Two Unlikely Quidditch Players
Harry and the others searched the library from shelf to shelf over the next hour and a half, trying to find any further information on Slytherin or Andric Vydzaal that might be helpful for their investigation. But while both wizards got mentioned in a number of books-Slytherin having almost an entire shelf dedicated entirely to his life-none of them gave any information on any supposed experiments-rather surprising to Harry given he'd been sure the school's founders would be covered in its own library.
"Maybe we'll have to check the Restricted Section to get the answers," he mused to them as they converged at the checkout, having all come up with blanks themselves.
"No problem; I'll tell that git Lockhart we need to look for something concerning one of his exploits in there, and he'll have a permission slip for us in less than ten seconds," Ron grinned triumphantly. "Well it's true, you know," he quickly told Hermione as she started to protest this, "If it concerns him, he'll...what is it, Harry?"
Harry was frowning as he paced in circles. "Something the Gavertsons said before we escaped, about it not being too late to turn Ron's family into Muggles-is that even possible, Hermione?"
"Not by any conventional magic that I know of," she shook her head, "But Dark Wizards have been trying to tap into dangerous facets of magic for centuries; it's possible that's what Vydzaal and Slytherin were working on all those years ago."
"And that would certainly be something You Know Who would be interesting in learning if he could," Ron shivered at the very thought, "The sooner we do get permission to look through the Restricted Section, the..."
"Potter, there you are," it was Wood striding into the library, looking rather grim, "Potter, I guess you heard what happened to Alicia at the museum..."
"Only in passing, Oliver," Harry seized up again to be reminded that a teammate had been injured during the melee, "What exactly...?"
"Hit by one of the Death Eaters' curses while they were all Apparating away; she'll be OK, but she won't make the next match with Slytherin," Wood shook his head sadly.
"I...I'm sorry, Oliver, I...I..."
"Don't worry about it, Potter; it was after you were unconscious already, so it's not your fault. And besides, Slytherin's down a man too; Pucey got hit with the same kind of curse. Now, anyway, I'm wondering," he turned towards Derek, "I noticed you flying around a little after the last practice; would you care to take Alicia's place in the next match?"
"Me?" Derek's jaw dropped, as did Harry's and his friends', "Um, well,...you're sure you're not making a mistake...?"
"Unfortunately spare Chasers are too hard to come by halfway through the school year, so right now you'd be our best option," Wood encouraged him.
"Um, well, Oliver, the thing is, Derek...he's not really all that skilled at Quidditch as you might think..." Harry tried to tell him.
"Oh don't worry about that, Potter; I can train him good and well before the match so he's as perfect as he can get. So what do you say, chap?" Wood extended his hand to Derek, who looked hesitantly at everyone else for an answer. "Well, I suppose, if no one else is readily available," Ron nodded slowly, "But make sure you tell Fred and George to cover him, Wood; this'll be his first time...well, against such a rough lot as Slytherin..."
"No problem at all Weasley; given your brothers are human Bludgers in their own rights, I don't think your cousin here has much to worry about. So is it a deal?" Wood gestured with his palm again. Derek shook it slowly after a slight pause. "Excellent. Meet you on the pitch first thing after breakfast tomorrow; you'll be a human Quidditch machine before you know it, Whitesell my boy," Wood was overjoyed as he bounded off. "What exactly did I just do?" Derek stared blankly ahead.
"Hopefully not just dug your own grave," Ron was equally stunned, "Harry..."
"I'm thinking, Ron, I'm thinking," Harry tried to think it over, "I guess it'll work-after all, all Derek would have to do is catch the Quaffle and try and score; in the heat of the game, no one would notice if he hasn't got enough skills-but I'll keep an eye on him through the match, and if the two of you could do the same..."
"We'll do our best, Harry, that's all we cam promise," Hermione told him, also looking rather floored at how things had just progressed. "Well," she glanced up at the nearest clock, "It is about time we all head back to Gryffindor Tower for the night anyway..."
"Is that the time?" Harry was amazed to see it was almost quarter to nine already, "Yes, we'd better get moving; Filch'll start roaming the corridors pretty soon..."
The four of them quickly bustled out of the library and back to the Gryffindor tower. Harry's mind raced with everything he'd learned that day. An awful lot had fallen into place for them, and yet somehow, he had a feeling they were missing something important, something that would explain everything to them, something right in front of him that he wasn't seeing at the moment...
