"I heard rumors that you have an Invisibility Cloak."
James looked up from his piled breakfast plate and found his cousin, Artie Weasley, sitting beside him. "Er... why?"
"Well, I get along all right with my mates in Slytherin," Artie said, "but that's not going to last if they see me pulling for Gryffindor today." He wrinkled his nose. "Besides, I can't quite bring myself to pull for Slytherin on the pitch."
James rolled his eyes and pinned a Gryffindor rosette on Artie's chest. "Grow a backbone."
"You can sit with me," Al offered. "Rosie's coming over from Ravenclaw, too. Tell them you're just sitting with your cousins."
"Right. I can tell them I lost a bet and you made me wear it!" Artie brightened. "That'll work fine!"
"They'll catch on to your deep, dark secret sooner or later," James said.
"I think I'll keep it later," Artie said.
"James, don't overeat!"
James groaned, then looked up at Abby Ryan, who was storming toward him like a Fury.
She ground her teeth. "I don't want you vomiting from nerves in your first game."
"I'm not going to vomit. I'm not nervous."
"Then you're going to be too cocky and make mistakes. Get nervous, have a piece of toast, and get down to the pitch." She flew off again like a violent red cloud.
"Did she just tell you to be more nervous?" Rosie asked, sidling over from Ravenclaw. It was the first time she'd been around since Al and James had spoken to her two weeks ago. "That seems a bit odd."
"She's worried about him being cocky," Artie said.
"Which would never happen," Al said. "James is never cocky. Never goes in anywhere without looking."
Rosie considered this. "That's true. We've never seen him convinced he can do something, then have it, I don't know, fall over in a good wind-storm."
"Right," Artie said. "Or break his arm falling out of a tree he knew for sure he could climb."
Al nodded. "Or get stuck in Kreacher's cupboard when--"
"Oh, shut up," James said, and picked at the pile of eggs on his plate, suddenly not terribly hungry. He grabbed a slice of toast and followed the rest of the team out. Al and the cousins were laughing conspiratorially as he went. As he flew past the Hufflepuff table, he noticed that the 'Puffs were honoring the traditional alliance and supporting Gryffindor. From the far side of the table, Scorpius Malfoy, bedecked in red and gold and looking a little embarrassed about it, gave him a weak thumbs up.
The morning was crisp and cold, and there was even a bit of frost on the grass, though that would certainly be gone before the game started. James ran ahead to catch up with Celia, who was loping along as if she hadn't a care in the world.
"Nice morning," she said calmly as he approached.
"I wasn't until Abby told me to be. Then my brother and my cousins--"
Celia rolled her eyes. "Really, Potter. If you can't take a bit of grief from your own pack..."
"Not a werewolf."
"We're not the only ones who run in packs." She grinned. "Sorry. I get to go back to France on Wednesday. I'm already looking forward to the feast. Shame you can't come along."
"Yes, I'm sure I'd be a tasty pudding."
She flashed her teeth in the sun, then said, "Don't make that joke around the others."
"Of course not. I'm not stupid." He frowned. "You don't mind, do you?"
"If I did, I could always come after you." She growled and play tackled him, showing her claws (she kept her fingernails long for just such occasions, but was always careful not to scratch anyone). "You know how we are. Cruel and unpredictable..."
"Don't let Aunt Hermione hear you talking about werewolves that way."
"Who said anything about werewolves? I'm talking about girls." With a quick, darting motion, Celia grabbed James's broom and ran on ahead.
James ran after her.
Abby spent the half hour before the game going over diagrams and reminding everyone of mistakes they'd made last year (an exercise that was lost on the four new players entirely, and which seemed of only marginal interest to Belvina and Celia, who were playing Hangman on the back of the handouts Abby had made). Finally, she checked her watch and drew it to a close.
"But that was last year," she said. "It's a new year now, and we're a new team. Celia's still a smashing Keeper, and I'm glad to have Thea and Clark aboard as Chasers. I know Belvina's been at work with Carlo on the bats, and we can't very well beat Potter as a Seeker, now can we?" She smiled nervously. "All right. We start on the way to the Cup right now!"
They flew out onto the pitch and hovered in starting position. Madam Hooch blew her whistle, tossed the Quaffle into the air, and the game was on.
Thea Carroll touched the Quaffle, but didn't catch it, deflecting it instead into the hands of the Slytherin Chasers, who promptly got it all the way to the goal. Celia flipped smartly on her broomstick and blocked it, then snarled at them. (She didn't claw, though--she'd done that once last year and ended up with detention and lost points for scaring a Hufflepuff who didn't know anything about her except her lycanthropy.) The Quaffle fell into Abby's hands, and she immediately tried for Clark Lynfield, who missed. James saw a Slytherin Chaser go for it, and couldn't bear sitting up at the top of the pitch waiting while they took another chance. He went into a sharp dive, caught the Quaffle, and slammed it at the Slytherin goal. It went through.
There was a whistle, and play stopped.
"Out of post play by the Gryffindor Seeker," Madam Hooch announced. "Ten points to Slytherin."
James felt his face go red, and flew up to the top again to avoid looking at anyone. It wasn't as though he didn't know the rules, but when he played with Mum in the Harpies' pitch, they both did everything, and he'd just... got caught up in it.
Abby circled up around him long enough to hiss, "Nice goal, Seeker. Would you mind Seeking?"
The Chasers fell into a better rhythm after that, and Thea managed to score the first counted goal for Gryffindor. Slytherin scored twice against Celia, mainly by playing a new, fast offense that looked like a complex dance in front of the goal posts. James had to admit, it was a good move. He watched it carefully the third time they tried it, noting how they seemed to be telegraphing their moves with a new system, and--
Something glittered far off in his peripheral vision.
