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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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Once the plates had been scraped clean, Lily dragged everyone back to the seating area. She wasn’t going to wait any longer than necessary to find out if her son escaped a dragon unharmed.

The fact that he was sitting beside her seemed to escape her notice.

Mandy picked up the book again and turned to the next chapter.

Chapter Eighteen

Of First Tasks and Unexpected Ones

“Unexpected?” Lily questioned. “What was unexpected …?”

Hermione frowned for a second. “I don’t … Oh,” she giggled, “I know what it means. Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad!”

It was less than a few hours later when Hermione finally awoke, determined to find some way to get Harry through the First Task alive.

She sat up, her brain flitting from asleep to awake in a nanosecond …

“I don’t know how you do that.” Ginny muttered.

… and saw that only Ginny remained in the dorm room, already dressed and waiting for her.

“Harry’s waiting for us in the Common Room.” Ginny told her quietly. “He says we need some place to talk privately.”

“He’s right.” Hermione grimaced. The lake was far too open for this conversation, and even the Map only helped when you found the hidden rooms.

“That’s true.” Jen sighed.

Addie smiled. “You could use the search function.”

“What search function?” Several people asked.

“I’d forgotten about that.” Sirius remarked.

Harry pulled his copy of the Map from his pocket. “How do you work it?”

Addie rested a hand on it. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” Once the Map had formed, she smiled and said, “Oh Merlin, they’re at it again. Show me hidden rooms.”

At once, several areas of the Map turned green and the writing at the top changed to Misses Jade, Shadow, Selena, Talon and Bastet, Willing Participants of Magical Mischief Making, are proud to present the Marauder Search Function.

“When did that happen?” James demanded.

“Beginning of seventh year.” Addie told him with a smile. “To turn it off, just tap it and say ‘Trouble Diverted’.”

The colours disappeared and the title reverted to normal.

“Mischief managed.” Addie handed the blank Map back to Harry. “Just for future reference.”

“Why did we do that?” Jen asked.

“It was my idea.” Addie admitted. “I realised how utterly frustrating it was to search the entire Map for one person.”

“Who were you trying to find?” Hermione questioned.

“Sirius.” Addie answered. “I needed to talk to him.”

Sirius grinned at her. “Is that what we’re calling it now?”

Addie smacked him upside the head, her face turning pink. “Thank you. Carry on, Mandy.”

Without knowing where they were, they could wander around all day and not find anything. “Where’s Lily when you need her?”

“Lily?” Ginny questioned, and Hermione realised that she’d never told Ginny about the Potters.

“It’s long story.” She said as she ducked into the bathroom to shower.

When she emerged, Ginny hadn’t moved. “We’ve got time.”

“It’s my empathy.” Hermione said, dressing quickly. “I can speak to James and Lily – you know, Harry’s parents.”

“I knew who you meant.” Ginny assured her.

Hermione shrugged. “I was used to referring to them as Mr and Mrs Potter. Or, you know, Harry’s parents.”

“They’re alive?” Ginny whispered.

“Yep. Don’t ask me where they are though, because I have no bloody idea.” Hermione admitted, pulling her cloak from her trunk. “But I bet Lily would know somewhere we could talk privately.”

“I would.” Lily agreed.

“The Room of Requirement.” Lily provided, appearing out of nowhere.

Lily nodded in agreement.

Ginny must have seen Hermione jump, because she asked, “She’s here, isn’t she? What did she say?”

Hermione didn’t answer, frowning at Lily in confusion. “Where’s that?”

“Seventh floor.” Lily answered with a smile. “Find the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy – you know, the one trying teach the trolls ballet.

“No wonder he was called Barmy.” Arabella muttered.

Walk up and down three times in front of the wall and ask it for what you need.”

“Won’t need this then.” Hermione tossed her cloak on her bed. “C’mon, Gin; I’ve got somewhere.”

The two girls jogged down to the Common Room, where Harry was waiting, holding a bundle of toast.

“This looks familiar.” James chuckled.

Harry shrugged. “Didn’t want to wait until after breakfast.”

“Lake?”

“No.” Hermione couldn’t help laughing. “The roles have reversed.”

“Well, you claimed panic last night.” Harry reminded her. “So I had to take the calm and logical one. Not my best role, admittedly, but someone has to do it.

Addie raised an eyebrow. “That sounds familiar.”

“Yeah, it does.” Sirius agreed. “First Quidditch match of seventh year; we had to change the line-up for the first time since fourth year and James was freaking out about it. He and Lily had a very similar conversation.”

“But I never freak out about Quidditch.” Lily frowned.

“But you are generally the more likely to freak out.” James pointed out with a smile.

Where are we going then?”

“Somewhere more private.” Hermione told him, taking a slice of toast. “Follow me.” She led them out of the Common Room and through the corridors until she found the tapestry Lily had identified.

“I’ve honestly never paid the slightest attention to that tapestry.” Draco remarked. “I’ll have to look for it.”

The corridor was empty, but for a cool breeze emanating from one of the windows. Their footsteps echoed off the cold stone and Hermione ran a hand along the wall, frowning. How odd … Maybe the room’s been removed since Lily was here.

Hermione chuckled. “Nope.”

