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Introduction:

harry potter
I don't own Harry Potter. I wish I did...
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Harry lay on his back on his bed with his mothers locket dangling above him. The bloody thing was taunting him he was sure. He had run some detection charms over it and been shocked to find that the thing was wrapped up six ways from Sunday. Harry flicked through one of the books laid around him but found nothing he hadn’t already seen before.

“What now Harry.” Neville had asked him earlier that day when Harry was dragging his way through some ancient runes homework. “With the plan, what do we need to do now?”

“We have to wait now Neville.” Harry had looked up and met his friends eye with a smile. “Which could end up as the hardest part. But we can’t do anything until some stuff plays out. Bear with me…” Harry added as his friends face fell. “… for now we‘re bang on target. You know the plan.”

In reality the plan was far from on target, in fact it had taken a hideous lurch. It had happened one breakfast not long after Christmas…

“Harry…” Harry looked up from his bowl of cereal at the tone of utter horror in Ron’s voice.

“Yes?” But Ron just pointed wordlessly over at the Slytherin table. Malfoy was holding a broom with a look of utter happiness on his face. “So he has a new broom? We knew his father would buy him a new one.”

“F… ff… Firebolt.” That was all Ron appeared to be able to say. His face was ash white as he fumbled a Quidditch magazine out of his bag and spread it out in front of Harry, his hand shaking as he pointed to a long article.

Harry’s expression went from confused to fearful then moving swiftly to terrified as he read down the Firebolt’s specs. The Chimera was good but there was no way she could compete with the raw power of the Firebolt.

“Does this change the plan Harry.” Harry glanced up and saw that Fred and George had moved down the table. Their usual grins dulled to worried frowns. “I, mean… It‘s a Firebolt.” Harry tossed the magazine back at Ron and shook his head.

“The brooms only as good as the rider. We can still pull this off.” Harry tried to make his voice comforting and steady. He kind of succeeded. “We will.”

But the Slytherin Ravenclaw game gave them ample evidence that even with a bad rider a professional broom still kicks ass. When the snitch finally appeared Malfoy was at the other end of the pitch and flying much lower than it and he had still snatched it comfortably before Cho could get anywhere near it. That, coupled with the Nimbus 2001s the rest of the team had had equaled a devastating loss for the Ravenclaw team.

The most irritating thing was that he really could do nothing right now. They needed to wait at least until after the next match before the plan could progress. Waiting and watching helplessly was agony. When he had been working on the Chimera it had been like there was a big puzzle laid out in front of him and he could work at it until it was finished. Waiting was much harder because there was nothing to do. Yes he had homework and yes some Slytherins had mysteriously had their shoes filled with frogspawn while they dried beside a fire but he had no puzzle to solve. He had tried to concentrate on practicing with his guitar but it wasn‘t enough. Then he remembered the locket.

So now he worked on finding ways to bypass its many charms and spells. Working on that difficult (but eventually solvable) problem kept his mind off other apparently unsolvable problems. Like why he had had part of last Monday twice. Twisting the locket up near the light he tried a few things.

“Lilly. Petunia. Prefect. Open Sesame.” The locket remained locked and he dropped his hands in defeat. At least he had worked out that it was a password and not some other method of opening but that was about all he had discovered. He had thought of swallowing his pride and asking Professor Lupin his advice. The teacher hadn’t known it was a locket but he might have had some idea or at least be able to give him the names of her childhood pets. “James. Sirius. Peter. Rose.” Harry tried then gave up and stuffed the thing back into his pocket.

“I chose an irritating mystery.” Harry growled then rolled over.

And fell twenty feet onto cold stone.
*


“Ouch!” Harry had all the air blown out of his lungs and fell into a fit of coughing before lifting his head from the floor. There was no tower above him and the walls nearby were patched and had gaping holes in them. “Well this is new.” Harry commented as he levered himself up against a wall.

“Yes very much so.” A pleasant lilting voice sounded out of the shadows down the hall. “New, but not finished as yet.” A tall man with a broad beard and a mane of red hair, barely held down by a battered hat, moved into view and knelt down by Harry. His accent was archaic and his clothes matched that description as did the jeweled sword in his hand. A deep suspicion seeped through Harry.

“You wouldn‘t be Godric Gryffindor would you?” Harry said. Hoping for a no.

“You’ve heard tell of me.” The man seemed pleasantly surprised. He whipped his hat off his head then stuffed his sword into it, appeared to rummage around for a moment then drew out a short rod topped with a crystal ball. As he waved the scepter over Harry it emitted a warm light and Harry felt the bruises of his fall disappear even quicker than Madam Pomfrey could have managed. “There, all better.” The man smiled and dropped the rod back into his hat.

“You got a rabbit in there too.” Harry quipped. Falling back on flippancy as the more sane portions of his brain waved little white flags.

“A rabbit? Why would one keep a rabbit in a headpiece.” The founder smiled. “Wouldn‘t it make rather a mess on the head?”

The sparkling eyes reminded Harry of Dumbledore, comforting him somewhat.

“How did you come to be here?” Gryffindor asked as he helped Harry to his feet. “Or more accurately speaking; How did you come to be a good thirty spans above here?”

“I don’t really know.” Harry shrugged. “I was lying in bed trying to open… say?” Harry dug the locket out of his pocket. If anyone could work this thing out…

“I‘ve been trying to work out the password on this thing. You got any ideas?”

Godric Gryffindor appeared to like a good mystery as much as Harry and pulled what looked like a jewelers eyeglass out of his hat before using it to examine the little slip of silver. Without appearing to notice what he was doing he reached into the hat again and pulled out what looked like a Cornish pasty. Munching on it he turned the locket over and over in his other hand. “Have you attempted a peeling yet? It would certainly be effective.”

“Peeling?” Harry had never heard of a charm or spell like that. “No, what’s that?”

“An apple peel.” Gryffindor finished off his pasty and made a dipping motion. “Soak an apple in diviners broth that also has the locket soaking deep within it. Then peel the fruit in one strip with a silver knife. Toss the peel over thy left shoulder and it should form the shape of the password.” Gryffindor handed the locket back. “But you still have not told me how you got here.”

“I honestly don’t know. I‘ve been jumping around in time all this year. Never this far though.” Harry shook his head.

“Truly?” Gryffindor sounded sad for a moment and looked at him through the jewelers glass. His eye fell on Harry’s chest on the left side and he let out a great sigh. “Oh, I am truly sorry my boy.”

“What? What is it?” Harry unbuttoned his shirt and bit back a cry as he saw the massive red scar stretching over the left half of his chest. It was pockmarked and splotchy, almost like someone had spilled acid on him and it had only ate him away where the droplets had fallen. “That’s never been there before! And I can‘t feel it!”

“You cannot feel it because you have not suffered it yet.” Gryffindor bowed his head, a tear blooming in the corner of his eye. “Also you will only see it when you are out of your true time. You are caught in the torrent of ages now and there is no way to survive. It will get worse and worse until the event that caused it in the first place occurs. I wish I had better news little one, but I am afraid you are doomed.”

The two figures stood silently in the corridor. Harry spoke first.

“But if it hasn‘t happened yet, can‘t I stop it?”

“The laws of cause and effect must be followed, even if they do not happen in the traditional order.”

“Well I don‘t buy it.” Harry shook his head and crossed his arms angrily. “I will not eat up this bullshit you‘re peddling. And I want to go back!” Harry felt his rage rising, a burst of accidental magic made a flagstone crack. “I want to go back to my own time, NOW!” Harry pushed his eyes closed then snapped them open. Gryffindor was gone, and the castle was whole again.

“That’s better.” He said to the castle as a whole.

“WHERE THE HELL DID YOU COME FROM!”

Harry spun and made shushing noises to quite the fat lady who was now slumped over the back of her chair with her hand over her chest, breathing heavily.

“It‘s alright, it‘s alright. Unguent is the password isn’t it?”

Still staring at him in shock the fat lady nodded and opened for him. Harry went quickly through the empty night-time common room and slipped back up into the third-years bedroom.

Gryffindor’s words troubled him though, even though the whole experience still felt kind of surreal. Should he go to Dumbledore? Would the headmaster help or just say the same thing as his long-time predecessor?

Suddenly Harry remembered something and smiled. He did have someone eminently qualified to answer questions about time and destiny. Grabbing a quill and parchment Harry jotted down a long note to his Greek pen-pal. Originally he only meant to ask about the torrent but as he wrote he began to include everything that had happened since his last letter until the missive was several sheets long.

“Digger will not be happy.” Harry chuckled as he got out of bed for the second time that night. Not wanting to wake the fat lady again after the scare he’d given her he padded over to his favorite window, climbed through it and set off in the direction of the owlery.
*


“Is that a hair growth potion Potter?”

“No sir.”

“It isn‘t?”

“No sir.”

Snape took a deep breath, he was going to enjoy this.

“For the first time ever in my class you are correct. You have not brewed a hair growth potion. You have not even attempted to brew a hair growth potion. Can you explain to me why you have brewed a different potion, from a different book. Brewed what appears to be a diviners broth that is not even on the Hogwarts syllabus. And can you explain why, even when you have chosen your own potion, you have still managed to utterly fail.”

The insufferable boy glanced at the scummy green mess that filled his cauldron.

“I blame society sir.”

“Society?”

“Yes sir.”

“Fifty points from Gryffindor.”

“Well deserved sir.”
*


Almost a week later Harry was out hunting for an apple. He had finally acquired some passable diviners broth by the simple dint of asking any of the marauders if they could puzzle it out. The potion wasn’t that hard, it was just beyond Harry’s abysmal level of skill. Somehow the two sets to twins had puzzled it out. Harry smiled to himself, had he just referred to Fred and George as marauders? Well, they almost were, but Myrtle didn’t like them because they had throw a bucket of slop through her once so they’d have to apologize before they could be officially sworn in.

But now he was tromping through the rain, looking for an apple. Or at least an apple tree, he knew a charm to make it bear a fruit out of season. When he’d read up on the peeling it had said that it worked best when you picked the fruit yourself so Harry had asked Hagrid where all the apple tree’s on the grounds were (the ones on the safe side of the wards obviously). Unfortunately what he hadn’t counted on was that they were mostly small wild trees with fruits not nearly large enough to produce a good peel. He needed a big cooking apple or something.

Harry preformed the charm on another sodden bloom only to be rewarded by another tiny crab apple.

“Sod this.” Harry grumbled and pulled his robe closer around himself. On reflex he checked the skin on his left side, plain and unblemished, to reassure himself that he was still in the right time. His fingers moved to his pendent hanging on its new chain. Pythea hadn’t written back yet, but then it took a while for an owl to fly to Greece and back and Harry had asked Digger to stay there until the seer had a reply for him to save her making four trips.

“I‘m testing one last tree then getting inside where it‘s warm.” Harry stomped through the mud down to a wizened old tree by the lakeshore. And performed the charm one last time.

“Bugger.” More small fry. Harry was about to turn away and walk back up to the castle when he saw a splash of color on the far bank. Scrambling out on the roots of the old tree to get a better look he bit back an oath. There was a little girl lying on the east bank, half in and half out of the bushes near the edge of the forbidden forest. She wasn’t moving and she was facedown in the water.

“HEY!” Harry yelled for anyone listening. “SOMEONE! HAGRID!” But the wind took his words away. “Oh my god. Why does this stuff always happen to me?”

Harry looked around for an alternative option but saw nothing.

“I hate my life.” Harry said before tugging his shoes and robe off and leaping into the dark water.

For a moment the water closed over his head and he breathed in a mouthful of water in shock and terror but he bobbed to the surface and coughed it up before striking out for the stricken figure on the far bank. He had to go a little way out from the bank to avoid the edge of the ward but then he could come back in and eventually dragged himself up onto the far bank.

“I am never doing that again.” Harry breathed as he staggered towards the girl. “No more lakes.”

As he neared the girl the half of her that had been hidden in the bushes came into view and he stopped in shock. She wasn’t a girl at all, she was a centaur. And she had a massive bite on her side, red and scabbed. Harry moved forward and dragged her face out of the water.

“Girl?” Harry slapped her face and tried to listen for breathing. She was still warm. “Wake up!”

Suddenly the centaurs eyes shot open and she coughed up a slew of lake water into Harry’s lap.

“You alright? Hey?”

“Of course, I am alright.” The girls voice was weak but she seemed to be working her legs as if trying to get up. “We are not fragile like humans.”

“Not fragile eh? Looks like someone managed to break you a little.” Harry said, glancing back at the wound.

“Werewolf.” Harry stiffened but the centaur-girl laughed. “It will be gone now.” She pointed at the slightly waning moon in the sky. “This bite is days old. I was just disoriented and I wandered away from my herd.”

“Will you… I mean are you…”

“Infected?” She used the word like a slur. “Of course not. Lycanthropy is a human illness.”

“Shall I get Dumbledore? Or Hagrid?”

“Unnecessary.” She waved a human arm and finally managed to get up on her hooves. “My herd are nearby, I can smell them.”

“You got disoriented before.” Harry followed her as she began to limp off into the forest.

“The bite was infected. It has healed now.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to Hogwarts instead?” Harry pointed back at the castle being rapidly obscured by trees. “It‘s right there.”

“I do not need Humans.”

“Sure.” Harry said mockingly “Because you were picking yourself out of the water just fine by yourself.”

“Shut up foal.”

Harry frowned but followed the lame centaur deeper into the forest. After half an hour or so Harry heard something huge approaching and tensed. But then relaxed as three centaurs emerged from the undergrowth.

“Lachesis!” One of them cried and ran forward to embrace the little centaur. “You are safe.”

“Of course father.” The girl replied irritated and pushed him away.

“We‘ll this worked out fine. I‘ll just be…” But Harry trailed off as the elder centaurs turned to him.

“You!” The largest centaur spat and Harry suddenly found two arrowheads pointed at his neck. “Abomination!”

“Bane, we need to kill him now!” The third centaur said shock and fear dripping from his voice. Lachesis and her father were standing off to one side. “We cannot risk him living.”

“I thought we did not harm foals.” The father moved in closer and reached out for the leaders shoulder.

“He is an exception.” The third spoke. “Do you knot know how aberrant he is? How dangerous?”

“Um…” Harry’s head just kept flicking from side to side, trying to follow the conversation. Running was impossible, he was in their forest. “Is this about the torrent…” But Lachesis interrupted him.

“He saved my life father. The herd has life debt to him.” They did? First Harry had heard of it. The leading centaur had still not spoken but grimaced and lowered his bow.

“For the debt the young one bears you…” He began, his voice deep and malevolent. “… you live today. But heed me foal, if we find you in our forest again not even Lachesis will hesitate to kill you.” Harry looked at the young centaur and saw her give a confirming nod.

“Understood. But the thing is I don‘t know if I can find my way back.” Harry glanced apologetically over his shoulder.

“Damwain, show him to Hogwarts.” Bane was already turning and moving off through the undergrowth. Harry was relieved to see that Damwain was Lachesis’ father and not the third centaur who had been so intent on killing him. Damwain set off the way Harry had come and Harry had to trot to keep up. After a while the silence began to grate on Harry and he decided to break it.

“Why did the other centaurs want to kill me?” Harry asked as he stumbled over a root.

“Not other.” The centaur said curtly.

“What?”

“Not other centaurs. I also want to kill you, but I will keep to the laws of our kind that prohibit harming the young and I acknowledge my daughters debt to you.”

“But why? What have I done to so royally piss off the entire centaur nation?”

“You have done nothing. You merely are.” Damwain shook his head. “As you heard before. You are aberrant.”

“It this about the torrent of ages?” Harry guessed. The centaur looked up and the stars and sighed.

“The torrent? It is at the centre of it.” The centaur lapsed into silence again but didn’t seem angry or anything. Harry decided it was probably alright to ask another question.

“Does the torrent have anything to do with why the werewolves are gathering?”

“What possible connection could there be between those things?” The centaur scoffed. “No the werewolves gather for an altogether different reason.”

“Which is…?”

“Their leader had come.” Damwain sounded angry now. “A man almost as much an abomination as you. He has gathered them here. He seems to think he has some way to enter Hogwarts.”

“Does he?” Harry asked.

“I seriously doubt it.” Damwain scoffed. “The Hogwarts wards have stood against the greatest minds in generations. They will not fall to something little more than an animal.” Damwain fell silent then came to a halt. He turned to Harry and said…

“Leave now.” Harry started, then realized that he could see the castle through the trees. They had returned by a much more direct rout than he had left. “Take Bane‘s warning seriously, to be caught in the forest again means death for you.” And with that the centaur turned and galloped off into the wood.

“Do you think I want to keep visiting the bloody forbidden forest!” Harry yelled after him.
*


“A leader?” Padma leant over the marauders table and spoke just above a whisper.

“That’s what he said. Course he also said I was an abomination.”

“A man who knows what he‘s taking about.”

Harry stuck his tongue out at her.

“Oh be serious!” Hermione chided them. “This is important.”

“You’re telling me. The centaurs want to kill Harry!” Ron said, aghast.

“I meant about the werewolves!”

“But the wards keep them out.” Ron narrowed his eyes. Harry groaned, an argument was about to start. “I think a whole species who want to fill Harry with arrows is more important.”

“Then Harry just doesn’t go into the forest. Which he shouldn‘t be anyway.” Hermione gave Harry a piercing stare.

“If he hadn‘t we wouldn’t know about the centaurs or your precious werewolves.” Ron crossed his arms triumphantly.

“That doesn‘t make it a good thing! We should…” Hermione continued talking as Harry gently stood a large book up on its edge between the arguing pair and the rest of the marauders. The argument safely contained Harry turned and asked…

“Any comments from the non-old-married-couple section of the table?” The marauders grinned (except for Parvati who was moping a little. She hadn’t liked having her illusions about centaurs shattered.)

“I actually agree with Ron.” Neville said quietly and hesitantly, as if waiting to be shot down.

“So do I.” Padma nodded. “There has to be a reason the centaurs want you dead.” Harry was forced to nod, he had never actually told the marauders about the time jumps.

“Well I agree it’s a puzzle.” Harry said shaking his head. “But I‘m really not going to be visiting the forest anytime soon so I think its probably not a problem. Or at least not a pressing one…” Pythea still hadn’t written back. Had Digger got into some sort of trouble? “… so I think we need to focus on the werewolves.”

Reluctantly the marauders nodded.

“Damwain said their leader had come. Which means he arrived some time in the summer Holliday. I doubt he caught the knight bus so how did he get here? And why?”

“Oh!” A noise came from beyond the book barrier and a moment later Hermione pushed it down. “Maybe he did.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well…” Hermione began fidgeting nervously. “… what if there was a werewolf in Hogwarts castle.”

“Wards would stop it getting in.” Ron said dismissively.

“But if it was already inside the wards.”

“Hermione…” Harry clicked irritably. “… get to the point.” Hermione seemed flustered for a moment. Ron glared at him.

“I think that Professor Lupin is a werewolf.”

The table went silent in shock. Then…

“Of course! It all fits, he‘s ‘sick’ during full moon. His bogart is the full moon! It all fits!” Parvati snapped her fingers.

“I wonder if Dumbledore knows.” Neville said.

“He must not or Lupin wouldn‘t be here.”

“I can’t believe Dumbledore wouldn‘t know.” Neville shook his head. “If we could work it out Dumbledore could.”

“Professor Snape knows.” Hermione added. “He must do, that’s why tried to teach us about werewolves. So we‘d work it out.”

“Do you think he‘s gathered the werewolves.” Parvati said in a hushed tone.

“it’s the right timeframe but…” Hermione began but Harry cut her off.

“No.” The others stared at him. “No no no no no. We’re not doing this.” Harry stated flatly. The marauders stared at him.

“Doing what Harry?” Ron asked.

“I have had enough déjà vu this year without intentionally repeating last year. We. Will. Not. Jump. To. Conclusions.” Harry punctuated each word by poking the table hard. “Last year we went off all righteous against Professor Michelson and we turned out to be dead wrong. We won’t do that again.”

“Harry…” Ron said as if explaining something to a child. “We have a werewolf, we have a gathering of werewolves. That’s not jumping to conclusions that’s putting two and two together.”

“You all think its Lupin.” Harry said it flatly. Most of the marauders seemed unclear as to whether it was a question or not. Ron nodded quickly, Parvati as well. Neville seemed to be trying to avoid being looked at but shook his head, Padma smiled at him and also said no. Harry turned to Hermione. “Two votes yes, two votes no. Ginny‘s at practice and Myrtle‘s not here. You‘re the last un-voted marauder.”

“I…I don’t know Harry.” Hermione faltered. “I don’t really know.”

“No?” Harry stood up suddenly. “Lets ask him.”

“WHAT!” But Harry was already making for the portrait hole.
*


“Professor Lupin listen…” Harry pushed open the door to the teachers office without knocking and began talking as soon as he was over the threshold. “…we know you’re a werewolf.” Lupin went from angry to gob-smacked in a fraction of a second. His mouth began working but no sound came out.

“Actually we didn‘t know for sure…” Harry conceded. “… but I think you just confirmed it for us. Thanks!” By then the rest of the marauders had caught up and were standing in the doorway, speechless.

“So we know you‘re a werewolf, we know the forest currently has a werewolf problem. Naturally certain questions have arisen from this state of affairs namely ‘Are you in any way involved?’. I personally think the answer is no, certain of my friends are not so sure and it would be remiss of me to dismiss their suspicions as they are, after all, not unfounded.” Harry said all this in one breath then stood waiting for an answer. A polite cough made him turn around. Professor Dumbledore was sitting at a table behind him. He did not look pleased.

“You‘re obviously busy I‘ll come back later.” Harry hadn’t moved a single step before the door slammed shut. “Or not.”

“Harry, I am glad you came here.” Professor Dumbledore spoke softly. “It has saved us the trouble of fetching you. Can you please explain why you left the school grounds last night?”

Damn.

“Um… There was a centaur hurt, at the side of the lake. I went to see if I could help. She was face down in the water.” Harry was quick to add. “If I had gone to fetch someone she could have died in the mean time. Ask Damwain, or… or Bane. They were there.” Harry had though centaur-name dropping might lend credibility to his story. In fact neither Dumbledore nor Lupin reacted to his statement.

Suddenly the room darkened, the light from the windows fading into night. Harry quickly checked his chest, the wound was there. Harry looked up too see that Dumbledore and Lupin were still in the room, this time sitting in two comfortable chairs.

“It‘s just…” Lupin began, his voice catching. “… he looks so like him.”

“I know Remus, I know.” Dumbledore was holding a mug of something steaming. It had a marshmallow floating in it. “Have you been watching him?” Dumbledore gestured to a raged piece of paper on the table between them. From where Harry stood he could just about make out the outline of Hogwarts but didn’t want to get closer for fear of being seen.

“Yes. I have.” Was all Lupin said before the room lit back again and Harry was forced to try and remember what had been said just before he left.

“So you see, I kind of had to leave the grounds.” Harry finished lamely. Both professors looked unconvinced. Harry sighed, “Can you at least tell me whether you knew professor Lupin was a werewolf before you punish me?”

“I was aware. It is under control.” Was all Dumbledore said on the matter. “And as for punishment…”
*


“The whole castle!?” Ron squeaked.

“Every square inch of corridor.” Harry repeated to the dumfounded marauder. “With this.” He held up a small hand brush.

“That’s harsh. Especially for Dumbledore.” Ron said shaking his head.

“I have a feeling that they‘re using this one thing they can prove as an excuse to punish me for all the things they can’t.” Harry shrugged, unconcerned. “It won‘t take that long.”

“You‘re taking this awfully calm.” Ron’s brow furrowed. Harry laughed.

“Of all the things currently happening Ron this is the least of them.”

“Oh!” Ron said as if he’d suddenly remembered something. “Myrtle found you a good apple tree. Just left of the gate to Hogsmead.”

“I‘m could marry that ghost!”

Harry went out that day and acquired a massive green apple from the tree. Returning to Gryffindor tower in a rush he set up the diviners broth and dropped first the locket then the apple into it.

“Come on, come on.” Harry urged, looking at the clock. When the needed five minutes were up he fished both items out of the broth and reached for a silver knife. He had to be careful now, a mistake would mean he had to start all over. Slowly, carefully he peeled it in a single long coil that ended up all over the table. He’d cut quite deep so the peel wouldn’t break and now wondered if that was a problem.

“Only one way to find out.” Harry moved so that the table was behind him and threw the peel over his left shoulder. Turning he saw the peel snaking around violently, kinking and twisting as it formed recognizable letters. A long password for an apple peel, it had had to stretch and still only just managed it.

Harry picked up the locket and, with some trepidation, spoke the password. The locket fell open in his hand and he held it up to his eye to get a better look at what was inside. And snapped it shut, dropped it back into the box, locked the box with the strongest charm his suddenly beleaguered mind could come up with, slid the box into his bag, grabbed the peel, tore it up so no one else could read the password then, to be sure, threw the peel in the fire and then sat down.

“I hate mysteries.” Was all he said.
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Ooooo... Mysterious! Please review.

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Disclaimer... blah blah blah...
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“That was amazing!” Ron was yelling as they walked back from the lakeside Quidditch pitch. “She didn’t even let Cedric get close.”

Harry rolled his eyes, Ron would be talking about this all week. The Chimera’s performance had been impressive though, he had to concede. Ginny had slipped past Cedric Diggory, using her brooms improved manageability to body-swerve him, and had left him floundering in the centre of the pitch while she snagged the snitch.

“I mean really amazing.” Ron continued, caught in reminiscence.

“I‘m just glad its over.” Harry sighed and put his hands behind his head. “It means we can move on with the plan.”

“You think it‘ll work Harry?” Padma asked, frowning. “I mean all it takes is for one of them to…”

“It‘ll work.” Harry grinned. “Trust me.”

“Why does that fail to fill me with confidence.”

“Because you‘re a sourpuss.” Harry tutted at her in mock anger then turned to her sister. “You sure about your info.”

“You know me Harry.” Parvati said happily. “It it‘s gossip I know it.”

“Awesome.” Harry grinned and peeled away from the other marauders. “I‘ll go find us our helper.”
*


“Pathetic Potter. Absolutely Pathetic.”

Harry leaned over and looked at the congealed mess at the bottom of his cauldron.

“Oh I don’t know.” He said. “It‘s definitely not a sleeping potion, but it could make a serviceable bathroom grout.”

“Twenty points from Gryffindor for your insolence Potter and ten more for the potion. Honestly potter, having you in this classroom is nothing more than a waste of time and potion ingredients.”

“Just because I can‘t brew a sleeping potion…”

“WE WERE NOT MAKING A SLEEPING POTION!”

“Oh…” Harry flipped to the next page of his book, then back to the one he had been looking at before. “So I wasn‘t meant to add cedar sawdust?” Snape’s rage was actually making him vibrate as he stood in front of Harry’s desk. “How about the sheep‘s liver, was I meant to add that?”

“Potter I seriously doubt a single correct ingredient went into this… this… travesty.” Snape stalked away as Harry moved to clear up his desk. Then he had a thought…

“Water!” He said at the retreating potion masters back. “That must have been a correct ingredient, that’s in every potion!”

Snape turned around, his gaze screamed bloody murder.

“Potter.” The professor growled, grinding his teeth together. “Detention.”

Harry sighed theatrically then stiffened as he felt another painful stab at the back of his brain. He tore his eyes away quickly and mumbled.

“Yes sir.” Snape turned away.

“Occlumency still not working Harry?” Parvati was leaning over her own desk to whisper in his ear.

“I think I was better at it before I started trying.” Harry lowered his head onto his arms dejectedly. He honestly wasn’t that bothered about Occlumency any more but it had reminded him of something else. Pythea still hadn’t wrote back.
*


The day of the Gryffindor Ravenclaw game dawned mucky and wet. A steady downpour that patterned great dark stains across the castles walls and made it look like it was crying.

Harry was a screaming ball of nerves as he sat with the other marauders near the top of the Gryffindor stand. Anything could go wrong, absolutely anything, but that was normal. What was making him so insane was that there was now nothing he could do about it. The metaphorical arrow had left the bow, it would either hit or it wouldn’t, there was nothing he could do.

“Will the rain screw up the plan?” Neville was muttering beside him. “Will the wet? Will…”

“No.” Harry snapped irritable. “It‘ll all be fine.”

“How can you say that?”

Because I’m living in denial? Because I don’t want to disappoint anyone? Because I’m delusional? Because if I actually admitted that there’s a very good chance this could go fantastically pear shaped on us I might just start crying?

“I just have this feeling.” Harry said and tried to grin. “Trust me.”

“Stop saying that.” Padma was grinding her teeth together . “It doesn‘t help.”

“Shh! Here they come.”

“WOOD! JOHNSON! BELL! SPINNET! WEASLEY, WEASLEY AND WEASLEY!”

The team swept onto the pitch, their robes quickly becoming spattered and sodden.

“Here we go.” Thought Harry as he tugged his coat closer around him.

“How much do we need to win by?” Harry heard a voice say below him and looked down. On the row beneath him Colin Creevey was leaning over to talk to Luna Lovegood. “The snitch is worth one hundred and fifty so…”

“We have to have at least twelve goals when Ginny catches the snitch or we lose to Slytherin.” The second year said dreamily. “Ravenclaw have to have thirty seven goals before they catch it. Its as plain as frackswhiskers.”

Harry smiled, how wrong she was.
*


“Another goal for Ravenclaw!” Ginny saw the blue section of the stands erupt in cheers beneath her.

“Sorry Angelina! I was aiming for Hunt!” She heard Fred yell their team-mate shoved two fingers up at him.

“Gryffindor now ahead by just four goals!” Yelled Lee Jordan. “Wake up twins! What are you doing out there!”

Ginny shook her head. Gryffindor had had a comfortable six goal lead but now they were down to just four. And they still didn’t have enough to beat Slytherin. She could see Cho out of the corner of her eye, shadowing her. She liked to do that, Oliver had told her, it was her favorite tactic.

Ginny scanned the crowds through the rain, searching for any hovering glint of gold. The snitch had to come out sometime, not that it would do either team any good. Gryffindor needed another goal and Ravenclaw needed twenty or something. She craned her neck around and saw it. Fluttering behind her, nearer to Cho than to her. Trying not to make it obvious Ginny turned away from the snitch. But Cho must have sensed something was wrong and a moment later had spotted it herself. The older seeker tore after it and Ginny was forced to tail her, cursing.

Ginny tried to get between Cho and the snitch to stop the older seeker. Ginny knew she couldn’t catch it yet, they’d win the match but lose the cup. But Cho wasn’t letting her in, they were shoulder to shoulder with the snitch tantalizingly close in front of them. Cho reached out and Ginny knocked her hand away. So close, Gryffindor just needed one more goal. Cho was reaching again and Ginny shoulder barged her to make her miss. Ginny tried to pull ahead but whatever she did Cho seemed to be able to match her. However hard she pushed Cho seemed to be able to stay just a little bit ahead of her. It was just a matter of time, she couldn’t keep the Ravenclaw off forever. Cho was reaching out again…

“Sorry Oliver.” She thought, and grabbed the snitch. A cheer went up around the lakeside stadium.

“I had to.” She said as she hovered down by her team-mates. “Cho was going to get it. I thought it was better to at least win the match.”

“I know Ginny.” Oliver Wood looked resigned. “I don‘t blame you.”

“Cheer up Olli!” Fred floated past, strangely jubilant.

“Yeah, we didn’t lose to Slytherin. We were only one goal shy, we drew.” George flew around the other side.

“What does that mean?” Ginny frowned. But it was as if a light had just gotten switched on in Oliver Woods head. “What happens when we draw?”

“Hasn‘t happened in over two hundred years.” Fred had his arm on one of her shoulders now and was smiling down at her. “The rule‘s so old they never bothered to repeal it.” His twin came up, placed his arm on her other shoulder and said….

“It‘s decided, once and for all, by a seekers duel.”

Ginny’s eyes went wide and she looked over at the Slytherin stands and caught a cold grey gaze staring back at her. It could have been her imagination but she could have sworn she saw Malfoy mouth the word ‘rematch’.

“Do you know how the Duel works Ginny?” Oliver wood sounded like he could barely keep the joy from his voice.

“We both go for the snitch?” She guessed.

“Not quite, the rules are different than in general play. Specifically the rules for fouls.”

“No magic and no interfering with the other seekers broom.” Angelina said, off to one side. “Everything else is on the table. He could really hurt you up there Gin.”

“Ginny…” Oliver Wood was talking again. “I didn‘t want to ask this of you, but this is my last chance at the Quidditch cup. My very last chance, so catch the snitch or die trying.”

Ginny’s eyes went wide with fear.
*


“Are both seekers ready?” Madam Hooch asked, looking between them. Ginny took her broom from Harry and nodded, he‘d been giving it a last minute look-over before the duel. Malfoy just scoffed. “Very well then.” She opened the box that contained the snitch and held it in her hands. Ginny looked over to see the almost feral look in Malfoy’s eyes.

“On, your marks.”

He’ll kill me…

“Ready…”

Oh god…

“Set…”

I’m going to die!

GO!” She tossed the snitch straight up and the seekers shot after it.

Ginny felt fingers curl into her hair and try and yank her backwards, she kicked out savagely and managed to pull away. The snitch was still shooting upwards and the seekers followed it. Malfoy was scratching and punching at her and she responded by elbowing him in the kidneys. Having six brothers gives you a lot of training in brawling. Malfoy jerked instinctively and Ginny swerved in front of him.

She had to stay ahead, with the firebolt’s power she knew that if she let him get in front she’d never be able to catch up. He swerved left, she blocked him. He swerved right, she twitched in front again and heard him cry out in frustration.

“You shot yourself in the foot Malfoy.” She thought triumphantly. “You can‘t handle that broom at these speeds.”

Once more he tried to pass her and she used The Chimera’s hair-trigger turning power to cut him off again.

“Good girl.” She urged the broom on. The snitch was tantalizingly close. “Just a little more.” But she felt something brush her leg. Malfoy had managed to sneak to her side! In another second he would be in front of her!

With the prospect of losing the cup filling her mind she did the only thing she could think of. She pulled back her leg and aimed with her heel. She just had time to register the shock hit Malfoy’s face.

“Payback snake-boy!” She thought as she slammed her foot into his face as hard as she could. She saw a spurt of blood that was quickly lost in the wind and rain then Malfoy peeled off and spiraled away, holding his face in both hands. “Yes!”

She looked back up and caught sight of the golden ball. Straining up she reached…
*


“YES!” The Gryffindor stand erupted in cheers. Harry even leapt to his feet and yelled himself horse. Not so much for the cup, but for the fact that everything had gone perfectly. Harry and the marauders rushed down the stands and reached the pebbled beach just as the Gryffindor team was landing. Oliver Wood was floating down with his arms wrapped around Ginny whispering…

“Thank you, thank you.” And the rest of the team were clustered around them.

“Se ‘oke ’I nose!” Malfoy was floating down nearby, holding a hand to his face to stem the flow of blood.

“Perfectly legal in a seekers duel Malfoy.” Fred said airily.

Harry just stood their laughing as the Quidditch cup was brought out.
*


Damn.

Professor Snape clenched his hands into fists and he saw the cup being brought out. And Slytherin had been on such a winning streak. He had got so used to the cup being in his office that he even had a little shelf in his cabinet for it.

To have come down to an exact draw, of all the abysmal luck. Then being forced to rely on a seeker that had bribed his way onto the team. The little slip of a Weasley girl had humiliated him. And he could not even blame this loss on Potter (he refused to believe the ridiculous rumor that Potter had made the girls broom).

Then why was Potter looking so triumphant? Snape recognised that expression, he had come to hate that expression all seven years of his time at Hogwarts. The Potter boy caught his eye and shifted to a mysterious grin, then nodded towards the scoreboard. Snapes eyes followed.

What were the chances that it would come to an exact draw? Snape felt a horrible certainty rise inside him. And the Weasley twins who, for all their ineptitude in the classroom, were not bad beaters. But they had performed horribly in that match, hitting or just missing their own team-mates. Stopping Gryffindor from getting that last goal. The Chang girl, missing the snitch three times? Even for a Ravenclaw that was unlikely. Even the last game with Hufflepuff. Cedric Diggory had shown no guile, he had practically shown Malfoy where the snitch was. Of course he had, Snape realised, if the game had gone on too long and Slytherin had won by too much Gryffindor could not have been able to equalize.

Snape’s eyes were once again drawn to the Potter boys green ones.

Legilimens

He cast non-verbally and after a moments resistance a memory floated to the surface…
*


“You know me Harry.” Parvati said happily. “It it‘s gossip I know it.”

“Awesome.” Harry grinned and peeled away from the other marauders. “I‘ll go find us our helper.”

Harry wandered up into the castle. If he was right about her schedule she should be right… Ah!

“Cho! Cho wait up.” Harry trotted up to the older girl, who had just left Charms class. “Been looking for you.”

“Me?” She turned, looking curious. “Why? It can’t be to ask me to Hogsmeade, I know you’re not allowed to go.”

“As if that could stop me.” Harry rolled his eyes. “No, what I was going to say was that I kind of need a favor.”

“What kind of favor?”

“A big one. Listen I‘ve never cashed in on the whole saved-everyone-from-Voldemort-before-I-knew-how-to-walk-and-then-twice-again-in-the-last-two-years thing but I really need your help.” Harry motioned Cho into the now empty classroom and closed the door. “Firstly we need to get some things clear. You can‘t win the Quidditch cup, can you?”

Cho stared at him indignantly.

“I’m just saying you have to win with how many goals? Thirty-four or something?” He knew it was exactly thirty four but he wasn’t gonna say that.

Cho held out a moment longer, then her shoulders slumped.

“You're right, it‘s not going to happen is it. It‘s your fault you know.” Cho pointed at him. “When Ginny broke her broom and didn’t get a new one straight away I thought we were in with a chance.”

“I know.” Harry nodded, not believing his luck that Cho had brought this up of her own accord. “Horrible business that wasn‘t it?”

“Malfoy should be hogtied!” Cho said hotly. “It was disgusting what he did!”

“God I must be the luckiest man on the planet.” Harry thought, then continued out loud. “I agree. And that’s kind of what this is about.”

“How?”

“I want to make it so that Ginny can humiliate him in front of the entire school. Not the whole team, just him. One on one.”

“Harry the teachers won‘t allow a challenge game like that.” Cho shook her head. “And even if they do no-one will come to watch.”

“Not if it happens at a match.” Harry smiled. “There‘s an old rule that says that if two houses tie for the cup the result is decided by a seekers duel.”

“But Harry there‘s no way you can make sure the games will come down that way.”

“I can‘t.” Harry held out a hand to her. “You can.”

“No!” Cho’s eyes suddenly narrowed with understanding. “I won‘t do that! Even for you Harry.”

“You said yourself Ravenclaw can‘t win the cup.” Harry pleaded.

“But we can still put in a good showing.” Cho said primly. “I won‘t throw the match. I’m surprised at you Harry.” She added. “I didn‘t think you wanted the cup this badly.”

“The cup? I don’t give a monkey’s about the cup!” Harry shook his head. “If I did don’t you think I would be telling you to throw the game totally instead of just letting us draw? This is about what Malfoy did to my friend, your friend too after last year, and letting her get even.”

“Ginny doesn‘t know about this does she.” Cho said as if suddenly realizing.

“No. She‘s going to beat Malfoy on her own.”

“I‘m not even sure I can force Ginny to catch the snitch.” Cho said, biting her lip. “She might just pull in front of me until Gryffindor have the goals they need.”

“Two points. One: Fred and George will be stopping Gryffindor from getting that last goal. Two: I built The Chimera especial for this.” Harry grinned evilly. “There’s a little surprise on there that I‘ll remove before the duel. Trust me, she can’t pass you.”

“She did OK in the Hufflepuff game.”

“I removed it for that too.”

“I still don’t know…”

“Well…” Now this is where the little known benefit of having gossip-queen Parvati as a marauder comes in. “… I‘ve already got Cedric Diggory on my side. You know him, right?” Cho’s eyes widened a little and she nodded.

“Well, he‘s agreed to help me. Little thank you for the whole snake-army incident in the cellar last year.” Harry smiled knowingly at the older girl. “If you did want to help us then we should probably arrange for you to meet up with him. Discuss… strategy… and stuff.”

“You‘re a bad person Harry Potter.” Cho shook her head, but she was smiling.

“I know.”
*


Snape tore his eyes away. He could feel the rage bubbling up in his bloodstream.

“You!” He pointed at the boy.

“Me?” Potter put his hand to his chest in feigned innocence.

“You… you… you…”

“Me, me, me!” Potter was grinning in his insufferable way. By Merlin he was exactly like James Potter!

“You will not get away with this!”

“With what pray tell?”

“You know exactly what” Snape strode forward and grasped the front of the boys robes in his fist. “You will not get away with this!”

“Really? And you can prove it how?” Potter smiled and knocked away his hand. “Bearing in mind that Legilimency on students is illegal.”

