J.K.Rwling >> Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (page 52)

A blank silence greeted Hermione's words. She looked around at all the faces upturned to her, rather disconcerted.

'Well - I thought it was a good idea,' she said uncertainly, 'I mean, even if Umbridge asked us to turn out our pockets, there's nothing fishy about carrying a Galleon, is there? But: well, if you don't want to use them -'

'You can do a Protean Charm?' said Terry Boot.

'Yes,' said Hermione.

'But that's: that's NEWT standard, that is,' he said weakly.

'Oh,' said Hermione, trying to look modest. 'Oh: well: yes, I suppose it is.'

'How come you're not in Ravenclaw?' he demanded, staring at Hermione with something close to wonder. 'With brains like yours?'

'Well, the Sorting Hat did seriously consider putting me in Ravenclaw during my Sorting,' said Hermione brightly, 'but it decided on Gryffindor in the end. So, does that mean we're using the Galleons?'

There was a murmur of assent and everybody moved forwards to collect one from the basket. Harry looked sideways at Hermione.

'You know what these remind me of?'

'No, what's that?'

The Death Eaters' scars. Voldemort touches one of them, and all their scars burn, and they know they've got to join him.'

'Well: yes,' said Hermione quietly, 'that is where I got the idea . but you'll notice I decided to engrave the date on bits of metal rather than on our members' skin.'

'Yeah: I prefer your way,' said Harry, grinning, as he slipped his Galleon into his pocket. 'I suppose the only danger with these is that we might accidentally spend them.'

'Fat chance,' said Ron, who was examining his own fake Galleon with a slightly mournful air, 'I haven't got any real Galleons to confuse it with.'

As the first Quidditch match of the season, Gryffindor versus Slytherin, drew nearer, their DA meetings were put on hold because Angelina insisted on almost daily practices. The fact that the Quidditch Cup had not been held for so long added considerably to the interest and excitement surrounding the forthcoming game; the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were taking a lively interest in the outcome, for they, of course, would be playing both teams over the coming year; and the Heads of House of the competing teams, though they attempted to disguise it under a decent pretence of sportsmanship, were determined to see their own side victorious. Harry realised how much Professor McGonagall cared about beating Slytherin when she abstained from giving them homework in the week leading up to the match.

'I think you've got enough to be getting on with at the moment,' she said loftily. Nobody could quite believe their ears until she looked directly at Harry and Ron and said grimly, 'I've become accustomed to seeing the Quidditch Cup in my study, boys, and I really don't want to have to hand it over to Professor Snape, so use the extra time to practise, won't you?'

Snape was no less obviously partisan; he had booked the Quidditch pitch for Slytherin practice so often that the Gryffindors had difficulty getting on it to play. He was also turning a deaf ear to the many reports of Slytherin attempts to hex Gryffindor players in the corridors. When Alicia Spinnet turned up in the hospital wing with her eyebrows growing so thick and fast they obscured her vision and obstructed her mouth, Snape insisted that she must have attempted a Hair-thickening Charm on herself and refused to listen to the fourteen eye-witnesses who insisted they had seen the Slytherin Keeper, Miles Bletchley, hit her from behind with a jinx while she worked in the library.

Harry felt optimistic about Gryffindor's chances; they had, after all, never lost to Malfoy's team. Admittedly, Ron was still not performing to Wood's standard, but he was working extremely hard to improve. His greatest weakness was a tendency to lose confidence after he'd made a blunder; if he let in one goal he became flustered and was therefore likely to miss more. On the other hand, Harry had seen Ron make some truly spectacular saves when he was on form; during one memorable practice he had hung one-handed from his broom and kicked the Quaffle so hard away from the goalhoop that it soared the length of the pitch and through the centre hoop at the other end; the rest of the team felt this save compared favourably with one made recently by Barry Ryan, the Irish International Keeper, against Poland's top Chaser, Ladislaw Zamojski. Even Fred had said that Ron might yet make him and George proud, and that they were seriously considering admitting he was related to them, something they assured him they had been trying to deny for four years.