“Hermione?” Harry whispered. “It may be deserted, but the corridor’s not the best place to talk.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Thank you, Harry.” Remembering Lily’s instructions, she began to pace up and down. We need a place to talk privately.

Ginny gasped suddenly and Hermione spun on her heel to see a door appear in the wall. She pushed it open to find a room not unlike the Gryffindor Common Room.

“That’s what we always turn it into.” James grinned.

“This’ll do.” Harry remarked, pulling the Marauders’ Map from his pocket as the door closed.

“It’s not on there.” James said. “It’s Unplottable.”

“I know, Dad.” Harry smirked. “This happened months ago.”

James grinned sheepishly. “Oh yeah.”

“Tell him not to bother, Hermione.” James advised, appearing on one of the sofas. “It’s not on there.”

“James, you’re repeating yourself again.” Sirius said with a grin.

“Your dad says don’t bother – it’s not on there.” Hermione repeated, not looking at Harry, but smirking at James instead. “You do realise you’re a spirit, don’t you? Therefore sitting down has no affect on you.”

“Yeah, but it gets a bit boring just standing around all the time.” James responded.

Lily rolled her eyes. “Oh, James …”

“This is the Room of Requirement; turns itself into anything you need.”

“If the Marauders knew about it, why isn’t it on the Map?” Ginny asked.

“My guess is that it’s Unplottable.” Hermione said, glancing at James, who nodded. “But we can talk privately here.”

“What happened last night?” Ginny asked immediately …

“Talking to Sirius wasn’t one of the things I’d considered.” Ginny admitted, smirking as Hermione turned an interesting shade of red.

… when Harry looked at her. “Did I interrupt something?”

“Nothing like you’re thinking.” Hermione said quickly …

“And how did you know what she was thinking?” Draco asked slyly.

“It was written very clearly on her face.” Hermione answered. “It would have been less obvious if she’d just made a suggestive noise.”

“I considered it.” Ginny said cheerfully.

… seeing the smirk beginning to form on her face. “Sirius managed to get to a fire and flooed us.”

The smirk and the colour promptly disappeared from Ginny’s face. “Oh, Harry, I’m sorry! You must hate me!”

“Oh, dear, it’s not your fault!” Lily protested.

Ginny smiled at her. “I know, Lily. Still felt bad about it though.”

“Gin, don’t be ridiculous!” Harry said, rolling his eyes with a fond smile. “It’s not like you knew what we were doing down there. But we found out a few things last night and we think you should know.”

“First of all,” Hermione continued flawlessly, “Karkaroff was a Death Eater.”

Ginny growled. “That was fun.”

Ginny looked stunned. “What?”

“He was a Death Eater.” Hermione repeated. “He was in Azkaban, gave the Ministry a load of names and was released.”
“That … That … That … git!” Ginny hissed finally, unable to vocalise her anger any better.

“You’re taking it better than Hermione.” Draco smirked.

Harry sniggered. “Well, you’re taking it better than Hermione.”

The two boys eyed each other for a second, before, before Harry shrugged and held up his hand for a high-five. “Why not?”

Ginny glared at him. “Do you have any idea what this means? Sirius was charged with the murder of thirteen people. Do you think that Karkaroff killed less than that? If Sirius had ‘confessed’, he would have had more chance of getting out; it’s crazy!”

“I hadn’t thought about it like that.” Jen admitted through gritted teeth.

“Focus please, Ginny.” Hermione sighed. “I’m with you all the way on this, believe me …

“I hadn’t realised just how strongly though.” Ginny remarked.

… but we’ve got bigger things to worry about. Hagrid showed Harry the first task last night.”

“It’s dragons.” Harry told her.

“Next time, break it to me gently.” Ginny requested.

“At least you’re telling people.” Addie commented. “The more people who know, the more people who can help you.”

Ginny’s face, which had regained some colour in her anger, promptly turned white again, and the slice of toast she was holding slipped from her numb fingers. “Dragons? You can’t fight a dragon!”

“I wish the Ministry was that sensible.” Mandy whispered.

“No, I think I just have to get past one.” Harry corrected. “I assume to retrieve something.”

Lily breathed a sigh of relief, but Sirius shook his head. “No, that’ll mean fighting it.”

Ginny laughed humourlessly. “Harry, getting past it will probably mean fighting it, whether you like it or not.”

“Damn.” Harry muttered. “I was worried about that. I need help, girls.”

“That sounds familiar.” Addie remarked, looking at Sirius. “Didn’t you and James say that a lot?”

“At least once a week.” Sirius admitted, unabashed.

Ginny frowned in thought. “What did Sirius say?” She asked finally, taking another piece of toast from the pile, ignoring the piece that was now butter-side-down on the floor.

“Why does toast always do that?” Sirius sighed.

“It’s just an unwritten law of the universe.” Addie said, with a glint in her eye. “Kind of like how cats always land on their feet.”

Sirius’s eyes lit up and he turned to Arabella, who glared at him. “No.” She turned her glare on Addie. “Why? Why would you do that?”

“Don’t try stunning it.” Harry recited. “And a simple spell’s all I need.” He winced. “And that’s when you came in.”
“Sorry.” Ginny murmured absently, staring into the fire. “Charlie never talks about how to knock dragons out; he loves them too much.”

Fred chuckled fondly.