Oh the Potter boy thought he was smart did he.

“Well Potter perhaps you are correct.” Snape’s anger changed from a raging inferno to an icy, vengeful ache. “But I am still your teacher and I can make your four more years here a living hell.”

“Was that an invitation to take your NEWT class Professor?”

“Potter…” Snape released him and turned away. “… you will regret this. Mark my words, you will regret this.”
*


Harry gulped as the potions master strode away. Perhaps he’d overdone things this time. Harry glanced over at the still celebrating team. No, it was worth it. Whatever Snape did couldn’t be that bad could it?
*


“Do you call this a silencing draught Potter!?”

“I…”

“I DO NOT CALL THIS A SILENCING DRAUGHT!”

“Maybe that’s because you‘re yelling.” Harry said through clenched teeth.

“This is a despicable mess Potter!”

“It‘s only barely started, I haven’t even added…”

“And you won‘t! I will not have any more wasted ingredients!” Snape vanished the contents of Harry’s cauldron. “You will be doing lines for the rest of this lesson James Potter. You will write ‘I will not be an incompetent, pathetic, halfwit and a pariah on this school.’ in the hope that perhaps the suggestion will sink in.”

“My name is Harry.” Harry muttered under his breath but Snape didn’t seem to hear him as he strode away.

Harry motioned to Padma who held out her arm without speaking. Harry groaned, they had barely had fifteen minutes of a two hour lesson. Harry pulled out a quill and a sheet of parchment.

Snape had been making good on his ‘living hell’ promise since the match but Harry was beginning to think that the potions master had more deep seated issues than a simple game of quidditch. The fact that he kept calling him James was a definite clue. Snape seemed to be taking out thirteen years of pent-up, un-sated rage on Harry.

“Thanks dad.” Harry thought sarcastically as he dragged the quill across another line. “Thanks a lot.”

“What are these Potter.” Oh no. He’s back.

“Lines Sir.” Harry had been trying to keep his cool in Snape’s classes. With spotted success.

“These chicken scratchings? This scrawl?!”

“Would you like me to redo them Sir?” Harry had to jump back as his parchment caught on fire and burnt away before his eyes.

“Please.” Snape blew the parchment ashes into Harry’s face before stalking off across the dungeon.

Harry got another piece of parchment out and got to writing.

“How long are you going to put up with this Harry?” Hermione asked him after the lesson. “This is beyond unfair, you should go to McGonagall. Or Dumbledore.”

“And they‘ll ask what I did to get him so angry in the first place.” Harry shifted his bag higher on his shoulder. “And that will lead to unfortunate questions.”

“He‘s right Hermione.” Ron said from the other side, then added to Harry. “Don‘t worry mate, you can drop his class after OWLs.”

“That’s not the right attitude.” Hermione said shrilly. “Harry needs to learn at least basic knowledge of potions to function in wizard society and Professor Snape is stopping him from even participating. You‘ll have to study really hard if you want to pass the end of year exams at this rate.”

“I‘m beginning to think I won‘t be alive that long.” Harry joked.

The marauders laughed but Harry stiffened as he realized the truth in his words. He still had the torrent of ages hanging like a guillotine above him. He hadn’t had any major time jumps lately, just a few minutes here and there. For the love of Merlin why hadn’t Pythea written back?

As if his thought itself had been a spell Digger dropped out of the afternoon sky clutching a letter in his claws. Harry grabbed it and hastily made an excuse to the startled marauders before slipping out onto the grass outside Hogwarts. Harry sent Digger back to the owlery, promising him treats later to thank him for the long trip. His hands shaking, Harry tore open the envelope and pulled out the letter inside.

Dear Harry

It is so good to hear from you. I am glad you have taken up my suggestion to learn Occlumency, you will find it a useful skill I assure you. I can easily imagine you with a guitar, wandering Hogwarts or sitting in your common room entertaining the other students with songs and tales. You are good at spinning a good tale you know, I can tell from your letters.

Harry almost scrunched the letter in frustration. Usually he enjoyed letters from the little seer but wasn’t it about time she got to the point?

I learnt to play the harp as part of my apprenticeship here…

Harry quickly looked ahead through the letter, scanning down and down. There was no mention of the torrent or time travel anywhere. Harry fell to the floor in despair, had she simply abandoned him to his fate? She had been his last hope. Pythea’s letter ended without so much as a hint that his own letter had contained the threat of his inevitable death.

I hope it the weather is a pleasant where you are as it is here.

Your Friend
Pythea

Friend? Ha! That was a joke.

“Harry?” Harry looked back towards the castle. Neville had come after him and was not standing just a few feet away. “Are you feeling ok?”

“Yes Neville I‘m fine.” Harry said quietly, but he could feel the lump in his throat and the tears beginning to form in his eyes. Neville’s eyes flickered to the letter still clutched in Harry’s hand but he scrunched it up and stuffed it in his pocket.

“Well defense class is starting now.” Neville pointed back towards the castle. “You sure you‘re alright Harry?”

“No.” Harry pushed himself up and trudged towards the castle. “To be honest I‘m feeling a little… abandoned. Betrayed.” Neville fell into step beside him.

“Anything you want to talk about?”

“Not now. Maybe when it‘s a little less fresh.” Harry pushed open the door to the defense classroom. At least he could be assured of a quiet lesson, Professor Lupin tended to ignore him in classes.

“Well Potter, I see you decided to grace us with your presence.”

Standing arrogantly at the front of the class was Professor Snape. Harry felt like a block of ice was settling into his chest as he sat down in his usual chair, he couldn’t take this right now.
*


Harry tried to hide behind his book as Snape stalked around the class. He could still feel the ice in his chest and the lump in his throat, if Snape provoked him he would never be able to hold back.

“Potter…”

No.

“…Is this your essay?”

Please no.

“Yes Sir.” Harry managed to say while breathing deeply to keep himself under control.

“It displays no insight into the subject…”

Fine, I had no insight.

“…for most of the essay you seem to get Kappas and Grindylows mixed up…”

Did I? Who the hell cares.

“…certain passages were clearly lifted from a textbook…”

They weren’t, they were lifted from Hermione’s essay.

“…and you could not have mangled the spelling and grammatical rules of the English language more if you had tried. All in all…” Snape slapped the essay onto the desk beside Harry angrily. “… a true T if I ever saw one.”

“I‘m glad you made that assessment Sir.” Harry kept his eyes down on the book in front of him. “It‘s the same one as Professor Lupin made.”

“But of course hero Potter doesn‘t need to learn defense against the dark arts.” Snape scowled down at Harry. “You don’t need to learn how to duel someone properly if you and your three little friends sneak up behind them and attack from ambush like cowards.”

I have more than three friends.

“You are arrogant Potter.” Snape continued. “A trait shared by all Potters apparently.”

Oh, so now you’ve remembered who I am.

“You are nothing but a mediocre wizard at best and a worst you are a disgrace and yet you are under the impression you are untouchable. How I wish this class gave me the opportunity to show you precisely how amateurish you truly are.”

“Alright.” Harry set his quill down.

“What?”

The whole class was watching by now.

“I said alright. Show me.” Harry didn’t meet Snape’s eyes but moved out to the front of the class.
*


“Come on Professor.” The Potter boy was just standing there holding his wand and looking at his shoes. “Show me.”

The class was deathly quiet. Not a student dared move or speak. Out of the corner of his eye Snape could see Potter’s little friends, wide eyed and frightened, in their seats.

“Are you serious Potter?” Snape asked.

“Yes.” Was all the boy said.

“You will lose.”

“Try me.”

“You do not have a chance.”

“Try me.” Was all the Potter boy said again but he mouthed under his breath ‘coward’.

Snape felt the anger that was his constant companion rising again as he moved to take a position opposite Potter.

“Mr Hopkins you will count us in.” Snape gripped his wand. He would end this with one spell. The Potter boy was still looking at the floor.

“Um… Three.” The nervous Hufflepuff boy Wayne Hopkins began to count.

Potter was not even in a dueling stance. Pathetic.

“Two…”

Potter looked up suddenly, his eyes meeting Snape’s.

“One…”

A memory floating to the surface, Potter in the Gryffindor common room holding a shining object. Lily’s pendent! He would know that little slip of silver anywhere. Potter bending over the pendent in his hands and whispering something. The pendent splitting open. Looking inside, a picture. Lily Evens bundled up against the snow for a Hogsmeade weekend, the snow even still falling in the picture, and holding her by her shoulders keeping her warm… his own face… himself… that picture had been taken in fourth year.

She had worn it around her neck the whole time. Even after she had married, she had worn it the whole time.

“Duel!”

“Expelliarmus!”
________________________________________


Review please.

________________________________________
The gerbils made me do it.
________________________________________






Snape’s wand clattered to the floor but the teacher didn’t seem to have noticed. Harry watched as the potions master fell to his knees on the floor, head bowed, his face hidden by his lank greasy hair.

Harry watched, waiting for the explosion, but none came. Harry, with much trepidation, knelt down and tried to look at the teachers face. Which was why he was the only one in the class to notice the tear fall down from the end of Snape’s long hooked nose and drop onto his knees.

“Oh my god.” Harry thought in strangled shock. “I‘ve gone too far this time.” Harry turned to the class and spread his hands.

“Everyone out.” He snapped, brooking no argument. “Corridor now.”

The students needed no more incentive and quickly scrambled for the relative safety of the corridor.

“Stop!” Harry yelled at some of them as they tried to escape away. “I need to talk to all of you.” Harry closed the classroom door behind him and corralled the students within earshot.

“None of you will mention this lesson to anyone.” Harry said, looking each student in the eye as he did so. “None of you will talk about it, even to each other. None of you will think about it the next time you have Snape for your lesson. In defense or potions. For each and every one of you, this lesson Did. Not. Happen. Don’t think I won’t find out if you do talk, I find out everything. Remember Malfoy? You have all seen what happens to people who cross me. Understand?”

Harry didn’t let them leave until he had looked each student in the eye and heard them promise to that effect. They began leaving in ones and twos, scurrying off along the corridor. Harry turned back towards the classroom.

“You‘re not going back in there are you?” Susan Bones asked, amazed.

“I kind of have to.” Harry answered.

“He‘ll kill you.” She said matter-of-factly.

“I may deserve it.” Harry shrugged and slipped back through the door.

Snape was still where he had been before they left. Harry took a deep breath and sat down cross legged in front of his teacher.

“I am so sorry.” Harry said. “I didn‘t realize it would do this to you. I thought it would just distract you, you know… freak you out for a moment so I could disarm you. I never thought it would affect you like this.”

Snape still said nothing, he just stared at the floor.

“I told all the students not to say anything.” Harry glanced back at the door. “I think they‘ll do it.”

Snape was still not moving. Harry began to wonder if he had been rendered catatonic or something, but there was still an occasional drip-drip of teardrops from behind the fringe of hair.

“Maybe…” Harry dragged his bag off his back and pulled the box out. He opened it and placed the locket in Snape’s unresisting hand. “You take it. I don‘t want it. You saw the password right?”

Snape stayed motionless for a moment more then slowly brought the silver locket up to his mouth. Then, in a choked, tearful voice he said…

“Spinners end.”

The locket cracked open. Snape seemed to break all at once and started sobbing. His whole, long, lanky body shaking with each sob. Harry didn’t really know what to do, he certainly couldn’t comfort this man who had tormented him so much.

Harry dug into the box again and grabbed a photograph, it was his mother and her sister when they were young, but obviously over eleven since the picture was moving. He wordlessly handed it to Snape, who took it and kept crying. He grabbed another photograph and poked his father out of the frame before handing that too over.

He kept going until the box was empty. Giving a few words each to tell Snape what it was he was giving him, an essay, a letter, a prefects badge. Harry hid the love letters from his father back in his bag. By the time nothing was left Snape had stopped crying, he was even breathing a little easier, deep breathes instead of the racking sobs that had plagued him a moment ago.

Snape sniffed loudly and put his hand into a pocket of his robes but drew it back empty. He searched another pocket while sniffing louder. Harry realized he was searching for a tissue. Struck by a twinge of mischief Harry grabbed something back out of his bag, scrunched it between his hands and handed it to Snape.

The potions master took it and blew his nose on the parchment. After doing so he brought it away from his nose, a shadow of curiosity crossing his face, and looked at it. After a moment of reading the (now hideously smudged) letter his eyes flickered up and met Harry’s. It could have been his imagination, but for a moment Harry thought he saw a flicker of a smile.

“Seemed appropriate.” Harry said and shrugged. Snape chucked the letter away and glanced at the door.

“You mentioned that you told the rest of your class to keep silent.” Snape’s voice was almost monotone.

“Yes.” Harry nodded. “They‘ll do it too. I threatened to do to them what I did to Malfoy.”

“Why?” The potions master regained a little of his old spite and sneer.

“I just…” Harry licked his lips and started again. As unwilling as he was to give Snape ammunition to use against him… “Last year I broke down completely in the hospital wing. Right on the floor. It was after Colin Creevy got petrified, it all just got too much for me. At the time I remember wishing everyone there would just forget it ever happened. I thought you might feel the same.”

Snape snorted. He seemed to be recovering himself. Harry took this as his cue to leave. He picked himself up off the floor and headed for the door. Snape made no move to stop him. When Harry reached the door he turned back for a moment.

“I probably shouldn‘t say this…” Harry thought. “But if I don‘t it‘ll just eat at me.”

“Sir?” Snape’s head snapped towards him. “Can I tell you something I‘ve noticed about wizards?” Harry took Snape’s silence as an affirmative. “Wizards… wizards use quills.”

“Fascinating Potter…” Snape sneered, but Harry interrupted him.

“And they use trunks even when they can charm bags to hold more. You use a steam train to get to Hogwarts. This year a steam-boat. We live in a medieval castle, the shop I bought my wand in predates Jesus Christ and we write on rolls of parchment. But its more than just that, lots of wizards are named after members of their family. A lot more of them than muggles. Even portraits and ghosts; half the time we seem to be surrounded by people who died centuries ago. What I‘m getting at is…” Harry swallowed in dread at what the reaction to his next point would be.

“… wizards seem to spend a lot of time living in the past.” Harry forced himself to meet Snape’s eyes. “Maybe it‘s time you moved on.”

Snape just stood there, his sneer seemed to have frozen on his lips but his eyes just seemed confused, even a little lost. Harry opened the door and left quickly.

He managed to get almost halfway down the corridor before his nerve broke and he made a mad dash for Gryffindor tower. When he was through the portrait hole he leaned against the wall and caught his breath.

“You’re alive!” Harry turned and saw that the marauders were waiting on their usual table. He staggered over to them and sat down.

“We honestly thought you were a goner Harry.” Ron said, shaking his head. But then his face broke into a grin. “But that was bloody brilliant what you did!”

“You wouldn‘t say that if you knew how I won.” Harry said waving his friend to silence. “It was cruel, just cruel.”

“What spell did you…” Hermione began but Harry shook his head.

“I won‘t say. I won‘t ever say.”

“Snape deserved it whatever it was.” Parvati said. “However cruel it was he‘s been horrible to you for three years. You can’t tell me it was worse than what he‘s done to you.”

“No, it probably wasn‘t. But it was worse than I ever want to do to anyone else.” Harry leant down and laid his head on his crossed arms. “I don’t want to be like them.”

The marauders assured him he was not but Harry just sighed. Impending death aside if he jumped back in time now he’d consider it a blessing.

It was only as Harry got into bed that night that he remembered the letter from Pythea, the duel and its aftermath had blown it completely out of his head. He dug it back out of his robes and read it again, trying to find some hint of a clue. But there was nothing. Nothing at all.
*


Professor Snape dropped the photograph back onto the oak table of his quarters and held his head in his hands. The only light in the room came from the guttering candle before him and faded into the darkness around him. Snape refilled his glass with alertness potion and tried to make himself sip it this time. Sleep was not an option, not at least until he was too tired to dream.

“Move on.” Snape growled into the darkness. “Were it that easy Potter, everyone would be doing it.”

The idiocy of the boy, telling him to move on while at the same time giving him a pile of photos and a locket that proved she loved him all along. Snape gave up and knocked back a mouthful of the searing potion.

The locket lay on the table in front of him. He hadn’t dared open it again for fear of breaking down once more. He picked it up and trailed its silver chain through his fingers. Stupid thing. Snape smacked it back down onto the tabletop. But even then his fingers instinctively curled to protect the thing and he ended up skinning his knuckles. His movement blew the candle out too and he was left in bitter darkness clutching the damn thing so hard it hurt.

Snape drew his wand out to relight the candle but stopped with it held loosely in his hand. Another spell was floating in the front of his mind.

No.

He shouldn’t do it. He was already sickening himself with his wallowing in grief. He was acting like a Gryffindor. Ha! He shuddered, he was acting like a Gryffindor and the Potter boy was acting more and more like a Slytherin. Potter boy… James Potter… who took Lily away. Snape could still feel the edges of the locket cutting into his palm.

“Why…” Snape forced himself to open his hand. “Why wear this but marry him?” What sense did that make.

You abandoned me.

No. Snape curled his hands over his face and tried to force the memory down using Occlumency. But in his condition he could barely hold it back and another surfaced just as quickly.

You chose your friends Sev.

I did, but it was always you.

They hate me.

There was no one else.

You hate me.

Never. Why will you not give me peace?

You were my best friend.

Be silent.

But you betrayed me.

Please.

I can’t pretend anymore Sev.

I just want to forget.

You’ve changed. You’ve changed too much.

Snape curled his fingers around his ears, trying to stop listening to his own mind. He knew what came next.

I can‘t love this you, not even as a friend. Goodbye Severus.

Snape threw his head back and howled in pain. Oh why fight it. Snape pointed his wand out and yelled…

“Expecto Patronum!”

The room was lit once more by silver light as the spell erupted from Snapes wand. The silver doe just stood there cocking her head at him. Snape felt tears running down his cheeks again.

“I love you.”

The doe said nothing, she never did, but she walked over on her silent hooves and rested her head in his lap. She felt warm but Snape knew it wasn‘t real, if he tried to touch her she‘d just feel like mist.

Snape laid his head down on his arms and closed his eyes. Later he finally fell asleep like that, leant over the table with his face in his arms, the doe warming him like a pet dog and the locket still held tight in his hand.
*


Harry stared down at his chest and tried hard to keep his breathing in check as the vast wound faded in and out. Harry gritted his teeth and concentrated on staying in this time. The wound began to fade more, after a few minutes if vanished completely. Harry breathed a sigh of relief, but it was one tainted with fear. It was getting worse.

“Harry you ok in their?” Ron’s voice sounded from the bathroom door.

“Yeah Ron I‘m fine. Just think I‘m coming down with something.” Harry almost chuckled to himself, that was the understatement of the century. Harry looked up into the mirror in front of him, even without the wound he looked like a wreck. Harry opened the door and smiled at his friend. “Probably flu or something.”

“You don’t say? You‘ve been kind of… um…” Ron waved his hands as if searching for the right word. “…muted… for weeks. Ever since Snape.”

Harry nodded, he had been a little quiet. Intentionally in the beginning, he had known that he needed to keep a low profile. But Snape seemed to be pulling a Lupin and ignoring Harry in his lessons. Not that he was paying much attention to the rest of his class either, Snape spent most of his lessons at his desk and had large bags under his eyes.

But lately the torrent had been getting worse. He had thought that it getting worse would mean he’d jump further back but in fact it was the opposite. He kept jumping seconds, minutes or hours back and forth, several times a day now. Sometimes the world would simply vibrate like a bell and he’d be left spinning as he flickered between times so fast he couldn’t even catch it. And then there were the times like this morning when he simply slipped back and forth like a metronome, the wounds on his chest opening and closing like hideous sphincters.

Even worse were the times when he didn’t even realize what had happened. He’d be going to lunch then be asked why he wasn’t at breakfast. He’d sit down to dinner and find cereal and toast appear in front of him. Lessons were even worse, they could be twice as long as normal or the bell could sound when Harry had barely put his book down. His marks in class were falling, homework was hard to hand in on time when you didn’t know what day it was. Harry knew he should tell Dumbledore or McGonagall or Hermione even, but somehow he couldn’t muster the energy. They’d only tell him what he already knew.

He was doomed.

“You sure you‘re alright Harry?”

Harry was drawn back from his thoughts by his friends voice.

“Yeah.” Harry nodded again. “Fine.”

“That just proves you‘re not alright.” Ron said triumphantly. “You‘re usually loud, talking and wisecracking all over the place, you’re never monosyllabic.”

“You want a wisecrack? Ok…” Harry grinned evilly at his friend. “ ‘monosyllabic‘? Been reading the dictionary Ron? Or just spending more time with Hermione?” Ron blushed and began spluttering…

“No just… I mean why would I…”

“It‘s alright Ron. Never mind.” Harry shook his head, smiling wanly as he wandered away.

“You coming to Hogsmeade Harry?” Ron called after him.

“You know I can’t.” Harry turned back, frowning quizzically.

“Come on Harry, sneak out again.” Ron wheedled. “It‘ll make you feel better. Get some sun, you‘re getting all white and pasty like Snape.”

“Probably because I haven’t been sleeping much.” Harry thought. “Haven‘t been eating much either… My body clock‘s all screwed to hell by the jumps.”

“I might get caught.” Harry said lamely.

Harry rightly deserved the horrified glare Ron gave him.

“Alright.” Harry shrugged. “I‘ll come. At least the water‘ll be warmer this time!”
*


Harry dragged himself out of the lake and gave himself a drying charm before wandering up towards town. After meeting up with the other marauders the first place they visited was Zonko’s joke shop.

“Pretty good don’t you think?” Harry grinned through the magical mask that made him look like an old man. He had a big grey moustache too and a green felt hat.

“You‘re not actually going to buy that garbage are you Harry?” Padma asked him shaking her head.

“Of course. And I‘m wearing it all day.” Harry said from behind the wrinkled face.

“Why?” She shook her head. “Why would you do that?”

“So that no Slytherin will say that they saw Harry Potter in Hogsmeade.” Understanding dawned on Padma’s face then she suddenly frowned.

“So all they’ll see is someone obviously disguised walking around with all Harry Potter‘s friends? I think they might work it out Harry.”

“These are Slytherins we‘re talking about.” Harry said, paying for the merchandise. “Don’t expect great mental feats of them, you‘ll just be disappointed.”

Harry found that he was enjoying the day despite himself. He had only jumped a few minor times and he did like the town (having not really had a chance to see it on the last visit).

“Just about time for the Three broomsticks before we head back.” Parvati said cheerily as they walked down a backstreet, away from the main concourse. “We all need some butterbeer!”

“You‘ll love butterbeer Harry.” Neville said to the disguised Harry. “It‘s all warm and smooth and… and….”

“Buttery?” Harry wheedled, grinning.

“Well yeah.”

“I don’t know. A drink based on a fat spread doesn‘t exactly sound appetizing.” Harry grinned to show that he was joking. “Or healthy!”

“It‘s alright Harry.” Hermione said laughing. “My parents went mad when they heard about it but it turns out its actually pretty good for you. It contains antioxidants.”

“Anti-oxygen…” Ron’s brow furrowed. “That sounds bad for you.”

“Honestly Ron it just means…”

Harry rolled his eyes as Hermione started into an explanation. Ron’s eyes glazed over after about the third word.

“I really like this place.” Harry said over the explanation. “I‘ll have to find some way to come here more often.”

“It‘s not all nice.” Padma commented. “There‘s broken glass here.”

Harry looked down. There was broken glass, he looked around and saw that it had come from the upstairs window of a nearby house.

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, perhaps some latent talent as a seer or perhaps some effect of the torrent but right at that moment Harry felt his stomach lurch. There was something terrible behind that broken window.

“Wait here.” Harry said quietly. The marauders heard his tone and fell silent. Harry slipped in through the garden gate and felt the stones of the wall. Rough, like Hogwarts. Harry gripped the blocks with his fingers and clambered slowly up to the window. He pushed aside the heavy curtains but inside the room was empty. A dim storeroom piled with boxes with the door open onto the well lit corridor behind.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief and began to climb down. When he was about halfway he heard a sound from inside the house. He stopped, his fingers gripping the rock tight. There it was again. Harry scrambled back up and thrust his head back through the window.

Harry just had time to see yellow teeth streaked with grime and smell rancid breath before he was thrown backwards off the wall. He landed with a thud in the garden and looked up in time to see a disheveled man, covered in dirt and dressed in spoilt rags leap from the window with something clutched in his hands. Harry rolled out of his way and the man hit the ground running, panting like a dog as he dashed out through the gate and down the street.

“Stop!” Harry looked up and saw a wizard leaning out of the window franticly sending bolts of red light after the fleeing figure. “Stop him! He took my son!”

Harry jolted himself off the ground and vaulted the wall after the fleeing man. He could hear the marauders trying to keep pace behind him.

“Parvati! Go to Hogwarts! Go and tell them what’s happened!” Harry felt his words carried away by the wind and had no idea whether he was being heard. “Neville! Go warn the village! Get help! Or brooms!”

They had reached the end of the short road now and hit the field beyond. Harry jumped the fence and fought his way through the heather after the distant figure. Their quarry had made it easier for them by flattening a path but it was still heavy going. They were not gaining on the man. Not by a long shot.

“We’re… can‘t…” Hermione panted. “We’re… not…”

“Whatever it is, we are!” Harry yelled back as they crested a little hill. “Try to hit him!”

Harry aimed and shot a bludgeoning hex at the man, now little more than a smudge of black on the distant purple heather. The smudge dodged and shot sideways behind a large rock before the other marauders spells could connect.

“Harry what are you doing!” Hermione screeched angrily. “A bludgeoning hex? It‘s carrying a baby!”

Harry cursed and began running forwards again. He should have known that! Harry felt like he was passing acid through his lungs instead of air by the time they reached the rock. The panting and gasping he heard behind him told him the marauders were in even poorer shape. Worse, the figure was nowhere in sight and there was no clear trail to follow.

Ignoring the pain in every muscle Harry pulled himself to the top of the boulder and looked around. From here he could see the dark shape of the forbidden forest spreading out to the south. A wall, like the wall of Hogwarts, sealed it off from the rest of the world. Harry squinted through his glasses and just made out a dark shape silhouette against the brighter wall before it disappeared. Harry tore off the mask to get a better look but there was nothing more, just blank wall.

“He‘s gone into the forest.” Harry called down, trying not to take his eyes off the place where the man had disappeared. “Let‘s go.” Harry slid off the rock and landed beside Ron, Hermione and Padma.

“Harry are we really going to follow it into the forbidden forest?” Padma was clutching her stomach and wheezing. “We should mark where it went and wait for help.”

“He‘s going to have as much trouble with the forest as we are.” Harry argued. “We can still catch him!”

“But Harry it‘s a werewolf!”

Harry was jolted back by her words. Of course it was a werewolf and not just some unwashed kidnapper. And it had gone straight back to its home. Harry shook his head, once again he wasn’t thinking straight.

“When‘s the next full moon?” Harry asked quickly. “When is it?”

“Tonight.” Hermione answered, pained and breathless, but also resigned.

Harry shook his head.

“Then we can’t wait for help. We have to find them before nightfall or that little kid is going to get one hell of a lovebite. We can‘t wait for help, its us or no one.” Harry looked back at the marauders and saw them shimmer and fade.

NO!

He hand clenched around his pendent and he squeezed his eyes shut. He did not have time for this! When he opened his eyes again his friends looked solid, but confused.

“Harry you alright?” Ron asked.

“I‘m fine.” Harry forced himself to stop gripping the little shell.

“Are you sure Harry?” Padma added. “You sort of… blurred.”

“Fine, fine. Lets go.” Harry started off at a run towards the forest again and heard the others follow.

In Harry’s head he could hear the words ‘We can’t wait for help. Its us or no one’ repeating over and over like a talisman against the terror rising inside him. That terror itself had its own voice saying ‘We are following it into its forest where it knows its way around and we don’t and you can’t even stay in your own time for five minutes. And that’s not even mentioning the centaurs…’. Harry was forced to admit that that voice as well was right. What they were doing was stupid and dangerous. But as the first voice said, there was no one else.

As Harry neared the wall a third little voice piped up. Spiteful, sarcastic and whiney but, like the other two voices, essentially right.

“Why me.” Harry thought. “Why is it always me.”
*


They reached the wall and Harry instantly saw how the werewolf had gotten over. A huge tree had fallen over the wall, crushing the top part of it and resting on the remaining meters of cracked stonework. Everywhere else the wall was at least two storeys tall of blank grey stone. Unscalable.

“The tree…” Hermione had caught up to him but her and the other two marauders were still very winded. “Must have weakened the wards.”

Again Harry felt like a fool. Obviously it would be warded. His brain seemed to be in a fuzz. Harry grabbed some of the lower branches of the tree and pulled himself up.

“Are we…” Hermione began again but Harry cut her off.

“Look, I know this is crazy but there‘s no one else here to help. I‘m not leaving now. Any of you who don‘t want to follow me go back and tell them where the hole in the wards is.” Harry pulled himself on to the tree trunk and looked down at his friends. “Anyone else shut up and get in the tree.”

Harry began climbing along the trunk and felt it shake as someone else began to climb. When Harry reached the other end he climbed down by the roots and dropped onto the mulch of the forest floor. He turned and looked up at the tree, a moment later Padma pushed her way through the branches. Harry waited a moment more but no one came. Harry felt a lump form in his throat, first Pythea abandoned him then them.

“Did they…” Harry began but was cut off as Ron and Hermione pushed their way in through the branches.

“We were marking the spot.” Hermione said upon seeing Harry’s face. “If we‘re going to do this we should do it right and give ourselves a chance of getting out alive.”

“We weren‘t gonna let you do this alone mate.” Ron scratched the back of his head and shrugged. “And after all we‘ve been in worse scrapes than this.”

“Did you think any of us wanted to see a kid turned into a werewolf?” Padma added to cut him off with a shake of her head and began to climb down. Harry helped her down the last few feet then moved to do the same for the others.

“Just one thing Harry.” Hermione said once they were all down. “How are we supposed to know which way it went?”

Harry’s face fell and he looked around for some obvious sign. There was nothing, now that they were in the forest the werewolf knew how to cover his tracks better.

“Spread out and look. Don‘t go too far.” Harry said and the marauders obediently fanned out. Harry was about to join them when his mind fixed on a crazy idea.

He had been able to hold the torrent at bay a few times. Could he force it to come to him?

Harry undid the front of his shirt and looked down at his unblemished chest. He splayed one hand across where he knew the wound would appear and clenched the other around his pendent.

“About five minutes ago.” Harry thought as he gritted his teeth down hard. “That’s where I need to be.”

Harry forced everything he was into that one thought. For a moment he felt blood well on his chest but it was gone a moment later.

“Harder!” He thought desperately. His fingers were slick on his chest but it wasn’t blood, it was sweat. “Come on!”

Harry saw his friends fade in front of him. Ron turned back towards him and yelled in surprise. But the sound was like a distant whisper and Harry gripped his bloody chest tighter. He could still hear his friends as ghosts on the wind but couldn’t see them anymore.

He was swaying with the effort and fell to his knees on the forest floor. The leaves that were kicked up by his motion only swirled in the air for a moment before fading as he pushed himself further back.

Then, just for a moment, a shadowy figure dropped out of the air above Harry and scampered away into the trees with something held in its gnarled hands. Perhaps it was his imagination, but Harry thought he could hear a baby’s scream.

Harry let go with both hands and collapsed into the leaves. A moment later he felt hands pulling him up. As his head was tilted back for him Harry saw his friends shocked faces.

“What the hell was that Harry?” Ron asked fearfully. “You just disappeared! We couldn‘t find you anywhere!”

“You can‘t have Apparated.” Hermione sounded just as scared. “You aren‘t old…”

“That way!” Harry cut her off and raised a shaky finger. “Went that way.” Harry grabbed Ron’s shoulder and managed to force himself to his feet. “We need to hurry.”

“No Harry!” Hermione crossed her arms. “You need to tell us what you just did!”

“Hermione now is not…”

“It is the time. You just faded out of existence then returned with your hand covered in blood.” Harry looked down, his hand was bloody. This was the first time any sign of the torrent had remained after he returned to his own time. Hermione continued… “We deserve an explanation, is this to do with why you‘ve been poorly for weeks?”

“Yes.” Harry gulped in some air and nodded. “And I promise I will tell you later but just now we don’t have time. Please Hermione, it already has too much of a head start on us.”

Hermione still looked stubborn but Padma took the situation out of her hands.

“Well I‘m not waiting around.” The twin turned and began to walk off in the direction Harry had pointed. Harry grinned and staggered after her. A moment later he felt Ron catch him and put an arm around his shoulder to steady him

“You‘re in really bad shape mate.” He commented.

“Tell me about it.” Harry quipped to his taller friend as they stumbled forward. “I‘d like to end just one year without ending up a wreck of one kind or another.” Harry turned back and saw Hermione following and smiled.

They walked in silence for a while. Padma spotted a set of footprints on the ground that told them they were still going in the right direction. It looked as if the werewolf was following a sort of deer trail through the forest. After ten minutes or so Harry was able to walk unaided again but he was still glad they had found the trail. He really didn’t want to have to drop himself into the torrent again.

“Shush…” Harry waved the others to silence. “Do you guys hear that?” Faint voices drifted between the trees before them. Angry voices and one high pitched cry.

Harry dropped to a crouch and went forward as quietly as he could. He couldn’t hear the marauders following but he knew they were. The voices got louder as they approached a shaded dell in the woods.

“Piece of dirt!” A loud smacking sound filtered up from the dell. Followed by a thump like a body hitting the floor. Through it all Harry could hear a baby crying. “Why did you have to screw it up!”

Harry crawled to the edge of the dell and poked his pushed a hole through some tufts of grass to see down. The werewolf they had chased was cowering on the floor in front of a huge bear like man. A huge bear like werewolf, Harry amended as he saw the sharp brown teeth and yellow eyes staring balefully out of its head. Now that he could get a clear look at them Harry could see that they were both wearing the same mud and dirt encrusted rags, their original color and cut lost completely beneath the grime. Their hair and hands were caked in mud as well, as were their unshod feet.

“You bastard Verrine!” The larger man growled as he picked the wiry werewolf off the floor and shook him.

Harry could see the baby lying abandoned on the ground nearby. He could feel the marauders getting in position beside him. Making their own viewing holes.

“Why now!” The man continued to rant. “Why do it now! When we‘re so close to getting the mother-load you go out and swipe one child! They‘ll be on the lookout for us now!”

“But Greyback.” The smaller man (who seemed to be called Verrine) whined. “This was what you told us all to do. What you taught us. Get the children so we can turn them. When I found the gap in the wards I had to chance it. I thought you‘d be happy.”

“Happy? Happy!?” The burly werewolf threw the other to the ground and kicked him in the stomach. “You moron! We‘ve been working for months and you screw it up in a day!”

“But… but…” Verrine wrung his hands. “They still don’t know about it! We can still go through with it!”

“We‘ll have to you runt! I haven‘t worked this hard to stop now.” Greyback aimed another savage kick at the man on the floor and Harry slid back a little from the dell. Harry figured the crying baby was cover enough to speak without being heard and whispered…

“Any ideas?”

“We can‘t sneak by them.” Hermione said under her breath. “Maybe if we levitate the baby…”

“They’ll see that.” Harry shook his head. “They’ll see anything inside the clearing. We need to take them out.”

“Two full grown werewolves?” Padma shook her head. “We‘ll need a plan.”

“Will we?” Ron asked, glancing back at the grass between them and the creatures. “I mean there are four of us and two of them. Why don’t we just jump them?”

“Ron!” Hermione hissed. “Of all the stupid…”

“Brilliant!” Harry interrupted. “He‘s right!” Padma and Hermione looked shocked. Surprisingly so did Ron.

“We’ve got so used to being the underdogs we didn‘t see it. There are more of us, we have wands and we have the element of surprise. Hermione, Padma…” Harry pointed back at the clearing . “… you aim for the big guy. Me and Ron will aim for the smaller one.”

“What are we firing?” Padma asked.

“Anything disabling, and aim high. We don’t want to hit the baby.” Harry crawled back to the edge of the dell. “On three. One… Two… THREE!”

Harry raised to his knees and aimed his wand at the startled werewolves. Hermione had fired a full-body-bind that froze Greyback in his tracks before Padma’s blasting curse threw him to the ground. Harry had stuck by the reliable bludgeoning hex. He didn’t hear what Ron cast but whatever it was combined with his own attack threw the scrawny werewolf clear across the clearing and smacked him into a rock.

Harry rushed into the dell. He followed Hermione’s example and petrified Verrine from close range as he tried to get to his feet. The werewolf’s limbs smacked to his sides and he toppled like a tree. Harry turned back and saw that Padma had already reached the crying bundle on the floor and was picking him up.

“Is he alright?” Harry asked worriedly.

“I have no idea.” Padma admitted. “Since he‘s been dragged through the woods with only a blanket to protect him, I‘m guessing he‘s a little cranky. Good thing it’s a warm day.”

“Harry…” Ron was standing over the big werewolf with his wand still out. “… should we… you know… do something permanent to them? Stop them?”

“You mean kill them.” Hermione said flatly. “In cold blood. While they‘re petrified.”

“Hermione‘s right.” Harry shook his head. In his short life he had already killed two people (Tom Riddle didn‘t count). But both times it had been to save his life or the life of his friends. “We can‘t. Maybe we should, but we can‘t.”

“They‘ll kill other people Harry.” Ron said hesitantly. “They‘ll turn other people. They‘re animals.”

“Fine then. Do it.” Harry pointed at the immobile men on the floor. “Finish them.”

Ron’s eyes widened in shock. He raised his wand and pointed it at the big werewolf on the floor. For a moment he stood there, indecision clear on his face, then he dropped his arm to his side again.

“See. Not so easy.” Harry turned and began walking back the way they had come. “Come on guys. That was enough moral for today’s story.”

The marauders were about to follow him when…

“Harry…” Ron said worriedly. “Isn‘t it a bit… dark?”

Harry felt the cold sweat of terror again. The last of the sunset was just visible over the trees and the shadows were at their longest.

Not long before nightfall. Not long before the moon.

“Oh god...” Harry said, wide eyed. “RUN!”
*


Harry dared a glance back through the woods as he pelted as fast as he could down the track they had come up on. It was full dark now, and the moon rode over the trees.

“Wah!! Wah!!”

“Can‘t you shut that brat up!” Ron yelled at Padma, who shot him a deadly glare.

“Bring him here.” Harry slowed down and pointed his wand at the squalling baby. “Silencio!” The baby’s mouth still worked but no sound came out. Harry breathed easier for a moment, then he heard a howl go up from the trees behind them.

“Run!” The marauders were jolted into motion again. “Hermione go ahead! Keep Padma and the brat in the middle!”

Harry looked back over his shoulder and saw a shape hurtling down the path towards them.

Not a time to pull punches.

“Acerbus Cuspis!”

The sickly light enveloped the snaring thing and it’s momentum rolled it into a heap at Harry feet. He petrified it for good measure. Harry turned and sprinted to catch up with the rest of the marauders.

“How… close…” Ron panted. “… tree.”

“Further.” Was all Harry managed to gasp out. A growl behind him was all the warning he got and he threw himself on Ron, knocking them both to the ground as a werewolf pounced over their head.

“Ferio!” Harry yelled from the floor, but his hex missed and smacked into a bush. The wolf snarled and lifted itself to its feet before getting hit from behind by Hermione and being slammed into the ground. Harry pulled himself and Ron off the floor and began running forward again.

“There it is!” Harry heard Padma yell from far ahead. Harry squinted and realized he could make out the dim shape of the wall in front of them. Another howl went up behind them and was picked up by another voice and another and another, stretching across the forest.

“Come on come on!” Harry skidded to a stop by the bottom of the fallen tree and scanned the darkened forest. Movement? Harry fired another curse into the darkness but it hit nothing. “Hurry up!” Harry helped Ron into the tree then scrambled up behind him. He heard a snarl behind him and whirled, aiming his wand at the sound.

“Acerbus cuspis!”

The light brightened the clearing like a firework but the werewolf dodged it. Harry slipped and fell onto the leaf mulch. The wolf pounced at him but was hit in the air by three spells from above and fell hard. Harry scrambled back into the tree and ran as hard as he could for the safety of the outside. He dropped onto the ground outside and stumbled a few steps to where the marauders were standing. He saw Hermione point back at the wall and yell.

“Harry!”

A werewolf was clambering along the tree, its long slavering tongue glistening in the moonlight.

“Depulso!” Harry banished the werewolf and saw it sail back over the wall.

“Wingardium Leviosa!” Harry heard Hermione yell and saw the tree rock on its rubble cradle. “Help me!”

“Wingardium Leviosa!” Harry yelled, pointing his wand at the tree.

“Wingardium…” Ron began but Harry cut him off.

“No! You two stop any more of them getting over!”