But that wasn't all. No matter how much Wood had told him it wasn't his fault, Alicia's mishap still felt very much like his fault. After all, he had run upstairs with the spell book; he had put her and everyone else in harm's way.
"No, of course not," he tried to rationalize with himself, "There was no way you could have known anything would have turned out the way it did."
But nonetheless, it had turned out that way. Much as he absolutely loathed to agree with Umbridge on anything, her description of his actions earlier had some merit. Was everything that had gone wrong at the museum after the Death Eaters had appeared all his fault...?
"You all right, Harry?" came Derek's voice in his ear, snapping him out of it. "Uh, yes, of course, Derek," he said quickly, taking note that in his stupor they'd already entered the Commons room, and Ron and Hermione had already went upstairs to bed, "Just, uh, thinking of everything that went down today, that's all..."
"Yeah, I can see, that really is a lot to take in," his Muggle friend apparently bought the sincerity as they climbed up to the bedroom, where, not surprisingly, an extra bed for Derek had magically appeared the previous evening. "Boy, there's no way I could have imagined I'd get mixed up in anything like this just a few days ago in my wildest dreams," the boy whispered softly so as to not wake a sound asleep Seamus right next to him, slipping under the covers, "And now I'm going to be playing in your big game, whatever it is-if only all the people back in Little Whingling could see me now after they slammed doors in my face all those times."
"Indeed," Harry agreed, sliding under the covers himself, "The down side, though, is you'll probably never get to tell them about it, Derek, or the Ministry'll be up in arms."
There was an abrupt and prolonged silence from the new bed. "Derek?" he asked, concerned.
"Yeah, Harry, I was just realizing, this all has to come to an end eventually," Derek sounded melancholy, "That at some time after the holidays, I'll probably end up right back on Privet Drive no better off than I was before," he sighed sadly, "And this'll all fade into a dream. Just a once in a lifetime dream, of the home I never had..."
He grew silent again, and soon began snoring. Harry nodded softly to himself as he removed his glasses and rolled over, wishing there was some way they could keep Derek around longer. But it just wouldn't work; the Ministry would find out in the end, and that wouldn't bode well for any of them. No, Derek had to return to the miserable life he'd know just a few days ago. But still, there had to be a way to prevent that, there just had to be some way of getting around that awful scenario...
But if there was any, he couldn't think of it at the moment, as he drifted off into a troubled sleep...
...and suddenly he found himself back in a cold cavern-somewhere. The snake circled lazily around his feet, buzzing. Stacked against the wall were several large runes, all covered with strange writing. Harry tapped his foot impatiently, waiting...
...and indeed it was then that several loud pops came from an adjoining cavern. "Come," he called. A masked figure entered, carrying the Scone Crown and the Vydzaal spell book. "My Lord, just as you have requested," Lucius told him, handing them off it him.
"Very good, Lucius," Harry fingered them eagerly, "You have given me another outlet for that which I ultimately wish to accomplish in life. You had no trouble, I presume?"
"None whatsoever, my Lord, it was simple..."
"Apart from Harry Potter, I suppose," he started straight into Malfoy's father's eyes, "Yes, I believe he tried to break it up, nearly exposed what I was trying to do..."
"Not by any stretch, my Lord; no one believes Potter at all; I made extra sure of that just in case. No one suspects at all what you are planning..."
"Indeed. But," he leaned closer, "I sense Potter wasn't the only one to resist our efforts...a Pureblood...how can that be...?"
"Amaralda Dickinson's fool of a daughter, my Lord; she has too much of her cursed father in her for my comfort," Lucius grumbled bitterly, "Fortunately, no one believes her either, especially not her gullible mother..."
"That will be all, Lucius," he cut him off as the sound of terrified sobbing could be heard getting louder, "You may leave now."
Lucius did trudge off, past a pair of other Death Eaters now approaching with about two dozen or so deeply frightened children, none much older than eleven at most. "Well, some more patriotic volunteers for my army of wizarding liberation, I see," Harry exclaimed, "Good work, Amycus, Alecto; I always appreciate new recruits..."
"Not you!" one terrified girl whimpered at the sight of him, "Please, let us go; we all want to go home...!"
