Harry came downstairs, hair still damp from his shower, on Monday
morning after Ginny had left for work. Somehow, the two of them
had managed not to let the news of the new prophecy affect their quiet
Sunday together, and it had been all he'd hoped for—completely
uninterrupted Harry-and-Ginny time. Today he was off, as he was
most Mondays if there had been a match on Saturday, and he had very
little planned to do while Ginny was at work. Some laundry,
perhaps—he was as good a "househusband" as Ginny was a housewife, and
it was certainly not beneath his dignity to do a bit of work.
Read the paper in a leisurely fashion, front-to-back, over a hot cup or
two of tea. And, of course, his weekly meeting with Ron—he
glanced at his watch—which should be starting any moment now.
enough, the Floo connection in the kitchen suddenly roared to life, but
instead of Ron stepping through, a different but equally-familiar head
appeared in the emerald flames: Thaddeus Howe, Harry's agent.
"Harry!" he said jovially. "So glad I caught you. Not busy,
"That depends," Harry said carefully, crouching down before the fireplace. "What do you need?"
guffawed. "That's what I like about you, Harry," he said expansively.
"Always with a joke. The fact is, I've just got a very
interesting offer from the Firebolt Racing Broom Company, and I told
them I'd run it past you. It won't take but a few minutes."
"I've got a friend calling shortly—" Harry began, checking his watch.
"Excellent!" Howe interrupted. "I'll just be a moment, then."
wait—" But Howe's head had already disappeared from the fire, and
Harry had barely enough time to get to his feet and step out of the way
before the short, stout man came whirling out of the Floo. Howe
stood a good head shorter than Harry and weighed at least twice what
Harry did. He customarily dressed in a style that reminded Harry
uncomfortably of Cornelius Fudge: dark robes, a pinstriped cloak, and a
bowler hat—though, thankfully, Howe's hat was not lime green.
"Such a lovely home," Howe beamed, brushing soot off his shoulders and
pulling a packet of papers out of his inside pocket. "Well, shall we
get started? I don't want to inconvenience you or your company."
"That's very kind of you," Harry said dryly.
at all, not at all." Howe pulled one of the chairs out from under
the table and seated himself on it, placing the sheaf of papers on the
table before him and setting the bowler hat at his elbow. Harry,
somewhat bemused, sat as well. "I've received a communication, as
I said, from the Firebolt Racing Broom Company," Howe continued,
settling his broad bottom more comfortably on the cushioned seat.
"Perhaps you've heard the buzz about their newest broom?"
Lightning Bolt?" Harry said sceptically. "Supposed to have some
sort of top-secret Acceleration Charm, or so the rumours have it.
But they've been talking it up for years now, and nothing's ever come
"It has now." Howe tapped the pages he'd placed
on the table. "These, my boy, are pictures and schematics of the
Lightning Bolt. I've seen it in action; it can take a
fourteen-stone man across the pitch, from goalposts to goalposts, in
less than four seconds."
"Really?" Despite himself,
Harry felt the first stirrings of interest. That was half again
as fast as his Firebolt III, and more than three times as fast as his
first Firebolt, the beloved gift from Sirius all those years ago that
now hung in a place of honour in his office upstairs. "So they've
succeeded in making a viable prototype, then?"
said, his face shining with excitement. "Or rather, not only a
prototype. They're ready to begin taking orders, Harry.
Production is set up and ready to go. And—" He rested his elbow
on the table, jabbing a thick finger at Harry. "They want you to be the spokeswizard!"
A jolt of surprise went through Harry. He sat up straight and stared at Howe, disbelieving. "They want me to do what?"
their spokeswizard!" Howe repeated, delighted. "In exchange for ten
thousand Galleons a month over the next two years for you, five
thousand for the team, and the very first Lightning Bolt out of
production, you would agree to have your picture in all the
advertisements for the broom and to use the broom in your Quidditch
matches. That's why the team would get the money as well, you
see. And your broom would be a one-of-a-kind limited edition,
with a few extras most other brooms don't have. Perfectly legal
extras, of course," he added reassuringly; "the company was most
insistent that they've cleared every charm with the Department of
Magical Games and Sports, and their paperwork seems to be in
order. I checked it all thoroughly before coming to you."
sorts of extras?" Harry heard himself say. It wasn't what he
really wanted to ask, but given the media-hungry image he'd worked so
hard to develop and maintain over the past couple of years, 'Why me?'
seemed a stupid question.
