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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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“I will.” Draco offered, taking the book.

Chapter Fifteen

Spiritual Connections

James grinned. “Looks like we’re about to make our debut.”

Weeks passed, and Sirius still hadn’t replied.

“Hey!” Fred said with a smirk. “You know what the book didn’t mention?”

Draco groaned. “Don’t …”

“Be honest, Draco.” Hermione said. “It was funny.”

“It wasn’t you.” He hissed.

“What happened?” Narcissa asked.

“Draco and Harry were having a … discussion.” Hermione explained carefully. “When Draco thought it would be a good idea to hex Harry when his back was turned.”

“He insulted my mother!” Draco hissed.

“Harry!” Lily cried.

Harry grimaced and turned to Narcissa. “I’m sorry. It was more to make a point, really, since he’d spent the last five minutes insulting Ron’s mother.”

“That’s quite alright, Harry.” Narcissa gave her son a stern look. “Do not give out what you cannot take. What happened?”

“Before I could grab my wand, there was a loud bang and …” Harry bit back a snigger. “Draco turned into a ferret.”

“Moody had been passing.” Hermione continued.  “And when Draco made a run for it he started bouncing him around the Entrance Hall.”

“It wasn’t funny.” Draco scowled as the Marauders started laughing.

“No.” Hermione agreed. “McGonagall’s reaction was though.”

Ginny leapt to her feet and grabbed the books that had appeared on the table, before pretending to watching something bouncing. “Professor Moody, what are you doing?”

“Teaching.” Fred answered casually.

“Oh … MOODY, IS THAT A STUDENT?!” Ginny shrieked, the books falling from her arms.

“Yep.” Fred nodded.

“NO!”

James and Sirius were gasping for air now and Draco finally allowed himself a smile. “I missed that part.”

Narcissa looked furious. “That man …”

“Save it until the end.” Sirius advised her. “Then you can do it all at once. Go on, Draco.”

Everyone seemed oblivious to Harry and Hermione’s joint worries, as they scanned the post owls every morning, and only Hermione paid attention to the dark circles under Harry’s eyes, identical to her own.

Sirius frowned. “Sorry, kids; I didn’t mean to worry you.”

Hermione smiled at him. “I wasn’t just you – I was worrying about everything that might happen and my empathy and my parents. And Harry … well, Harry was being Harry, which means he held himself responsible for everything that could go wrong and everything that already had.”

Only lessons were keeping her mind of whatever horrible things that could happen, and they were become more demanding than ever, particularly Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Hermione had accepted the fact that Moody had his reasons for teaching them about the Unforgivables this early (although she was sure that none of her classmates had quite grasped how serious they were …

“They wouldn’t.” David said sharply.

… aside from Harry and, for some reason, Neville, who didn’t look like he’d slept since).

“I hadn’t.” Neville whispered, leaning into Alice.

But when he announced that he would be putting the Imperius curse on each of them …

“WHAT?!” Alice, Lily and Narcissa demanded.

“It’s the only curse that can be fought.” Sirius explained calmly. “And the only way to learn how to fight it is to have the curse put on you.”

“And you’re alright with this?” Addie demanded.

“Fourteen is too young.” Sirius conceded. “But I’d rather them learn in a safe environment than later on, yes.”

Addie sighed. “I hate it when you make sense.”

… in turn, she was startled.

“But … but you said it’s illegal, Professor.” Hermione protested uncertainly, as Moody cleared away the desks with a sweep of his wand, leaving a large clear space in the middle of the room. “You said … to use it against another human was …”

David grimaced. “Actually, it’s the only one of the Unforgivables with some leeway.”

“Why’s that, Dad?” James asked.

“Because it can be fought.” David answered, nodding to Sirius. “It can be used to teach resistance and it’s the only Unforgivable with some good uses as well. For example, aurors are permitted to use it on suicidal people to prevent them from taking their own lives. However, it must be lifted as soon as the person is out of danger.”

“Dumbledore wants you taught what it feels like.” Moody cut in, his magical eye swivelling onto Hermione and fixing her with an eerie, unblinking stare. “If you’d rather learn the hard way – when someone’s putting it on you so they can control you completely, fine by me. You’re excused. Off you go.”

He pointed one gnarled finger towards the door. Hermione dropped her gaze to the floor, knowing she wouldn’t walk out, but her head was pounding, the castle protesting to the whole situation.

Remus frowned. “That can’t have been fun.”

Hermione grimaced. “It wasn’t.”

Moody began to beckon students forwards in turn and put the Imperius curse upon them. Hermione watched nervously as, one by one, her classmates did the most extraordinary things under its influence. Dean Thomas hopped three times around the room, singing the national anthem. Lavender Brown imitated a squirrel. Neville performed a series of quite amazing gymnastics moves he would certainly not have been capable of in his normal state.

Neville snorted. “Not likely.”

Not one of them seemed to be able to fight the curse off, and each of them recovered only when Moody had removed it.

“Potter.” Moody growled. “You’re next.”

Lily swallowed hard, grasping James’s hand.

Harry moved forward into the middle of the classroom, into the space that Moody had cleared of desks. Moody raised his wand, pointed it at Harry, and said, “Imperio.”

Harry’s expression went blank, just like everyone else’s had, and he bent his knees. Then …

Nothing happened.

David stiffened. “What?”

Hermione moved her gaze from Harry’s face to Moody’s and saw him narrow his real eye. Then, with a crash, Harry fell headlong into the desk in front of him, knocking it over.

Lily gasped. “Why did Moody make him throw himself into a desk?”

“He didn’t.” David whispered, a smile spreading across his face. “Harry … you fought it off, didn’t you?”

Harry nodded, rubbing his knees. “Hurt like hell though.”

