As they entered November, the weather turned very cold. The mountains around the school became icy gray and the lake like chilled steel. Every morning the ground was covered in frost. Hagrid could be seen from the upstairs windows defrosting broomsticks on the Quidditch field, bundled up in a long moleskin overcoat, rabbit fur gloves, and enormous beaverskin boots.
The Quidditch season had begun. On Saturday, Harry would be playing in his first match after weeks of training: Gryffindor versus Slytherin. If Gryffindor won, they would move up into second place in the house championship.
Hardly anyone had seen Harry play because Wood had decided that, as their secret weapon, Harry should be kept, well, secret. But the news that he was playing Seeker had leaked out somehow, and Harry didn't know which was worse -- people telling him he'd be brilliant or people telling him they'd be running around underneath him holding a mattress.
It was really lucky that Harry now had Hermione as a friend. He didn't know how he'd have gotten through all his homework without her, what with all the last-minute Quidditch practice Wood was making them do. She had also lent him Quidditch Through the Ages, which turned out to be a very interesting read.
Harry learned that there were seven hundred ways of committing a Quidditch foul and that all of them had happened during a World Cup match in 1473; that Seekers were usually the smallest and fastest players, and that most serious Quidditch accidents seemed to happen to them; that although people rarely died playing Quidditch, referees had been known to vanish and turn up months later in the Sahara Desert.
Hermione had become a bit more relaxed about breaking rules since Harry and Ron had saved her from the mountain troll, and she was much nicer for it. The day before Harry's first Quidditch match the three of them were out in the freezing courtyard during break, and she had conjured them up a bright blue fire that could be carried around in a jam jar. They were standing with their backs to it, getting warm, when Snape crossed the yard. Harry noticed at once that Snape was limping. Harry, Ron, and Hermione moved closer together to block the fire from view; they were sure it wouldn't be allowed. Unfortunately, something about their guilty faces caught Snape's eye. He limped over. He hadn't seen the fire, but he seemed to be looking for a reason to tell them off anyway.
"What's that you've got there, Potter?"
It was Quidditch Through the Ages. Harry showed him.
"Library books are not to be taken outside the school," said Snape. "Give it to me. Five points from Gryffindor."
"He's just made that rule up," Harry muttered angrily as Snape limped away. "Wonder what's wrong with his leg?"
"Dunno, but I hope it's really hurting him," said Ron bitterly.
The Gryffindor common room was very noisy that evening. Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat together next to a window. Hermione was checking Harry and Ron's Charms homework for them. She would never let them copy ("How will you learn?"), but by asking her to read it through, they got the right answers anyway.
Harry felt restless. He wanted Quidditch Through the Ages back, to take his mind off his nerves about tomorrow. Why should he be afraid of Snape? Getting up, he told Ron and Hermione he was going to ask Snape if he could have it.
"Better you than me," they said together, but Harry had an idea that Snape wouldn't refuse if there were other teachers listening.
He made his way down to the staffroom and knocked. There was no answer. He knocked again. Nothing.
Perhaps Snape had left the book in there? It was worth a try. He pushed the door ajar and peered inside - and a horrible scene met his eyes.
Snape and Filch were inside, alone. Snape was holding his robes above his knees. One of his legs was bloody and mangled. Filch was handing Snape bandages.
"Blasted thing," Snape was saying. "How are you supposed to keep your eyes on all three heads at once?"
Harry tried to shut the door quietly, but --
Snape's face was twisted with fury as he dropped his robes quickly to hide his leg. Harry gulped.
"I just wondered if I could have my book back."
"GET OUT! OUT!"
Harry left, before Snape could take any more points from Gryffindor. He sprinted back upstairs.
"Did you get it?" Ron asked as Harry joined them. "What's the matter?"
In a low whisper, Harry told them what he'd seen.
"You know what this means?" he finished breathlessly. "He tried to get past that three-headed dog at Halloween! That's where he was going when we saw him -- he's after whatever it's guarding! And I'd bet my broomstick he let that troll in, to make a diversion!"
Hermione's eyes were wide.
"No -- he wouldn't, she said. "I know he's not very nice, but he wouldn't try and steal something Dumbledore was keeping safe."
"Honestly, Hermione, you think all teachers are saints or something," snapped Ron. "I'm with Harry. I wouldn't put anything past Snape. But what's he after? What's that dog guarding?"
