he's uncomfortable with "gay stuff". A lot of otherwise liberal-minded heterosexual men are (my eldest brother springs to mind), although I don't know why. Terrified of it rubbing off onto them, maybe? If your family think you're mad, then you're in good company I know my family think I'm mad and they don't even know about the slash-writing! I'm glad you enjoyed it that much though *grin*

Hazard Blue Glad you're enjoying it so far! The blood tie with Voldemort will be explained in due course, but we still have four more chapters to go ....

Calliope 14 I'm glad you're enjoying it so far! It was only after I started writing the story that I discovered Ron-as-Seer was one of those fanfic cliches, and by then it was a bit late to do anything about it. I hope he seems original otherwise, though. As for the homophobia, I totally agree the wizarding world doesn't strike me as being a very enlightened place, and if they can be anti-Muggle, they can certainly be anti-gay. I hope you continue to like the story.

PoisonSnakey Colin Farrell as Seamus? I hadn't thought about it to be honest, but it's definitely an idea!

Megan Thanks for your good wishes for Dad they're very much appreciated. He's doing fine now, although naturally hating being in hospital *smile* I'm delighted you're enjoying the story too, and hope you'll continue to read.


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