“Now that’s more like it!” Moody growled, lowering his wand. “Look at that, you lot … Potter fought! He fought it and he damn near beat it! We’ll try that again, Potter, and the rest of you, pay attention – watch his eyes, that’s where you see it – very good, Potter, very good indeed! They’ll have trouble controlling you!”

Hermione watched, half-amazed, half-proud, as Moody cast the curse on Harry four more times.

“Oh, you poor thing.” Lily whimpered. “Your legs must have killed you.”

The last time, Harry hadn’t moved at all and finally shook his head, stumbling back a few steps, throwing the curse off entirely.

“That’s my boy!” James cried.

“That’s Lily’s boy.” Sirius corrected. “She was always more resistant to the curse than you were.”

“Very good, Potter.” Moody repeated. “Granger, you’re next.”

Hermione stepped forwards and faced him, blocking her empathy off.

“Good move.” David commented. “Pay attention you lot.”

Hermione smiled. “Actually, I’m not the best example.”

Addie gasped. “Of course you’re not! You’re a natural Occlumens.”

Sirius chuckled. “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall. The stronger you are at Occlumency,” he explained to the others, “the easier it is to throw off the Imperius Curse. A natural has no difficulty whatsoever. I’d be surprised if it even worked.”

Imperio!

Immediately, Hermione felt as though she was floating …

“Is that what it feels like?” Arabella asked quietly.

Harry nodded. “Like you can’t do anything wrong. You’re so blissfully happy that you’d do anything.”

… but something was strange about it – it flickered in and out as though she was watching a badly-tuned television.

“You were right, Sirius.” David nodded. “It’s not going to work.

Do a cartwheel. Moody’s voice told her.

Why? Hermione asked. I can’t do cartwheels. Last time I did one, I nearly broke my arm. I don’t particularly want to repeat the experience.

The classroom flickered back into focus again and she could see the others watching her intently. Moody was still staring at her, wand raised.

“Hadn’t he realised?” Regulus asked.

Hermione shrugged. “I don’t think so. He didn’t know until I told him.”

Hermione shook her head. “Professor, I don’t mean to be rude, but are you sure you cast it right?”

Moody lowered his wand, frowning. “Miss Granger, how exactly did you manage that? I didn’t even feel you throw it off.”

David raised an eyebrow.

“I … I don’t know.” Hermione admitted. “One minute I felt like I was floating, the next minute I was standing in the classroom.”

Moody gave her a suspicious look but didn’t push the subject. “Well, you’re another one they’ll have trouble controlling. Weasley, you’re next.”

“The way he talks,” Harry muttered, as they left the class an hour later (Harry still hobbling from the multiple times he’d smashed into the desk), “you’d think we were all going to be attacked any second.”

David chuckled. “That’s Moody.”

“Yeah, I know.” Ron was still skipping on every alternate step. He had had much more difficulty with the curse than Harry and Hermione, though Moody assured him the effects would have worn off by lunch-time. “Talk about paranoid … no wonder they were glad to get shot of him at the ministry, did you hear him telling Seamus what he did to that witch who shouted ‘boo’ behind him on April Fool’s Day?”

“Poor woman.” Sirius sighed, shaking his head. “She was never the same after that.”

Addie rolled her eyes. “Do I want to know?”

“You do.” Sirius told her. “But it’s hardly an appropriate story in front of the kids.”
“Then tell me later.” Addie told him.

“How come you could fight of the curse, Hermione?” Harry asked. “I mean, it took some effort with me …”

“Do you think it’s got something to do with …” Ron lowered his voice to a whisper “… You-Know-What?”

“Good guess, but empathy wouldn’t have that effect.” Narcissa remarked.

“We didn’t know I was a natural back then.” Hermione explained. “It was the only think we could think of.”

“Maybe.” Hermione frowned. “I just don’t know.”

When they arrived back in the Entrance Hall that evening, after Care of Magical Creatures, they found themselves unable to proceed, owing to the large crowd of students congregated there, all milling around a large sign which had been erected at the foot of the marble staircase. Ron, the tallest of the three, stood on tiptoe to see over the heads in front of them and read the sign aloud to the other two.

TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT

The delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving at 6 o’clock on Friday 30th of October.

“This should be interesting.” James commented.

Harry sighed. “I hate Halloween.”

Lessons will end half an hour early …

“Brilliant!” Harry grinned. “It’s Potions last thing on Friday! Snape won’t have time to poison us all!”

Sirius grinned. “Well, that alone is enough to cheer people up.”

Students will return their bags and books to their dormitories and assemble in front of the castle to greet our guests before the Welcoming Feast.

“Only a week away!” Ernie Macmillan of Hufflepuff emerged from the crowd, his eyes gleaming. “I wonder if Cedric knows …

Harry closed his eyes momentarily but said nothing.

… Think I’ll go and tell him.”

“Cedric?” Ron asked blankly, as Ernie hurried off.

“Diggory.” Harry elaborated. “He must be entering the Tournament.”

“That idiot, Hogwarts champion?”

“Cedric’s not an idiot.” Hermione snapped. It was a lot easier to deal with this now that they knew he was alright, just trapped, like James and Lily, although even before then they hadn’t started using past tense with his name yet.

Ron scowled, as they pushed their way through the chattering crowd towards the staircase.

“He’s not an idiot – you just don’t like him because he beat Gryffindor at Quidditch.” Hermione argued. “I’ve heard he’s a really good student – and he’s a Prefect.”

“You only like him because he’s handsome.” Ron muttered scathingly.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “That’s not it. Although he is quite good-looking.”

“He is, isn’t he?” Ginny agreed, before catching Fred’s eye. “Oh, don’t you start! I’m allowed to look.”

“Excuse me, I don’t like people just because they’re handsome!” Hermione huffed indignantly.

Ron gave a loud false cough, which sounded suspiciously like “Lockhart!”

“Low blow.” Mandy remarked.