Harry concentrated on the tree, trying to shake it free of its trestle. Another dark form jumped onto the trunk and Padma blasted it off. Two more jumped on and Harry forced himself to concentrate only on the tree and trust his friends to deal with the werewolves.

Suddenly, with a shuddering crack, the tree came free of the wall and jumped a few meters into the air. Shaking its passengers off in the process. At Hermione’s urging they pulled the tree forwards and dumped it on the ground nearby. Harry yelped in surprise as they saw a werewolf scrabble over the damaged wall, its curse giving it strength beyond any natural animal.

“No!” Hermione said as Harry raised his wand. “I want to see if its worked.”

Harry kept his wand trained on the thing but didn’t cast anything. The dark shape squatted on the top of the wall for a moment then bunched up and leapt at them. There was a great flash of light and it was repulsed, thrown back into the forest with a yelp of pain.

“Hermione? What the bloody hell…” Ron asked.

“The wards. The tree was disrupting them.” Hermione brushed her hair off her sweat-dripping forehead. “They should be back now.”

“Hermione…” Harry didn’t finish the sentence, he just stepped forward and hugged the startled girl fiercely. “Keep being smart ok. God knows one of us has to be.” Harry released her and looked back at the wall. Three werewolves sat there now but they made no move to come any closer. Perhaps they had retained just enough of their human brains to learn a lesson. Harry gave them the finger then turned back to his friends.

“We should go.” Harry lit his wand and waved the marauders back towards Hogsmeade. “I may be wrong. But I think we‘re past curfew.”
________________________________________






Try to leave a negative review here. I want to know what I can change for the better. Not spelling, I don't care about that. Do you think the pacing's ok? I sometimes think I'm moving the plot too fast.

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Yeah, i know this chapter's a bit short but it was a logical place to stop.
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Hogsmeade looked a lot more menacing at night. Perhaps it was the way the old houses seemed to lean out over the street. Perhaps it was the eerie lack of noise or that light smell you get at the beginning of night.

Or perhaps it was that the professors that had eventually found them were McGonagall and Snape.

When the marauders had wandered back into the village they had had the (then sleeping) baby taken off their hands rather swiftly and been hurried back up the road towards Hogwarts.

“Of all the irresponsible, foolishness and idiocy you lot have got yourselves into!” McGonagall raged as they walked back along the road. Snape was uncharacteristically silent but he glowered at them with his bloodshot eyes. All of them except Harry, who’s eyes he didn’t seem to want to meet.

“I hope all of you are proud of yourselves!” McGonagall continued as they passed the gates of Hogwarts.

“‘Oh, thank you for saving the baby.’” Harry muttered under his breath. “‘Without you kids he would have suffered a fate worse than death. You‘re heroes .’” But the teachers didn’t seem to hear him (which was perhaps for the best).

They walked in silence up the long path towards Hogwarts but McGonagall surprised them by not taking them inside. Instead she led them round to the left towards the greenhouses. Harry could see the shimmering line of the wards, easily visible in the dim light.

Harry then saw who they were heading for. Dumbledore was standing on a patch of scuffed ground near the edge of the greenhouses staring out towards the forbidden forest. Occasionally he would take a few steps and glance at a particular place in the wards. He also kept glancing at a ragged piece of parchment he held in his hand. As they approached he folded it calmly and slipped it into his robes.

With a frown Harry realized it was the same piece of parchment he’s seen Lupin and Dumbledore pawing over in a flashback. What did it do? Harry tried to think back, it had been a map of Hogwarts and they had been keeping watch on him with it. Did it somehow show what he was doing?

“Mr Potter.” The Headmaster had turned to look at him. He did not look pleased. “So you return to us again.”

“Yeah, like a bloody boomerang.” Was what Harry wanted to say but he wisely replaced it with “Yes Sir.”

“And can you tell me why you think you have the right to shamelessly ignore school rules and flaunt the protections set up specifically to protect the students of this school?”

“We saved a baby.” Harry said through gritted teeth. “Doesn‘t that count for something?”

“Mr Potter this is not a matter of results it is a matter of intentions.” Dumbledore said, staring at him over the rims of his spectacles. “Do you expect me to continually overlook your flagrant rule breaking simply because it coincidentally causes some good?”

“We coincidentally saved a baby!” Harry argued. He heard Hermione trying to shush him and pulled back a little. “There was nothing else we could do. No one else was there to help.”

“Why were you in Hogsmeade in the first place?”

“Testing how well that little scrap of paper in your pocket works.” It was a shot in the dark but Harry saw the look of shock cross Dumbledore’s face before he steadied himself again. Harry noticed that both Snape and McGonagall looked confused. Was Lupin the only teacher who knew?

“I do not know of what you speak Mr Potter.” Dumbleore said lightly.

“The map of Hogwarts.” Harry spoke slowly and carefully. Taking an evil glee in seeing every word bring further shock to the old man’s face. “The one you and Lupin have been using to watch me. Watch everything I do. You sit up at night, with a mug of coco and a marshmallow and watch me.”

The silence between the young wizard and the old one was almost palatable. Harry broke it first.

“Why didn‘t you use it to find the kid? Or Ginny at the end of last year?” Harry stared Dumbledore down. He felt a gentle prod on the back of his brain. “And don’t even think about Legilimensing me. Honestly, and you talk to me about breaking rules?” The prod receded and Dumbledore looked down at his feet.

“I could not use it to find the child because it does not extend beyond the borders of Hogwarts.” Dumbledore said slowly. His voice oddly shamed. “And I could not use it to find Miss Weasley because neither the chamber, nor the passage leading to it, nor the sewers under Hogwarts are displayed on it. It‘s makers never ventured into them.”

A silence fell again. Neither party seemed to have anything to add to the conversation.

“The werewolves said they had a plan to get into Hogwarts tonight.” Ron blurted out in a rush. Everyone looked at him and he blushed to the roots of his hair. “Well they have to know.” He defended to Harry.

“I know Ron.” Harry turned back to the Headmaster. “He‘s right, they did say that.”

“Harry they are unlikely to do anything now that we have been roused.”

“No, they are.” Harry shook his head. “They specifically said they were going through with it anyway.”

“Perhaps.” Dumbledore conceded. “But in a thousand years the werewolves have never breached the wards around the edge of the forest.”

“But I breached them earlier this year!”

“Yes.” Dumbledore nodded. “By swimming out into the lake past their boundaries.”

“Well couldn‘t the werewolves do that?”

“Harry…” Dumbledore seemed to regain some of his old humour. “To you the giant squid is merely a playful lake creature. But it in fact one of the most ancient guardians of Hogwarts. If any dark creature attempted to reach Hogwarts through the lake, trust me Harry, they would not get far.”

“And what…” Harry swallowed nervously. “… what if all this is connected to… you know… Voldemort?”

“My information tells me that Voldemort is in hiding in Albania.” Dumbledore explained. “As he has been since you evicted him from the body of professor Quirrel.”

“Oh…” Harry felt anger ebbing out of him, leaving a sort of hollow. “… good.”

“Now…” Professor Dumbledore raised both his palms, facing out. A calming gesture. “… we will continue this discussion, and discussion of any punishment incurred, in the morning. Please return to your common room, Severus will accompany you. Minerva, would you help me check over the wards one final time before we all retire?” The two old teachers moved off, leaving the marauders with only Snape for company.

“Come on.” Snape’s voice sounded horse and Harry realized that this was the first time he had spoken during the entire exchange.

The marauders followed him in silence up to the fat lady’s portrait and spoke the password. Snape didn’t even say anything to them then, he just stalked off with his head bowed down into his neck.

Harry shook his head. Every time he saw Snape like that it reminded him of what he’d done to him.

Harry walked into the Gryffindor common room.

“You’re alive!” Harry heard someone yell.

“Wait.” Harry closed his eyes and held out his hands for silence. “Did I just come back from a Hogsmeade weekend that ended with us chasing a werewolf into the forbidden forest?”

“Um… yes?”

“Oh good.” It had just been normal déjà vu, not the time travel kind. Harry opened his eyes and walked over to sit at the marauders table with Ginny, Neville and Parvati who had been waiting for them. The other marauders sat down too. It was the middle of the night but somehow everyone knew they couldn’t go to sleep yet. The four who had come from the forest hastily outlined what had happened to their friends.

“What am I missing?” Harry murmured, tilting himself back on his chair. “How else could they get into the grounds?”

“If they hired some curse breakers somehow…” Neville’s voice trailed off as they all contemplated the possibility of penniless forest monsters hiring the services of skilled wizards and of the skilled wizard working for them willingly and of the werewolves retaining enough self control after transforming to not eat them.

“Unlikely.” Harry decided and closed his eyes. God he was tired.

“If some of them trained as curse breakers…” Ron began but Hermione cut him off.

“Then they‘d forget everything once they transformed.”

Harry massaged his temples with his fingers and felt the grit on them, they were still all mucky from the forest.

“Could they somehow distract the giant squid?” Ginny asked looking tired as well. No one answered her. No one had any answers. But Harry was willing to swear that whatever it was was right in front of his face.

“Can werewolves even swim?” Ron asked and Harry groaned. They weren’t getting anywhere. Not a surprise really. Harry looked over his troops, Ginny was virtually asleep on her chair (“We keep forgetting she‘s not as used to this as us.” Thought Harry.) Hermione looked almost ready to faint, the stress of all the classes this year on top of the day they’d all had was just too much. Neville and Parvarti were fine but himself and Ron? Ha! Harry laughed to himself. Both him and Ron, and to a lesser extent Padma and Hermione, looked like they’d rolled in the dirt all night. Which, Harry admitted, they had.

Harry looked at his dirt encrusted hand. There was something there. Something just out of reach.

“Guy‘s…” The marauder’s heads snapped to him. “… look at my hand. There‘s something we‘re missing and it‘s here.”

“Harry you‘re imagining things.” Hermione sounded like she was barely remaining conscious. “I know, I keep thinking I‘ve thought of something too.”

“No, no there is something.” Harry shook his head. His hand, what was there?

“Harry you look faint mate.” Ron’s voice, but Harry wasn’t listening.

His hand, beaten and scratched. One fingernail broken a little from a fall. Dirt under his fingernails. Dirt everywhere on his hand. Dirt everywhere on their hands…

Harry stood bolt upright and scrambled for the door.

“They were covered in dirt!” He yelled, a bit hysterically. “Why didn‘t I see it before!”

“See what Harry?” Hermione asked. The marauders were staring at him.

“They were too dirty. Don’t you see!” Harry motioned them to get a move on out of their chairs but they didn’t budge. Harry threw up his hands in exasperation. “You don‘t get that dirty just running around a forest. And it was the wrong type of dirt too… loamy… dark. Under their fingernails and in their teeth!” The marauders still looked on in bleak incomprehension.

“Don’t you see what they’re doing! Dogs behind a fence!” Harry saw understanding dawn in one or two sets of eyes. “They‘re digging a bloody tunnel!”
*


“Neville: McGonagall! Ron: Dumbledore! Padma: Snape!” Harry rattled off as they raced out the portrait hole. Harry cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled. “MYRTLE! Sweet marauder house ghost! Get here NOW!”

“Harry?” The glowing girl slid out of the stonework and flew alongside him as he pelted down the corridor. “What is it?”

“Werewolves, tunneling into the school.” Harry saw the ghosts already white face turn whiter and her eyes bulge. “Is must come up somewhere on this side of the wards. Go under…”

“Go underground and find it.” Myrtle finished for him. She sounded absolutely terrified. Her smoky form was ever quavering in the air. But she swooped off in the direction of the greenhouses, her lank hair whipping in the wind behind her.

“Wonderful.” Harry thought as he shot down a staircase. “At least one of the marauders has her head on straight.”

Harry barged through a side door and the night air hit him like a wall. He breathed it in, welcoming the cold into him because it would help wake him up.

“Lumos!” Hermione had lit her wand. Smart that one. Harry followed suit and soon the four marauders were scowering the grounds. Harry glanced over them, had he chosen wrongly? He’d sent the tired marauders to find the teachers and kept the relatively refreshed ones with him. Except for Hermione of course, who he‘d kept because he relied on her to be the brains of the operation. But was she alert enough to do that now? Harry cursed as he realized his choice also meant he had put the youngest member, Ginny, in harms way.

Harry shook his head, nothing to be done about it now. Harry saw Myrtle arc out of the ground like a dolphin, raise her hands as if to say ‘I’m going as fast as I can’, then dip back underground.

“Where would they be?” Harry peered at the tree line, trying to catch some hint of movement. Nothing. “Damn it!” Where would they tunnel up to? Would they even be able to aim at a specific place when underground? The world blurred around Harry and he clamped his hands over his pendent.

Back! Not now! The wound on his left chest was beginning to hurt now, and was streaking his shirt with blood. I need to be here!

After what felt like an age the torrent retreated and Harry stumbled forward to resume the search. Suddenly Harry heard a ghostly squeal and saw Myrtle catapult out of the ground.

“There! There!” Myrtle was panicked and shaking, pointing back down at the ground.

Harry followed the line of her hand, it was the piece of scuffed turf they had stood on earlier that evening during their discussion with Dumbledore. With some trepidation Harry got closer and stopped to listen. From under the ground came the unmistakable sound of scrabbling claws.

“Oh no no no no no.” Harry shook his head to try and dispel the icy grip of fear and looked back at the castle. No teachers yet, the marauders must have been having trouble convincing them. Harry looked back at the ground, they would break through any minute. “Colloportus.” He tried, desperately, aiming at the ground. But nothing happened, the spell wasn’t meant to be used that way.

“Guys! Get back!” Harry waved the marauders away. “Get behind stuff, we‘ll need to keep them back if they break through.” Harry looked around, panicked. Was there something they could cover the ground with? No.

“Myrtle!” Harry looked up at the quivering ghost. “I don‘t want to ask this but… can you go down there? Distract them. Try to keep them from digging up.”

The ghost shook her head vigorously, her eyes wide behind her goggle-like glasses.

“Please Myrtle!” Harry begged. “I can’t think of anything else!”

The ghost began crying and hugged her arms into herself but she slowly floated down and slid into the ground. After a moment the scrabbling stopped and a growling and yelping filtered up through the earth. Harry glanced around desperately, that had bought him seconds at most. His eyes lighted on a pile of plant cuttings in a wooden bin beside the greenhouses. Yes!

“Help me guys! Wingardium Leviosa!” Harry pointed his wand at the bin. It rocked on its base and Harry heard his friends add their voices to his. Glancing fearfully at the bulging ground Harry maneuvered the bin onto the ground and dropped it with a crunch.

“Incendio!” The bin burst into flame. Harry sent a few bludgeoning hex’s at the sides of the thing and it collapsed into a bonfire. Harry saw the other marauders levitating branches onto it from where they hid near the greenhouses.

“Well, that won‘t stop them from digging up.” Harry thought, scraping sweat off his brow. “But it‘ll give them a surprise when they do.”

Suddenly the bonfire sagged in the middle. Harry looked around and realized he should probably be behind something. He turned and dashed towards the doors of Hogwarts. Behind him he heard a howl of inhuman pain and a dry crash as the bonfire caved in on itself. More howls of pain, filling the air with dark fear. Harry glanced over his shoulder at the fire.

A burning werewolf, howling in searing pain, burst up through the ground like an ancient god, feral and powerful. It clawed its way onto the grass and set off like a bullet towards him. Harry was so scared he tripped and was sent sprawling across the ground. He rolled and tried to aim a hex at it but he was shaking so much it missed by a mile. Harry could see another werewolf erupt out of the ground and charge the marauders but all his attention was focused on the one in front of him. The one that was going to kill him. He shot again but it barely grazed its side. It lunged, and Harry felt its feted breath.

“Sectumsempra!”

The wolf’s neck exploded in a bloody fountain but its momentum carried it onto Harry, crushing him under its. Harry could feel his ribs crack and smell its putrid stench but then it was lifted off him and tossed aside. Harry looked up and saw Snape framed in the doorway, a look of murder in his eyes.

“Stupefy!” The potions master yelled and a red spell shot across the ground and the werewolf that had been chasing the marauders fell limp onto the ground. Harry heard a scrabbling sound and saw another just clawing its way out of the hole in the ground. Snape said no incantation this time but it’s head snapped back as if it had been shot and it slid back into the hole. Three more scrambled out, slavering and growling to take its place.

“Ferio!” Harry yelled, and the one he had been aiming at jerked back. “Confringo!” The blasting curse threw it back into the hole.

“Leave them to me Potter.” Harry heard Snape growl. “Go help your friends.” Snape curled his arm back and yelled something guttural before throwing a ball of red light down into the hole in the ground. Harry was knocked off his feet as an earthquake rocked the earth and a great cloud of dust poured up from the pit. Snape had collapsed the tunnel. She potions master smiled evilly, the smoke and dust giving him an almost demonic visage as he turned and began throwing curses at the remaining two werewolves.

Harry ran towards the marauders and skidded to a stop in front of them. They looked tired and scared and Hermione was leaning on Parvati and not putting weight on her left foot, but for having just battled werewolves they looked alright.

“Snape’s beginning to grow on me.” Harry grinned. The marauders smiled, then Hermione seemed to realize something and put her hand to her neck in horror.

“No!”
*


A moment of coincidence can change everything.

Only someone floating above the scene could have seen the whole thing.

Hermione pointing to something sparkling on the ground. Pushing herself off her friend and hopping towards it frantically. Tripping…

Harry turning and stepping over to pick it up, holding its golden chain clenched in his fist.

Snape throwing curses at the last werewolf, laughing as it scrabbled backwards, trying to get away from him. Snape throwing another curse but, in his glee, missing. The curse flying through the air, rippling it like a heat wave. Shooting straight into the sparkling golden hourglass handing from Harry’s hand.

The sound of shattering class. Far louder than it had any right to be.

The spray of silver sand, fanning out and covering the right side of Harry chest, burning through his shirt and eating away the flesh underneath.

Each grain of sand making a little pockmarked hole, like drops of acid.

Snape looking on in horror, wand still outstretched.

Harry screaming. Screaming and falling to the floor, clawing at the bloody mess of his chest. Screaming like he’d had his heart cut out.

Then slowly, fading. Fading as his scream grew softer and softer. Until it was nothing more than a breath of wind.

Then gone.

________________________________________
Pain, everywhere, burning. Flickering too fast to see anything but his damaged body beneath him. Roaring, he could hear the river here, louder than ever before. Nothing made sense, nothing was real but the pain.
*


“Severus… Severus are you asleep?”

Snape slowly raised his head from his hands and looked up at Madam Pomfrey. Had he fallen asleep? There were times when his thought had curled round each other enough to seem like dreams. But no, he mustn’t have. Surely he would have dreamt of her.

Snape could feel the locket in the top pocket of his robes. He had carried it with him since he had got it. A constant drain on his will. Walking around, every day, trying to follow his routine with a venomous cocktail of grief and heart clenching regret. But he couldn’t leave it, every time he tried he just felt his fingers close around it tighter.

And now he had guilt to add to the mix. Guilt he richly deserved. He had killed him, killed the last part of Lily Evans left on this earth. He deserved everything, he clenched his fists until he could feel his nails digging into skin. It meant nothing.

“Severus some people are here.” The school nurse spoke softly, as if he were a dying patient. Which, Snape conceded, he looked like right now. He wearily dragged himself to his feet and moved out from behind the curtains surrounding his bed.

The hospital wing was full but silent. Snape looked over at the bed where the Granger girl was lying. Her foot healed of course but no one had asked her to leave. Potter’s other friends were there too, in chairs, propped on nearby beds or, in the case of Longbottom, simply collapsed on the floor. Snape could sympathize right now.

On the other side the werewolves were chained, the two that had survived his attack and transformed back with the light of day. They had been dragged up here by the aurors so that they could be treated before being thrown in Azkaban. No trial would be had. None was necessary. They neither had the right to one nor deserved that right. Snape felt no grief for the ones that had been carted away to be burned or for the many that had undoubtedly died when he collapsed the tunnel. Any vestige of humanity they had they had given up when they agreed to follow Greyback.

A sliver of a thought wormed its way into Snape’s brain. Why hadn’t Greyback been present at the attack? The children claimed to have petrified him but that would barely have lasted an hour on a werewolf. He should have been there. It would have been gratifying to number him as one of the dead. Then at least Snape could have said something good had come of everything.

“Professor Severus Snape?”

The clipped voice brought him out of his thought and he looked at the two new figures in the wing. Even in his wasting state Snape took in the flat grey robes, the file folder, the slightly arrogant demeanor without any evidence of real power and neatly labeled both of them.

“From the Ministry,” Snape said. It wasn’t a question. But something was off about them he realized, the woman, her eyes far too appraising under her neat short hair and the man perhaps a shade too relaxed for a bureaucrat dragged out of his office. Not aurors, they didn’t have that feel… Oh! “Unspeakables?”

“Correct Professor Snape. Full marks.” The woman smiled and raised her eyebrows. Snape sighed inwardly, he hated people under the delusion they were smarter than him. “My name is Natalie Zhao and my colleague is Sean Rhyfedd.” She indicated the man with a wave of her hand. Rhyfedd opened his mouth to speak but the woman continued talking and he shut it again.

“We are here to investigate the recent events here.” She smiled and pulled a quill and parchment from her folder. “I understand that you have had a trying time but certain questions must be answered.”

“I thought the situation was being investigated by them.” Snape jerked his head towards the aurors. One of the werewolves on the floor looked up at him and leered.

“You misunderstand Mr Snape.” The man spoke for the first time. “The werewolves are indeed being dealt with by the aurors. The situation we were speaking of was the death of Mr Potter.”

“Harry!”

Snape heard a curtain being thrown back and a moment later felt himself surrounded by Potter’s clique.

“Do know where he is?”

“What happened to him?”

“SILENCE!” Snape snapped, far louder than he intended. They fell silent and he turned back to the Unspeakable. Taking a moment to assess the power structure he addressed the woman directly. “You mean the disappearance of Mr Potter,” he said hopefully.

“No.” Rhyfedd cut in at the same time as his colleague said.

“I‘m afraid not.” She waved her wand at an empty bed and nine stools fell around it. “Let’s sit down.”

Snape heard a chuckle from the other side of the room.

“Something to add, werewolf?” Rhyfedd said angrily.

“Lost your hero.” The werewolf chuckled insanely as he stared out from behind his crusted lids. “Why don’t you use the little map?”

The auror kicked the inhuman thing and it fell silent, muttering to itself.

Snape dismissed it and chose a stool next to the wall, at least that way he could not be surrounded by children.

“You are aware that Miss…” Ms Zhao consulted her papers “… Granger, was given special permission to have a time-turner this year?”

“You know that I am.” Snape replied acidly. “Unless the thirty page form myself and the other teachers here were asked to fill out was somehow lost in the Ministry’s system. In fact that circumstance is not unlikely is it?”

“We take more care in our department,” Rhyfedd said. He turned to the children at the table. “Did you notice Mr Potter displaying any odd behavior this year?”

“Odd behavior…” Weasley scratched his head. “Odd behavior is normal for Harry.”

“Time loss.” The Unspeakable crossed his arms irritably. “Did he sometimes seem to not know when or where he was? Did he seem to know what was about to happen? Did anyone witness him in two places at once?”

“Yes,” The younger Weasley answered quietly. “The first two.”

“I saw him in two places,” Longbottom said wetly. They all sounded as tired as Snape felt. “I was with him in the library and I looked out the window and I saw him on the grass outside too. I just thought it was some sort of joke he was pulling.” He sounded like someone had drowned his puppy. Or perhaps a bag of puppies.

“Don‘t feel bad,” Natalie Zhao smiled at the students. “Even if we had known earlier there would have been nothing we could have done. It’s an effect we call the torrent of ages.”

That sounded familiar, some old story?

“Those lost in the torrent of ages…” he said, trying to remember the passage. “… are lost to time and light. Living in nothing. Trapped in eternity.”
*


Flickering, even the mountains crawled up and down like waves. The sky just one arching blur of grey. The ground under his feet felt shadowy and unreal.
*


“Yes that’s correct,” Ms Zhao nodded, pleased. “You see, a time-turner only works because of the sand inside it. It is literally the sand of time. Usually it is inert but there are ways of drawing out its power. Now, the structure of a time-turner is designed so as to harness that power safely. Moving a person back in time a short way relatively safely.”

“Relatively safely,” Rhyfedd said, chuckling dryly and shaking his head.

“But…” Zhao continued. “If the sand is loosed from the time-turner after it has been activated and it touches a person. That person gets the full brunt of the sands’ power.”

“The effect has been known since ancient times.” Mr Rhyfedd pulled a bundle of around twenty papers out and spread them out in front of Snape. The all had pictures in the corner. The oldest ones were indecipherable, the newest mostly looked like Unspeakable themselves. “As you can see the recent ones are mostly departmental accidents.”

Snape nodded.

“What is this torrent then?” he asked.

“Essentially… time.” Ms Zhao shook her head sadly. “Imagine the time-turner effect multiplied by a billion, and totally uncontrollable. The person begins moving through time without ever stopping in any one moment for more than a millisecond.”

“Of course we can only guess at the effect…” Rhyfedd said. “… Since no one has ever come back.”

“So what are you going to do?” Parvati Patil demanded shrilly. “How do we fix it?”

“Miss…” Zhao met Snape’s eyes for a moment then continued. “…Patil.”

Snape felt his heart skip about a hundred beats. Had he just been casually Legilimized by a Ministry employee? He found himself forced to swiftly and radically revaluate the woman in front of him. His mental defenses were a little fractured right now it was true, but he would have been happy to face even Dumbledore with no more defense than this. He had grown too soft.

“Miss Patil,” The woman continued. “I know this is hard for you, all of you. I know that it is easier to grieve if you have a body, or some sign. But you must understand your friend is not coming back.”

“You don‘t know that!” Ginevra Weasley almost screamed.

“He‘s stronger than you think,” Longbottom said desperately.

“This is not something you can fight,” The Unspeakable shook her head. “It‘s not something real or physical. It‘s not something tangible, it‘s something inevitable.”
*


Slipping, ground always slipping. Too much pain to even think. Blood that flowed out of him and disappeared into the air like mist. The sand still burned in him, burning but the blood kept flowing. Burning threads cutting into him from all sides, tying him up. Lying like red hot lances across his skin. He couldn’t ignore the pain, it was the one real thing he had.
*


“Just face it kids.” Rhyfedd crossed his arms. “The boy who lived is gone for good.”
*


Harry kneeled under the flickering sky, a grey aurora burning into his eyes. It was too much, he wasn’t sure if he would go mad or just bleed to death. Either seemed preferable. The pain was just throbbing harder, the fiery bonds tightening around him. Invisible bonds. Nothing was real here. Oh god it hurt! Harry threw his head back and howled,

“Help me!” His words were caught and whisked away as soon as he spoke. “Someone! Help me!” Harry barely felt the sobs wrack his body. “Someone…”

“Harry…”

Harry felt the pain ebb away, leaving a dull ache. The sky dimmed like smoked glass. The flickering ground became grey and unyielding under his feet. He felt the burning threads pushed off him as the grey space expanded, carrying them with it. He stood on shaky legs inside the little bubble of reality.

“Harry.”

Harry whirled towards the voice and fell to the ground again, this time in relief. Tears welled in the corners of his eyes. He gulped and said,

“Pythea!”

“Yes Harry.” The little seer was sitting cross legged in the middle of the grey bubble. “Yes it‘s me.”

“How…”

“Or, more correctly it’s a bit like a recording of me,” Pythea smiled, her multicolor eyes holding depths Harry couldn’t even guess at. “Like a portrait. I‘m a charm cast by the real Pythea. She hid me in the letter she sent you.”

“Why?” Harry shook his head. “Why this way?”

“It was the only way.” Pythea looked suddenly a little scared but pulled herself back a moment later. “If the rest of my order knew you were even remotely connected to the torrent…” She shuddered. “… well at the very least I would have been unable to help you. The torrent is abhorrent to everything we stand for.”

Abhorrent… that sounded familiar.

“For the same reason the centaurs do? They sa-”

“You met centaurs!” Pythea stood and hurried towards him, looking over him as if to see some sign of injury. “How did you survive! They would have killed you…”

“They let me go.” Harry thought back, it seemed like a while ago. “Said they had a debt to me.”

“Do not scare me like that.” Pythea put a hand to her chest and seemed to be breathing hard. “You were lucky. Very lucky.”

“If I was lucky I wouldn’t be caught in this thing.” Harry waved his hands at the mess around them. “ “‘Thea you got to help me.”

“Harry I will not lie to you.” She was right up next to him now, looking down into his eyes. “To my knowledge no-one has ever survived the torrent of ages.”

Harry closed his eyes and bowed his head. His last hope…

“Harry, the torrent isn‘t even something natural.” Pythea held his chin in her hands and pushed his head back up. “Time-turners are one thing, they let you pass back and forth in the same time stream. Anything you do in the past does not disturb the future, because it has already happened you see? The laws of causality are preserved. The torrent is different, it defies the rules of fate. That is why my order, and the centaurs, hate it so much. They think it is dangerous, tangling destiny. That is why you have been moved outside of time, the universe itself it trying to shut you out. Destroying a threat to itself.”

“So why are you here?” Harry pushed her hands away. He was crying now, he knew he looked pathetic but he couldn’t stop himself. “If no one‘s ever survived why bother even coming!”

“In the hope that you could be the first.” She glanced up at the faded ceiling. The bubble had shrunk noticeably since they had started talking. Harry could see the threads of fire curling about the edges, like circling sharks. “I can‘t hold this much longer.”

“How! How can I be the first?”

“I don‘t know. But I know one thing, you are never going to do it sitting on the ground. You will not survive unless you take control.”

“You don‘t know what it feels like…” Harry began but fell silent. What did it matter how much it hurt? It had to be done. “What do I do if I can get control?”

“Don’t you know?” She sounded amused.

“I…” A crazy idea hit him. A Harry Potter plan. “Yes. I think I do.”

“Good Harry.” She raised her hand towards the grey wall. “Are you ready?”

Harry felt for her pendent, still hanging by his heart. He nodded.

“Do it!”

The wall disappeared and the lances whipped inwards into his flesh. Harry howled and grabbed them in both hands.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaa!”

It was like the Cruciatus burnt into every molecule of his skin. And across his palms where the ropes of fire writhed? It was a hundred times worse!

“I am the boy who lived!” Harry cried into the dead air. “And you will MOVE!”

Harry jerked his hands up and felt the burning reigns cut into his hands.

“SHIFT!”

Hogwarts appeared before him for a moment, a student looked at him in shock before it was all whisked away.

“No! Again!”

The ground became flaming rock and the air acid smoke.

“No! Listen to me!” Harry gripped down harder on the threads and pulled them to his face, ignoring the tears flowing down it and the pain enveloping everything. “SHIFT!”

Bare rock, an empty sky.

Water stretching as into the distance.

The blackness of space. As cold as nothing.

“NO!” Harry was loosing it, the reigns were slipping through his fingers. “Please! I can‘t do it!”

Suddenly he saw her again, just for a moment, one green eye and one purple. Hovering in the air before him through the mist of pain.

“You can do anything.”

“Aaaaaaaaa!” Harry fell to his knees and pulled the flame to his chest, right up to the searing wound. Between his fists nestled the little pendent. A little nub of cool in the world of flame. He could do this.

Hogwarts again, a werewolf lunged before it all slipped away.

“YES!”

The greenhouses pulled out of the mist. The stars, the sound of spells. An inhuman howl.

“YES!”

Harry Potter laughed through the pain and the blood.
*


Hermione pointing to something sparkling on the ground. Pushing herself off her friend and hopping towards it frantically. Tripping…

Harry turning and stepping over to pick it up, holding its golden chain clenched in his fist.

Snape throwing curses at the last werewolf, laughing as it scrabbled backwards, trying to get away from him. Snape throwing another curse but, in his glee, missing. The curse flying through the air, rippling it like a heat wave. Shooting straight towards the sparkling golden hourglass handing from Harry’s hand.

Harry smiled, and stepped in front of the curse.
*


Dirt…

Very wet dirt…

That was the first thought that went through Harry’s head. He opened his eyes. The dirt in front of his nose was moving ever so slightly, the little grains rolling back and forth. His breath moving them. He was breathing again.

Some sensation at the sides of his head… familiar… sound. Someone was speaking.

“Harry?”

Harry twisted against the ground, movement returning to him like a distant memory. A shape standing there. Low to the ground.

“Harry dear boy they told us you were dead!”

Professor… he knew this person. He liked this person.

“Professor Flitwick.” Harry’s voice came out at barely a whisper.

“My dear boy you‘re bleeding!”

Harry looked down. One side of his chest was pockmarked with little holes like someone had grated him and the other side had two massive slashes over it, meeting in a cross. Snape’s curse, Harry remembered, that had hit him there.

“Are you alright? You don‘t look like you‘re in pain?”

Harry chuckled wryly. After the world of flame the pains from his chest were nothing.

“You need the Hospital Wing Mr Potter.”

Harry felt himself lifted up with magic and stood on his feet. He was still exactly where he had been before getting lost in the torrent, on the ground near the greenhouses. He saw some men in long black robes standing guard over the caved in tunnel but they weren’t looking his way.

“I can walk,” Harry mumbled as Professor Flitwick pointed his wand at him again. He had clawed his way out of non-existence, he could walk to the Hospital Wing.

Harry stumbled off towards the doors of Hogwarts.

“Of course you can Mr Potter.” Professor Flitwick chuckled. “I was merely going to provide you with some clothes.”

Harry looked down, he was wearing Pythea’s pendent but nothing else. He glanced back at the ground where he had appeared, there was a lot of grey ash and what looked like a burnt belt buckle. Near where his feet had been there was a puddle of molten rubber.

“Oh.” Harry blushed and tried to cover himself with his hands. With a wave of his wand the little teacher gave Harry loose fitting pajama pants and a dressing gown. Harry vaguely registered that they were blue and gold. “Thanks…”

Harry turned and continued his halting walk towards the hospital wing. He could hear Flitwick walking behind him, probably with his wand out in case Harry tripped. The hallways were deserted this early in the morning and Harry had no company as he pulled himself laboriously up a staircase.

He glanced down at the two wounds on his chest, the sand burn and the cuts. There was something wrong there. Harry shook his head, nothing about bleeding that much was right. Harry reached the doors to the hospital wing and pushed the doors open.

He saw his friends, Snape and some other people look up in shock. In his state, lightheaded from blood loss, he said the first thing that came to mind…
*


“Just face it kids.” Rhyfedd crossed his arms. “The boy who lived is gone for good.”

The doors to the hospital wing burst open and the Potter boy stepped inside, wavering slightly as if drunk.

“You know who I hate?” he said, smiling crookedly. “Godric Gryffindor… wanker!” The boy took two steps and fell on his face on the cold tiled floor.

Snape saw the students and the school nurse rush to Harry through a daze but he felt something else. A bubbling, floating sensation rising from his chest. He clamped his hand over his mouth but it escaped through his nose anyway, a snort that jerked his head back. He gave up trying and broke out in fits of laughter.

“Something amusing Professor?” Ms Zhao asked him, eyebrows arched in amusement.

“Hates… Ha ha ha! Hates Godric Gryffindor! Ha!” Snape held his hands to his aching sides and bowed down as another bout hit him. He pointed at the other Unspeakable. “And he walked in… right after you said… Ha ha ha!”

Why couldn’t he stop laughing? More importantly, why didn’t he want to?

“Perhaps you should lie down Mr Snape.” Natalie Zhao looked like she was barely stopping herself from giggling. “You‘ve obviously had a trying night.”

Yes, that must be it. Just tired.

Snape got up and walked towards the doors of the hospital wing. As he passed the Potter boy’s bed the laughs broke out again and he had to hold the doorframe for support.

“Severus?” Snape saw Filius Flitwick staring at him in shock. “Are you alright?”

Yes, Snape realized, he was. It felt like a great pressure had been lifted off him. He must just be tired.

“I have had a long night.” he told his fellow teacher before turning and walking away and leaving a very stunned silence in his wake.
*


“That was odd.” Padma said dryly before turning back to the hospital bed where Harry was lying.

Harry chuckled, it was good to be back amongst friends.

“These won‘t heal Mr Potter,” he heard Madam Pomfrey say while running her wand over the two wounds on his chest. “Neither of them. I‘m afraid you‘ll have scars there for the rest of your life.”

“Great…” Harry said, his voice sounding weak and airy in his ears. “… more scars.” Harry pointed at his forehead. “I have enough trouble with this one.”

“Well it’s your own fault…” Harry heard an acerbic voice say. “You survive the killing curse and get one scar, you survive the torrent of ages and you get two more. If you don’t want more scars stop doing impossible things.”

Harry leant his head up and saw two people he didn’t know standing by the foot of his bed, a man and a woman.

“Please forgive my friend,” the woman said smoothly. “There was a departmental accident in which he lost his sense of tact.”

The man snorted. Harry smiled, he thought he would like this woman.

“We are from the Ministry,” the woman continued, “The Department of Mysteries.”

“We need you to tell us how you survived the torrent,” the man said.

“But obviously we would not impose on you in your current state,” the woman added easily. “If we returned this evening?” She glanced at madam Pomfrey, who nodded.

“This evening then.” She straightened. “I look forward to your story.” She walked out of the hospital wing, the other Unspeakable followed, grumbling.

Harry looked at his friends and grinned.

“So, my entrance? Good or so-so?”

“Well ten out of ten for timing Harry,” Hermione grinned.

“But what you said was a bit off,” Padma chuckled. “‘I hate Godric Gryffindor’ kind of a non-sequitur.”

“And for Harry Potter, the-boy-who-cracks-one-liners…” Ron grinned broadly. “It was kind of disappointing.”

“I blame blood loss.” Harry leant back against the bed, he was just now realizing that he had last slept over twenty four hours ago. Or more, or less, he didn’t quite know how the time in the torrent counted.

“How did you survive Harry?” Hermione asked curiously.

“How?” Harry felt his eyelids drooping. “I‘m a Marauder. We don‘t lose.” A thought crossed Harry’s brain and he managed to pull himself back from sleep. “Where did Myrtle get to?”

“Don’t know.” Ron shook his head. “None of us have seen her.”

“Should apologize to her. See whether we can find some ghost-flowers.” Another thought hit him. “The werewolves? The attack?”

“All dealt with Harry.” Parvati put her hand on his shoulder reassuringly. “Everyone‘s alright and the crisis is over. Earlier than usual too.”

“Yeah!” Ron perked up. “We‘ve got almost three months of school left! We usually don’t save everyone for ages yet, we may actually get time to have fun and…”

“Study for our end of year exams.” Hermione said brightly. It was like watching a see-saw, the delight in Ron’s face faded at exactly the same rate as Hermione’s began to grow.

“Oh Harry, tell her,” Ron urged. “Tell her we‘re having fun not studying.”

“I may have to study Ron. If I want to do little things like not get chucked out of Hogwarts.” Harry tried to bring to bear any knowledge he had gleaned from the last few months of lessons and found only bare scrapes. “Definitely.”

“It‘s alright Harry,” Ron said comfortingly. “You‘re obviously sick. I‘ll ask you again when you‘re better.”
*


Albus Dumbledore glanced at the map once again, when the dot had reappeared he had not believed it. He had thought there had to be some sort of mistake.

“He truly is unharmed?” he asked again.

“I would not say unharmed…” Poppy Pomfrey shook her head. “But he is alive and with a little care he will be fine. Scars, as I said, but nothing more.”

“Thank you Poppy. You are forever the bringer of glad news.”

Poppy knew him well enough to recognize the polite dismissal in his voice and left his office quietly. Dumbledore turned to the other person in the office.

“He survived…” Professor Lupin was hunched over a mug of something steaming. It smelled awful but apparently it helped. Even with it the poor werewolf looked miserable, apparently hearing the other werewolves howling so close had made his werewolf mind even more fractured than usual. “How could he survive? ”

“I do not know Remus.” Dumbledore shook his head. “I truly do not know how he survived. I am in the unusual position of having not the faintest idea. That worries me deeply. The boy himself worries me deeply.”

“He disturbs me.”

“Remus you must try to-”

“I know,” Lupin croaked in his harsh voice. “It‘s just that he walks around looking so like James. Being so like James. He calls his friends the Marauders you know, when I heard that I almost… He has no right.”

“It is just a name Remus,” Dumbledore said soothingly. “And the boy is full of conundrums, I still can‘t work out where that pendent of his came from. I don‘t know how he managed to rig the Quidditch cup and I certainly can‘t prove he did. I don‘t know how he beat Severus in a duel. And now the torrent…” Dumbledore reached out and stroked Fawkes, the phoenix let out an appreciative trill.

“This boy, this boy that so much rests on, is a complete mystery to me. Not only that, he seems to have no qualms about disregarding my authority, ignoring my advice. I cannot even keep him within the grounds of Hogwarts against his will. So much rests on him, but I don’t understand him and I certainly cannot control him.” Dumbledore sighed. “I have rarely felt as old as I have in these past three years.”

