'All right, Ron?' said George, winking at him.
'Yeah,' said Ron, who had become quieter and quieter all the way down to
'Ready to show us all up, Ickle Prefect?' said Fred, emerging tousle-haired
from the neck of his Quidditch robes, a slightly malicious grin on his face.
'Shut up,' said Ron, stony-faced, pulling on his own team robes for the first
time. They fitted him well considering they had been Oliver Wood's, who was
rather broader in the shoulder.
'OK, everyone,' said Angelina, entering from the Captain's office, already
changed. 'Let's get to it; Alicia and Fred, if you can just bring out the ball
crate for us. Oh, and there are a couple of people out there watching but I
want you to just ignore them, all right?'
Something in her would-be casual voice made Harry think he might know who
the uninvited spectators were, and sure enough, when they left the changing
room for the bright sunlight of the pitch it was to a storm of catcalls and
jeers from the Slytherin Quidditch team and assorted hangers-on, who were grouped
halfway up the empty stands and whose voices echoed loudly around the stadium.
'What's that Weasley's riding?' Malfoy called in his sneering drawl. 'Why
would anyone put a flying charm on a mouldy old log like that?'
Crabbe, Goyle and Pansy Parkinson guffawed and shrieked with laughter. Ron
mounted his broom and kicked off from the ground and Harry followed him, watching
his ears turn red from behind.
'Ignore them,' he said, accelerating to catch up with Ron, 'we'll see who's
laughing after we play them:'
'Exactly the attitude I want, Harry,' said Angelina approvingly, soaring
around them with the Quaffle under her arm and slowing to hover on the spot
in front of her airborne team. 'OK, everyone, we're going to start with some
passes just to warm up, the whole team please -'
'Hey, Johnson, what's with that hairstyle, anyway?' shrieked Pansy Parkinson
from below. 'Why would anyone want to look like they've got worms coming out
of their head?'
Angelina swept her long braided hair out of her face and continued calmly,
'Spread out, then, and let's see what we can do:'
Harry reversed away from the others to the far side of the pitch. Ron fell
back towards the opposite goal. Angelina raised the Quaffle with one hand and
threw it hard to Fred, who passed to George, who passed to Harry, who passed
to Ron, who dropped it.
The Slytherins, led by Malfoy, roared and screamed with laughter. Ron, who
had pelted towards the ground to catch the Quaffle before it landed, pulled
out of the dive untidily, so that he slipped sideways on his broom, and returned
to playing height, blushing. Harry saw Fred and George exchange looks, but uncharacteristically
neither of them said anything, for which he was grateful.
'Pass it on, Ron,' called Angelina, as though nothing had happened.
Ron threw the Quaffle to Alicia, who passed back to Harry, who passed to
'Hey, Potter, how's your scar feeling?' called Malfoy. 'Sure you don't need
a lie down? It must be, what, a whole week since you were in the hospital wing,
that's a record for you, isn't it?'
George passed to Angelina; she reverse-passed to Harry, who had not been
expecting it, but caught it in the very tips of his fingers and passed it quickly
to Ron, who lunged for it and missed by inches.
'Come on now, Ron,' said Angelina crossly, as he dived for the ground again,
chasing the Quaffle. 'Pay attention.'
It would have been hard to say whether Ron's face or the Quaffle was a deeper
scarlet when he again returned to playing height. Malfoy and the rest of the
Slytherin team were howling with laughter.
On his third attempt, Ron caught the Quaffle; perhaps out of relief he passed
it on so enthusiastically that it soared straight through Katie's outstretched
hands and hit her hard in the face.
'Sorry!' Ron groaned, zooming forwards to see whether he had done any damage.
'Get back in position, she's fine!' barked Angelina. 'But as you're passing
to a teammate, do try not to knock her off her broom, won't you? We've got Bludgers
Katie's nose was bleeding. Down below, the Slytherins were stamping their
feet and jeering. Fred and George converged on Katie.
'Here, take this,' Fred told her, handing her something small and purple
from out of his pocket, 'it'll clear it up in no time.'
'All right,' called Angelina, 'Fred, George, go and get your bats and a Bludger.
