MUDBLOODS AND MURMURS
Harry spent a lot of time over the next few days dodging out of sight whenever he saw Gilderoy Lockhart coming down a corridor. Harder to avoid was Colin Creevey, who seemed to have memorized Harry’s schedule. Nothing seemed to give Colin a bigger thrill than to say, “All right, Harry?” six or seven times a day and hear, “Hello, Colin,” back, however exasperated Harry sounded when he said it.
Hedwig was still angry with Harry about the disastrous car journey and Ron’s wand was still malfunctioning, surpassing itself on Friday morning by shooting out of Ron’s hand in Charms and hitting tiny old Professor Flitwick squarely between the eyes, creating a large, throbbing green boil where it had struck. So with one thing and another, Harry was quite glad to reach the weekend. He, Ron, and Hermione were planning to visit Hagrid on Saturday morning. Harry, however, was shaken awake several hours earlier than he would have liked by Oliver Wood, Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.
“Whassamatter?” said Harry groggily.
“Quidditch practice!” said Wood. “Come on!”
Harry squinted at the window. There was a thin mist hanging across the pink-and-gold sky. Now that he was awake, he couldn’t understand how he could have slept through the racket the birds were making.
“Oliver,” Harry croaked. “It’s the crack of dawn.”
“Exactly,” said Wood. He was a tall and burly sixth year and, at the moment, his eyes were gleaming with a crazed enthusiasm. “It’s part of our new training program. Come on, grab your broom, and let’s go,” said Wood heartily. “None of the other teams have started training yet; we’re going to be first off the mark this year —”
Yawning and shivering slightly, Harry climbed out of bed and tried to find his Quidditch robes.
“Good man,” said Wood. “Meet you on the field in fifteen minutes.”
When he’d found his scarlet team robes and pulled on his cloak for warmth, Harry scribbled a note to Ron explaining where he’d gone and went down the spiral staircase to the common room, his Nimbus Two Thousand on his shoulder. He had just reached the portrait hole when there was a clatter behind him and Colin Creevey came dashing down the spiral staircase, his camera swinging madly around his neck and something clutched in his hand.
“I heard someone saying your name on the stairs, Harry! Look what I’ve got here! I’ve had it developed, I wanted to show you —”
Harry looked bemusedly at the photograph Colin was brandishing under his nose.
A moving, black-and-white Lockhart was tugging hard on an arm Harry recognized as his own. He was pleased to see that his photographic self was putting up a good fight and refusing to be dragged into view. As Harry watched, Lockhart gave up and slumped, Panting, against the white edge of the picture.
“Will you sign it?” said Colin eagerly.
“No,” said Harry flatly, glancing around to check that the room was really deserted. “Sorry, Colin, I’m in a hurry — Quidditch practice —”
He climbed through the portrait hole.
“Oh, wow! Wait for me! I’ve never watched a Quidditch game before!”
Colin scrambled through the hole after him.
“It’ll be really boring,” Harry said quickly, but Colin ignored him, his face shining with excitement.
“You were the youngest House player in a hundred years, weren’t you, Harry? Weren’t you?” said Colin, trotting alongside him. “You must be brilliant. I’ve never flown. Is it easy? Is that your own broom? Is that the best one there is?”
Harry didn’t know how to get rid of him. It was like having an extremely talkative shadow.
“I don’t really understand Quidditch,” said Colin breathlessly. “Is it true there are four balls? And two of them fly around trying to knock people off their brooms?”
“Yes,” said Harry heavily, resigned to explaining the complicated rules of Quidditch. “They’re called Bludgers. There are two Beaters on each team who carry clubs to beat the Bludgers away from their side. Fred and George Weasley are the Gryffindor Beaters.”
“And what are the other balls for?” Colin asked, tripping down a couple of steps because he was gazing open-mouthed at Harry.
“Well, the Quaffle — that’s the biggish red one — is the one that scores goals. Three Chasers on each team throw the Quaffle to each other and try and get it through the goal posts at the end of the pitch — they’re three long poles with hoops on the end.”
“And the fourth ball —”
“— is the Golden Snitch,” said Harry, “and it’s very small, very fast, and difficult to catch. But that’s what the Seeker’s got to do, because a game of Quidditch doesn’t end until the Snitch has been caught. And whichever team’s Seeker gets the Snitch earns his team an extra hundred and fifty points.”
“And you’re the Gryffindor Seeker, aren’t you?” said Colin in awe.
“Yes,” said Harry as they left the castle and started across the dew-drenched grass. “And there’s the Keeper, too. He guards the goal posts. That’s it, really.”