“He‘s not James.” Remus shook his head.

“I hope not.” Dumbledore closed his eyes in sadness. “But he seems to have courage like James Potter.”

“Courage?” Remus snorted. “He‘s afraid of water!”

“Well we both know the reason for that.” Dumbledore quieted himself. Some secrets were so important they should never be voiced. “I suppose all we can do is wait and see.” The two men fell silent. Dumbledore listened to his whirling machines, after all these years the sound was very comforting.

“Have you found another Defense teacher?” Lupin asked suddenly. Dumbledore sighed.

“I have been talking to another old friend. I have hope that he will accept the job.”

“Good.”

The silence returned, heavy with all the things not being said.
*


Snape awoke refreshed for the first time in weeks. He had gone directly into his bed after leaving the Hospital Wing and now the clock on his wall read eight thirty, he had slept all day. His body must have been trying to catch up on lost time.

He pulled his robes on and grabbed his wand from the bedside table. His hand went out on reflex to grab the other item there and he stiffened. The locket sat there, shining up at him. Snape swallowed hard. Did he want to carry Lily Evans around next to his heart forever?

Snape picked the locket up and held it lightly in his hand. Something must be done with it. He strode out of his quarters and down the corridor, scarcely glancing at the students he passed. He did not stop when he passed the great doors or Hogwarts but kept up his pace until it brought him to the shores of the lake.

He was breathing hard, and not from the walk. The locket was still clutched in his hand. He had to do it quickly otherwise he would lose his will.

You abandoned me Sev. I thought we were best friends?

No. Not now.

You called me a mudblood.

“And what about you!” He spoke savagely to the locket nestled in his palm. “That day beside the lake after our exam. Where were you? Sitting and talking to your other friends. Leaving me all alone. You didn‘t come over until James Potter got involved. You abandoned me long before I abandoned you…” Snape drew his hand back. “… I just did it better.” And with all his strength he hurled the little piece of silver into the dark water.

I cannot believe I had the strength to do that.

Snape shook his head, he felt like he had begun again after years of living in stasis. Harry was right, wizards lived in the past far too much. He had finally gotten rid of the last…

No…

Snape felt his spirits dashed in a moment. He still had one last piece of Lily Evens. A piece he could not be rid of. He hung his head, and he had felt so free. The past was an anchor, Lily Evans was an anchor. He could never be truly free.

Or could he? As the Potter boy had so clearly proved, sometimes the impossible was simply something that hadn’t been done yet. But it would require Occlumency of the highest order.

“Luckily,” Thought Snape. “I am an Occlumens of the highest order.”

Snape sat down cross legged on the grass, cleared his mind, closed his eyes and proceeded to delete Lily Evans. Each memory was locked away, one by one, from their first meeting to the last day he ever saw her. He blocked them all. He would still retain the shape of them, a vague knowledge, but it was the best he could do.

It would be easier if he had a pensieve, Snape realized and momentarily thought of borrowing Dumbledore’s. But no, he didn’t want the old man to know about this. And besides, considering that Lily Evans was the hold he had had over Snape all these years he might not be inclined to help.

Snape closed the last memory and stood up, feeling lightheaded. Would this work? He began preparing to cast the spell, raised his wand then dropped it again to his side. He could not cast it, he had no happy memories anymore, he had just locked them all away. Snape cursed, it was hopeless. Then a mad idea struck him, he looked out over the lake, at the blazing sunset painting the hills with red and gold. He raised his arms and felt the summer wind rush through his robes.

So far from Spinners End. So far from the smog and dust and narrow streets. Here the air was clear, it smelled of heather. The stars were clear, unblocked by streetlights. Hogwarts, and the land around it, was his home. This was a happy memory.

“Expecto Patronum!”

He screwed his eyes shut at the moment of casting, he could not bear to watch. He felt the warmth of his patronus in front of him, touching his hand. He had to look eventually, he would have to. Courage, he was not a coward.

Snape snapped his eyes open and almost melted onto the floor. Tears sprung into his eyes. Writhing and looping in the air was a thin snake, curling like a ribbon caught in the wind. He had been successful, the last part of Lily Evans in him was gone.

“Is that your patronus?”

Snape turned towards the voice. It was the unspeakable, Natalie Zhao, she was standing calmly a few steps behind him with her hands clasped in front of her. She must have crept up on him, he had been quite distracted.

“You are still here?” he asked. “Did you question Harry all day?”

“We left and came back,” she said, moving up to stand by the lake beside him. “I‘ve just come from talking to him. Surviving the torrent, he really is amazing…” She trailed off shaking her head in disbelief.

“He is nothing if not surprising.” Snape found he had little ire towards Harry Potter any more. “But I think you would be less amazed if you saw the utter mess he manages to make of potions.”

“Perhaps.” She smiled, it pushed little dimples up on her cheeks. He pointed at his patronus, still writhing in the air. “Very nice…”

“Is it?” Snape turned back to the snake. It was not, he now realized, a very interesting looking snake. Perhaps a little more than a meter long with harsh, dark bands all the way up its thin body. It had no hood behind its thin head like a cobra or a rattle like a rattlesnake, nothing that obviously identified it. Snape wondered what species it was.

“A banded krait,” Natalie Zhao said smiling. She hadn’t had eye contact, she must just have guessed what he was thinking. “Very nice.”

“Really?” Snape’s curiosity was piqued. “Does it have any particular… qualities?”

“Well…” She appeared to think for a moment. “It‘s diet is kind of interesting.”

“How so?”

“It primarily eats other snakes.”

“Really…” Snape found himself warming to the striped reptile.

“And it‘s venomous,” Ms Zhao continued. “Sometimes the victim doesn’t feel anything at the site of the bite for a while, lulls them into a false sense of security.”

“Hmm…”

“It’s a formidable toxin.” The Unspeakable reached out and tickled the little glowing snake under the chin. “I think they‘re quite interesting.”

“I think it will do nicely.” Snape canceled the spell with a flick of his wand and his krait faded away.

“Why do you know so much about snakes?”

“I keep them as pets.” She seemed to steel herself a touch. Perhaps she was used to negative reactions when people heard about her hobby.

“Fascinating,” Snape said, and found that he meant it. “Do you have any kraits?”

“You‘d have to be crazy to keep one of those as a pet. But I suppose you like dangerous pets here…” She smiled again, cheekily.“… you apparently keep werewolves.”

“Accidentally.” Snape motioned towards the castle and they both began walking towards Hogwarts. “You wouldn’t count rats that invaded your cellar as pets would you?”

“No, I‘d count them as free snake food.”

Snape chuckled. Laughing again, he really did feel like a new man. But there was something in the back of his mind now. Something he’d heard? Something she’d said? Hmm… it was right at the edge of his mind.

“Well I have to get back to the Ministry,” Natalie said, they had reached the front of the castle. “Got to fill in the paperwork. God knows Rhyfedd won‘t bother, that man has an attitude problem…”

“He is a small minded, talent less man who is constantly trying to assert himself over you where he has no right to be because it shirks his ego to work under a woman,” Snape stated flatly.

“I know,” Natalie replied simply. “You had him pegged within five seconds of meeting him. My bosses at the Ministry however…” She spread her hands hopelessly. “… four years and counting. I‘m hoping they catch on any day now.”

“Let me introduce you to Sibyll Trelawney one day.” Snape shrugged and smiled in commiseration. “Then you will truly know what it is like to have an irritating co-worker.”

They were both standing in front of Hogwarts, but neither of them seemed to want to move.

“Well…” She broke the stalemate. “… I should go. Thank you for showing me your patronus.”

“Would you mind showing me your snake collection at some point?” Snape found himself asking. “I find myself strangely interested.”

“Strangely interested…” She smiled that infuriating smile again. Snape was beginning to think she might actually be smarter than him. “… good choice of words.” And with that she turned and began walking down the path towards the gates of Hogwarts.

Snape would have felt elated, but at that moment what he had been thinking slipped into place and he frowned, then clenched his fists as the full implications sunk in. He hoped he was wrong, he really did.
*


“Albus,” he stepped out of the staircase into the Headmasters study.

“Severus,” Dumbledore greeted him. “To what do I owe this late night visit?”

“Nothing good I am afraid.” Snape shook his head. “This afternoon I remembered an offhand comment one of the werewolves in the Hospital Wing made. Taunting us about a map.”

“They could not have known about it.” Dumbledore’s eyes narrowed. “You are not accusing Professor Lupin once aga-”

“No.” Snape waved the complaint away. “No, that is what I thought initially, it would have been better if I was right. I went to visit the werewolf in the Ministry dungeons. He said he heard it because they were waiting underground, listening. They heard you talking to Harry when we brought him back from Hogsmeade.”

“I fail to see the emergency in that…”

“Albus, remember what else you said that evening.”

“I…” The Headmasters face went pale and his eyes opened wide. “I said that Voldemort was hiding in Albania.”

“Yes.” Snape nodded. “I think we now know why Greyback was not part of the attack. He had already left on a more important errand, a dog running back to its master. He left because he knows where to look.”
________________________________________


This chapter beta'd by Colon. Thank you Colon!

What did everyone think of the detour from cannon in this book?
The next one goes back towards the line of the books a bit, somewhere between the how close the first two were and how out there this one was.

Leave a review and I'll get on with writing...

Harry Potter and the Harry Potter and the Spirit of Njordr!

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I don't own Harry Potter. I wish I did. Unfortunately the whole blowing-out-all-the-candles-at-once thing doesn't always work.
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She brushed up against the wall, her well muscled flank pressing against the wooden paneling. Her ears were attuned to the tiny scritches coming from around the corner and the tiny footfalls on the floorboards were still visible, glowing hot prints leading the way. She eased herself up to the edge then poked her snub nose around and struck.

The rat tried vainly to struggle as the poison seeped into it and she waited patiently as it died. She did not even have to dislocate her jaw to fit the little thing in. It was merely a taster anyhow, her master had promised sweeter meat soon.

She slid, full and languid, through the old house. Soon Pride would come and milk her venom, making her feel empty and used, but her master needed it so she steeled herself against his touch. Not that Pride wasn’t gentle, it was his smell that irked her.

She knew that the three men who served her master had other names but she preferred her own, Ambition, Pride and Decay. She had named them after what she smelled on them. Master was, of course, just Master.

She slid into her masters room and curled up beside the fire. Her master was asleep but the others were talking again, she pushed her head down between her coils to block out the sound, but it wasn’t enough.

“The merest mistake will alert them.” Pride was saying. “There are people who know him very well.”

“I am aware of that brother.” Ambition replied archly. “And after all the study I have done I am one of them. You stay here and tend to our Masters needs, I will get the job done quite sufficiently in your absence.” His voice made it quite clear that Pride’s absence would in fact make the job much easier.

“The only reason you have this job is because I would be missed.”

“The reason I have this job is because our master gave it to me.” Ambition grinned. “Never forget that.”

“Careful brother,” Pride sneered. “Take care that you never forget who you have to thank for your freedom and for your chance at vengeance.”

“Who? Our lord for ordering me freed and planning how to achieve it or you for merely telling him where I was?”

“Both you arrogant little-”

“Arrogant?” Ambition laughed. She liked Ambition a bit more than Pride, he was more like a snake. “That is undoubtedly and most obviously the pot calling the cauldron black. Besides…” Ambition narrowed his eyes. “I‘ve been wondering how long you knew where I was and did nothing about it.”

“I could not compromise-”

“Of course.” Ambition turned away, dismissive. “You could not compromise your position. Just like you can’t now. So just the get the fuck out of my way blondy, I‘ve got a job to do.”

“I see you’ve learnt some colorful language rotting in Azkaban.”

Ambition whipped around and punched Pride straight in the stomach. Ambition was thin and wiry but the punch had weight behind it and Pride crumpled to the floor. Ambition followed it up by stamping into Pride’s kidney.

“Learnt some other things in there too brother.” Ambition drew his wand and pointed it as the groaning figure on the floor. “So if I were you I‘d never give into the delusion that you‘re the power player in our little co-operative venture.”

Pride tried to rise but Ambition stamped on his hair.

“And another thing…” Ambition leant down to speak close to Pride’s ear. “Our master remembers which of us remained loyal to him during his twelve year… convalescence.” Ambition grinned. “And you weren‘t one of them, brother. So you stay here and milk the bloody snake and hope you build up enough brownie points to get you back in his good books. You stay here and brew the potion and I will deal with everything else!”

Ambition scuffed his foot back and forth, jerking Pride’s hair and making him grit his teeth in pain. Ambition laughed and strode out of the room.
*


“Harry? We have a… a sort of proposition for you.” Fred and George had cornered him in Ron’s bedroom, they both had that mischievous look about them.

“I’m intrigued.” Harry closed his book and tossed it to one side. “Apprehensive but intrigued. Who are we going to prank?”

“It‘s not about pranking anyone Harry.” Said Fred at the same time as his brother said,

“Everyone.”

“Apprehensive, intrigued and confused.”

“Why don‘t you come up to our room Harry, we‘ll show you what we‘re talking about.” Fred ushered him out of the room. Harry followed a little hesitantly.

Harry was hesitant because for a long time he had felt like he was building up some sort of unluckiness debt. The last three months of his third year at Hogwarts had passed without anyone trying to kill him (unprecedented for Harry) and he had even managed to pass all of his exams. In defense he had scraped a pass on Lupin’s obstacle course (damn Hinkypunk led him into a sinkhole!) and almost managed to not blow his cauldron up in potions.

Part of the reason was that Snape had stopped picking on Harry in class and had even started treating him as a normal student. More than that the potions master had seemed almost cheerful at times. Harry had put it down to him planning something evil until he noticed that Snape was at his most happy the days after a small barn owl brought him letters.

As for the other exams Harry had botched together some sort of pig-English translation for ancient runes and avoided getting more than superficial bite wounds in Hagrid’s ‘practical’ test (they had all been given a box and asked to feed what has in the box. Harry had never worked out what was in his box, he had just stuffed things in there until it stopped biting him. Whether he fed it or suffocated it he never found out.)

Transfiguration he had blagged, History of magic too. Herbology had been fine because he’d been partnered with Neville and he had passed of his own talent in Astrology and Charms.

Of course revising hadn’t been the first thing he’d done. The first thing he’d done had been to write a long letter to Pythea. He hadn’t been ably to mention the torrent of course, but he hoped he had left enough hints that she would know how much he wanted to thank her. Of course the massive bunch of flowers might have also given her that hint.

He had even managed to have a holiday where there had been no unexplained magical occurrences, another first. Harry had hiked in Switzerland for some of the summer, nothing too serious but enough that he was very glad of his size-and-weight-defying bag.

On one memorable occasion, miles from the nearest town, he had met some older American tourists kitted up with huge heavy hiking backpacks and thick coats. He however had been carrying a small leather backpack while idly strumming a guitar. They had thought he was some sort of new-age hermit. Harry (or Jack ‘Moonbeam’ Baltzegaurd as he had introduced himself) had played along and told them that he had been sent here by a vision (a lie), that the positive energy of the mountain would heal them (a lie), that his guitar had been given to him by the Dalai Lama (a lie) and that the power of the crystals woven into his coat kept him warm (a lie, the crystals kept the rain off. The amulets kept him warm.). Surprisingly before they parted ways the woman began claming her arthritis had miraculously cleared up.

Harry had ended up in Geneva after a few weeks of this and spent most of the rest of the summer there, lazing around the city and finishing up the schoolwork he had had no chance to work at in the mountains. Plus juggling and playing the guitar for people around the city. When he could work out how to do both at the same time he knew he’d impress people but for now he just ended up tangling his fingers.

He’d come back to England a few days early to visit his friends and get his school supplies. It was now the thirtieth of august and all the marauders were gathered at the burrow for a last get together before heading off to Hogwarts. Harry should have been happy, but instead he was apprehensive, wasn’t he due some unpleasantness? And weren’t the nefarious Weasley twins the perfect ones to administer it? True the unpleasantness he got in to was usually more of the ‘oh god we’re all gonna die’ variety, but then so was the some of the stuff the twins were into.

Harry followed Fred and George into their box-stacked bedroom.

“Where’s safe to sit?” Harry cast about, looking at the different boxes. It took the twins a surprisingly long time to find a ‘safe’ box. Fred and George sat on the side of one of their beds. Fred leant forward and said,

“We want to talk to you, Harry, about an opportunity.”

“A fabulous opportunity.”

“We think its fabulous anyway.”

“And we‘re usually right.”

“Always right. And it is fabulous.”

Harry glanced between one twin and the other.

“I feel like I‘m being sold something dodgy here guys.” Harry folded his arms and half smiled. “Possibly something that fell off the back of a van. What‘s this actually about?”

The twins looked at each other then said at the same time,

“Weasley Wizard Wheezes!”

“Actively Advocating Alliteration?”

“It‘s a joke shop Harry.” George sniggered and continued, “Or at least we want it to be.”

“And we thought that perhaps-”

“-the resident charms-meister-”

“-would be able to help us with some of the stuff.” Fred shrugged. “After all you did basically build a broom last year-”

“-that out-flew a firebolt-”

“-with Ginny‘s help.”

“Oh yes with Ginny‘s help.”

Harry rearranged the disjointed sentences into some measure of order.

“So…” Harry began to smile as realization hit him. “You want me to help you design jokes? Your kind of jokes? The intriguedness is growing. What have you come up with so far?”

The twins grinned and began a whirlwind tour of their current products, stopping occasionally to demonstrate a charm or spell for Harry. Usually they were spells that produced explosions or horrible shrieking noises.

“And this one Harry…” Fred raised his wand. “Is called the avgo sapios!”

Harry knew enough Greek to cover his nose.
*


“So um… this is the pond.” Ron said helplessly, “It‘s got ducks in it sometimes.”

“I see.” Hermione was looking at him oddly. He knew he must be blushing as well as babbling like an idiot. “That’s… interesting. I guess.”

“About as interesting as history of magic.” Ron muttered and Hermione laughed.

Oh great, now she was laughing at him too. Ron kicked a stone into the algae filled pond, it rested on the thick green surface for a moment before sinking.

Hermione had left Hogwarts almost completely burnt out, taking too many subjects on top of the werewolf chaos had reduced her to a shadow of herself. It had been especially bad during the exams which she had to revise for and take without the benefit of the time-turner. After the last one Harry and Ron had frog-marched her to McGonagall’s office where she dropped divination and muggle studies.

Ron had seen her a couple of times over summer, the marauders sticking together even in Harry’s absence, and each time she seemed a little more lively and like her old self.

“Well that’s pretty much everything around here, lets just get back to the house.” Ron pointed back towards the burrow. “I don‘t trust the twins left alone in there for this long.”

“They’re not alone,” Hermione began walking beside him, walking close enough to make all the hairs on his arms stand up. “Harry‘s there too.”

“That‘s even worse.” Ron shook his head. “Between them I doubt they‘ll be a house left.”

“If you felt like that why did you want to show me around in the first place?”

Why indeed?

“Well it was a nice day and Neville, Ginny and the twins went to town and Harry’s acting all weird and there‘s marshmallow coming out of the house.”

“Ron…” Hermione shook her head in exasperation. “If you wanted to change the subject you could have-”

“No there‘s really marshmallow coming out of the house!” Ron pointed at the long stream of solid white froth leaking from one of the windows and pooling on the ground. “It‘s the twins window. Oh god mum‘s gonna kill them.”

The two marauders rushed to the side of the house.

“It‘s not exactly marshmallow.” Hermione said, sounding puzzled, as the ran into the burrow. They stopped outside the twins door and Ron opened it hesitantly. On the other side was a solid wall of white, even bearing the imprint of the contours or the door and its handle.

“Let me see…” Hermione broke off a little bit and touched it tentatively to her tongue. “… meringue? I think its meringue.”

“What‘s the difference?”

“Honestly Ron, you‘d think you would be at least as knowledgeable as me on the subject of food.”

“What‘s that supposed to mean?” Ron shot back but was silenced as a muffled voice called out,

“Someone out there?”

Ron gingerly pushed his hand into the crusty surface towards the noise.

“Feels really weird.” Ron grimaced as he buried his hand up to the shoulder. “It’s all crackly and dry.” He felt something like cloth and pulled as hard as he could.

With a giant cascade of fragmented meringue a figure emerged from the room. It fell on the floor coughing and spluttering and spitting chunks of gummed white froth out of its mouth. Ron leant forward and guessed,

“Fr… George?”

“Yep.” George got unsteadily to his feet and looked back into his room. “Oh, it didn‘t burst the door.
We were worried it had.”

“What happened?” Hermione asked, absentmindedly brushing more meringue crumbs off Georges back. “Did one of your pranks backfire?”

“No no no. Our pranks don’t backfire.” George said proudly. “We were demonstrating the eizuckerpeitsche spell to Harry and… well it looks like he got it.”

“Are Harry and Fred still stuck in there?” Ron looked back at the fractured wall of meringue in horror.

“Fred was near the middle so he‘s probably well stuck, Harry was near the window…”

At that moment they all heard a short scream from outside, quickly cut off, then a thump followed by running footsteps. A moment later a meringue incrusted Harry burst up the stairs.

“You!” He pointed at George and advanced angrily. “What the hell was that!”

“Not my fault mate.” George put his hands up to fend of the angered marauder. “You seem to have some sort of knack for that spell is all.”

“Harry how did you get out?” Hermione asked.

“Managed to tunnel to the window.”

“But you must have fallen-”

“Into a pile of meringue.” Harry shrugged. “It‘s built up quite a heap out there.” He turned to the twins room. “Come on, we‘d better start getting rid of all this stuff or your twin‘s gonna run out of air.”

“And mums coming back soon.” George said in horror. “She‘ll have a fit!”

Harry grinned as Ron went pale and began attacking the meringue wall.
*


Harry ducked into the train carriage and looked around quickly,

“Still no peril?” He said wryly. “Whatever the karma gods are working up to it‘s not gonna be pretty.” The marauders moved in after him. They were looking at each other a little oddly.

“Harry…” Hermione began.

“What?” Harry checked under his seat cushion before sitting down.

“Don‘t you think you‘re acting kind of… crazy?”

“No.” Harry crossed his legs and sat, Indian-style, with his arms crossed. “Really, really no!” Harry shook his head, it was amazing how quickly the paranoia he’d developed in the years before he’d come to Hogwarts had returned. Street living was not conducive to trust.

“It‘s not crazy. Someone will try to kill me this year. I just know it.”

“Harry you‘re the boy who lived.” Parvati shook her head. “No ones going to kill you.”

“I wouldn‘t say that.” A voice sounded from the open door. “I wouldn‘t say that at all.”

The marauders turned in unison.

“Oh buzz off Malfoy.” Padma chuckled. “If you were going to kill him you would have done it ages ago.”

“I will get you this year Potter.” Malfoy was uncharacteristically alone. His usual crowd of flunkies absent. “I promise, by the Malfoy name, that I will get you this year. I will make you pay for everything.”

“The Malfoy name represents a legacy of lies.” Harry laughed and shrugged. “Get out of my train car.”

“Well this year Potter.” Malfoy licked his lips, his grey eyes shiny evilly. “I will show everyone at Hogwarts that I represent everything good about magic blood and that you are everything… everything unworthy and mediocre. This year I will show everyone. This year Potter, this year I win.”

“Good luck with that.” Harry shrugged dismissively. “Now move, you‘re blocking the trolley.”

Malfoy just smiled and walked away.
*


“Welcome to another year at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry.”

Harry sniffed the water in his glass. Poison? No… Maybe something in the food?

“I hope you have all enjoyed your break from the studies we give you.”

Maybe he was just paranoid? Harry glanced around at the other students. Maybe he actually did have a chance to have a normal year.

“Firstly I would like to introduce Alastor Moody as our new defense against the darks teacher.”

Harry glanced up at the table and picked out the new face. Or, more accurately, what was left of the new face. Their last defense teacher had been a werewolf, this one looked like he had been savaged by one. He had also obviously lost an eye at some point and had it replaced with a magical one. Harry wondered why he hadn’t chosen one in his natural color. He had seen whole shops full of eyes in Geneva. They made lots of them there, like watches.

The man apparently known as Moody met his gaze with first one then the other eye. Harry smiled and toasted the new teacher with his glass. Anyone was better than Professor Lupin. Harry had tried to mend bridges with the werewolf during his last few weeks at school. He really had tried…

“Professor… Um…” Harry leant in through the door to Professor Lupin’s office. “Are you, you know, all set.” Professor Lupin looked up at him, flatly. “You know for tonight, full moon?”

“Yes.” Professor Lupin seemed to be struggling to keep his voice flat and unemotional.

“I heard that Professor Snape makes some sort of…”

“I said yes.” Lupin snapped. Seeing Harry’s startled expression he took a deep breath and shook his head. “My apologies. Yes Severus makes a potion for me that allows me to better manage the transformations. Thank you for your kindness.”

“You‘re welcome Professor Moony.” Lupin’s head snapped up. “You know, moony, like moon. Because of the whole boggart thing and…”

“Leave now.” Usually the werewolf side of Lupin was not really evident. This was not so now. “Leave my office now.”

“Did you eat a mad cow or something?” Harry yelled in exasperation.

“Get out!”

Harry had backed out of the office shaking his head and never spoken directly to Professor Lupin again. Even worse the man had stared daggers at him during their final few lessons. Even a scarred, one-eyed man was better than that. Besides, Harry wasn’t really in a position to complain about other peoples scars.

Professor Dumbledore continued,

“Professor Moody is a former auror so I am sure he has much to teach you.” Harry’s ears perked up, this was interesting. Unfortunately Dumbledore had finished speaking on this particular subject. “I do have a second announcement to make. Something that I think you will all enjoy.”

The whole school perked up.

“Slitherin house is infested with cockroaches?”

“Potions has been dropped from the syllabus?”

“Filch had an aneurism?”

“No.” The corner of Professor Dumbledore’s mouth twitched up in a half smile. “Better than all those things.”

“Not possible.” Harry called out.

“Very possible Mr Potter. I am talking about the Triwizard Tournament.” The hall fell dead silent.

“Competing or hosting?” Someone on the Ravenclaw table said at only just above a whisper.

“Hosting Mr Jacobs, Hosting.”

The hall exploded in sound.
*


“We are entering that tournament.”

“Harry, Dumbledore said-”

“We. Are. Entering. That. Tournament.” Harry was twitching with nervous energy. “We are entering and one of us is winning.”

“We‘re not even eligible.” Hermione complained. “We can‘t enter.”

“We have not let werewolves and giant snakes and dark wizards stop us a bloody age restriction is not going to stand in our way.” Harry sat down at the marauders table and crossed his arms. “We deserve this. We deserve this because we are the best in this school and no one has worked harder to-”

“Subvert its rules?”

“- protect it. Than we have. So we are going to enter and we are going to win!”

The marauders around the table fell silent.

“Do you think this was what Malfoy was talking about?” Neville said suddenly. “He said he was gonna show everyone how good he was.”

“The question will not arise because he will not be Hogwarts champion.” Harry said decisively. “He will not be Hogwarts champion because he is a git. He is a git because of undeniable genetic and sociological factors that have conspired to make him a git. So…” Harry steepled his fingers and grinned. “As soon as this judge gets here, we’re entering the tournament.”
*


“Now…” Professor Moody scanned the class slowly with his normal eye while the fake one spun and rested on different students before moving on. “I don‘t stand much on ceremony so lets jump right in.”

Harry felt the eye land on him for a moment before moving on.

“So… Lets start on curses. I‘ve had a letter from Professor Lupin, also one from Professor Michelson and it looks like you‘re fairly well up on dark creatures and the basics of dueling.”

“More than basics.” Harry mumbled under his breath.

“But what you haven‘t learn yet is the worst of what wizards can do to each other.” Moody shook his head. “You‘re all living in a dream world if you think you‘re ever safe. Last night at the feast I only saw one student check the food for poison before eating it.” Moody pointed with his gnarled hand.

All eyes (real and unreal) fell on Harry.

“I… um… what?”

“Don’t be ashamed of it! Be proud! By the end of the year I expect each and every one of you to exercise Constant Vigilance!” He ended the sentence shouting. Harry found himself staring directly into Moody’s artificial eye. He felt like he was a bug under a shiny blue microscope. The eye scanned down to his chest. “Looks like you‘ve been given reasons to be vigilante.”

Before Harry had a chance to respond Moody had moved on and stomped up to the board.

“The dark arts!” Moody wrote like he was carving in stone and the chalk broke off during the s of arts. “Who can tell me a curse? A really bad one.” A few of the class put their hands up. Moody pointed at one.

“Yes Mr… Crabbe is it?” He growled. “Familiar name. Familiar face too, I knew your father. Well, knew isn‘t quite the right word. What‘s yer curse?”

“The um…” Crabbe looked like he was regretting volunteering. He seemed to draw himself back up and smirk evilly at Harry. “The pain spear.”

“Odd that you should know that one.” Professor Moody‘s eyes narrowed. “No one uses that one any more. Not since the Cruciatus was invented. But no, right you are for bringing it up. You never know when the enemy‘s going to surprise you with something you haven’t seen in a while. Constant Vigilance!”

Moody went on to explain at length the properties of the pain spear spell. Crabbe looked disgruntled, obviously he had wanted Moody to ask him how he knew about the spell.

Harry looked down at his book and found the page on the pain spear. It was clear that the author had only included it as an afterthought, Moody already had more on the board than was in the book. Padma leant over her desk to speak into his ear,

“Better than Lupin you think?”

“Much better.” Harry agreed. “He‘s only cracked on the outside.”

“You sure?” Padma glanced up skeptically as Moody barked out Constant Vigilance again. “He seems pretty thoroughly cracked to me.”
*


The partially vs. thoroughly cracked debate continued into the coming weeks as the students got used to Moody’s aggressive teaching style. One thing was for sure, there was not love lost between Moody and Snape. Moody glared at Snape suspiciously every time they passed in the corridors and Snape, for his part, sneered. But all that was drown out by the rumors and whispers running around about the triwizard tournament.

The day the foreign students were scheduled to arrive dawned bright and cool with a drizzle of rain covering the castle.

“It couldn‘t be sunny.” Harry heard McGonagall say under her breath. “Just for today.”

Harry grinned and scuffed his feet. If the entire school had been called out to greet these foreign students they could at least have the decency to be on time. Harry checked the clock, alright so they weren’t scheduled to arrive for another five minutes but Harry had been waiting for ten so therefore (in his mind) they were late.

“Look!” Someone was pointing out over the lake. Harry’s jaw dropped as he saw a ship rise out a whirlpool in the middle of the lake.

“Did they come all the way from Durmstrum in that?” Harry heard someone behind him say and gave an involuntary shudder. Underwater for all that time? Even with magical protection it made his skin crawl.

As the ship crawled up to the side of the lake Harry saw the man standing at the wheel turn and point up into the sky behind the castle. Harry turned just in time to see a giant carriage round the corner of the castle, drawn by giant white horses.

“Great.” Thought Harry. “The competition starts with water and flying, two things I really suck at.”

He glanced over at the teachers and saw them talking frantically. Apparently they hadn’t planned for both delegations arriving at the same time. After some mildly raised voices Dumbledore headed down towards the lake while McGonagall headed towards where the carriage was landing. Harry considered the options and elbowed his way through the crowd in the direction Dumbledore went.

“Igor Karkaroff,” Dumbledore held his hand out to greet the heavily robed wizard stepping out of the boat. “A pleasure to have you back in the country.”

“Albus, it is good to be here.” The man pushed back his hood revealing silver grey hair and heavy brows. He smiled in a way that never touched his dark eyes. He spoke in a heavy booming way that Harry was sure was at least partly put on. “Hogwarts is ah…” He glanced up at the grey sky. “… just as I remember it.”

Harry chuckled and the Durmstrang Headmaster glanced at him in the crowd.

“Ah, and this would be your star pupil.” Harry saw the crowd part in front of him. “The famous Harry Potter.”

“No no no…” Harry waved his hands grinning. “The name’s Jack ‘Moonbeam’ Baltzegaurd.”

“Ah, ha ha.” Igor‘s laugh held no warmth whatsoever. “We are many celebrities here I see…”

“Wha?”

“Let me introduce you to someone.” Karkaroff motioned a frowning boy standing behind him forward. “This is Viktor Krum.” Harry heard gasps from behind him as he shook Viktor’s hand.

“Pleasure.” Harry smiled at the young wizard. “Are you Durmstrurn‘s head boy or something?” Again the gasps.

“You don’t know who I am?” Viktor Krum asked in heavily accented English.

“Um… Should I?”

Karkaroff snorted but Krum seemed to find this turn of events quite amusing. He was smiling at any rate. Harry couldn’t tell what was going on behind those giant black eyebrows.

“Well,” Dumbledore said, breaking the stalemate. “I can already see the Beauxbatons delegation is already inside, shall we join them?”
*


“Harry, that was Viktor Krum!”

“You know Ron, I did work that out. And even if I hadn’t the six million times you‘ve told me would have tipped me off. Now can we please concentrate?” Harry turned to the goblet standing in the center of the hall. He glanced over at Hermione. “Anything?”

“I‘m telling you Harry we‘re not getting past the age line.” She looked up from the book on her knees and shook her head. “At least not with anything I can think of now.”

Harry shook his head, there were loads of people crowding into the entrance hall so it wasn’t like they could do anything right now. If they were going to do anything it would have to be at tonight, but he had hoped to at least have a plan before the castle went to sleep.

“An age potion do you think?” Fred said behind him.

“I think Dumbledore would have thought of that.” Hermione shook her head. “I don’t think any potion any fourth year or sixth year could make could get past the line.”

“What if we just get one of the older students to put it in for us?” Neville hazarded.

“Nope.” George said as he and his brother sidled up to them. “Saw some Slitherin try that almost as soon as the goblet was out. The other names just flew out of his pocket as soon as he crossed the line.”

“Yep,” Fred shook his head in mock sympathy. “Poor chap didn‘t even get to put his own name since he tripped over his own beard and ended up out cold.”

“Wait…” Padma looked thoughtful. “What if we get someone to cross the line then write our names on some-”

“Saw that too.” Fred broke in.

“Yeah,” His twin continued. “You don‘t even want to know what happened to him!”

“Oh for Christ sake!” Harry growled in irritation. “Is there at least a way to test the line?”

“Yeah, run into it.” Ron suggested.

“No you idiot.” Padma shook her head. “Just spitball it.”

“Excuse me? You what?” Harry’s eyebrows raised like balloons.

“Like this…” Harry watched, gob-smacked, as Padma took a spare scrap of parchment out of her bag and stuffed it into her mouth. She chewed for a few seconds then daintily took the sodden mess out from between her lips and, without hesitation, tossed it at the goblet of fire. As the ball crossed the line there was a flash of light and the ball shot out like a bullet, impacting on the wall behind them.

“Brilliant.” Said the Weasley twins in one voice.

“We should do it again-”

“With more balls.”

“With bigger balls!”

“With fireworks in them!”

“Children, children…” Harry said in a calming voice. “Lets not get sidetracked.”

“It’s almost curfew anyway.” Parvarti looked down at her watch then smiled. “Don’t worry, it’ll all be alright on the night!”

“Sister…” Padma shook her head as she picked up her bag. “This is the freakin’ night!”

Harry chuckled as they left the hall then turned as he felt a hand fall on his shoulder. The owner of the hand was a boy a little older than him with blond hair and a sort of round face. He was in Ravenclaw colors and was wearing a baseball cap that read ‘Tutshill Tornadoes’ and had a tornado as the logo.

“Yeah?” Harry cocked his head. “Can I help you?”

“Um,” The boy bit his lip and looked around. “Could I talk to you?”

“Very cloak and dagger but ok.” Harry waved the marauders off and moved into a side corridor. “Who are you?”

“David Mason.” The boy smiled shyly. “Don‘t worry if you don‘t remember me. I‘m a friend of Cho‘s.”

“Oh ok. Support the same team too I see.” Harry leant nonchalantly against the stone wall. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Well basically…” The boy scuffed a foot on the floor nervously. “Me and… and some of the other guys. Not just Ravenclaw but the whole school well… we figure you‘ve got a plan.”

“For what?”

“For the goblet of fire.” David rubbed his hands together almost hungrily. “Lots of us don’t think the age limit‘s fair so we figure…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick envelope. “A couple of extra names. Just if you get the chance you know?”

“Hate to break it to you mate.” Harry shrugged apologetically. “But I don’t have the slightest clue how to get through the age line.”

“Really? But you‘re Harry Potter! You always… Oh, I get it.” David winked and pushed the envelope into his hand. “Of course you don’t.” The Ravenclaw winked again and trotted off down the corridor.

“I really don’t!” Harry called after him but that only caused the boy to turn and wink conspiratorially again. “Seriously!”

“Problem Mr Potter?”

Harry spun and looked up into the face of the judge that had been sitting with Dumbledore at the feast. What was his name… Couch?

“Mr Couch?”

“Crouch.” The man’s heavily lined face was utterly humorless.

“Mr Crouch, sorry. And no there‘s no problem.”

“Not thinking of trying to get past the age line are you lad?” He said in what he must of thought was a fatherly manner.

“No sir.” Harry did his best Oliver Twist impression. “I wouldn‘t do such a horrible thing.”

“Ah, of course.” The Triwizard judge nodded. “Of course I‘m sure more people would come to the tournament if the famous Harry Potter was competing. But we must remember that we cannot pick and choose the rules we wish to obey based on momentary expediency. You understand Mr Potter?”

“Yes sir.” Harry felt it was better to stick with simple answers.

“Very well.” Mr Crouch’s mouth twitched into a thin smile. “It was nice meeting you Mr Potter.”

Harry didn’t relax until the man was a safe few corridors away. Harry sighed and slipped the envelope out of his sleeve. What were the statistics for teenage heart attacks? Harry wondered. Whatever they were they had just come very close to getting one digit larger.

Harry leant against the wall and stared out of one of the castles arched windows at the lake below, remembering last year. Why was it that he was forever trapped inside or outside wards? Last year he had circumvented them by swimming around, couldn’t do that this time. The werewolves had tunneled under could he do that? Not without attracting a lot of attention. So that left…

Harry grinned and rushed back to the entrance hall where a single spit ball showed him how to beat the greatest wizard in the world.
*


“All set Ginsters?” Harry slid behind Ginny on the Chimera and checked that he had both the envelope containing the marauders names and the one given to him by David Mason in his pocket.

“Yes, you don‘t have to come with me you know.” Ginny looked back at him, grinning in the faint moonlight.

“You can‘t fly and make spitballs at the same time.” Was the excuse Harry offered. Really he just wanted to be the one to put the names into the goblet, wanted to know first hand that he’d beat Dumbledore. Harry glanced around and saw a marauder guarding every door. “Everybody‘s in place, come on.”

Ginny obediently lifted them off the floor and hovered them up near the ceiling.

“Moment of truth.” Harry got out some parchment and rolled it expertly before gumming it, silencing it and throwing it forwards. It landed in the middle of the age line, right beside the goblet. Harry pumped the air with his fist. “Potter 1, Dumbledore 0. Proving that I am unmitigated awesome! Lets go!”

Ginny bit back a chuckle and carefully floated them forward until they were directly over the goblet, then took them slowly down.

“Ok, stop here. Let’s not touch the floor, never know what other spells the old man‘s put around the place.” Harry reached into his pocket and drew out the marauders envelope then dropped it into the goblet. The fire spurted up for a moment, then died down.

Harry hesitantly pulled the other envelope out of his pocket. Should he? Should he not? It was only fair to give everybody a decent chance and Mason seemed like a nice enough bloke (if a bit weird). He probably wouldn‘t be chosen anyway. Ah well, what the hell? Harry dropped the other envelope into the flames.
*


The marauders entered the great hall in a huddle, all eyes focused directly on the goblet.

“I‘m nervous.” Neville admitted as they sat down at the Gryffindor table. “I don’t know if I want to enter anymore.”

“Bit late now.” Padma said dryly, but the nerves were obvious in her voice too and the marauders quickly fell into silence.

“Whichever one of us it is the rest of us are behind them.” Harry smiled at his friends. “That’s for certain.”

“But what if it‘s not one of us?” George asked.

“Not… one… of us?” Harry’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “Quit your crazy talk George. That could never happen.”

“Children, children…” The hall fell silent as Dumbledore began to speak. “I believe the moment you have all been waiting for has finally arrived. The goblet will be announcing it’s choices momentarily. I would ask you to remember that, even if you were not chosen, the Tournament is still a contest between the schools. I expect to see no hard feelings, you must support your champions one hundred percent. Now…” Dumbledore turned towards the goblet.

The hall waited in silence for almost a minute before the goblet ‘s flames turned bright red and a little scrap of parchment flew out. Dumbledore caught it expertly.

“The Beauxbatons champion is… Fleur Delacour!”

Harry saw one of the French girls clap her hands to her face in shock before getting up and walking towards the end of the hall.

“She‘s… she‘s…” Ron sighed inaudibly.

