And then a deep, booming gong sounded somewhere beyond the woods, and at once, green and red lanterns blazed into life in the trees, lighting a path to the field.

“It’s time!” said Mr. Weasley, looking as excited as any of them. “Come on, let’s go!”

THE QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP

Clutching their purchases, Mr. Weasley in the lead, they all hurried into the wood, following the lantern lit trail. They could hear the sounds of thousands of people moving around them, shouts and laughter, snatches of singing. The atmosphere of feverish excitement was highly infectious; Harry couldn’t stop grinning. They walked through the wood for twenty minutes, talking and joking loudly, until at last they emerged on the other side and found themselves in the shadow of a gigantic stadium. Though Harry could see only a fraction of the immense gold walls surrounding the field, he could tell that ten cathedrals would fit comfortably inside it.

“Seats a hundred thousand,” said Mr. Weasley, spotting the awestruck look on Harry’s face. “Ministry task force of five hundred have been working on it all year. Muggle Repelling Charms on every inch of it. Every time Muggles have got anywhere near here all year, they’ve suddenly remembered urgent appointments and had to dash away again… bless them,” he added fondly, leading the way toward the nearest entrance, which was already surrounded by a swarm of shouting witches and wizards.

“Prime seats!” said the Ministry witch at the entrance when she checked their tickets. “Top Box! Straight upstairs, Arthur, and as high as you can go.”

The stairs into the stadium were carpeted in rich purple. They clambered upward with the rest of the crowd, which slowly filtered away through doors into the stands to their left and right. Mr. Weasley’s party kept climbing, and at last they reached the top of the staircase and found themselves in a small box, set at the highest point of the stadium and situated exactly halfway between the golden goal posts. About twenty purple and gilt chairs stood in two rows here, and Harry, filing into the front seats with the Weasleys, looked down upon a scene the likes of which he could never have imagined.



A hundred thousand witches and wizards were taking their places in the seats, which rose in levels around the long oval field. Everything was suffused with a mysterious golden light, which seemed to come from the stadium itself. The field looked smooth as velvet from their lofty position. At either end of the field stood three goal hoops, fifty feet high; right opposite them, almost at Harry’s eye level, was a gigantic blackboard. Gold writing kept dashing across it as though an invisible giant’s hand were scrawling upon the blackboard and then wiping it off again; watching it, Harry saw that it was flashing advertisements across the field.

The Bluebottle: A Broom for All the Family—safe, reliable, and with Built in Anti Burgler Buzzer… Mrs. Shower’s All Purpose Magical Mess Remover: No Pain, No Stain!… Gladrags Wizardwear—London, Paris, Hogsmeade…

Harry tore his eyes away from the sign and looked over his shoulder to see who else was sharing the box with them. So far it was empty, except for a tiny creature sitting in the second from last seat at the end of the row behind them. The creature, whose legs were so short they stuck out in front of it on the chair, was wearing a tea towel draped like a toga, and it had its face hidden in its hands. Yet those long, batlike ears were oddly familiar…

“Dobby?” said Harry incredulously.

The tiny creature looked up and stretched its fingers, revealing enormous brown eyes and a nose the exact size and shape of a large tomato. It wasn’t Dobby—it was, however, unmistakably a house-elf, as Harry’s friend Dobby had been. Harry had set Dobby free from his old owners, the Malfoy family.

“Did sir just call me Dobby?” squeaked the elf curiously from between its fingers. Its voice was higher even than Dobby’s had been, a teeny, quivering squeak of a voice, and Harry suspected though it was very hard to tell with a house-elf—that this one might just be female. Ron and Hermione spun around in their seats to look. Though they had heard a lot about Dobby from Harry, they had never actually met him. Even Mr. Weasley looked around in interest.

“Sorry,” Harry told the elf, “I just thought you were someone I knew.”

“But I knows Dobby too, sir!” squeaked the elf. She was shielding her face, as though blinded by light, though the Top Box was not brightly lit. “My name is Winky, sir—and you, sir—” Her dark brown eyes widened to the size of side plates as they rested upon Harry’s scar. “You is surely Harry Potter!”

“Yeah, I am,” said Harry.

“But Dobby talks of you all the time, sir!” she said, lowering her hands very slightly and looking awestruck.

“How is he?” said Harry. “How’s freedom suiting him?”

“Ah, sir,” said Winky, shaking her head, “ah sir, meaning no disrespect, sir, but I is not sure you did Dobby a favor, sir, when you is setting him free.”

“Why?” said Harry, taken aback. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Freedom is going to Dobby’s head, sir,” said Winky sadly. “Ideas above his station, sir. Can’t get another position, sir.”

“Why not?” said Harry.

Winky lowered her voice by a half octave and whispered, “He is wanting paying for his work, sir.”

“Paying?” said Harry blankly. “Well—why shouldn’t he be paid?”


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