The impending arrival of the other two schools seemed to put a spell on the castle. The Tournament was the only subject of conversation, the teachers were even snappier than usual, the paintings were grumbling about rashes, the suits of armour had stopped squeaking and Filch was behaving so ferociously that he’d reduced two first year girls to tears.

“Git.” Remus scowled.

Hermione noticed very little of this, though. She had a blinding headache.

“Oh dear.” Lily sighed. “The wards?”

Hermione nodded. “They were being lowered to let the other schools in and Hogwarts really didn’t like it.”

Of course, she reflected after a day, she should have realised. The founders had warned her, after all, that she would pick up on what the castle was feeling, and Salazar Slytherin himself had mentioned this event specifically.

After a week, she taught herself the Silencing Charm …

“Impressive.” Regulus remarked.

Sirius smiled proudly at her. “Smartest witch of her age.”

… and placed it on the curtains around her bed, satisfied that Lavender and Parvati were never going to burst through her bed-curtains to wake her. Every night, she would transform and sleep as a lioness; the effect dimmed and, by Friday, it was nothing more than a dull ache.

“That’s good.” Jen said with a smile.

At breakfast, she was talking about who the judges might be with Ron and the twins, when Harry choked slightly on his bacon. Ron thumped him on the back and Hermione looked up to see Hedwig fluttering down to them, with two letters tied to her leg.

“Tell me later.” Ginny muttered in Hermione’s ear. “Fred, George, how’s WWW coming?”

Fred pouted. “I should have known you had ulterior motives.”

The twins sufficiently distracted, Harry pulled one letter off of Hedwig’s leg and she hopped across the table and stuck out her leg again. Hermione pulled the other letter off and gave Hedwig some bacon rind, which she ate gratefully.

“What does it say?” Ron whispered.

Harry unrolled it and read it out to them. “‘Nice try, Harry.

James chuckled. “Nice start.”

I’m back in the country and well-hidden. I want you to keep me posted on everything that’s going on at Hogwarts. Don’t use Hedwig; keep changing owls.

“Why?” Arabella asked.

“Snowy owls aren’t that common and they’re easy to spot.” Sirius answered before his future self could. “Different owls have less of a chance of being followed.”

And don’t worry about me, just watch out for yourself. Remember what I said about your scar. Love, Sirius.’ Looks like you’ve got to get up earlier than I did to fool a Marauder. And I got up pretty damn early.”

“How early?” Lily asked.

“Six thirty.” Harry answered.

“That’s not early.” Lily told him with a smile.

“It was a Saturday, Mum.” Harry explained.

“And what are you talking about ‘not early’?” Sirius demanded. “No one should be up at that time!”

He looked up at Hermione. “What about yours?”

Hermione unrolled it. “‘Dear Hermione. First of all, I promise I won’t do anything stupid.

Addie sighed. “The problem, Sirius, is that your definition of ‘anything stupid’ is very different from the rest of us.”

Sirius looked affronted. “I’ve never done anything that stupid.”

“Oh, really?” Addie raised an eyebrow. “So a few months after I was attacked, you didn’t take twenty first years up on to the roof of the school and lead them in an aerobics demonstration?”

Sirius turned red. “Who told you about that?”

“Lily.” Addie said cheerfully. “Told me that you nearly gave McGonagall a heart attack. Especially when James told her you were recruiting future trouble-makers. Peter had to run and get her a cup of tea?”

Sirius cleared his throat. “I missed you?”

Addie shook her head. “Sirius, there is no excuse for this.”

Secondly, you were right; I got his letter a few hours after yours. I’m mentioning it in his letter, but remind him to keep using different owls. Hedwig stands out too much. Tell Ginny it was a good guess, but it didn’t belong to any of my cousins and, to be honest, it’s painful to think about.

Jen winced, almost able to feel the pain in the words.

Just keep it on you at all times. Speaking of family, thanks for passing on Cissy’s message – you’re right, it made perfect sense to me. I want Harry to tell me everything odd that happens at Hogwarts, but I have a feeling that he’ll hold back …

“Harry?” Fred asked innocently. “Surely not.”

… so I want you to do the same. And, yes, Jade was Lily’s nickname, although I can’t think where you’ve heard it recently.

“Nice.” Regulus smirked. “Implies she’s definitely heard it before, but without being definite about it.”

All of you, be careful; don’t do anything I’d do.

“Good advice.” Addie smirked.

Stay strong; be safe. Love, Sirius. PS. Welcome Ginny to the ‘aiding and abetting’ club for me. Do you think there’s enough people for t-shirts yet?’”

Addie chuckled. “Absolutely.” She waved her wand and the shirts of everyone from the future were transfigured to plain white, all with a paw-print on the front, adorned with …

“A&A?” Hermione asked, looking down.

“Aiding and abetting.” Addie elaborated. “And now we do have t-shirts.”
Ron sniggered. “It’s kind of obvious he was a Marauder, isn’t it?”

Hermione, however, was frowning at the letter. “Do you ever get that feeling that something bad’s going to happen?”

“Yes.” Harry confirmed. “You have it too?”

Hermione nodded. “And so does Sirius. I don’t think this tournament is going to go as smoothly as the Ministry wants it to.”

“Actually, the tournament itself did go quite smoothly.” Harry commented. “You know, aside from that little hiccup.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “The problem, Harry, is that ‘little hiccup’ wasn’t so little.”

At half past five, Hermione and her class-mates hurried up to Gryffindor Tower, dumped their schoolbags, pulled their cloaks and rushed downstairs into the Entrance Hall, where the Heads of Houses were directing their students into lines. McGonagall snapped at a few Gryffindors to straighten their hats or fix their hair …

“Not all of us.” Harry grinned. “She reached me, sighed and said, “Mr Potter, I’m not even going to bother. Out you go.””

… and led them, year-by-year, onto the front steps.