“What is it Ron?” Harry asked.

“She‘s… just… I mean… Perfect…” Harry just shrugged. Ron looked aghast.. “Harry can‘t you see her?”

Harry tuned to watch the first champion leaving the hall.

“Yeah? What about her?”

Ron opened his mouth to retort but the goblet flared red again and the hall fell silent.

“The Durmstrang champion will be Viktor Krum!”

The red uniformed students rose, cheering, as their champion walked towards the front of the hall. Most of the Hogwarts students did too.

Harry was biting his nails, this next one was it. The goblet turned red again and a piece of parchment pin-wheeled out to be caught in Dumbledore’s hand. As the Headmaster read it the smile dropped from his face and his hand began to shake. In a cold, stony voice he said,

“The Hogwarts champion…” He seemed to grit his teeth. “Is Draco Malfoy.”

The hall erupted in uproar. Harry turned, his eyes seeking out the blond haired Slitherin. Draco seemed unperturbed by the reception his name had received but instead stood calmly and walked towards the front of the hall. Before he left the hall however he turned and scanned down the Gryffindor table with those cold grey eyes. He met Harry’s gaze, grinned evilly and winked.

________________________________________
Note for francophone people:

I have never liked how french accents are represented in books, you know the "'Ogwarts cannot 'ave two champions." thing. Replacing this with 'zis and stuff like that. I imagine it's kind of insulting.

I know I cringe every time I hear a 'mockney' english accent on tv, I imagine it's kind of the same thing.

I decided to keep it in this story anyway purely because Goblet of Fire represents accents that way. I'm trying to make this story kind of parallel the cannon books in certain ways inluding aspects of the writing style.

If you're offended I'm sorry.
________________________________________


“Son of a bitch.” Harry breathed through his teeth. He felt like his chest was going to explode, he had to let the pressure out somehow. “SON OF A BITCH!”

“Mr Potter!” Harry’s eyes flicked back to Dumbledore, who was looking at him angrily. “Contain yourself!”

“But he is!” Harry yelled, words leaking out of him uncontrollably. “Haven‘t you met his mother?” The hall erupted in laughter. Malfoy scowled but kept on walking, leaving the great hall by the same door the other champions had left by.

Dumbledore held up his hands for silence.

“Obviously this is shocking and unprecedented.” He said in an effortlessly level voice. “I remind you all that I expect you to pull behind your champion…” Dumbledore stopped as the students began yelling again. “… or at least not openly oppose him. Now, if you will excuse me…”

Dumbledore left the still startled students and walked out through the back door of the hall, Karkarov and Madam Maxim followed him. For a few more moments everyone was silent then McGonagall stood.

“If you would all return to you-” But she was cut off as someone yelled,

“Professor!”

The school turned in time to see the goblet burn red again. A scrap of paper flew out of it and landed on the stone floor. For a moment no one moved to touch it then Professor Snape, his expression unreadable, got up from his chair. His footfalls were the only sound in the hall as he walked round the high table and came to a stop in front of the little scrap of paper. He turned it over with the tip of his shoe.

“Harry Potter.” He was staring down at the sheet, his face a blank mask. “It says Harry Potter.”

After a moment someone started clapping, then someone else, then some more, the great hall exploded with applause.

“Knew it‘d be you Harry.” Harry heard someone say as a hand slapped him on the back. Crowd pressure moved him towards the front of the hall, his own brain seemed to have stopped working. He saw Snape pick up the scrap of paper, then have a short, whispered, conversation with McGonagall. The potions master turned to him.

“Come along Potter.”

“Wha…?” Harry mind was still reeling.

“We must take you to join the other champions.” Snape led him out of the tumultuous hall and into a short hallway. The noise from the clapping faded as the door closed behind them. Snape made no move to leave by the other door.

“Did you put your name into the goblet of fire?” Snape asked urgently.

“Wha…?” Harry glanced around, they were alone. The other champions must be through the other door. “Why are you-”

“Potter, try to scrape together some acumen! Did you put your name into the goblet?”

Snape seemed almost concerned.

“You seem almost concerned.” Harry grinned, his brain getting back in gear. “Have those little barn owls been bringing you drugs or something?” Snape flinched back as if stung.

“Damn it Potter!” Snape grabbed Harry’s robe. “This is not a time for jokes. More is going on here than you realize. Did you or did you not-”

“Yes.” Harry nodded, “I put my name in.”

The potions master narrowed his eyes, Harry felt the familiar pressure in his brain. He opened his mind long enough to reveal the memory of him putting the envelope into the flame then blanked it again. Snape nodded thoughtfully.

“Good.”

“Good?” Harry asked quizzically.

“Potter the possibilities if someone else put your name into the goblet are far worse than if you put it in yourself. This simplifies things, believe me…” Snape glanced at the scrap of paper he was holding and frowned. “… or perhaps not.”

“What is it?”

“Suffice to say I have spent long enough trawling through what you seem to think constitute essays to recognize your handwriting.” Snape held out the parchment for him to see. “This is not your handwriting.”

“No…” Harry felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. “No it‘s not. What the hell is going on?” He asked plaintively.

“If I knew that Potter.” Snape moved towards the door. “I would not have to ask questions.”

Harry gulped and followed the potions master through the door. On the other side was another room with portraits hung all around the walls. The champions and their Headmasters were standing in the center of the room, apparently arguing. Madam Maxim was pointing at Malfoy with one of her unusually long fingers. They all fell silent as Harry and his teacher entered the room.

“Severus what is this?” Dumbledore asked pointedly.

“This is the fourth champion.” Snape glanced down at Harry. “Apparently.”

“What is ‘zis.” Madam Maxim waved her hand at Harry. “Some kind of joke to you here at ‘ogwarts? First your champion iz a minor, now ‘zis?”

“I do not think it is a joke.” Karkarov said angrily. “This so called champion.”

“He is a champion. Despite what some of us might wish.” Snape interrupted dryly. Harry couldn’t help but think how different he seemed from a moment ago. “The entire of Hogwarts saw his name leave the goblet, as did the delegations from your own schools. He is as legitimate a champion as-”

“As Mr Draco.” Madam Maxim scoffed. “Your other underage champion.”

“If I may…” Harry glanced at the man of to one side who had begun to speak. He hadn‘t even realized Mr Crouch was in the room. “The rules are very clear. If a persons name leaves the goblet of fire, then that person is a champion. There can be no denying that.”

“Harry…” Dumbledore spoke for the first time. “Did you put your name into the goblet of fire?”

“I…” Harry felt Snape’s hand tap him in the small of the back. “… No.” He heard the potions master breath out lightly. “No I didn‘t. I tried but… I couldn‘t get past the ward.”

“And you Draco?” Snape asked Malfoy.

“Honestly sir…” Malfoy smirked. “I have no idea how my name got in there.”

Yes you do you slimy little… Harry’s fists clenched involuntarily.

“Well I believe that settles it.” Dumbledore clapped his hands together. “Rest assured this matter will be investigated but until then… we have four champions.”

Harry shook his head. Why did he get the feeling that the worst was yet to come?
*


As they left the room Harry fell into step with Malfoy. Neither spoke until they were out of earshot of the teachers. Harry took a breath to steady himself then said,

“I assume that no one named David Mason really goes to Hogwarts?” Malfoy turned to him and sneered.

“Good wasn‘t it.” Malfoys voice took on a simpering tone. “Oh Harry, it wouldn‘t be fair if everyone didn‘t have a chance.”

“Bastard.”

“I planned it all out. The hat, the personality, even down to the name. David Mason, sounds common doesn’t it. Sounds muggleborn.” Malfoy grinned triumphantly. “And you fell for it.”

“I repeat. Bastard.”

“A bastard who won. I said I was going to get you didn‘t I? The look on your face when I was chosen…”

“Hang on…” Harry stopped suddenly. “Why were you chosen? Don‘t tell me the goblet actually picked you legit? You wouldn‘t leave it up to chance.”

“Very good Potter, you‘re not quite as stupid as you look.” Malfoy smiled. “Ever heard of a malignant protean charm? No of course-”

“A charm that aggressively seeks out things that look a bit like it…” Harry interrupted. “And makes them look exactly like it. Oh you little….” Understanding dawned in Harry’s eyes. “The names! You cast it on the names!”

“Exactly!” Malfoy nodded. “My name went in with the charm on it and changed all the other slips so that they read Draco Malfoy. I didn‘t leave it to chance, I was the only candidate.”

“Bastard is too good a word for you, I‘m going with rat-bastard.”

“The hard bit was making sure it only changed the Hogwarts names.” Malfoy was still in full exposition-mode. “I mean it would‘ve looked a bit odd if I had been picked for Beauxbatons.”

“Rat-bastard-wanker.”

“Which is why I can‘t understand,” Malfoy turned to Harry, his eyes narrowing. “How you were picked. My spell should have gotten you…”

Harry said nothing, fairly sure that the protean had eaten up the scrap of parchment that had had his name on it and that the one that had eventually come out had been put in by someone else.

“You must have found some way to enter as another school.” Malfoy said thoughtfully. “Tricked the goblet into entering your name for a fourth school.”

Mental note: suggest that theory to someone. Dumbledore? No, too meddlesome. McGonagall? She would go straight to Dumbledore. Moody? He’d blow it way out of proportion. Snape?…?

“Just remember Potter,” Malfoy brought him back to the moment. “I know who the real Hogwarts champion is and I‘m going to prove it to everyone.”

“You think you‘re gonna win?” Harry laughed. “Hands up everyone who‘s fought basilisks and werewolves… What? Just me?”

“I will crush you.” Malfoy took off again in the direction of the Slytherin dungeon. “Mark my words Potter.”

“Marked.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Marked, signed and sealed in the bullshit box along with Nostradamus and UFOs.”

Harry turned and hurried up towards the Gryffindor common room. The castle was empty but the portraits were whispering to each other as he climbed through towards the seventh floor. He stopped in one deserted corridor and quietly called,

“Myrtle…” He waited a few moments, then the glowing girl slid through the floor.

“Hmm?” She cocked her head quizzically, then giggled. “I heard a rumor about you. Something about being champion?”

Harry grinned and winked, Myrtle giggled again.

“Knew it would have to be you Harry.”

“Marauders don’t lose.” Harry said cockily. “As you well know.”

“Because I am a marauder.” Myrtle said, proudly puffing up her smoky form, Harry nodded.

“I wanted to ask you something.” Myrtle became serious as Harry spoke. “Did you see anyone else go near the goblet last night, maybe before the rest of us got there or after we left?”

“Nope.” Myrtle shook her head. “Didn‘t see anyone.” She put peculiar emphasis on the word ‘see’.

“Myrtle? Keeping secrets isn‘t nice.” Harry tutted playfully.

“I didn‘t see anyone.” The ghost repeated, smiling slyly. “But one time the door opened by itself, a moment later the goblet flared up like someone put something in it. Then the door closed.”

“Invisibility cloak.” Harry guessed, nodding. “Did you try to get a look-see?”

“Of course.” Myrtle looked offended. “I followed them but I couldn’t get close. I wasn‘t seen.” She added proudly.

“I know you weren’t.” Harry nodded, Myrtle looked a little happier. “Can you ask around the portraits? See if anyone saw anyone sneaking around?”

“Of course Harry!” Myrtle beamed at being given a job and shot away through the wall. Harry chuckled, it was amazing how having friends changed a person, or a ghost.

Harry walked around the corner and stood in front of the fat lady. The woman in the portrait crossed her arms and said,

“I‘m waiting.”

“I‘m not.” Harry spelled an unlocking charm and the portrait creaked to the side.

“I wish you wouldn‘t do that Mr Potter.” The fat lady shook her head.

“It‘s easier than remembering the passwords.” Harry grinned as he stepped through the portrait hole. As soon as he was through he was viciously attacked. “Get off me! Geroff!”

“We knew it‘d be you Harry!”

Harry pushed away the massed hordes of Gryffindor house, smiled and bowed when they cheered for him, looked up in mild shock at the poster of him they had hung above the fireplace and sought out the marauders.

“We need to talk.” Harry said before anyone could open their mouths. “Too many ears here, up to the bedroom.” Harry’s friends wordlessly followed him up to the boys bedroom and he hastily sketched out everything that had happened. After he had finished the first thing Ron said was,

“Malfoy‘s gonna pay.”

“I‘m a bit more worried about this invisible man.” Padma said, shaking her head. “Invisibility cloaks are rare.”

“Maybe someone just really wanted Harry to win.” Her sister suggested.

“Then why bother wearing the cloak.” Hermione pointed out. “People who hide what they‘re doing are usually up to something.”

“Malfoy‘s gonna pay!” Ron repeated, apparently ignoring the conversation around him.

“Why the hell would someone want me in the competition?” Harry wondered aloud. “Want it enough to go to these lengths?”

“Maybe someone wants to give Hogwarts a better chance.” Fred said evenly, his brother added…

“Or Gryffindor.” George grinned. “If they‘ll keep helping we should put some money on you.”

“More likely someone hopes they can use the tournament to off me without anyone suspecting anything.” Harry shrugged. “That would be more my luck.”

“Harry, stop being paranoid!” Hermione admonished him. “You‘re beginning to sound like Professor Moody.”

“Professor Moody is the most sensible person that‘s ever taught us.” Harry said, to general shock. “It‘s not paranoia if they really are out to get you!”

“Harry someone made you a champion!” Pavarti said in exasperation. “It‘s a good thing, this person is trying to help you!”

“Malfoy is going to-”

“Oh pay attention Ron!” Hermione snapped. “Try to keep up.”

“Lots of money…” George continued.

“No one‘s helping him.” Padma said to her sister.

“Malfoy is going-”

“They could be-”

“Money-”

“Enough!” Harry cut through the bickering marauders. “We know nothing. Not enough to actually work anything out at any rate. Discussion at this point is useless…” Harry trailed off as Myrtle rose through the floorboards.

“Domestic troubles?” The ghost giggled.

“You find something Myrtle?” Harry asked quickly. “Did one of the portraits see someone suspicious?”

“Yes.” She pointed at Harry. “You. And you and you and you…” She pointed at Padma, Ginny and Ron. “… and you and you and you -”

“Ok, we get the point.” Harry held his hands up. He shook his head ruefully. “Thanks for trying.”

“But…” Myrtle did a little loop in the air and winked. “The old lady near the kitchens said that Moody‘s got a cloak.”

“What?” Harry jerked, startled, like the rest of the marauders. “An invisibility cloak? Seriously?”

“Mm Hm!” Myrtle hummed happily, obviously proud of gaining this tidbit of info. “And they‘re not that common.”

“No.” Hermione murmured, “They‘re really rare.”

“‘The most sensible person that‘s ever taught us’ Harry?” Ginny grinned. “Anything you have to say?”

“Marauders never lose.” Harry said chuckling. “They are however, on occasion, dead wrong.”
*


When Harry opened his eyes the next morning he groaned and rolled back over. He knew exactly what this day would bring.

“It‘s him!”

“It‘s Harry!”

“The champion!”

“Yeah yeah yeah, and no I will not give a bloody autograph!” Harry fended off a bunch of Gryffindors. “Y‘d think they had never met me before.”

“That’s part of it Harry.” Hermione said sagely.

“They haven’t met me?” Harry said quizzically, eyeing a camera-wielding Colin Creevy. “I‘m sure I‘ve met him.”

“But Harry you‘re very good at making people forget you‘re Harry Potter.” The two of them moved out of the common room on the way to ancient runes. “What I’m saying is that they just got reminded.”

“Forgetting I‘m Harry Potter?”

“You know…” Hermione waved vaguely. “Juggling, joking, making everyone feel at ease, people forget you‘re a celebrity. It‘s not deliberate…”

Harry winced, it was often entirely deliberate.

“But that‘s not to make people forget.” Harry ducked behind a suit of armor as a group of students passed by, then continued, “That’s just… you know… breaking the ice.”

“Like with Ginny?” Hermione grinned slyly.

“Like with Ginny.” Harry nodded, unfazed. “Ron told you about that?”

“Yes.”

“On one of your little walks?”

“Yes.” Hermione’s eyes narrowed.

“On one of your romantic walks?”

“Harry!”

“What?” Harry grinned as Hermione shoved him irritably. “Weren‘t they romantic?”

“We discussed ducks.” Hermione said flatly, not meeting Harry’s eyes. “And ponds.”

“Ze art of seduction.” Harry affected a French accent. “It is truly dead.”
*


After runes the two of them met up with the other marauders down in the potions classroom.

Harry had already decided that he’d let Snape in on what they’d found out and was torn between dread and curiosity. Snape had obviously turned some kind of new leaf but they had never pressed to see how far that change went. To play it safe he actually tried during the potions lesson. He still failed but at least nothing exploded this time. After class he lingered by his desk, putting away his stuff very slowly.

“Something you want Potter?” Snape looked up from his desk.

“Um…” Harry waited a tick for the last student to leave then said. “I‘ve had an idea about why my name might have come out of the goblet.”

“Yes?”

“If someone entered me for a fourth school.” Snape appeared thoughtful and Harry pressed on. “That would ensure I got picked, and it would explain why there were four champions.”

“Interesting…” Snape tapped the end of his pen on his lip thoughtfully. Wait…! Harry did a double take in case his eyes had deceived him. Snape was using a pen! It was an antique looking fountain pen but still… Snape interrupted his thoughts. “Of course that would mean that the real champion was Draco.”

“Probably no way to prove it.” Harry said quickly.

“Actually-”

“No way to prove it at all.” Harry grinned, for a moment he could have sworn he saw the edge of Snape’s mouth twitch up.

“Perhaps not.” Snape shook his head. “In any case finding out who did put your name in and why is of greater importance.” Snape’s hand moved to his arm involuntarily, like a reflex.

“Problem?” Harry asked. Snape shook his head, his eyes downcast.

“Premonition.”

“Not usually very reliable those.” Harry chuckled.

“This one is.” Snape didn’t seem to feel like he had to add anything else but something clicked on the edge of Harry’s memory.

“The dark mark?” Snape’s head whipped up.

“How do you know about that?” He asked harshly.

“I…” Harry opened his mouth to answer but realized with shock that he had no idea how he had heard about the dark mark. It was all there though, the mark in the sky meant death, the mark in flesh meant servitude. “I must have… read it… somewhere…”

Snape had strode around the table in an instant and grabbed Harry by his shoulders. This time it didn’t feel like a little pressure in his mind, it felt like a hammer.

“Stop! It hurts!” Harry yelled.

“Stop occluding your mind!” Snape growled, jerking Harry’s head back to keep eye contact.

“I‘m not!” Harry pushed Snape away but kept eye contact, deliberately relaxing his mind. Snape opened his mouth in shock, memories flashed past for a few moments before Snape broke the connection and sagged back onto his desk.

“Satisfied?” Harry snarled, breathing hard.

“Not even slightly.” Snape shook his head, he also seemed out of breath. “I couldn‘t see how you know about the mark, or that I have one.”

“I told you. I must have read it somewhere.” Harry shook his head. “Why do you have one anyway? I mean why did you become a death eater?”

“Youth. Stupidity. Misplaced rage.” Snape stood slowly and rolled his sleeve back. The mark was exactly as Harry remembered it except greatly faded. If Snape’s skin wasn’t so pale it would be almost invisible.

“Why did you leave? Why defect to Dumbledore? I assume that‘s what you did or you wouldn‘t be here.”

“Why?…” Snape cocked his head and a sliver of a smile appeared on his face. “Surprisingly the reason is something that is not of the slightest importance to me anymore. But rest assured I am no longer young, stupid or full of misplaced rage.”

“It‘s well placed you mean?” Harry dug slyly.

“It‘s more… channeled.” Snape stood and brushed his robes with his hands before walking to a cabinet behind his desk and getting out a small vial of blue potion. “I am sorry for invading your mind so roughly. This should help with the pain.” He held out the vial.

“You taste it first.” Snape’s eyebrow quirked up quizzically. “Constant vigilance.”

Snape chuckled and drank a good swallow of the potion before handing it to Harry who gratefully chucked back the rest. His headache disappeared almost instantly.

“Is it getting darker?” Harry asked.

“Slowly.” Snape nodded. “I have yet to tell Dumbledore. He may react unpredictably.”

“Know what that’s like.” Harry chuckled. “Do you think Voldemort or maybe the death eaters have something to do with the goblet and me?”

“We don‘t have the information to make that judgment right now.” Snape waved his hand as if batting something away. “Although I always believe it prudent to prepare for the worst.”

“Yeah…” Harry said, but he had thought of something. He bit his lip and looked at Snape thoughtfully.

“Potter? What are you thinking?”

“Just wondering how far our new truce goes.” Harry glanced back at the door to check no one was listening. “If I were to ask for veritaserum…”

“You have a suspect?” Snape guessed. “And you wish to question them to be sure.”

“That would be a safe assumption.” Harry replied evasively.

“Tell me who it is and I will do it.”

“You would never get close enough.” Harry grinned. “I think I can.”

Snape regarded him silently for a few moments then moved back to the potions cabinet. He muttered a work under his breath and a drawer appeared out of the side. Snape reached in and drew out a tiny bottle, barely more than a thimble.

“Three drops is all that is necessary.” Snape pressed the bottle into Harry’s hand. “Show no one else. Tell no one you have that.”

“Thank you.” Harry curled his fingers around the little bottle. “I‘ll tell you how it plays out.” Harry moved off towards the door but stopped just before opening it.

“Out of interest…” He asked, looking back at his teacher across the empty classroom. “Whose is that little barn owl?”

“None of your business Potter.”

“Ah…” Harry tapped the side of his nose. “She must really be something…”

“She is.”
*


Harry didn’t have a lesson with Moody until Friday, which meant that he had to carry that little bottle around the whole time, a little bottle of carry-able nervousness. He constantly weighed the risks of hiding it somewhere with the risks of having it found on his person but in the end come down on the side of the latter. Besides, his coat had a few pockets that would elude all but the most aggressive searchers.

When the lesson actually came about Harry was gritting his teeth, he still didn’t know if this was a good idea, or even possible. It wasn’t too late to return the bottle to Snape, or to find somewhere to hide it and save it for later.

“Something bothering you Potter?”

Harry looked up from his desk into the face of the ex-auror.

“No, nothing.” Harry shook his head. “Well…”

“Yes?”

“There is something I want to ask you, but after the lesson.” Harry made himself look down and put a little catch in his voice. “If you‘re not too busy.”

“Hmm.” Moody scratched his chin. “Well, whatever it is it isn‘t keeping you from taking notes is it?”

Harry looked down at his page, it was empty except for a little ink drawing of a cottage.

“Would you believe invisible ink?”

“No.”

“Didn‘t think so.” Harry reached for his quill. After the lesson he stayed quiet, with his bag not even packed. The marauders already knew he had something planned and left him be but…

“You not leaving Harry?” Harry turned and saw Susan Bones paused near his desk.

“Getting an extra credit essay.” Harry replied glibly.

“You? Doing an extra credit essay?” Disbelief radiated from the Hufflepuff. “You don‘t even do your normal essays.”

“I do so.”

“Without copying from Hermione.”

“I-”

“Or Padma.”

“Oh.” Harry cocked his head and shrugged. “Does it really matter what I‘m up to?”

“Just wondering what happens if the school champion is expelled.”

“One of the school champions.” Harry corrected. “The only human champion granted but still…”

“Oh no one in Hufflepuff believes Malfoy‘s really a champion.” Susan rolled her eyes. “No one in Ravenclaw either. You didn‘t know that Harry? You‘re usually wired into the rumor mill of this school.”

“I‘ve had a lot on my mind.” Harry conceded. He actually never listened to rumors, that was Parvarti’s job and to a lesser extent Ron‘s. “The mill can run without me for a while.”

“Of course.” Susan nodded and moved off. She paused to say, “We are all rooting for you you know.” Before turning towards the door.

Interesting. Harry smiled thoughtfully as he watched her walk away, his eyes drifting down a little. Very interesting. Why hadn’t he noticed before how-

“Potter.” Harry whipped his head around. Moody was looking at him shrewdly. “I know I said Constant Vigilance but…”

“Don‘t finish that sentence Professor.” Harry grinned. “Unless you want me to start mentioning that most magic eyes can be made to see through clothing.”

“I don’t use that setting…” Moody replied gruffly, then winked. “…any more.”

Harry laughed and a moment later was joined by his teacher.

“So,” Moody, walked back to the teachers desk and motioned for Harry to sit nearby. “What was it you wanted to talk about?”

“Oh yeah.” Harry made his voice dip a little. “That.”

Harry swallowed and took a deep breath.

“My parents.”

“Ah.” Moody shook his head ruefully. “Sad business Potter, very sad, but I‘m not the one to talk to. I didn‘t know them before the war-”

“I don‘t want more anecdotes.” Harry dilled up the aggression, it had to look like he had been stewing over this for a while. “Not more school stories. I want to know how they died, the whole story. Details.”

“Why?” Moody asked bluntly. “Why do you want to hear about your parents murder?”

“Because it‘s something no one else seems prepared to talk about.” Harry shook his head angrily. “You were an auror, you also knew them. Fair bet you examined the house right, investigated?” Harry knew Moody had been involved in the investigation, he left nothing to chance.

“Yes I did.” See? “But I‘m still not sure you want to know.”

“I don‘t want to. I need to.” Harry pleaded, putting a little iron into his voice. “It‘s a fair bet Voldemort’s not done having an influence on my life. I need to know how it began.”

Moody shook his head and grimaced.

“Don‘t know where to begin.” He reached down and took a swig from his hip flask. Harry grinned.

“You can start with the goblet of fire.”

“What?” Moody shook his head as if to clear it. His magic eye was rolling listlessly and the other looked milky and unfocussed. “The goblet?”

“Yes, did you put my name into it?” Harry asked, flatly.

“No.” Moody answered in a flat tone. Harry closed his eyes, that meant he had made a mistake, which meant he was screwed.

“Did you get someone else to put my name in?” Harry asked desperately. “And where‘s your invisibility cloak.”

“No, I do not know who put your name in the goblet of fire.” Moody said, again with no emotion. “My cloak is in my chest, there.” He pointed with one gnarled finger.

“Ok, that’s not good. For me.” Harry looked up at the clock. With the dose he gave the effect would only last a few more seconds. “Please don‘t kill me.”

Moody just continued his faded stare, then he blinked and shook his head. Realization dawned in his eyes and Harry saw him grip his wand tightly. In a flash the ex-auror whipped it around and Harry felt ropes pin his arms to the chair.

“How did you do it?” The professor asked, coldly.

“Lifted the flask from your pocket. Put it back later in the lesson.” Harry replied evenly. Being sorry wouldn’t get him out of this, being earnest might. “Managed to break the spells you used on it too.”

“That a fact.” Moody reached out and emptied the flask onto the floor, the water sparkled in the light from the window. “And why did you do it?”

“I found out that the person who put my name in the goblet did it under the cover of an invisibility cloak.” Harry crossed his arms. “They‘re uncommon, and you, the proud owner of two, had just come to Hogwarts. That seemed like too much of a coincidence.”

“And what have you learnt?”

“It… was a coincidence.” Harry conceded. “It wasn‘t you.”

“What else?”

“Eh?” Harry was genuinely confused.

“What else?”

“Um… I don‘t know. Sir.” Harry added.

“You always disarm someone when you‘re questioning them.” Moody flicked his wand again and the ropes fell loose. “Even in they‘re potioned. That was sloppy Potter ,very sloppy. I‘m disappointed in you.”

Harry’s jaw dropped.

“But… you mean… you‘re not mad?”

“Mad? No, no, no,” Moody waved the question away. “You had suspicion you acted on it. I woulda done the same.”

“But I got past your defenses, I could have poisoned you.”

“Better you do it than one of my enemies, oh and by the way…” Moody smiled like a tiger, for once both eyes focused on Harry. “I‘ll need a six scroll essay on how you broke the spells on my flask.”

“Six scrolls?”

“Make it ten.”

“Eep.”

“Don‘t worry Potter, it‘ll be over before you know it. Or in other words it‘ll be over tomorrow as that’s when I‘ll be expecting the essay.”

“Oh.”

“On the plus side though Potter, I trust you now.”

“WHAT?” Harry exploded, spluttering in disbelief. “I spike you and interrogate you and now you trust me!?”

“Yeah, well more than I did.” Moody nodded.

“Why?” Harry asked aghast.

“You had me drugged and I‘m still alive. Means I have proof you‘re not trying to kill me.” Moody said this as if it was the most logical thing in the world.

“I was wrong.” Harry shook his head in disbelief. “You‘re nuts. You’re crazy. You‘re completely bloody gonzo.”

“Yeah?” Moody leant in towards Harry’s face. “Well so are you.”

“Possible,” Harry conceded. “I did once jump onto a moving train.”

“Ha!” Moody snorted. “That’s nothing. Try a moving dragon.”

Harry laughed and shook his head, this had turned out alright after all.

“Eh?” Moody said, furrowing his brow. “Don‘t you have a lesson to get to.”

“Yes, but it’s creatures so I was actually marginally safer staying here and drugging you.”

“Even so.” Moody gestured at the door. “You‘d best be going. Don‘t forget that essay.”

Harry nodded and walked away from the desk. As he reached the door a thought struck him and he turned back.

“You didn‘t ask me there the potion came from.”

“Oh I think I can guess.” Moody grew serious.

“You‘re not happy?”

“Constant Vigilance Potter.” Moody said “Keep your allies close-”

“-and my enemies closer.” Harry rolled his eyes. “I know.”

“That’s not it at all!” Moody said with sudden heat. “Keep your allies close Potter, but watch them even closer.”
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Please review, It'll make me write faster. Pavlov told me so!

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Note for french people 2: Ok, this chapter actually contains people speaking in french. I should warn you that I do not speak french. Well, I do a bit but GCSEs were a long time ago and I only got a B. In any case the french in this chapter is almost certainly wrong, sorry. If you want to tell me the right translations i'll put them up.
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Harry propped the book up in front of him and tried to make the words stay in one place rather than fading out and becoming one long boring blur.

“This, this is interesting Harry.” Hermione yawned and pushed another book over too him. “It makes your skin all stiff so things can’t hurt you.” She yawned again and put her hand up to her mouth.

“Go to bed.” Harry told her, sighing. “You don‘t have stay up with me, I‘m the bloody champion.”

“No Harry I like looking up… stuff…” Hermione yawned again, breaking up whatever she was going to say.

“Without knowing what the first task is it‘s pretty useless.” Harry closed his book wearily and rested his chin on it. “And I know you consider breaking into the library tantamount to sacrilege.”

“It‘s alright if it‘s for the tournament” Hermione rationalized. “Do you want me to get more books?”

“No, I want to give up.” Harry shook his head. “Lets go back to the tower.”

They packed their stuff and Harry spelled the lock on the library back closed. He was about to turn down the corridor when a light appeared near the other end and Harry pushed Hermione back into the library.

“Who is it?”

“No clue.” Harry shrugged and closed the door quietly. He put his ear to it as the voices got closer. “Beaxbattons students I think.”

“How do you know?”

“They‘re speaking French.” Harry whispered as the light passed outside the door. “Talking about the first task.”

“Ho… Wait you speak French?” Hermione whispered hoarsely.

“You gave me the phrase books for my birthday.”

“But I didn‘t think you‘d actually use them!”

“You learn languages a lot quicker with wit sharpening potion. Had the basics down in under a week.”

“That‘s cheating!” Hermione said, sounding scandalized.

“Did someone invent new rules while I was away?” Harry suddenly frowned. “That didn’t sound like a student.” Harry cracked the door and slinked out after the retreating voices.

“Ce n'est pas juste.” Harry silenced his feet so he could move faster after the retreating voices and heard Hermione do the same behind him. “Nous devrions dire les autres concurrents!”

“That‘s Delacour.” Hermione hissed into Harry’s ear. She sounded oddly spiteful. “What‘s she saying?” But Harry waved her into silence as a huskier voice began speaking.

“La fraude fait partie des règles. Il toujours a été.”

“Madam Maxim?” Harry guessed, Hermione nodded. “She‘s saying that cheating‘s part of the rules.”

“I bet Fleur’s going along with-”

“Fleur‘s arguing, but it sound like whatever it is it‘s already been done.” Harry leant around a corner and jerked back as he saw the two French women stopped in the corridor beyond.

“Non!” Fleur was saying angrily. “Vous me forcez à choisir entre mes morales et mon école.”

“She‘s not happy.” Harry shook his head. “She thinks Maxim‘s forcing her to cheat.”

“Puits que tu connais maintenant.” The headmistress said matter-of-factly. “Ne tu inquiéteras pas à son sujet. Tu dois penser au dragon.”

“Dragon?” Harry broke into a grin. He turned to Hermione. “See this is why I eavesdrop.”

“Cheater.” She smiled though.

“Tu as une stratégie?” Madam Maxim asked. “Tu pouvais le distraire. Tu-”

“Non!” Fleur drew herself up. “Je ferai le repos moi-même.”

“Comme tu souhaites.” Madam Maxim said and they began to walk back towards where the two marauders were hiding. Harry moved to walk into the corridor but Hermione grabbed him.

“Harry what are you doing?” She hissed angrily.

“Headgames!” Harry grinned evilly and stepped out in front of the two women. “So… dragons eh?”

Their jaws dropped.

“Thanks for the tip!” Harry grinned and winked at his fellow champion then turned to the French headmistress and with a grimace said, “Tu es un idiot et tu es un hypocrite. Tu accuses des Hogwarts de la fraude mais tu triches la toute première chance que tu obtiens.”

“You little…!” Madam Maxime spluttered incoherently but Harry cut her off and switched to English.

“Well cheat all you want, doesn‘t matter. As you know now I am everywhere in this school. I will know if you cheat, I will know everything you do. So it all works out the same in the end.” Harry turned back to the startled Miss Delacour. “Good luck with the dragon.” And with that he turned and walked away.

Well, he walked until he reached the first corner, then he started to run.
*


“Potter?”

Sleepy.

“Potter!”

Ok, not sleepy anymore, just faking.

“Potter get up!“ Harry jerked theatrically and raised his head off his desk to look at Professor McGonagall.

“Sleepy Professor,” Harry grinned. “I stayed up late doing very important champion stuff.”

It was actually true, he had indeed been spending every night researching ways to deal with large, enraged, fire breathing reptiles but he hadn‘t had much luck. Most of the books had the unhelpful assumption that you would be part of a team of wizards dealing with these creatures. If he could just find one that assumed you were a scared, short, fourteen year old who wasn’t much good at defense against the dark arts or care of magical creatures he would be set.

“Well that doesn‘t get you out of concentrating on your lessons.” She pointed at the crystal ball that he had transfigured part way from a tortoise. It still had legs and a tail and was blindly butting against Harry’s transfiguration textbook. “Complete the transformation or at least turn it back into a tortoise, it is just cruel to leave it like this.”

Harry shrugged and tried to finish the transfiguration. Two of the legs disappeared, and the poor thing balanced on the other two before toppling and almost rolled off the table before Ron caught it. McGonagall moved away muttering about ‘champions’ and ‘idiots‘ using the same inflection for each.

“Well we can scratch transfig’ off the dragon-taming possibilities.” Harry accepted his tortoisphere back from his friend and tried idly to make the remaining limbs disappear.

“I could write to Charlie.” Ron offered. He had managed to make a crystal tortoise that looked like it should be in some seaside gift shop.

“Don‘t, I‘m cheating just by using you guys.” Harry made the tail disappear and sighed. “I should just run in and start cursing it. Pain spear‘s worked before.”

“You‘re not allowed to use dark magic Harry.” Neville reminded him from his other side. “It‘s restricted by the rules of the tournament or something.”

“And it probably wouldn‘t work.” Ron cast the spell again and got a round ball of tortoise shell. “Dragon skin is-”

“Very, very thick. Also curse-proof.” Harry interrupted. “I know.” Harry slumped back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and massaged his temples, he had a stabbing headache from all the studying and late nights. If he propped his book up and fell asleep…

“Mr Potter!”

“I‘m awake!” Harry shook his head. The class giggled.

“What I meant Mr Potter.” McGonagall continued. “Is that you are needed in the third floor arithmancy classroom. Do you know where it is?”

Small slatted window that doesn’t lock properly?

“I know it.” Harry nodded. “What‘s this about?”

“Very important champion stuff.” McGonagall narrowed her eyes. “Now.”

Harry gathered his stuff and hurried out of the room. Since it was class time all the corridors were empty and Harry made it to the classroom without seeing anyone. Wondering what this could possibly be about he pushed the door open.

“Ah, Mr Potter. So good of you to join us.” Mr Crouch had stood up when he entered. Dumbledore and the other Headmasters were also there, as was a witch in neon green robes he didn’t recognize. She had a quill and paper out and looked like she was currently grilling Krum. The Bulgarian, for his part, seemed resigned to this and was answering her monosyllabically. Fleur and Malfoy were no where to be found.

“What an I joining you for?” Harry asked. “If it’s a party then you‘ll need more nibbles. I skipped lunch.”

“This is the weighing of the wands ceremony.” Mr Crouch said calmly, ignoring Harry’s flippancy. “Don‘t worry it‘s mostly a formality.”

Wand weighing? Harry took out his wand, it looked alright. A bit scuffed here and there but then so was he. Harry heard the door open and turned,

“What is this?” Malfoy stood in the doorway with his bag. “Why was I called?”

“Just the wei-” Dumbledore began but was interrupted by the green robed witch.

“Mr Malfoy,” She stood and held out a hand in one motion. “Rita Skeeter. Pleasure to meet you, if I could just-”

“My father has a several very good lawyers.” Malfoy interrupted her suddenly. “So if you print anything libelous…”

“Mr Malfoy,” Rita Skeeter held her hands to her chest as if she had been hurt. “You insult me, the people want to hear from their champion. Champions.” She added, glancing at Harry with a crocodile-smile.

Scanning for insincerity: Insincerity detected.

Harry contorted his face into a worried smile.

“If I could borrow the both of you for a moment.” Skeeter pushed them both back out the door and into the classroom opposite. “There now, that’s more comfortable. None of those old judges and officials.”

“Everything she says is a lie.” Harry thought to himself. “And you had better watch what you say too.”

“Do you mind if I use a quick quotes quill?”

“Yes.” Malfoy said at the same time as Harry said,

“No.” Harry noticed that Malfoy was looking slightly worried so followed up with, “I mean ‘no don‘t use it.’”

“Oh,” The reporter looked disappointed, then brightened up slightly. “I hear you two have a little rivalry going.” Harry opened his mouth but Malfoy answered before he could speak.

“I wouldn’t call me beating him at every class a competition.”

“Whatever.” Harry shrugged.

“You‘re not going to argue Potter?” Malfoy sneered at him.

“Nah, make up any lie you want.” Harry shrugged again. “That’s what she‘s gonna do.”

“Well Mr Potter,” Rita Skeeter asked smoothly. “Do you think you, a mere twelve year old, can succeed in this competition that has clamed the lives of wizards older and wiser than you.”

“I don‘t know.” Harry scratched his head. “The fact that I intend to cheat outrageously may help.”

“You…” Rita Skeeter’s eye’s lit up. “You’re going to cheat?”

“I already have!” Harry replied happily. “Say, do you think that Karkarov guy‘s open to bribes? He looks like a man who enjoys the finer things.”

“Potter…” Malfoy hissed from between clenched teeth but Harry ignored him.

“Of course It’ll be easy to bribe him using all the stolen property that I own. Would you like a diamond necklace?”

Rita’s quill was moving so fast she was tearing the paper.

“I can always obtain more through my extensive criminal contacts.”

“Potter stop now you id-” Harry winked at Malfoy, shutting him up.

“Of course my primary pastime remains kitten-smashing.” At Skeeter’s shocked face he continued. “Yes, kitten-smashing. It‘s kind of like a sport, you use a special club. Baby seals as well, and cute little chipmunks. Deer, ostriches, endangered marmosets, ponies, dolphins that sort of thing.”

“Mr Potter…” The reporter’s eyes narrowed.

“What?” Harry grinned. “If you‘re going to make up lies about me they might as well be entertaining. How about saying I‘m a vampire or a Nazi or that I have two heads and one of them speaks fluent Italian.”

“Don‘t play this game with me Mr Potter.” Rita Skeeter tapped her quill against her quill against her notepad. “You won‘t win.”

“Yes I will.” Harry smiled. “Marauders always do, in the end.”

“Am I interrupting?” Their three heads turned to see Barty Crouch in the doorway. “We‘re ready for you now.”

Harry smiled and wandered out off the room, leaving the startled reporter behind. As he walked back into the arithmancy classroom he noticed that two more people had arrived. Fleur Delacour he was expecting, the other was more of a surprise.

“Mr Ollivander?”

“Mr Potter, so good to see you again.” The old man looked the same as he had on the day, four years ago, that Harry had bought his wand. He wasn’t acting as oddly however.

“You‘re doing the wand weighing?” Harry guessed.