Hermione stretched out on the sofa so she was staring at the ceiling. “James, what do you think?”

James looked startled. “You’re asking me? I was never any good at COMC.”

“I think you just put your feet through my legs.” James answered moving to the arm of the sofa.

Harry laughed. “Oh, that’s what he said.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Again, you’re a spirit. You can’t actually feel it.”

“It’s the principle of the thing.” James said sniffily …

“Sniffily?” James repeated, amused.

“Sniffily.” Hermione confirmed with a nod. “Considerably.”

… she lifted her head to glare at him. “A dragon’s eyes are its weakest point …

Fred nodded.

… but I’ve got nothing aside from that.

“So either I didn’t think of the Conjunctivitis Curse or I know that it’s NEWT level.” James remarked.

COMC was never my strong point …

Remus snorted. “That’s putting it lightly.”

James rolled his eyes. “Shut up.”

… Lily was pretty good at it, but even she has a problem when it comes to dragons.”

Now it was Lily’s turn to nod in agreement.

“Eyes are the weakest point …” Hermione repeated thoughtfully.

“Oh yeah …” Ginny whispered. “I remember Charlie saying that now.”

“How’s that going to help?” Harry asked blankly. “Is there a simple spell I can use to blind her?”

“How did you know it was a she?” Mandy asked curiously.

Harry grimaced. “You’ll see.”

“Her?” Hermione questioned.

Harry nodded. “They’re nesting mothers, Charlie said.”

Jen let out a small scream and clutched Remus’s hand. “Nesting mothers?! Do they have any idea how protective dragons are of their eggs?!”

Lily let out a squeak and grabbed Harry tighter.

“Thanks, Jen.” Harry mumbled though her arms.

“Charlie’s here?” Ginny asked, looking hurt. “Why hasn’t he …? Hang on, back up a second! Nesting mothers?! Are they crazy?!”

“Probably.” Hermione said, turning her head to look at her. As she did, she spotted a book on the coffee table that certainly hadn’t been there two minutes ago. “Where’d that come from?”

Ginny picked it up and flicked through it. “They’re all spells related to sight. It must have appeared when Harry asked.”

“That’s the way it works.” Arabella smiled. “Hence the name.”

Hermione grinned. “I love this Room!”

James chuckled. “That’s exactly what Lily said.”

James snorted. “Funny – that’s was Lily’s response as well.”

“You don’t have to tell us twice.” Sirius smirked.

Ginny turned to the table of contents and grimaced. “It’s no good – the simplest spells in here are NEWT level – Harry’s only got two days.”

Sirius sighed. “Why didn’t I realise that?”

“It’s fine, Sirius.” Harry assured him, managing to escape Lily’s hold. “I think I handled it alright.”

Fred grinned. “That was bloody brilliant.”

“Okay.” Hermione ran a hand over her face, thinking hard. “Okay.” She sat up. “Let’s look at this logically for a minute.

“Good girl.” Lily whispered.

Aside from the size and the strength, what can the dragon do that Harry can’t?”

“Breathe fire.” Harry answered immediately. “And fly.”

“That’s not much of an advantage.” James muttered, remembering how Harry had flown the day before. He froze, glancing at Harry, who was smirking slightly.

No, there was no way.

He added as an afterthought. “Oh, and one them has these great big spikes on her tail that could …”

“Hungarian Horntail.” Sirius supplied, as Lily let out a whimper. “I guess that’s why they’re your least favourite dragon.”

“You think?” Addie asked sarcastically.

“Stop.” Hermione cut in, cringing at the very thought.

“Sorry.” Harry grimaced.

“So there’s only two things a dragon can do that Harry can’t …” She trailed off, realising that the exercise had done nothing but make the task seem even more impossible.

“No, that’s good.” David told her. “Always be aware of all possible dangers, or you risk getting hurt.”

“Really, it’s only one thing.” Ginny observed. “Because Harry’s a damn good flier himself.”
“Yeah, on my Firebolt.” Harry snorted.

Ginny suddenly made a noise that was halfway between a yelp and a squeal. “Firebolt! Harry, you could fly past the dragon!”

“WHAT?!” Lily demanded. “Tell me you didn’t do something that stupid!”

“He did.” James whispered, a smile appearing on his face.

“Harry!” Lily protested.

“Lils, he’s fine.” James pointed out, pulling her against his chest. “He’s right here. Like he said, does he look permanently disfigured?”

“No.” Lily whispered, relaxing slightly.

“And what did you think about this?” Jen asked Sirius.

“Didn’t get the letter until after the fact.” Sirius admitted. “For which I am eternally grateful, because it nearly gave me a heart attack anyway.”

Hermione stared at her, intending to shoot the idea down, but the more she thought about it, the more she realised … “That might actually work.”

“You agreed?” Addie asked incredulously.

Hermione shrugged. “Harry is an incredible flier. If anyone can fly past a dragon, it’s him.”

Harry, on the other hand, stared at Ginny like she’d suddenly grown another head. “Ginny, I’m not allowed a broom, remember? I’m only allowed my wand, so …”

Lily sighed. “Harry, did you forget Charms?”

Harry blushed slightly. “Just for a minute.”

He broke off abruptly, gaped at her for a few more seconds, then turned to Hermione. “I need you to help me.”