But Colin didn’t stop questioning Harry all the way down the sloping lawns to the Quidditch field, and Harry only shook him off when he reached the changing rooms; Colin called after him in a piping voice, “I’ll go and get a good seat, Harry!” and hurried off to the stands.
The rest of the Gryffindor team were already in the changing room. Wood was the only person who looked truly awake. Fred and George Weasley were sitting, puffy-eyed and touslehaired, next to fourth year Alicia Spinnet, who seemed to be nodding off against the wall behind her. Her fellow Chasers, Katie Bell and Angelina Johnson, were yawning side by side opposite them.
“There you are, Harry, what kept you?” said Wood briskly. “Now, I wanted a quick talk with you all before we actually get onto the field, because I spent the summer devising a whole new training program, which I really think will make all the difference….”
Wood was holding up a large diagram of a Quidditch field, on which were drawn many lines, arrows, and crosses in different colored inks. He took out his wand, tapped the board, and the arrows began to wiggle over the diagram like caterpillars. As Wood launched into a speech about his new tactics, Fred Weasley’s head drooped right onto Alicia Spinnet’s shoulder and he began to snore.
The first board took nearly twenty minutes to explain, but there was another board under that, and a third under that one. Harry sank into a stupor as Wood droned on and on.
“So,” said Wood, at long last, jerking Harry from a wistful fantasy about what he could be eating for breakfast at this very moment up at the castle. “Is that clear? Any questions?”
“I’ve got a question, Oliver,” said George, who had woken with a start. “Why couldn’t you have told us all this yesterday when we were awake?”
Wood wasn’t pleased.
“Now, listen here, you lot,” he said, glowering at them all. “We should have won the Quidditch cup last year. We’re easily the best team. But unfortunately — owing to circumstances beyond our control —”
Harry shifted guiltily in his seat. He had been unconscious in the hospital wing for the final match of the previous year, meaning that Gryffindor had been a player short and had suffered their worst defeat in three hundred years.
Wood took a moment to regain control of himself. Their last defeat was clearly still torturing him.
“So this year, we train harder than ever before.…Okay, let’s go and put our new theories into practice!” Wood shouted, seizing his broomstick and leading the way out of the locker rooms. Stiff-legged and still yawning, his team followed.
They had been in the locker room so long that the sun was up completely now, although remnants of mist hung over the grass in the stadium. As Harry walked onto the field, he saw Ron and Hermione sitting in the stands.
“Aren’t you finished yet?” called Ron incredulously.
“Haven’t even started,” said Harry, looking jealously at the toast and marmalade Ron and Hermione had brought out of the Great Hall. “Wood’s been teaching us new moves.”
He mounted his broomstick and kicked at the ground, soaring up into the air. The cool morning air whipped his face, waking him far more effectively than Wood’s long talk. It felt wonderful to be back on the Quidditch field. He soared right around the stadium at full speed, racing Fred and George.
“What’s that funny clicking noise?” called Fred as they hurtled around the corner.
Harry looked into the stands. Colin was sitting in one of the highest seats, his camera raised, taking picture after picture, the sound strangely magnified in the deserted stadium.
“Look this way, Harry! This way!” he cried shrilly.
“Who’s that?” said Fred.
“No idea,” Harry lied, putting on a spurt of speed that took him as far away as possible from Colin.
“What’s going on?” said Wood, frowning, as he skimmed through the air toward them. “Why’s that first year taking pictures? I don’t like it. He could be a Slytherin spy, trying to find out about our new training program.”
“He’s in Gryffindor,” said Harry quickly.
“And the Slytherins don’t need a spy, Oliver,” said George.
“What makes you say that?” said Wood testily.
“Because they’re here in person,” said George, pointing.
Several people in green robes were walking onto the field, broomsticks in their hands.
“I don’t believe it!” Wood hissed in outrage. “I booked the field for today! We’ll see about this!”
Wood shot toward the ground, landing rather harder than he meant to in his anger, staggering slightly as he dismounted. Harry, Fred, and George followed.
“Flint!” Wood bellowed at the Slytherin Captain. “This is our practice time! We got up specially! You can clear off now!”
Marcus Flint was even larger than Wood. He had a look of trollish cunning on his face as he replied, “Plenty of room for all of us, Wood.”
Angelina, Alicia, and Katie had come over, too. There were no girls on the Slytherin team, who stood shoulder to shoulder, facing the Gryffindors, leering to a man.
“But I booked the field!” said Wood, positively spitting with rage. “I booked it!”
“Ah,” said Flint. “But I’ve got a specially signed note here from Professor Snape. ‘I, Professor S. Snape, give the Slytherin team permission to practice today on the Quidditch field owing to the need to train their new Seeker’. ”