The moon was already above the Forest, bathing them all in a pale translucent light.

Remus shuddered automatically.

“Nearly six.” Ron muttered, staring at the front gates. “How’d you reckon they’re coming? The train?”

“Not going to happen.” Regulus chuckled. “Beauxbatons might go for it, but if the Headmaster of Durmstrang is anything like the one they’ve got now, they’re not going to go for it. They still think it’s disgusting that Hogwarts uses Muggle transportation to get to Hogwarts.”

“Well, there’s too many students to use portkeys.” Jen shrugged. “It’s alright for Bulgaria, they don’t really have huge Muggle settlements so it’s easy to use magical travel without being seen.”

Lily frowned. “Now you mention it, how come pureblood parents didn’t argue about Muggle transport?”
“Oh, they did.” David told her. “But then the Ministry told them that they either caught the train or didn’t go to Hogwarts and they shut up.”

“I doubt it.” Hermione disagreed, remembering what Arthur had said at the World Cup. “Always the same; we can’t resist showing off when we get together.”

“That too.” Regulus agreed.

“How then?” Harry asked, looking up at the sky. “Broomsticks?”

James shook his head. “Too far.”

“I don’t think so.” Hermione frowned. “Not from that far away.”

“A portkey?” Ron suggested. “Or they could apparate; maybe you’re allowed to do it under seventeen wherever they come from.”

“You can’t apparate inside the Hogwarts grounds!” Hermione snapped, rolling her eyes and feeling rather like a parrot.

“They could have apparated to outside the gates though, couldn’t they?” Harry asked.

Hermione hesitated. “I hadn’t thought of that.” She admitted sheepishly.

“How many times do I have to tell you?”

For the next five minutes, they stood in eager anticipation. As the cold began to creep up her legs, Hermione shifted on the spot, trying to get some feeling back into her feet.

“Could at least have cast a warming charm.” Fred muttered. “It was freezing out there.”

“Aha!” Dumbledore called out suddenly. “Unless I am very much mistaken, the delegation from Beauxbatons approaches!”

“Where?!” About a hundred voices asked eagerly.

“There!”

Glancing over her shoulder, Hermione saw that the shout had come from a Ravenclaw sixth year, who was pointing over the Forest. When she looked back, the reason became clear; something huge was hurtling towards them.

“Well, it’s not a broomstick.” Hermione commented dryly.

“Definitely not.” Mandy agreed with a laugh.

“It’s a dragon!” One of the first years shrieked.

“Don’t be stupid!” One of her class-mates scoffed.

“Dennis Creevy.” Harry supplied.

“It’s a flying house!”

“It’s not going to be either of those.” Sirius rolled his eyes.

His guess was quite close …

Addie smirked. “You were saying?”
Sirius pouted. “Be nice to me.”

… Hermione realised as the light from the castle hit the object; it was a gigantic powder-blue carriage drawn by twelve winged palomino horses each about the size of an elephant.

James let out a low whistle. “Blimey.”

A coat of arms she recognised as the symbol of Beauxbatons was pictured on the door and the carriage landed in front of them with a crash that made several students jump. A footman leapt out to assemble golden steps and jumped back smartly. The woman who stepped out had to be as large as Hagrid but seemed so much more graceful.

“Dad?” James asked.

David shook his head. “No idea.”

As Dumbledore led the students in a round of applause, she smiled graciously and extended a bejewelled hand towards Dumbledore, who kissed it chivalrously

“My dear Madame Maxime.” He greeted. “Welcome to Hogwarts.”

“Dumbly-dorr.”

The Marauders snickered.

Madame Maxime returned. “I ’ope I find you well?”

“On excellent form, I thank you.”

“My pupils.” Madame Maxime waved a careless hand behind her and Hermione, whose attention had been focused on the headmistress, noticed that around a dozen boys and girls were huddled behind her, staring at the castle apprehensively and shivering. This last point was unsurprising, seeing as it was the end of October and they seemed to be wearing robes made only of very fine silk and none of them were wearing cloaks, although a few of them had wrapped scarves around their heads.

Lily rolled her eyes. “Didn’t they think to bring cloaks with them, given how cold Scotland is in the winter?”

“No.” Hermione answered dryly. Even though Fleur had turned out to be quite down-to-earth, most of her classmates were stuck-up snobs.

Hermione was so focused on the students and the amazing size of their headmistress that she was startled when the Hogwarts students suddenly parted to allow Madame Maxime and her students to enter the castle.

“Honestly, Mione, pay attention.” Harry teased. “You missed her telling Dumbledore that the horses only drink single-malt whiskey.”

“Unbelievable.” Jen muttered. “I bet Hagrid had a field day.”

“How big d’you reckon Durmstrang’s horses are going to be?” Seamus asked over Lavender and Parvati’s heads.

“They won’t use horses.” Sirius said confidently. “They’ll want to be different.”

“Well, if they’re any bigger than this lot, even Hagrid won’t be able to handle them.” Harry answered. “That’s if he hasn’t been attacked by his Skrewts. Wonder what’s up with them?”

“What made you think there was anything wrong?” David asked.

“Well, while Hermione was distracted, Dumbledore told Madame Maxime that Hagrid would take care of the horses after he’d sorted out his other ‘charges’.” Harry explained.

“Maybe they’ve escaped.” Ron suggested, sounding hopeful.

Hermione shuddered. “Oh, don’t say that!” She pleaded. “Imagine that lot loose on the grounds …”

She shuddered again at the very thought.

For a few minutes, they stood in silence, many people gazing at the sky.

“Can you hear something?” Ron asked suddenly.

He was right. Hermione frowned and strained her ears. It sounded like a vacuum cleaner, but underwater …

“The lake!” Lee Jordan shouted from behind her. “Look at the lake!”

Hermione watched in fascination as a whirlpool appeared in the middle of the lake and a ship slowly rose from it’s midst.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Talk about dramatic.”

