As November rolled in, the weather became chillier and the wind more biting, meaning Kestrel refused to leave the dormitory without layering up, and covering as much of her exposed skin as she possibly could. Luckily she had gotten a cousin of hers in Hufflepuff, Nymphadora Tonks - or 'it's just Tonks!' as she preferred - to show her how the Shrinking Charm worked. Now she just shrunk her belongings and stuffed them into a corner of her bag when inside the Castle.
While snow had yet to make an appearance at Hogwarts, every morning the grass around the school was crunchy with frost, and there was always a thin layer of ice on the Black Lake, which the Giant Squid took great joy in breaking apart with its tentacles.
Neville was becoming more and more nervous by the day, as his first Quidditch match drew near. The team had been practising three nights a week since the second weekend of October, to get into game-shape, and helping Neville get in-sync with the team. The team couldn't be happier with their young Seekers performance, and kept telling him so when they saw him being down and unsure of himself. It didn't help that by now everyone in school knew that Neville was Gryffindor's Seeker, and their opponents for the upcoming match, Slytherin, took every available opportunity to harass him.
Luckily his friends kept him grounded and sane, and helped him keep up with all of his homework. The Friday before the game, they were taking a much needed break outside after lunch before they hit their homework. Keeping warm at the fountain in the courtyard, using a spell Hermione had just shown them called Blue Bell Flames. Little balls of blue fire that you could keep in a jar that gave off waves of heat, and Kestrel was asking her what book she had found it in. She wanted to see if she could keep it in something smaller than a jar, and maybe wear the flame around her neck to keep warm at all times.
Neville, Harry, and Ron (who had apologized to Hermione the day after the troll incident under pain of Ginny's infamous Bat-Bogey Hex) were arguing about which Quidditch team was better, the Chudley Cannons or the Fitchburg Finches.
"Oi, Longbottom!" Neville looked up from his friendly debate with Harry and Ron and paled slightly at the sight of two, of the three, Slytherin Chasers walking over to them from across the courtyard. Graham Montague and Adrian Pucey were both in their Third Year's and this was their second year on the team. They were the two most responsible for tormenting Neville during the past few weeks
"What do you two want now?" Neville sighed tiredly. This was the first time in about a week, that they had been able to catch him without another member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team present. He had been rather hoping that since the game was tomorrow, and he was surrounded by friends, they would save their special brand of cruelty for the pitch. A place where he could just happily fly circles around them on his Nimbus Two-Thousand.
"Just coming to see how our favourite little Seeker is doing." Said Pucey.
"Oh I'm sure." Ginny snapped, flipping her mane of red hair over her shoulder. "We know you're here just to try and scare Neville. If it hasn't worked before I doubt it's going to now, so shove off, you gits."
"Oh look, Montague, the little blood traitor speaks. How quaint."
Ginny's face went as red as her hair, and Hermione clamped a hand down on the volatile red-head's hand, preventing her from reaching for her wand.
"Those are big words coming from someone who can't even cast a decent leg-locker curse, Pucey." Kestrel pulled down her scarf enough so that the Chaser could get the full affect of the contempt on her face. "I bet you use a sticking charm on your gloves, so you even have a chance of catching a Quaffle."
Before any of the first years could react Pucey had drawn his wand and had it pressed up underneath Kestrel's chin, forcing her up onto her toes. "Do you really want to test that little theory of yours, Black?"
Pucey was halted by a wand tip being placed under his own chin. "Uh-uh-uh, now Adrian, that's not very nice, threatening the cute ickle firstie. Even if she is just a wee bit over her head." George said pressing his wand just a bit harder under the dark haired Slytherin's chin. A quick glance over his shoulder told Adrian exactly what he had expected. Fred had his own wand trained on Montague, and Lee Jordan was keeping a lookout for Professors.
"Now if you'd be so kind as to lower your wand, I do believe we all have a Herbology class to get to. Isn't that right George?"
"Indeed Fred. Wouldn't want to be late for that know would we?"
"Most certainly not. What do you say boys? Let's let bygones be bygones for the time being, yeah?"
There were a few tense seconds when no one moved and Kestrel had to shift on the tips of her toes to keep her balance, but eventually Pucey and Montague lowered their wands and stalked off in the direction of the Greenhouses. Though not with out a parting threat on Pucey's part. "This is far from over Black; your friends won't always be around to save you from cashing galleons you can't spend. See you in the air Longbottom." They shoved through the first years and exited the courtyard.
It was only once the two Slytherins had gone that the twins and Lee put their wands away. Kestrel had dropped back onto the edge of the fountain, her whole body trembling in a way that had nothing to do with the cold.
"Are you all right, Kes?"
"I'm fine Harry, just a little unnerved. I didn't even see him draw his wand." She turned her gaze to George and gave him a shaky, but grateful smile. "Thank you George. I really need to learn to stop letting my mouth run away from me."
