Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Luna's Hubby


by Meteoricshipyards 3 reviews

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Romance - Characters: Harry,Luna - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2007-10-02 - Updated: 2007-10-02 - 13538 words - Complete

Disclaimer: Harry Potter, his friends, enemies, and settings are not mine, will never be mine, and while that makes me sad, it makes me no money, either.

Chapter 18


The party in the Ravenclaw tower was loud and long. Harry was one point behind Victor, though that was more to do with Karkaroff's insistence on giving him a low score than on his actual performance. One four among all those nines could have made him angry, but Harry didn't really care. He'd managed to finish without a scratch aside from some mild burns that had been healed before he left the stadium. And he had faced a dragon! Admittedly one that was chained up, but still. . . .

When he opened the golden egg to hear the clue the party came to a sudden halt as the room shook from the sound of an explosion. That was followed by hissing so loud that it drowned out the cries of surprise from the rest rest of the Ravenclaws as they stopped partying to stare warily at the egg. After half a minute of hissing, a second boom rocked the tower. At that point, Harry snapped the lid closed, halting the hiss and any further noises. There was silence in the common room.

"That's the clue?" someone eventually asked.

"They're going to blow you up!" came a helpful suggestion from the crowd.

"There was more cracking than explosion in that noise. I'm not sure what that is. . . ." someone else pointed out.

"Maybe if you listened from far away. . . ."

The brainstorming session continued for a while, but was lost to the rest of the noise as the party broke out again. Harry, along with every one else, went to bed late.

As he lay in bed, he smiled. Right after the task he had been directed to the First Aid tent where he saw Cedric and Fleur with some blue goo on them. They had both been burned (Cedric more than Fleur) while retrieving their eggs. While Madam Pomfrey made sure that he was uninjured, Luna, Selene, and Larry came into the tent and hugged him. He was happy to have his family around him. That was a magic that he would face a hundred dragons for.

Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were not well represented the next day at breakfast. Harry and Luna, however, were there. Despite partying late, he still woke early. Knowing that he would be tired later, and maybe take an afternoon nap, he went down for breakfast. Luna was waiting for him.

"Good morning," he said. "You're usually not up early."

"I thought I'd join the winning champion for breakfast."

"I'm in second place."

"Which has nothing to do with whether you're a winner or not." Harry laughed. He appreciated Luna's ability to make him laugh.

"Care to join me for breakfast, Mrs. Lovegood?"

"Certainly, Mr. Lovegood."

He held out his elbow, and she hooked her hand around his arm. Together they walked down to breakfast and along the way stopped for one of their special kisses.

That afternoon they were accosted by the upper class Ravenclaws who wanted to try some experiments with the golden egg. Harry refused. He told them that he was taking the day off from the tournament, and for the next few weeks would try to figure the egg out on his own. He thanked them for their assistance so far, even though they hadn't considered how to fight dragons.

There were some protests, but Liz Ragingstorm agreed with Harry's. "He's the champion. He deserves the chance to figure it out." She continued with a smile, "And when he comes crawling to us, we'll make him beg for help. Good luck Harry! You're going to need it."

"Your confidence in me warms my heart," he responded, smiling at Liz' hamming it up.

He worked on homework that afternoon and joined the study group after dinner in the Great Hall. Sunday traditionally had the largest turnout, as those people who put off working on their assignments over the weekend hurried to catch up. Harry deflected some questions about his marriage and he postponed any questions about the next task until after Christmas break.

That evening, as he was brushing Luna's hair, Harry asked her, "So, any ideas on the egg?"

"Yes. But I thought you wanted to solve it by yourself?"

"I thought we could work on it. I didn't want the entire house helping."

"Oh. But I agree with Elizabeth. I don't think I should tell you the answer until you come crawling to me, begging for help."

"You have the answer already?"

"Well, no. But I know what you have to do to find it."


"That's the part I don't think I should tell you."

"Can you tell me how you figured it out?"

"There's only about five spells on the egg. And one of them is an anti-Accio spell. But that's all I'm going to tell you."

Harry was stunned. He had envisioned long hours of trial and error, refining theories, and testing again. He never thought to analyze the spells on the egg.

"Luna! You're a genius!"

"I like to think so, but this doesn't prove it. All I did was look at the egg. All this proves is that I'm gifted."

"And I'm gifted by you! Oh, thank you!" Harry was enthusiastic. He figured he'd be able to decipher the spells long before anyone else, even without Luna's help.

- - -

Amidst all the congratulating and disparaging letters he received the week after the tournament, Harry received a unique one.

Dear Mr. Lovegood,

Just a quick note to thank you for the information that we can talk with our charges. Everyone here at the Dragon Reserve is very excited. We've set up a permanent portkey to take us to a nearby Dryad. It seems that no one here can keep that hissing spell in their head for more than a few minutes. But with the Dryad's help we can cast the spell and thus talk to the dragons for up to an hour. We've asked the Dryad if we can plant a seedling on the reserve so that someday we will have a local expert who can cast the spell at any time. She's considering our request.

Being able to talk with our charges has made our job vastly more interesting. You've opened a door to knowledge that we never knew was there. The Dragon Handlers here cannot thank you enough, and I am personally indebted to you.

Your former neighbor,

Charlie Weasley

Dragon Wrangler

Romanian Dragon Ranch

Harry showed the letter to Luna and Mike. "At least I don't have to give another class in hissing."

Mike looked thoughtful. "I've never considered a career as a Dragon Handler."

"You probably should have taken Care of Magical Creatures," Harry countered.

"Yeah, that will probably count against me."

Later, he asked if Mike had been serious about the career choice. "Naw. I don't think I could live in the wilds of places like Romania. I think I like the big city too much. Have you considered a career?"

"I don't know. My uncle makes wands, and that's kind of fun. But I don't know if I want to do that full time."

- - -

Over the next two weeks Harry had a lot of headaches as he worked at analyzing the egg. There was sound magic, and water magic that was some sort of trigger, the anti-summoning charm, some sort of random timing spell that triggered the explosive sounds, and what seemed like some sort of cleaning charm. Harry figured that the last was to keep it shiny.

Meanwhile he had tried several things with water to activate the trigger, but had been unsuccessful.

There were also some unflattering stories in the Daily Prophet about Harry and Luna. They were accused of dabbling in dark magic; their history with the explosive "dark object" the year before, their Parseltongue ability, the fact that they got past the age line by some unknown method, their bonding, and even their discovery of the Greek Temple were presented as proof that they were being taught dark magic and came from a dark household.

The Quibbler fought back. It accused the Prophet of attacking Harry and Luna for personal reasons, namely that they were the children of the editor of the Prophet's rival. They also presented facts about each of the Prophet's points that put Harry and Luna in a good light, except for the children's bond. There was a simple statement that that was a private matter and until the children themselves wanted to talk about it the Quibbler wouldn't comment. The two students received a lot of mail; about half of it supportive, and half disapproving, with a small amount antagonistic.

After the Prophet's first article on them, they realized that some of the information had come from their school mates. At the study group that night Harry and Luna asked all the students not to talk about them (the Lovegoods) to anyone outside the school. They pointed to some "facts" that the paper had got wrong yet used to castigate them, and hoped that the students would respect their privacy.

There were a number of articles and counter articles in the two papers, and the Quibbler, which was a weekly, put out several Triwizard Tournament special editions to answer the Prophet.

They weren't only about Harry and Luna, however. Larry filled them with background of all the contestants, interviews with their families, and even interviews of some of the other foreign students. He sent a letter telling Harry and Luna that all the issues dedicated to the tournament had sold out, even the later ones when he had increased the print run.