"Actually, my dear, you ARE home," Harry told her patronizingly, picking up the snake and thrusting it at her, making her recoil in terror, "This is your new home; consider me your new father. And from this moment on, I will provide for all of you if you do exactly what I wish; we'll all be one big happy family, won't we? You there, what's your name?"
He glanced at a boy of no more than nine, who shook in fear at being singled out. "Ch-Ch-Chauncey," he stammered in a barely audible voice.
"Chauncey, is it? Step forward, Chauncey, I have a special present for you. Oh don't be afraid," he said when the boy refused to take a step, "No, no, my boy, I'm merely going to set you free from all your worries."
"You're going to set me free?"
"Yes; trust me, Lord Voldemort always follows through on his word. Come on now, don't be shy, come forward."
Just as the boy started to hesitantly step forward, another pair of pops rang out. Harry's expression darkened significantly. "Late again, are we, Gaspard, Theodoric?" he said coldly at the Gavertsons as they fell to their knees, "I do believe I summoned you here a good fifteen minutes ago..."
"Our apologies, my Lord, we were delayed coming through..." Theodoric started to explain.
"You know I don't care for excuses, Theodoric," Harry glanced around the cavern, "What I do care about, though, is that the boy I asked you to retrieve doesn't appear to be with you, even though I demanded you bring him..."
"We, we did have him, my Lord; it was Potter again!" Gaspard protested as the children started whispering amongst themselves, "He took the child off us...there appears to be some kind of special protection at Hogwarts that we cannot..."
"I will not stand for you throwing up Potter as an excuse much longer, Gaspard!" he roared, making the Gavertsons start to shake, and making the Carrows softly snicker next to them. "Now," he said more calmly, "What kind of protection does this appear to be that that fool Dumbledore may have put up?"
"Some kind of mystic wall, my Lord; Gaspard and I have been trying to figure it out for hours before you summoned us; we've been working hard at trying to crack its secret; we will figure it out for you..."
"You had better, Theodoric. And if you do not have the child with you when next I call you, the consequences shall be graver than you can imagine. Now bring him to me!" Harry fired blasts at the two of them as they frantically Disapparated. "You see what I have to put up with?" he asked the children, "I am constantly surrounded by fools. Perhaps when all of you come of proper age, you can all do so much better for me. Now where were we? Oh yes, Chauncey my boy, come forward."
The boy hesitantly approached him. "So you're setting me free?" he asked haltingly.
"Yes, child; you are about to be freed from all your cares and worries. And in so doing, you shall give me the gift of more secure life," he seized Chauncey's arm hard. "Ow, you're hurting me! What is this!?" terror lit up the boy's face.
"Do not worry, my boy; you won't have to worry about this any longer," he drew his wand and aimed it right between Chauncey's eyes, "And I commend you for your service to me; you have done Lord Voldemort very well. AVADA KEDAVRA!"
A bright flash of green light obscured everything. Hundreds of miles away, Harry bolted upright in bed, sweating. He glanced at Derek, sound asleep to his left. It appeared they were running out of time, that Voldemort was starting to put the pieces together for whatever his plan was. And if he figured out how to undo whatever protection Dumbledore had put in place, the game was likely over.
"And he didn't say at all what he was planning to use the runes for?" a concerned Hermione asked him at breakfast the next morning.
"I woke up before I could see anything he might be hoping to use them for," Harry admitted, barely picking at the pancakes on his plate, "Do you have any ideas?"
"I have some theories, but nothing concrete yet," she shook her head, "Do you suppose we should tell Dumbledore they know he's got some kind of protection up?"
"It probably would help," Harry nodded. He extended a glanced upwards as the owls all flew in, but Hedwig wasn't among them this morning. "Nothing for me today..."
"Oh on the contrary, Potter, I think you'll enjoy this little piece of news," came Malfoy's most unwelcome voice from behind him. The morning copy of the Daily Prophet was all but slammed down on top of his plate from behind. Harry had a bad feeling what it was going to say, and a quick glance all but confirmed it:
HARRY POTTER INCITES RIOT AT MUSEUM
A SPECIAL EXCLUSIVE BY RITA SKEETER
In what is becoming an apparent hobby with him, the Boy Who Lived is at it again, stirring up controversy wherever he goes. And this reporter was there to witness it personally as Potter led a wild melee at the Cunninghamton Museum, in a dangerous set of actions that led to major damage, theft, and kidnapping.