"No problem, little bird, Pucey's an arse anyway." George winked and grinned down at her, reaching over to ruffle her hair through her knitted cap, shoving it down over her eyes. "Besides I'm pretty sure you're right about his Chasing skills. Slytherin picks their players more for brute strength than skill."
Neville paled at that. "Gee, thanks George, that makes me feel loads better!" Kestrel shoved her cap up off her eyes and glared at George for scaring her brother.
Fred slung a companionable arm around his shoulder, pulling him along as he headed towards the Greenhouses. "Not to worry Neville, old chap. That's what you have George and me in the air with you for."
George, winking at Kestrel as he slipped passed, appeared on Neville's other side and slung his arm over his shoulder as well. "George's right, old bean, there's no need to worry about Pucey or any of his slimy slithering, mates. They'll be so worried about dodging our bludgers,"
"That they'll have no time to harass you at all!"
Neville grinned at their banter, feeling suddenly much more optimistic about the game tomorrow. "Thanks guys, but you better get going, or you really will be late for Herbology."
Lee glanced at his watch and yelped, and the three boys ran off waving over their shoulders as they disappeared out of the courtyard.
Ron and Ginny couldn't help but shake their heads at their older brother's antics. "Lucky they were happening by this way wasn't it?"
"I'll say. Come on let's go back to the Tower, where it's warm and we have no further chances of running into any Slytherins." Kestrel said as they reached the corridor that led back up to the castle. "I think I've had enough of the House of Snakes for today."
The morning of the long anticipated Gryffindor vs. Slytherin Quidditch match dawned bright and clear, a perfect day for a game. Now if only Neville's nerves would settle down and let him enjoy it. As it was he had barely touched the food before him, except for a few nibbles of toast and a glass of orange juice that Harry had threaten to hex him if he didn't drink it.
"Come on Nev, you need to eat something. You know you don't want to fly on an empty stomach."
"Harry's right Neville, just one piece of toast."
"I'm pretty sure if I eat anything it's just going to end up all over my robes." Neville said glumly, looking a little green around the edges.
"Remember what Fred and George said. The only thing you have to worry about is the Snitch, leave the bludgers and Slytherins to them." Ron said around a mouthful of pancakes.
"That's disgusting, Ronald. Are you trying to make him sick?" Ginny slapped her twin in the back of his head, and ignoring her now choking twin, turned to Neville. "Ignore him, he wasn't properly house trained. He does have a point though. Fred and George may be tricksters, but they take Quidditch very seriously. If they say that you won't have to worry about the bludgers, you will not have to worry about the bludgers. Just fly like we know you can, and get that Snitch!"
The anxious Seeker thought about what she had said for a few moments before picking up a piece of toast. His friends grinned in triumph and returned to their own breakfasts.
It wasn't long after Neville had powered through three slices of toast that Oliver Wood, Captain and Keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch team walked up behind Neville, the rest of the team with him. "Ready Neville?"
The toast suddenly tasted like sand in his mouth and he swallowed hard. "As I'll every be?"
"That's the spirit!" chorused the twins.
"You better make sure not a single bludger comes near him, do you hear me?" Ginny hissed up at them from her spot across from Neville. The looks that Ginny and Kestrel where giving them promised retribution if they didn't do as they were told.
Both twins bowed as much as they could in the space between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables. "Your wish is our command, ladies."
Neville stood from his seat then and bid his friends a quick goodbye and followed the team out of the Great Hall and down to the pitch.
Once everyone was changed Oliver stood in front of them, eyeing them all hard, like he expected one of them to just up and quit on him.
"Okay, men," he said, beginning to pace back and forth in front of the bench.
"And women," said Chaser Angelina Johnson.
"And women," Wood agreed. "This is it."
"The big one," said Fred.
"The one we've all been waiting for," said George.
"We know Oliver Wood's speech by heart," Fred told Neville, "they've been pretty much the same since last year."
"That's enough you two. This is the best team we've had since Charlie left to go traipsing off with Dragons halfway through last year. We're going to win this year. I can feel it. Now let's go out there and give Slytherin the trouncing that they so rightly deserve."
Neville couldn't barely hear anything when the Gryffindor team entered the Pitch, the sound of the roaring students was deafening. Oliver clapped him on the shoulder and the First Year nearly jumped out of his boots. He looked up at the stocky Fifth Year, face pale. "Buck up Neville. You'll do fine. Just do what you've been doing in practice and don't worry about anything else."
Neville nodded, and slinging his broom over his shoulder, followed his teammates out onto the pitch.
Wood and the Slytherin Captain, Marcus Flint, who was taller and broader in the shoulders than Oliver was, shook hands when Madame Hooch told them to. He had dark hair, grey eyes, and large crooked teeth and rough looking black hair. When his gaze slid over Neville, he knew that this was not someone to underestimate.
At the whistle everyone mounted their brooms and kicked off into the air. Madam Hooch released the bludgers, which were quickly followed by the Beaters, tossed the Quaffle into the air, and released the Snitch which vanished from sight quicker than thought. Katie Bell swooped in and snagged the Quaffle, and the game was on!