The Attiah twins, two seventh year Hufflepuffs, were hired as stringers, and were trying to get interviews with all the foreign students. They had worked at the paper the previous summer and had expressed interest in becoming journalists. Larry had contacted them with an offer to buy any good information they would send him. Their writing was good enough that he published their whole articles and gave them a byline. After Larry accepted several of their stories for publication, he offered them jobs for when they were done with their schooling.

Meanwhile, the subjects of the front page stories were inundated with mail every morning. They quickly sorted it into two piles depending on whether they knew the writer or not. The "known" pile was usually very small.

The first time they received a howler Harry was stunned, but only for a moment. After a comment about "dark children corrupting our school" Harry pointed his wand at the yelling letter and incinerated it. Luna acted like it didn't exist. That became their standard method of dealing with the shouting letters -- as soon as one attempted to activate, Harry would burn it. He soon was doing it soundlessly to the amazement of some of his friends. Luna just gave him a smile and said, "Congratulations." Stories comparing Harry's howler answer to Amelia Bones' method of smashing it with a plate then stabbing it with a fork abounded. Harry's method was considered more efficient, but the way the director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement "killed" one when she was a student was still considered "definitive."

- - -

A few days into December, Professor Flitwick asked Harry to stay after his class. They had been working on sticking charms, and Harry had stuck Tom Lynch's book bag to the ceiling. He hadn't lost any points, but Flitwick had ordered him to get it down. Harry was afraid that he was going to get a detention.

"Mr. Lovegood," he said, after all the other students left and closing the door, "I am informing you that there will be a Yule Ball this year as part of the Triwizard Tournament. Under normal circumstances, you would probably not attend, as it is for fourth years and above, and those third years invited by older students. But it is required that the champions be there, so an exception is being made for you. You will have to invite a date and dance the first dance."

"May I invite Luna?"

"Yes you may. And let me say that I am glad that you and she have made up. And I hope you both have learned a lesson."

Harry nodded as he opened the door. "Yes, sir. Next time we'll put your name in."

"Right. NO! Wait!" But Harry had joined Luna who was waiting across the hall. He gave his head of house a smile and a little wave, and the two walked off as the little professor laughed. On the way to the Ravenclaw tower Harry asked Luna to accompany him, and she accepted.

The announcement of the Yule Ball was posted in the common room when Harry and Luna arrived. There was a lot of excitement from the fourth years and above and a lot of disappointment for the lower level students. At least that was the case in the girls' dormitories. The boys fell into several groups.

There were those in relationships already; it was a formality to invite their girlfriends. Then there were those who were self confident (or egotistical); they marched off to invite someone they were interested in. The largest group (and it got larger as you went down in years) was the group that lacked the self confidence or experience with girls to make asking one for a date an event less desirable than facing a dragon. They started huddling in fear and embarrassment.

The impending ball had an impact on the study tables. Whereas before the boys and girls mixed fairly freely, from fourth year up they suddenly became segregated. The boys stayed at one end of the table and the girls were at the other. There were even seats left empty in the middle between the two groups.

Harry and Mike, the unofficial (but fairly entrenched) leaders of the third year study group, gave up trying to keep the group on topic after working on a spell for Charms class. The girls kept talking about the ball, how unfair it was that they couldn't go, who they'd like to go with, what they'd wear, and similar topics. The boys for the most part were glad that they weren't allowed (except for a few, like Cranston who had been friends with Margo Lane for years, and would have liked to take her to the ball).

Then word got out that Harry had asked Luna and the topic changed to them. After being asked if his dress robes would match Luna's dress (which he didn't know), it devolved into how insensitive he was being about the whole thing and how ashamed he should be. By that time a number of fourth year girls had joined the conversation, and a group of second years had stopped by to observe, Harry guessed. Deciding he didn't need the grilling he was getting, or the dressing down (for something that was going to happen about a month away?) he left. A lot of people left at the same time. Seems it wasn't only the third year group that was having trouble concentrating on homework.

Over the next few days the third years' study group calmed down and became the efficient, organized (but still fun) group it had been before. The older students groups still had some problems. Harry noticed that the boys and girls still were separated, but there was a group of couples in between. The couples' group grew day by day. Harry smiled when he saw that Draco and Hermione joined the group a few days after the announcement of the ball. As the study group was breaking up, he and Luna walked over to the fourth year table.

"So I take it you two are going to the ball together," Harry half asked.

"Yes. I wonder what it will be like?" Hermione gushed.

Draco kept his normal reserve, and said, "It's the social event of the school year. It's to be expected that I bring the prettiest girl." Hermione blushed.

"We'll look forward to seeing you," Luna said. "Mum will be taking me to get a new dress after the term ends."

"You're going too? Who asked you?" Hermione asked.

"Harry, of course."

"But third years. . . ." she began.

"Champions are required to go. Even underage champions," Harry told them.

Mike came over at that point, semi-followed by a group of third years.

"Hey, guys. I was going to try a new game. You can join if you want."

"What is it?" Harry asked.

"Ever play dodge ball?" The group Harry was with shook their heads except for Hermione.

She answered, "No thanks."

"It's not quite dodge ball; I figured if the wizarding world has spell tag, why not dodge spell?"

Harry asked, "How do you play?"

"Come on, I'll show you."

He collected a few more fourth years and led them to the dungeon. There was an empty, unused room that was large enough to attempt Mike's game. In Muggle dodge ball, the players threw balls at each other. In dodge spell, they were to throw minor hexes at each other. For the first game, Mike limited it to just jelly-legged curses. He ruled shield spells were illegal, the name of the game was "dodge spell" after all. Besides, only a few of the children knew how to cast a shield. Harry promised to teach the group after the game.

A limiting factor in the Muggle version of the game was the number of balls. There was no such limit in dodge spell. Players like Harry and Neville could cast a half dozen in the same time that some people could only cast one. Harry and Neville's (and Nott's) proficiency in speed casting caused them to become the primary targets of the opposing side. They found that if a half dozen people were casting spells at you as quick as they could, when the casters aim was off it often didn't matter, as the target might dodge into the mis-cast spell. The consensus of the players was that it was interesting, but not worth playing again. A group of boys did decide to learn how to conjure rubber balls, and made arrangements to try a game of dodge ball.

Harry, Draco, Nott, and Neville taught the rest of the group the Protego shield spell. They considered allowing it in the game, but most people didn't think it would save the game and rejected it.

As they were leaving the dungeon room, Mike said, "Come spring, I wonder if we can come up with a magical version of football [soccer]?" which started a discussion that wasn't finished by the time the group broke up to go their separate ways. As they headed up the stairs from the dungeons, Harry found himself walking with Neville and Ron.

"You had it easy," said Ron.

"What do you mean?"

"You had a ready-made date for the ball. I can't even get close to a girl. They're flocking! They're always in groups!"

"It is intimidating," Neville added.

"Now that you mention it, they do seem to move in groups more than they used to," Harry admitted.

"And they're always whispering and giggling. What's up with that?" Ron complained.

"Don't know mate. So you haven't asked anyone yet?"

"No, and if they don't stop flocking, I don't know if I will. Girls have it easy: all they have to do is wait around for someone to ask them out."

Harry wasn't sure that was right, but kept his mouth closed. They went their separate ways, and Harry found Luna waiting for him in the common room.

"Hello Harry. How was the game?"

"Didn't work out as well as Mike hoped. How was your evening?"

"Fine. Finished the Aeneid. Do you think Uncle Remus' mother was a seer when she named him that?"

"Don't know," Harry answered, as he took the brush, and began to work on her hair.

"Ron was just saying that girls have it easy, they just have to wait around for someone to invite them to the dance."

"Oh really, Mr. Lovegood?" Uh, Oh. Harry knew that tone. This was going to be bad.

