Professor Adams was standing in the middle of the field waiting for the team as they tramped out of the locker rooms, accompanied by loud cheers from the half of the audience wearing red. He still wore his dark cloak, hood pulled over his eyes, but hovered easily on his broomstick nonetheless. Harry cocked his head to the side, trying to see under the hood that the professor never seemed to remove, but all he could see were the man’s icy blue eyes glinting.
The Slytherin team was already waiting on the other side of the central circle, broomsticks in hand. Harry tried to size them up with the analytical eye that Ron could call up so easily, but failed; it did seem, though, that they players were picked with an eye towards size, not skill. The seeker, a fifth year who Harry was pretty sure was named Brant, was the only player below six feet, and not far below at that.
“You’ll have the advantage there,” Oliver muttered to Harry. “Not only do you have a better broom, you’re smaller, too. Their seeker is new this year, so I don’t know how he compares to you as far as skill goes, but I think you’ll be fine.”
Harry nodded, gulping, and Oliver clapped him on the shoulder and went up to shake hands.
“I want a clean game, both of you,” Professor Adams said calmly, watching Oliver and the Slytherin captain, Marcus Flint, shake hands. “No fouls, no cheating, no magic except in self-defense. Is that well understood by both of you?”
Oliver nodded; Flint grunted. Adams shrugged and flicked his hand at the trunk containing the balls, letting it spring open and sending the bludgers out near the goalposts. The snitch hovered in place for a moment before flying upwards.
Harry tried to follow the snitch’s path with his eyes, but it shimmered into invisibility as it sailed away. That was right, he remembered; the snitch Disillusioned itself for ten seconds at the beginning of a match, because of a string of games in which a clever Seeker had been able to catch the snitch within thirty seconds of leaving the ground, ten games in a row.
Harry was shaken out of his train of thought by Professor Adams blowing the whistle to kick off from the ground.
"And the Quaffle is taken immediately by Angelina Johnson of Gryffindor – what an excellent Chaser that girl is, and rather attractive, too –“
The Weasley twins' friend, Lee Jordan, was doing the commentary for the match, closely watched by Professor McGonagall. Harry tuned this out quickly as he sailed up from the ground, scanning the stands. Perhaps two-thirds of the school was supporting Gryffindor, and was wearing red scarves or hats. The rest of the spectators were decked out in Slytherin green. Harry spotted his friends sitting near the top of the red stands; Ron and Neville were each holding a corner of a large banner that said “Potter is our King”, while Ginny and Hermione levitated what looked like small rocks attached to the other two corners.
Harry absently rolled out of the way of a bludger and reminded himself to search for the snitch. Moments later, the Slytherin Seeker began to dive.
Harry saw the green-robed boy begin to drop and immediately followed, eyes scanning the ground for a glint of gold. He couldn’t see it, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
But as Harry got closer to Brant, he noticed something… strange. The Slytherin didn’t look the way someone diving for the snitch really should, Harry felt. His expression, though focused, didn’t seem to be focused on a small glint of gold near the ground, like it should. No, it was more like… like he wanted to pull up at just the right time.
Harry peeled out of the dive, and Jordan shouted out, “It looks like Potter thinks that Brant is only feinting! Let’s see if it’s a bluff or not… yup, he’s pulling up too. He seems kind of disappointed. You can’t fool a Gryffindor, you slimy snake!”
Harry grinned and pumped his fist in victory, then decided to try a trick of his own. He narrowed his eyes, gasped, and accelerated towards the goal posts on the opposite side of the field. Brant followed, and Harry grinned inwardly as he kept his eyes focused on an area just to the left of Oliver Wood’s arm.
Harry twisted his head as though following a snitch’s erratic pattern, then began to dive. Brant, behind him, fell into a shallower dive, but Harry was grinning now. He had successfully side-tracked the Slytherin Seeker, and there was a flash of gold from the other side of the pitch.
Harry was halfway across when his broomstick bucked, twitched… and began to fall.
Hermione was beginning to get bored, and hoped that the game was over soon. Quidditch didn’t make sense to her; why gather around to watch people fling balls at each other while two people compete to catch a giant yellow mosquito? Really, she was only here to support Harry. Ginny had come for the same reason, although it seemed to Hermione that she was a little bit more enthusiastic about it.
