Approaching the first Task, Holly has to deal with some complications.
Author's Note: This was going to be either too short or too long. I've decided to split them, but the next chapter will be posted very soon.
Holly Evans and the Spiral Path
Chapter 41: Cold-hearted Beasts
31st October, 1994
Late this evening Albus and I cornered the obvious version of Mr. Crouch and asked him quite plainly why he was being identified twice in our protections. (While I have mentioned the Marauder's Map to the Headmaster out of concern for the copy held by our DADA professor, he has yet to see or even be made aware of my copy- I gave Albus the impression that it is an artifact of the Weasley's ownership if not their devising). Mr. Crouch seemed unduly alarmed that he had been detected, but then assured us that it was a security precaution and that he would see to it that the confusion was resolved quickly. Mr. Crouch did seem exceedingly curious as to how we had detected his alternate, but Albus couldn't get him to confess the source of his twin, so we refused to enlighten Barty as to the method of our detections.
I cannot say that this is resolved, so I would like you to continue using your best scrutiny on both men to see if we can unravel this mystery.
4th November, 1994
While you and the Headmaster were speaking with Mr. Crouch, Hermione and I were cornering our own quarry. I seem to have traded in my previous thinker for a foreign model. That wasn't the intent.
The Tale of the Circle of Secrets
The details of the Tri-school Wizardry Tournament have been released to the previously confused masses. Now within the bustle of a castle well on its way to Tournament hysteria, two girls set out on a mission to trap a third, because she has something that they want. Using her Map and a bit of subterfuge, Hermione leads Padma Patil into the second floor girl's loo. The bushy-haired Gryffindor fairly drags the Hindi Ravenclaw by her arm through the door into the dank and poorly-lit bathroom where excess water seems to be dripping from fixtures and walls alike.
"Padma, I know it seems like a strange time, but this is very important."
"Hermione I have met Moaning Myrtle and I have no desire to spend any time with her when the living residents of the castle are already testing my patience..."
Holly steps out from behind the centralized collection of sinks, interrupting Padma's semi-polite protests.
"I know what you mean. Sometimes it feels like you can never find time for yourself."
Padma stops short and looks between the two girls for a minute. Hermione begins to offer an explanation but is silenced by Padma's quickly raised hand.
"No. Do not say anything. I do not wish to be a part of this."
Holly and Hermione give each other a look and then turn their attention back to the nervous witch before them. Holly smiles slightly.
"Padma, what is it exactly that you think we want of you?"
Even with the poor lighting and Padma's creamy dark skin her blush is evident.
"I... imagine it would be either a... liaison or you wish to utilise a rare device that has come into my privileged care."
Hermione huffs and glares.
"Padma, I'm not a lesbian! How many times have I said that? How many times MUST I say that? It's like you all want to outvote me on it! MY SEXUALITY IS NOT UP FOR DEBATE!"
Hermione's rant ends with the bushy-haired girl huffing in exasperation. Holly and Padma stare at Hermione patiently for a minute as she regains a sense of decorum.
"Much. I'm just... tired of being judged on that. You'd think my religious beliefs would prove enough of a distraction from the topic."
Holly turns from her high-strung friend and politely addresses their guest.
"...which should cut down on your scenarios to explain being lured here. See, I'm in a strange position..."
"I do not understand. Your participation in this contest abrogates your responsibility for grades this year. Why would you need MORE time?"
"It does? HALLELUJAH!"
"Hermione, don't you get it? I will never have class with Binns ever again!"
"Oh of all the things..."
Padma interjects from curiosity.
"Why would you not need to attend History class next year? Oh! You are going to take the OWLs this year! How is that possible? No- I have it! With the aid of the... device, your ages have advanced to where you qualify to take the exams a year earlier than usual."
Holly grins. "Yup!"
"How long did you use... the device? Are we not supposed to be careful not to overindulge in order to prove our restraint?"
"Well, that was how I started with it..."
"But then I caught her napping and convinced her that double-timing on a schedule was a far less confusing arrangement, and proved a bit of lateral thinking along the way. Padma..."
"That still does not answer the question of why you would need the... oh bother... the Time Turner now. Surely Hermione would not be involved if this was a matter of cheating."
"Yah! Her reputation there isn't up for debate..."
Hermione puts a hand on Holly's arm, looking at Padma with a growing smile.
"Don't interrupt, Holly. This should be interesting. Go on Padma."
The Hindi girl begins pacing back and forth, splashing slightly in the shallow puddles still lingering on the rough-tiled floor.
"You have time, you have skills at deception and stealth, and if rumour serves true then you have the cunning necessary to subvert the most canny of opponents, but you still want my help so that you can appear in two places contemporaneously."
Hermione catches her breath in a sharp gasp, causing Holly to smile slyly at her while adding an unwelcome comment.
"Keep this up Padma and you'll have Hermione bringing up scenario one again..."
"It's time to confess a few secrets, Hermione. Padma, Hermione gets turned on by a well-reasoned argument and proper use of multisyllabic words."
Padma ignores Hermione's whine of protest to focus on Holly's face.
"I... see. And what excites you, Miss Evans?"
"Hearing beautiful, intelligent girls gasp in excitement. What's your buzz?"
"Holly! Can we please get back to the..."
"You ARE Harry Potter!"
Hermione turns to Holly with a triumphant grin.
"Hah! See, I knew Padma would figure it out."
While Holly and Hermione trade a series of petulant looks, Padma comes to a resolution in her thought. The dark-haired girl stands tall and states her position with authority, mostly towards Holly.
"I cannot help you."
Holly and Hermione both turn to face Padma with a shared look of disbelief.
Padma begins backing away from the other girls.
"This... this secret is too important. You have put my life in danger!"
Holly steps forward with a gesture of open hands, hoping to assuage the Ravenclaw.