It wasn't so bad. Luna just explained how things really are, and Harry agreed at the proper places. She kept her tone low and conversational. They even kissed and said good night once she was done; then headed off to their respective bedrooms.

The next evening after the study groups, Harry led Ron and Neville down a corridor away from the other students.

"You had it completely wrong, Ron. Guys have it easy. All they have to do is ask a girl. A girl has to wait and wonder is she's pretty enough? Is her hair the right way? Is her laugh wrong? Are her gazelles developed enough? Are they too big? Is her personality a turn off? Did she accidentally put down a boy and get a reputation?

"What if the wrong boy asks her? Someone she likes, but was hoping to go to the ball with someone else? Does she agree to go with him? Or hope that the one she wants will ask her? What if someone she doesn't like asks her? Will he pressure her? Insult her? Start rumors about her? Get revenge?

"That's why they go in groups, for protection and moral support. And if a boy can't get enough courage up to ask despite the group, they probably don't want to go with him."

"Oh, sure, Harry. That might be the way they see it. But what about us? What if they turn us down? What if they make fun of us for asking?"

"If a girl politely turns you down, be polite back and just ask someone else. If they aren't polite when they turn you down, then that's not someone you want to go with anyway, right? Just suck it up and ask!"

Neville took a breath, and nodded. "You're right, Harry. In the end, we just have to ask. Do you have your eye on anyone, Ron?"

"There are a few girls. . . ."

"Let's go ask."

"They're up in the Gryffindor tower, mate. You can't come."

"That's alright. The one I'm thinking of is in the basement. Thanks Harry! I'll see you tomorrow."

"Good luck, Neville. 'Luck, Ron."

The next evening, Harry noticed that Neville and Susan Bones had joined the couples section of the 4th year table. Ron and Parvati Patil also joined. Harry found out later that Ron asked Lavender Brown first, but she was going with Seamus Finnigan, another fourth year Gryffindor. Ron and Parvati seemed to get along pretty well, and Harry was happy for his friends.

The last day of the term the study group was more a social gathering. They spent fifteen minutes on Arithmancy (at the insistence of some Ravenclaws) but actual work fell by the wayside as people started singing Christmas carols at the fourth year table. More and more students joined in. Somebody had the elves provide marshmallows and long forks, and soon, with the help of Professor Flitwick who was monitoring the Great Hall that evening, the tables were pushed back, cushions were spread over the floor around the huge fireplace, and the lights had dimmed. It was about that time that Fred and George Weasley showed up. They each had a box of chocolates that they handed out. Mike Daley took one, and handed the box to Harry. Harry popped one into his mouth, passed the box to Luna, and gasped as Mike's tongue started growing. It was over a foot long when something happened to Harry.

He wasn't sure what was going on at first, but suddenly he didn't fit on the cushions like he had been. He sort of rolled off. He looked down at his body and saw he was covered with yellow feathers and his body had taken a bird shape. He looked at Mike, whose tongue was several feet long and who looked panicked, and tried to say something, but all that came out was a chirp. Harry was also considering panicking, but with a shudder and an explosion of yellow feather, he molted and became himself once more. He looked around and saw that "Bookie" Bolen had sprouted an elephant's trunk, Terry Oberuk had bunny ears, and Margo Lane's skin was bright blue.

"Oy! Fred! We never had that side effect before," one of the twins (obviously George) said.

"Nope. Hang on Harry, we'll fix you right up."

Harry glanced down at himself, and didn't see anything wrong. But then Luna, who was now standing over him, grabbed his hand and started pulling him up.

"I think you've done quite enough. I'll get this fixed," she said in a no nonsense voice that Harry had almost never heard her use. He got up and started to ask what the problem was, but she shook her head a little, and said, "Come on Harry. We'll come back for your stuff," and almost dragged him out of the hall.

Once out, he asked, "What's the matter?"

"Your hair. The transformation spell in that candy reverted it and your eyes back to their real color. We have to get you fixed up right away, and no more eating magical candy from the twins."

"How was I supposed to know it was enchanted?"

"Sorry. But from now on, just assume anything they give you is. I bet you'll be right more often than wrong."

"Yeah, and I'll end up like Mad Eye -- carrying my own drink around because I'm paranoid."

"But in the case of the twins -- they are trying to get you with a prank."

Harry washed his hair with the special bottle of shampoo that had the hair color in it. He had to do that every couple of weeks anyway. He also put in the Eye-Dye and went to bed. He hated the stuff, and it made his eyes hurt for a few hours, but he understood the necessity.

When Luna returned to the Great Hall the party was still going on. The twins had run out of joke candy, and word of the party had reached the upper levels, who had joined in. The large fireplace on the Gryffindor side of the Great Hall was now surrounded by lounging teenagers, many of whom were sitting as couples. Professor Flitwick had again provided more cushions for just arrived students. He hurried over to Luna when she reappeared, as did the twins.

Luna told them that Harry's hair had reverted by itself, but he wasn't feeling well and had gone to bed. Fred and George were still interested in the magical side effect, but Luna acted mad at them again, so they left off. She explained it to Flitwick by saying that Harry had been bullied and teased a lot when he was young, and she was probably over concerned about his reaction to being pranked. Flitwick seemed to accept the explanation and let it go.

- - -

Harry and Luna got off the Hogwarts Express and found Larry waiting. The train had been less crowded than it usually was for the Christmas break. There had been plenty of third years, though, and Harry and Luna and visited with many of their classmates. Harry enjoyed that, but wondered why they had to take the train. Theoretically, they could have floo-ed straight home from the school. But the only (known) fireplace there that allowed travel was the one in the headmaster's office. As it was, after getting off the train, they queued up to use the public access fireplaces and went straight home.

The Lovegoods were going to spend as much of the holidays together as they could; they would only be back at school for the Yule ball. They had an invitation to Sirius' Boxing Day Party and they were going to celebrate Christmas and Christmas Eve as a family.

The six days remaining before Christmas day sped by as Harry and Luna decorated the house, bought and wrapped presents, visited their extended family, and even did some homework. Selene and Larry also spent time teaching the two students to dance. Larry was rather bad at it, but seemed better when he danced with Selene. To say that Harry or Luna were good would be stretching the truth a bit, but they weren't bad, and they became comfortable dancing with each other.

Harry took some time to work on the egg. He discovered another spell on it -- an anti-silencing charm. The first time he opened it in the house, he brought Selene and Larry running to find out who blew up the bathroom. Harry explained it to them, and they left him to his experiments. Harry had the egg in the tub and had filled the hollow top with water. Didn't help. He then filled the tub and tried opening it underwater. The sound of the explosion caused the water to splash. Harry even stuck his head under the water right after an explosion, under the fairly well established theory that another explosion wouldn't sound right away, and afraid of what the pressure wave would do to his eardrums. All he heard was the static sound.

He closed the egg and drained the tub.

Christmas Eve arrived and Uncle Ollie came for dinner. Harry, Luna, and the wand maker talked about runes throughout dinner. While Luna enjoyed them for themselves (perhaps a legacy of her experience with the Quibbler's puzzle) Harry seemed obsessed with what he could do with them. Ollivander discussed ward making and breaking, and the various professions that being a master of runes would open up, including wand making. Ollie's enthusiasm for his job was evident as he became more animated and gesturing wildly as he talked about it. Harry had done very little wand making since the summer except to collect some more sticks (with the help of Hagrid) from the forbidden forest and work on their shaping with the little lathe that Ollie had given him. But over the last month and a half he'd been a little preoccupied.

"One problem I had with the softer wood is cutting too deeply. I ruined a number of promising branches when I forgot how easy some of them carve."

