The school year at Hogwarts whirled into action with reassuring familiarity. Once again, rows of tiny frightened first-years dissappeared under the Sorting Hat and emerged, relieved, to scuttle off to their house tables. Harry was feeling quite his usual self again after a delicious meal in the Great Hall surrounded by the rest of the Gryffindors, most of whom had thankfully not undergone startling changes in their appearance or love lives. By the end of supper he had even managed to curb his tendency to blush whenever Hermione spoke to him; she was sounding exactly like regular old Hermione at the beginning of any new term.
“I can’t wait to see my new schedule,” she was saying as the Gryffindors made their way back to their house common room after the feast. “I’ve tested into Advanced Transfiguration again, and Professor McGonagall has given me credit for some of my Bounmagio classes, so I have one free slot to take Muggle Studies again.”
“How about using that one free slot to do my Potions homework for me?” said Ron with a wicked grin. “Haberdashery!”
“Hullo, dears! Welcome back!”
They had reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, who winked at them and swung open at the sound of Ron uttering the new password. “Thanks!” said Harry over his shoulder as they climbed through the portrait hole.
The common room was almost full, the returning Gryffindor students chattering excitedly, the first years staring around in awe at the enormous fireplace and wonderful squishy chairs. Harry noticed with something of a start that Ron was probably the tallest person in the room at the moment; in fact, the rest of the boys in their year were head and shoulders above many of the younger Gryffindors. The glassy-eyed first years looked as if they’d be more at home in a playground singing “Ring Around the Rosy.” Though it seemed to Harry that just yesterday he’d been staring at this room for the first time.
It was quickly apparent, however, that this was not the case. As Harry made his way into the common room, faces turned in his direction, arms clapped him on the back. “Hallo, Harry!” “Alright, Harry?” “Hey Harry! How was your summer?”
Dennis Creevey had fought his way through the throng of eager well-wishers and attatched himself to a corner of Harry’s robes before Harry could stop him.
“Harry! Did you hear? Katie Bell’s resigned as Quidditch Captain! Got too much work this year, some special project in Norway, she’s got to miss three games. I bet you’ll be captain! You think they’ll pick you, Harry? I’m sure — ”
“Katie’s not Captain?” Harry blinked down at Dennis’ eager face. If anything, Dennis seemed even smaller than he had before, his rosy face aglow with total admiration.
“Spilled the beans, did you, Dennis?” Katie Bell, a tall, pretty seventh-year with long sandy hair, had found Harry in the crowd. She put a comradely arm around Harry’s shoulder and nudged him towards one corner of the common room. “Sorry, Harry, I was just planning on telling you the news. Can I have a word with you for a minute?”
Harry detatched his robes from Dennis Creevey’s adoring grasp and followed Katie towards a cluster of chairs away from the crowd.
“Good summer, then?” said Katie as they both settled into armchairs. “Quidditch camp treat you well?” Harry nodded.
Katie smiled. “Looks that way. You’re not nearly the tiny thing you were first year. I was always terrified the other Seeker would knock you six ways to Australia.”
Harry blushed. The way everyone was talking these days, he was starting to believe he’d been roughly the size of a house elf when he started at Hogwarts. He didn’t know what they were going on about. Last he checked, he was still the same old Harry.
“Dunno, I was the smallest Seeker at camp,” Harry shrugged. “Some of the other players were huge blokes. Nice enough guys, though.”
Katie grinned impishly. “Any nice girls?”
At the mention of “nice girls,” Harry’s eyes flicked across the room to Hermione as if drawn there by a magnet. Hermione was sitting in a chair by the fire across from Ron, her nose buried in a large, musty-looking book. She had just glanced up at Ron and was regarding him skeptically, one eyebrow raised — a vintage Hermione look. Her long brown curls were glinting golden in the firelight.
“Ahh, I see,” said Katie thoughtfully, startling Harry out of his reverie. He blinked; Katie was regarding him with a knowing smile.
He was getting altogether too much practice at this blushing business.
“Er — ” Harry began to stammer.
“Don’t worry, Harry, I won’t say anything,” said Katie, her eyes twinkling. She raised her voice slightly. “I won’t tell a soul that you’ve really got a thing for your best pal Herm — ”
“Shh!” Harry hissed, sinking low in his chair. His ears were burning.
“It’s true then?” Katie’s eyes widened in surprise. Harry turned an even more vivid shade of scarlet. He couldn’t make his tongue work. The whole house was going to know. Did he really have a “thing” for Hermione? Was it that obvious?
Katie’s face softened with regret at Harry’s terror-stricken look. “All right, all right, I’m sorry Harry. I am. I won’t tell a soul. It’s just, you know — Harry Potter, all grown up. You’re like a — little brother, or something.”
Harry straightened up in his chair a bit and managed to find his voice again. It looked as if he might be blessedly spared the torment of having all of Gryffindor think he was lusting after his best friend. Which he was, he thought distractedly, but that was beside the point. He felt his stomach untangle itself from six twisted knots. “Um. Thanks.”
Katie gave him an enormous sisterly smile.
Harry grinned rougishly back at her. “Just don’t, you know, go around pinching my cheeks or anything.” .
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Katie reached out and mussed Harry’s rumpled hair.
“Hey, geroff!” The two of them dissolved into laughter as Harry swatted Katie’s arm away.