"And I'm willing to offer a few things to help compensate, but it means allying with me and taking a vow to keep these secrets and others. Otherwise it'll have to be a Memory Charm and possibly some Compulsions to direct your agile mind away from this line of thinking in the future."
Padma stops her retreat with a thoughtful expression.
"In truth, I do not think I would have come to this conclusion if we were not having this encounter. What are you offering?"
Holly steps back again, luring Padma closer by her whispering.
"Access to a secret lab, rare and sometimes forbidden reading materials and I will train you to protect your mind and your body. In exchange, you will need to swear a vow of secrecy and allow me to share your device, though very rarely."
Hermione enthusiastically attempts to sweeten the deal.
"Oh, we'll also share our insights in the use of the Turner and we can all study together for the OWLs!"
"Why are you doing this?"
Holly and Hermione look at each other for a moment. Holly turns to Padma, tilting her head slightly.
"Which 'this' are you referring to?"
"Why are you so adamant about my swearing loyalty to you? What is the cause to which I am swearing?"
Hermione blinks several times and turns a wary eye towards Holly once more.
"I wouldn't mind an answer to that question, myself."
Holly's look of embarrassment is further enhanced as she begins shuffling from one foot to another.
"Oh. Well, can't you take it on faith that I mean well?"
Both Hermione and Padma now turn to face Holly, both crossing their arms in a very judgemental way.
"I suppose that doesn't... (huff)..."
"I need to protect the world from the return of Tom Riddle, known to some as Lord Voldemort. He's alive, he's back in Britain..."
"Hermione, I was going to tell you but we haven't had much 'alone time'..."
Padma steps forward slightly with a conciliatory bow.
"Perhaps I should let you two confer for a bit..."
Holly stamps her foot down and turns to face both witches, her anger causing both Hermione and Padma to step back slightly.
"NO! For one, no one is leaving this room until we know where everyone stands! I'm sorry Padma, but we've crossed over to another level. Are you in or are you about to lose some memories?"
"Holly, you can't just..."
"YES I CAN. This is... much more important than grades or dating or stupid contests. Padma, are you in?"
"Why are you asking me now?"
"Because I haven't in a while, and you need to answer explicitly. Are you in?"
"So mote it be."
Holly quickly cuts her thumb with the quilltip finger and flicks some blood to the floor. As the drops of crimson life hit the stone floor, the water in a ten foot radius quickly spreads out of the way. A flash of green from beneath all three witches rises up and centers on each of their foreheads before winking out. The remains of a powdery rune circle fades into swirling dust, after which the water on the floor resettles between the stone crevices and in shallow puddles around their feet.
"You bound us? Holly, is trust a foreign concept to you?"
"Hermione, I'm in Slytherin now. I've learned that blind trust is a luxury I can rarely afford. I'm just holding you to your intent. It's not a lethal binding- you simply won't be able to speak if you have a change of heart on the keeping of these secrets, is all. See me if you find yourself tongue-tied."
Both witches glare at Holly as she composes her thoughts.
"Alright. As succinctly as I can put it..."
Hermione and Padma stand watching as Holly stands with her head bowed slightly, not moving for several moments. Hermione scowls.
"You know that you haven't said anything yet..."
"Yah, I know! The two of you are the smartest and most beautiful girls attending Hogwarts. I... want to get this right."
Holly takes in and releases a deliberate breath while the two brilliant witches blush and give each other a humble but appreciative glance.
"Tom Riddle is my mortal enemy, I am destined by prophecy to face him and am quite possibly the only one who can defeat him. I guess Albus has tried and failed. When Riddle tried to kill Harry, he was flummoxed because Lily had prepared him with a modification of an ancient protection rune powered by sacrifice. Her modification ended up fusing her soul with that of her son when the protection was activated by Riddle's Killing curses, first on Lily and then Harry. Harry plus Lily... equals Holly. Riddle also left behind a thorn of his own soul, stuck somehow to my forehead. It has been feeding me nightmares ever since I killed the Basilisk, and now that he's close by I catch glimpses of his unprotected thoughts. He's here to get blood from me to forge a new body, and we think that's why I was trapped into this Tournament. Because it's going to get bloody."
Hermione's face opens wide in abject surprise. Padma looks thoughtfully at Holly and then nods her head slightly, though she still seems unresolved.
"Also, Lily was friends with Perenelle Flamel who discovered that a secret policy forced onto the Ministry by the goblins says that 'Bright Witches Must Be Dimmed'. So, my goals are quite simple: Kill Riddle permanently, subvert the Ministry's policy and screw over the goblins, because I like being a girl and don't take kindly to institutionalized suppression and slavery. Also, the goblins have targeted me for... acquisition. Not Harry, just Holly, though that's cold comfort for me."
"Oh. You are actually trying to take over the world."
"No, just taking control away from the men who have mishandled it of late. Hermione can run everything when I'm done."
"What? No I can't!"
"Well, not yet, but you've got some time to study and such."
Hermione leans back against a sink in a startled panic. Padma gives her a sympathetic look and then turns back to Holly to confer.
"So in a sense, if I join you I am protecting my own interests, as I would otherwise be suppressed under the current regime."
"Unless you escape into the Unspeakables, most likely. Padma, make no mistake- there's no 'if'. You've joined. You can fight them with me or be victimized."
"How have you been appearing as both people the last week?"
"Magically, Harry's a different person but we only have the one body. I can become Harry by 'suppressing the Lily' somewhat, but that won't help me when both versions need to appear at the same time. I'm allergic to Polyjuice, so it's likely that I can't be used as a source for it either. I have arrangements with a metamorph to handle simple public appearances, but sometimes she has to be herself too, or it'll become obvious how we're accomplishing the switch. Also she can't replace me in the Tournament or the Goblet will consider it as breaking the contract."
"I have a request then."
"Teach me to protect my mind, first."
Holly smiles at Padma's look of stern resolve.
"We can start six hours ago."
Padma nods in agreement but furrows her brows once more in concern.