Sirius chuckled. “When in doubt …”

“Harry!” Hermione sighed irritably. “What in Merlin’s name do you think I’ve been trying to do?”

“No!” A smile slowly spread across Harry’s face. “I need you to teach me how to do a Summoning Charm by Tuesday!”

“You had three days to master a charm like that?” Lily asked worriedly.

“I got there.” Harry assured her. “Eventually.”

Despite the fact that they now had a plan, when Harry awoke on Monday morning, no closer to mastering the Summoning Charm, he seriously considered for the first time ever just running away from Hogwarts.

As Lily hugged Harry to her, Addie forced herself to hold back from doing exactly the same thing. Spending fourteen years with Lily, listening to her relive the first fifteen months of Harry’s life over and over, had led to her feeling as protective of Harry as anyone else.

But Lily was here now, and it was her time to comfort him.

But as he looked around the Great Hall at breakfast time, and thought about what leaving the castle would mean, he knew he couldn't do it. It was the only place he had ever been happy … well, he supposed he must have been happy with his parents too, but he couldn't remember that.

“You were.” Sirius said quietly. “You were one of the happiest babies I’d ever come across.”

“Out of?” Addie asked sweetly.

“There were quite a few actually.” Sirius informed her. “Harry, Hermione and Neville, obviously. Edgar brought Susan to Order meetings once or twice when they couldn’t get a sitter. Lily used to baby-sit for Molly, although the twins were a bit older than them. I don’t think I ever met Ron as a baby … I definitely never met Ginny. But Harry never even cried much. He was always smiling.”

Somehow, the knowledge that he would rather be here and facing a dragon than back on Privet Drive with Dudley was good to know; it made him feel slightly calmer.

Lily closed her eyes. Her son would rather face a dragon than live with her sister.

He finished his bacon with difficulty (his throat wasn't working too well), and as he and Hermione got up, he saw Cedric Diggory leaving the Hufflepuff table.

Cedric still didn't know about the dragons … the only champion who didn't, if Harry was right in thinking that Maxime and Karkaroff would have told Fleur and Krum …

“How did they know?” Remus asked suspiciously.

“Hagrid took Madame Maxime with us.” Harry smirked. “I think he was a bit soft on her. And I ran into Karkaroff on the way back.”

"Hermione, I'll see you in the greenhouses," Harry said, coming to his decision as he watched Cedric leaving the Hall.

“You’re going to tell him, aren’t you?” James asked.

Harry nodded, meeting his eyes. “It was the right thing to do.”

“You’re a better man than me.” James admitted.

“You’d have done the same thing, James.” Lily said softly. “You might not think it now, but in that situation, you’d do the same thing.”

"Go on, I'll catch you up."

"Harry, you'll be late, the bell's about to ring -"

"I'll catch you up, okay?"

By the time Harry reached the bottom of the marble staircase, Cedric was at the top. He was with a load of sixth-year friends. Harry didn't want to talk to Cedric in front of them; they were among those who had been quoting Rita Skeeter's article at him every time he went near them.

Sirius scowled. “Even with Cedric backing you up?”

“They never did it in front of him.” Harry shrugged. “I don’t think he knew. But I still didn’t want to draw attention to myself.”

He followed Cedric at a distance and saw that he was heading toward the Charms corridor. This gave Harry an idea. Pausing at a distance from them, he pulled out his wand, and took careful aim.

"Diffindo!"

“Ah, the split-bag trick.” Sirius sighed. “Works every time.”

“Oh, really?” Addie asked. “Am I about to figure out why my bag split eight times in the space of one week and you just so conveniently happened to be around to help?”

Sirius’s face drained of colour and he tried to stammer out an explanation.

Addie just laughed. “It was nine times, hun, not eight.” She turned to Sirius. “You never did apologise for that.”

Sirius gave her a charming smile that even twelve years of Dementors had failed to dim. “I am sorry for that, Ads. I just tend to lose my ability to think straight around you.”

Addie snorted. “Darling, you’ve never thought straight in your life.”

Cedric's bag split. Parchment, quills, and books spilled out of it onto the floor. Several bottles of ink smashed.

“Harry …” Lily chided.

“I needed to tell him about the dragons.” Harry pointed out, unapologetically.

Lily sighed. “Send him a letter next time. There’s a whole Owlery if you need it.”

"Don't bother," said Cedric in an exasperated voice as his friends bent down to help him. "Tell Flitwick I'm coming, go on …"

This was exactly what Harry had been hoping for. He slipped his wand back into his robes, waited until Cedric's friends had disappeared into their classroom, and hurried up the corridor, which was now empty of everyone but himself and Cedric.

"Hi," said Cedric, picking up a copy of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration that was now splattered with ink. "My bag just split … brand-new and all …"

"Cedric," said Harry, "the first task is dragons."

“Fun thing to hear first thing on a Monday.” James commented.

"What?" said Cedric, looking up.

"Dragons," said Harry, speaking quickly, in case Professor Flitwick came out to see where Cedric had got to. "They've got four, one for each of us, and we've got to get past them."

Cedric stared at him. Harry saw some of the panic he'd been feeling since Saturday night flickering in Cedric's grey eyes.

