Moody Blues: Part 2
The New Minister pondered her next course of action as she regarded the figure shackled to the stone chair. After being ordered to keep the wizard’s capture a secret for reasons of Ministry security, Chief Auror Scrimgeour had released Crouch Jr from the custody of the Auror office to the Unspeakable Office.
The younger Crouch had been detained for several weeks in the secret detention wing of the Department of Mysteries and questioned first under Veritaserum, then under the Cruciatus Curse, and yet again under Minister Dolores Umbridge’s personal ministrations.
Crouch Jr’s head lolled to the side, his eyes void of life. Dolores’s own special techniques of questioning had drained him, and he had died slowly of blood loss. Unfortunate, but no loss Minister Umbridge decided. Crouch Jr may actually have had the information that she needed at some point, but if so, his mind had been wiped of all knowledge of Voldemort’s hiding place.
If Voldemort had truly returned to Britain, he would no doubt eventually try to get his former followers back. But as it so happened, with Warlock Malfoy’s support in the Wizengamot, those who had supported Voldemort before and had avoided Azkaban had all backed the ousting of Cornelius Fudge and flocked to Dolores’s side... and the New Minister wasn’t certain that she wanted to give them back to Voldemort.
While the “Dark Lord’s” goals of restoring an openly Pureblood Order to wizarding Britain were certainly laudable, his methods - which had surely been a necessary evil while the Ministry had been in the hands of the Reformers and the Weak - were unruly and chaotic. Indeed, Voldemort’s inability to reign in his temper tantrums had led those of his supporters who had remained at large to regard him as a loose cannon, and all too pleased to consider him dead and gone.
The New Minister knew that if she could exploit those fears, then Order and Security could be restored to wizarding Britain from within the system, through a proper chain of Authority - Her Authority! But Dolores needed more time to solidify her support and demonstrate her commitment to the Restoration of the Pureblood Order.
Dolores decided that Lucius didn’t need to know of Voldemort’s presence in Britain for the time-being - she would reveal the information only when the time was right or when it could be contained no longer. And it would be best if the public at large did not know either. If Dumbledore tried to make any noise, she could use the lack of evidence to discredit him in the Wizengamot.
Many of the Warlocks and Witches of the Wizengamot who had been persuaded of Fudge’s incompetence were simply incensed over the debacle at the World Cup. They were weak when it came to defending against the steady decline of their ancient wizarding heritage due to the upsurge of impurity in wizarding blood, having succumbed to the ideas of the Reformists - and the Cult of Potter. They were not prepared yet to remove Dumbledore as Chief Warlock; eroding his support would clearly require further work.
Minister Umbridge considered what to do about Crouch Sr. It would be so easy to sack him and have him arrested for surreptitiously procuring his son’s release from Azkaban, but she already had a rapport with the elder Crouch, and having this over his head would guarantee his unwavering loyalty. As one of the key organisers, he would make an exceptional scapegoat should her plans for the Triwizard tournament be successful.
She nodded at the Unspeakable tasked to assist her with the interrogation, and he tossed the corpse of the younger Crouch through the Veil.
Hedwig looked exhausted after her long journey to Bournemouth and back when she arrived at dinner. Hermione stroked her feathers and gave her a Yorkshire Pudding.
“Thank you Hedwig,” she said, taking the parcel and the envelopes from the snowy owl.
Ron looked up from his plate with a mouthful of shepherd’s pie and gawked as he watched Hedwig affectionately nibble Hermione’s finger before flying off to the owlery for a nap.
“Wazzupwithowl?” Ron mumbled.
“Must you always talk with your mouth full?” snapped Hermione. “It’s disgusting!”
“Er... sorry!” said Ron after hastily swallowing. “I was just wondering when Hedwig became your owl?” he asked with a chuckle. Harry raised his eyebrows and gave Ron a look.
“For your information, Harry shares Hedwig with me because he’s kind like that,” Hermione retorted coldly. “And Hedwig was just returning from my mum’s with a birthday present.”
“Oh!” Ron’s ears reddened and he looked away, returning his attention to his dinner plate.
Hermione returned her own gaze to the parcel and the envelopes which Hedwig had brought her and gasped. Harry peered at the envelope and glanced at Hermione’s stricken features.
“Are you alright Hermione?” he asked quietly with concern.
“I... I’m not sure Harry,” she replied. “I... I think I’m going to go now...”
“D’you want me to come with you?”
“Y...yes please! If you don’t mind,” she peered at Harry gratefully as he pushed his half eaten plate of dinner away.
Ron stared after them as they departed. Lavender, who had been sitting on the other side of Hermione, whispered in Parvati’s ear. Parvati nodded and they both stood up and left the table as well.
“What’s that all about?” Neville asked Ron.
“No idea,” said Ron with a shrug.
Sitting together on the sofa by the fire in the Gryffindor common room, Harry put his arm around Hermione and gently rubbed her back. Heart pounding as her breath quickened, Hermione set the parcel and the envelope from her mother on the table. She peered at the other envelope in her hand, afraid to open it. Harry gave Hermione a kiss on the cheek, and they both turned their heads when they heard the entrance to the Gryffindor tower open again.
“Do you mind if we join you?” asked Parvati, looking concerned.
“It’s just... I saw you’d got something from your father,” said Lavender awkwardly, turning a bit pink. “I’m sorry... I know you’ve got Harry, but... but...”
“We just wanted to see that you’re alright,” Parvati finished for Lavender. “We’ll leave if you just want to be with Harry...”
“No! That’s alright - please stay!” said Hermione with a tearful smile. “Thank you! You’re the only others besides Harry and Luna that I’ve ever talked to about... about...” Hermione couldn’t quite bring herself to say it.