"Where shall we accomplish that without stumbling into another version of ourselves, or others who should not know of our alternate selves?"
"Well, as soon as Hermione stops sitting on the entrance, we'll take you into the Chamber of Secrets. In there I can tell you both about things with more detail. Even the Headmaster can't scry into that space."
Hermione raises a hand to interrupt as she rises from her porcelain resting spot, finally rejoining the conversation.
"Actually, we should Turn first."
Padma looks between the girls as they turn expectantly towards her.
"I do not understand. Why would we need to Turn now, as opposed to in the Chamber?"
Holly nods towards Hermione who explains.
"It's best not to put yourself into a dead-end when Turning, as sometimes you see things about what happens while turning back that can make your second-time decisions clearer to you. Occasionally you even have to deceive yourself as to where you are and what you're doing."
"You keep your eyes open?"
"Yeah, why wouldn't we?"
"To avoid paradox! If you were to see yourself die during the Turn backward, surely you would create a paradox in trying to preserve your life!"
"Yah, or you could learn some really nifty illusions and Disillusionment..."
"...so that you can enact the visible actions while changing the effective results!"
Padma looks at the girls with a deepening concern.
"Am I going to start completing other people's sentences as well?"
Hermione and Holly shrug and reply, "Maybe."
"But you've survived this long being an identical twin without succumbing to that, so as long as we keep you away from Fred and George I'm sure you'll stay a soloist."
All three girls move to the edge of the room and gather in a tight circle. Padma extracts the Time Turner and unwraps the gold chain to loop it around the three of them. After carefully turning the center hourglass six times, Padma releases it, and the girls watch the regression of time play out before them. Most of it is unremarkable, except that Hermione is seen un-leaving the room and backing down the entrance to the Chamber very close to the time that the Turner stops its regress. Holly immediately steps over to the sinks, while Hermione slaps her head lightly in a realisation.
"Well, that explains it!"
"What does that explain, Hermione?"
"I had lost track of a book I was reading earlier today- I must have removed it from my room to read. Curious that I would leave so early, though."
Holly turns back from whispering at the sink handle to open the Chamber entrance and activate the stairs downward.
"Your mind remains a great unsolved mystery. Padma, watch your step as we descend- the stairs are quite slippery from the slime and such.
Padma whimpers slightly before following the other two witches down the twisting staircase.
The girls collect at the bottom of the stair in a large square room with a single exit. Pushed to one side of the room is a massive pile of bone pieces. Padma immediately looks back at Holly and Hermione with alarm.
"Have you been spending a lot of time down here?"
Holly cackles briefly.
"Hah! No, that's left over from the Basilisk's dining. Last time we were down here I had transfigured it into a couch and two worktables but obviously that's worn off since then."
Holly draws the ashwood wand from her left upper arm holster and whips the bone collection into a trio of leather armchairs surrounding a low table. Hermione smiles.
"I recognise those."
"Yah, it's much easier to visualise a chair you know intimately. Those are the ones from the 'cottage library'."
Padma gives Holly a troubled look.
"You say you know them... intimately?"
"Yes. I know how they feel, how they sound and what it takes to break one in various ways. 'Intimately' seems to sum that up, don't you think?"
Hermione shakes her head for a moment as the girls settle into the chairs. Her expression grows thoughtfully disturbed as Holly sets to begin describing the skill of Occlumency.
"Holly, I just realised- there's no way that Natalia could mount even the most feeble of mental barriers. She's the very definition of a physical being. Why do you trust her with these secrets?"
Holly looks down into her lap as she quietly responds.
"I have ensured that her mind is protected..."
"That arithmancy... the runes... you've made a Dark MARK?!"
Holly turns to face Hermione's accusatory glare.
"Not Dark, but a Mark, yes. It was the only way I could grant her mind the protection necessary to help me survive Azkaban. I've offered to remove it several times and she's refused."
"Of course she has! She's your... servant."
The disgust evident in her last word is enhanced by the ill look Hermione gives Holly.
"No wonder you two fuck like bunnies all the time! She can't help herself..."
Hermione's unprecedented vulgarity shocks all three girls, but Holly is first to react.
"That's enough! You know nothing about it, so let me enlighten you. Natalia and I have sex together because she's the hottest shag in creation and on those rare occasions when I'm well-rested I can almost keep up with her. There is no magic used to bring us together- it's mutual lust and affection. For a nymphomaniacal metamorph to maintain a sexual relationship with a single person for over a year..."
"She is in love with you. And you must have the endurance of demigod."
"Umm, yah. And I love her too."
"Like a favorite pet..."
Holly's look and voice become threatening.
Hermione stands suddenly, looks insulted for a moment and then is overcome by hurt.
Holly's face remains frozen in a stern glare.
Hermione bows her head in shame.
"I'm... sorry, Holly. I have no right to lay judgement on you or your relationships. I just... I don't know how I can... I... don't think I'll be helpful to you tonight."
Hermione gives Padma an apologetic look and then leaves with a determined stride. Once the Gryffindor has climbed the stairs and the two remaining girls hear the entrance above slide shut, Holly slumps back into her chair.
Padma raises her wand and incants 'Tempus'.
"Well, at least we are on schedule. Holly, I have a question."
"(Sigh). What is it?"
"May I see the design of your Mark?"
"Would you like the original paperwork or the live model?"
"Oh! Just the paper version. I did not mean to suggest that you should expose yourself to me."
"I don't have it; Natalia does."
"Then how is the link of the Protean Charm established?"
Holly turns to face Padma, her expression calm except for a focused determination.
"Vital Humours. I'll get the paperwork to you later. Let's talk about Occlumency. Believe me, it's quite relevant at the moment."