"It's a tragedy for this institution," lamented curator Artemus Wheelwright, "Not only have we lost the irreplaceable Scone Crown, but a number of other valuable artifacts were damaged beyond repair. How it came to all this I don't know."
One word easily explains it all: Potter. This reporter personally saw him running all over the museum in a craze, leading around the assailants dressed as Death Eaters as they destroyed everything, and, most gallingly, going outside right before Muggles were attacked.
"We are going to investigate everything that happened thoroughly, including a check of Potter's actions," Special Assistant to the Minister of Magic Dolores Umbridge said quite emphatically, "I would like to assure the public there is no proof that You Know Who had anything to do with this whatsoever, that it is quite possible Potter cooked this up as some sick publicity stunt, and if this is indeed true, that he will be prosecuted for it as any common criminal would."
Efforts to contact Albus Dumbledore at Hogwarts were rebuffed, leading one to wonder why he would feel the need to protect Potter so much. Why does The Boy Who Lived feel the need to keep drawing attention to himself in this manner? Rest assured the answer will come out in due time.
"Malfoy, I'm not really in the mood this morning," Harry told him as calmly as he could muster, "So just..."
"Oh, so you're only willing to be the superstar when you feel like it, is that it?" Malfoy taunted him, "So, how does it feel that no one believes you on everything yet again, all because you handled it in a way that made sure they wouldn't believe you?"
Ron slammed his utensils to the table and told Malfoy to stick his head somewhere that made Harry quite glad there were no teachers within earshot. "Temper, temper, Weasley," Malfoy yawned, "Who knows, if Rita's thoughtful enough, maybe she'll put you on the next edition-or this little twerp cousin of yours who isn't worth even half of Granger's family," he gestured contemptuously at Derek next to Harry.
"For your information, Malfoy," Hermione rose up, irate, "Derek here has just been selected to be on the Quidditch team for the next match. So don't be surprised if he helps drive Slytherin clean into the dirt..."
"Don't make me laugh, Granger," he snorted back, "The day Slytherin loses because of him is the day that..."
"Draco," it was Marcus Flint coming up behind him, looking quite agitated, "Dumbledore and Snape requested we all meet them on the third floor; it's about the match with Gryffindor."
He had a strange dark look in his eye, Harry noticed-and one that Malfoy decoded right away. "You've got to be kidding me!" he shouted in frustration, "They wouldn't...!"
"They are," Flint glowered, "We've got to talk them out of it; I won't stand for it."
"Neither will I," Malfoy shot a furious glance back at Harry before following Flint out of the Great Hall. "What was that all about?" Derek frowned.
"Who cares; whatever it is, it puts them at a disadvantage for the match, and who's going to argue with that?" Ron shrugged dismissively, "Besides, I like pleasant surprises, so might as well wait to find out."
"Well we can't wait any longer; we're almost late for our first class," Hermione glanced at her watch, looking almost panicked.
"You think ten minutes to go is almost late?" Ron almost broke out laughing. Hermione gave him a glare. "You can stay, I'm going," she gathered up her belongings.
"All right, all right, no need to get pushy," Ron protested, grabbing his own, "You coming, Harry?"
"Eventually; there's something I'd like to check into first," Harry told him. At least given it was only History of Magic he'd be late for, he wouldn't be missing anything important.
He strolled out of the Great Hall and up the stairs to the third floor. He had a feeling he knew what had set Malfoy off, but wanted to confirm it himself. As he stopped at the landing at the top of the third floor staircase, he in fact noticed the entire Slytherin Quidditch team-plus Snape, Dumbledore, and another familiar figure-huddled at the far end of the corridor, talking loudly amongst themselves. It was at that moment that they then turned and started walking in unison in his direction, still engrossed in heavy discussion. Harry looked around for a hiding place. He noticed a large tapestry around the corner and slid behind it as the footsteps got closer. "...said it before, Headmaster, the answer is no, absolutely not!" Flint was arguing vehemently.
"I don't see what the problem is, Marcus," Dumbledore told him calmly, "I thought that Slytherin house would take any advantage to beat Gryffindor at Quidditch..."
