Tuesday, November 16, 2010

She drifted away.

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 warningly; 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, clown 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.

‘Captains, shake hands,’ ordered the referee Madam Hooch, as Angelina and Montague reached each other. Harry could tell that Montague was trying to crush Angelina's fingers, though she did not wince. ‘Mount your brooms ...’

Madam Hooch placed her whistle in her mouth and blew.

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