Parvati and Lavender both gave Hermione a hug and sat on the other side of her as Harry smiled gratefully at them. Hermione looked at the envelope a moment longer. It had clearly been posted to her mother first, instead of being sent directly to Hogwarts, and she’d sent it on with Hedwig. Hermione wasn’t certain what that meant, as her father knew very well that wizards monitored the muggle post for letters sent by muggle parents to their children at Hogwarts.
Feeling braver with the extra support, Hermione finally opened the envelope. There was a letter with the birthday card contained inside. Harry, Lavender and Parvati all leaned in to read it with her as she held it in her trembling hands.
I know that we haven’t spoken in quite some time, and I don’t know what your mother told you about me after you left. It’s true, I was very cross, and for that I am sorry. I was perhaps a bit more forceful than I should have been. I didn’t mean to frighten you, and I didn’t mean to hit your mother. It was a momentary lapse of judgment and I promise it will never happen again.
I don’t like you being involved with magic and being at that school, and I’d rather not hear about it. But if you insist on continuing with that lifestyle, I suppose I can learn to live with it as you are still my daughter. I care for you very much and I miss you.
I am still quite concerned however, about your friendship with the Potter boy. Even with what little I know - or care to know - of your world, I am given to understand that he is very violent and dangerous to be around. From what I have gathered, he killed a man at a very young age and is also a target of those who would seek vengeance.
I am willing to put certain things behind us so that we can all be together as a family again, but the one thing I must insist upon is that you forget about Potter altogether, and stay as far away from him as possible. Please promise me that you will, and please come home at the end of school term.
Please tell your mother that I miss her dearly also. She is still cross with me for hitting her, even though it was only the one time. I have begged her to come home, but she refuses. Perhaps you can put in a good word for me, so that we can all be a proper family again.
Tears streaked Hermione’s burning cheeks as a stew of emotions boiled within her. Her lower lip trembled and bile rose in her throat. Hermione felt Harry freeze beside her and glanced at his ashen, guilt-ridden features; he was speechless. Then she turned and peered at the horrified expressions on Lavender’s and Parvati’s faces.
“That’s utter rubbish!” Lavender snapped vehemently, “Harry’s the nicest boy there is!”
“Lavender’s right Hermione!” said Parvati angrily. “Don’t listen to your father - he doesn’t know anything about Harry! And it’s no wonder your mum won’t go back to him. He doesn’t even know how to apologise properly...”
“That’s true,” Lavender hotly interjected. “If he was really sorry about hitting your mum, he wouldn’t have tried to minimise what he did - twice! And he barely apologised to you at all for scaring you...”
“...and not at all for smashing up your things!” Parvati continued. “And he only ‘supposes he can learn to live with’ your magic as long as you don’t mention it? It’s obvious that he still can’t admit how horrible he was to you and your mum... how horrible he’s still being...”
“But he’s right,” said Harry hoarsely, finally finding his voice. “I am violent and dangerous - I almost got Hermione killed at the World Cup because I ran off to fight Death Eaters! As long as I’m around...”
“NO!” Hermione shouted, turning to face Harry, fury and determination blazing in her eyes. “That’s NOT TRUE Harry! You were BRAVE and you put YOURSELF in danger to protect others, like when you saved me from the Troll. I followed you by my own choice... remember?”
“And... and I’ll ALWAYS be a target anyway, as long as there are wizards who hate Muggleborns around - not just Voldemort and the Malfoys - but the other ones in the Ministry and the Wizengamot who never got sent to Azkaban! One day we’ll put an end to Voldemort... You and me, together, with our friends and Dumbledore... but we’ll STILL have to deal with the ones that pretend they’re above it all when they’re not wearing masks! ...”
“Lavender and Parvati are right! ... You’re kind and brave and loving... and my father doesn’t know ANYTHING! ” Hermione concluded with a snarl as scalding tears dripped onto the sofa.
She savagely crumpled the letter her father had sent into a ball and hurled it into the orange flames crackling in the hearth. She reached for the birthday card as well to chuck it in after the other, but Harry touched her hand gently, silent tears streaming down his own cheeks.
“Not the card Hermione!” said Harry quietly. “No matter what else he is - how horrid he’s being - he still loves you Hermione. Just like I do! On some level... he just wants to protect you. He just doesn’t know how... ”
Hermione’s features softened as she melted in Harry’s iridescent green gaze, glittering in the flickering firelight. She flung herself on Harry and kissed him deeply as Lavender and Parvati watched, their own hearts aching for their friends. Harry felt a warm, luminous glow filling him, thawing the last remnants of ice in his veins.
After a few minutes their lips wetly parted and they both turned pink, remembering that Lavender and Parvati were still with them. Harry and Hermione grinned at their friends, and soon they were all laughing. Feeling much better, Hermione opened the card and the parcel from her mother; she started giggling nervously when she saw it was a vintage edition of Sense and Sensibility.
“I think Mum is trying to tell me something!” Hermione bit her lip, looking amused and embarrassed, then gave Harry another kiss. “It’s a muggle romance novel. She knows I haven’t read many romances...” she explained, “I expect she had an idea what Dad was writing to me.”
Harry suddenly found himself blushing furiously in the middle of a group hug as the girls all giggled about the book. And that was how Ron and Neville found them all when they were the first to arrive in the Common Room after the end of dinner. An odd expression crossed Ron's features when he saw Harry surrounded by girls.
The weeks following Hermione’s birthday passed quickly, and oddly enough, despite the letter from her father, Harry and Hermione both felt much better about things. Hermione told him that she felt some sort of “closure,” and the occasional surges of guilt which had dogged Harry since the World Cup had lessened considerably as he took what Hermione, Lavender, and Parvati said to heart.