Padma and I have made excellent progress on her mental defenses as she already trained herself in meditation techniques (and how to lie to her twin sister). Aside from her reluctant participation as a member of our coven of revolutionaries, Padma is quite enthused at the work we're doing along with the prospect of taking the OWLs this year. Her sister Parvati is the older twin in the order of succession, but Padma has often felt restrained by living in Parvati's shadow. What most impressed Padma, however, was in how I had utilised the Ayurvedic principles in the development of the Mark. I think she didn't expect me to take her books that seriously. Instead she's now tutoring me in Near Eastern languages and society. Professor Burton is delighted with my interest.
Seeing how the Tournament rules liberate me from classwork, I've arranged to not bother attending History, Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures and Astronomy. Professor Flitwick has agreed to allow me out of some lessons as well if I can prove a command of the current material. I would not even consider insulting my Godmother or Head of House in not attending their classes religiously, and speaking of religion I'm of course keeping an eye on our DADA professor as often as is practical. Aside from transfiguring Draco into an albino ferret for trying to hex Ron in the back, his actions have been unremarkable; it's as if he knows he's being watched.
I've given up on C of MC because Hagrid won't look me in the eye anymore. It hurts. I don't need the grief from two fronts.
I am concerned about your intentions towards the lady with whom you are now commiserating in dark dungeons. Please tell me you haven't restarted your child brewing or are engaging in any other dark rituals. There is something about that place that I believe may sap the moral character of a person the longer they remain within.
5th November, 1994
'With love', Mum?
No, we aren't engaging in dark rituals or child brewing. We're just studying and practising. I've extracted a more complicated vow from Padma but she has willingly shared some of her own secrets since then, including one that the Headmaster mentioned to me a while back- she found the hidden swimming pool. We've since discovered that it's just one of several functions of a room created by the Founders (I assume) to appear only as needed and with exactly what is Required; thus it's called the Room of Requirement. Padma and I have been spending time there when in Time flux so as not to confuse any Map holders. Like the Chamber, the Room doesn't show on the Maps and I'm loathe to tag it with Marauder Monitors until we have control of all Map copies again. Hermione would be joining us but she's taken to not talking to me except to provoke an argument. I've decided not to harass her about it so as to provide a unified front for our firstie students. The source of Hermione's consternation continues to be my relationship with Natalia; according to her it's not that we're intimate, but that I've 'enslaved' her.
Anyway I would appreciate it if you, at least, would not think the worst of me at all times.
Happy Guy Fawkes Day.
6th November, 1994
It is my role in your life to guide you when you are faced with difficult choices. You may not appreciate the interference, but I do this in the hope that together we can avoid the situations that have done you such harm in the past. I do not think the worst of you; I only hope to alert you to the dangers you may not have recognised.
Yes, with love!
15th November, 1994
Mum says 'skrewt' when she's giving up on something. I guess for now that means writing to you.
As you were not there this evening and might be curious as to the circumstances surrounding the gossip, I present...
The Tale of Defeat
This evening's dinner is well-attended, as most of all four Houses and the visiting students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons are enjoying an unusual variety of dishes, cobbled together by the house-elves of all three schools to present a cornucopia of culturally-significant dishes. Holly is sitting towards the front of her House's table, accompanied by Slytherin students from the RE class. Now sitting at a reasonably comfortable proximity are also Pansy Parkinson and Tracey Davis, who occasionally exchange a polite word with our notorious witch. Holly's red hair has finally grown back to an attractive yard in length and she has taken to keeping it in a plait down her back, for which the two older girls compliment Holly earnestly.
"You're looking much more respectable, Evans. The weave of your braid almost makes you seem domesticated."
"Thanks Tracey. You really think this is better? Y'know, I suspected that the flamey look was a bit distressing to the blue-blooded."
Pansy snarks a playful response.
"Evans, I already envy your tresses. Don't make me come over there and hex them off of you."
Tracey shakes her head while giving Pansy a reassuring look.
"You wouldn't look right in burgundy, Pansy."
"Yah. Purple, maybe. We could rename you Violet."
The somewhat loud festivities in the Great Hall are interrupted suddenly by the entrance of two matching redheads, who stumble every few feet in their attempt to navigate between the House tables towards Holly's location. What is making their progress difficult is that their bodies are reversed at the waist, forcing them to attempt walking backwards in order to achieve forward motion. The twin Weasleys finally tumble into a mass of limbs a few yards from Holly where they both give a heartfelt plea.
"...we bow to your superior pranking..."
"...or we would if we could!"
Riotous laughter fills the Hall as Holly smiles, extracts herself from the bench and walks around to stand in front of her twin ginger victims. With a tilt of her head, Holly draws out her wand and taps each of the boys with a splinch-reversal charm, twisting their bodies back to normal with a flash of purple smoke. George and Fred begin to clamber up from the ground but are stopped by a gesture from Holly.
"Ah-ah. Not so fast. Please stay bowed to the ground, boys."
Holly then taps her thigh, incanting a simple order; 'De-boot', which causes her boots and socks to be removed and placed under a nearby chair.
"Okay, budge up next to each other, lads."
With a bare whimper, Fred and George continue to prostrate themselves on the stone floor right next to each other. Carefully, Holly steps to stand up with one foot placed between each boy's shoulders, effectively raising her several inches off the ground. Once balanced, Holly lifts up her head and calls out.
"Neville, would you come here please?"
Neville Longbottom stands aburptly from the Gryffindor table and tentatively wallks over to stand in front of Holly, his feet facing the Weaselys and therefore Holly. Neville looks around nervously as Holly aligns his shoulders carefully.
"Neville, step forward a little."
Neville looks down and steps forward with trepidation, only to find himself suddenly wrapped in Holly's arms as she engages him in a deep kiss. The startled boy at first muffles a half-hearted protest but quickly succumbs to the head-spinning snog, easily unaware of the rising cheers of the Great Hall's attentive audience.
The kiss continues for a minute until Holly finally breaks the snog but leaves her arms wrapped around Neville's head. Neville gasps for air as he begins to recover his senses. Holly smiles widely for a moment and then bellows out an explanation for their audience.