Harry went to bed with his head buzzing with the same question. Neville was snoring loudly, but Harry couldn't sleep. He tried to empty his mind -- he needed to sleep, he had to, he had his first Quidditch match in a few hours - but the expression on Snape's face when Harry had seen his leg wasn't easy to forget.
The next morning dawned very bright and cold. The Great Hall was full of the delicious smell of fried sausages and the cheerful chatter of everyone looking forward to a good Quidditch match.
"You've got to eat some breakfast."
"I don't want anything."
"Just a bit of toast," wheedled Hermione.
"I'm not hungry."
Harry felt terrible. In an hour's time he'd be walking onto the field.
"Harry, you need your strength," said Seamus Finnigan. "Seekers are always the ones who get clobbered by the other team."
"Thanks, Seamus," said Harry, watching Seamus pile ketchup on his sausages.
By eleven o'clock the whole school seemed to be out in the stands around the Quidditch pitch. Many students had binoculars. The seats might be raised high in the air, but it was still difficult to see what was going on sometimes.
Ron and Hermione joined Neville, Seamus, and Dean the West Ham fan up in the top row. As a surprise for Harry, they had painted a large banner on one of the sheets Scabbers had ruined. It said Potter for President, and Dean, who was good at drawing, had done a large Gryffindor lion underneath. Then Hermione had performed a tricky little charm so that the paint flashed different colors.
Meanwhile, in the locker room, Harry and the rest of the team were changing into their scarlet Quidditch robes (Slytherin would be playing in green).
Wood cleared his throat for silence.
"Okay, men," he said.
"And women," said Chaser Angelina Johnson.
"And women," Wood agreed. "This is it."
"The big one," said Fred Weasley.
"The one we've all been waiting for," said George.
"We know Oliver's speech by heart," Fred told Harry, "we were on the team last year."
"Shut up, you two," said Wood. "This is the best team Gryffindor's had in years. We're going to win. I know it."
He glared at them all as if to say, "Or else."
"Right. It's time. Good luck, all of you."
Harry followed Fred and George out of the locker room and, hoping his knees weren't going to give way, walked onto the field to loud cheers.
Madam Hooch was refereeing. She stood in the middle of the field waiting for the two teams, her broom in her hand.
"Now, I want a nice fair game, all of you," she said, once they were all gathered around her. Harry noticed that she seemed to be speaking particularly to the Slytherin Captain, Marcus Flint, a sixth year. Harry thought Flint looked as if he had some troll blood in him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the fluttering banner high above, flashing Potter for President over the crowd. His heart skipped. He felt braver.
"Mount your brooms, please."
Harry clambered onto his Nimbus Two Thousand.
Madam Hooch gave a loud blast on her silver whistle.
Fifteen brooms rose up, high, high into the air. They were off.
"And the Quaffle is taken immediately by Angelina Johnson of Gryffindor -- what an excellent Chaser that girl is, and rather attractive, too--"
The Weasley twins' friend, Lee Jordan, was doing the commentary for the match, closely watched by Professor McGonagall.
"And she's really belting along up there, a neat pass to Alicia Spinnet, a good find of Oliver Wood's, last year only a reserve -- back to Johnson and -- no, the Slytherins have taken the Quaffle, Slytherin Captain Marcus Flint gains the Quaffle and off he goes -- Flint flying like an eagle up there -- he's going to sc -- no, stopped by an excellent move by Gryffindor Keeper Wood and the Gryffindors take the Quaffle -- that's Chaser Katie Bell of Gryffindor there, nice dive around Flint, off up the field and -- OUCH -- that must have hurt, hit in the back of the head by a Bludger -- Quaffle taken by the Slytherins -- that's Adrian Pucey speeding off toward the goal posts, but he's blocked by a second Bludger -- sent his way by Fred or George Weasley, can't tell which -- nice play by the Gryffindor Beater, anyway, and Johnson back in possession of the Quaffle, a clear field ahead and off she goes -- she's really flying -- dodges a speeding Bludger -- the goal posts are ahead -- come on, now, Angelina -- Keeper Bletchley dives -- misses -- GRYFFINDORS SCORE!"
Gryffindor cheers filled the cold air, with howls and moans from the Slytherins.
"Budge up there, move along."
Ron and Hermione squeezed together to give Hagrid enough space to join them.
"Bin watchin' from me hut," said Hagrid, patting a large pair of binoculars around his neck, "But it isn't the same as bein' in the crowd. No sign of the Snitch yet, eh?"