Harry had also felt much better after chatting with Sirius and Lupin about things several times with the mirror. They had both been profuse in their praises of Harry and Hermione for exposing the imposter and saving Professor Moody, and were glad that he was keeping his electric-blue eye on things. Sirius had also been a bit apologetic about things in the Wizengamot.
“Unfortunately, there just weren’t enough votes to carry things for Fudge...” he had muttered. “Which doesn’t bode well for Remus, as the new Minister is known to harbour strong prejudices against werewolves. She’s the one who pushed through the anti-werewolf legislation at the end of your Third Year at Hogwarts...”
And there were plenty of other things to keep life interesting. Professor Moody had continued discussing curses, and put everyone under the Imperius Curse. When Harry’s turn had come up, Moody had tried to make Harry jump onto his desk. Harry had ended up bonking his knees on the side of the desk when he resisted the urge to jump.
“Brilliant Potter! Look at that you lot...” Moody had crowed, “Potter fought it and nearly beat it! They’ll have a jolly hard time controlling him! Let’s try that again Potter... Now watch his eyes... that’s where you’ll see it...”
Moody had put Harry through his paces until Harry could throw off the Imperius Curse completely.
“Blimey Harry, that was amazing! How’d’you do that?” said Ron, before grumbling about the excessive amounts of homework Moody had given everyone else to read up on resisting the Imperius Curse. “...Moody sounds bloody paranoid though... like Dark Wizards are about to attack us all any minute!” Ron concluded.
“Well he’s right, isn’t he!” Hermione snapped as Harry rolled his eyes at Ron. “Or have you forgotten about the World Cup already, and the fact that Voldemort and Wormtail are still after Harry?”
Which didn’t stop Ron and many other fourth years from griping about the heavier load of homework in all of their classes. When Dean Thomas complained during Transfiguration, Professor McGonagall had told the class that OWL’s were drawing nearer.
“If by nearer you mean ‘the end of next year’...” Seamus had muttered under his breath. Professor McGonagall had overheard, and pointed out that Hermione and Harry had been the only ones to successfully transfigure their hedgehogs into pincushions.
Binns was droning on about Goblin rebellions, and Snape had everyone researching antidotes. Flitwick had given everyone three extra books to read to prepare for their upcoming lessons on Summoning Charms. He had been rather surprised at first when Hermione had informed him that she and Harry had already learned how to summon things at the beginning of Third Year during their free time, until he remembered how well they’d done on their exams. In the end, Flitwick had them both perform a demonstration for the class.
Before they knew it the end of October drew near, and with it the Triwizard Tournament.
After classes let out on the day before Halloween, the students of Hogwarts waited expectantly for the arrival of the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. As everyone looked up at the puffy pink clouds in the late afternoon sky, they gawked in amazement. A massive blue and gold carriage as big as a manor house swept through the sky pulled by a team of flying palomino horses the size of small elephants. It swooped down and lit delicately upon the lawn.
An enormous but rather striking woman in a powder blue cloak stepped out of the carriage and she bent over for Dumbledore to welcome her with a peck on each cheek as his eyes twinkled merrily.
“Eet ees vairy good to see you again my dear Dumbly,” the woman greeted warmly.
“Thank you Madame Maxime, Welcome to Hogwarts!” said Dumbledore, chuckling at her endearment.
She was followed out of the carriage by a number of students, boys and girls, who peered around the Hogwarts grounds with an air of condescension. Madame Maxime looked embarrassed and clapped her hands once to get their attention.
“Manners, please,” she snapped, “We are guests here.”
Most of the Beauxbatons had the decency to look chastened at her admonishment. But a few still appeared disdainful of their new surroundings. Some Ravenclaws introduced themselves, and gradually the Beauxbatons began mingling with the Hogwarts students.
Everyone’s attention was caught by the burbling sound of rushing water and peered at the Black Lake. A whirlpool seemed to be forming in the middle, then a tidal surge rippled across the lake as first a mast appeared, followed by the rest of a sailing vessel which reminded Harry very much of a pirate ship.
Water cascaded off the deck and streamed over the sides of the ship as it rocked. When the ship had finally stabilised and the rush of water had reduced to a drip, people emerged on deck and filled several smaller boats which were lowered to the surface of the lake. After the smaller boats reached the shore, a sly looking wizard with long silver hair, wearing a burgundy cloak, stepped forth and grasped Dumbledore’s hand firmly.
“Ah, Dumbledore, my dear fellow, delighted to see you again,” the wizard said in an unctuous, sibilant voice.
Both men smiled at each other, but Harry noticed the smiles didn’t reach their eyes, and Hermione bristled slightly beside him.
“Madame Maxime, it is my pleasure!” offered Karkaroff as he kissed her hand.
“Charmed...” she replied stiffly, looking anything but. Though she did her very best to put on a gracious manner.
As the sun dropped behind the mountains, the guests from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons were invited into the castle and made their way towards the Great Hall for dinner. The tables had all been enlarged, but most of the Beauxbatons gravitated to the Ravenclaw table, and most of the Durmstrang students sat with the Slytherins.
As several Beauxbatons girls passed by the Gryffindor table, all of the boys’ heads snapped... except for the one with a messy black moptop and green eyes. Ron stared slack-jawed at the elegant blue-eyed beauty with platinum hair who was dawdling near their table, glancing at the Gryffindors. There was a fleck of drool in the corner of Ron’s mouth. Dean, Seamus, and the Twins looked equally ridiculous. Even Neville and the Creevey brothers were hooked.