"You've gotten so tall, Neville, that I needed a boost!"
Laughter rings throughout the hall. Holly looks deeply into Neville's eyes, sending a brief message of appreciation into his mind. As the bemused Longbottom blushes and smiles back, he begins to evidence some panic at being the center of attention. Holly gives Neville a quick peck on the lips and releases him from her arms. She then dismounts from her human platform and kneels down on one knee to whisper to the twins.
"Thanks for this, lads. It seems only fair- I haven't hit you with anything since the tongues. Neville's been pranking you for me ever since."
Both Weasleys stare agape at Holly as she winks at them.
"At least I took my boots off."
As all three now rise to standing, the two brothers aid the hormonally-confunded Neville back to his seat at the Gryffindor table, shaking their heads as they take the teasing of their schoolmates with good humour.
Holly incants 'Re-boot' and strides back to her seat, footwear in place. Professor Snape's voice echoes from the Staff table above the rising gossip.
"Evans! Twenty points from Slytherin for that repugnant display!"
"Thank you, sir!"
"Five more points!"
As Holly settles down into her seat, she becomes aware of the glares surrounding her.
"I don't care what you lot think. Neville's kiss was worth twelve of yours. Besides, the Professor knows my actions don't affect the House totals now that I'm a competitor in the Tournament. If he was really mad at me I'd get a detention."
"Why would he take points at all then?"
"I try to get a fair estimate of how annoying to him I'm being. He has his own rules, but they are stringent."
Following a bit of consideration, the other Slytherins shake their heads and return to chatting.
I think it's a good sign that she's still having some fun.
18th November, 1994
I can only imagine what the actual story in the Prophet will relate.
Transcription of the Big Publicity Stupidity: 18th November, 1994, starting 1:18 PM
Holly and Harry (one of whom is Tonks) enter the large study they had previously visited during the selection arguments to discover that the rest of the champions and their school leaders are already present. Also turning to regard the entering pair are Mr. Ollivander the weird wand guy, a rather dumpy and short older man carrying a wizarding camera (named Bozo) and an older witch dressed in bright yellow fashion robes that would look quite fetching on a woman 20 pounds lighter or 20 years younger. The witch's ornate glasses are framed in a hornrim style tinted close to the colour of antifreeze solution and covered in rhinestones. The fashion disaster is the first to speak.
Rita: "Ahhh, how delightful! The hero returns, escorting his sister for all our safety. My name is Rita Skeeter and I'll be chatting with you today while your wands are being weighed, yes?"
Albus: "Miss Evans, Mr. Potter, please come in. As Ms. Skeeter has mentioned, there are some press-related duties to perform here today in support of the Tournament. Miss Evans, I have already sent along apologies to Professor Snape for your absence from his class."
Holly: "Thank you, sir. Lloyd found me before class so that I'd have time to track down Harry, here."
Harry: "Hullo. I'm sorry, we didn't get a chance to meet earlier..."
Harry steps forward and deftly evades Rita's welcoming hand so that he can introduce himself to the other school champions. Harry first approaches to greet Margaux Magritte. The chipmunk-faced girl with the freckles and curly brown hair blushes attractively as Harry takes her hand in his.
Harry: "It's a pleasure to meet you. Holly says you're a bit of a marvel, like our Hermione."
Margaux blushes even deeper as she does a half-curtsey.
Margaux: "Y-yes. I am... a reader rather than sportif, but I race brooms intra-murally."
Harry: "And your accent in English is quite agreeable."
Margaux giggles briefly. Harry then smiles as he turns towards the second Durmstrang champion. The short, dark-haired Polish boy is pale and small even next to the stocky Viktor Krum, but he smiles agreeably as he gives Harry's hand a vigorous shake.
Ilya: "Pleased to meet the Bowl!"
Harry: "Ehhm, 'bowl'?"
Ilya: "Yes. Boy-Orphan-Who-Lived! Is clever, yes?"
Holly giggles from behind the collection of people watching these introductions.
Holly: "Yah! Every time I hear it is just funnier, Ilya."
Harry gives an evaluative nod and smiles at the happy wizard, shaking his hand once more.
Harry: "Sure. But you can just call me Harry now that we've been introduced."
Ilya: "Okay! Okay!"
Harry nods towards Viktor who gives a curt nod back.
Viktor: "Good to meet you again, Potter."
Harry: "And you Mr. Krum. I appreciated your sacrifice play in the Quidditch World Cup."
Viktor's eyes light up.
Viktor: "Is better, I should think to end honourably than to allow your enemies to toy with you."
Harry: "That's how I saw it, though there's been some argument amongst my friends as to its merits."
Viktor: "Is good to have talk of complex issues."
Fleur sighs impatiently.
Fleur: "Allo, Mr. Potter. Allo, Miss Evans. Allo ozzer peoples. May we now take ze photographs and certify our equipment? I do not zink now is ze time for a chat about ze past."
Holly pipes up from the back of the gathering, causing a small amount of shuffling as she is included in the conversation.
Holly: "Of course not. Why would we want to waste time getting to know one another when we may be dead next week?"
Fleur gives Holly a dismissive look.
Fleur: "I did not zink you would be ze one to express fear in ze face of a challenge, Miss Evans."
Holly: "You're mistaking fear for sarcasm. You should probably spend more time on your Eeenglish rather than your maneecure."
Fleur sniffs in derision and turns towards Professor Dumbledore.
Fleur: "I would like to proceed, as zis room is becoming... uncomfortable."
Albus: "Quite so, Miss Delacour. Please gather round our friend Mr. Ollivander then..."
Over the next twenty minutes the champions have their wands evaluated by Mr. Ollivander while Rita and Bozo corner the unoccupied champions for some quotable opinions and candid photos. Fleur's delightful laugh is heard often from their private conference while Viktor and Margaux play an elusive game of shrugs and noncommital noises, much to Rita's frustration. It is while Fleur's wand is being evaluated that Harry is cornered by the presswoman.