Howe began ticking off points on his
fingers. "An improved Braking Charm. A Bludger Warning
Ward—attuned to you, so that no one else can hear it, and directional,
so you know what direction the little bugger's coming from.
Improved balance and stability—I watched this broom turn on a Knut, and
the demonstration flier hardly wobbled! And remarkable
responsiveness. The demonstrator actually stood on his broom and
performed all sorts of tricks, like the Muggles on those boards they
strap to their feet to go through the snow—"
interjected. "Or snowboards." He was trying very hard not
to be intrigued with all this. From the point of view of an
enthusiastic flier, the broom sounded wonderful; from the point of view
of a Quidditch player, it sounded a dream come true. But to have his
photo on advertisements all over wizarding Britain, perhaps even the
rest of Europe-- "How much are they planning to charge for this
amazing broom?" he asked.
"Well, yours would be part of your agreement, Harry—"
"Yes, I understand that," Harry interrupted.
"—and you wouldn't be permitted the limited edition broom with all the extras unless you signed on; it's not for sale—"
understand that, too," Harry said impatiently. "What I'm asking is
whether this is a broom marketed only to the very wealthy, or whether
the average witch or wizard would be able to afford one." He'd
had more than enough of snobbery growing up with the Dursleys, who had
always judged others by their clothes, their cars, and the houses they
"Oh, I see," Howe said with sudden
comprehension. "Well, you can put your mind at rest, Harry;
that's one of the best parts of this deal. You see, your photo
guarantees immense popularity, and so the Firebolt company wants their
brooms to be accessible to every facet of wizarding society—"
They want to be able to make money off as many people as possible, Harry mentally translated.
they've come up with a plan in which one can buy the basic Lightning
Bolt—not quite as fast as yours will be, but still faster than the
Firebolt III series—for quite a reasonable sum, and then one can add on
extras to fit one's budget. All the way up to the Lightning Bolt
Gold, which is the version most likely to make it into national and
international play. It's all explained in detail in the paperwork
there." Howe indicated the pile of papers that Harry still hadn't
touched. "But yours will still be top-of-the-line; they've
guaranteed that, and will put it in writing when you sign the
Harry reached out and spread the stack
of papers out before him so that he could see them. Some were
covered in writing, others in schematic drawings, and one was a
photograph of a man on what was apparently the Lightning Bolt, zooming
back and forth and performing some of the most amazing stunts. He
was feeling quite torn. On the one hand, there was the broom—he
couldn't buy the special edition, he could only earn it, and he knew
perfectly well that if he didn't sign on, some other Quidditch player
would jump at the chance, leaving his team potentially at a severe
disadvantage. On the other hand, he'd never been a fan of seeing
his own face in the media, and the prospect of having his features
plastered about everywhere was enough to turn his stomach. He had
more than enough publicity as it was. "How much time will they
give me to decide?" he asked at last.
"Time?" Howe's face screwed up into a confused expression. "Why would you need time, m'boy?"
think about it," Harry explained, somewhat nettled that Howe would just
assume that he'd jump at the chance. "To talk it over with my
wife. To decide whether the loss of privacy is worth ten thousand
Galleons a month that we don't really need."
Howe's jaw dropped. "Don't really—my dear boy!" he protested. "How can one not really need ten thousand Galleons?"
took a deep breath and gathered up the papers into a pile, tapping
their edges against the tabletop to line them up. "Mr Howe," he said
with false calm, "I'm more than prepared to consider the Firebolt
Racing Broom Company's offer to become their spokeswizard. What I
need to know is how long I have to communicate my decision before they
take their offer elsewhere. This is not a choice I can make without
giving it due consideration—as, I hope, I give all of my personal and
financial decisions of this magnitude." There, he thought. Give him a dose of Hermione; nobody can stand up to that.
leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly
and nodding his head reluctantly. "Fair enough, Mr Potter," he
said heavily. "I didn't inquire as to deadlines, but I shall do so
today, and inform you by owl as soon as I am able."
"Thank you." Harry slid the papers back toward him.
at all; it's my job." Howe gave him a wry smile. "The fact is, Mr
Potter, I made some assumptions about you, based on my own opinion of
this deal. I should remember that my priorities are not always
those of my clients." He picked up the papers, then hesitated and
seemed to change his mind. "Why don't you keep these, at least for
now?" he said, setting them back down in a neat stack. "Perhaps they