“I wonder why.” Addie muttered, rolling her eyes. She glanced at her future counterpart, who was frowning, something like concern flickering in her eyes.

Had she met Cedric some time during the next year?

No, it wasn’t even a year, was it?

That thought drove Cedric from her mind altogether, as she shuddered and Sirius wrapped his arms around her, kissing the side of her head.

“You okay?” He whispered.

Addie nodded, seeing that everyone was watching her in concern. “Just … dragons.”

"Are you sure?" Cedric said in a hushed voice.

"Dead sure," said Harry. "I've seen them."

"But how did you find out? We're not supposed to know …"

"Never mind," said Harry quickly – he knew Hagrid would be in trouble if he told the truth. "But I'm not the only one who knows. Fleur and Krum will know by now – Maxime and Karkaroff both saw the dragons too."

Cedric straightened up, his arms full of inky quills, parchment, and books, his ripped bag dangling off one shoulder. He stared at Harry, and there was a puzzled, almost suspicious look in his eyes.

Addie grimaced, remembering what Cedric had told her. “My father always taught me that nothing came free. That no one would do anything for me unless they wanted something in return, because that was the way the world worked. Harry proved him wrong.”

Sometimes she wondered why Amos wasn’t a Slytherin.

"Why are you telling me?" he asked.

Harry looked at him in disbelief. He was sure Cedric wouldn't have asked that if he had seen the dragons himself. Harry wouldn't have let his worst enemy face those monsters unprepared – well, perhaps Malfoy or Snape …

“No.” Harry shook his head. “I wouldn’t let anyone face them unprepared.”

“Voldemort?” Hermione asked lightly.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Anyone within reason.”

“And I’m within reason now, am I?” Draco asked.

Harry sighed. “Yes, you are. I don’t think you’d have believed me, but I would have warned you.”

"It's just … fair, isn't it?" he said to Cedric. "We all know now … we're on an even footing, aren't we?"

Cedric was still looking at him in a slightly suspicious way when Harry heard a familiar clunking noise behind him. He turned around and saw Mad-Eye Moody emerging from a nearby classroom.

“Uh oh.” David murmured. “Alastor doesn’t take too kindly to cheating.”

“It’s not really cheating, Dad.” James protested. “Harry didn’t go looking for the dragons, and he’s helping someone else.”

“Alastor will see it as cheating.” David told him. “Although, I agree with you.”

"Come with me, Potter," he growled. "Diggory, off you go."

Harry stared apprehensively at Moody. Had he overheard them?

“Probably.” Jen sighed.

"Er - Professor, I'm supposed to be in Herbology -"

"Never mind that, Potter. In my office, please …"

Harry followed him, wondering what was going to happen to him now. What if Moody wanted to know how he'd found out about the dragons? Would Moody go to Dumbledore and tell on Hagrid, or just turn Harry into a ferret?

Sirius chuckled. “He wouldn’t use the same animal twice, Pronglet.”

Well, it might be easier to get past a dragon if he were a ferret, Harry thought dully, he'd be smaller, much less easy to see from a height of fifty feet …

Fred lifted his wand. “That can be arranged.”

Harry disarmed him lazily. “I’ve already done it, Fred. Besides, I don’t know how I’d have actually completed the task as a ferret.”

Lily stared at him. “Harry, did you … Did you just do that wordlessly?”

Harry frowned. “I don’t think so. Did I?”

“No.” Hermione said certainly. “Your lips moved. You just spoke so quietly we couldn’t hear you.”

“Which is the first step to wordless magic.” Sirius finished.

He followed Moody into his office. Moody closed the door behind them and turned to look at Harry, his magical eye fixed upon him as well as the normal one.

"That was a very decent thing you just did, Potter," Moody said quietly.

David raised an eyebrow. “That’s … unusual.”

“Not what Moody would usually say?” James guessed.

“Not to your face.” David confirmed. “Or not immediately. He challenges you first, forces you to defend your actions. If you can’t defend them, then you shouldn’t do them.”

Harry didn't know what to say; this wasn't the reaction he had expected at all.

"Sit down," said Moody, and Harry sat, looking around.

He had visited this office under two of its previous occupants. In Professor Lockhart's day, the walls had been plastered with beaming, winking pictures of Professor Lockhart himself.

Everyone shuddered, except Addie who gaped at the book. “Not Gilderoy Lockhart?!”

“That’s the one.” Sirius grimaced. “Didn’t Harry mention him in the last book?”

“Probably.” Addie said faintly. “In which case, I hoped I’d misheard.”

When Lupin had lived here, you were more likely to come across a specimen of some fascinating new Dark creature he had procured for them to study in class.

Now, however, the office was full of a number of exceptionally odd objects that Harry supposed Moody had used in the days when he had been an Auror.

David relaxed. That sounded like Moody’s office at the Ministry.

On his desk stood what looked hike a large, cracked, glass spinning top …

“Sneakoscope.” David said.

… Harry recognized it at once as a Sneakoscope, because he owned one himself, though it was much smaller than Moody's. In the corner on a small table stood an object that looked something like an extra-squiggly, golden television aerial.

“Secrecy Sensor.” David filled in, when James looked at him.

It was humming slightly.

“That means that there’s secrecy and lies around.” David explained. “But then it is a school, so I’d expect that anyway.”