Someone in the crowd shouted "Snitch!"
James was already going for it. The Slytherin Seeker was still looking for the gleam of it when he wrapped his fingers around it tightly and held it to the sky, its wings flapping lazily in defeat.
James looked at it, imagined it looking back at him, and heard the score--Gryffindor, a hundred and sixty to thirty. And he hadn't even broken a sweat.
There was a great party in the Common Room, of course, which made up for the fact that the game hadn't been terribly exciting. James took some ribbing for his early mistake. "Ah, yes," Abby said, "the only Seeker ever to earn a hundred and sixty points. Too bad ten went to the other team!" But she was relaxed for all of that. James asked if he could switch positions, and she refused, on the grounds that neither of her Chasers had tried out well as a Seeker. "Try it next year, Potter. But if the next captain can't find a better Seeker than you, you'll more or less have to drop Quidditch to get out of it."
By the end of the party, James was feeling better about it. He still had the Snitch, and was playing with it absently, which got a bit of a crowd of first years who all wanted to try to catch it. Al caught it easily, but when James asked if he wanted the post next year, he just snorted and walked away, leaving James to the undivided attention of several first year girls.
After a while, he felt quite at ease about the whole matter. Madam Hooch wanted the Snitch back to store until the end of his time at Hogwarts. All of the Snitches were kept that way, in case there was ever a question from a professional recruiter, though James thought it a bit extravagant. He'd mentioned this to Dad once, only to get one of Dad's patented cryptic answers, in this case, "There are ways it may come in useful one day." James took this to mean that a Snitch had been useful in the war, but try as he might, he couldn't really imagine it. Maybe Dad had used one to dive bomb and distract Voldemort at some point.
At any rate, he had promised Madam Hooch that he'd bring it back, so, once it was clearly too tired to let anyone else chase it, he made his excuses and ducked through the portrait hole.
He turned, startled, and found Rosie pacing outside. "Hi," he said.
"That"--she called the Fat Lady a rather rude name--"won't let me in without the right password."
"That's sort of her job," James said.
"Well it's not very fair, is it? You can come traipsing into Ravenclaw any time, but when I need to see you, I have to ask some Gryffindor to let me in!"
"And no one's been by?"
"Not in the last half hour."
"Oh, sorry. What did you--"
The portrait swung open, and Celia spilled out. James tossed her the Snitch. She made a face. He shrugged. She rolled her eyes, changed directions, and headed off for Madam Hooch.
"How did you do that?" Rosie asked, losing interest in whatever she'd come for.
"You just got Celia to run off on an errand for you, and you didn't say anything."
"I'll owe her one later, and she knows it. What did you need?"
"I finished up with those runes, and--"
James held up his hand. "Come on upstairs. Tell everyone."
He led her back inside and gestured to Al to bring everyone else. Five minutes later, they were back in the dormitory. Rosie perched on Michael's trunk; everyone else was on a bed or on the floor.
"What did you find?" James asked.
"First of all," Rosie said, "that was not proper Irish. That's why it took so long. I should have known it wouldn't be. Who writes Irish in runes? I mean, unless it's a secret code or what have you..."
"What was it?" Al asked.
"Well, it was... I think it was a story, though mind, whoever wrote it writes Irish as well as I write Bulgarian, which is to say that there's enough that I can understand what he meant, but... well, I don't think I'm going to be called upon to write the next paean to Viktor Krum, you know."
"So, Bear had something written in bad Irish," Ahmed said. "Why?"
"I don't know," Rosie said. "He was writing them down from memory as well, so perhaps it was partly his mistake, though I can't see how he'd make that sort of mistake without knowing the language. You sort of have to know what you're looking at to remember it wrong, rather than remember it not-at-all, and--"
"Bear remembers everything," Michael told her. "We've tested him. It's not fair."
"Which brings us back to the story," James prodded.
"Right. It was the beginning of it. It wasn't very good, if you ask me. Some silly thing about a prince in a tower, and a horse that breathes fire. A pooka, they call it, which sounds like something cute whose chin ought to be chucked on a regular basis, but I gather it's not very nice. And--"
"It was just a story?" Robert Highgold asked. "That's all Si was worrying about?"
"Well, he didn't know what it was," Rosie said, irritated. "For all he knew, it was it was a plan to take over the world by stealing bits of junk."
"But it wasn't." Al sighed. "Sorry, Rosie, I guess we bothered you for nothing."
She looked crestfallen. "You didn't bother me! I... Well, maybe I could have helped, if it was anything. And you didn't know it wasn't."
"What else was in the story?" James asked.
"I don't know. Silas only wrote down the beginning. The prince in the tower, the pooka. I think there was even a treasure. Actually, it sounded like the sort of silliness you usually write for Lily."
"It does," Al said.
James frowned. "I write about other things, too."
"Right, talking cats," Ahmed said, holding up the shiny copy of Martian's Mistake that he'd brought to school just to taunt James with from time to time.
"That was Jim Wolf," James corrected him, then sniffed. "And that one was really Teddy."
"You wrote them before," Al said.
"But there are more princesses and towers." Rosie shrugged. "I guess it's not very useful."
"But why would someone take the trouble to write something in an alphabet he doesn't usually use in a language he doesn't speak very well if it's not important?" James bit his lip and went to the window, looking out across the grounds. He took a deep breath and turned. "You're right, Rosie," he said. "It sounds like one of my stories. And I think, if we're going to figure out what happened to Bear... I think I need to finish it."