Rita: "Harry... Potter! How wonderful to see you out and about in society. Have you found it difficult to acclimate after so long being in the sole and private company of Albus Dumbledore?"
Harry: "Well, everyone's been really great so far. I wasn't raised in a chantry, though. I spent plenty of time with decent people as I grew up."
Harry looks at Rita with confusion.
Harry: "Y'know, it really never came up."
Rita: "And now you're participating in this Tournament! What an extraordinary challenge! Surely there must be some concern that your parents wouldn't have wanted you to risk your life so foolishly, given their sacrifice?"
Harry pauses, giving the question some consideration.
Harry: "I just hope I can make them proud. I hope I do well. It's an honour to compete at all, if a bit showy..."
Rita: "Not fond of the Headmaster's plans for you?"
Harry pauses once more in thought.
Harry: "I just don't enjoy showing off. I do my work and I try my best. That's all anyone can be asked, really."
Rita: "Well. Aren't you a dear?"
Photos interrupt any further scoop material, and the champions are arranged in various and sometimes suggestive poses at the direction of Rita Skeeter, though the Headmasters (in particular Madame Maxime) take pains to veto any obvious attempts to suggest improper placement of hands to competitors' body parts. As the meeting breaks up, Holly speaks up from amidst the crowd.
Holly: "Miss Skeeter. Have you no questions for me?"
Rita's bug-eyed expression of fear is noted by all assembled with some amount of amusement. The brightly-adorned woman steels her face into a grimace of false pleasantry and approaches Holly where she is standing between Harry and Ilya.
Rita: "Certainly, Miss Evans. I have a question or two. Would you like to meet privately or...?"
Holly: "Why Rita; just how old do you think I am?"
Rita coughs a quick laugh.
Rita: "No my dear, I merely was offering you the opportunity to answer my questions privately. As a courtesy."
Holly: "Well, my dear, as you have foregone such accomodations for all the other interviewees, I wonder why I should be granted such a privilege?"
Rita: "Very well. How long has it been since you've killed someone?"
Holly squints at the reporter.
Holly: "Not long enough."
Rita: "And if you were to see your father today, what would you say to him?"
Beginning to catch her intent, Holly smiles lightly.
Holly: "I would say 'you're looking quite grim'."
Rita stalks forward, aiming one eye at Holly as if targeting her.
Rita: "How is your love life these days?"
Rita: "What say you to the accusations that your change of House was the result of your corruption of a Hogwarts artifact?"
Holly: "The Sorting Hat is much smarter and wiser than I am, as I am reminded every time we chat together."
Rita: "And how do you feel, knowing that Marcus Flint's ghost now stalks these halls as one of the restless dead?"
Holly: "I feel sorry for the students that will have to suffer with Flat-top Flint's ridiculous vulgarities for the next century."
Rita: "Are you a Dark Lady?"
Holly looks at Rita coldly for a moment before responding.
Rita harrumphs in Holly's face. Holly looks the woman over with disdain.
Holly: "But I'm still young..."
Rita's face squints into a visage of revenge-minded glee. Holly snaps a fierce and angry gaze upon the reporter, her eyes glowing green momentarily. Suddenly Rita's hand reaches up for her own throat in fear as she begins to stumble backward. Holly strides forward to keep pace with the retreating woman.
Holly: "I should think that should do for the questions today. I hope I haven't left you unsatisfied. Next time we'll follow your desires and do this privately!"
Rita and Bozo abandon the room in a hurry, leaving Holly standing triumphantly at the doorway.
Albus: "Miss Evans, what was the point of that?"
Holly turns around to face the room full of stunned acquaintances and competitors, her face falling into a slightly embarrassed smirk. Holly shakes her head.
Holly: "I doubt if anything we said today will resemble what will be written tomorrow. Why not have fun with it?"
Viktor and Ilya both bark out a laugh while Harry and Margaux attempt to discreetly cover their giggles. Cedric steps forward and grasps Holly by the shoulder.
Cedric: "Thanks for that, Holly. I don't think any of us could possibly look bad compared to how that woman will be describing you."
Holly smiles teasingly.
Holly: "Cedric, is it truly possible to make YOU look bad?"
Cedric blushes and smiles, but then looks mildly confused. The adults exchange a mix of expressions ranging from concern to bewilderment. Fleur sniffs loudly as she passes by Holly to exit the room, though Holly notes a faint smirk can be seen dancing at the edges of her perfect lips.
Holly updated Natalia's Spiral recently so that they can share a Rapport without maintaining eye contact. I'm fairly certain that Holly was herself and Natalia was being Harry, but either way they were sharing their thoughts on possible responses the whole time since they didn't cast any other magic that might require their concentration until Rita was struck with Fear. They're both very pleased with the 'upgrade'.
20th November, 1994
The Tale of the Pale Friend
Holly is tromping through the frost-covered dead leaves of the Forbidden Forest late this evening. Her goggles provide clear vision but the going is still troublesome as she is not travelling along established trails in an attempt to follow a winking bluish light that accompanied a note given to her an hour ago. The note said only 'Follow the wisp- I have something to show you. Love, Luna'. Holly has been trying to track the elusive Ravenclaw but her name only appears on the Map very rarely. Holly stops with a huff.
"Well, if I knew it would take this long I would have brought a beverage."
"Would you like some tea, then?"
Holly spins around to see Luna standing there in a heavy winter cloak, holding out a home-made thermos fashioned of thick bamboo and cork. The steam from the open spigot is visible in the cool night air.
"Luna! Yes, I'd love some tea. How is it you've been so hard to find?"
"Oh. Well I've been avoiding the sneaky trees. They have extra eyes."
Holly accepts the bamboo cylinder and gratefully sips the hot liquid from within before responding.