"Yes, attention to your material is vitally important, but even then you can end up ruining a promising branch. One of the hardest to work with is Whomping Willow. Besides its tendency to try to get away from the knife, it's one of the most challenging woods I've ever encountered. That's why you use a strengthening charm to stiffen it up and make it workable." He spent a few minutes teaching Harry the spell.

"Are you still interested in working at the shop this summer?"

"Yes, very much," Harry answered. "But I'm not saying I want to do that for the rest of my life."

The old wand maker smiled and nodded. Ollivander left soon after that.

One other thing occurred that Christmas Eve. Larry read a letter from Aunt Sibyll. She was doing well and had taken a job as a secretary at the Aurors' headquarters in New Goetry. She was also seeing an Auror, Inspector Henderson. She hoped to bring him for a visit some time this upcoming year. She sent her love and good wishes.

They went to bed early, as the next day would be a late night for Harry and Luna.

Christmas morning came, and Harry and Selene made breakfast and brought it up on trays to their spouses. After eating, they opened presents, and Harry and Luna packed their things for the overnight stay at Hogwarts. Around noon the fireplace flared and Mrs. Malfoy came through. Larry greeted her, and directed her towards the kitchen, where Selene was. A moment later it flared again and Harry was shocked to see Hermione Granger appear.

"Hermione! What are you doing here? Er...I mean, happy Christmas! Can I get you anything?"

"Happy Christmas, Harry. And no, I'm just stopping by with Mrs. Malfoy to pick up Luna and her mother."

"What's going on?"

At that point, Selene, Luna, and Mrs. Malfoy came in.

Luna answered with a mysterious smile, "Nothing that concerns you, Harry, at least not yet. I'll see you tonight at Hogwarts. Be ready, and don't be late!"

"I won't be late," Harry retorted.

"Let's get some lunch, and get you back to Hogwarts, Harry," Larry said, clapping him on the shoulder. As Harry left the parlor, he heard the floo being used.

"So, what is all that about?" he asked.

"Secret. Sorry, can't tell you."

After lunch, Larry side-along Apparated Harry to the gates of Hogwarts, and walked in with him. The entrance hall was more decorated than Harry had ever seen it. There was a barrier at the hallway leading to the Great Hall with Hagrid standing before it.

"Hey, Hagrid!"

"'Ello, Harry! Glad to see you back. You don' wanna miss tonight, I'm guessin'."

"No, since I'm supposed to help open the ball. Hagrid, would it be alright for my Uncle Larry to come to the Ravenclaw common room while I'm waiting?"

"Actually, we're opening up the teacher's lounge to allow those parents who want to see their children before the ball someplace to wait. But we weren' expectin' any parents six hours before the ball, so I guess it'll be fine for a little while."

"Thanks, Hagrid. Will you be at the ball?"

"I'm thinkin' I might show up for a bit."

"I'll see you then."

"Right you are, Harry!"

Harry led his guardian to the Ravenclaw common room where they visited for a while. Around five a buffet table appeared so people could have a snack before the dance, as dinner wasn't being served until eight. Larry glanced at his watch, and shooed Harry out of the common room around five thirty. His timing was perfect and Luna came into the common room moments later.

"You look wonderful, er. . . ." Larry stopped. The game he had been playing with Luna for, well, her entire life, where he called her a plant, but never used the same one twice, came to a halt then. His little girl was still little, but she wasn't a girl any more.

"You really do look gorgeous, Luna. Harry's gone up to get ready. You should probably get a quick bite to eat and do the same."

"Thank you, Daddy. I love you!"

"And I love you." They hugged, and Larry went down to find his wife in the teacher's lounge.

Harry showered, shaved (which he didn't have to do too often, but did it just to make sure), and dressed in his formal robes. Selene had taken him shopping for them when the Hogwarts letter had included them on the list of requirements last year. He put them on, and checked the time. Not even six thirty! He lay on his bed and waited.

An hour later found him down in the common room with numerous other boys waiting for their dates. The tall, arched windows were dark, and all he saw was his own reflection. Then she appeared.

He had never seen her look so lovely before. Her hair was . . . different. Part of it was up, and part of it was down. All of it was shiny and beautiful. She wore a silvery dress that sparkled, and when she saw him looking at her, her face lit up in a big smile.

"You're beautiful," he whispered, as he took her hand as she reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Thank you. You clean up well, too," she said with a smile.

"You're hair is . . . ." Harry sputtered for words.

"That's where we went this afternoon. Mrs. Malfoy made special arrangements with Madam Lorie to do our hair. Have you seen Hermione yet?"

"No. I've only been down here for about fifteen minutes."

"I doubt she was down before then. Shall we wait for her?"

"Sure. But we can't wait too long. We lead the procession in, you know."

"Never mind, then. We'll just escort this lady down."

The lady in question was Hermione. Her hair, too, was completely different. No longer bushy, it was tied up in a beautiful knot and had a simmering sheen to it. Her dress was periwinkle blue, and looked wonderful on her. Harry and Luna complimented her, and they all headed to the entrance hall to find Draco and enter the ball. They met Luna's parents, who took pictures of the couple before they headed for home. Mrs. Malfoy also took pictures of Draco and Hermione.

Harry had a wonderful time. He had to admit that he liked the slow dances better than the wild, fast ones. Luna did, too, and they often sat the fast ones out. They visited with Fleur and Roger Davies, Cedric and Cho, and Victor and Daphne Greengrass at the Champions table during dinner. They saw Neville and Susan, Parvati and Ron, and Draco and Hermione dancing. At one point they saw Ron and Lavender Brown enjoy a dance, and Harry and Draco changed partners for a dance, too.

The only strange occurrence during the evening was when Luna and he took a break, and they wandered outside where a rose garden had been set up, with weather charms set to keep it warm for the dancers, some of whom were in very light dresses. While they were passing Snape, who was snarkily taking points from couples who were getting too familiar, Luna took her wand and conjured a jar. She captured a large black beetle, and interrupted Hagrid and Madam Maxime to ask Hagrid to take care of the beetle until she could pick it up from him at the end of the evening. Harry, Hagrid, and Madam Maxime all looked at her like she was crazy, but she reiterated how important the bug was. Hagrid took the jar and it disappeared into one of his large pockets.

"What was that all about?" Harry asked her a short time later.

"I'll tell you later. Now, you have to dance with me some more, Mr. Lovegood."

"My pleasure, Mrs. Lovegood."

Luna did retrieve the jar, and much sooner than the end of the dance. She took it Percy Weasley, and handed it to him.

"What is this?" he asked, looking at the bug like, well, he was looking at a bug.

"That's an animagus. I'm not sure who it is, but I very much doubt they should be crawling around the party without an invitation."

"How do you know it's an animagus?" he asked, suspiciously.

"The same way I knew a certain rat was one. If you don't want to handle it, I'll call the Aurors."

"No, we don't want an international incident. I'll have them check it out after the ball."

"Thanks, Percy," Harry said.

As they were dancing, Harry asked, "Any idea who it is?"

"Not a clue. But I'll bet whoever it is was up to no good."

Harry couldn't argue the point, so they went back to dancing.

The party ended at midnight, and Harry and Luna and Hermione headed up to the Ravenclaw tower. As they reached the stairs on the fourth level, Harry and Luna told Hermione not to wait, and disappeared around a corner, out of the main thoroughfare to the tower. Harry wrapped his arms around Luna and they shared a very special kiss that seemed to go on and on. Eventually they broke apart, and Harry looked at Luna like he had never seen her before. She was flushed, and he was panting.

"You know, when we agreed to not do certain things before we have our marriage ceremony. . . ." he began.

"But we did agree," she answered, taking his arm, and steering him back towards the tower.

"Yes we did, but until tonight, I never felt it would be hard to wait."