Only Harry didn’t seem entranced, though he had to admit that the girl was very pretty. Harry couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculous expression on Ron’s face, catching the platinum blonde Beauxbatons' attention. Hermione narrowed her eyes at the French girl when she saw her glance at Harry. The French beauty shook her head and smirked; some of the other Beauxbatons girls tugged her arm and pulled her away to sit with the Ravenclaws.
“Come ON Fleur, you don’t want to seet wiz zees troglodytes do you?”
Ron was still in a daze until someone else caught his eye. Ron gasped, and his eyes widened; he appeared to be even more excited than he had been to see the French girl. Lavender squealed, apparently equally enthralled by the new arrival, as Parvati giggled at her.
“Harry - look! It’s Viktor Krum! I didn’t know he was still in school...” Ron managed to croak.
Ron eagerly tried to get the Youngest-Professional-Quidditch-Player-in-History's attention, but Viktor Krum paid little heed as he miserably joined his friends at the Slytherin table. Draco Malfoy looked insufferably smug.
Many more dinner selections became available on the golden platters when the Feast began. Hermione’s eyes lit up in delight at the French dishes. Harry was thoroughly impressed with the Bratwurst, Sauerkraut, and German Potato Salad. But he made sure to leave room to try some of the other dishes.
“Harry, you have to try this...” Hermione said when Harry had finished his first plateful of dinner.
She put some Coq au Vin and Gougères on his plate. He tried the cheesy pastries first and his eyes widened in amazement at the rich flavour. When he tasted the Coq au Vin, Harry’s face looked blissful.
“This is fantastic Hermione. It’s as delicious as Shepherd’s Pie...”
Hermione rolled her eyes at the absurd comparison, but she flushed happily nonetheless. After the splendid Feast was finished, and the golden plates were cleared away, Professor Dumbledore introduced two wizards to everyone - both of whom Harry and Hermione were already acquainted with.
Harry thought Bartemius Crouch Sr appeared rather ill, and unsteady on his feet, though that was hardly unexpected as he was no doubt under a lot of scrutiny at the Ministry for his role in his son’s illegal release from Azkaban. And Ludo Bagman looked as cheerful and shifty as ever.
Two Aurors carried in an ancient looking wooden chest encrusted with jewels. The hinges creaked when the chest was opened; a roughly hewn wooden Goblet was removed and set upon a podium in the centre of the Great Hall. Ludo Bagman explained the rules for entering the Triwizard Tournament as the Goblet filled itself with blue-white flames.
That evening a number of Hogwarts students tried to put their names in the Goblet, but most couldn’t get past the age barrier. Draco tried, having attempted some sort of charm which he thought might get him through, but he only ended up shrieking in pain and had to be sent to the hospital wing, his hair completely frizzed and smoking.
Several older Slytherins and Ravenclaws put their names in, followed by Cedric Diggory. He successfully dropped a slip of parchment with his name into the blue flames, to the applause of the Hufflepuffs.
Gryffindors cheered when Angelina Johnson successfully dropped her name into the Goblet. Harry and Hermione both burst out laughing when the Weasley Twins tried to get past the line after taking some aging potions. The twins had both been violently ejected by the age-line and sprouted some excellent long white beards which put Dumbledore’s to shame. Ron glumly looked at the vial of aging potion in the palm of his hand and quietly slipped it back into his pocket.
When Harry woke, he wondered why he felt moody and depressed. Then he remembered it was Halloween. Today was the anniversary of the day Voldemort had killed his parents, and without fail, something dreadful always seemed to occur on Halloween at Hogwarts.
It was 5 am - far too early to be awake - but Harry didn’t think he could go back to sleep. Some bile rose with his anger as he lay in bed, wishing that he had Hermione to cuddle. He glanced at Ron, who was snoring loudly, and sighed. Harry dressed and pulled a blanket off his bed, heading downstairs to lie on the sofa by the Common Room fire. It was more peaceful in the quiet of the Common Room and Harry dozed off again.
Harry felt soft lips pressed against his and gentle arms enfolding him. With a grin, Harry woke and cradled the head full of tumbling tawny brown ringlets in his hands as the kiss deepened.
“Good Morning Harry,” said Hermione with a little smile. “We’ve only got a few minutes before someone else is bound to come downstairs, so we should make the best of it.”
They stole another kiss together and Harry was feeling a bit cheerier when it was time for breakfast, but Hermione could see that he was still quite tense.
The anticipation in the castle was high, as everyone was eager to discover who would be chosen as champions for their schools. Hermione buttered another croissant and dipped it into the yolk of her fried egg. As she took a bite, she noticed Padma Patil and Luna directly across the Hall, talking animatedly to the French girl who had caught the attention of the Gryffindor table the previous evening. Hermione smiled, deciding that maybe the French girl was alright after all.
Nobody could focus in classes that day, and the teachers all gave up trying. Except for Snape, who deducted 5 points apiece from Ron and Seamus for gossiping in class. As soon as classes had finished, Harry wished he could just get away from everyone. He was feeling trapped and all of the excitement had his nerves on edge.
Harry picked at his dinner, his stomach tied in knots. Feeling badly for Harry’s high levels of anxiety, Hermione couldn’t eat either. Harry looked over at Fred and George, who were still taking bets on who would be chosen to be champion after dinner. Harry really didn’t care; he had an ominous feeling that the other shoe was about to drop.
“Want to place a bet Harry?” asked Fred.
Harry shook his head. “Thanks Fred! No, I don’t really care who the champion from Hogwarts is, as long as it’s not a Slytherin.”
“Hear, hear...Well said, Harry...” said George.