"Not like this, Headmaster," Flint shot back as the group came to a stop right in front of the tapestry. Harry sucked in a breath, hoping no one noticed the tapestry was likely bulging. "There hasn't been a girl on a Slytherin house team for a hundred and fifty years, and it's not going to start on my watch!" the Slytherin captain continued ranting.
"Why can't you just give me a chance, Marcus!?" Emma protested, "I've been trying harder than anyone to get on this team since I came to Hogwarts; I've done better than half the people that have been picked for the team since then, so why not now, when you need...?"
"Because you're too close to Potter for one thing, Dickinson!" Malfoy shouted angrily, "So we have no way of knowing you can be trusted to play for our side."
"That is absurd, Draco! I'd never throw a match...!"
"And you're not going to. If you force us to take her, Headmaster, we're not playing," Malfoy told Dumbledore roughly.
"Agreed," Flint chimed in, "You can't make us take a player we don't want."
"Well, you're right, Marcus, I can't make you decide who to choose for your team," Dumbledore said softly, "However, I must inform you that if do not take her, you will likely have to forfeit the match to Gryffindor, given that it appears no other eligible players appear to be coming forward."
"Then a forfeit it is, because..."
"Marcus," Snape spoke up slowly, "Let me remind you, Slytherin's prestige is put on display every time your team takes the pitch. Thus, if we forfeit this match, I will be quite upset with all of you for humiliating the rest of Slytherin house. Consider that very carefully, Marcus, because as you may be aware, I am not someone who likes to be humiliated."
There was a long silence before Flint let out a loud growl. "All right, she's on the team," he grumbled miserably.
"Thank you, Marcus, I can..." Emma started to say.
"Don't you dare thank me, because I'm only doing this under pressure," Flint warned her coldly, "And don't expect any Quaffles to come your way; you're an accessory to this team, nothing more, and you're off again right after Adrian's well enough to go again. And besides, we don't need you to flatten Gryffindor anyway."
"I just want to play," she said calmly.
"And that's all you will do. Is that all, Headmaster!?" Flint asked Dumbledore impatiently.
"Only that I wish Slytherin good luck in the match," Dumbledore told him in return.
"Yeah, sure," Flint snarled disbelievingly, "Let's go, everyone; we've got practice in a half hour. We're staying out on the pitch and running drills until we're perfect."
Footsteps started to tramp away. Harry started to come out from behind the tapestry-until Malfoy's voice rose up again just before he was in the open. "This is your one and only warning," he was presumably telling Emma as Harry froze in place, "I'll have my eye on you the whole match; you do anything that aids Gryffindor, anything at all, and I make sure both Bludgers are directed square into your face."
"I won't play to lose," Emma was defiant, "But if that's the way you and everyone feels about me being on this team, Draco, it won't be a tragedy if we do lose."
"We won't lose," Malfoy hissed, "Not as long as you just stay on your broom, stay away from Potter, keep your hands off the Quaffle, and stay out of our way, because you do not belong here at all."
He finally stormed off after his teammates. Emma let out a low sigh, one that sounded both disappointed and relieved. "You can come out now, Harry," she unexpectedly proclaimed.
"How'd...?" Harry stuck his head out from behind the tapestry.
"Oh, Draco had been swaggering around the dormitory with that slanderous Prophet story all morning, crowing about how he was going to humiliate you with it at breakfast; instinct told me you'd want to see it handed back to him," she told him.
"Well, you guessed right," he stepped fully out, "Um, congratulations; looks like your dream's coming true at last."
"Same to your friend; I heard he made it as well," she told him, "Just keep an eye on him; I just have a gut feeling Draco'll be aiming right for him."
"Oh believe me, I will," he said, "So, do you suppose your mother will come, once you let her know?"
He could see he'd hit a nerve; Emma immediately lowered her head. "Sorry, sorry, I forgot how the two of you..." he started to say.
"It's all right," she said quickly, "I'll write and tell her, but I'm not holding my breath; she hardly even knows I'm interested in playing, working as long as she does..."
With a sniff, she started to walk off. Harry wanted to say something, but under the immediate circumstances, he didn't quite know what to say. He hoped, however, that Mrs. Dickinson would be able to bury the pain of the past at least for one afternoon and experience what would likely be her daughter's finest hour to date...then again, perhaps he could try and make sure...