The only thing really worrying Harry was how much Ron was allowing the tactics of the Slytherin team to upset him before they even got on to the pitch. Harry, of course, had endured their snide comments for over four years, so whispers of, 'Hey, Potty, I heard Warrington's sworn to knock you off your broom on Saturday', far from chilling his blood, made him laugh. 'Warrington's aim's so pathetic I'd be more worried if he was aiming for the person next to me,' he retorted, which made Ron and Hermione laugh and wiped the smirk off Pansy Parkinsons face.

But Ron had never endured a relentless campaign of insults, jeers and intimidation. When Slytherins, some of them seventh-years and considerably larger than he was, muttered as they passed in the corridors, 'Got your bed booked in the hospital wing, Weasley?' he didn't laugh, but turned a delicate shade of green. When Draco Malfoy imitated Ron dropping the Quaffle (which he did whenever they came within sight of each other), Ron's ears glowed red and his hands shook so badly that he was likely to drop whatever he was holding at the time, too.

October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard irosts every morning and icy draughts that bit at exposed hands and faces. The skies and the ceiling of the Great Hall turned a pale, pearly grey, the mountains around Hogwarts were snowcapped, and the temperature in the castle dropped so low that many students wore their thick protective dragonskin gloves in the corridors between lessons.

The morning of the match dawned bright and cold. When Harry awoke he looked round at Ron's bed and saw him sitting bolt upright, his arms around his knees, staring fixedly into space.

'You all right?' said Harry.

Ron nodded but did not speak. Harry was reminded forcibly of the time Ron had accidentally put a Slug-vomiting Charm on himself; he looked just as pale and sweaty as he had done then, not to mention as reluctant to open his mouth.

'You just need some breakfast,' Harry said bracingly. 'C'mon.'

The Great Hall was filling up fast when they arrived, the talk louder and the mood more exuberant than usual. As they passed the Slytherin table there was an upsurge of noise. Harry looked round and saw that, in addition to the usual green and silver scarves and hats, every one of them was wearing a silver badge in the shape of what seemed to be a crown. For some reason many of them waved at Ron, laughing uproariously. Harry tried to see what was written on the badges as he walked by, but he was too concerned to get Ron past their table quickly to linger long enough to read them.

They received a rousing welcome at the Gryffindor table, where everyone was wearing red and gold, but far from raising Ron's spirits the cheers seemed to sap the last of his morale; he collapsed on to the nearest bench looking as though he were facing his final meal.

'I must've been mental to do this,' he said in a croaky whisper. 'Mental.'

'Don't be thick,' said Harry firmly, passing him a choice of cereals, 'you're going to be fine. It's normal to be nervous.'

'I'm rubbish,' croaked Ron. 'I'm lousy. I can't play to save my life. What was I thinking?'

'Get a grip,' said Harry sternly. 'Look at that save you made with your foot the other day, even Fred and George said it was brilliant.'

Ron turned a tortured face to Harry.

That was an accident,' he whispered miserably. 'I didn't mean to do it - I slipped off my broom when none of you were looking and when I was trying to get back on I kicked the Quaffle by accident.'

'Well,' said Harry, recovering quickly from this unpleasant surprise, 'a few more accidents like that and the game's in the bag, isn't it?'

Hermione and Ginny sat down opposite them wearing red and gold scarves, gloves and rosettes.

'How're you feeling?' Ginny asked Ron, who was now staring into the dregs of milk at the bottom of his empty cereal bowl as though seriously considering attempting to drown himself in them.

'He's just nervous,' said Harry.

'Well, that's a good sign, I never feel you perform as well in exams if you're not a bit nervous,' said Hermione heartily.

'Hello,' said a vague and dreamy voice from behind them. Harry looked up: Luna Lovegood had drifted over from the Ravenclaw table. Many people were staring at her and a few were openly laughing and pointing; she had managed to procure a hat shaped like a life-size lion's head, which was perched precariously on her head.

'I'm supporting Gryffindor,' said Luna, pointing unnecessarily at her hat. 'Look what it does:'

She reached up and tapped the hat with her wand. It opened its mouth wide and gave an extremely realistic roar that made everyone in the vicinity jump.