“We think it’s probably going to be Cedric Diggory anyway,” Fred whispered, rolling his eyes.
After dinner, the candlelight diminished and the blue flames in the Goblet cast eerie flickering shadows across the Great Hall. The Headmaster stepped forward and announced that the choosing of the Champions would commence.
One could have heard a pin drop in the Great Hall as everyone held their breaths in anticipation. Professor Dumbledore snapped his fingers and a parchment flew out of the flames. He caught it deftly, and his sonorous voice resounded through the Hall.
“The champion from Durmstrang will be Viktor Krum.”
There was a swell of applause from the Slytherin table and some of Viktor Krum’s fans around the Hall. Krum glowered as he was directed to a small door at the end of the Hall. The Goblet flared again and Dumbledore caught the next slip of parchment.
“For Beauxbatons, the champion will be Miss Fleur Delacour.”
From the Ravenclaw table there were a few claps, and a few sobs. Hermione was shocked that the Beauxbatons wouldn’t all be happy for Fleur. Another slip flew out of the Goblet. Dumbledore smiled. It was nice for Hufflepuff to have a chance at a bit of Glory for a change.
“And for Hogwarts - the champion is none other than Cedric Diggory.”
The Hufflepuff table uttered a collective gasp, before bursting into delighted cheers. They really hadn’t expected it. Most of Gryffindor table joined in the cheering, even Angelina, but Ron grumbled and Seamus just looked stunned.
“Come on, pay up you two,” Fred sniggered.
“You should’ve known better than to bet against us,” said George.
To the shock of everyone in the Great Hall, the blue flames flared once more and another parchment shot out of the Goblet. Dumbledore sighed and snatched it from the air. He had almost been expecting this, but had hoped that his fears had been mistaken.
“Harry Potter...” the aged Headmaster said quietly.
The Hall went silent. Harry squirmed in his seat and groaned, feeling all eyes upon him. This was all wrong, but somehow he had known this was going to happen. As a feeling of doom settled over him, Harry shared a dark look with Hermione who gently squeezed his hand.
“No!” he responded.
“Yes Harry! I am afraid so. Please, if you will...” Dumbledore pointed towards the door of the antechamber at the end of the Hall.
“It’s alright Harry,” said Hermione. “I’ll still be here when you get back!”
Harry steeled himself and did as he was told. A murmur of outrage filled the Hall as he got up and made his way through it. Many people glared at him, and Ron gave him a most peculiar look. Harry did his best to ignore everyone and just kept moving.
When he had passed through the door and shut it behind him, he found himself facing the other three champions.
“Vot are you doing here?” asked Krum, peering at Harry in bewilderment.
“Do zey need us back in ze Hall?” asked Fleur. Cedric looked confused.
Harry swallowed, glancing nervously at each of the three Champions standing near the fireplace. They all seemed so much taller suddenly. Harry fidgeted, not sure how to explain. He took a deep breath to steady himself and had a go at it, hoping they would understand.
“Er... my name came out of the Goblet too. But...”
“Surely you jest...” Fleur interjected, tittering dismissively as if it were a silly prank. It was the little boy she had seen at the Gryffindor table who was obviously still too young to be affected by her charms. Krum’s face darkened but he said nothing.
“What?” gasped Cedric, “You’re a Champion too?” Cedric Diggory’s perplexed expression turned into a scowl. “...Being the Boy-Who-Lived and scoring two Quidditch trophies in a row not good enough for you eh?” he snapped. “I thought you were alright Potter! I suppose you just couldn’t stand that I won that game last year, even though I offered a rematch...”
“It’s not like that!” Harry shouted abruptly, his face reddening. “I didn’t even want to be a Champion - not really anyway. I don’t even know enough spells yet! I didn’t put my name in the Goblet...”
“You really expect me to believe that Potter?” snarled Diggory. “Looks like my father was right about you after all. You’re just a little glory-hound, aren’t you?”
Krum continued to glower at Harry, nodding in agreement with Cedric; Fleur’s disbelieving features turned to puzzlement and her crystal blue eyes flicked up to Harry’s scar.
“Blimey Diggory!” Harry retorted hotly. “I only just started fourth year! How d’you reckon I got past Dumbledore’s age-line and fooled the Goblet then? Don’t be a bloody prat! I’m telling you, I didn’t...”
“Wait...” said Fleur, interrupting, her curiosity getting the better of her when she realised how wrong her first impression had been. “You are ‘Arry Potter?”
“Er...” said Harry, blinking in puzzlement at Fleur’s sudden change in demeanor. He had expected her to start getting cross too. “Yeah... But that doesn’t mean anything...” he added quickly. “Honestly - I don’t know why my name came out of the Goblet...”
Krum snorted, and Diggory shook his head angrily. Furious voices and heavy stomps could be heard outside the door, growing louder. Moments later the Headmasters burst into the room with several professors and a few others: Ludo Bagman, who appeared oddly pleased about the turn of events, Crouch Sr, looking very pale and not well at all, and the two Aurors who had been guarding the Goblet.
“Professor Dumbledore,” Harry anxiously burst out, hoping beyond all hope that the Headmaster would believe him, “I swear, I didn’t...”
“Explain yourself Dumbledore. What is the meaning of this?” Karkaroff snarled, cutting Harry off and waving his hand at Harry. “Hogwarts cannot have two Champions!”
“But I didn’t...” Harry tried again.
“Oui, please! How can this be Albus?” Madame Maxime queried with a hurt look on her face, completely ignoring Harry. “I cannot believe zat you would betray our friendship so...”
“I do not know how this is possible. But I can assure you that Harry did NOT willingly enter his name,” Dumbledore responded firmly but politely.