As it reached the bank, there was the splash of an anchor and the thud of a plank being lowered onto the bank.

As the students disembarked, they all seemed to be built like Crabbe and Goyle, but, as they walked up the lawns towards them, it became apparent that the bulk due to shaggy cloaks.

“At least they’re dressed more appropriately for the Scottish winter.” Lily remarked. “Even if they have overdone it a little.”

The man at their head was tall and thin, like Dumbledore, but had a curled goatee, rather than a long beard, that didn’t quite hide his weak chin.

Jen and Sirius exchanged a glance, both of them recognising that description.

“Can’t be him.” She murmured. “There’s no way …”

As he approached the castle, Hermione felt the wards shiver and the pain in her head exploded again.

“You alright?” Harry whispered, looping an arm around her waist as she staggered sideways.

“The castle …” Hermione muttered, putting a hand to her head. “She doesn’t like him very much.”

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Jen muttered. “Given the school’s propensity for ‘Dark Arts’.”

Harry squinted at the man. “Can’t you just promise to keep an eye on him?”

Hermione closed her eyes. Hogwarts? I know you don’t like the Durmstrang Headmaster, but there’s nothing I can do at the moment. I promise to keep an eye on him and I’ll report anything I find to Professor Dumbledore.

The castle flared again in irritation …

David raised an eyebrow. “Now that’s interesting.”

… and Hermione bit back a gasp.

Professor McGonagall?

Apparently, Hogwarts was satisfied by this and settled down. Hermione rubbed her head as the pain receded, barely paying attention as Dumbledore greeted Professor Karkaroff …

“WHAT?!” Sirius and Jen demanded.

Sirius sniggered. “Well, you took that well.”

Igor Karkaroff?” Jen scowled. “So it was him. There’s no way he’s not a Death Eater.”
“He is.” Hermione said casually.

Sirius frowned. “Isn’t he the guy you were betrothed to before we told Mother and Father to go to hell?”

Jen shook her head as Remus’s arm tightened around her waist. “No, that was Macnair – why do you think I hate him so much?”

… or as Viktor Krum was revealed to be one of the Durmstrang students.

“Bloody hell, he’s still at school?” Regulus said. “That’s incredible.”

Why didn’t the castle want her to trust Dumbledore?

“Good question.” David frowned.

The Hogwarts house-elves outdid themselves that evening …

Fred shook his head sadly. “Peaked too early, bless them.”

… with a great number of unfamiliar dishes and some Hermione only recognised from her trips to France. The Durmstrang students, sitting at the Slytherin table …

“Of course they were.” Sirius muttered.

… seemed interested in everything, but the Beauxbatons students – especially a blonde girl who Ron insisted had Veela blood …

“She does.” Harry put in. “Her grandmother was a Veela.”

“How’d you know that, Harry?” Lily asked curiously.

“I overheard her telling someone.” Harry answered, only half-truthfully.

… were seated with the Ravenclaws and acted, much to Hermione’s disgust, as though everything was below them.

“Not all of them.” Fred disagreed.

“No.” Hermione agreed. “Most of them were though.”

The second that dessert had disappeared, Dumbledore stood up, seeming to fill the Great Hall with a pleasant sort of tension. Several students, including Fred and George, were leaning forwards in anticipation.

“The moment has come.” Dumbledore announced. “The Triwizard Tournament is about to start. I would like to say a few words of explanation before we bring in the casket …”

“Casket?” Lily asked. “As in a coffin?”

“More like a trunk.” Hermione told her.

“The what?” Harry muttered.

Ron shrugged, but Hermione was distracted by a flash of red hair out of the corner of her eye, and not for the first time that week. She looked towards the doors of the Hall. There was no one there. Odd. I could have sworn I saw … Hermione shook herself mentally. Never mind.

Lily’s face lit up. “You saw me, didn’t you?”

Hermione nodded. “Only for a second, but not long enough recognise you.”

She tuned back into Dumbledore’s speech.

“… for those who do not know them, Mr. Bartemius Crouch, Head of the Department of International Magical Co-Operation and Mr. Ludo Bagman, Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports.”

“I’m guessing they’re the judges?” Lily asked.

Hermione nodded. “Them, and the three heads.”

Hermione noticed that Bagman received a much louder round of applause than his colleague, but, then again, he did look much more likeable.

Fred snorted, but said nothing.

Mr. Crouch looked quite odd in wizard’s robes, compared to his neat suit at the World Cup.

Dumbledore explained that Crouch and Bagman would be the other two judges and Filch, who was wearing the most hideous suit Hermione had ever seen …

Fred shuddered. “It was rather disgusting, wasn’t it?”

… brought in an old chest.

“There will be three tasks, spaced throughout the school-year, and they will test the champions in many different ways … their magical prowess, their daring, their powers of deduction, and, of course, their ability to cope with danger.”

Lily closed her eyes and breathed slowly. At least Harry couldn’t enter.

The last word instilled a fear in Hermione’s chest that seemed to constrict her lungs. She expanded her empathy. Only Ginny seemed to share her fear, although Harry and Ron seemed on edge, even if they didn’t realise it.

“I was?” Harry asked.

Hermione nodded.

If Dumbledore sensed any unease in the Hall, he didn’t mention it and pressed on calmly. “As you know, three champions compete in the Tournament, one from each of the participating schools. They will be marked on how well they perform each of the Tournament tasks and the champion with the highest total after task three will win the Triwizard Cup. The champions will be selected by an impartial selector … the Goblet of Fire.”

Jen sucked in a breath. “A goblet … That’s what the dream was about.”

Hermione watched in horror as the headmaster removed a black, flame-filled cup from the chest in front of him. Her eyes slid across the table to meet Ginny’s.

“Good.” Jen whispered. “At least you’ve caught on as well.”