Really, she had thought that the redhead was over her crush already, but apparently not fully. At least it hadn’t kept her from talking to Harry; seeing that he was, well, ordinary had probably helped more than watching in silence would’ve. And if she did still like Harry, that was probably more for who he was than for the Boy-Who-Lived now.
Ron, meanwhile, was still entirely oblivious to the opposite sex, as were Neville and Harry. All nice boys, but still far too immature. But it was too early for that, Hermione forcefully reminded herself. Daddy had told her none of that until she was at least fourteen. Two more years.
Hermione watched impassively as Harry apparently fooled the Slytherin Seeker, what’s-his-name, into diving away from the snitch. As he set out across the pitch, though, she noticed something off. He was still moving, but down, and beginning to tip downwards.
“Does something seem wrong about Harry to you?” Hermione asked, nearly shouting over the roar of the crowd and Lee’s magically enhanced commentary.
Ron squinted. “He’s going down, but…” he stared. “He’s falling!”
“What?” Ginny yelped, snatching the binoculars a Ravenclaw next to her was using and peering through them. A moment later, she gasped. “He is! Someone’s broken his broom!”
“It’s experimental,” Neville pointed out, clearly nervous. “Professor Adams will probably notice soon, though; it’s dropping slowly. Bucking a bit, but Harry can handle it.”
“No, someone must be jinxing it,” Ginny said firmly. She glanced around the stands with the ‘borrowed’ binoculars, and after a moment the redhead growled. “It’s Snape!” she snarled. “He’s doing it!”
“Don’t be silly, sis, he loves Harry,” Ron said, looking at the Professor’s box. “See, he’s just watching him, not paying attention to anyone else.”
Something about this seemed wrong to Hermione, so she grabbed the binoculars from Ginny and looked at the Potions Master. He was sitting rigidly in his chair, staring directly at Harry, and not blinking at all. His lips moved slowly as he silently said something, over and over again, the same thing each time. Hermione wished she could read lips…
“I think he’s casting some sort of spell on Harry,” Hermione said as Harry came ever closer to the ground. “There’s nothing I know of that’s cast like that, but it must be something.”
Ron shook his head again. “Like I said, he loves Harry. If anything, he’s probably trying to stop Harry’s fall.”
“Then who else could be doing it?” Ginny asked angrily. “Tell me that! None of the students could possibly affect a broomstick, and he’s the only professor with a criminal record!”
Ron blinked. “What?”
“I’ll tell you about it once Harry is safe, Ron,” Ginny snapped. “For now, just know that he was a Death Eater.”
Harry managed to pull his broom into a loose spiral as it continued to drop. Fortunately it was going slowly, but at any moment the flight charm might fail entirely. The game had pretty much stopped as more and more people became aware of his predicament; Professor Adams was hovering beneath him worriedly, not even blinking as he watched. Fred and George were flying at his sides, ready to catch him if needed.
“We can replay the game, right?” Harry asked.
Fred shrugged. “I don’t know. It depends on whether your broom is being jinxed or if the charms are just failing. And–“
Fred was interrupted by Harry’s broom suddenly doing a complete 180 and shooting off downwards. Moments later, the flight charm failed entirely and he fell.
“HARRY!” Fred and George shouted in unison, diving towards him. Before they reached him, though, Professor Adams had swooped in and caught him in both arms, flying to the ground by his knees.
“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said a little shakily, clinging to him. He blinked. There was something glittering in front of him, but his glasses had fallen off and he couldn’t tell what it was. He reached out to smack it out of the way, but realized…
“The snitch!” he shouted, waving it triumphantly.
Some time later…
“So we are replaying the game?” Harry asked Oliver Wood as the Quidditch Captain walked him back to Gryffindor Tower.
Oliver nodded. “You had fallen off of your broom, and the seeker has to be on his own broom for a catch to count, not someone else’s. I’m more worried that it’s only two weeks away and now Slytherin knows our strategies.”
Harry waved his hand dismissively. “I was watching the chasers, and we were flattening them without even breaking out our best stuff. See, I’m worried that I’ll have to get a new broom.”