What appeared to be a mirror hung opposite Harry on the wall, but it was not reflecting the room. Shadowy figures were moving around inside it, none of them clearly in focus.

“A Foe-Glass.” Jen whispered. “It shows your enemies. The closer the figures, the more danger you’re in.”

"Like my Dark Detectors, do you?" said Moody, who was watching Harry closely.

"What's that?" Harry asked, pointing at the squiggly golden aerial.

"Secrecy Sensor. Vibrates when it detects concealment and lies … no use here, of course, too much interference - students in every direction lying about why they haven't done their homework.

David nodded.

Been humming ever since I got here. I had to disable my Sneakoscope because it wouldn't stop whistling.

Hermione suppressed a snort. Yeah, that’s the reason.

It's extra-sensitive, picks up stuff about a mile around. Of course, it could be picking up more than kid stuff," he added in a growl.

“Given that Harry’s been illegally entered into the Tournament, I’d say it probably is.” Lily remarked.

"And what's the mirror for?"

"Oh that's my Foe-Glass.

Jen smiled slightly, proved right.

See them out there, skulking around? I'm not really in trouble until I see the whites of their eyes. That's when I open my trunk."

He let out a short, harsh laugh, and pointed to the large trunk under the window. It had seven keyholes in a row.

“A multi-dimensional trunk.” Regulus raised an eyebrow. “That’s interesting.”

“Very.” David agreed. “He hasn’t got that now.”

Harry wondered what was in there, until Moody's next question brought him sharply back to earth.

"So … found out about the dragons, have you?"

Harry hesitated. He'd been afraid of this – but he hadn't told Cedric, and he certainly wasn't going to tell Moody, that Hagrid had broken the rules.

“Good boy.” James muttered.

"It's all right," said Moody, sitting down and stretching out his wooden leg with a groan. "Cheating's a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament and always has been."

David frowned again. That certainly didn’t sound like Alastor Moody.

"I didn't cheat," said Harry sharply. "It was – a sort of accident that I found out."

Moody grinned. "I wasn't accusing you, laddie. I've been telling Dumbledore from the start, he can be as high-minded as he likes, but you can bet old Karkaroff and Maxime won't be. They'll have told their champions everything they can. They want to win. They want to beat Dumbledore. They'd like to prove he's only human."

That did, though. David relaxed again. He was clearly forgetting to take into account the sixteen or so years until this happened.

Clearly Moody had changed a little; it was to be expected.

Moody gave another harsh laugh, and his magical eye swivelled around so fast it made Harry feel queasy to watch it.

Hermione grimaced. “I know the feeling.”

"So … got any ideas how you're going to get past your dragon yet?" said Moody.

“Yeah …” Harry answered, attempting a weak smile. “Got a fairly good idea … Just need to work out the details.”

Surprise flickered on Moody’s face for a second …

“Probably expecting you to procrastinate like your father.” Lily commented.

… then it was gone. “Good lad. Off you go then.”

It was only as Harry sped down to the greenhouses for Herbology that he realised that Moody had never told him why he called him into his office.

“What did he want then?” Jen asked.

“I should think Dumbledore asked him to keep an eye on Harry, and Alastor took it to mean ‘help him as much as you can’.” David answered.

“But didn’t you just say that Moody wasn’t like that?” James frowned.

David nodded. “I did, but I’m also thinking about aurors and recruits. Alastor Moody has a strong sense of fair play – a fourteen-year-old competing against his will against three older opponents won’t sit well with him.”

At two o'clock on Tuesday morning …

“Harry, get some sleep!” Lily cried. “You have to face a freakin’ dragon!”

“I had to practice.” Harry told her. “Or my broom wasn’t going to move.”

… Harry stood near the fireplace, surrounded by heaps of objects: books, quills, several upturned chairs, an old set of Gobstones, and Neville's toad, Trevor.

“Oi!” Neville protested with a grin. “Leave Trevor alone!”

“Sorry, Nev.” Harry chuckled. “I wasn’t aiming for him. He just kept hopping in front of whatever it was I was summoning. I think he enjoys it.”

Only in the last hour had Harry really got the hang of the Summoning Charm.

Lily was very pale, but managed to resist tightening her hold further, seeing as it was already tight enough to cut off Harry’s blood supply.

"That's better, Harry, that's loads better," Hermione said, looking exhausted but very pleased.

"Well, now we know what to do next time I can't manage a spell," Harry said, throwing a rune dictionary back to Hermione, so he could try again, "threaten me with a dragon.

“So Harry needs a dragon, Ron needs a troll …” Fred pretended to take notes. “Gin? You need any life-threatening monsters to learn spells?”

“I don’t think so.” Ginny said thoughtfully. “But put me down for a basilisk just in case.”

Right…" He raised his wand once more. "Accio Dictionary!" The heavy book soared out of Hermione's hand, flew across the room, and Harry caught it.

"Harry, I really think you've got it!" said Hermione delightedly.

"Just as long as it works tomorrow," Harry said. "The Firebolt's going to be much farther away than the stuff in here, it's going to be in the castle, and I'm going to be out there on the grounds …"

Lily closed her eyes. “Don’t say that. It won’t matter. Once you have the Summoning Charm, as long as you know where it is, the distance doesn’t matter.”