“I am Mr Potter, I am.” He held out his hand and Harry grudgingly surrendered his wand. As soon as it left his hand he found himself feeling paranoid, almost naked. He kept eyeing up bits of furniture for their potential as weapons should someone attack him.

“Your… this wand seems to work quite adequately.” Mr Ollivander said slowly, looping a long golden ribbon out of the tip. “Of course, if you were in the market for another…”

“No.” Harry shook his head before the wand maker could once again try to force a different wand on him as he had at their first meeting. “That one‘s served me pretty good. I‘ll stick with it if you don‘t mind.”

“Very well.” Ollivander shook his head and handed the wand back. “I don‘t understand it but…” He spread his hands and shrugged.

Everyone else in the room kept shooting Harry odd looks for the remainder of the wand weighing, everyone except Dumbledore.
*


As Harry was walking away from the weighing when he heard a voice behind him.

“Do you have a moment Mr Potter?” Harry turned to see Barty Crouch. “If I were you I would not underestimate Ms Skeeter.”

“I don‘t underestimate her, she overestimates herself.”

“Perhaps so.” The judge nodded. “But she has the potential to cause you real harm.”

“No she doesn‘t.” Harry interjected. “Sticks and stones and all that, I‘ve survived worse than bad press.”

“I am worried about you Mr Potter.” Mr Crouch moved up to stand next to Harry. “There is more than one reason we increased the age limit on entry to the tournament. I fear you are too young to stand up to the scrutiny.”

“Me? Harry boy-who-lived Potter?”

“Ah, yes.” Mr Crouch chuckled a little. “Perhaps you are right on that score, but nevertheless a certain level of maturity is expected, even necessary, and I worry that perhaps you do not have it.”

“I‘ll hold my end.” Harry said, vaguely insulted.

“Do you feel adequately physically and mentally prepared for the first task?” Harry thought that an odd question, but answered anyway.

“No, not entirely.”

“Well I can‘t give you advice of course.” The older man nodded. “Just remember that no one is expecting you to win. Just by doing well you will have exceeded everyone’s expectation.”

“And by winning I‘ll exceed them even more, and win some money!”

“Just take it slow,” Mr Crouch told him. “A respectable score is better than being injured so you cannot compete.”

“The only respectable score is winning.” Harry grinned like a tiger.
*


Harry woke lazily the next day and ignored the sounds of people going down to breakfast. This weekend had been a long tome coming and he was going to enjoy it.

On the way down to breakfast though he got an odd foreboding feeling. His suspicions were confirmed when he walked into the great hall and all conversation ceased. Harry walked down the Gryffindor table to his friends in total silence and sat down in the empty seat they had left for him.

“Explanation?” Harry asked quietly, the room was still almost deathly silent.

“Um, we think Malfoy may have talked to Rita Skeeter after you left.” Hermione was holding a newspaper nervously, kneading the paper with he hands. “He said some things and they printed some things…”

“Give it here.” Harry reached out and grabbed the paper. He quickly scanned down the text…

… fellow champion Drako Malfoy says that everyone in Hogwarts knows they’re just afraid to say anything. “He hides it but everyone knows. I mean that‘s why he‘s so short and weedy.” The hansom sixteen year old said “And it explains the hair.” This reporter has seen evidence to support these arguments and can reveal to you now the truth about Harriet Potter…

Harry burst out laughing. In the utterly silent great hall it sounded extra loud as Harry guffawed in great breathy gulps.

“Harriet Potter!” Harry dissolved into a fit of giggles.

“It‘s not funny Harry.” Hermione said.

“Yes it is! Look, they‘ve even doctored a picture of me.” Harry pointed. “I‘ve got long hair and breasts and everything… Actually I don‘t look half bad… But come on no one‘s gonna believe this.”

“You never know Harry.” Ginny said from the other side. “People tend to trust the Daily Prophet.”

Harry had a thought and grinned. Without a word he stepped up onto the bench then up onto the Gryffindor table.

“Attention Hogwarts!” Harry yelled, he felt all eyes come to land on him. “By now most of you will have read the Daily Prophet, or have heard about it from someone. And unless you‘re deaf you‘ve heard how I regard these rumors. I have just two things to say, any guy who doubts me can get kicked in the face (don’t laugh I know where you all sleep). And for any girl who doubts I‘m male a demonstration can be arrang-”

“MR POTTER!” The school giggled as McGonagall stood from her place at the high table. “My office! Now!”

“Thank you, thank you. I‘ll be here all week.” Harry sauntered out of the hall, waving at the laughing crowd as he went. The last thing he saw before he left was the dark look of murder on Malfoy’s face and decided to rub salt in the wound. “And Draco next time you try to attack me think of things that would hurt me not that would have hurt you. You care about reputation. Me? I don’t give a crap what anyone thinks!”

“MR POTTER!”

“I‘m going I’m going.” Harry grinned and walked out. The students laughed again, some even cheered.
*


The prophet was forced to print a retraction the next day after hundreds of people wrote in to complain. Unfortunately Harry didn’t have time to savor the victory as the first task drew closer and closer.

“I‘m screwed.” Harry slid another book back into the library bookcase and looked along the shelf for other dragon related books. “I am royally screwed.”

It was the day before the first task and Harry had made an executive decision to ignore all his lessons that day. His time could be far better used and he figured his teachers wouldn‘t mind, or wouldn‘t find out till too late.

Harry sighed. Or maybe they would and he’d be thrown out of the competition and saved the indignity of being roasted alive in front of the entire school.

He had nothing. Not one idea.

“I should just rush in.” Harry thought, shaking his head. “Start cursing, worked with the basilisk.”

“Yes,” Said a little snide part of his mind. “But the basilisk almost killed you.”

Harry took down another book only to realize he had already read it and slammed it back into the bookshelf in anger.

“Problems Miss Potter?” Harry heard the snide drawling voice and sagged tiredly.

“None Daisy Mayflower.” He turned to Malfoy and crossed his arms. “Shouldn‘t you be in lessons?”

“Last class ended half an hour ago.” Malfoy shot back condescendingly.

Harry felt his heart droop. He had thought he had more time than that, he must have lost track. He caught sight of the book in Malfoy’s hand and his eyes flickered to the conspicuous gap in the shelf next to him. He saw the Slytherin’s cold grey pair match him.

“How did you find out?” Harry asked levelly.

“Find out what?”

“About the dragons Malfoy. Don‘t play games.”

Malfoy smiled.

“My father noticed that the ministry was putting licenses through for dragon handling equipment and dragon handlers and dragons.”

“That is damming evidence.” Harry shrugged. “Got a strategy?”

“Like I‘d tell you.” Malfoy scoffed. “A little dragon doesn‘t bother me.”

“You almost sound like you mean that.” Harry pretended to shift weight while actually bringing his wand around to bear. “Lets see… Legillimens!”

It was like hitting a rubber wall. Harry felt his mental probe rebound off an Occlumency barrier like a tennis ball off a tank and had barely a second to compose himself before the counter attack hit his mind like a pneumatic drill.

“What the hell?!” Harry blanked his mind before any memories floated up. After a moment the drill receded.

“How dare you half-blood!” Malfoy spat at him. “Don’t even think of trying that again. You‘re obviously an amateur compared to me. Just like you are at everything else.”

“Getting lessons from daddy are we?” Harry kept his wand trained in case of another attack.

“I‘ve been an Occlumens since I was eight Potter.” Malfoy said through gritted teeth. “Don‘t try to get into my mind, the very thought disgusts me. Even after a failed attempt I feel like bathing.”

“I‘m shocked you know what a bath is Daisy.” Harry shot back. “We all thought you just-”

“SHUT UP! Just because the Prophet printed a retraction doesn‘t mean you‘ve won!” Malfy cracked, raising his wand. “So don’t joke don‘t make snide comments, you are still going down. This tournament may be a joke to you but some of us care about preserving the honor of their names.” Malfoy shook his head fiercely and lowered his wand a fraction.

“You won‘t win Potter. You might as well quit now.” Malfoy sneered at him. “It‘s a dragon, you can’t trick it or lie to it or prank it or sneak your way past it. You can‘t win. Just give up Potter, while you still can.”

Malfoy turned and strode away, disappearing between the shelves. But Harry had begun to grin.

“Why the hell not?”
*


Harry mustered together every ounce of arrogance and cool he had to keep himself walking forward towards the pavilion that had been erected near the edge of the forest. He glanced to his right and saw Malfoy coming up from another direction, surrounded by a crowd of Slytherins. Some of them were wearing badges bearing Malfoy’s smirking face.

Harry reached the tent and swallowed hard before entering.

“Glad you could join us Mr Potter.” Barty Crouch greeted him with a smile. The other champions were already there. Krum was sitting stoically, staring straight forward. Fleur looked green and had one hand pressed to her stomach. “Nervous?”

YES! Of course I’m bloody nervous! I’m about-

“No, no sir.” Harry answered out loud. “I think I‘ve got it covered.” He even managed it without his voice quavering.

“Ah and you are here too Mr Malfoy.” Crouch said as Malfoy barged in through the curtain. “Then let us get started.” He reached over and picked up a small bag. Harry noticed with a gulp that it was squirming.

“The task once you enter the stadium is to retrieve a golden egg from its guardian.” Crouch explained in his dry bureaucratic voice. “Inside this bag are four statutes. You will each take one from the bag, at random. The statue should tell you both what this guardian is and will also have a number on it representing the order you will go in.”

And first to the gallows will be…

“Miss Delacour…” Crouch held out the bag and the French girl put her hand in tentatively. She drew it out and revealed a small blue dragon statue, currently gnawing on her thumb. “The Swedish short snout.”

Fleur looked at the little thing in her hand then raised her chin in determination. But Harry saw a trace of panic in her eyes.

“Looks almost cute.” Harry commented, looking at the dragon. “Face looks kind of like a squirrel.”

Fleur glanced again at the thing in her hand then looked at Harry in disbelief.

“Well… a bit.” Harry grinned and saw a half smile in return.

“Mr Krum.” Crouch hurried them along. The Bulgarian stuck his hand into the bag and drew out a long red-gold dragon, dangling it by its tail. “The Chinese Firebolt.”

Krums expression didn’t change, if anything it just became stonier.

“That’s a weasel.” Harry pronounced definitely (babbling so he wouldn‘t hit a total nervous breakdown). “A Squirrel and a Weasel.”

“Mr Malfoy.” Crouch held the bag out again and Malfoy carefully removed a sleek looking black dragon. “A Hebridean Black Mr Malfoy.”

Malfoy seemed to be trying to keep his face ridged and unemotional, he was taking deep breaths through his nose.

“And you Harry.” Crouch held out the bag and Harry reached in quickly and grabbed the last squirming statue. He held it in his fist as he brought it out, said a silent prayer to anyone listening, then opened his hand.

“The Hungarian Horntail.” Mr Crouch pronounced tonelessly.

Harry closed his hand again and pumped his fist into the air.

“YES!”

The three other champions were looking at him like he was crazy.

“Mr Potter,” Crouch spluttered. “You do know about that type of dragon don‘t you?”

“Read about ‘em, yep.” Harry nodded.

“And you‘re happy?”

“Yep.”

“Potter you‘re insane.” Malfoy said icily.

“Yep.”

“Well…” Mr Crouch seemed a little flustered but motioned Malfoy towards the exit to the tent.

Harry watched them leave and took a deep breath. He sat down cross legged on the packed earth and leant back against a tent pole.

“You are very confident.” Krum said in his heavily accented voice.

“I‘m not worried.” Harry said as he heard his racing heart beating in his ears.

Harry tried to blank out the sound of the crowd outside and the comments of the commentators. He tried to breath deeply so as to quiet his nerves. It didn’t work.

“Mr Krum if you please!” Harry heard the whistle and wished Krum good luck as he walked out of the tent.

More minutes of growling and huffing passed and Fleur began pacing the floor worriedly.

“It‘ll be alright.” Harry told her as the crowd quieted down and the scores were put up. “You got the easy dragon.”

“Easier.” She replied without looking up.

“Just think of it as a giant fire-breathing squirrel.”

“‘Ow can you be so calm!” She said to him angrily. “‘Ow can you joke about zis!”

“I joke about everything.”

The whistle blew a moment later and Fleur was gone too, gone to face the dragon. Harry got up and began pacing himself. He gripped his wand and began rehearsing what he would do again.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.

What the hell? Everything could go wrong!

Harry squeezed his eyes shut as he heard the whistle sound. He couldn’t do this.
*


“And the last champion, HARRY POTTER!” The voice cried over the loudspeaker.

Professor McGonagall, like everyone else in the crowd, looked towards the tent. A gust of wind flapped the edges of the canvas. No one came out.

“Um… Mr Potter?”

No one came.

That poor boy. She shook her head, this had obviously been too much for him. The crowd had begun whispering now.

“Do you wish to go down there Albus, Or shall I?” She turned to the Headmaster, who was oddly smiling. “One of us will have to find him.”

“Oh I know exactly where he is.” Dumbledore chuckled.

“You see it too?” Moody cackled from the row below. “Damn kid‘s got nerve I‘ll give him that.”

“What are you talking about Allastor? Albus?” Minerva looked from one to the other confused.

“Barty Crouch told me that Harry was oddly happy to receive the Horntail.” Dumbledore smiled. “I did not quite understand that until now. The horntail is the most fearsome dragon in the world, but it‘s eyesight is quite poor.”

Understanding dawned in Minerva McGonagall’s mind and she turned to scan the arena once more. After a moment she saw it. A small, human shaped lump, perfectly camouflaged against the sand behind it, shimmering as it edged towards the dragon.
*


Harry shifted a hair closer. He had silenced his feet to get rid of his footfalls but there was still the risk of something shifting or crunching. He could hear members of the crowd beginning to laugh now, he didn’t care. They’d know the truth when he snagged the egg right out from under the belly of the thing. And besides, the more noise they made the better.

The Horntail suddenly shifted, raising it’s nose high. Harry froze in a crouch. It sniffed the air.

Damn! Harry froze. He had hoped that by keeping the wind in his face would have kept his smell from the beast. Apparently not, that meant he would have to cast a spell, which would agitate the thing and reveal his location. But it would find him anyway if he didn’t. Too bad he didn’t know non-verbal magic.

Harry drew his wand and tensed his legs. The Disillusionment charm worked best when you stayed still but it wasn‘t perfect even then. The dragon would see through it once it got a clue where to look. He would have to move the instant he cast or he would be crispy-fried.

Harry took a deep breath and yelled,

“Avgo Sapios!” The cloud of green smoke gushed out of his wand and smacked the dragon on the snout but Harry was already throwing himself sideways and rolling to a crouch on the floor.

Which was lucky because a moment later the sand where he had been standing was reduced to a white-hot sheet. The dragon swept its lance of flame across the arena, passing just feet in front of Harry’s face. Harry saw the sand steam and cool from blue-white to red, then to a duller, glassy, finish. A scar across the land. Harry forced himself to breath again, shallowly.

He moved his head slowly to look at the dragon, it was shaking its head from side to side as if to dislodge the foul smell that had taken up residence in its nostrils.

When Harry was sure it was looking the other way he hopped over the burnt swath and crouched down on the other side. A gasp went up from the crowd, they must have seen him when he passed over the burnt patch.

“Don‘t get it agitated.” Harry thought desperately as he inched closer. “Just keep quiet.”

“HEY DRAGON!”

Bugger.

Harry rolled to the side in panic as the dragon gouged another flaming scar across the sand. He realized belatedly that the downside of choosing to approach the dragon from downwind was that it put the Slytherin stands at his back.

“OVER HERE!”

Harry ducked as a fireball flew over his head. He risked a glance back to see it impact on a shield. The stands seemed to quiet down a bit, perhaps realizing the idiocy of attracting the attention of an angry dragon.

Harry inched forward again and had to duck as it’s spiked tail whipped through the air. He could see the egg now, glimmering in among some duller ones. Harry crawled silently up near the dragons side and looked up. The wall of the great reptile’s body gave way to the massive shading canopy of it’s wing. He was right up next to it now. If he screwed up it would step on him.

Harry reached into the little gap between the floor and the shifting belly of the Horntail. His fingers curled around the golden egg. He twisted it and brought it out horizontal, making sure not to touch the dragon. Like that game, what was it called… operation! Except with his life on the line.

Harry held his breath as the egg finally saw the light of day and swiftly stuffed it under his t-shirt so it would be camouflaged. He slid backwards slowly then froze as the dragon stood and shifted. Harry followed it’s gaze and saw a dozen keepers approaching.

“No!” Harry thought. “They‘re not that stupid! Please NO!”

“Stupify!”

“AAaaaa!” Harry screamed and threw himself backward as the dragon collapsed right onto the ground where he had been crouching. A moment later he was driven to the floor as its wing crumpled on top of him. Harry crawled out from under the leathery blanket, forced himself to stand on legs that wanted to crumple like plastic straws and stumbled towards the dragon keepers.

“What the hell…” Harry growled. “Was the big idea of dropping the dragon on me when I‘m still bloody under it!”

“Sorry Harry.” The red-head at the front of them shrugged. “You‘re kind of hard to see.”

Harry looked down, he was still Disillusioned. Harry raised his aching arm and tapped himself on the head with the tip of his wand.

“Khamaileon akyrono.” He felt the warm dribbles down his head painfully slowly. They stopped before they even reached his stomach. “Oh great…” Harry sagged his half-visible body.

“Let me Potter.” Harry flinched as someone tapped him from behind. He turned and looked up at the scarred face of Mad Eye Moody.

“I got it to go on in one go.” Harry explained, swaying a little. He was bruised on every side and his left arm didn‘t want to bend properly. He turned and saw McGonagall approaching from the stands and tried to stand a little straighter.

“Potter, are you hurt?” She said, an edge of concern tingeing her voice. Harry raised his left arm. “Excellent! You‘ll get more points for being uninjured.”

Harry swiftly jerked his arm back down and brushed the dirt off the front of his robes. Mad Eye leant down and whispered into his ear,

“Arm broke Potter?”

“No, just hurts like hell.” Harry breathed back. He eased it into his pocket, wincing slightly. “Maybe fractured.”

“You gonna tell them?”

“Hell no!”
*


Harry held hard to the handrail as he walked towards the marauders. He was surrounded by cheers, people kept slapping him on the back (painfully)

“That was awesome Harry!” Harry heard someone yell and waved back, smiling wanly. He managed to make it to the free seat by the marauders and sat down.

“That really was awesome.” Ron said from his left. “I mean we couldn’t even see-”

“Yes that was the point.” Harry joked. “Sort of the point of invisibility.”

“That was really good you know Harry.” Hermione said from behind him. “Much better than Malfoy.”

“That’s a given.” Harry grinned. “What did he do?”

“Made some kind of mirror out of mist.” Padma shrugged as if to say ‘no big deal’. “Made the dragon fight it‘s own reflection.”

“Did it work?”

“Until he got close to the eggs.” Padma grinned evilly. “Then it caught on and flamed him. He only just got the egg. They gave him thirty points.”

“Deserved two.” Ron muttered angrily.

Harry shrugged, then winced as a stab of pain shot through his arm. The crowd fell silent, Harry looked up towards the judges box. Madam Maxim raised her wand, after a moment a sinuous five sprung out.

“Passive aggressive revenge bitch.” Harry growled.

Next Crouch nodded thoughtfully and tapped a nine into the air.

“That‘s more close to awesomeness.”

Next the heavyset judge Harry didn’t know raised his wand with a flourish and painted an eight. A moment later Dumbledore raised an identical eight.

“Better…”

Karkaroff seemed to think for a moment, then drew a three in the air.

“Blatant undisguised favoritism.” Harry narrowed his eyes. “It‘s like bloody Eurovision.”

“Thirty three.” Neville said, counting on his fingers. “Is that good?”

“It should have been higher!” Ginny said angrily. “You were the only champion not injured!”

“Yeah…” Harry tried not to think of what mark he would have got if they had known about his arm.

“It must have been how long you took/” Hermione said reasonably. “You were slower than the others.”

“You beat Malfoy though!” Parvarti said cheerily (ignoring Ron as he turned on Hermione and began arguing). “And Fleur.”

“Krum?”

“Got forty.”

“Bugger. I‘ll get him next time.” Harry felt his bruised and aching arm. “You see if I don‘t!”
*


“So let me get this straight Harry.” Madam Pomfrey sighed, “You beat the dragon….”

“Yes.”

“Left the stadium.”

“Yes”

“Then on the way back to Gryffindor tower…”

“Yes.”

“You happened to fall down a flight of stairs.”

“Yes.”

“Seriously Harry?”

“That’s my story.” Harry grinned. “I‘m sticking to it.”
________________________________________


Translations (I think)

“Ce n'est pas juste. Nous devrions dire les autres concurrents!”
This is not right. We should tell the other competitors!

“La fraude fait partie des règles. Il toujours a été.”
Cheating is part of the rules. It always has been.

“Non! Vous me forcez à choisir entre mes morales et mon école.”
No! You force me to choose between my morals and my school

“Puits que tu connais main tenant. Ne tu inquiéteras pas à son sujet. Tu dois penser au dragon.”
Well you know now. You will not worry about it. You must think of the dragon.

“Tu as une stratégie? Tu pouvais le distraire. Tu-”
You have a strategy? You could distract it. You

“Non! Je ferai le repos moi-même.”
Not! I will do the rest myself.

“Comme tu souhaites.”
As you wish.

“Tu es un idiot et tu es un hypocrite. Tu accuses des Hogwarts de la fraude mais tu triches la toute première chance que tu obtiens.”
You are an idiot and you are a hypocrite. You accuse Hogwarts of fraud but you cheat the very first chance that you get.
________________________________________


The Pavlov thing is working! More reviews please!

________________________________________
I don't own Harry Potter. Neither do you. Unless you're J K Rowling, which is unlikely.
________________________________________


“Shut that bloody thing off Harry!” Ron yelled over the screaming.

“Alright, alright.” Harry snapped the egg shut and the inhuman screeching ceased as it always did. “Just trying to work the thing out.”

“Well can you not do it in our bedroom.” Ron grumped, rolling out of bed. Harry chuckled and replaced the egg on his nightstand. “Have you at least found out something?”

“There‘s nothing to find.” Harry shook his head irritably. “I’ve run every detection I know on it, there‘s no release or password, nothing else magical on it at all. The scream isn‘t cover for something or a defense. The scream is the message, I just have to decode it somehow. Unless the whole thing’s a braincrank.”

“A trick?” Neville translated, sitting up in bed. “You think it really could be?”

“Doubt it. Too elaborate.” Harry shrugged. “Guess I just have to do more things to it.”

“Tried kicking it?” Ron suggested.

“‘Course, that was the first thing I tried.”

“Maybe that‘s why you can‘t find anything now.” Neville said, frowning. “You broke it.”

“Doubt it,” Harry sighed. “I have reports that inhuman screams have been heard from the boat the carriage and the Slytherin dungeon as well. I‘m not the only one stumped.”

“That‘s something.” Neville said encouragingly. “You‘ll work it out eventually.”

“Maybe…” Harry wasn’t so sure. He had needed a Hogwarts founder to help him solve his last puzzle. He dismissed it from his thoughts for another morning. “You think the girls are waiting for us at breakfast?”

“Probably.” Ron groaned, and stomped off towards the bathroom.
*


Eventually the three of them managed to get down to breakfast. Just in time for the mail run. Harry caught Digger on his wrist and was feeding him a piece of bacon when he was surprised by a letter falling into his lap.

“You got a letter?” Hermione leant over curiously. “Who‘s it from?”

“I don‘t know…” Harry began but his eyes narrowed as he recognized the acid green ink. “But I suspect.”

He tore open the letter and read the pale lettering.

To The-Boy-Who-Thinks-He’s-Won

Well we’ll see about that Harry. Don’t think that just because I had to print a retraction you’ve won. Don’t think that for a moment. I have been very busy digging up dirt on you and your fellow champion and you won’t like what I’ve found. You will regret insulting me Harry Potter, I can bury you! And I will, you just watch!

Bests Rita Skeeter.

Harry tore the letter up and sighed.

“Rita Skeeter.” He answered. “She‘s going to cause a lot of trouble for me I can tell.”

“I seriously doubt that.” Padma commented dryly from over the top of the Prophet.

“Why?”

“She‘s dead.”

“What!?”

Padma offered him the newspaper and Harry grabbed it hurriedly. The obituary was quite large and, befitting the woman it was about, full of exaggerations. Once Harry had scanned it once or twice he had gleaned the actual information out of it. Apparently she had been found in her home by her boss after not showing up for work on Monday. The Aurors had been called in, official cause of death…

“Heart attack?” Harry said incredulously, Padma nodded. “That‘s bull! She was… I don‘t know… maybe thirty five years old.”

“She had a very stressful job.” Padma shrugged.

“Or maybe it was karma.” Ron said through a mouthful of toast. Hermione looked torn between being disgust at his manners and impressed that he knew what karma was.

“I think it‘s good riddance.” Ginny cut in emphatically.

“I think it‘s fishy.” Harry folded the paper and handed it back. “God knows the woman must have made enough enemies.”

“Maybe it was one of you‘re fan club.” Ginny joked.

“My fan club doesn‘t have a militant wing.” Harry paused. “That I know of…”

“Could be useful.”

“True, my own army…” Harry grinned. “I could rule the world!”

“Maybe,” Hermione rolled her eyes. “But after transfiguration.”
*


Harry decided to actually work that lesson. It was something he did occasionally, just to throw his teachers off the scent. They were still working on the tortoise to orb and most of the class could do it now. Harry’s orb still had a bit of a hexagon pattern but it wasn’t bad.

“Mr Potter.” McGonagall said suddenly.

“Yes Professor?” Harry said, confused. He hadn’t done anything lately she would be interested in. “What is it?”

“I was simply going to ask if you had acquired a partner yet. Since you are opening you will be representing the school. Try to reflect well on us.”

“Partner? Opening? Representing?” Harry’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“The Yule Ball Potter.” McGonagall said simply. Most of the class was watching now. “As champion you will be opening.”

“You mean… Dancing?” Harry cringed.

“Yes.”

“Alone?”

“With a partner.” McGonagall replied in exasperation.

“In front of the school?” Harry felt his stomach swoop.

“Yes.”

“I think I‘ll pass.”

“Potter you are the… one of the Hogwarts champions. You must open the dance and you must have a partner.”

“What? You gonna tie me up and force me to dance?”

“We have ways.” McGonagall said, her eyes narrowing.

“I‘ll just turn up without a partner.” Harry countered.

“In that case I will accompany you Mr Potter.”

“You do that…” Harry crossed his arms. “And I will go to the ball naked.”

The classroom burst out laughing.

“As will I.”

The room became deathly silent. Harry nodded slowly.

“Touché, nicely argued.” He complemented. “And I‘ll have a partner by the end of the day.”
*


Harry wandered down the to the lower floors of Hogwarts that evening and found the kitchens corridor. Glancing around for a moment he approached the still-life.

“Stoic.” Harry said, and the painting dissolved into the air. Harry stepped in and spoke the password again to close the portal. He stepped into the Hufflepuff common room. It looked different than he remembered, probably the lack of snakes… and fire. Several people started looking at him, then more, then every eye in the place turned to him as he strolled across the cellar. He did the natural thing. He ignored them.

He walked calmly over to the set of couches where the Susan Bones was sitting.

“Hey Susan.” He smiled in greeting.

“Hi. Um…” She scratched her head. “How did you get in here?”

“Password.”

“But how did you know the password.”

“I know all the passwords.” Harry shrugged. “Slytherin’s is privilege. Ravenclaw‘s is… complicated. The prefect bathroom‘s still pine fresh and Dumbledore‘s office is Chocoballs… for some reason.”

“But… How?” Susan asked aghast. Harry realized that most of the common room was listening.

“You were a chosen.” Harry winked. “Not a marauder. Don‘t expect me to reveal all my secrets.”

The room sighed and Harry felt eyes move away from him.

“So… why are you down here?” Susan asked. “Are we under attack by snakes again?”

“Not that I know of.” Harry glanced under the table. “Nope, nothing.”

“So what are you here for?”

“What? I can‘t just visit?” Harry grinned.

“Hufflepuff or me?”

“Currently… you.” Harry grinned again. “There‘s this dance… thing… at Christmas.”

“The Yule Ball.” Susan’s eyes widened.

“Yeah that.” Harry shrugged. “Apparently I need a partner on account of being some sort of champion type thing.”

“Are you asking me?”

“Do I need to be more obvious?”

“Yes.”

“Yes I‘m asking you.”

“Then…” Susan swallowed nervously. “…yes?”

“Was that a question?” Harry sniped, smiling..

“Fine. Yes I‘ll go with you.”

“Capital. That‘s great.” Harry grinned. “But I should go now. People are staring at me.”

“Well you are a celebrity.”

“It‘s a burden I have to bear.”
*


In the next few weeks Harry was extremely glad he had got it out of the way earlier. In the next few weeks a veritable craze of ball fever swept Hogwarts. Girls huddling in corners, whispering. Discussion of dress robes. Identical looks of fear and dread and cold, sick, nervousness on the face of every boy. Harry was glad to be well out of it.

Course he would be gladder if everyone else had got the memo…

“Leave me alone!” Harry slid into a secret passage and bounded along the short passage. “I‘m taken!” He could still hear pounding feet and giggling behind him. He shot out from behind a tapestry (startling a group of students) and cracked open another passage behind a painting. He closed it behind him and leant against the wall, breathing heavily, as the following girls ran past. As the sounds faded into the distance he breathed a sigh of relief.

“You too yes?” Harry spun around but relaxed as he saw Viktor Krum sitting cross legged on the floor in the passageway. He had a set of books spread out in front of him. The Bulgarian shrugged and continued. “You vill get used to it. Or you vill become quicker at running.”

“And you‘re used to it?” Harry grinned and sat down opposite the Durmstrum champion. “Then why are you hiding in a passageway.”

“It is only vay to get a moment of peace.” Krum flicked a page and continued reading. After a moment he glanced up. “You did well vith the Horntail.”

“Not as good as you. Thirty three points.”

“You should not have… irritated… the she-giant.” A smile flickered onto Krum’s face.

“Possibly not.” Harry conceded. “You worked out the egg yet.”

“Perhaps.” Krum replied, revealing nothing. “Have you?”

“Perhaps.” Harry grinned. “I worked out that kicking it doesn‘t work.”

“First thing I tried.”

“Me too.” Harry walked back up to the door and listened, it sounded pretty quiet. “How long you intending to stay in here.”

“I don‘t know. Vhen is your Yule Ball?” Krum shook his head and sighed. “I should ask someone. Pick someone that has not been asked yet. Perhaps that will make them stop foll-”

“It doesn‘t.” Harry interrupted. “Trust me.”

“Oh…” Krum shook his head. “Then I will have to research some better locking charms for my cabin.”

“Try these.” Harry pulled beyond allohamora out of his bag (it sometimes helped to have a bag in which he could carry everything he owned). “It mostly deals with unlocking but it‘s got some quality stuff in there.”

“Thank you.” Krum nodded solemnly and looked back down at his books. Harry checked the entrance once more then left carefully.

“What is it about me?” Harry wondered idly. “That lets me get on with the champions but royally pisses off the judges?”
*


“Damn it!” Harry dropped the egg back to the surface of the marauders table. The inky black goo he had smeared on its surface had revealed nothing. “Doesn‘t work either. It was supposed to reveal secret messages.”

“That thing doesn‘t have a secret message.” Ron groaned on the other side of the table. “It has one message. And we‘ve all heard it lots of times, like at the crack of dawn.”

“Eight is not the crack of dawn.” Harry sighed and rested his head on his hands. “And I don‘t see you doing much better.”

“It was working before you got here.” Ron complained, prodding at the crystal ball in front of him. “Maybe the egg did some thing to it!”

“Or maybe you‘ve got it upside down.” Parvati commented from the other side of the table. Ron groaned and scrunched up his bit of parchment.

Harry would have made a snide comment but he didn’t think he had the energy. The egg was eating at him.

“Ron…” Parvati continued. “You really need to do it soon.”

“Do what?”

“Ask someone.” She shook her head. “You really need to do it soon or she‘ll be… I mean all the good girls‘ll be taken.” Parvati amended quickly with a wink at Harry.

Ron (oblivious) squirmed uncomfortably.

“It‘s not that easy.” Ron shrugged. “I‘m not Harry, I can‘t just wander into someone’s common room and ask someone.”

“But you-” Parvati began but Harry interrupted her.

“Wait wait wait. Did I just hear a marauder express… self… doubt…?” Harry shied away in horror. “No no no no no! This will not do!”

“But-”

“No buts!” Harry cut him off. “You are a marauder, that means you are at least six billion times better than anyone else. You will go out and ask Herm… the girl you want to go with. Right now! Or I will call in a personal favor from Viktor Krum and have him ask her first!”

“You don’t even know who I‘m-”

“Legillimacy.” Harry lied.

“That‘s illegal.”

“Since when have I cared? Ask her.”

“That’s cruel.”

“Ditto. Ask her.”

“Harry-”

“She‘ll say yes.” Harry grinned. “Trust me.”

“Are you sure?” Ron looked almost convinced.

“Yes.” Harry looked to Parvati for backup and she nodded emphatically. “Definitely yes.”

Ron nervously folded his work unto his bag and left the common room. Harry checked the clock on the wall.

“Five thirty so Hermione will be coming back from the library… Give ‘em ten minutes.” Harry and Parvati shared a grin and went back to their respective work.

Ron was in fact back in less than five minutes.

“She said yes!” He was blushing tomato red but grinning.

“Congratulations.” Harry shrugged. “Surprised you found her so quick.”

“She was in the great hall. Lavender‘s usually down to dinner early.”

“La… Lavender…” Harry froze. Across from him he say Parvarti’s face twist into a grimace of shock and surprise. “Lavender Brown?”

“Yes?” Ron’s brow furrowed. “Are there any other Lavenders in the school?”

“Um… yes… in… fifth year… Slytherin. Just making sure you weren’t asking her.” Harry lied quickly. “You know, letting the team down and such.”

“I‘d never ask a Slytherin.” Ron laughed. “That would just be stupid.” Ron laughed again and headed up the staircase to the boys bedroom.

“Yeah, that would be stupid.” Parvati said acidly, sounding for a moment like her sister.

“You also thought he‘d ask…”

“Hermione.”

“Yep. Thought it was obvious.” Harry shrugged. “Oh well.”

“Oh well!?” Parvati repeated indignantly with her hands on her hips (Harry braced for shouting). “What do you mean Oh well!”

“We were wrong.” Harry said simply. “It happens. It‘s all alright.”

“It‘s not alright!” She shook her head. “He‘s going with the wrong person!”

“He‘s going with the person he asked.” Harry pointed out. “That‘s not the right person?”

“No.”

“Well tough.” Harry waved the problem away. “Nothing to be done now.”

“Unless…” Parvati grinned maliciously, or tried to anyway. It didn’t really work on her. “We do something about it.”

“Oh no…” Harry buried is face in his hands.

“We need to make sure Ron and Hermione go together.”

“Do we have to?”

“Yes.”

“If they find out they‘ll kill us.” Harry pointed out. “You know that right?”

“How come when you want to do something insane you rope the rest of us in but when I want to you just complain?”

“Oh I didn‘t say I wouldn‘t do it.” Harry grinned evilly (doing a far better job of it). “I‘m just saying we have to be careful.”

“Yay!” Parvati ran around the table and hugged Harry. “I knew you‘d fold!”

“Get. Off. Me!” Harry disentangled himself from his friend. “Do you have a plan?”

“Well…” Parvati tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Lavender’s essentially a limpet.”

“Nice.”

“Thank you. I figure we can persuade her to let go of Ron if we dangle something else in front of her face.”

“Like what? Or who?”

“Michel Corner I think.” Parvati nodded. “She‘s liked him for ages.”

“Does he like her?”

“He will once I‘m thru talking him into it.”

“I like this new malicious side of you.” Harry nodded approvingly. “Do I have any part in this little escapade or do I just sit here nodding?”

“You need to keep anyone from asking Hermione until Ron does.”

“Gotcha!” Harry saluted. “Campaign of intimidation and threats coming right up!”

“Subtly Harry! She can‘t know!”

“Who do you take me for?”

“Sorry.” Parvati smiled. “Oh, and you‘ll need to talk to Neville too.”

“Um… why?” Harry asked, confused. “Is he gonna ask Hermione?”

“No silly. You need to convince him to ask Padma.”

“I thought this was about Ron and Hermione?”

“I‘m expanding the scope.” Parvati shrugged. “He won‘t need much prodding. He already likes her.”

“Does she…?”

“Of course.” Parvati said patronizingly. “You haven’t noticed?”

“And Ginny?” Harry said wearily. “Got a plan for her too?”

“She‘s too young.”

“Not if we find her a date.” Harry pointed out.

“No I mean too young to date.” Parvati said primly. “We have to protect our little sister‘s innocence for as long as possible. She‘s not a part of this.”

“I wish I wasn‘t a part of thi-”

“Harry!”
*


Operation shamelessly-manipulate-our-best-friends was at least good for one thing, it distracted Harry from the bloody egg.

It was just a few days before the Yule ball and the plan was… well it was working but that wasn’t the point. It was working a little too well.

Lavender had been successfully unstuck from Ron and re-adhered to Michel Corner. Once Ron came out of his moping phase Harry was confident he could prod him towards the right girl. The subtle intimidation was harder but legilimacy helped to identify potential threats very effectively. Once they were picked out Harry was able to get the boys alone to explain some ‘home truths’. Like how she was already dating a older boy she met on holiday. Big bloke, huge muscles.

“This had better bloody work Parvati.” Harry muttered to his co-conspirator one day on the way back from creatures. “‘Cos if he doesn’t ask her no one will now. I’ve had to build Hermione‘s imaginary boyfriend up into some sort of vengeful superman to stop people asking her.”

“What‘s the latest story?” Parvati asked, interested.

“He‘s from spain. The Academia Atsingani.” Harry shrugged. “He‘s an amateur wizard bullfighter. Owns his own sword and shotgun.”

“Wizard bullfighter? With a shotgun?”

“It doesn‘t have to be likely it just has to be scary.”

“Well he‘s going to have to schmooze his girlfriend back.” Parvarti said knowingly. “Because Ron will ask her. Believe me.”

“Bet?”

“Galleon.”

“Done.” Harry sighed. “At least this way I can make something back out of this mess.”

“It‘ll all work out.” Parvati grinned. “Trust me.”

“Don‘t say that.” Harry shook his head. “I know I say it… but don‘t.”

“You can‘t complain…” But Parvati trailed off as they all began hearing a sound in the distance. “What‘s that?”

Harry perked his ears up. A few paces in front of them the rest of the marauders stopped too. It sounded like a whole punch of people yelling and moving, but behind that there was a low rumbling and…

“Singing?” Harry said incredulously.

“More like chanting.” Parvati disagreed.

“It sounds like choral singing.” Hermione said from in front of them.

“It‘s coming from out front.” Harry hurried forward. “Lets go!”

As one they rushed forward. As they neared the doors other students began to join them, teachers too. As they ran out onto the grass in front of the school Harry realized that the whole school was already out there, yelling and pointing. Harry saw Dumbledore gazing up into the sky, a look of wonder on his face. The other school heads flanked him, just as awed.

In the sky above Hogwarts floated a miracle of white marble. Columns, delicate as glass, flew up from a shining base and met a golden point above. Delicate traces of mirror-like silver snaked and shimmered over the surface, sending out rays of rainbows as it turned in the sunlight. The whole thing looked like some gigantic crystal , floating on white mist and breathing out beautiful music as it sank lower and lower and finally settled to the ground on the grass just inside the school gates.

Harry started forward but was brought up short as Dumbledore held up an arm. The school watched in rapt silence as a procession emerged from the floating palace. White-robed women walked side by side, carrying flaring magical torches. They split apart a little as they left it as if to make a path for someone in the middle. As they grew closer Harry saw that there was a figure in the middle, smaller than the other robed figures but wearing a crown of laurel leaves.

Harry yelled in happiness and dashed out from the crowd, ignoring Dumbledore’s cries of protest, and rushed towards the figure. Laughing, he ducked past the line of startled women and enveloped the middle one into a giant hug.

“Why didn‘t you tell me you were coming?” Harry laughed, releasing her and looking up into her pale, ethereal face.

“I wanted it to be a surprise for you.” Pythea said with a warm smile. “It‘s good to see you Harry.”
*


“Mr Potter!” Harry heard someone yell from behind him. He spun around and saw expressions ranging from shock, confusion and anger. Most of the Beauxbatons students were down on one knee and the ones from Durmstrang had their heads bowed in respect. His fellow Hogwarts students seemed more aghast than anything else, Dumbledore had his hands to his mouth with his eyes wide in shock. McGonnagall was almost vibrating in anger.

Turning further he saw something even more unnerving. Across the entire edge of the forest the centaurs had gathered, the entire herd. Every one of them was down on their knees with their hands clasped over their hearts.