“Professor Flitwick and Professor Adams are taking a look at your old one,” Oliver reminded him. “If it was a jinx, they’ll be able to protect it, and otherwise, well... you’re the Boy-Who-Lived, you can probably get a refund for a faulty broom.”
“True, but– Hermione? Ginny?” The Ravenclaw girls were leaning on the wall across from the portrait of the Fat Lady, talking quietly to each other. “What is it?”
“We’re worried about you, Harry,” Ginny said, looking up. “And there’s something we need to tell you that you won’t like.”
Harry cocked his head as Oliver clapped him on the shoulder and went into the Tower. “About my broom, right? I am fine, really, Madam Pomfrey spent an hour checking me…”
“Yes, about your broom” Hermione broke in. “We think that it was being jinxed, and… we think that Professor Snape was doing it.”
Harry stared for a moment before starting to laugh.
“Harry!” Ginny scolded him. “We’re serious!”
Harry managed to catch his breath and gasp out “Professor Snape? You think he jinxed me? Girls, I’m the only student in all of Gryffindor and most of the rest of the school too that he doesn’t hate.”
Ginny scowled. “Yes, we’re all aware of that. But there’s some things about him that you probably don’t know.”
“Like his history as a Death Eater,” Hermione agreed, and Harry immediately sobered. “Ginny knows more about it that I do…”
“He’s an admitted Death Eater,” Ginny said. “For about three years, apparently. In the last year of the War he turned traitor and helped Dumbledore. Apparently he saved a few lives, and after the War ended he named names. Low-ranking Death Eaters only, but along with being vouched for by the Headmaster, it got him cleared. That’s all a matter of public record.”
“Okay…” Harry said slowly. “So… you think he wants to kill me as revenge?”
Hermione nodded. “He’s the only person we can think of who has a motive. And…” she described how he had been staring at Harry without blinking and had been moving his lips.
“Then why didn’t he kill me one of the many times I’ve been alone with him in his office?” Harry asked. “Really, just about anyone in the castle could have a motive. Maybe Professor McGonagall was a deep-cover spy for the Death Eaters. Maybe Professor Adams was possessed during that year he spent off in Albania or wherever. Maybe Hagrid wants to feed my corpse to his dog.”
Ginny smacked herself in the forehead. “And that’s something I’ve been meaning to do,” she muttered. “Ask Hagrid about cerberi.”
“Why not Neville?” Hermione asked. “He’s got Kamno.”
“Yeah, but orthrusi and cerberi aren’t the same thing at all,” Ginny pointed out. “I don’t know a huge amount about either, but the myths said that Orthrus was a cattle dog and was slain by Hercules–“
“Heracles,” corrected Hermione.
“Heracles,” Hermione repeated. “The original myth is of Heracles. It means ‘for the glory of Hera’. The Romans were the ones who called him Heracles, but from what I read in Truth of Myths they mixed up the more accurate Greek myths, so Greek myths are closer to reality.”
“Alright,” Ginny said, “Heracles killed Orthrus. But Cerberus was a guard dog and was immortal and indestructible. If I remember correctly, Heracles couldn’t overpower him, and ended up negotiating with Hades to bring him to the surface and back alive instead of dead; to show the king he was performing twelve labors for, you know.”
Hermione nodded thoughtfully. “That seems to imply that cerberi are more powerful than orthusi,” she commented. “I wonder how Professor Snape wants to get past him.”
“What?” Harry said, shocked again. “Where are you getting these crazy ideas?”
“She’s been going on about this in Ravenclaw Tower ever since Halloween,” Ginny complained. “She noticed that Snape wasn’t there at the Halloween Feast, and the next morning he seemed to have a bad leg; you were asleep then. He was better by dinnertime, but she’s convinced he let the troll in as a distraction and tried to get past the cerberus and was bitten. Crazy, I tell you!”
Harry yawned as Hermione began protesting. “Girls, listen, it’s late, and I just want to go to bed right now. Can we talk about this stuff tomorrow? Breakfast, okay? You can tell Ron and Neville then, too.”
“They know we think that Snape was jinxing you,” Ginny told him. “But yeah, they don’t know about Hermione’s crazy theory.”
“Tomorrow, then,” Hermione said, rather disgruntled.
“Tomorrow,” Harry agreed, and turned to go assure his other friends that he was alright.