Ron, get up to the goalposts. Harry, release the Snitch when I say so. We're
going to aim for Ron's goal, obviously.'
Harry zoomed off after the twins to fetch the Snitch.
'Ron's making a right pig's ear of things, isn't he?' muttered George, as
the three of them landed at the crate containing the balls and opened it to
extract one of the Bludgers and the Snitch.
'He's just nervous,' said Harry, 'he was fine when I was practising with
him this morning.'
'Yeah, well, I hope he hasn't peaked too soon,' said Fred gloomily.
They returned to the air. When Angelina blew her whistle, Harry released
the Snitch and Fred and George let fly the Bludger. From that moment on, Harry
was barely aware of what the others were doing. It was his job to recapture
the tiny fluttering golden ball that was worth a hundred and fifty points to
the Seeker's team and doing so required enormous speed and skill. He accelerated,
rolling and swerving in and out of the Chasers, the warm autumn air whipping
his face, and the distant yells of the Slytherins so much meaningless roaring
in his ears: but too soon, the whistle brought him to a halt again.
'Stop - stop - STOP!' screamed Angelina. 'Ron - you're not covering your
Harry looked round at Ron, who was hovering in front of the left-hand hoop,
leaving the other two completely unprotected.
'You keep shifting around while you're watching the Chasers!' said Angelina.
'Either stay in centre position until you have to move to defend a hoop, or
else circle the hoops, but don't drift vaguely off to one side, that's how you
let in the last three goals!'
'Sorry:' Ron repeated, his red face shining like a beacon against the bright
'And Katie, can't you do something about that nosebleed?'
'It's just getting worse!' said Katie thickly, attempting to stem the flow
with her sleeve.
Harry glanced round at Fred, who was looking anxious and checking his pockets.
He saw Fred pull out something purple, examine it for a second and then look
round at Katie, evidently horror-struck.
'Well, let's try again,' said Angelina. She was ignoring the Slytherins,
who had now set up a chant of 'Gryffindor are losers, Gryffindor are losers,'
but there was a certain rigidity about her seat on the broom nevertheless.
This time they had been flying for barely three minutes when Angelinas whistle
sounded. Harry, who had just sighted the Snitch circling the opposite goalpost,
pulled up feeling distinctly aggrieved.
'What now?' he said impatiently to Alicia, who was nearest.
'Katie,' she said shortly.
Harry turned and saw Angelina, Fred and George all flying as fast as they
could towards Katie. Harry and Alicia sped towards her, too. It was plain that
Angelina had stopped training just in time; Katie was now chalk white and covered
'She needs the hospital wing,' said Angelina.
'We'll take her,' said Fred. 'She - er - might have swallowed a Blood Blisterpod
by mistake -'
'Well, there's no point continuing with no Beaters and a Chaser gone,' said
Angelina glumly as Fred and George zoomed off towards the castle supporting
Katie between them. 'Come on, let's go and get changed.'
The Slytherins continued to chant as they trailed back into the changing
'How was practice?' asked Hermione rather coolly half an hour later, as Harry
and Ron climbed through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room.
'It was -' Harry began.
'Completely lousy,' said Ron in a hollow voice, sinking into a chair beside
Hermione. She looked up at Ron and her frostiness seemed to melt.
'Well, it was only your first one,' she said consolingly, 'it's bound to
take time to -'
'Who said it was me who made it lousy?' snapped Ron.
'No one,' said Hermione, looking taken aback, 'I thought -'
'You thought I was bound to be rubbish?'
'No, of course I didn't! Look, you said it was lousy so I just -'
'I'm going to get started on some homework,' said Ron angrily and stomped
off to the staircase to the boys' dormitories and vanished from sight. Hermione
turned to Harry.
'Was he lousy?'
'No,' said Harry loyally.
Hermione raised her eyebrows.
'Well, I suppose he could've played better,' Harry muttered, 'but it was
only the first training session, like you said:'
Neither Harry nor Ron seemed to make much headway with their homework that
night. Harry knew Ron was too preoccupied with how badly he had performed at
Quidditch practice and he himself was having difficulty in getting the 'Gryffindor
are losers' chant out of his head.