"We're growing up, Harry. Our bodies are too. But I trust Mum. She's probably right that we don't need the complication in our lives right now. And we need our sleep. Uncle Sirius' party is tomorrow, and we don't want to be more tired for that than we are going to be if we go to bed right now."

"You're right," he said, and they made their way to the Ravenclaw tower. "I had a really good time," he added.

"Thank you for inviting me."

"Thank you for accompanying me."

They shared one more, public kiss in the common room, and went to bed.

- - -

The next morning Harry woke up late. He thought back over the evening and smiled. He got dressed, and went down to the common room. A few upper years were there, but none said that they had seen Luna. Deciding to let her sleep in, he made his way to the Great Hall for some breakfast.

It was scandal city. Ron and Parvati had broken up, as had Seamus and Lavender, and now Ron and Lavender were dating. About a dozen boys (Draco was the only one he knew well) had been slapped for trying to go "too far" with their dates. At least one unnamed girl in each of Slytherin, Gryffindor, and Hufflepuff was pregnant. (Harry wondered if Ravenclaws were too smart, or too moral to get into that situation.) Rita Skeeter had been arrested for being at Hogwarts illegally. Hagrid and Madam Maxime eloped after the ball. Madam Hooch and Professor Flitwick were seen leaving the party together. He and Luna had had a terrible fight and were going to do an unbinding ritual.

With that last one he knew that most of the rest were rubbish. He sighed. He wondered if he would be seeing any of these rumors in the Prophet. He knew for a fact that Draco and Hermione had parted in the Entrance Hall with a friendly kiss. He was also sure that Ron and Parvati did not break up, but to be honest, he didn't see them at the end of the ball. Hagrid had danced with Madam Maxime. If anyone had gotten pregnant the night before, he was pretty sure they wouldn't know it yet. If Madam Hooch and Professor Flitwick decided to ignore their differences in age and height, whose business was it but theirs?

Somewhere he had heard that living in a small town meant that there were no secrets. Did living in a very small town, like Hogwarts, mean there was no truth? As it turned out there was some, Rita was really arrested, and was going to spend a few months in Azkaban for being an illegal animagus. Harry shuddered, and resolved to register as soon as he succeeded in his transformation.

He made his way back to tower (telling at least three people that he and Luna had not had a fight) and asked one of the female students to get Luna up for him. She eventually appeared. Since it was so close to lunch, they decided to just go home and eat lunch there. They made their way to the Headmaster's office, where Professor Ransom of Ancient Runes was monitoring the Floo. They presented their written permission forms, and floo-ed home.

After lunch, the family went to Sirius' for the annual Boxing Day party. It seemed to have the usual crowd. Frank and Alice Longbottom were the new additions this year, they came with Neville and his grandmother. Draco was living there with his mother, now. Bill, the oldest Weasley boy, was also there; he was working at Gringotts main branch in London. Sirius and Hestia announced their engagement during dinner. Harry was called away at one point by Sirius, and found himself alone in a room with him and Remus. He performed his animagus meditation and transformed his whole body except his head. They tried a few more times, then let Harry get back to the party. They promised to try again over Easter break.

Sirius turned to Remus. "Maybe we should use the method that worked for James, the rat and I."

"What's that?"

"You don't remember?"

"I wasn't there, remember? You surprised me during fifth year with a fait accompli. So no, I don't know the method the rest of you used."

"Oh. I'm surprised no one mentioned it to you."


"Well, what?"

"What was the method you used to complete the transformation?"

"Oh, that. We finished off a fifth of Ogden's Firewhiskey then did it. We felt we could do anything after that."

"You realize you're lucky you survived your teen years?"

"Yeah, well . . . ."

"Let's get back to the party. If he's still having problems with the full animagus transformation when he's 17 we'll give him the opportunity to try your method."

"We weren't 17," Sirius pointed out.

"And you're lucky to not have made a fatal mistake when you were three sheets to the wind."

The party finished with the traditional exploding Snap game. Sirius had had to expand the dining room to fit the whole party. Luna sat out the game, despite calls for her to join in. She just politely declined and sat and watched the twins cheat, Draco pass hot cards to Ron, Harry play aggressively until his cards started to explode, then play conservatively until he noticed he was losing, Sirius, Remus, and Mr. Weasley avoid giving hot cards to Hestia, Tonks, and Mrs. Weasley respectively, Hermione try to figure what runs each of the other players were collecting, and Bill Weasley scowl but not say anything when he caught the twins cheating. In other words, she enjoyed herself watching everyone have a good time.

The party broke up, and some very tired Lovegoods collapsed into bed that night.

The rest of the week was fairly quiet. Harry had a chance to play with snow and the golden egg when Dover was covered with the white stuff. It didn't help. He tried frozen water. Still nothing worked. He would take to staring at the egg, as if he could scowl the answer out of it.

New Years Day came, and Harry and Luna were sent to the Weasleys for the day. Selene was having some co-workers over for a lunch meeting, and needed the children out of earshot. Harry and Luna had a relaxing day at the Burrow.

Meanwhile, back at the Meadow, things weren't exactly as described. Selene's boss, Algie Croaker, did floo over. But so did Remus, Sirius, Frank and Alice Longbottom, and Mr. Ollivander. And Larry didn't leave, either. Selene served lunch, and everyone moved to the living room.

"Thank you all for coming," she began.

"I take it that this isn't just a social gathering," Sirius commented.

"No," she answered. "This group, plus a few goblins, are the only people who know where Harry Potter is now."

Sirius and Remus smiled. Frank and Alice looked at the others. Ollivander sat calmly, his large, silvery eyes drifting over the others in the room.

"Now, what some of you don't know is that there was a prophesy made about Harry before he was born. It says he has a power to vanquish the Dark Lord. This could, of course, refer to his destruction of Voldemort's body when he was one. He could also refer to another dark lord altogether. The child of the prophesy could also be Frank and Alice's son, Neville. There's been some hints that the Headmaster might have been trying to get Neville to be more . . . ." she searched for a word.

"Adventurous?" suggested Alice.

"Exactly. There were some hints, but Dumbledore hasn't said anything to either Neville or Frank and Alice about this, which we think is poor judgment on his part. That, coupled with Harry's original placement with his mother's relatives without any sort of supervision, tells me that Dumbledore's wisdom is lacking in this matter, and I want him as far away from Harry as possible."

"As do I," growled Remus, who had been kept from seeing Harry for years by Dumbledore.

"This is all well and good, but what does this matter? Voldemort's gone, right?" Sirius asked.

Algie answered, "He's trying to come back. We know that his spirit possessed a Hogwarts teacher several years ago and tried to steal the Philosopher's stone to use the Elixir of Life to get his body back. Dumbledore reported this to Fudge, who didn't do anything about it.

"This year, Barty Crouch, Jr. used a Confundus to try to get Neville into the Triwizard. It seems that the Dark Lord knows about the prophesy and was trying to eliminate one of the potential children who could vanquish him."

"Why didn't the Prophet report this?" Sirius wanted to know.

"If you check the owners of the paper, Fudge is one of the largest shareholders. They do what he says," Larry informed him.

Algie nodded, "Something else that wasn't reported: Voldemort has a body back. It's a homunculus, but it's still a body. We think he wanted Neville for a ritual to get a real body. And if that failed, then he was going to use one of the other champions of the tournament.

"So, what all this means is that he's out there right now, trying to get a new body and start the war again."

"And we are going to do what?" Sirius asked.

"Going to do what we can to help Harry or Neville vanquish him."

- - -

The new term started and Harry became busy with schoolwork again. But after two weeks he found the sixth and seventh years waiting for him in the common room.

Ragingstorm was once again spokesman for the group. "Okay, Lovegood. Times up. Present the egg."

"But. . . ."