"Nope," said Ron. "Harry hasn't had much to do yet."
"Kept outta trouble, though, that's somethin'," said Hagrid, raising his binoculars and peering skyward at the speck that was Harry.
Way up above them, Harry was gliding over the game, squinting about for some sign of the Snitch. This was part of his and Wood's game plan.
"Keep out of the way until you catch sight of the Snitch," Wood had said. "We don't want you attacked before you have to be."
When Angelina had scored, Harry had done a couple of loop-the-loops to let off his feelings. Now he was back to staring around for the Snitch. Once he caught sight of a flash of gold, but it was just a reflection from one of the Weasleys' wristwatches, and once a Bludger decided to come pelting his way, more like a cannonball than anything, but Harry dodged it and Fred Weasley came chasing after it.
"All right there, Harry?" he had time to yell, as he beat the Bludger furiously toward Marcus Flint.
"Slytherin in possession," Lee Jordan was saying, "Chaser Pucey ducks two Bludgers, two Weasleys, and Chaser Bell, and speeds toward the -- wait a moment -- was that the Snitch?"
A murmur ran through the crowd as Adrian Pucey dropped the Quaffle, too busy looking over his shoulder at the flash of gold that had passed his left ear.
Harry saw it. In a great rush of excitement he dived downward after the streak of gold. Slytherin Seeker Terence Higgs had seen it, too. Neck and neck they hurtled toward the Snitch -- all the Chasers seemed to have forgotten what they were supposed to be doing as they hung in midair to watch.
Harry was faster than Higgs -- he could see the little round ball, wings fluttering, darting up ahead -- he put on an extra spurt of speed --
WHAM! A roar of rage echoed from the Gryffindors below -- Marcus Flint had blocked Harry on purpose, and Harry's broom spun off course, Harry holding on for dear life.
"Foul!" screamed the Gryffindors.
Madam Hooch spoke angrily to Flint and then ordered a free shot at the goal posts for Gryffindor. But in all the confusion, of course, the Golden Snitch had disappeared from sight again.
Down in the stands, Dean Thomas was yelling, "Send him off, ref! Red card!"
"What are you talking about, Dean?" said Ron.
"Red card!" said Dean furiously. "In soccer you get shown the red card and you're out of the game!"
"But this isn't soccer, Dean," Ron reminded him.
Hagrid, however, was on Dean's side.
"They oughta change the rules. Flint coulda knocked Harry outta the air."
Lee Jordan was finding it difficult not to take sides.
"So -- after that obvious and disgusting bit of cheating--"
"Jordan!" growled Professor McGonagall.
"I mean, after that open and revolting foul..."
"Jordan, I'm warning you--"
"All right, all right. Flint nearly kills the Gryffindor Seeker, which could happen to anyone, I'm sure, so a penalty to Gryffindor, taken by Spinner, who puts it away, no trouble, and we continue play, Gryffindor still in possession."
It was as Harry dodged another Bludger, which went spinning dangerously past his head, that it happened. His broom gave a sudden, frightening lurch. For a split second, he thought he was going to fall. He gripped the broom tightly with both his hands and knees. He'd never felt anything like that.
It happened again. It was as though the broom was trying to buck him off. But Nimbus Two Thousands did not suddenly decide to buck their riders off. Harry tried to turn back toward the Gryffindor goal-posts -- he had half a mind to ask Wood to call time-out -- and then he realized that his broom was completely out of his control. He couldn't turn it. He couldn't direct it at all. It was zigzagging through the air, and every now and then making violent swishing movements that almost unseated him.
Lee was still commentating.
"Slytherin in possession -- Flint with the Quaffle -- passes Spinnet -- passes Bell -- hit hard in the face by a Bludger, hope it broke his nose -- only joking, Professor -- Slytherins score -- A no..."
The Slytherins were cheering. No one seemed to have noticed that Harry's broom was behaving strangely. It was carrying him slowly higher, away from the game, jerking and twitching as it went.
"Dunno what Harry thinks he's doing," Hagrid mumbled. He stared through his binoculars. "If I didn' know better, I'd say he'd lost control of his broom... but he can't have..."
Suddenly, people were pointing up at Harry all over the stands. His broom had started to roll over and over, with him only just managing to hold on. Then the whole crowd gasped. Harry's broom had given a wild jerk and Harry swung off it. He was now dangling from it, holding on with only one hand.