"That doesn't matter," said Hermione firmly. "Just as long as you're concentrating really, really hard on it, it'll come. Harry, we'd better get some sleep … you're going to need it."

“Yeah, you are.” James agreed. “You shouldn’t attempt to outfly a dragon without sleep.”

“I’d prefer it if he didn’t attempt to outfly a dragon in the first place.” Lily said, but smiled nonetheless.

Harry had been focusing so hard on learning the Summoning Charm that evening that some of his blind panic had heft him. It returned in full measure, however, on the following morning. The atmosphere in the school was one of great tension and excitement. Lessons were to stop at midday, giving all the students time to get down to the dragons' enclosure – though, of course, they didn't yet know what they would find there.

“We did.” Ginny grimaced. “Colin kept asking me why I was so pale.”

“And let me guess,” Harry sighed, “he was more hyperactive than usual?”

Ginny nodded. “I swear he must eat extra sugar in the morning. No one is that perky naturally.”

Harry felt oddly separate from everyone around him, whether they were wishing him good luck or hissing "We'll have a box of tissues ready, Potter" as he passed.

“So it takes a dragon to get you to ignore people like that?” Hermione asked. “I’ll have to remember that.”

It was a state of nervousness so advanced that he wondered whether he mightn't just lose his head when they tried to lead him out to his dragon, and start trying to curse everyone in sight.

Fred raised an eyebrow. “If you can’t tell the difference between us and a dragon, Harry, we’re going to have a bit of a problem.”

Time was behaving in a more peculiar fashion than ever, rushing past in great dollops, so that one moment he seemed to be sitting down in his first lesson, History of Magic, and the next …

“You actually found something that made History of Magic fly by?” Arabella asked. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

… walking into lunch … and then (where had the morning gone? the last of the dragon-free hours?), Professor McGonagall was hurrying over to him in the Great Hall.

Lily squeezed Harry’s hand once, then loosened her grip so that she didn’t break it during the task.

Lots of people were watching.

"Potter, the champions have to come down onto the grounds now … You have to get ready for your first task."

"Okay," said Harry, standing up, his fork falling onto his plate with a clatter.

“You did eat, didn’t you?” Addie asked in concern, before Lily could.

Harry gave her a smile. “Yeah. Didn’t eat much, but Hermione made me eat something.”

“Actually, I went to the kitchens and asked the house-elves if they’d mind adding an anti-nausea potion to the food that went to the Gryffindor table.” Hermione admitted. “Figured you wouldn’t want to throw up in front of the whole school.”

"Good luck, Harry," Hermione whispered. "You'll be fine!"

"Yeah," said Harry in a voice that was most unlike his own.

“It didn’t sound that different.” Hermione assured him.

He left the Great Hall with Professor McGonagall. She didn't seem herself either; in fact, she looked nearly as anxious as Hermione.

James smiled. “That’s because McGonagall cares about her lions, even when she pretends she doesn’t.”

As she walked him down the stone steps and out into the cold November afternoon, she put her hand on his shoulder.

"Now, don't panic," she said, "just keep a cool head … We've got wizards standing by to control the situation if it gets out of hand … The main thing is just to do your best, and nobody will think any the worse of you …

Lily smiled. “I knew she was my favourite for a reason.”

“Lies!” James challenged jokingly. “I thought Flitwick was your favourite.”

“Well, now I have a new favourite.” Lily retorted.

Are you all right?"

"Yes," Harry heard himself say. "Yes, I'm fine."

She was leading him toward the place where the dragons were, around the edge of the forest, but when they approached the clump of trees behind which the enclosure would be clearly visible, Harry saw that a tent had been erected, its entrance facing them, screening the dragons from view.

“I hated that tent.” Harry muttered, remembering what it was like to just sit and wait.

"You're to go in here with the other champions," said Professor McGonagall, in a rather shaky sort of voice, "and wait for your turn, Potter. Mr. Bagman is in there … he'll be telling you the – the procedure …

Harry snorted. “One thing to call it.”

Good luck."

"Thanks," said Harry, in a flat, distant voice. She left him at the entrance of the tent. Harry went inside.

Fleur Delacour was sitting in a corner on a how wooden stool. She didn't look nearly as composed as usual, but rather pale and clammy.

“I don’t blame her.” Hermione murmured.

“Do you know her well?” Arabella asked.

Hermione shrugged. “We talked a couple of times in the library. She doesn’t really have any real friends at Beauxbatons and I was the only Hogwarts student who bothered talking to her. Aside from the boys, of course, but that can hardly be considered ‘talking to her’. She’s actually quite nice when you get to know her.”

Viktor Krum looked even surlier than usual, which Harry supposed was his way of showing nerves. Cedric was pacing up and down. When Harry entered, Cedric gave him a small smile …

Again, Addie smiled to herself.

… which Harry returned, feeling the muscles in his face working rather hard, as though they had forgotten how to do it.

"Harry! Good-o!" said Bagman happily, looking around at him. "Come in, come in, make yourself at home!"

Bagman looked somehow like a slightly overblown cartoon figure, standing amid all the pale-faced champions.

Hermione burst out laughing. “Oh, Harry, you do have a way with words!”