"It's six weeks until the second event. Have you solved the egg yet?"

"No, but. . . ."

"Face it, these problems weren't designed for you. We're not trying to ruin your fun, but time is running out. Even after we solve the egg there's still research and training to take care of."

"Harry, shall I go get the egg?" Luna asked.

He nodded, "Yes, please."

She disappeared up the stairs.

"Let's hope we're not too late," one of the older boys said.

Harry was a bit annoyed. "It's not like I haven't been solving it."

"Sure you were. Now, we'll help you," the same boy said.

Harry sat away from the group and erected a sound barrier between him and the group. Luna handed the egg over to them, and joined Harry.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"They weren't interested in what I had discovered, so I thought I'd let them have a little time."

Luna sat beside him, and asked an elf to get them some popcorn.

"So what have you discovered?"

They talked while they watched the NEWT level students play with the egg. Behind their sound barrier they laughed when one of the researchers would jump at the explosive sound the egg made. Harry brushed Luna's hair, and then they cuddled and had a few deep kisses.

"Cut it out, you two," Ragingstorm said, having walked through the silencing spell. Harry and Luna broke apart, and looked at her with big grins on their faces.

"Something I can do for you?" Harry asked.

"Aren't you going to work on this too?"

"I've done a lot of work already. Would you like me to tell you what I've already discovered?"

Her demeanor changed from annoyed to contrite. "Sorry. Yes, why don't you tell us what you've already done."

Harry removed the sound barrier and rejoined the rest of his house mates. He explained the spells he had detected on the egg and how the sound was linked to the water magic. He described all the ways he had tried to activate whatever the trigger was -- wetting, immersion, snow, ice, filling the top with water, and the rest of his attempts. The group brainstormed for a little while before Harry heard a useful suggestion.

"You've tried solid and liquid. What about the gas form of water? Steam?"

Harry cocked his head and thought. "That's not bad. I'll try it when I take a shower in the morning. Meanwhile, we're going to bed. Good night." He collected the egg and went up the stairs to the third year's dorm.

The next morning a very tired Harry dragged himself out of bed, collected his clothes for the day, and made his way to the bathroom he shared with the other boys in his year. He went into a shower, turned on the hot water, and waited for it to steam up as he got undressed. He cast the sound barrier around the shower so as to not wake the rest of the tower, stepped under the water, and realized something. He stood under the water, trying to make heads or tails out of his discovery. He shrugged, and opened the egg. There was the cracking explosion again. It wasn't steam. He closed the egg and finished washing himself up. He dressed, put the egg away in his trunk, and went down to the common room. None of the upper class Ravenclaws were there, so he left the tower. A quick breakfast later, and he was in the library. He searched for information on his new interest. He found something in a book of household charms, and he silently cursed himself. It was a spell he had used that very morning. But he didn't think it would be enough. He continued searching.

He found a reference to a more powerful spell, but when he checked the catalog for the book it was in, he found it in the restricted section. Eventually the bell rang and he had to go to Arithmancy. Luna didn't have a chance to ask him what was going on until after the class was over.

"I have an idea for the egg. If I'm right, we'll have the clue by the end of the day."

"That's wonderful, Harry. What's your idea?"

"It's a secret."

"No it's not. Even if it works, at least four people already know it, and as many as seven."


"The Judges already know how to decipher the egg, and maybe the other three champions do, too. So even if you're right, it's not much of a secret. 'Two people can keep a secret as well as one can, if one of them is dead.'"

"'You seem a nice person. I'd hate to kill you.'"

"'You seem a nice person. I'd hate to die.' But really, Harry, please tell me. Please, please, please, please?"

"Later. I'd really like to work this one out all by myself."

"Oh, all right." They reached their transfiguration class and said no more about it. After class, Harry went up to Professor McGonagall.

"Professor, can I get permission to get a book from the restricted section?"

"What book is it, and why do you need it, Mr. Lovegood?"

"Curses They Will Not Recover From, and I need it for a spell for the Triwizard Tournament."

Unfortunately, he couldn't get around telling McGonagall what he was doing. She eventually allowed him access to the book, but not before referring him to several other books that had spells that weren't so lethal. He thanked her and went straight to the library. As he promised he looked at the other books the Transfiguration professor suggested. They might have worked, but they were long and complicated rituals, so he eventually gave Madam Pince the permission slip, and he made his way into the Restricted section. Madam Pince was very skeptical about allowing him access to the book he requested, but in the end she couldn't argue with the permission form signed by McGonagall. Finding the book, Harry took it to a table and made notes on the spell that had captured his interest. He glanced at some of the other spells. The one to turn someone inside out was particularly gruesome. He turned the book in to the librarian when he was done.

He missed lunch, spending it in the library. But as he had the next two class periods free, he slipped into the kitchen to get a sandwich, and then found an empty classroom to do some practicing. It took him a while, but eventually he got the spell working. He headed up to the Ravenclaw common room.

Luna was reading there and looked up when he came in.

"I'm going to try it, want to join me?"


He got the egg, and led Luna to an empty classroom. It was the third room they tried; Ravenclaws had a tendency to congregate in the empty classrooms around the tower for quiet study.

Harry warded the room against sound, and then cast some other spells around the room.

Luna looked around. "You're warding the room for water?"

"From water. What does the egg sound like?"

"Static and something big breaking."

"Could it be heavy rain and very close thunder?"

"Yes, it could."

"Since I want to try to get rid of those sounds, I'm going to try to dry out the egg."

"That might work."

"Watch your ears," Harry said, as he opened the egg. They were hit by the very familiar sounds. Harry tried the drying spell that he had used to dry up after the shower that morning. The static sound may have dropped a little in volume. He cast some more, and there was a definite reduction in the sound of pouring rain. The thunder didn't sound as near, either. They heard another voice from the egg but the other sounds still overpowered it. Further drying charms didn't have any effect.

"Now what?" Luna asked.

"We could use weather magic on it, but that could take hours or days to work. I have this spell that will mummify someone by drying up all the liquid in their body. I thought I could try that. I used it earlier causing glasses of water to dry up. Ready?"

"Whenever you are," Luna sounded excited.

Harry cast the spell, and the sound of rain and thunder evaporated. Another voice that may have always been there was now heard. They listened to it say the same thing several times before they closed the egg.

"Seek your treasure way up high,

where the peak meets the sky.

Come prepared, the guardians be

on ground, in air, and hard to see.

But found, the task is not complete

To get it safe is the rest of the feat.

But search up high among the clouds,

You'll find it waiting on Mt. Dowdes."

Harry and Luna went to their last class of the day, but Harry later confessed that he didn't learn much from Sir Giles that day. They ate dinner, and collected their books for homework. After the study group, they went back to the Common Room. They had briefly discussed not going back to the tower until curfew, but Luna convinced Harry that the yelling wouldn't be worth it.

They were still accosted by the upperclassmen when they arrived.

"Lovegood! We've been waiting," Ragingstorm said.

"Sorry, should have sent you word -- I solved it. The trigger wasn't water. It was an absence of water. The sound is the sound of a thunderstorm. Dry up the water, the storm ends and you can hear the clue.

They forced Harry to let them hear it. Then the brainstorming began.

"A treasure, protected by flying things and things on the ground. If there are things on the ground, then you may not be able to reach it by flying."

"But if there are flying guardians, you can probably get part way there by flying."

"Good thing you're good on a broom, Lovegood."

"I'm up against Krum, though. I may be good, but he's a professional."

"But can he fight the guardians when he's on a broom?"

"If he can dodge, then it doesn't matter."

And the discussion went on. Harry called it an early night, while the "Pit crew" discussed possible guardians and counter measures.