Harry turned back around to face the school, no-one had moved.

“Why are they staring?” Harry whispered at Pythea. “And why are centaurs kowtowing to you?”

“Harry,” Pythea smiled. “They are staring because people do not usually hug the Delphic oracle or address her with familiarity.”

“And the centaurs?”

“They regard me as a demigod.”

“Oh…” Harry gulped. “…and I thought I was famous.”

“You are famous Harry.” The Oracle said, a strange note in her voice. “But I am something else.” She moved forward and Harry was forced to follow. They stopped in front of Dumbledore, Harry almost laughed when he saw that the Headmaster still had his hand to his mouth.

“Professor Dumbledore.” Pythea greeted the old man. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine.” Dumbledore seemed to recover himself and bent down to kiss the oracle’s hand. “I see you have… already met one of our school champions.”

“Harry and I met years ago and we have had correspondence since.” Pythea looked up and around at the towering castle in front of her. “Hogwarts is as beautiful as I have heard it described.”

“Thank you,” Dumbledore waved towards the great vaulted door of Hogwarts and a path opened in the student body. “As soon as your palace appeared in the sky I had the house elves prepare a suite of guest rooms for you and your handmaidens.”

“Thank you.” Pythea reached out and linked arms with a startled Harry. “Harry can show me up to the guest quarters.”

“Mr Potter does not know the passwords.”

“Headmaster,” Pythea shook her head, smiling. “You obviously don‘t know Harry as well as I do.”

Harry covered his mouth with his hand to conceal giggles as he walked the Oracle of Delphi between the rows of students and up to the doors of Hogwarts.

Harry tried not to listen to the whispers happening all around him, he could deal with that in the morning.

“How long are you staying?” Harry asked Pythea as he led her towards the guest quarters.

“Till after the second task.” She answered. “But I fear a lot of that will be taken up with functions down in London. No visit by someone like the myself can be entirely for leisure. You could say the tournament provides an excuse for politics. Many state representatives were invited by your government, when I heard you were competing I decided to take them up on it.”

“Didn‘t you already know I would be competing?” Harry teased. “And whether I‘ll win?”

“You put too much faith in oracles.”

“I have no faith in oracles. I have a great deal of faith in you.”

“That is sweet of you Harry.” Pythea said in surprise. “And surprisingly open.”

“Well get used to it.” Harry checked behind him, the handmaidens were following a good distance behind. Harry continued in a whisper. “You saved my life, from something had no right to survive. Even more, if I got the message straight, you risked your place at the temple too. And the only way I could thank you was through vaguely worded letters.”

“I got the message Harry.” Pythea smiled down at him.

“Good, but I‘ll say it again in person.” Harry slowed as they approached the guest wing. “Thank you for saving my life Thea.”

“You are most welcome.” The Oracle came to a stop outside the door. “And I would do it again.”

“I hope it won’t be necessary.” Harry turned to the door. “Bellevue.”

The door creaked open to reveal an elegant sitting room with many doors leading off it. Every piece of furniture sparkled with polish and a vase of fresh flowers sat on the center of the small table.

“The elves don‘t skimp do they?” Harry chuckled. He pointed to the rooms along the back wall. “Bedrooms are along there. All of them en-suite of course.”

“You‘ve been here before?” Pythea chuckled. “Were you meant to be?” Harry grinned and ignored her.

“If you need anything call the house elves. Alternatively if you need anything the marauders can provide call me. Now, for the most important thing…” Harry straightened up and put on a serious air. “Do you want us to try and distract Professor Trelawny or simply drug her for the duration of your visit.”
*


Harry looked at himself in the mirror and sighed, it was no good. It wasn’t that he thought he looked good or didn’t. It was more that he didn’t really have a concept of what he was supposed to look like. Everyone else seemed to take the dress robes and everything as a necessary irritation. Harry on the other hand had almost no opinion on them having never heard of them before reading his letter this year. Were they supposed to be this tight? Or flare out at the bottom like that? And what about his hair? Harry had always just let his hair do its own thing, cutting it back only when it began impairing his vision but now everyone else seemed to have acquired some level of personal grooming skills that he had somehow skipped.

He gave it up as a lost cause, allowing it to fall as it wanted to. He shrugged, what did it matter? He’d got a date so the hard part was done.

Except for the dancing.

“Yes, except for the dancing.” Harry though and grimaced. “Thank you very much for reminding me Mr Evil-half-of-my-brain.”

No problem.

“I don’t see why I‘m even doing this.” Ron muttered beside him. “I don‘t have a date.”

“Find one.” Harry answered distractedly. (other people had ties, was he meant to have a tie?) “It‘s not too late.”

“Harry, the dance is in…” Ron checked his watch. “… less than an hour.”

“So you‘d better get to it then.” Harry said flippantly, then asked. “Am I meant to have a tie?”

“Harry, your dress robes don’t have a collar.”

“You need a collar to wear a tie?”

Ron rolled his eyes. Harry shrugged and left the bathroom. In the common room the other marauders were already waiting, Padma and Neville standing a little way off. Neville looked nervous, but then Neville always looked nervous. Harry waved Parvati to one side,

“On the minus side we ruined our friends nights and made them miserable.” Harry growled angrily. “On the plus side you owe me a galleon.”

“Still time Harry.” Parvati smiled chirpily. “Trust me.”

“Don‘t say that. Stop saying that. I promise never to say it again if you stop saying it now.”

“Shut up and look.” Parvati hissed.

Harry looked where she was pointing. Hermione was sitting on one of the couches reading, she hadn’t even changed into dress robes which Harry assumed was a bad sign.

“I‘m looking but…”

“Look again.”

Harry followed her gaze again and saw that Ron had emerged from the bathroom. He then followed Ron’s to the couch were Hermione was sitting. Harry’s jaw dropped. He watched as Ron hesitantly walked up to stand in front of Hermione. Her head came up and she said something, across the crowded common room Harry couldn’t hear but it looked like ‘what?’. Ron scratched his head and mumbled something. Hermione put her hand up to her ear. Ron leant down and spoke into her ear, his face bright red. Then, to Harry’s heart-attack-inducing surprise, Hermione blushed as red as the boy standing in front of her.

“No way…” Harry chuckled as Hermione flipped her book closed and hurried towards the girls dormitory. He looked back towards Parvati, who was wearing an expression of total smugness.

“I‘ll take that galleon off you any time Harry.”

“You are the queen of the manipulative harpy-vultures you know that?” Harry said, flipping a galleon at his friend.

“From you Harry I take that as a complement.” Parvati snagged the coin and moved to follow Hermione. Harry saw that Padma and Ginny had both already gone up after her.

“Probably pulling off some sort of last minute Cinderella miracle.” Harry shrugged and moved over to where Ron and Neville were standing.

“Harry, did you see that! I-”

“I saw Ron,” Harry rolled his eyes and checked his watch. “It only took you four bloody years.”

“Hey!” Ron looked petulant and Harry laughed.

“Listen, they‘ll prob‘ly be a while.” Harry jerked a thumb back at the girls room. “And I need to open the dance. I‘ll meet up with you later Ok?”

Ron nodded and Neville chirruped.

“Ok.” The little nervous boy then nodded towards their red-headed friend and whispered. “And I‘ll try to keep him from screwing things up.”

“You‘re a marauder Neville…” Harry shook his head. “You‘re not god.”
*


Harry took a deep breath and walked down the steps into the entrance hall. There were a few other Hogwarts boys already waiting down there, huddled in nervous groups waiting for their dates. Harry waved to a few of them and settled down to wait, leant against pillar.

“What is that your wearing Potter?”

Harry rolled his eyes then realized that the effect was ruined by having them closed. He opened them to see Malfoy standing in front of him wearing jet black robes and with Pansy Parkinson on his arm.

“Just for one night Malfoy…” Harry sighed. “…leave off. Just try to be almost human for once.”

“Fine.” The Slytherin’s eye’s narrowed. “I‘ll stay away from you if you extend me the same courtesy.”

“I‘ll be out of your hair as soon as Susan gets here.” Harry glanced at the steps down to the kitchen but no one was coming.

“Susan Bones?” Malfoy queried, he almost sounded actually curious.

“Yes, why.”

“Just happy to see you‘ve asked a decent pure blood girl.” Malfoy drew himself up. “Just because your blood is tainted doesn‘t mean the Potter line has to go entirely to the dogs.”

“Ok, three things…” Harry held up three fingers. “One: Screw you!”

“Potter-”

“Two,” Harry interrupted him. “I asked her to a ball. That does not mean I intend to continue any line with her in the near future. If nothing else we‘re bloody fourteen! There are laws against that sort of thing.”

“I‘ll give you that one.”

“And three:…” Harry grinned. “I didn‘t ask her because she‘s pure blood.”

“Why did you ask her?” Malfoy sniped acidly. “Her other assets?”

“I reserve the right to not incriminate myself.” Harry cracked. “By the way, does your date speak or does she just hang there like seaweed?” Harry grinned at the indignant expression on Malfoy’s face.

“Well this has been lovely.” Harry continued as he kicked himself off his pillar. “We really should do this again.” He brushed past the angry pair and walked up to the figure that had appeared up the stairs.

“Hi Susan.” Harry greeted his date, biting his lip. She was wearing something blue and flowing, robe or dress or something he couldn’t really put a name on just now. His eyes traveled down then back up again swiftly. “You look amazing.”

“Thank you Harry.” Susan reached out and took his proffered hand. “You look hansom as well. Your dress robes are really… unusual.”

Harry caught the implication and looked down. His robes was deep red cloth that came out over his legs like regular robes but were buttoned in tight around his torso by two wide rows of buttons. It’s long sleeves hugged his arms tightly but opened out right at the cuff to reveal the lighter lining. Plus, as Ron had noted, it ended at his neck with just a stub of a collar.

“I bought them in Switzerland.” Harry shrugged. “Must be a different style than here in Britain. Oh well…”

“No it‘s nice.” Susan said reassuringly. “I saw some of the Beauxbatton boys wearing robes like that.”

Harry shrugged, robes weren’t of any particular concern to him. The shop he had bought them in had had hundreds of robes in huge ranks. He had chosen these for two reasons. One, they didn’t have all the lace and trimmings and extravagant embroidery that most of the others had had and two (and Harry cringed to admit this to himself) they had looked like they would be easy to fight or run in if anything happened.

“Ready to open the dance.” Harry asked, knowing that he himself wasn’t.

“I think I‘ll do ok. My mother gave me lessons once.”

“Lucky.” Harry smiled ruefully. A moment later McGonagall appeared, as if from nowhere.

“Well get to it.” She snapped quickly. “The other champions are already lining up to enter the hall.”

Here we go. Harry gulped as they got into position.

“Nervous Potter?”

“Just don‘t trip over your seaweed and fall on me Malfoy.” Harry’s automatic witticism circuits responded for him while the rest of his brain shivered with nervousness.

“And… go.” McGonagall’s voice rang out and the doors to the great hall opened slowly, revealing an winter wonderland decorated with sparkling snow and ice sculptures. Harry just hoped it wouldn‘t make the floor slippery. He took Susan’s hand and stepped forward purposely.

The hall was full of couples but a space was clear in the center. A very large space, that everyone was staring at.

“Oh great.” Harry sighed as the music started up.

Harry let his mind drift back to the ten minutes of very rough dancing lesson that Parvati had given him yesterday. After he had broken down and begged.

“One two three one two three…” Harry counted off the beats in his head and tried not to step on his partners shoes. He found that so long as he kept to a very restrictive and repetitive routine it actually wasn’t too bad. “One two three…”

“This is so romantic.” Susan murmured. “Like a fairytale.”

“Yes it is, one two three.” Damn! I can’t talk and count at the same time. Why didn’t I ask a mute seaweed girl?

“Do you think we could get them to have a ball every year?”

“Probably one two not three.”

“They might if enough of us asked them too.”

“I don‘t one two think so. one two thr… darn!” Harry almost fouled up his footwork and let himself breath. He stopped counting, hopefully by now his feet could work out the rhythm on their own. “If they did the students would never come home for Christmas and then their parents would complain.”

“I guess.” Susan leant in and rested her head on Harry’s shoulder. Harry chuckled as he was reminded again of their relative heights. “I guess I‘ll just have to enjoy this one.”

“Enjoying it so far?” Harry drew her in closer.

“Yes.” Susan smiled cheekily. “You?”

“Yes.” Harry answered, and found that he meant it. The dancing wasn’t nearly as bad as he had thought it would be. The music stopped and Harry realized that he had survived the only dance that was required of him that evening. He glanced back at the blond Hufflepuff in front of him and grinned. “Stay in for the next one?”
*


Six dances later and Harry felt like he was almost getting comfortable with it when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked around to see one of the Durmstrum students that he didn’t know.

“May I cut in?” The boy said, with very little accent. Harry glance at Susan, who nodded. She seemed to know the guy somehow. Harry stepped aside and the two of them moved off, Susan giving him a little wave as they went.

Harry walked off the dance floor, snagged a glass of something off a tray and moved to somewhere where he could see the entire floor. It was time to check up on things. Harry chuckled and sipped the whatever-it-was as his eyes scanned the hall.

He found Parvati first, who seemed to be choosing which of a several boys who were all clustered around her to lead out over the dance floor next. She caught his eye, smiled and subtly pointed to her right.

Harry followed her gaze and found Ron and Hermione sitting by one of the huge tables full of food. Ron at least seemed to be talking between bouts of eating and he’d spotted them out on the dance floor earlier so that was probably alright. Hermione looked happy at any rate.

He couldn’t find Neville and Padma anywhere but Ginny seemed to be happily talking with some Ravenclaw or other. Harry shrugged and took another sip of what he suspected was champagne charmed to be non-alcoholic. Everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Except that he now didn’t have a dancing partner. He searched around for a familiar face and found one before walking over.

“Miss Delacour.” He held his hand out to the seated Beauxbattons champion. “Would you care to embarrass me by dancing ten times better than I ever could?”

The French girl smiled and took his hand.

“But of courze.” She stood and he led her out onto the dance floor.

Harry settled into the rhythm of the new song and got used to dancing with someone taller than him. Since he was at least a foot shorter than her that put his eyes right about level with her-

“So…“ Harry interrupted his own mental monologue. “Enjoying the dance so far? Not been bothered by too many pushy students?”

“I know how to deal with zem.” Fleur replied haughtily, but Harry detected a trace of humor in her response. “The only problem was our fellow champion.”

“I‘m guessing we‘re not talking about Viktor.” Harry said and she shook her head. “By the way we can talk in French if you want.”

“My English iz better than your French I think.” Fleur replied pointedly.

“Probably.” Harry shrugged. “Would you like me to try and keep Malfoy away from you for the rest of the ball?”

“Non, I can deal with him.” Fleur laughed, the movement was very interesting for Harry in his current position and he tried to stop the blush spreading to his cheeks.

The song ended and Harry stepped back. Fleur curtsied politely and Harry bowed as he’d seen the French boys doing after they finished their dances. He caught Fleur looking over his shoulder and followed her gaze to see a pair of seventh years moving off the dance floor.

“Iz he taken?” Fleur asked with a smile.

“Not anymore.” Harry winked and turned to ask the boys partner for a dance.

She turned out to be giggly and talkative so Harry let her babble on for the duration of the dance before moving off gratefully and sitting on one of the benches by the food. He nabbed a couple of the remaining tidbits and lay back relaxed. He had been on his feet since the beginning of the ball and it felt good just to take a few moments to himself.

“So…”

Knew it was too good to be true.

“… you are friends with the Pythea?”

Harry glanced to his left and saw Igor Karkaroff sitting next to him, an intent expression on his face.

“We know each other.” Harry said warily giving nothing away.

“Of course a man of your standing probably knows many people in high places.”

“Standing.” Harry didn’t make it a question but the Headmaster answered anyway.

“As the boy-who-lived.”

“Oh that.” Harry nodded. “Yes that’s me.”

“I think that we perhaps got off on the wrong foot.” Karkaroff said in a simpering manner.

“Do you now.” Harry tried to find an exit from the conversation but couldn’t think of one.

“I would like for you to think of me as a friend.”

“Stop two’ing me then.”

“I could… give you higher marks.” Karkaroff said slyly.

“Oh! No no!” Harry said quickly, realizing what his flippant remark could have been interpreted as. “Just stop being unfairly harsh.”

“Of course.” Once again the simpering tone. “And perhaps we could… do something… together.”

Harry sighed.

“Perhaps during the school Holliday you could visit Dumstrum.”

“This holiday I‘m going to… Kenya.” Harry said a country at random.

“I could treat you to a wizard concert at one of the grand halls in Europe.”

“Can’t, allergies. All the dust and stuff.”

“Or… we could…” Karkaroff seemed to be casting around for another activity. “Take the Durmstrum ship and go fishing, as friends.”

“Are you trying to ask me out?” Harry said tersely, tired of the conversation. “I‘m flattered but you‘re too old for me.”

“I just want you to feel comfortable asking me for favors.” Karkaroff said expansively. “That is what friends do… help each other. Introduce each other to other friends…”

Harry groaned inwardly.

“That sort of thing.” Karkaroff finished with a fake smile. “Whatever you need. What's mine is yours.”

I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty-

“Thank you.” Harry nodded. “I‘ll think about it. But for now I‘ve just remembered I promised someone a dance.”

Harry stood quickly and whistled softly. A moment later a glowing figure drifted up through the floor.

“You remembered!” Myrtle cried happily.

“Of course I did.” Harry reached out and took her icy hand. “Didn‘t think I‘d forget about you did you.”

Harry led the ghost out onto the dance floor, away from the startled Headmaster.
*


Harry gave Ginny up to a Beauxbatons student and sat back down on a bench. Now he had danced with all the female marauders. Parvati had spent most of the time crowing that all her predictions had come true, Padma was very terse about where she had disappeared to with Neville, Hermione seemed exasperated with Ron and Harry couldn’t work out whether it was normal arguing or an actual problem, Ginny was just giddy and sparkly. Of all of them Myrtle had actually danced the best, at some point in her pre-ghost life she had obviously practiced for more than ten minutes. Harry made a mental note to ask for lessons if there ever was another dance.

Harry glanced up at the clock and realized that there couldn’t be too many more dances left. He needed to save the last one for Susan but there were a few to go before that.

Harry glanced around and realized that there was one person he hadn’t seen on the dance floor yet. His eyes found her sitting over by one of the ice sculptures, her own pure-white robes making her look almost like part of the decoration.

“Hi Thea.” Harry greeted and sat down next to her. “Haven’t seen you on the dance floor much.”

“Dumbledore was polite enough to dance with me a few times.” The Oracle said, smiling. “Everyone else seems to be intimidated.”

“You should have said.” Harry frowned, then grinned cheekily and winked. “I‘d have set ‘em straight.”

“It‘s quite alright.” Pythea laughed. “I get invited to a quite a few balls.”

“Well there‘s time for a few more dances.” Harry held his hand out. “Come on.”

“Thank you Harry.” Pythea took his hand and they walked out into the dance floor.

They swayed to the music for a while, Harry finding his rhythm.

“Are you still wearing it?” Pythea asked suddenly.

“The necklace?” Harry smiled and drew the chain out from the front of his robes. “Always.”

“Good.” Pythea grew serious for a moment. “Always keep it on. You will need it.”

“Soon?” Harry looked into the Oracle’s mismatched eyes. “Do you see me needing it soon?”

“I see nothing.” Pythea said enigmatically and broke his gaze before tucking the little shell back into his dress robes. “But yes, I don‘t think it will be too much longer before you need it.”

“You‘re still not gonna tell me what it does?”

“No.”

“Brat.”

Pythea smiled and they danced another song without speaking. A suspicion began to grow in Harry’s mind.

“Pythea?” Harry said, suspiciously. “You said you get invites to lots of balls?”

“Yes?”

“Do you answer any of them?”

“W… why?” A little quaver entered the oracle’s voice.

“You‘re counting.” Harry grinned.

“I am?” Her eye’s opened wide.

“One two three one two three.” Harry nodded. “Under your breath, I doubt anyone else noticed.”

“Dumbledore?”

“Oh no he probably noticed.” Harry nodded. “You‘ve never been to a ball before either have you?”

“I have… had dancing lessons at the temple.” Pythea said, a little defensively. A moment later she sagged, dejectedly. “I haven‘t been the Pythea very long.”

“How long?”

“The year you visited was my first.” Pythea whispered into his ear. “I wasn‘t allowed to attend events until my training was finished so as to avoid embarrassment. It wouldn‘t do to make mistakes.”

“Embarrassment? Counting is embarrassing?”

“Harry didn‘t you see how everyone acted when I got here?” Pythea spoke quietly into his ear. “I have been trained since before I can remember to be the eternal Pythea. Since the day I was taken from my parents. I am supposed to be the unchanging likeness of the first Oracle, thousands of years ago. Anything other than perfection is embarrassing.”

“Wow, well it‘s ok.” Harry winked. “I won‘t say anything and I‘m sure Dumbledore won‘t. He‘s too polite.”

“Thank you Harry.” Pythea seemed to be surprisingly relieved. “If they found out about a slip like that they wouldn’t let me out again for a long time.”

“Let you out?” Harry shuddered. The floating temple of the oracle with its vines, high above the ground below suddenly took on more sinister connotations in his mind. Harry hesitated, then decided to speak what was on his mind. “Are you… lonely there?”

“Sometimes.” Pythea said it matter-of-factly, like it was an inevitable fact of life.

“I could visit this summer.” Harry offered.

“That… that would be lovely.” Pythea said sadly. “But I do not think Dumbledore would approve.”

“He ain‘t the boss of me.” Harry grinned.

“No, he is not.” Pythea sighed. “But I think by this summer you may be busy.” She reached out and pressed her hand against the shell pendent under Harry’s robes, then stepped aside, smiling sadly.

Harry was confused for a moment then realized that it was the last dance, she was stepping aside so he could find Susan. Harry waved a thank-you to her then scanned the Hall to find his date.

“Over here Harry!”

Harry hurried over to the splash of blue he could see among the other robes and took Susan’s hand just as the music started.

“Whew.” Harry smiled. “Just in time.”

“We sort of lost track of each other in the middle there didn‘t we?” Susan said as they began to move to the slow rhythm of the last dance.

“We started the dance together and we‘re ending it together.” Harry shrugged. “The bit in the middle got a bit fuzzy but I still had fun.”

“So did I.” Susan moved closer and Harry hesitantly put his arms around her waist. “But I wish we had spent more time together.”

“I‘ll have to make it up to you sometime.” Harry looked into his dates eyes. “Like next Hogsmeade weekend?”

“You‘re still not official allowed to go to Hogsmeade.”

“By now they‘ve probably stopped trying to stop me.” Harry quipped.

“Then I‘d love to go with you.”

“Great.” Harry grinned.

“My parents are coming to see the second task.” Susan said suddenly. “They‘d love to meet you.”

Second task?… I still need to work out the bloody egg.

Harry groaned inwardly. Something always had to ruin it.
*


Harry led Susan back to the Hufflepuff common room and strolled back up through the darkened castle. When he reached the Gryffindor common room almost everyone had already retired. The only one still in the room was Neville, nodding off in a chair by the fire.

“Nev?” Harry poked him awake. “Why are you still up?”

“Oh Harry…” Neville rubbed his eyes. “Just waiting for you to get here. Someone had to stay to tell you.”

“Tell me what?” Harry’s eye’s narrowed.

“Um…”

“Where‘s your date?”

“Up with Hermione. All the girls are.” Neville said dejectedly.

“They are? Why…” Suddenly Harry worked it out and groaned. “What did Ron do?”

“He um… looked at Fleur.” Neville said evasively. “Like, not at her face. And for a long time too, about five minutes when Hermione was right there.”

“What did Hermione say?” Harry asked, dreading the answer.

“She wasn‘t happy.” Neville shook his head. “But it was what Ron said that really ticked her off.”

“What did Ron say?” Harry could just feel the freight train approaching.

“Something along the lines of…” Neville’s brow creased as he tried to remember. “‘What do you expect? They’re right there and they’re huge.’”

Harry covered his face with his hands and sank into an armchair.

“You‘re kidding me?”

“No.”

“That really sucks.”

“He could have said a lot of worse things.” Neville pointed out.

“Like what?” Harry challenged.

“Like ‘They’re better than yours which are small and underdeveloped.’ or ‘Shut up you’re blocking my view.’”

“Ok ok!” Harry laughed, covering his mouth to stifle the giggles. “The trouble is I can actually see Ron saying that.”

“Well…” Neville spread his hands, “We tried.”

“We did.” Harry nodded. “It‘s up to Ron now. How‘d your evening go?”

“Kind of got ruined by all this.” Neville shrugged sadly.

“Where did you disappear to early on?” Harry asked slyly.

“We… we went to the rose garden. But we didn‘t do anything.” Neville quickly added. “We kind of decided to stay just friends for now.”

“Guess its just as well.” Harry sighed. “I‘m already trying to juggle too many ships.”

“Keeps the audience guessing.”
*


The atmosphere around the marauders in the weeks after the ball could best be described as ‘icy’. Harry tried to break the frozenness between the two camps. Well, two camps was an exaggeration. There was the girls, there was Ron and there was Harry and Neville trying to remain out of sight by the sidelines.

The two boys dealt with the situation in the most mature way they could think of. They hid in the library. Any time they actually had to be present, like lessons or meals, they tried to keep quiet on the edges so as not to be tarred with the same brush as Ron. Harry tried to make conversation at breakfast though, in spurts.

“What lesson do we have first?”

“It‘s Saturday.” Parvati said flatly.

“Ah, right.” Harry said lamely.

Hermione snorted and flicked open the daily prophet. Harry looked over at Ron who was sulking over his bowl of cereal. Harry mouthed the work ‘apologize’ at him but he pretended not to notice. Harry mouthed it again, followed by the words ‘or else’. Ron just hunched lower. Harry sighed and turned back.

“Anything in the news?” Harry asked desperately. “Any more unusual deaths?”

“No, just a regular one.” Hermione shrugged. “An old witch in Dorset named Lady Ellen Hayward.”

“Suspicious?” Harry asked, interested.

“She was over a hundred and fifty years old Harry.” Hermione answered dismissively. “Even witches and wizards die eventually. It‘s sad but it‘s not suspicious.”

Not if you don’t look too closely.

Harry sat bolt upright. Had he really heard that or had he imagined it?

You heard it.

Harry looked around surreptitiously, trying to gauge where the voice could be coming from. It sounded familiar… Harry’s eye’s led him up to the high table and along to where Pythea sat, watching him quietly over a plate full of cut fruit.

Good morning Harry.

“Good morning Thea.” Harry thought and saw her smile. “How was London?”

London was wonderful Harry. The politicians that inhabit it however are akin to poisonous sea slugs. Slippery and spiky at the same time.

“You didn‘t have fun then?” Harry projected sarcastically.

I prefer Hogwarts.

“Fireworks over the Thames though,” Harry thought back. “For new-years, that‘s always good. I saw a few of them when I lived in London.”

Oh yes, I’d almost forgotten. Pythea smiled wryly. One day of light and beauty and four weeks of conferences.

“Such is life.”

Stop trying to be sagely Harry. With me that’s a contest you won’t win. I’m surprised you took in the displays though, weren’t you busy trying to survive?

“Are you kidding?” Harry laughed in his mind. “Everyone looking at the sky, no one watching their pockets, it’s dark and noisy… you see where I‘m going with this.”

I should have known. Pythea chuckled But we’ve got distracted from the point. She pointed at the paper in front of her and looked down at the obituary. Interesting isn‘t it…

“Is there something I‘m missing?” Harry pulled a copy over towards himself and scanned the text.

There didn‘t seem to be anything there. Harry looked back at the front page but had no connection, it was just some scandal involving the minister of magic and some accusation of embezzlement. Harry flicked to the back page. The Chudley Cannons had lost another game (wonderful week for Ron). There didn‘t seem to be anything else interesting. Harry shook his head.

“I don‘t see it. Did someone stand to inherit or something?”

Possibly, but that was not what I was referring to. Pythea smiled mysteriously.

“Have you… you know… seen something?”

You don’t have to be an Oracle to see what I’m talking about. Pythea closed the paper and looked around the hall. The paper is only half the story.

“The other half is…?”

Guess.

“Brat.” Harry muttered and his head was filled with silent laughter.

I’ll give you a clue. Words are nothing until someone reads them.

Harry thought for a long moment, then smiled.

“People‘s reactions.” Harry thought hesitantly, and was rewarded with a nod. Harry cast around the hall. “Who‘s reading?” He scanned the hall and found Dumbledore, bent over the paper. It looked like it was open to the right page.

“Dumbledore? Is he reading it?”

Yes. But is that unusual?

“Well…” Harry tried to put it together in his head. “They were about the same age, maybe they even went to school together. It‘s not surprising he‘s taking an interest.”

Good, who else?

Harry scanned further and alighted on an unlikely candidate.

“Malfoy?” The blond Slytherin was just staring at the open page in front of him, his face ashen and unreadable. Harry could even see his chest rising and falling rapidly from across the room. As Harry watched the champion he grabbed the paper off the table and walked quickly out of the hall.

“Ok, I admit,” Harry thought, nodding. “That was interesting. But what does it mean?”

It’s a puzzle Harry. You like puzzles don’t you?

“I have too many of them right now but usually yes.” Harry shrugged. “But I don‘t know what to make of this.”

That’s because you do not have all the pieces. Pythea projected cryptically. You will have to try and find them.

Harry felt the presence leave his mind.

“Harry?”

“W… whut?” Harry shook his head, confused.

“Harry are you OK?” Parvati was saying, the Marauders were all staring at him. “You‘ve been staring into space for like five minutes.”

“And muttering to yourself.” Ginny added. “You looked kind of weird.”

Harry stood up suddenly.

“I need to go to Dorset.”

“You… What?!”

“But first I need to talk to your brothers.” Harry set off down the table quickly, a determined look on his face.

Behind him the Marauders looked on aghast. Padma voiced what they were all thinking,

“Is it me or is he getting weirder?”
________________________________________




Yes, I know the chapter's a little fluffy. It had to be, you can't really write a yule ball that's not.

Review anyway. Pretty please!

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A small part of this is rather obviously lifted directly out of Goblet of Fire.
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Harry slid out of the lake and dried himself off. He set the plastic bag he had drawn across the water on the ground and ripped it open. He lifted his leather bag out and set it back on his shoulders before setting off at a jog towards Hogsmeade.

As he neared the village he flicked it open and pulled a magical mask out that made him look wizened and old. He also threw a tattered black cloak over his Hogwarts robes and walked into the Hogs Head. He didn’t look at the clientele, already smelling of firewhisky at ten in the morning, and stepped up to the bar.

“I need to use the flue.” Harry said. He didn’t bother to conceal his voice, the barman was undoubtedly used to stranger than him and even if not he probably wouldn‘t care. The barman grunted and pointed towards a greasy sign.

Flue for customers only

“I‘ll have a butterbeer then.” Harry took the proffered bottle and drank it in one swallow before walking over to the fireplace and spinning himself to the leaky cauldron.

Harry rushed into Diagon alley, feeling very exposed even in his disguise. He reached the steps of Gringots and stepped inside it’s columned entrance. He emerged a few minutes later with a small bag of muggle money. He wasn’t worried about the goblins ratting him out, confidentiality was a given with them.

Harry had one last errand to run in Diagon before he left. He reached into his bag and popped the first of the twins gifts into his mouth. Instantly he felt his throat constrict and grow scratchy, he coughed deeply and people in the street turned to look at him. It got a little better after a few moments but it still felt raw.

He tried to talk and his voice came out old and leathery. Perfect. Hurt like hell but perfect for concealing his voice.

He walked into the apothecaries, taking care to make his step a little faltering and weak.

“Hello my good man.” Scratchy and nasty like a lifelong smoker. “Do you have any fox urine?”

“Fox… urine?” The man behind the counter looked at him like he was mad.

“Yes, I need it for a potion.”

“No potion I know of utilizes fox urine.”

“How ‘bout wolf urine?” Harry asked, stepping up to the counter. “Do you have wolf urine?”

“No.” The shopkeeper was just staring at him now. “No we don‘t have wolf urine. Now can you-”

“Weasel?”

“No now…” The shopkeeper paused for a moment. “We do have weasel musk…”

“Yes that‘ll be perfect.” Harry smiled through his leathery mask. The shopkeeper hesitated. “You have some sort of problem?”

“I don’t have a problem.” The shopkeeper rolled his eyes and stepped into the room behind his desk. “How much do you need.”

“About a gallon.”

“A GALLON!…” There was the sound of angry muttering and sloshing from the storeroom. A few minutes later the man stepped back behind the desk with a large glass bottle full of yellow liquid. The cork was sealed on with red wax. “Do you know how many weasels you have to milk to get this much?”

“How much?” Harry ignored the question and drew out his wallet. The shopkeeper told him and Harry paid happily.

“Have fun.” The shopkeeper said dryly. “Whatever you‘re planning to do…”

Harry dropped the bottle into his bottomless bag and stepped out of the shop. He changed out of his robes in the cauldron’s toilet and slid quickly out into muggle London.

He stepped quickly along the roads at once both familiar and deeply alien. It was as if he had had two lives, the one he had lived on these streets and the of magic and wonder at Hogwarts. Now it was like the two were colliding and he felt confused, felt like a little kid again but at the same time he could feel how far he’d come. His instincts didn’t know how to react and he found himself searching for places to hide or run while at the same time fingering his wand hidden in his sleeve.

He was glad when he finally set foot in Waterloo station and could buy a ticket to Bournemouth. The train was a surreal experience, sitting close to the window and flying past the world he was no longer part of.

It took more than two hours to get there, ample time to spin his thought round and round in his head. He tried to work out exactly how stupid he was being. ‘Very’, he decided. Very, very stupid. He didn’t know what would happen to him if it was discovered that he had snuck out of Hogwarts. Hogsmeade was one thing but this… And if he was discovered once he got there? At the sight of a recent death?

Very, very, very stupid.

Harry shut his eyes and focused on the one thing telling him he was doing the right thing.

“Pythea sent me here.” Harry nodded and bit his lip as he repeated the mantra over and over in his head. “And if the Oracle of Delphi tells you to do something… then it‘s not stupid to do it.”

Harry really wished the words didn’t sound so hollow.

He left the train and got on a bus. He left the bus in the middle of a field of scrub and chalky ground. The sea was just out of sight but he could hear the waves crashing against the rocks, ominous and threatening.

The bus driver had looked at him weird when he’d asked to be let out in the middle of nowhere. Harry knew better, it was only the middle of nowhere to muggles. Harry shucked his bag up higher on his shoulders and walked towards the sound of the waves, towards the stately white manor house near the edge of the cliffs.

It was blindingly obvious where the edge of the wards were. Someone had laid grass and flowers right up to an invisible line on the ground, scrub gave way to garden like it was cut with a razor. Harry wondered why there wasn’t a wall around the property. Either the woman who lived there trusted the wards implicitly or she liked the view too much to block it away.

And the view was spectacular. The cliffs arching away to either side and the sea stretching into the distance. It was an impressive panorama, enough to impress anyone. Anyone other than a aquaphobe. Harry shuddered and tried to keep the sea out of view.

He pulled the massive bottle of musk out of his bag. It took him a minute to work the stopper out. He went up as close to the wards as he dared and started dribbling the foul smelling stuff onto the ground. He poured it in as close to a semicircle as he could manage, the other end of the ark also touching the wards, boxing him in.

Harry corked the bottle again and pushed it back into his bag. Now came the risky part. He pulled out the second of the twins gifts to him, a little chocolate bon-bon. He hesitated, cringing for a moment as he realized he still had musk on his fingers, then popped it in his mouth.

Instantly he felt his stomach clench, a moment later white fur spread over his hands and arms. He just had time to feel his ears begin to shoot up his head before his mind went blank.
*


The rabbit twitched it’s nose and looked around. It felt like something was wrong, something was different, but it couldn’t work out what.

Mind you it was a rabbit so it couldn’t try very hard.

It raised its head and sniffed the air. There was a strange odor… Weasel! It could smell a weasel! Was it nearby? The bunny took a couple of slow hops, no the smell was stronger here. It dashed the other way, getting desperate. Stronger here too!

The bunny broke into a run in the other direction, shooting across the ground into a flowerbed. It dashed under the vines of a pumpkin plant and sat there shivering. It would just wait here, wait here until-
*


“Well,” Harry stood, brushed a pumpkin leaf out of his hair and shook the dirt from his robes. “That worked like a charm.”

Harry shook his head to clear the last of the bunny-ness from it and checked to make sure he didn’t still have a tail.

“Any-ward, any-where, any-time.” Harry chuckled and set off towards the house.

The back door was unlocked and Harry slid in, careful not to touch anything too much. He didn’t know whether wizards knew how to check DNA or fingerprints but he wasn’t taking any chances. Harry looked around at the large kitchen he had walked into, an army of house elves probably worked there just a few days ago. Now it was silent.

Harry pushed open another door and, after a short corridor, found himself in a high-ceilinged dining room. It held elegant chandeliers and a long mahogany table, it had silver candlesticks and sumptuous red-velvet curtains. It also held no indication of ever having been used any time this century.

This had been the home of one old woman living alone Harry remembered. She probably didn’t eat in the grand dining room, didn‘t use most of these rooms probably. He was proved right when a few doors down he found a smaller study. This room showed signs of use, the book on the table by the window ever had a bookmark in it, near the end. She hadn’t had a chance to finish it.

Another small table was obviously in use as a workbench. A small flipbook lay open, as Harry moved closer he saw it was filled with pressed flowers.

Harry suddenly felt a lump form above his heart. He had realized what he was really doing here. Invading the house of a dead woman. He considered turning around right there but shook his head, steeling himself against what he was doing. Pythea had sent him here, that meant he was supposed to be here.

Harry left the study and checked the only other door he hadn’t tried. It opened onto a grand entrance hall with white marble tiles and columns holding up the balcony on the first floor. The staircase came down the middle, spreading out near the bottom.

Unfortunately the dramatic effect of the room was ruined by the large transport boxes that were stacked in a pile by one side of the stares.

Whatever vulture had stood to inherit obviously hadn’t wasted any time.

Harry was about the check the room across the hall when he heard something. He went still and tried to pinpoint it, it was coming from upstairs. Harry tiptoed up to the landing, it was echoing along the corridor, a kind of sniffling noise.

One of the doors near the end was ajar. Harry crept towards it as the noise got louder. It sounded like someone sobbing. Harry tried to peer through the crack in the door but saw nothing. He pushed the door just lightly with his foot and something came into his field of view. Harry was so shocked he didn’t even notice as the door swung open.

The room looked like a reading room, or a second study maybe, bookshelves covered every wall but one. The whole back wall was a massive window looking out, offering a massive panorama over the garden behind the house, the wild scrub beyond that and the sea stretching to infinity beyond that. There was a armchair set right in the middle, where someone could look out over the sea. The arms of it were clearly worn, someone had spent a long lime sitting in that chair. But that wasn’t what had shocked Harry.

There was a boy sitting there in the middle of the room, collapsed on the floor on his knees. Under his thick black robes his chest was racked with sobs. He had his hands over his face and his fingers curled into his white-blond hair.

Malfoy.

Harry just stood there, it was as if his body had been frozen. He must have made some motion because a moment later Malfoy’s head jerked up and Harry’s green eyes met the watery grey ones staring up at him.

There was a moment when no one moved, then Malfoy’s face flickered from grief to disbelief, disbelief to confusion and confusion to rage.

“Stupefy!”

Harry threw himself back into the corridor as the spell shot past his shoulder. Harry drew his wand and shot a bludgeoning hex at Malfoy but found to coming back at him a moment later. Harry was forced back down the corridor as the enraged Slytherin threw hex after hex at him.

“Confringo!” Harry shot at a marble bust by Malfoy’s head and the blast caused him to duck and stumble.

“Ferio!” The spell hit Malfoy in the side and sent him to the floor

“Petrificus To-”

“Expelliarmus!”

Harry felt his wand jerked out of his hand. He tried to grab it but it slipped through his fingers and landed in Malfoy’s open palm. A moment later a glowing curse hit him in the face like a ball of needles and threw him to the floor.

As Harry shivered in pain and tried to shake off the feeling that his face was being grated a shadow passed over him.

“Now Potter.” Malfoy grated. “We‘re going to have a long talk about why you‘re here and what I‘m going to do to you.”

“I doubt it.” Harry snarled and kicked Malfoy’s feet out from under him. Some spell pin-wheeled over Harry’s head and he ducked to the floor. He leapt at Malfoy and grabbed both his arms to stop him casting more spells. Malfoy was writhing and spitting to try and get him off. Harry head butted him in the chin and he yelled out in pain.