Neville pulled up steeply and climbed high above the pitch eyes scanning for any glint of gold, remembering to use his peripheral vision more that looking straight ahead for the elusive winged ball. One of the Slytherin beaters was always flying underneath Neville where ever he was on the pitch, ready to hit a bludger at him at a moments notice. Fred and George though were true to their word and were dominating the bludgers, easily keeping the other team from scoring with well timed hits and swings. Gryffindor was leading 90 – 20 when Neville looked and saw the Slytherin Seeker, Terrence Higgs, marking him. Neville turned his gaze back to the air in front of him and smirked. 'Alright Higgs, you want to tail me, fine. Let's see if you can fly as well as you can mouth off.' Neville crouched low over his broom and shoved down on the handle, dropping into a steep dive, weaving in and out of the Chasers, who scrambled to be anywhere but in front of the furiously flying Neville.
Higgs was on his trail, matching him for swerve and turn. Neville suddenly swung the broom around in a 180 and flew straight at Higgs; twisting so he skimmed by Higgs, giving him a cheeky grin as he passed.
"And that was a brilliant fake by Gryffindor Seeker, Neville Longbottom. Even I believed that dive!" Lee Jordan's voice rang out across the Pitch as he commentated on the match between the two bitter rival houses.
"And it's Katie Bell with the Quaffle. It's Bell's first year playing Quidditch, but with the way she flies you'd think the girl was born on a broom. Look at the way she flies around the Slytherin Chaser, like they're just sitting there with their wands up their –"
"Mr. Jordan! Kindly keep your commentary clean."
"Yes Professor. Sorry Professor. And that's a goal by Chaser Angelina Johnson! Gryffindor lead 120 – 20!"
It had been bound to happen at some point during the game, the twins as much as they were like bludgers themselves, could not be everywhere at once. Luckily he heard George shout his name and, reacting on pure instinct, Neville hauled back hard on the handle of his broom and swerved to the side, the iron ball just skimming the back of his robes.
As he twisted he caught a hint of gold and turned his dodge into a dive, brown eyes intent on the erratically flying Snitch. Higgs was on the other end of the pitch but was making a good effort to try and cut Neville off.
Montague dodged out of Neville's way not wanting to be called for fouling, and Alicia Spinnet took advantage of his momentary lapse in concentration to steal the Quaffle from him and toss it to Angelina, who streaked up the pitch towards the Slytherin Hoops.
A Bludger hit by a Slytherin Beater whizzed by the back of Neville's head just as his fingers would have closed around the Snitch. He cursed in annoyance as the snitch pulled ahead just far enough to evade the Seekers grasping hands. He pulled out of his pursuit and flew above the Pitch, circling, looking for another flash of gold.
While he circled, Fred and George were once more all over the Pitch, harassing Slytherin with their superior Beating skills, while the three Gryffindor Chasers continued to rack up the points.
By the time Neville say the snitch again, the score was now 230 – 100 in favour of Gryffindor. Higgs was closer to the Snitch this time but Neville was on the better broom. With a Bludger shot by Fred to clear his way of Slytherin Chasers, Neville was free to open up the Nimbus to its top speed and catch up with Higgs.
They were neck and neck, Higgs repeatedly smashing against the much lighter Gryffindor, trying to knock him off course. Neville hung on as best he could and stuck tight to Higgs' side, giving the larger boy less room to try and knock him off course with. Neville leaned forward over his handle, coaxing just a bit more speed from his broom, eking out ahead by the few inches he needed to wrap his fingers around the fluttering golden ball.
Higgs rammed into him one last time, just as Hooch blew her whistle signalling an end to the game. Neville had not been expecting it and shot off in towards the centre of the pitch, clutching to his broom. He managed to pull himself out of his spin and was braced by either side by Katie and Alicia who had been closest when he caught the Snitch. They asked if he was all right while at the same time hugging him and congratulating him on a spectacular catch.
Gryffindor had won the match 390 – 120!
There was a raging party in Gryffindor Tower that night. Fred and George had disappeared from the change rooms after the game, and weren't seen again until they turned up with several kegs of Butterbeer, floating behind them as they came through the portrait hole.
Percy looked like he was about to loudly protest when George walked over to him, and had a hurried whispered conversation with his older, more responsible brother. It was several tense moments later that Percy merely sighed and nodded, waving a hand as if to say 'get on with it then'. George clapped him on the shoulder then went to join his twin and help with the set up.
Neville was the hero of the hour, having lived up to Oliver's expectations and more. By the time he had made it over to the corner where his friends were sitting, he had been congratulated by the whole House, twice! "Phew! I thought I'd never get away. Thanks Harry." He said as he took a sip of the Butterbeer Harry handed him, and sunk back against the squashy armchair he had dropped into.
"So, how's it feel to be the man of the hour, Nev."
"I don't think I can handle being famous, Harry." He tried to keep a straight face, but the corners of his mouth kept twitching and in the end he joined in with his friend's laughter.