- - -

Harry was much less nervous in the weeks leading up to the task. The "Pit crew" was also calmer. First, they had more time to prepare. Second, for at least the flying guardians they had a small number that were likely be used. Dragons were right out, but various flying horses and variants were expected. Luna suggested Thestrals as the hard to see guardians. The ground guardians could be almost anything, and they just reviewed what Harry had learned for the first task. Unfortunately, because Hogwarts was unplottable, there were no maps that showed the area around it. Harry took some broom flights to see Mount Dowdes as well as he could. He was intercepted by Madam Hooch the first time he flew up -- he deduced that she was monitoring broom flights of the Champions. He wasn't allowed to fly to it, as it was about ten miles (eighteen kilometers) away. But he felt he got as good a view of it as he could. The Scottish Highlands didn't look much like the glacier carved areas of the Rocky Mountains he had visited, but he thought he could hike to the top, if he had to. The snow wasn't thick currently, but he still hoped he wouldn't have to do too much hiking. All-in-all, he felt that he wouldn't embarrass himself during the second task.

- - -

His nervousness returned the night before the Second Task. After a poor night's sleep he got up early and waited in the common room for Luna. She showed up, and they went down for an early breakfast. He didn't want to eat, but Luna insisted that he do so. As they were heading out of the Great Hall, Professor Flitwick intercepted them. He asked to talk to Luna, and suggested that Harry get ready, as the contest began at 9:30 that morning. Harry was well aware of the minutes ticking off until start time. He went up to his dorm, and got dressed as he would have if he were in the mountains of the New World. He wore his hiking books and layers of warm clothes. He slipped the knife that Sirius had given him into his boot with a sticking and cushioning charm. He felt better having it. He put some extra clothes and a water bottle into a backpack, grabbed his Fireball, and went down to the common room. He found he couldn't sit still, and paced a little before heading towards the Entrance Hall. There was a steady stream of students heading for the Quidditch pitch, which was where the contest would start. He met some friends heading out, and joined them. They walked to the pitch together, and Harry said goodbye as they headed up to the stands, and he walked through to the field.

The first thing he noticed was the large mirrors set up facing the stands. The next thing that caught his attention was the goal posts had been removed. He didn't think they would interfere with the task, as most of the action would be several miles away. And if they would -- if there was more to this than the clue gave -- then the mirrors would be an even bigger hindrance. The final thing that he noticed was the ruins -- the pitch was covered with what seemed to be Roman ruins. There were columns, part walls, half buildings, and gate posts. He didn't get a good look at it, because Hagrid directed him into a pavilion that was set up near the center of the pitch, which was clear of the ruins. Inside he waited almost a half hour before the other champions showed up. He saw that each of them had a broom, too. He was the only one with a backpack, he realized.

"Now that you're all here, step outside, and I'll let you and everyone else know what the next task is," Ludo Bagman said, in a jovial voice. He put a Sonorus charm on his throat, and everyone in the stadium could hear him.

"Champions, students, guests! The second task of the Triwizard tournament is a rescue mission. Each of these students has had someone important to them taken and magically bound. If they deciphered the golden egg they know where. They need to rescue their charge and bring them safely back. Oh, and there are various obstacles in the way. They aren't intending to harm you, but they could accidentally. And you're not supposed to harm them, either." At this, Bagman gave a scowl at Krum who had used a Conjunctivitis curse on his dragon. "One other thing, put these on," Bagman handed around necklaces with heavily rune engraved pendants. "That will allow us to watch you and come to your aid should you need it. Good luck, you may head off when I lower my wand."

Harry quickly mounted his broom, and noticed that Bagman was waiting until they were all ready. As the wand came down, the four champions launched into the air. Krum, on his state-of-the-art, professional Quidditch broom, was soon far ahead. Harry found himself outdistancing Cedric and Fleur. As he left the pitch, he noticed that the mirrors were showing images of the contestants. He looked at the necklace he wore. It was some sort of scrying device, and the mirrors were the receivers. He resolved to look into that, and returned to paying attention to his flight. He flew into the stiff wind, heading towards a particular bit of Scottish Highland.

A few minutes of flying had him approaching Mount Dowdes. It was fairly steep on this side, but the side away from the castle was supposed to be more climbable. As he began to gain altitude, he caught sight of one of the guardians, a hippogriff. The giant eagle-horse dove towards him, and Harry banked away hard, trying to avoid the beast. The hippogriff adjusted its dive, and he almost didn't make it. As Harry sped past it the hippogriff flapped its wings rapidly to stall its dive and regain height. Harry thought he was safe until another flying creature swept by him, jostling his broom. This creature had the front of a giant eagle and the hindquarters of a lion, a griffin. They were slightly slower than hippogriffs, but stronger and heavier. The leonine rear paw raked the back of the broom while Harry was diving, and he spun out of control. He struggled to stay on the broom, then to control it. He succeeded, and as he pulled up, he saw the two guardians circling above him. He aimed down and flew into the trees.

Flying as quickly as he dared, he maneuvered the broom between the trees and the branches. Being February, there were no leaves on the trees, so they didn't really give him much cover from the two guardians who had decided he was the thing they were guarding against. Harry flew towards the "back" of the mountain, in the hopes that that side would be tree covered. As he made his way, at times slowly, he noticed other flying guardians. He assumed they were tracking either Fleur or Cedric. Harry didn't waste any time thinking about it, though.

He increased his speed, and moved to the top of the trees. He decided that he would have to dare the 'griffs' to get the increased speed. Keeping one eye on the tree-top terrain he was flying over, and one on the sky above, he caught one of 'his' fliers swooping towards him out of the corner of his eye. He dove into the trees, and the large shadow passed over him. This happened several more times. The hippogriff and the griffin seemed to be taking turns. He decided to see if he could clean up the skies -- at least around him. He slowed his speed and watched the griffin diving towards him. He spun the broom to face the winged beast and dropped among the branches of the tree below. The griffin extended its giant wingspan and started pulling out of the dive. Harry dropped a little more and aimed his wand at the creature. The griffin must have understood what was going on and tried to angle away. But in order to do that, it had to bank, and Harry had drawn it too close to the trees -- its lower wing hit some twigs. It managed to straighten itself and started raising its wings to give a mighty flap that would have pulled it free of the danger. That was was the signal Harry had been waiting on, and he hit it with a stunner right in the face. The wings stopped their upward motion and Harry cast a quick levitation spell on the falling creature. He felt the strain on his magic as he slowed the griffin's descent, and quickly lowered it into a clearing.

As he was about to breath a sigh of relief, he was knocked off his broom by a something big, heavy, and covered with white feathers. The hippogriff had decided to help its fellow guardian, and Harry fell onto the branches of the tree he was hovering over. His wand fell from his hand as he grasped at a branch, but didn't get a good hold and it slipped away as he continued down. Another hit his side, and he brought his arms down to trap it. With a lot of pain in his armpit and the help of his other hand, he stopped his downward motion. He grimaced, held tight, and placed his feet on a lower branch. Once he had his weight on his feet, he got both hands on the branch that had stopped his fall. He made his way towards the tree trunk and started climbing down. A few times he had to hug the trunk and slide to a lower branch when there weren't any close enough to climb to. The final branch put him about six feet off the ground. The trunk split here, and he couldn't get his arms around either trunk. He crouched as low as he could and jumped down. He hit the ground hard, and groaned as his ankle took a little too much of the impact.

He tested his leg, and didn't think anything was broken, so he started looking for his wand and broom. The broom was stuck in the branches above him, but the wand was lying in the snow. It took him a few minutes, but he had no choice -- without it, he doubted he could continue. He summoned the broom, mounted it, and took off, keeping low in the woods. He didn't want to meet the hippogriff again.