Somehow Malfoy managed to get a hand free and stabbed his fingers into Harry’s throat. Harry grabbed Malfoy’s hair and jerked him away. Harry shot back and managed to find his feet, he saw Malfoy rise and bring his wand to bear. Harry reacted on instinct and launched himself, shoulder first, into the Slytherins’s stomach. They both flew backwards and Harry heard a loud crash of splintering wood. The two boys dropped like stones, far further than they should have.

It was only then that Harry remembered they had been fighting on the upstairs landing.

“Oh great,” Harry thought in that moment as he brought up his hands to cover his head. “This is going to hurt far too much.”

The marble floor rose to meet him. Harry felt the impact in every bone and muscle, like some shockwave had shot through him and broken everything. He winced and tried to push himself up. The instant his left hand hit the floor a shot of pain ran through him and he gingerly pulled it back.

Broken wrist. Wonderful.

Harry stood on shaky legs and looked over at where Malfoy had fallen. The slimy pure blood was whimpering into the floor so he was probably alive. Harry walked over and snatched both their wands from where they‘d rolled. Malfoy was bleeding from somewhere. Harry knelt by him and pushed him over to get a better look.

“Oh stop crying you big baby.” Harry said disgustedly. “You‘ve only got a broken nose.”

“It hurts.”

“That‘s why they call them broken.” Harry shrugged and stood. “What the hell are you doing here anywhere?”

“I could ask you the same.” Malfoy shot back, looking very silly. He was trying to pull of imperial arrogance with blood dripping from his nose.

“Yes you could. You wouldn‘t get an answer though because I hold all the cards.” Harry grinned. “Oh, did I say cards? I meant wands!” Harry lowered his towards the boy on the floor. “Tell me why you‘re here! Why did you sneak out of Hogwarts to come here?”

“I have more right to be here than you do.” Malfoy pulled himself up to a sitting position and wiped the blood off his face with a sleeve. “Why shouldn’t I visit Ellen‘s house?”

“You know she‘s dead?”

“Yes Potter that‘s painfully obvious.” Malfoy sneered. “I‘m here because she‘s an old family friend. What‘s your excuse?”

“Following a tip.” Harry’s head snapped back as a loud bell rang out across the hall.

“That‘s the wards.” Malfoy said, surprised.

Harry ran to the front door and peered out from between the curtains. He saw a flash of black robe and jerked back, his feet skidding on the floor.

“Aurors!” There wasn’t time to leave the hall, Harry dove behind a pile of boxes just as the boor handle began to turn. He felt Malfoy slide in beside him. The two boys waited in deathly silence as the door creaked open.

“Signs of a struggle sir.” Harry heard a girls voice say. “Broken banister, blood on the floor.”

“More than a simple looting call then.” A deep voice, heavy.

“Perhaps they fought with the homeowner?” A second male voice, younger, suggested.

“Didn‘t you read the note?” Girly said irritably. “The homeowner‘s dead. That‘s the whole reason we‘re here.”

“Trainee Nymphadora is correct.” Deep agreed. “There shouldn‘t be any magic at this premise, let alone underage magic.”

Harry groaned silently. Of course. The ministry could detect underage magic, and he and Malfoy had been throwing spells around like they were back at Hogwarts.

“We are idiots,” Harry thought. He turned and his eyes met Malfoy’s, he could tell the other boy was thinking the same thing.

“So maybe the looters fought each other.” The male trainee was saying. “Arguing over spoils?”

“Possible.” Deep sounded as if he was just tolerating this youngster. “We cannot know at present.”

“Should I take a blood sample?”

Malfoy’s eyes shot wide open.

“No, we search the house first. They could still be here. Jandred you stay here and make sure they do not try to leave by the front door. Nymphadora, with me.”

Harry heard footsteps move away to the door towards the dining room. His mind was already churning possibilities. If they took the blood, they would find it was Malfoy’s and arrest him. At which point Malfoy would turn Harry over in a heartbeat.

Harry drew his wand and disillusioned himself as quietly as possible. He heard Malfoy hiss something behind him but ignored him. Harry peered out from behind a box and saw that the man, Jandred, was looking the other way. Harry slid out from behind the box and moved closer as silently as he was able.

Should have silenced my feet.

Harry cursed himself for forgetting but kept tiptoeing closer. When he was within a few meters of the patch of blood on the floor he whispered,

“Scourgify!” The blood disappeared and Harry shot behind a pillar just as the trainee auror turned around.

Harry forced himself to breath shallowly and quietly. A long moment went past but the man didn’t seem to notice that the blood was gone. Harry looked over and saw that Malfoy had made his way to a side door and was beckoning to him from behind it.

Harry waited until the auror turned back and then slunk towards the blond Slytherin. He went sideways to get through the door.

“Where are we going?” Harry mouthed but Malfoy ignored him and walked quietly along the corridor. At the other end he pushed on a section of wall and Harry was amazed to see it swing inwards. A secret door!

Harry followed quickly behind and closed the door behind him.

“Where are we?”

“Servant’s passages Potter.” Malfoy seemed to be able to make even a whisper a sneer. “All true old pure blood houses have them so the servants can move around without getting underfoot.”

“Thought you used house elves?” Harry said disparagingly as they made their way through the dusty corridor.

“There was a time when it was seen as a mark of true wealth to be able to afford wizards slaves as well.” Malfoy ducked under a massive cobweb. “Alas those times have passed.”

“Oh for the good old days.” Harry said sarcastically.

Malfoy came to a stop near a trapdoor in the floor and levered the door open with his foot.

“We can get out here, the passage goes all the way outside the wards. It‘s how I got in.”

“Why are you doing this?” Harry asked quizzically. “Why are you helping me?”

“Why did you clean up the blood?”

“Are you kidding? If they‘d have caught you you’d hand me over in a mome-” Harry paused. “That‘s why you‘re doing this isn‘t it?”

“Spot on Potter. Get in the damn tunnel.”
*


The two boys emerged like moles in a field miles away from the house, blinking and shielding their eyes from the sunlight. Harry could see the house far in the distance, a white blot against the sky.

“That was a serious tunnel.” Harry tried to get his bearings and work out how to get back to the train station. “Town‘s that way.”

“Give me my wand back.” Malfoy said to Harry’s back. Harry hesitated, then tossed it over his shoulder.

Harry began trudging through the grass and a moment later Malfoy fell into step beside him.

“Why were you really there?” Harry asked suddenly.

“I told you Potter she was a family friend.” Malfoy said curtly.

“If she was a family friend your father could have taken you out of school.” Harry pointed out. “Instead you sneak out on your own.”

“I wanted to know the whole story.” Malfoy said angrily.

“What do you mean the whole story?”

“You don‘t…? You don‘t know.” Malfoy shook his head then began again as if explaining something to a child. “The Daily Prophet works hard not to offend the wizarding families you understand.”

“Yeah.”

“You remember what it said Ellen Hayward died of?”

“She…” Harry tried to cast her mind back. “It said she must have mixed one of her medicinal potions wrong. Used too much-”

“Exactly!” Malfoy cut in. “That’s what they say on the surface. They don’t want to offend us but they still need to spread the news so they have these little codes.”

“Codes in the paper?”

“Yes Potter,” Malfoy gestured with his hands as he explained. “If they say someone say… died in his sleep then that means he was smothered by a family member.”

“Nice.” Harry cringed back.

“Don‘t be so squeamish.” Malfoy scoffed. “Spell misfired means they were experimenting with dark magic, unexpected illness usually means they caught something from a scarlet woman.”

“You‘re fourteen Malfoy, say prostitute.”

“And a mistake mixing potions is code for suicide.” Malfoy lapsed into silence.

“So…” Harry said carefully.

“So Ellen was the least likely person in the world to consider suicide!” Malfoy snapped. “She had more life in her than women half her age! She used to pop around to our house all the time, or we would go to hers. She was an active member of pure blood society, and in good health. She would not kill herself!”

They walked in silence for a little ways as Harry digested all off that.

“You suspect murder then.” Harry said quietly.

“I just think it‘s suspicious.” Malfoy said angrily.

There was more silence. They reached the tarmac road and fell into step along it easily.

“Did you hear about Rita Skeeter?” Harry said after a while. “That was suspicious too.”

Malfoy said nothing, but he bit his lip and seemed to be thinking. As they reached the edge of town Malfoy stopped suddenly.

“I‘m going this way.” He pointed up a disused looking alleyway. “This is my way home.”

“You wouldn‘t consider giving me a lift would you?” Harry said jokily.

“Don’t be an idiot Potter.” Malfoy turned and walked down the alley.

“Figures.” Harry shrugged, shifted his bag higher up on his shoulder and headed into town.

As he was walking through a shopping street on his way back to the train station he heard an odd noise. A sort of low moaning without words. It was also familiar. His ears pricked up as he tried to pinpoint it. It was coming from a little shop, one of those nature shops that sold incense, wicker wall-hangings, wooden sculptures and useless junk like that. Harry moved into it and tried to pick out the noise, it was coming from a tape player on a stand.

Harry’s fingers moved to the little knobs on the top. How did these things work again? Dudley had had one… Harry twisted one knob to no effect, he tried another marked pitch and the sound got lower. Ah! Harry twisted it all the way the other way and jerked the volume knob to full.

A high pitched warbling scream filled the shop, causing Harry to both cringe in pain and yell in triumph. It sounded almost exactly like the golden egg.

“Hey!” The shopkeeper yelled at him and rushed over to reset the machine. “What the hell do you think you‘re doing kid?”

“Sorry,” Harry shrugged apologetically. “What was that?”

“It was whale song before you screwed with it.” The man said angrily.

“Whale song…” Harry smiled and nodded. “Thank you.” He turned and walked out of the shop.

*

It was dark and bitingly cold by the time Harry hauled himself out of the lake and squelched into Hogwarts. Swimming across the lake at night with a broken wrist had possibly been the most terrifying experience of Harry’s life and he was glad when he managed to reach the fat lady’s portrait.

“Oh you poor dear.” She said. “You look like a you’ve been through the wars.”

“Looks worse from in here.” Harry smiled up at her and she opened without him saying anything else.

Harry barely had the energy to drop his clothes on the floor and crawl into bed before sleep took him.

He the rabbit again, running through the woods away from something. The apple trees were in full blossom and the air was full of pink petals. A twisted counterpoint to the fear coursing through his tiny body. Something caught him, grabbed him by the ears. He kicked and scratched as hard as he could but it was no good, the massive dark shape holding him just laughed. Harry screamed as it plunged it’s long fingers into his forehead.

“Harry!”

Harry jerked awake and looked around, Ron and Neville were standing over him worriedly.

“Bad dream.” Harry muttered and slid out of bed. “The one where I’m naked in the middle of the great hall again. Time to get up anyway.”

“How was Dorset Harry?” Neville said quietly.

“Cold. Going to the beach in January‘s a really stupid idea.” Harry grinned and walked towards the showers.

Harry visited the hospital wing quickly to fix his wrist (“Stairs again Harry?” “Sure, we can go with that.”) and wandered down towards the great hall in good spirits. He had a good clue on the egg, he hadn’t been caught and he’d gained a valuable clue. All in all it was a good…

Bugger.

Harry froze as he reached the entrance of the great hall before forcing himself to continue and take a seat. Up on the high table, sitting next to Dumbledore, was a tall black man in auror’s robes.
*


“Good morning students.” Dumdledore stood as soon as everyone had gathered in the great hall. “Before we eat this morning, auror Shacklebolt from the ministry has something to say.”

Everyone in the hall was looking at the tall auror as he stood. Everyone except the marauders who were all looking at Harry.

“What the hell did you do?” Hermione hissed in his ear and Harry shushed her into silence.

“Good morning.” The auror said, he seemed to think this was all the introduction necessary because he proceeded to launch right in. “Yesterday there was an incident at the house of a recently deceased witch near Bournemouth.”

“That‘s in Devon.” Hermione hissed.

“Is it? Is it really?” Harry hissed back. “The geography lesson is fascinating now kindly shut up!”

“We were alerted to it by underage magic.” The auror continued. “But whoever it was is also guilty of breaking and entering, illegally breaching wards, property damage, vandalism and theft.”

Theft?

“Judging by the difficulty of the spells detected the suspect must be at least of Hogwarts age.” The auror’s dark eyes swept over the students. “And since there are currently no school age wizards in Britain who chose not to attend Hogwarts the culprit is someone in this room.”

Harry glanced over at Malfoy and met the other boy’s eyes. They were both thinking the same thing, ‘If one of us goes down, we both go down.’.

“There was blood left at the scene, but whoever it was cleaned up after themselves.” Harry breathed a sigh of relief in his mind. “But thankfully we were able to find some strands of hair.”

The auror held up a small, clear envelope. Harry adjusted his glasses but couldn’t see anything in there before the auror put it back in the pocket of his robes.

“A simple cirrus ab clavis spell will determine who it belongs to.” Shacklebolt continued. “So in a moment some of you will be escorted to the hospital wing where you will be tested.”

“Only some of us?” Someone called out.

“Yes, the hair is blond.” Shacklebolt stood and began walking out of the hall.

Harry gulped, the fact that the hair wasn’t his really didn’t help him much. Malfoy would still rat him out.

“Harry what‘s going on?”

“Not now Hermione.” Harry stood and walked calmly towards the end of the table, plenty of other people were getting up to go the lectures so he hoped it wasn’t too suspicious. The teachers had begun wrangling the blond students into groups. Harry deliberately didn’t look over at the Slytherin table, he already knew what he’d see.

As soon as he was out of sight of the hall he broke into a sprint, shooting along the corridor and sliding sideways behind a tapestry before throwing himself up a secret staircase. He had to reach the hospital wing before the auror did, or he was dead meat. He dashed out of the stairwell and down a disused passage, ducking under cobwebs.

A moment later he was out and walking normally. He had to give the auror no cause for suspicion, and this guy seemed pretty on the ball. He saw him turn into the corridor and Harry steeled himself, he would only get one chance at this. He moved out into the middle of the corridor and brushed close to the man as he walked past.

Harry’s fingers slipped into the auror’s pocket. Dip-grasp-out-hide!

Harry slipped the envelope into his robes and kept walking. For a terrifying moment he thought the auror had noticed, that he was going to turn and yell for Harry to stop. But nothing came and Harry walked on.

He began breathing when he got a corridor away. That had been easier than he thought, he was really losing respect for these ministry types. Not enough vigilance, Moody would be disappointed. Harry wandered back to the great hall and looked in. The Marauders were already gone, probably trying to look for him, but the blond-squads were still there being organized by year and house.

“Harry!” Harry saw Susan waving to him and wandered over. “What‘s all this about?”

“You‘re guess is as good as mine.” Harry shrugged.

“Harry don‘t take me for an idiot.” Susan crossed her arms. “This involves you.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because everything involves you!”

“Too right,” Harry grinned. “But since I‘m not blond…”

“It was dye, or a spell, or you were involved in some other way.” Susan moved closer and looked into his eyes. “Is it going to be ok for you? They‘re not going to arrest you are they?”

“Relax, it‘s all good. I‘ve got it under control.” Harry whispered. Susan smiled and hugged him.

“Potter!” Harry sighed and turned around. Malfoy was standing right behind him. “A word please?”

“Relax Malfoy, I took care of it.” Harry said, after checking that no-one was listening. “You owe me.”

With that Harry turned, waved goodbye to Susan and walked out of the Hall.
*


Harry saw Malfoy again about an hour later. Harry was heading back from he library when his fellow champion appeared out of nowhere and beckoned him into an empty classroom. Harry obliged before closing the door and casting silencing charms around.

“Where is it?” Malfoy asked bluntly.

“Where‘s what?”

“The evidence.” Malfoy said angrily. “I know you took it! Is this your plan? Keep it for blackmail?”

“No, but that‘s a good plan.” Harry scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Maybe I will do that…”

“Potter you are the most-”

“Relax.” Harry cut him off. “I‘m not going to blackmail you, just ask you one question.”

“What?”

“What did you take from the Hayward house?” Malfoy went dead still. Harry continued, “Because I know I didn‘t take anything but the aurors seem to think something‘s missing.”

Malfoy was just staring at him.

“See, if you were telling the truth and you were investigating the suspicious death of a family friend then what I just did was a good thing.” Harry held out his hands like balance scales. “On the other hand if you‘re an opportunistic, lying, hyena who was stealing from her then what I did was a bit more morally ambiguous. In that case I‘d have to give the hair back to the aurors and see your bastard arse go down.” Harry snapped out the accusation viciously, Malfoy even jerked back a step. It was a moment before Malfoy responded.

“I took…” The Slytherin swallowed hard. “It was an heirloom of her family. A ring, ancient. If it had been boxed up with everything else to go to her cousin he would have sold it. It deserved better than that.”

“It did, or she did?” Harry asked, Malfoy hesitated then…

“Both.”

Harry nodded faintly, good enough. He reached into his robes and drew out the envelope.

“You still owe me.” He tossed it to Malfoy and headed for the door.
*


It would have been nice if that was the end of it. It wasn’t.

“So Potter…”

Harry slowed to a stop outside the Fat Lady’s portrait and turned around to see the unreadably scarred face of Mad Eye Moody.

“Oh great,” Harry grumbled. “Is this chapter gonna be entirely dialogue? ‘Cos my throat‘s getting tired.”

“I was just talking to my old friend Kingsley Shacklebolt.” Moody stumped up towards Harry and looked down at him. “Seems some evidence just disappeared from his pocket.”

“Did he check his other pocket?” Harry suggested. “That always happens to me.”

“Cut the garbage Potter.” Moody sighed. “I already know you did it I just want to know whether you had a good reason.”

“Protecting myself and a valuable informant.” Harry said levelly. “And because there are more important crimes going on right now than breaking and entering.”

“Like?”

“Ellen Hayward.”

“I assume it was suicide, reported at an accident.” Moody said, though he didn’t sound convinced.

“My informant is convinced otherwise.”

“Guess I could make some inquires.” Moody said thoughtfully. “See whether there‘s anything to this.”

“Thank you.” Harry nodded and turned towards the common room.
*


“Harry!” Still not over.

“Bloody hell.” Harry groaned and headed over to the marauder table and slouched down onto a free chair. “I suppose you want an explanation.”

“Too right we do!” Ron said angrily.

“We‘ve been worried Harry.” Neville leant forward and spoke quietly, but Padma interrupted him.

“We‘ve also been angry.” She said through clenched teeth. “What the hell‘s going on with you?”

“I was investigating the murder, Ellen Hayward.” Harry checked to see if anyone was listening then continued. “Someone said it was suspicious so I went to look into it.”

“We guessed that much.” Ginny said impatiently.

“Well get this…” Harry leant forward and quickly related what had happened in the manor house. At the end the marauders seemed stunned.

“Why did you do all this Harry?” Parvarti asked. “Why did you go there in the first place?”

“Um… because murder is bad? Because I was bored? Because I hadn‘t spent nearly enough time as a lagomorph this week? Because I felt like it?” Harry looked into their shocked faces and decided to put them out of their misery. “Pythea told me it was important.”

“When?” Hermione asked in disbelief. “You didn‘t talk to her or anyone else, you just stood up and told us you were going to Dorset!”

“Oracles don‘t have to speak directly to you my anti-spiritual disciple.” Harry tapped his temple. “They have other ways.”

“So effectively what you‘re telling us,” Padma crossed her arms. “Is that you broke out of Hogwarts, invaded a murder scene and stole evidence because the voices in your head told you too.”

“Well if you put it like that you can make anything sound crazy.” Harry shrugged and smiled cheekily.

“Harry you‘ve gone too far.”

“You’re just being antsy, I know you believe me really.”

“Why?”

“You called it a murder scene.” Harry pointed out. “Means you believe me that something else is going on.”

Padma opened her mouth to retort but shut it angrily and glared at him.

“Thought so,” Harry grinned. “But I do have some other news. We have another job to do this evening.”

“Is it also a felony?” Padma said sarcastically.

“I love you too.” Harry winked. “But sadly no. I think I‘ve finally worked out the bloody egg. We‘re going to the prefects bathroom. Bring swimsuits.”

*


On the way there Neville pulled Harry to one side and asked him softly,

“Harry, don‘t you think you were a bit harsh on everyone? I mean worse than normal.”

“Yes Nev I do.” Harry nodded and winked.

“You did it on purpose?”

“Yep.”

“Why?”

“Well I don‘t know if you‘ve noticed Nev,” Harry grinned like a devil. “But they‘ve completely forgotten about Ron.”
*


Harry slid into the water gingerly and pulled the egg in after him. The other marauders were already waiting amongst the bubbles. He motioned them down and they all slipped underwater. Harry swallowed his revulsion and twisted his head just enough to put one ear under water then opened the egg.

‘Come seek us where our voices sound
We cannot sing above the ground
And while you’re searching, ponder this
We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss,
An hour long you’ll have to look,
But past an hour - the prospect’s black
Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back..’

Harry pulled his head back up the same moment the other marauders emerged. Several of them were spluttering or red-faced from the water. Harry was the only one who was ashen grey.

“Well that‘s easy.” Hermione said excitedly. “You just have to go somewhere and get something back in under an hour.”

“Probably in the lake.” Padma chimed it. “It‘d make sense if it was underwater ‘we cannot sing above the ground‘ and all.”

“We just need some charm or something to let him breath-”

“Harry,” Neville interrupted Hermione, earning a look of irritation. “Are you ok?”

The marauders turned to Harry, who still hadn’t moved. He was shaking despite the warm water.

“Harry…” Ginny reached out to touch his shoulder and he flinched away from her hand.

“Guys…” Harry spoke slowly and weakly, like his throat didn’t want to move. “You remember the boggart in third year?”

“Yes it… Oh!” Hermione clasped both hands over her mouth in shock. “Yours was water! Your afraid of water. But we knew that didn’t we? You can get through it, you‘ve been in the lake before? You‘ve swum over it-”

“That’s different, when my head‘s above water I can cope. Just.” Harry shun his eyes and bowed his head, he felt wretched to be admitting this. “But as soon as it closes over my head I lose it. My mind just goes blank, I can’t think, can‘t control myself. I start trying to breath in the water, start choking. I don‘t even have the sense to try and swim back up to the surface.” Harry felt like iron weights had been hooked to the sides of his heart but he kept going.

“I can fight a dragon again, or werewolves, Voldemort. But I can‘t swim.” Harry shook his head, trying to hold back teardrops. “I can‘t swim.”

The room was silent, the gentle sloshing of the water against the bath, and the seven teens, sounded unnaturally loud.

“Ah,” Padma said dryly. “That could pose a problem.”

“Could you um…” Ron flapped his hands vaguely. “Wear something over your head? Like a bucket or something?”

The other marauders shared a look and Ron fell silent.

“Ok…” Hermione rubbed her hands together nervously. “That‘s ok. We can deal with this. We‘ll get you better, maybe get you used to it slowly. Immersion therapy. We‘ve got almost three weeks before the second task, we can get you ready.”

“Yeah!” Ron brightened up. “See, like this!” He jumped forward and pushed Harry’s head underwater.

Harry screamed and felt water rush into his airway. A moment later he was dragged out of the water and he collapsed against the edge of the bath, coughing up the foamy, multicolor, bathwater.

“What… the hell…” Harry gasped out. “Is wrong with you!”

“S…Sorry.” Ron mumbled. “Thought it would help.”

“Let‘s go back to the tower.” Parvati suggested suddenly. Even she was finding it hard to be cheerful right now. “Maybe we can come up with something in the morning.”

Harry nodded, it took too much energy to do anything else.
*


Harry had chains around his ankles, an anchor on the other end. Pulling him deeper and deeper down into the lake. He tried to scream but nothing came out. It was getting darker and darker… black. Harry kept screaming but the black water filled his mouth like a gag. It was everywhere.

Harry woke up sweating and shaking and stumbled out of bed. He felt, and smelled, like he had run a marathon. He reached the bathroom and shed his sodden pajamas quickly before spinning the tap for a shower. The spray fell into the little tiled cubical but Harry didn’t enter, instead he stood outside it shaking.

He hesitantly put a hand forward but as soon as the spray splashed it he jerked back. His heart was racing. He turned the shower off and grabbed his wand, he ran a cleaning charm all over his body before changing into his robes and scurrying out of the bathroom.
*


“Harry are you OK.” Someone asked him for the fiftieth time that day.

Harry growled at him and the student scurried off. Harry sighed, it was too much to take.

He had another nightmare that night, again trapped in the lake. This time in a cage that was bolted to the lakebed. He kept trying to get out but the bars were made of steel.

Once again he couldn’t bring himself to shower and made do with a cleaning charm. When someone offered him a glass of water at breakfast he almost cursed them into oblivion.

Harry buried his face in his hands, it was getting worse. It was like every nightmare left a little piece of itself in him. Bulking fear on top of fear until he self-destructed.

“Harry…” Voice? Harry looked up and saw Parvarti’s worried face. “We‘ve got creatures now… but I‘m sure Hagrid won‘t mind if you miss it.”

Harry shook his head and stood up. Maybe something trying to gore him would take his mind off his phobia.

They walked down to Hagrid’s cabin. Harry didn’t say anything, neither did anyone else.

“Good morning all,” Hagrid was his usual jolly self. “We‘re having today‘s lesson down by the lake.”

No!

Harry almost collapsed on the grass. Hermione and Padma moved off at a run, trying to intercept Hagrid as he strode off towards the blue expanse.

Harry leadenly put one foot in front of the other. He was vaguely aware of Ron and Neville trying to talk to him but he blanked them out. He stopped as the grass sloped down towards the water. There were some things in pens near the waters surface, Hagrid was opening one while Hermione and Padma talked to him. Harry couldn’t hear what they were saying but the hand movements were pretty emphatic.

Harry felt his forehead get slick with sweat. He tried to step closer to the lake but the sound of it filled his ears. The gentle sloshing waves echoed somehow in his head and became a raging cataract, making it impossible to concentrate on anything. The water seemed to rise while staying in the same place, creeping closer to is eyes.

Harry’s nerve broke and he turned and ran back towards the castle. He heard shouts behind him but ignored them, he needed to get away. It felt like the lake was right behind him, like a chasing beast. He hit the steps of Hogwarts at a sprint and kept going. He had to hide!

All the while the water kept rushing in his ears.
*


The marauders begged out of Hagrid’s lesson to go find him. They spit into teams and searched the castle. It was nightfall before they found him. Neville and Ron stumbled on him in the dungeons, in a tiny, dead-end corridor. It didn’t look like it had been used in years. Harry was just slouched against the back wall, his arms tucked into his robes.

“Harry?” Ron approached carefully.

Harry didn’t answer, his gaze was fixed of a little dripping part of the ceiling. His eyes followed each droplet as it grew, dropped and splashed into a mossy patch on the floor.

“Harry?”

Drip, drip, drip.

“Are you Ok?”

Drip, drip, drip.

“Is there anything we can do?”

Drip, drip, drip… Harry looked up and his eyes met Ron’s. The redhead almost flinched back, his friends gaze was hollow and dull, like all the life had been sucked out of him. But even so it seemed to hold barely contained fury.

“Yes,” Harry’s voice sounded like it was seeping out through stone. “I do need your help.”

“Ok? What do you need us to do?”

“I need us three to go back up to the prefects bathroom.” Harry clenched his hands, he even seemed to be trembling. “And you‘re going to try that immersion therapy thing again. Except this time you‘re gonna hold me under.”
*


Harry turned the taps to full and forced himself to watch as the bath filled to the brim. He didn’t add any soap, he had a feeling he would be inhaling a good deal of this water.

“Are you sure you want to do this Harry?” Neville said nervously.

“I have to.” Harry tensed himself and slipped one leg down into the water. He felt like his skin was tightening up, like his whole leg had pins and needles. He gritted his teeth and dropped the rest of his body in. Already he felt like screaming, the water was everywhere.

“Ok, Neville you‘ve got a watch?” Harry said through chattering teeth that had nothing to do with the temperature.

“Yes.”

“Ok,” Harry began taking deep breaths in preparation. “Keep me under for five seconds, whatever I do. We‘ll push it up from there.”

“Are you su-”

“Stop asking me if I’m sure!” Harry snapped. He turned to Ron, who was already in the bath. “Do it!”

Harry closed his eyes and felt hands close around his shoulders. A moment later he was dunked down. He tried to keep his mouth shut but as soon as the water closed over his head he panicked and breathed in a great gulp of water. His lungs and throat burned and he flailed helplessly.

After what felt like a lifetime he was pulled to the surface. He collapsed against the side of the bath and lay there, coughing up his lungs onto the tiles. He weakly realized that there was blood mixed in with the water, he must of bit his tongue trying to breathe.

“Was that five seconds?” Harry said weakly once he had stopped coughing.

“Yes.”

“Make the next one ten.”

“Harry!” Ron protested. “I can‘t do this to you! The tournament‘s not worth this!”

“It‘s not even about the tournament any more.” Harry shook his head. “It’s got so much worse I can’t take a shower, I can‘t go near the lake. I‘m dehydrated because I don‘t even want to drink a glass of water. I can‘t live like this. Please mate… ten seconds.”

Harry felt Ron move towards him through the water and pull him to his feet. Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

Again he was plunged into hell. Harry broke again and gulped in water. He saw lights flash on the inside of his eyelids. He felt like the bath had become a whirlpool spinning him around and around. Every muscle clenched and released like he was having a seizure. The lights faded, and darkness replaced it.
*


Harry woke confused. He was lying on a bed, with sheets over him. He wasn’t wearing his glasses so the world in front of him was blurred. His chest felt heavy and breathing was hard.

“Where am I?” He croaked out.

“The hospital wing Mr Potter. You stopped breathing. Mainly because your lungs were full of water.” A white blob appeared into Harry’s view and a moment later his glasses were returned. Madam Pomfrey straightened and shook her head. “You’ve been here two days repairing the damage, your lungs were damaged. You were really remarkably stupid, I don‘t even know what to say this time.”

“At least I can‘t blame this one on stairs.” Harry smiled weakly. The school nurse snorted.

“You‘re friend is over there.” She jerked her head at another bed where Ron lay. “He hasn‘t left since you were brought in. He seems to feel guilty over something.”

“Sorry.”

“Don‘t say it to me, say it to him.” Madam Pomfrey turned to leave then asked. “Do you need anything?”

“My throat hurts.”

“I‘ll get you something for it.” Madam Pomfrey bustled off.

Harry cleared his throat,

“Ron!” At the sound of Harry’s voice the marauder stirred. “Ron wake up.”

“Harry? Harry you‘re awake!” Ron rubbed his eyes and slid out of bed. “I‘m so sorry Harry, you stopped moving but I kept you under. I thought you were getting used to it… I didn’t know you‘d blacked out. I almost killed yo-”

“Because I told you to.” Harry broke in. “You didn‘t screw up, I did. And if I wasn‘t so screwed up in the first place none of this would be necessary.”

“You‘re not screwed up Harry. You‘re just… Harry.”

“I jump onto trains.” Harry shook his head and laughed, but here was no humor in it. “I‘m fourteen and I‘ve murdered two people you can‘t tell me that‘s normal.”

“But that was self defense.”

“And I didn’t even hesitate! I just stabbed them!” Harry continued. “I have nightmares, I‘m aquaphobic and I remember things I shouldn‘t know. Something‘s wrong with me.”

“But-”

“I manipulate people, I have no sense of when I‘ve gone too far, I potioned a teacher, dueled another one, I lie, I cheat, I steal. You can‘t tell me I‘m normal, not with a straight face.”

“But Harry,” Ron moved up and put a hand on his shoulder comfortingly. “All that stuff’s what makes you you.”

“Being me sucks.” Harry rolled over away from Ron. Madam Pomfrey returned with a glass of water and a small tumbler of blue liquid.

“Drink all of it. It‘s quite bitter.” She disappeared into her office again.

Harry reached out and gulped down the aniseed flavored potion. He reached out for the water glass but his fingers stopped an inch from the glass. Harry sighed deeply and dropped back onto the bed.

“What is it Harry?” Ron asked.

“It didn‘t work.” Harry breathed faintly. “It didn‘t even work.”
*


“Bellevue.” Harry spoke the password then knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

Harry turned the handle and stepped into the guest quarters of Hogwarts. A few of the temple handmaidens were sitting at the table reading, they looked up pointedly as he entered. He tried to ignore them. He walked over to where Pythea was sitting by the window on a little couch. Harry pulled over a chair and sat.

“Are you feeling better?” Pythea asked, though she didn’t sound concerned.

“Yes. Thank you.”

“I looked in on you in the hospital wing, but I couldn’t stay.” Pythea’s eye’s flickered to the white robed women around the table.

“That‘s alright.” Harry smiled. “That‘s not what I came here about. I need advice.”

“About the second task?” Pythea smiled faintly. “You fear it.”

“Yeah.” Harry answered, not bothering to wonder how Pythea knew. “I don‘t think I can do it. I mean there are spells and things, bubblehead charm, Neville suggested gillyweed. But none of them‘ll work for me, not if I go crazy the instant I hit the water. I don’t know what to do. I‘m scared Thea, I need help.”

“Are you asking for my advice as an oracle?” Pythea cocked her head. “Or as a friend?”

“Please Thea,” Harry begged. “Just give me something.”

“I have advice for you Harry.” Pythea took his hand in hers. “But you may not like it.”

“Tell me.”

“Give up.”

“What?” Harry frowned, confused.

“Don’t compete in the second task. You can still win on the third even if you get zero for this one.”

“But… The goblet‘s a binding contract.” Harry shook his head. “I have to compete.”

“You have to compete in the tournament.” Pythea corrected. “There have been various times in the past where a champion has skipped a task for medical reasons. And a phobia is a legitimate medical reason.”

“But… I‘d have to tell them.” Harry bit his lip. “The whole school would know.”

“You fear that happening?”

“Yes.”

“More than you fear the lake?”

“No.” Harry shuddered and shook his head. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I hate to see you hurt Harry.” She was rubbing her fingers unconsciously on his hand. “But even more I hate to see you scared.”

Harry nodded faintly. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea.

“But I still have hope.” Pythea smiled suddenly. “You always think of something.”

“Ok, that was your friend answer.” Harry smiled. “What‘s the oracular one?”

There isn‘t one Harry. There never is with you.

Harry was about to answer but Pythea put a finger to her lips and smiled.

“Would you like a game of chess while you‘re here?” She said out loud.

“Chess with a mind-reading seer.” Harry rolled his eyes. “This should be fun.”
*


Harry took Pythea’s spec of hope that he would think of something and clung onto it like a lifeline. He spent every availably moment in the library trying to find some other way into the lake. He researched astral projection, animagi, freezing and boiling spells and obscure charms. He got his friends to brew a potion of courage to try to overcome the fear but it wasn’t enough and the effect only lasted a few minutes anyway.

So it came to be the night before the task and Harry was still in the library, sitting behind a pile of books, despairing.

There was no answer, he should just give up.

“Burning the midnight oil Potter?” Harry heard Malfoy’s voice and jerked his head up to see the boy walk out from behind a bookshelf, a pile of books under his arm.

Harry’s brow furrows as he worked back through Malfoy’s sentence. It took him a few seconds to work out what was bothering him about it. There hadn’t been an insult in it! It had been a simple, normal question.

“Yes, I see you are too.” Harry pushed some of his own books aside and the Slytherin sat down. The books he had all had similar titles to Harry’s own. “You have a plan for tomorrow?”

“Yes.” Malfoy nodded. “Just making sure nothing can go wrong. You?”

“No.” Harry admitted shaking his head. “No I‘ve got nothing.”

Silence reigned in the dark, musty library.

“You must have something.” Malfoy said, shrugging. “A little charm or so-”

“No.” Harry shook his head again. “Nothing that will work for me.”

“But wh…” Malfoy leant back in his chair. Harry could almost see the gears turning in his head. “The Boggart in third year…”

Harry said nothing, he didn’t have to.

“You‘re afraid of water?”

Silence.

“That‘s… not good for you then.” Malfoy smiled. “But very good for me.”

“Screw you Peroxide!” Harry sneered and knocked over a pile of books into Malfoy’s lap. “And get off my table!”

“You invited me here.”

“I un-invite you.”

“Too bad, I‘m settled now.” Malfoy leant back and flipped a book open, balancing on the back two legs of his chair. Harry had the unbearable urge to tip him over.

Harry gritted his teeth and ignored him, pulling another book over. A few minutes passed in silence then…

“Potter, what the hell is Peroxide?”

“Muggle thing,” Harry muttered. “Come to think of it it wasn‘t much of an insult.”

“You must be stressed then,” Malfoy said without looking up from his book. “If you can‘t even insult correctly.”

“Would you like me to try again?” Harry jabbed. “I‘ve got lots.”

“I tend to stick with mudblood.”

“Evidence of a profound lack of imagination.” Harry shut his book and picked another. “Is it possible you’re parents accidentally lobotomized you as a child.”

“No.” Malfoy replied coldly.

“Is it possible you’re parents intentionally lobot-”

“Screw you shortarse!”

Harry chuckled despite himself and dropped his eyes back to the text in front of him. It had some information about an ancient wizard who was able to part seas. It also said the knowledge of how to do so had been lost millennia ago. He dropped that one as well and grabbed another.

“Really scared of water?”

Harry ignored Malfoy and sank deeper into the book.

“And you can‘t think of a way around it?”

Harry sighed and looked up. Malfoy was staring at the ceiling, deep in thought.

“Courage potion…?”

“Tried it, effect doesn’t last long enough.”

“A transformation of some kind?”

“Any transformation that keeps my mind intact keeps my phobias intact as well.”

“How about charming an animal to get whatever-it-is for you?”

“Against the rules of the contest.”

“Some sort of diving bell?”

“Now you‘re just scraping the bottom of the barrel.” Harry sunk onto his hands on the table. “Face it, if I‘ve had weeks to come up with an answer you‘re not gonna get it in one night. I‘ve been racking my brains trying to think of some way that’s within the rules but it just isn‘t there.”

“Well how about outside them.” Malfoy shrugged. “You said you were going to cheat anyway.”

“In front of the entire school? And the judges?” Harry shook his head. “I‘d never get away with it.”

“Is this Harry Potter I‘m talking to or some sort of imposter.” Malfoy laughed dismissively. “You don’t worry about how to get away with things. You do them and get away with them later.”

Harry opened his mouth to object but a light-bulb came on in his mind. He stood suddenly, driving his chair back.

“I need different books.” He stated suddenly before turning and walking away. After a second he turned and said, “Thank you.”

“I owed you one.” Malfoy said, his eyes back on the book in front of him.
*


“Ginny!”

Why is he shaking me?

“Ginster wake up!”

“Harry?” Ginny woke slowly and groggily. “Harry it‘s still the middle of the night.”

“I know.”

“How did you even get up the stairs?”

“Listen Gin, I need to borrow the Chimera.” Harry was whispering but he sounded insistent.

“Sure Harry.” Ginny shook her head, clearing cobwebs. “What do you need it for?”

“Can‘t tell you.” Harry smiled evilly. “If I told you you‘d be an accessory.”

“An accessory to what?” Ginny was wide awake now.

“A Harry Potter Plan!” Harry grinned in the dark, then disappeared.
*


“Mr Potter…” Minerva McGonagall licked her lips and stopped speaking. All around her the various adults were starting to giggle, the students too. Dumbledore was giving Harry an appraising look, Maxim was laughing openly, Crouch just looked scandalized.

They were standing by the edge of the lake, the second task was about to start and all but one of the champions were wearing swimsuits. Those three were the ones giggling at the fourth.

“Mr Potter…” She tried again, pointing at what Potter was carrying. “That is a broomstick.”

“Yes, I am aware of that.”

“Is it possible you misunderstood what the task before you consists of.”

“Anything‘s possible.” Potter shrugged.

“You realize that the broomstick will not even work underwater?”

“Yes.”

“Is there any chance that you will tell me what you‘re planning.”

“No.”

McGonagall shook her head and turned back towards the stands. Behind her the champions moved into line by the edge of the lake. She shook her head as Bagman read out the rules in his loud booming voice, then…

“One… two… THREE!”

Harry shot into the air like a bullet and careened backwards towards the stands. Audience members scattered but Harry managed to regain control at the last minute and pulled up to shoot over and out, following the curve of the lake until he disappeared behind a hill.

“Did he run away?”

“Where did he go?”

Muttering broke out around the stands. McGonagall shook her head, they had said the same things last time and Harry had come through.

Her eyes were drawn to the top stand, to the sliver of white amongst the dark robes. The Pythea was standing before her seat, her eyes fixed in the direction Harry had disappeared. A moment later she started laughing, a clear Chrystal laughter that flowed over the stands.

McGonagall looked out to try and see what she was seeing but saw nothing. A moment later a shape appeared in the lake, rounding the hill that had hid it from view and pushing out quickly into the open water.

One by one the crowd fell silent, every eye fixed on the thing in the lake. McGonagall put her hand to her mouth, even given a thousand years she would never have thought of this.

Karkaroff was the first to break the silence. Shooting from his chair, his face red with rage he raised his fist and yelled,

“THAT LITTLE BASTARD! HE‘S STOLEN MY BLOODY SHIP!”
________________________________________


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