'It's good, isn't it?' said Luna happily. 'I wanted to have it chewing up a serpent to represent Slytherm, you know, but there wasn't time. Anyway: good luck, Ronald!'

She drifted away. They had not quite recovered from the shock of Luna's hat before Angelina came hurrying towards them, accompanied by Katie and Alicia, whose eyebrows had mercifully been returned to normal by Madam Pomfrey.

'When you're ready' she said, 'we're going to go straight down to the pitch, check out conditions and change.'

'We'll be there in a bit,' Harry assured her. 'Ron's just got to have some breakfast.'

It became clear after ten minutes, however, that Ron was not capable of eating anything more and Harry thought it best to get him down to the changing rooms. As they rose from the table, Hermione got up, too, and taking Harry's arm she drew him to one side.

'Don't let Ron see what's on those Slytherins' badges,' she whispered urgently.

Harry looked questioningly at her, but she shook her head warn-ingly; Ron had just ambled over to them, looking lost and desperate.

'Good luck, Ron,' said Hermione, standing on tiptoe and kissing him on the cheek. 'And you, Harry -'

Ron seemed to come to himself slightly as they walked back across the Great Hall. He touched the spot on his face where Hermione had kissed him, looking puzzled, as though he was not quite sure what had just happened. He seemed too distracted to notice much around him, but Harry cast a curious glance at the crown-shaped badges as they passed the Slytherin table, and this time he made out the words etched on to them:

Weasley is our King

With an unpleasant feeling that this could mean nothing good, he hurried Ron across the Entrance Hall, down the stone steps and out into the icy air.

The frosty grass crunched under their feet as they hurried down the sloping lawns towards the stadium. There was no wind at all and the sky was a uniform pearly white, which meant that visibility would be good without the drawback of direct sunlight in the eyes. Harry pointed out these encouraging factors to Ron as they walked, but he was not sure that Ron was listening.

Angelina had changed already and was talking to the rest of the team when they entered. Harry and Ron pulled on their robes (Ron attempted to do his up back-to-front for several minutes before Alicia took pity on him and went to help), then sat down to listen to the pre-match talk while the babble of voices outside grew steadily louder as the crowd came pouring out of the castle towards the pitch.

'OK, I've only just found out the final line-up for Slytherin,' said Angelina, consulting a piece of parchment. 'Last year's Beaters,

Derrick and Bole, have left, but it looks as though Montague's replaced them with the usual gorillas, rather than anyone who can fly particularly well. They're two blokes called Crabbe and Goyle, I don't know much about them -'

'We do,' said Harry and Ron together.

'Well, they don't look bright enough to tell one end of a broom from the other,' said Angelina, pocketing her parchment, 'but then I was always surprised Derrick and Bole managed to find their way on to the pitch without signposts.'

'Crabbe and Goyle are in the same mould,' Harry assured her.

They could hear hundreds of footsteps mounting the banked benches of the spectators' stands. Some people were singing, though Harry could not make out the words. He was starting to feel nervous, but he knew his butterflies were as nothing compared to Ron's, who was clutching his stomach and staring straight ahead again, his jaw set and his complexion pale grey.

'It's time,' said Angelina in a hushed voice, looking at her watch. 'C'mon everyone: good luck.'

The team rose, shouldered their brooms and marched in single file out of the changing room and into the dazzling sunlight. A roar of sound greeted them in which Harry could still hear singing, though it was muffled by the cheers and whistles.

The Slytherin team was standing waiting for them. They, too, were wearing those silver crown-shaped badges. The new Captain, Montague, was built along the same lines as Dudley Dursley, with massive forearms like hairy hams. Behind him lurked Crabbe and Goyle, almost as large, blinking stupidly in the sunlight, swinging their new Beaters' bats. Malfoy stood to one side, the sunlight gleaming on his white-blond head. He caught Harry's eye and smirked, tapping the crown-shaped badge on his chest.

Title: Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
Author: J.K.Rwling
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