After a few minutes, he gained some altitude and increased his speed. He was on the eastern side of the mountain now. It wasn't as steep as the west, and the Forbidden Forest covered more of the slope than the cliffs allowed on the western side. He kept a sharp lookout for more flying guardians, but didn't see any. He increased his speed again, reaching the limit of the Fireball. He flew beyond the forest, and thought he saw the goal -- there were some gray, round things at the top of the mountain, but he couldn't make out much more than that.

There was also someone hiking ahead. He dove towards the ground as soon as that registered. He wasn't sure, but he thought he felt a change in the wind when he did that. He flew over the snow, aiming at the walking figure as fast as he could go. He choked up on the broom a bit. His earlier tumble into the tree had ripped his winter cloak, and cold air was channeling through the hole and under his left arm. He guessed that the awkward hold was why he was knocked off his broom when he was suddenly buffeted by a gust of wind that may have been from an invisible wing beating right next to him.

He hit the ground and rolled, ending up with a face full of snow. He sprang to his feet and scanned the sky, but no further attack came. He magically dried himself, and summoned his broom. He mounted his broom again but hadn't gone more than a dozen meters before he was knocked off again. This time he felt the wing that hit him and heard the snort of some sort of creature. Again, he searched the sky, but could find nothing.

With no way to counter the invisible flier, he gave up on the broom and decided to continue on foot. He guessed that he was a kilometer from the top with a rise of a hundred or more meters. He used a sticking charm to attach his broom to his back and started hiking. An hour later he could see both the goal and his competitors. He met Victor coming down. The Bulgarian had Daphne Greengrass floating in front of him. She was in some sort of gray, semi-transparent bag. He was using the Mobilicorpus spell to float her, and Harry smiled to himself as he greeted the obviously frustrated Durmstrang student. There was a limit to the speed you could make a body float when you used the Mobilicorpus charm. He continued towards the top of the mountain.

He caught up with the other competitor he had been following shortly before reaching their goal.

"Hello, Fleur!" he called.

"'ello, 'Arry," she replied. "Theeze shoes, they are not good in the snow." She cast another drying spell on the shoes in question. She was carrying her broom over her shoulder.

"I wore my hiking boots. I think those are our treasures," Harry said, pointing at the gray balloons swaying in the stiff wind. He was glad it was coming from behind.

"I saw you knocked off your broom. You are fine, yes?"

"Oui. A little knocked around, but mostly fine."

They stopped and gazed at the next part of the task. Their "treasures", Luna in Harry's case, a small girl in Fleur's, and Cho Chang, Cedric's date from the Yule ball, were floating about five meters above them in large gray, semi-transparent balloons. They seemed to be asleep. The balloons were tied to thick, iron rings embedded in the mountain. The knot they were tied with looked overly large to Harry. He grabbed the rope and pulled. The balloon moved reluctantly against the wind, but it did move. He watched as Fleur cast a spell at the balloon, causing a hole in it. It slowly deflated, and, even though Harry thought it was unnecessary because of the slowness of the leak, she cast a levitation charm on the whole thing so that her kidnap victim wouldn't hurt herself when the thing reached the ground.

"Who is that?" he asked.

"It eez my sister, Gabrielle."

Harry removed the sticking charm on his broom, and took off his backpack. He pulled out a thermos, and offered Fleur some hot chocolate. She thanked him, and he poured himself a cup as he conjured a fire.

"You are not rescuing your wife?" Fleur asked, as she cast another unsuccessful spell at the gray encased Gabrielle.

"I'm thinking of something. If we can't go faster than Victor, he's going to win."

"And you know how to go faster?"

Harry laughed. "Yes. Cast a feather light charm on her, and you can run faster than a Mobilicorpus."

"But that eez not what you are going to do, n'est pas?"

"Non," Harry smiled. Fleur gave up trying to get Gabrielle out of the gray material.

Harry said, "I was afraid of that, when I saw Victor carrying Daphne down the slope. I think they'll stay asleep until we get back to the Quidditch pitch. If they were awake, we could just have them sit on our brooms. I think this is part of the task -- find the best way to move them."

Harry looked to the west. Hogwarts was visible beyond the thick forest. He also observed a number of huge winged creatures between him and it. Right below him was a cliff, and beyond that, very steep slopes. He was glad he wasn't afraid of heights. He also wondered about the plan he had come up with.

Fleur struggled with the knot that still held Gabrielle to the mountain top.

"It eez like zee bladder. I cannot cut zee rope with a spell." She was manually untying the rope. Now Harry understood the reason behind the big knot.

He grasped the rope leading to Luna's balloon encased body and pulled. Hand over hand he slowly pulled her down.

"There eez a faster way to get back, 'Arry. Bye bye!" Harry turned his head to see Fleur with her sister in her hand and the broom under her arm, just standing still. He kept pulling the rope as she stood there.

"There eez something wrong! I cannot Disapparate!"

"You can't Apparate on Hogwarts' grounds. But I guess either you can't do it from here, or the gray stuff is stopping you, also."

"I fear you are correct. What are you doing?"

"I think I'm going for a ride on a balloon."

He had pulled Luna down to within touching distance. Holding the rope with one hand, he used the other to wrap coils of it around the metal ring. Once he felt that it would stay, he let go. The balloon pulled the rope, but Harry was busy tying the balloon's rope to the ring. This knot would come undone with just a tug. He put on his backpack, and tied his broom to the rope. He used a sticking charm on it, just to be sure he wouldn't lose it. He pulled out his knife, and cut the rope near the gorgon knot. The balloon was still held by the knot Harry tied. He then tied two more loops of rope a little beyond where the broom was attached. Sticking his feet in those loops he turned them into foot rests. He turned to Fleur to say goodbye.

She had already left, though. She had Gabrielle tied or stuck to her back, and was heading down the mountain to the east on her broom. Harry saw her dodge something, but didn't see what she was dodging. He hadn't asked if she could see the Thestrals. He grasped the rope tightly, reached down, and pulled the release on his knot. The wind immediately blew the balloon (with him attached) over the cliff.

This was the part that he wasn't sure of. If he fell too fast, he could get hurt (or killed) before he could do anything about it. But he didn't fall too fast. They were falling, and the wind knocked him around terribly, but they were pushed away from the cliff. He was swaying quickly and spinning slowly. The rope loops that he had his feet in held most of his weight, but he was wishing he had something similar to put his arms through. He noticed his hands cramping as they held on way too tight. He adjusted himself, wrapping his arms around the rope. He didn't think it possible while he was flying, but he was getting dizzy.

He jerked violently. One of the griffins had hit the balloon with its wing. Another flew by too closely, Harry thought, but they couldn't get at him without running into the rope. Another hit the balloon and Harry held on to the rope for his life. He had no opportunity to get his wand out, and just hoped that he would survive.

He's not sure how long the attacks went on, or how many times the balloon (and once he) was hit by giant wings, but eventually he reached the treetops and the creatures stopped attacking. As his feet ran into the branches, he put the next part of his plan into action. The broom was attached to the rope, tied closer to the balloon than where his feet were, so it was mostly against his body. He took one foot out of the rope stirrup and put it around the broom. He carefully used one hand to level off the broom, and activated it. Suddenly he was no longer hanging, he was flying.

He found that he couldn't fly at the broom's top speed -- the balloon had too much drag, but he did make good time.

When he flew into the Quidditch stadium, Luna in her balloon floating behind him, he found that he was the first champion to return.

- - -

Author Notes: The story of Amelia Bones' reaction to a howler comes from the fic Honourable Substitutes by Kim on the Potterplace3 Yahoo group.

For a working version of Dodge-spell, see JBerns' Bungle in the Jungle on Fanfictionauthors dot org.

And last, but not least, thanks to my betas Swordchucks and Evan Mayerle.
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