"So they do. Some of them are there working for me, you know."
"Maybe. Not all, though. Please follow me."
Luna turns and begins leading Holly even deeper into the chill forest. After walking a ways, Holly begins to hear a commotion from the valley ahead. Holly scrambles forward to catch up with Luna, grasping her arm to halt her advance.
"Luna! What's going on up there?"
"I have no idea. We're here to see Rubeus."
Luna points to her left where Holly can now see that Hagrid and Madame Maxime are standing amidst a hedge, looking down on the valley below. Following their gaze, Holly moves up to the ridgeline, finally spying the source of the noise and fracas- a squadron of wizards are attempting to keep control over more than a half-dozen dragons of various sizes and breeds. Luna notices the creatures and begins clapping in delight while bouncing in place.
Alerted by Luna's pleased reaction, Hagrid whispers harshly towards the pair.
"Oi! Who's out there then?"
Holly takes Luna by the hand and leads her over to where the two exceptionally large people are both regarding their approach with some disdain.
"Hi, Hagrid. It's me, Holly. Luna lead me out here to talk to you. I guess I know what we're in for now."
"Ca, c'est ne pas une suprise. Je connais que..."
"Yah, Headmistess. I'm sure you assume this is part of some scheme. In all fairness, it's not like you were going to keep this from Misses Magritte and Delacour, were you?"
"Per'aps non, but now..."
"Now we should share this with all the competitors. Would you like to inform Professor Karkaroff? It might seem less suspicious if you were to offer the knowledge that was shown to you by one of OUR Professors."
"Oui. That would be apropos."
The tall woman turns away from the conversation and takes another long look at the activity in the valley, accompanied by Luna's delighted babble. Hagrid turns Holly to take a few steps away for privacy.
"Holly, what're you doin' out here anyways?"
"Hagrid, you're the one that taught me not to fear the great creatures and unknown things. Besides; I knew if Luna said you were out here, we'd be alright."
"And jes' what're you doin' messin' around with this folderol? Folks die in these Tournaments!"
"Hagrid! I was tricked! I joined Slytherin at the Hat's request and I was put in this contest by someone trying to hurt or kill me. None of it was my idea! Come on. How long have we been friends?"
"Since you were half a teacup, the ways I sees it."
"Exactly. Besides, don't you want to know if I can get these fair beasties to talk with me?"
Hagrid smiles at Holly, his tangled beard pulling strangely in the movement.
"That'd be a lark and a party if ye can put it on, Hols! But ahhhh... ye really should be..."
"Yah, we'll be strolling along. I'll see you in class, alright?"
Hagrid looks twice at Holly, his grin widening and eyes watering slightly.
"I look forward to it, Holly. As always. (Snif)."
Holly steps forward and wraps her arms around Hagrid's left arm, an action reciprocated by the huge man when he pounds Holly's back with verve. Holly breaks the embrace, giving Hagrid a pained smile as Luna begins to lead her away from the ridgeline, leaving the dragons to their handlers.
After walking a ways, Holly raises an arm and grunts to halt their progress, pointing Luna towards a large boulder for them to rest upon.
"Oh, God. His love is more painful than his rejection." (Pop, crack.)
"Yes. We can only hope his date goes better than it has so far, or he may choose to apply love to us more often."
"Did you expect there to be dragons?"
"No, I was thinking Rubeus might introduce the long-faced woman to my Thestrals, but then I suppose they got lost. Conversationally."
Holly's head drops forward into her hands.
"Ohhhhh what am I going to do against dragons?"
"Well, it all depends on the dragon, I suppose."
"Did you happen to see what kinds there were?"
Luna's pale mask of calm breaks with a mild enthusiasm. She begins speaking in a gossipy tone not unlike Lavender Brown with a juicy humiliation to relate.
"Yes! There was a shiny one that seemed like it might be easily distracted by sparkly things. The one with horns seemed friendly if a bit stupid. The spiky one was very mean but easy to taunt. The twisty one seemed lazy to me, as it didn't want to bite so much as spit. The green one was much younger and kept pouncing on things! The stubby one I think has a cold. Oh, and the big fat one! She's old, mean and wouldn't move for anything."
Holly looks up and over at Luna, intrigued.
"'She?' Were they all females?"
"Yes. All girls, all unhappy being poked by men with their unwanted advances of lances."
Luna smiles at Holly and leans in next to her on the boulder, wrapping her hands around Holly's arm.
"I do too. Girls are always better. This has been a fun date."
Holly snaps from her thoughts.
Luna smiles again at Holly and then steps up from the boulder, twirling around three times before stopping. Luna now stands a yard from Holly, staring at her as she sits on the rock. With a smooth motion, Luna unhooks the clasps on her cloak and lets it fall to the ground, revealing her clothes beneath are only some slippers and a simple diaphanous gown that hides nothing of the girl's underlying nakedness. As Luna steps forward, Holly raises an eyebrow for a moment and then swishes her wand towards the advancing girl, causing her cloak to swirl up from the ground and enwrap her tightly once more. Luna pulls at the silver clasps to no avail.
"It's a chastity charm I learned from Pansy. Those old families sure know how to keep their assets covered."
Luna drops her arms in a huff.
"Don't you find me attractive? I know I've seen the look in your eyes when you look into mine. You want me. Even Newt thinks we're meant to be together."
"No she doesn't. She likes you and wants me to help you, which I've been doing. Luna, we're not going to have sex for awhile, if ever. For one thing you're only thirteen."
"I wish I was older."
"You'll get there."
"It doesn't feel like it."
"It will. It's easier if you don't focus on trying to get there; suddenly it'll be upon you, trust me."
"Oh! Like an orgasm."
"Ehh, yeah... actually."
Luna slumps over to sit next to Holly once more. Holly reaches an arm around the blonde girl and gives her an affectionate squeeze.