“Professor Dumbledore is right!” said Harry, taking the opportunity to get a word in edgewise. “I didn’t put my name in the Goblet. I don’t know how to get past the age line and I don’t even want to be in this bloody tournament anyway...”
“You are a liar!” sneered Karkaroff. “No doubt you had an older student put your name in for you...”
“Impossible!” Moody growled. “Steps were taken to prevent that!”
“If I may suggest, Karkaroff,” Snape interjected, raising his eyebrows as he stared into Harry’s eyes, his own dark eyes glittering, “perhaps a dose of Veritaserum would reveal the truth.”
“Thank you Severus,” said Dumbledore. “A very sensible suggestion indeed. Harry, would you be willing...?”
“I’ll do it...” said Harry quickly, “I’ll take some Veritaserum to prove I didn’t enter!”
“Thank you Harry!” Dumbledore turned towards Professor Snape, “Severus, if you would be so kind?” Dumbledore asked. Snape peered at Harry with an almost sad expression, and began to move towards the door.
“That won’t be necessary!” conceded Karkaroff. He turned his anger on Bagman and Crouch; Bagman smirked and shiftily looked away. “So, Crouch, what are you going to do about this?”
Crouch stiffened, his moustache bristling. He coughed uncomfortably. “I can do nothing. Once the Goblet has rendered its decision, it is final, and it shall not reignite until the next tournament.”
“Which Durmstrang will most certainly not be participating in!” snapped Karkaroff. “And I am of half a mind to withdraw from this tournament if Durmstrang is not allowed equal representation...”
“That’s quite impossible my dear fellow,” Bagman interrupted almost cheerfully, his eyes darting towards Harry. “The magic of the Goblet represents a binding magical contract. The magical penalty for withdrawing is the same as for any other form of Unbreakable Vow.”
“But they’re just children! How could you...?” Professor McGonagall gasped in shock
Crouch stared inscrutably as Ludo Bagman shrugged. Professor Dumbledore took off his half-moon spectacles and massaged his temples.
Hermione flung her arms around Harry the moment he exited the anteroom into the Great Hall, which was empty now except for the other departing Champions and the adult wizards. A bad feeling gnawed at Harry’s gut as he wondered where Ron was.
“Are you alright Harry?” Hermione tearfully asked.
“Thanks for believing me Hermione...”
“Of course I believe you Harry!” Hermione squeezed Harry a bit tighter and kissed him on the cheek. “What happened in there?”
“I’ve got to compete,” Harry sighed. “According to Bagman, the decision of the Goblet is binding... like an Unbreakable Vow.”
“Wh...what?” Hermione’s face fell in horror. “Y...you mean....”
“Yeah...” Harry muttered darkly as they made their way to the marble staircase. “I’m as good as dead if I withdraw.”
“Harry, someone’s obviously trying to get you killed. But if Mr Crouch’s son has been sent back to Azkaban...” Hermione began.
“...then it has to be someone else,” continued Harry. “I know Hermione, but who? Surely everyone’s being checked for polyjuice potion now.”
“It has to be someone already in the Ministry,” Hermione’s brows furrowed, “someone with a grudge against you. Someone with a lot of political power or connected to someone who’s powerful... Harry, What if this whole tournament was just conceived of as a way to get at you? What if someone put Crouch Sr and Bagman up to it?”
“Blimey Hermione!” Harry’s eyes widened in shock as he considered the possibility. “You’re beginning to sound like Professor Moody. D’you really think someone other than Voldy would go through all that trouble just to do me in?”
“I know it seems far-fetched - but yes, Harry!” Hermione nodded reluctantly. “If someone in the Ministry hates you as much as Voldemort does, they wouldn’t want to expose themselves. They’d want to make it look like an accident, or something that you’d brought on yourself... It could even be the new Minister if she’s...”
“...a friend of Lucius Malfoy! Bloody hell Hermione, you’re absolutely right! And maybe she really is connected to Voldemort somehow!”
Harry swallowed nervously as a shiver ran up his spine. They were both silent as they made their way to Gryffindor Tower. Harry’s quiet rumination was shattered as a dozen hands yanked him into the noisy Common Room. Many Gryffindors were shouting and cheering, clapping him on the back and forcing butterbeers into his hands as he tried to pull away from them and get back to Hermione.
“Bloody Brilliant Harry!” shouted Fred.
“How’d’you do it?” said George, grinning.
“I didn’t put my name in,” Harry groaned. “I swear I didn’t. I don’t even want to be in the bloody tournament and I wouldn’t even know how...”
The twins’ eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Oh! Well we believe you, don’t we Fred?” George peered at his brother.
“Of course we do. Harry’s never steered us wrong...” Fred replied. “...and if it weren’t for him and Hermione, our little sister would still be possessed by You-Know-Who...”
“...or worse!” said George.
“Regardless Harry, we still support you...” Fred continued cheerfully.
“We believe you too Harry,” said Parvati quietly as Lavender and Neville nodded in agreement.
“Hermione told us what you both suspect,” murmured Lavender, looking scared for Harry.
But other than Fred and George, and Parvati, Lavender, Neville, and Ginny, the rest of Gryffindor all seemed to dismiss Harry’s and Hermione’s protestations that he hadn’t purposefully entered. And though most of Gryffindor was quite pleased that one of their own was a Champion, there were more than a few older Gryffindors who glowered at Harry with remarkably Slytherin expressions. Harry could have sworn he even heard a burly fifth year student named Mclaggen mutter something like “attention-seeking prat.”
“I’m over this!” Harry muttered to Hermione, in no mood to celebrate, “I’m off to bed then...”