Two shades of brown stared at each other for several minutes, barely hearing Dumbledore explaining the process and the age restrictions, both brimming with worry.

By Halloween morning, Hermione’s headache had all but disappeared, but that didn’t make her feel any better.

“I’m not surprised.” Lily whispered.

Her concerns about Professor Karkaroff were nothing compared to the sheer worry that had overtaken her when the ‘impartial judge’ had been revealed.

The Goblet of Fire may have been a very powerful magical object, but all that mattered to Hermione was that it was technically a cup and her own voice kept echoing in her mind.

“Touch of cup brings respite’s end.” Alright, Hermione, just calm down, alright? Harry hates attention – he wouldn’t go near that cup even if he was able to enter.

“True …” James rubbed Lily’s arm. “That’s true. Harry already told us didn’t enter his name.”

Lily relaxed. “Right. That’s true.”

On top of all this, Hermione had seen her first ‘living spirit’, proving the theory in the book. She knew the red-headed woman she kept seeing out of the corner of her eye must have been a spirit, because no one else seemed to pay the least bit of attention to her.

The woman had yet to speak to Hermione and she was waiting for the spirit to make the first move – she wasn’t entirely sure of the etiquette in this situation.

After all, she looks vaguely familiar …

“You didn’t recognise me?” Lily asked.

Hermione smiled. “Believe it or not, Lily, I wasn’t willing to believe I was seeing dead people just yet. I thought it might have been Ginny, actually.”

“Plausible.” Mandy commented. “Ginny and Lily do look very similar.”

“We really do.” Lily agreed. “Are we absolutely sure we only had one child?”
Sirius laughed. “Yeah, we are.”

… but I don’t know if I know her. And I wouldn’t walk up to a complete stranger and just say hello just because I could.

Jen pulled a face. “I don’t envy you, Hermione. That seems like a really weird situation.”

Her mind firmly back on the Goblet of Fire, Hermione pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt (the castle could be freezing in the winter), before fastening her robes over the top. She ran a brush through her hair, pulled it up into a ponytail, and made her way downstairs, stumbling into the Entrance Hall and running straight into Ginny.

“Literally.” Ginny smirked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Like you were any better.”

Mumbling a greeting, she wiped the sleep from her eyes to see that Ginny looked just as tired as she was.

“You didn’t sleep much either, huh?”

“Not a wink.” Ginny muttered.

Ginny yawned. “I was this close to sneaking into the boys’ dorm, nicking Harry’s cloak and sleeping down here just to keep an eye on it.”

“Wish I had.” Ginny muttered.

“And what could you have done?” Harry asked quietly. “They’d have found a way, Ginny.”

Hermione shrugged. “I kept an eye on the Marauders’ Map all night. Only Mr. Crouch came anywhere near it and he’s one of the judges, so we’re alright.”

Hermione stifled her sigh. If only the Map could distinguish between junior and senior.

“Thanks for telling me.” Harry muttered in her ear.

Hermione jumped as his breath ghosted past her skin and turned to face him. “Sorry; you were asleep.” She replied just as quietly, managing to slip the Map from her pocket into his in one slick move.

“You’re good at that, aren’t you?” Harry remarked, remembering how she’d managed to rescue the map from ‘Moody’s’ desk.

“Anyone put their name in yet.” Ron asked, changing the subject.

“All the Durmstrang lot.” A third year girl informed him. “But I haven’t seen anyone from Hogwarts yet.”

“I’d have done it last night after everyone had gone to bed.” Harry admitted. “Less nerve-racking that way.”

Harry grimaced. “Scratch that. I wouldn’t have done it at all.”

Lily smiled at him. “Good. At least I know that some of my common sense got through to you.”

“As opposed to what?” James asked, sounding put out.

“Your recklessness.” Lily responded cheerfully.

“She’s right.” Remus told him, before he could argue. “Just accept it.”

As Hermione woke up properly, she realised that there wasn’t just excitement in the air. Frowning slightly, she tried to place the sense of grief she felt, finally reaching Harry.

Hermione shook her head with a sigh. “How do I not pick up things like that?”

“It’s not your fault.” Harry told her quietly. “I never really paid attention until that year. And you picked up more than Ron did.”

Once she’d done that, she mentally slapped herself for not realising earlier. Ever since first year, she had been convinced that Halloween was both a blessing and a curse, especially for Harry.

“A blessing?” Harry questioned. “When has it ever been a blessing?”

First year – a troll had been released into Hogwarts and nearly killed her …

“Exactly!” Harry agreed.

“I wasn’t finished.” Draco told him.

… BUT she gained the two best friends she could ask for.

“Oh …” Harry looked sheepish. “Yeah, I suppose that would make up for it.”

Sirius shook his head. “In future, Kitten, just meet them for coffee or something.”

Second year – Mrs Norris was attacked and Petrified by a basilisk BUT it could have been a student and it could have been a lot worse.

“That’s true.” Jen said slowly.

Third year – Sirius Black attacked the Fat Lady BUT that was when Hermione began to subconsciously question his guilt (surely he’d realise the Tower would be empty on Halloween).

Harry’s hatred of the holiday journeyed back even further, to the night, thirteen years ago, when his parents were murdered by Lord Voldemort.

Ginny sighed. “Again, Mione, you really know how to bring down the mood, don’t you?”

BUT Voldemort had fled, powerless, unable to kill the Boy-Who-Lived.

“It wasn’t worth it.” Harry muttered.

Lily squeezed his hand. “Harry, I’d gladly die a hundred times if it meant that my family was safe.”

“As would I.” James added.

“Oh, so that’s where Harry gets it from.” Hermione commented.

Not worth it. Hermione sighed, watching Harry fake a smile as the twins appeared either side of her.

“Done it!” Fred announced in a triumphant whisper.

“Done what?” Ron asked.

“The Aging Potion, dungbrains!” George rolled his eyes.