"Did something happen to it when Flint blocked him?" Seamus whispered.
"Can't have," Hagrid said, his voice shaking. "Can't nothing interfere with a broomstick except powerful Dark magic -- no kid could do that to a Nimbus Two Thousand."
At these words, Hermione seized Hagrid's binoculars, but instead of looking up at Harry, she started looking frantically at the crowd.
"What are you doing?" moaned Ron, gray-faced.
"I knew it," Hermione gasped, "Snape -- look."
Ron grabbed the binoculars. Snape was in the middle of the stands opposite them. He had his eyes fixed on Harry and was muttering nonstop under his breath.
"He's doing something -- jinxing the broom," said Hermione.
"What should we do?"
"Leave it to me."
Before Ron could say another word, Hermione had disappeared. Ron turned the binoculars back on Harry. His broom was vibrating so hard, it was almost impossible for him to hang on much longer. The whole crowd was on its feet, watching, terrified, as the Weasleys flew up to try and pull Harry safely onto one of their brooms, but it was no good - every time they got near him, the broom would jump higher still. They dropped lower and circled beneath him, obviously hoping to catch him if he fell. Marcus Flint seized the Quaffle and scored five times without anyone noticing.
"Come on, Hermione," Ron muttered desperately.
Hermione had fought her way across to the stand where Snape stood, and was now racing along the row behind him; she didn't even stop to say sorry as she knocked Professor Quirrell headfirst into the row in front. Reaching Snape, she crouched down, pulled out her wand, and whispered a few, well-chosen words. Bright blue flames shot from her wand onto the hem of Snape's robes.
It took perhaps thirty seconds for Snape to realize that he was on fire. A sudden yelp told her she had done her job. Scooping the fire off him into a little jar in her pocket, she scrambled back along the row -- Snape would never know what had happened.
It was enough. Up in the air, Harry was suddenly able to clamber back on to his broom.
"Neville, you can look!" Ron said. Neville had been sobbing into Hagrid's jacket for the last five minutes.
Harry was speeding toward the ground when the crowd saw him clap his hand to his mouth as though he was about to be sick -- he hit the field on all fours -- coughed -- and something gold fell into his hand.
"I've got the Snitch!" he shouted, waving it above his head, and the game ended in complete confusion.
"He didn't catch it, he nearly swallowed it," Flint was still howling twenty minutes later, but it made no difference -- Harry hadn't broken any rules and Lee Jordan was still happily shouting the results -- Gryffindor had won by one hundred and seventy points to sixty. Harry heard none of this, though. He was being made a cup of strong tea back in Hagrid's hut, with Ron and Hermione.
"It was Snape," Ron was explaining, "Hermione and I saw him. He was cursing your broomstick, muttering, he wouldn't take his eyes off you."
"Rubbish," said Hagrid, who hadn't heard a word of what had gone on next to him in the stands. "Why would Snape do somethin' like that?"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked at one another, wondering what to tell him. Harry decided on the truth.
"I found out something about him," he told Hagrid. "He tried to get past that three-headed dog on Halloween. It bit him. We think he was trying to steal whatever it's guarding."
Hagrid dropped the teapot.
"How do you know about Fluffy?" he said.
"Yeah -- he's mine -- bought him off a Greek chappie I met in the pub las' year -- I lent him to Dumbledore to guard the--"
"Yes?" said Harry eagerly.
"Now, don't ask me anymore," said Hagrid gruffly. "That's top secret, that is."
"But Snape's trying to steal it."
"Rubbish," said Hagrid again. "Snape's a Hogwarts teacher, he'd do nothin' of the sort."
"So why did he just try and kill Harry?" cried Hermione.
The afternoon's events certainly seemed to have changed her mind about Snape.
"I know a jinx when I see one, Hagrid, I've read all about them! You've got to keep eye contact, and Snape wasn't blinking at all, I saw him!"
"I'm tellin' yeh, yer wrong!" said Hagrid hotly. "I don' know why Harry's broom acted like that, but Snape wouldn' try an' kill a student! Now, listen to me, all three of yeh -- yer meddlin' in things that don' concern yeh. It's dangerous. You forget that dog, an' you forget what it's guardin', that's between Professor Dumbledore an' Nicolas Flamel--"
"Aha!" said Harry, "so there's someone called Nicolas Flamel involved, is there?"
Hagrid looked furious with himself.