They spent the whole of Sunday in the common room, buried in their books
while the room around them filled up, then emptied. It was another clear, fine
day and most of their fellow Gryffindors spent the day out in the grounds, enjoying
what might well be some of the last sunshine that year. By the evening, Harry
felt as though somebody had been beating his brain against the inside of his
'You know, we probably should try and get more homework done during the week,'
Harry muttered to Ron, as they finally laid aside Professor McGonagall's long
essay on the Inanimatus Conjurus Spell and turned miserably to Professor Sinistra's
equally long and difficult essay about Jupiter's many moons.
'Yeah,' said Ron, rubbing slightly bloodshot eyes and throwing his fifth
spoiled bit of parchment into the fire beside them. 'Listen: shall we just ask
Hermione if we can have a look at what she's done?'
Harry glanced over at her; she was sitting with Crookshanks on her lap and
chatting merrily to Ginny as a pair of knitting needles flashed in midair in
front of her, now knitting a pair of shapeless elf socks.
'No,' he said heavily, 'you know she won't let us.'
And so they worked on while the sky outside the windows became steadily darker.
Slowly, the crowd in the common room began to thin again. At half past eleven,
Hermione wandered over to them, yawning.
'No,' said Ron shortly.
'Jupiter's biggest moon is Ganymede, not Callisto,' she said, pointing over
Ron's shoulder at a line in his Astronomy essay, 'and it's Io that's got the
Thanks,' snarled Ron, scratching out the offending sentences.
'Sorry, I only -'
'Yeah, well, if you've just come over here to criticise -'
'I haven't got time to listen to a sermon, all right, Hermione, I'm up to
my neck in it here -'
'No - look!'
Hermione was pointing to the nearest window. Harry and Ron both looked over.
A handsome screech owl was standing on the windowsill, gazing into the room
'Isn't that Hermes?' said Hermione, sounding amazed.
'Blimey, it is!' said Ron quietly, throwing down his quill and getting to
his feet. 'What's Percy writing to me for?'
He crossed to the window and opened it; Hermes flew inside, landed on Ron's
essay and held out a leg to which a letter was attached. Ron took the letter
off it and the owl departed at once, leaving inky footprints across Ron's drawing
of the moon lo.
That's definitely Percy's handwriting,' said Ron, sinking back into his chair
and staring at the words on the outside of the scroll: Ronald Weasley, Gryffindor
House, Hogwarts. He looked up at the other two. 'What d'you reckon?'
'Open it!' said Hermione eagerly, and Harry nodded.
Ron unrolled the scroll and began to read. The further down the parchment
his eyes travelled, the more pronounced became his scowl. When he had finished
reading, he looked disgusted. He thrust the letter at Harry and Hermione, who
leaned towards each other to read it together:
I have only just heard (from no less a person than the Minister for Magic
himself, who has it from your new teacher, Professor Umbridge) that you have
become a Hogwarts prefect.
was most pleasantly surprised when I heard this news and must firstly offer
my congratulations. I must admit that I have always been afraid that you would
take what we might call the 'Fred and George' route, rather than following in
my footsteps, so you can imagine my feelings on hearing you have stopped flouting
authority and have decided to shoulder some real responsibility.
But I want to give you more than congratulations, Ron, I want to give you
some advice, which is why I am sending this at night rather than by the usual
morning post. Hopefully, you will be able to read this away from prying eyes
and avoid awkward questions.
From something the Minister let slip when telling me you are now a prefect,
I gather that you are still seeing a lot of Harry Potter. I must tell you, Ron,
that nothing could put you in danger of losing your badge more than continued
fraternisation with that boy. Yes, I am sure you are surprised to hear this
- no doubt you will say that Potter has always been Dumbledore's favourite -
but I feel bound to tell you that Dumbledore may not be in charge at Hogwarts
much longer and the people who count have a very different - and probably more
accurate - view of Potter's behaviour. I shall say no more here, but if you
look at the Daily Prophet tomorrow you will get a good idea of the way the wind
is blowing - and see if you can spot yours truly!