“Never going to work!” Jen sang.

“One drop each. We only need to be a couple of months older.”

“We’re going to split the money equally if one of us wins.” Lee added.

“It’s not going to work.” Hermione sang, with a smirk.

The three sixth years ignored her and she tried to hold back her laughter as the twins stepped across the Age Line, only to be catapulted back with long white beards.

James raised an eyebrow. “Did Dumbledore just …”

“… prank the Weasley twins?” Sirius finished.

“Not just them.” Hermione smiled. “And please don’t start talking like them – I don’t think my sanity would survive.”

“Much like all hopes of a normal life, you gave up your sanity when you met me.” Harry told her cheerfully. “You can’t have both.”

“I did warn you.” Dumbledore pointed out in amusement. “I suggest you both go up to Madam Pomfrey. She is already tending to several other students who seemed to think that an aging potion would fool the Age Line. Though, I must say, none of them sprouted beards as fine as yours.”

Fred and George set off sheepishly towards the Hospital Wing, accompanied by Lee, who was laughing hysterically.

“Some friend.” James frowned.

Lily rolled her eyes. “Right, because you’d be nice and supportive if that happened to Sirius, wouldn’t you?”

James sniggered. “Alright, fair enough.”

Chuckling under her breath, Hermione followed Harry and Ron into the Great Hall, where, appropriately, hundreds of live bats fluttered around the hall.

The Durmstrang students and many of the Hogwarts students were already and the four Gryffindors joined Seamus and Dean for breakfast.

“There’s a rumour going round saying that Warrington got up early and put his name in.” Dean was saying. “That big bloke from Slytherin who looks like a sloth.”

“You can’t have a Slytherin champion!” James protested, making Hermione smile.

Harry shook his head in disgust. “We can’t have a Slytherin champion!”

“Like father like son.” Lily sighed. “Typical.”

Before Hermione could agree, a voice beside her muttered, “Typical.” There was a flash of red in her peripheral vision; she turned, only to see an empty space.

“Sounds like you don’t change much, Lil.” Arabella teased.

Whoever it is, she’s hanging around us a lot. Maybe I should talk to her next time she appears.

Lily nodded eagerly, hoping that it wouldn’t take too long.

If I can think of way of doing that without looking like a raving lunatic, of course.

“And all the Hufflepuffs are talking about Diggory.” Seamus scowled. “But I wouldn’t have thought he’d have wanted to risk his good looks.”

“That’s not fair.” Ginny said in a low voice.

“There’s nothing wrong with him.” Hermione snapped. “He hexed a Slytherin last year when he called me a Mudblood.”

“Alright, I like him.” James announced.

“Which Slytherin?” Harry asked immediately, overriding Ron’s, “Which hex?”

Fred rolled his eyes. “Priorities, Ron. Priorities.”

Hermione sighed and pointed at Harry. “Montague.” Ron. “Don’t know; never seen it before. Quite impressive though.”

“It looked like his hands and feet switched places.” Hermione said with a smile. “And then Cedric practically stalked me until I met up with Harry and Ron. Thankfully, it was over lunch and I didn’t have an elective afterwards, otherwise time-travel would have been a little difficult.”

“Listen!” Seamus said suddenly.

Cheering was floating in from the Great Hall and, moments later, Angelina Johnson walked in. “I’ve done it.” She announced, taking a seat next to Hermione. “I’ve put my name in.”

“That’s more like it.” James announced, applauding with the other Marauders. “Let’s hope she’s the Hogwarts Champion.”
Harry somehow managed to resist the urge to shudder. As awful as it was to watch what happened to Cedric in the graveyard, he hardly knew him. Angelina – like the other two Gryffindor Chasers – was like an older sister to him.

Thank Merlin it wasn’t her.

Ron looked impressed. “You’re kidding?”

“You seventeen then?” Seamus asked.

“No, of course not.” Sirius said, deadpan.

Ron rolled his eyes. “Course she is. Can’t see a beard, can you?”

“I had my birthday last week.” Angelina elaborated.

“Well, I really hope you get it.” Hermione told her.

“Thanks, Hermione.”

“Better you than Pretty Boy Diggory.” Ron muttered, causing a couple of passing Hufflepuffs to scowl at him.

“All this because of Quidditch?” Lily asked, rolling her eyes. “Honestly!”

Hermione rolled her eyes and was about to berate Ron once more, when she realised that Harry hadn’t said anything since his dismissal of a Slytherin champion. He was staring at his plate, pushing his scrambled eggs around with his fork.

Lily sighed, her amusement vanishing.

Hermione hesitated, glancing at her own breakfast. She loved Harry dearly …

Fred opened his mouth.

“Wait.” Draco told him.

… and there was no way she was going to let him wallow in misery for the whole day, but she was incredibly hungry.

“Oh, thanks, Hermione!” Harry protested. “Is breakfast really more important than me?”

Hermione smiled sheepishly. “They had bacon, Harry. And it did say that I love you, remember?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Love you too.”

Compromising, Hermione grabbed some bacon and wrapped it in a napkin, before nudging Harry. “Want to go for a walk?”

Harry dropped his fork instantly. “Yes please.”

The two friends made their way out of the Great Hall, pausing only to let the Beauxbatons students pass them. They rounded the lake …

“Ah, the lake.” Fred sighed. “Why do you two always go to the lake?”

Hermione shrugged. “Habit.”

… in comfortable silence and, once they were on the opposite side, their view of the castle blocked by the Durmstrang ship, Harry stopped, dropping to sit on the floor.

Hermione followed suit, wiping her fingers on the now empty napkin and tucking it inside her robes. “I swear, bacon is the reason I could never be vegetarian.”

Addie chuckled. “That is so Padfoot.”

Sirius nodded in agreement. “It’s a good attitude to have.”

Harry managed a small smile, but said nothing.