"But as dates go, this is one of the best I've had. Thanks."
"Did I help you?"
"We'll find out soon."
"If I was helpful... will you kiss me?"
Holly turns to face Luna, looking straight into her eyes.
"Luna, what happens after you and I have sex?"
"What happens AFTER? Will the world stop? Will you be able to sleep? What makes this so important to you?"
"You'll know what?"
"What it means."
"Eventually you'll be finishing this sentence, yah?"
"You always can tell when I'm doing topiary."
Holly stares at Luna for a moment before giving her a doubtful look for her pun.
"Hedging, yes. What will you know after we have sex that you don't know now, Luna?"
"I-I'll know what love means."
Holly looks sadly at Luna for a time. Luna returns the look with confusion once she notices Holly's sour expression.
"Why are you sad?"
"Because you're wrong. You won't know what love means until you feel loved. I had sex many times before I really felt loved. It took months of exposure to the right person for me to truly feel that love."
"I... I thought you loved Hermione?"
"I do. And she loves me back, just not the same way or with enough... conviction... to make it through my defenses. I was never certain of it. I'm still not. And similarly, I won't be the one to liberate you from your doubts. You'll be waiting too long in darkness for me, Luna."
"The moon is alive in the dark..."
"But you're not the moon. You're a girl who likes girls, exclusively. Do you know who else at Hogwarts likes girls like we do?"
"A few. Marietta Edgecomb. Your friend Padma with the gumdrops, but only a bit. H-hermione somewhat, though much less so now."
"Also Erin Moore in Hufflepuff, I suspect a pair of firsties in my new House and my friend Natalia. Have you met her?"
"How would I know if I did?"
"Doesn't matter. All I'm pointing out is that there's more than me to consider, and you should see about letting the true you out to play with others more often. I understand why you stay hidden, but rewards come more sweetly with risk."
Luna leans back, her face crinkled slightly in troubled thought for a time. After several moments of silence, the pale girl turns back to Holly once more with a mask of calm.
"How much have you risked, Holly?"
A bit of fatigue seeps into Holly's voice.
"My life, my sanity, my heart, my future, my soul..."
"And you wonder why it has to be you? You have such passion. It's intoxicating for anyone around you who recognises it. You get me drunk with it whenever we speak. I feel all bubbly myself, now."
"I'm not feeling it. Sure you're not just troubled with wind?"
Luna leans slightly to the side as if adjusting for comfort.
"I guess you're right after all..."
Holly cackles loudly and Luna smiles serenely and sighs, which prompts further laughter from Holly.
"And...and what mythical creature does that keep at bay? (Snort!)"
Luna waves her hand dismissively (or to clear the air in proximity).
"Nice boys. You hear about them in lesser publications, but I have yet to see proof that they exist. Just the same, it's better to be safe than married."
Luna is a classy girl, I say.
25th November, 1994
The Tale of the Gamble
Holly enters the room housing WWRX, closing the door shut behind her and leaning against the door anxiously. Fred Weasley looks up from his classwork and George nods towards Holly while keeping an idle eye on the turntables, his ears wrapped in an oversized set of headphones. Fred cocks an eyebrow at Holly when she lays a Colloportus on the door, sealing them into the room with a sucking sound.
"Housemates after you Hols?"
"Nah. Suitors. Neville keeps trying to get me alone and now Ilya has been trying to start a conversation. It's in the look. These boys mean pleasure."
"It's your own fault y'know. If you weren't leading him on... hang on."
Fred holds up a hand to Holly as he moves next to George, who has moved forward in his seat to speak into the microphone. George flips a switch on the device before speaking.
"I hope you liked that bit. We couldn't figure out where the song stopped so you got the whole side of the disc. As an aside, despite the name of the band being Pink Floyd, none of the performers are named Floyd, nor are they pink. Even the sleeve is black. Aren't muggles a kick? Let's listen to the other side again!"
Fred finishes inverting the disc and lays the needle back on the record. Flipping another switch, George settles back and doffs the earguards.
"You just hiding?"
"No, I have a proposition."
"It's not that we're unwilling, Holly. But George and I have already agreed that two of us in a bed would just be asking for calamity!"
"Actually, this has to do with Bagman and your bet."
The twins swivel forward in their rolling chairs as Holly steps forward, retrieving a sack of coins from a pocket of her robes and settling into the chair opposite, leaving the sack on the desk in front of them.
"The way I see it, the only way he'll pay you what you're owed is if he's flush from some other wager that you lads know about."
"...thinking of throwing the Task..."
"...are you Hols?"
"No, but I can almost guarantee my results for this one. I'm going to complete the Task but get the lowest score of all surviving competitors. I can't place bets on this, but you lot can take this 200 Galleons and let Bagman know that you're putting this with the goblins on the wager- he'll follow suit..."
"And then when he wins, we confront him on what he's owed! Wait; how do we know his bet'll be enough? Also, won't the goblins realise the fix is in and drop the stakes?"
Holly looks about to respond but she is interrupted by a knock on the door. Holly smiles.
"That's why I've brought in a professional."
Holly rises from the chair and lifts her enchantment on the door. The wooden portal opens and a young girl with attractive golden curls wrapped in green and silver walks in, her uniform skirt drawn up to a nearly indecent length. Holly closes the door and seals it again.
"Astoria! Thanks for coming."
The blonde girl smiles at Holly and turns toward the doubtful redheads.
"I understand you boys wish to make a wager. I'd like to help."
Fred turns towards Holly.
"What's she going to help us for?"
Before Holly can answer, Astoria pipes up "Ten percent if we win. Ten free wireless boxes if you lose. I'm hoping for a seven-to-one payout, but that all depends on how well you can face the goblins."
Holly shrugs and grins, moving to open the door once more to leave.
"I can't possibly be involved in this sort of skulduggery boys. Never ask me to compromise my honour ever again, understood?"
Fred and George smile back, responding in tandem.