“Now seriously.” Katie regarded him gravely for a moment, then took a deep breath. “Harry, you know this is the last thing I’d want to do, but I’ve had to give up Quidditch this year.”
“But it’s your last season!”
“I know, I know. And I wouldn’t miss it for all the world, except — well, over the summer I was working on a Glacier Transformation project in Norway with Professor Flitwick. And Harry — it was the most fun I’ve ever had doing something that was work.”
“The group of wizards in Norway that was working with us — they want me back. They need me, Harry, and they want me to work with them after I finish at Hogwarts. Except I need to be there for some of this term, or I’ll fall behind. I’ve arranged it so that I can do some of my other coursework in Norway, and still graduate in June.
“Harry, you’re the best Seeker at Hogwarts, and the best flyer any of us have seen. I know you’re awfully busy, but I’ve been talking with the rest of the team, and they’ve all asked me to ask you if you’d be Captain.”
Harry couldn’t quite believe his ears. Harry Potter, Captain of the Gryffindor Team? His brain went numb. He stared at Katie.
“You don’t have to make up your mind right away,” Katie amended. “I mean, I know this is rather sudden. If you’d like to look at your course schedule first and see if — ”
“I’ll do it,” Harry heard himself say. Katie’s eyes lit up.
“You’ll do it?”
“Course I’ll do it,” Harry grinned. His brain was beginning to function again, though he was still swimming in shock. He was going to be Quidditch Captain. “I — um — thanks, Katie!”
“Oh, thank YOU, Harry!” Katie launched herself out of her armchair and swept him up in a hug which almost sent Harry’s glasses flying. He pushed them up his nose again with one hand and returned the hug. Katie put one arm around him and steered him back towards the crowd in the center of the common room, talking excitedly the entire time.
“Oh Harry — this is going to be wonderful. You’ll be a great Captain, I just know it. Now I’ve reserved the field already for our practices the entire season, and I’ll leave you a copy of the schedule and the key to our locker area. Tomorrow we’ll need to meet with Madame Hooch and Professor McGonagall.” Katie stopped and beamed at Harry again. She cleared her throat.
“Excuse me, everyone,” she shouted. Her voice was drowned in the din of the rowdy common room. Katie reached into her pocket and pulled out her wand, holding it high above her head. “Attentius,” she said firmly. A shower of scarlet and gold sparks shot into the air with a loud bang, falling back to the ground with a quiet fizz. The room went silent as the rest of the Gryffindors turned to look at them.
“I have an announcement to make,” Katie said as all eyes swivelled in their direction. “As many of you already know, I am studying in Norway this term, so I won’t be able to play for our Quidditch team this year.”
Loud groans from the Gryffindors. Worried mutterings and concerned looks rippled through the crowd.
“I do have some good news,” Katie continued. “Without further ado, I’d like to present our new Gryffindor Quidditch Captain… Harry Potter!”
Katie grabbed Harry’s hand in hers and thrust his arm high into the air.
The common room went completely berserk.
Harry was nearly smothered in congratulatory hugs. Fred and George Weasley lit half a dozen homemade Flambingo Fireworks which exploded above the crowd in a riot of screeching scarlet and gold parrots. Harry tried to fight his way through the crowd to Ron, whose red head was visible above the cheering throng; Ron looked as if he might explode with joy. When Harry finally reached him Ron lifted him clear off the ground in a bear hug, then realized what he was doing and dropped Harry hastily, clapping him on the back. It occurred to Harry as he finally caught his breath that Ron would make an excellent replacement for Katie as Chaser; his size would be a distinct advantage, and he wasn’t a bad flyer either. He’d have to bring it up at their first practice.
Which he’d be leading.
Leading practice. Harry’s stomach did a few somersaults and what felt like a back handspring.
“Whassamatter, Harry? Aren’t you excited?” Ron had caught the panicked look on Harry’s face.
“I — well, it’s a bit much,” Harry admitted as another Flambingo shot past him, repeating “bit much! bit much!” as it flapped over the crowd.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be great,” said Ron effusively. “Didn’t you go to Quidditch Camp and everything? And Hermione and I will help you if you need it.”
“Where is Hermione?” Harry suddenly realized that the one person he most wanted to see was noticeably absent from the riotous celebration.
“Dunno,” said Ron. “She got a funny look on her face when she saw Katie drag you out here. Said she was going to bed early. She’s probably just got first-day nerves, you know how Hermione is.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do.”
The rest of the evening shot by like a Flambingo Firework. Harry tried to fixate on Quidditch, but he felt strangely distracted. I’m Quidditch Captain, his brain kept repeating, but there was another part of his mind that kept repeating something else. Hermione. Is Hermione all right? Is she unhappy that I’m Captain? What could be wrong?
Harry barely heard the Weasleys congratulate him hoarsely for the twenty-seventh time as he made his way up to the boys’ dormitory at last. He paused at the top of the stairs to stare at the girls’ door across the way, then closed the boys’ door behind him and sought his familiar four-poster. His trunk was neatly set at the foot of his bed, and Hedwig was perched on the top of one of the bedposts. She hooted at him softly.
“What’s wrong with me, Hedwig?” Harry muttered, flopping onto his bed and pulling the curtains closed. He lay staring into the dark for a long time before sleep finally overtook him.