Stifling a sigh, Hermione shifted to face him and held her arms out. “Come here.”

Normally, Harry tended to avoid hugs, unless she instigated them, but today, he welcomed it …

“I needed one.” Harry whispered, feeling Lily shift closer to him.

… wrapping his own arms around her waist and burying his face in her shoulder.

Hermione rubbed his back comfortingly, pretending that she couldn’t feel him shaking slightly. When he pulled away, his eyes were bright and red-rimmed, but she made no comment on it. “Bad day?”

“Just a bit.” James muttered

Harry chuckled weakly, rubbing his face with his hand. “Something like that.” He gazed across the lake. “It’s different this year. Halloween, I mean. I always knew that’s when they … died. At least, I did once Hagrid told me.”

Lily gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to apparate home and curse her sister.
Hermione bit back a scathing remark about his aunt. Honestly, who doesn’t tell a little boy about his parents?

“To be fair …” Harry said quietly, staring at the ceiling “… they did tell me. At least, they told me what they told Jess, which was that my parents were worthless freaks who deserved everything they got.” He managed a small smile. “After first year, she told me that she knew the Dursleys were lying, because anyone they hate must be lovely by default.”
Lily hugged Harry tightly. “I’m so sorry you ended up with them, sweetheart.”

“But it seems … worse this year.” Harry sighed.

“Maybe it’s because you’ve got more of a connection this year.” Hermione suggested. “What did you have last year – a few photos and a physical resemblance? Now you’ve got people who knew them personally. They’re people now, not just people who died for you.”

Lily glanced at James, who moved to Harry’s other side, drawing both of them into an embrace.

Harry nodded. “Yeah, I guess.”

Hedwig fluttered down beside them with a letter tied to her leg.

“You’re late.” Harry murmured, taking the letter from her. Hedwig let out an indignant squawk …

Arabella chuckled. “Nothing like an owl with personality.”

… and flapped to Hermione’s shoulder.

“I don’t think she likes what you’re insinuating.” Hermione smiled slightly. “Isn’t that Arabella’s handwriting?

Lily’s face broke into a smile. “Thank you.”

“We already knew we were writing.” Arabella reminded her.

“Yeah, but on Halloween …” Lily rested her head atop Harry’s.

Hedwig’s a smart owl, maybe she knew you shouldn’t get a letter like this in public.”

Harry frowned. “A letter like what?” He opened the letter and ran his gaze over it, a soft smile appearing on his face. “Never mind.”

Hermione stroked Hedwig’s feathers and looked the other way, while Harry wiped his eyes again. “Alright?”

“Fine.” Harry rolled the letter up and tucked it inside his robes. “They just wanted to tell me that they miss them too and that they’re thinking of me.”

“Me and Remus too?” Mandy guessed.

Harry nodded and James caught Remus’s eye as Lily thanked them again. He didn’t say anything, but then he didn’t need to and Remus nodded in understanding.
Hermione nodded. “I thought it’d be something like that.”

Harry sighed again. “It’s just weird, you know? I don’t remember them, but I miss them so much it hurts sometimes.”

“They miss you too.” Addie said softly.

Hermione pulled a face. “Harry … I don’t know what to say. Nothing sounds quite right in my head.”

“Oh, I hate it when that happens.” Lily grimaced.

Draco chuckled and read the next line.

“I hate when that happens.”  A soft female voice sympathised from beside her.

James nudged his girlfriend. “Apparently, nothing changes.”

Hermione jumped, but Harry made no sign that he’d even heard the voice …

“That’s because I didn’t.” Harry said.

… let alone been surprised by it. She glanced round, to see the redhead she’d seen earlier sitting on her other side, watching the Durmstrang students returning to their ship. Giving her little more than a cursory glance …

Lily rolled her eyes. “Thanks!”

“I thought you were Ginny!” Hermione reminded her.

… she turned back to Harry. “Hey, Gin.”

“Ginny?” Harry glanced over her head at what – to him, at least – appeared to be empty grass. “Hermione, there’s nobody there.”

“I thought she’d lost it.” Harry admitted.

“She has.” Fred said solemnly. “That’s no reason to hold it against her.”

Hermione hit him with a cushion.

“No, her spirit.” Hermione corrected with a smile. “Remember, I told you how I could see them …”

“Actually, Hermione,” the spirit interrupted, “Harry’s right. I’m not Ginny.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just …” Hermione turned back to the woman to apologise, but froze almost immediately.

“Recognise me?” Lily guessed.

Hermione nodded. “Thought I was going mental.”

Looking at the woman properly, it was obvious that she wasn’t Ginny – she was older, for one, and her hair was a slightly darker shade of red.

Jen compared the two. “Just slightly.” She commented. “But you’re right.”

But the most glaring difference was in her eyes, and it was these which caught Hermione’s attention.

“They were the same as mine.” Harry concluded.

“No …” She whispered. “No, that’s impossible.”
“Hermione?” Harry questioned, sounding worried. “Hermione, what’s wrong?”

Hermione heard his query, but it didn’t quite seem to register in her mind what he’d said, even as she turned back to him. “Would you excuse me for one second? Empath thing.”

“You were really worrying me.” Harry told her. “I debated going to get Madam Pomfrey.”

“Why didn’t you?” Remus asked.

Harry pulled a face. “I’d managed to avoid the hospital wing until then and she hadn’t had a chance to force me into a check-up yet.”

Without waiting for a reply, Hermione jumped to her feet and jogged down the shore, leaving Harry utterly confused.

“Understatement.” Harry muttered.

Once they were out of earshot, she ducked into the trees at the edge of the forest and turned to face the woman, who was still smiling kindly at her.

“You can’t be Lily Potter.”

“I think I can.” Lily said brightly.

“Neville?” Arabella asked, before she took the book for her turn. “Would you like to read next?”