Hermione peered after Harry worriedly as he finally managed to break free and make his way to the dormitory. She began to head up to her own dorm, then sat back down, sighing heavily and wondering where her sudden premonition had come from. It was usually Harry who got those sorts of feelings.
Harry knew something was up the moment he saw Ron lying on his bed staring at him with a sickly grimace. Hoping he was wrong, Harry approached his own bed, his breath quickening involuntarily.
“So, Congratulations Harry!” said Ron in a strained sort of voice.
“Really Ron?” muttered Harry, nostrils flaring as he felt a surge of anger.
“Well... yeah! I mean... you’re a Champion right?”
“I didn’t put my name in the Goblet Ron...”
“Oh... right! Just like you didn’t know that the Triwizard Tournament was going to happen - even though you’re best friends with the Minister...”
“You mean the ex-Minister...”
“Whatever! You know Harry, I just thought you might want to tell your best friend... give me a shot at it too...”
“Of course I would’ve, but just listen to me Ron! I didn’t enter...”
“DON'T GIVE ME THAT RUBBISH!” Ron suddenly bellowed. “I reckon Malfoy was right about you! ... I suppose it takes another pampered prince to know one! You just want it ALL don’t you! It’s not enough that you’re already bloody rich and famous and get all the girls... You have to bloody RUB IT IN, DON’T YOU? ... Prove that you're better than everyone else ... I’m not stupid you know! ...”
“Well you’re doing a bloody good impression of it Ron,” Harry snapped.
Harry couldn’t believe this was happening... except that he could. Harry thought back to all of the odd looks Ron had given him that he’d ignored, or chalked up to something else, and all of the offhand comments for which he’d given Ron the benefit of the doubt, and he suddenly realised that this had been a long time coming.
“Oh yeah?” snarled Ron. “You should probably get some sleep Harry! You’ll want to get your beauty rest for your photo-calls tomorrow...”
Harry had thought that Ron would be one of the few who would believe him... except that deep down inside, Harry now knew that he had been afraid that Ron wouldn’t. Ron was supposed to be one of his best friends - his first real friend... A ball of fury burned in the pit of Harry’s stomach that he couldn’t quite put words to; all he knew was that he’d finally reached a sort of tipping point, and that he couldn’t bear to look at Ron anymore.
Harry turned on his heel and stormed back out of the Fourth Year dorm, looking for the friends that he knew still believed in him.
Hermione’s face fell when she saw Harry reappearing in the Common Room. It wasn’t unexpected, but she’d rather hoped that she had been wrong. The thunderous expression on Harry’s visage told her everything she needed to know.
“It’s Ron isn’t it?” she asked unnecessarily.
“Let’s get out of here,” Harry muttered, nodding curtly as he rubbed at his burning scar. The walls seemed to be closing in on him; his nerves were all on fire. Everyone’s faces seemed to loom at him when they turned to congratulate him again, and the sound of cheer set his teeth on edge.
“But where will we go Harry? We’ve only got an extra hour before curfew tonight.”
“I don’t know... I don’t care! I’ve got my invisibility cloak if we need it. I... I just know that I’m going to explode if I stick around here, Hermione!”
Hermione could almost feel the agitation rolling off Harry in waves, and knew that he couldn’t hold it together much longer. They slipped out of the portrait hole together and made their way through the corridors, trying to avoid the main passageways as Harry looked for somewhere to hide from everyone.
Finding themselves trapped in the corridor with the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, small groups of students milling at either end, Harry paced back and forth several times trying to think of a good place to hide as Hermione looked on anxiously. Hermione’s breath caught and her eyes boggled at the wall where a door had just magically appeared.
“Harry,” she squeaked, “Look...”
“What the...? Where did that come from?”
“I don’t know Harry.”
Harry peered at Hermione, his eyebrows raised as his heart began to thud rapidly.
“Er... shall we then?” he asked. Hermione nodded.
In great trepidation, Harry tentatively opened the door and led the way. They both gasped in awe at the sight they beheld: a cavernous room larger than a cathedral, full of all manner of items from the mundane to the strange: empty bottles of sherry, ancient broken pieces of furniture, fanged frisbees, statues, self-slinging slingshots, half-covered paintings, damaged busts and statues, piles of magazines featuring witches in various states of undress engaging in scandalous acts, oddly shaped skeletons, heaping mountains of books, rusting swords and dented suits of armour - far too many things to catalogue in a month of Sundays, many of them caked with thick layers of dust.
The hair on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end as he felt a sharp searing pain in his forehead and his stomach clenched. He gasped and clutched at his scar, staggering.
“Harry!” squealed Hermione as a terrible thought gripped her. “Wh...what’s wrong? Is this a trap of some sort? He’s not here is he?”
“No... I don’t think so Hermione. I... I think there’s a Horcrux somewhere in this room,” said Harry, gritting his teeth and bracing himself against the pain.
“Seriously?” Hermione breath quickened, “Can you tell where it is Harry?” she asked, her heart pounding in her ears.
“I... I think so Hermione. The pain will get worse as I get near it.”
Harry led Hermione up and down, and all around, through aisles of centuries’ worth of detritus. Finally he stopped and stared at a crumbling stone bust with a tarnished dusty tiara perched on its head.
“The tiara Hermione,” Harry whispered, “The tiara is the Horcrux.”
With shaking hands, Hermione lifted the Tiara from the bust and carefully stowed it in her robes.
“We’d better get this to Dumbledore immediately Hermione.” Harry didn’t know why he was still whispering. It just seemed like the thing to do.
“Of course Harry...”
In short order, they managed to find their way out of the room. Harry and Hermione raced through the castle, making their way to the gargoyle which guarded Dumbledore’s office.
“Cockroach Cluster,” Harry wheezed breathlessly. The stone gargoyle jumped aside, and the two young wizards ran up the spiral staircase, not waiting for it to carry them up to the top. Harry grabbed the brass knocker and banged loudly on the door.
“Ah! Harry, Miss Granger,” said Dumbledore with a twinkle when the door opened. “This is a surprise at this time of night, but not unwelcome or entirely unexpected. No doubt you both have many questions regarding the Goblet choosing Harry as a second Hogwarts Champion - indeed I was just discussing the matter with Alastor...”
Hermione glanced at the disfigured ex-Auror as Harry slumped on her shoulder, sweat dripping from his pale face, his chest heaving.
“I’m sorry Professor, but this is urgent,” Hermione interrupted as Harry gasped, still trying to catch his breath.
“Nothing to do with the Triwizard Tournament sir...” Harry managed to groan, his scar throbbing painfully. “I... I think you’ll need the Sword of Gryffindor for this!” said Harry as Hermione reached into her robes and held out the stained tiara in her trembling hand.
Mad Eye’s glass eye stopped spinning and came to a dead halt as his jaw dropped. Professor Dumbledore shot up from his seat, pulled off his spectacles, wiped them on his robes, and put them back on again. His eyes bulged with shock. He wiped his spectacles and replaced them again, just to be absolutely certain.
“Merlin’s saggy balls!” sputtered Mad Eye, “Is... is that what I think it is Albus?”
“Why yes Alastor! I believe so - The Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw. And if I’m not mistaken, our two young heroes have just discovered yet another of Tom Riddle’s Horcruxes.” The Headmaster lifted the Sword of Gryffindor from its perch on the wall of his office.
“My apologies Harry, but I daresay that you appear to have had more than enough stress to deal with today. I believe it would be best if I handled this one...”
“Go for it!” Harry muttered, gasping with relief. He just wanted the pain to stop. “This one’s all yours...”
“Stand back everyone,” warned Dumbledore. “This will likely be a bit... violent.”
Dumbledore placed the Diadem in the centre of the floor and swung the Sword. It struck the Horcrux with a burst of sparks and a ghastly shriek echoed as it had before. A turbulent gale ripped through Dumbledore’s office as a swirling tornado of black smoke billowed from the diadem. After a few minutes the howling tempest finally came to an end, and an oozing black venom bled from the shattered crown.
Harry was barely standing and his knees wobbled. Before she could stop herself, Hermione kissed him deeply and tearfully. She pulled back blushing after several moments had passed, remembering that the Headmaster and the ex-Auror were watching.
As before, Dumbledore opened his desk and pulled out a bottle of Ogden’s Finest Firewhiskey and poured everyone a shot with his own shaking hands. Harry wondered again that it didn’t seem to burn his throat as much as Seamus’s flask of Firewhiskey at the World Cup. Between Hermione’s kiss, and the effects of the liquor, the searing pain in his scar began to subside rapidly.
“Well colour me impressed Potter! Thanks to you, we’re well on our way into turning Voldemort into Full-Dead!” Mad-Eye said approvingly.
“I...I don’t think I could have managed it without Hermione really. Those bloody horcruxes are a pain - literally. But it’s not so bad when Hermione’s with me.”
Moody gazed astutely at the young witch, as if sizing her up. Hermione cringed, withering a bit under the scrutiny of Mad Eye’s discerning eyeball.
“Hmmm... Granger, indeed! Remus and Sirius did say that she's the Brightest Witch they’ve ever met besides your mother, Potter. And I saw how ready you both were to fight those scum at the World Cup... Anyway, Dumbledore and I have been having a good chat about who mighta put your name in the Goblet, and how to keep you alive Potter. Can’t say we know who’s behind it for certain - but we have our suspicions...”
“I’ll be trainin’ you up a bit so you can compete fair and square with the older students and make it through in one piece - Triwizard ‘rules’ be damned - and I’d say Granger might as well join us seein’ as you’re both practically married already... We’ll have you two whipped into shape and ready to make Death Eaters eat death in no time...”
Dumbledore coughed and palmed his face; Mad Eye snorted.
“...but we’ll focus on gettin’ you through this tournament first, Potter. Mark my words though, there’s going to be no more foolishness about mollycoddling criminals when you’re in a fight for your lives. Right Albus?” Moody grimaced as his eye spun to the back of his head.
“Quite...” Dumbledore replied in a small voice.
“Right! I’ll give you two a trainin’ schedule sometime tomorrow, then we’ll get cracking. The First Task is November 24th. That doesn’t give us much time. There’ll be Aurors stationed here at Hogwarts to secure the tournament from here on out, so we’ll need somewhere to train where whoever is on the Ministry payroll can’t spy on us... we’re still workin’ on that!”
Harry and Hermione departed from Dumbledore’s office, both of them blushing furiously and unable to meet each other’s eyes as Moody’s offhand comment about marriage echoed in their skulls. Curfew was nearly upon them, but Harry had no desire to return to the dormitory and be near Ron - especially while he still felt so out of sorts from dealing with the Horcrux. Harry slipped his Invisibility Cloak over himself and Hermione, and they made their way to the Astronomy Tower.
Harry finally began to settle as he cuddled Hermione under starry skies, sharing increasingly steamy kisses. The stone walls of the battlements blocked the worst of the cold wind, and the heat of their passionate embrace did the rest. Pressed closely together, hands roaming, caressing fingers trailing across each other’s curves, legs intertwined, Harry’s humid lips tenderly traced a path to Hermione’s neck as she quivered and gasped at the electrifying tingles coursing through her...
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