“I didn’t write this!” Harry protested with a grin. “Won’t deny that’s what he looked like though.”

He was wearing his old Wasp robes again. "Well, now we're all here – time to fill you in!" said Bagman brightly. "When the audience has assembled, I'm going to be offering each of you this bag" – he held up a small sack of purple silk and shook it at them – "from which you will each select a small model of the thing you are about to face!

“Why not just tell them?” Lily asked. “They’ll see as soon as the first champion removes it anyway.”

There are different – er – varieties, you see. And I have to tell you something else too … ah, yes … your task is to collect the golden egg!"

Jen let out a little whimper and Remus pulled her closer. “That means you’ll actually have to get close to the eggs – a nesting mother will kill from fifty feet if she thinks you’re a threat to her young.”

Harry glanced around. Cedric had nodded once, to show that he understood Bagman's words, and then started pacing around the tent again; he looked slightly green. Fleur Delacour and Krum hadn't reacted at all. Perhaps they thought they might be sick if they opened their mouths; that was certainly how Harry felt. But they, at least, had volunteered for this …

“That’s true.” James took Lily’s hand in the hopes that she’d break his fingers instead of Harry’s when it all started.

And in no time at all, hundreds upon hundreds of pairs of feet could be heard passing the tent, their owners talking excitedly, laughing, joking …

“How did they react when they saw the dragons?” Alice asked curiously.

“Awe, mostly.” Neville answered. “My legs gave out, I think; Dean and Seamus had to practically drag me into the stands.”

“We joked until we saw what it was.” Fred added grimly.

“I think I made a lot of inappropriate jokes.” Draco continued, pulling a face. “But if I’m honest, I don’t actually remember – I went into shock when I saw the dragons.”

Narcissa smiled weakly, and patted his arm.

Harry felt as separate from the crowd as though they were a different species. And then – it seemed like about a second later to Harry – Bagman was opening the neck of the purple silk sack.

"Ladies first," he said, offering it to Fleur Delacour.

“How gallant.” Lily muttered.

She put a shaking hand inside the bag and drew out a tiny, perfect model of a dragon – a Welsh Green.

“Not bad.” Sirius commented. “They’re relatively easy to handle – prefer to avoid humans.”

“Unless they’re provoked.” Jen reminded him. “And I have a feeling that attacking their nest would count as provoking them.”

It had the number two around its neck And Harry knew, by the fact that Fleur showed no sign of surprise, but rather a determined resignation, that he had been right: Madame Maxime had told her what was coming.

The same held true for Krum. He pulled out the scarlet Chinese Fireball.

“Risky one.” Jen murmured. “Tolerant of their own species, but prefer humans and pigs to any other prey.”

It had a number three around its neck. He didn't even blink, just sat back down and stared at the ground.

Cedric put his hand into the bag, and out came the blueish-grey Swedish Short-Snout, the number one tied around its neck.

“Looks like he’s going first.” Addie remarked, watching her future counter-part closely. “Any wisdom on those ones, Sirius?”

“Not as well-known for human killings, but they prefer uninhabited areas anyway, so that might be why.” Sirius recited.

Addie lowered her gaze, concern flashing in her eyes. She knew Cedric would be fine, but she was still worried.

“That’s it!” Addie stated, getting to her feet. She seized her future self’s arm and dragged her to the other room. “We need to talk.”

“Don’t mind us!” Addie called over her shoulder. “Well, that was weird.” She remarked as the door closed behind her.

Addie gave her a dirty look. “Just answer me one question. Are you his mother?”

“What?” Addie looked bewildered. “Who?”

“Cedric.” Addie elaborated. “Are you his mother?”

Addie laughed, almost doubling over. “You’re kidding me, right?” She asked, once it had subsided, still grinning broadly. “Like I’d ever go near that again.”

“Then why are you acting so concerned about him?!” Addie demanded. “You do remember what his father did, right?”

“Believe it or not, I remember very well.” Addie stated, slightly coldly. “More than you do, if you can believe that. Besides, in case you hadn’t noticed, Cedric is due to be born this coming September, which means for me to be his mother, you would have to be pregnant already.”

Addie blushed, having forgotten that fact.

“There is a reason why I know Cedric, although, yes, I wish there wasn’t. You’ll find out at the end of the book, I’m sure. He is nothing like his father, I promise.”

In the main room, Sirius was watching in amusement as the younger students took bets on what the two were talking about. He had already guessed, given that Addie had confessed the previous night that she’d become fond of Cedric over the last few weeks.

Finally, they returned and Addie sat down beside him, still smirking. “She seemed to think I might be his mother.” She whispered, seeing his questioning look.

Sirius, of course, knew that she wasn’t, but he still couldn’t help the sudden image in his mind of his girlfriend in his arms, an image that had plagued him for almost a year at Hogwarts, except, this time, her stomach was swollen and his hand rested protectively on it.

The image flashed in her mind momentarily as he unwittingly projected it and she rolled her eyes, turning his face towards her for a chaste kiss. “Love you.” She whispered, settling against him.

Sirius smiled, wrapping an arm around her. “I know.” He nodded to Mandy, who found her place.

Knowing what was left, Harry put his hand into the silk bag and pulled out the Hungarian Horntail …

Lily drew in a breath. “That’s the one with the spikes, right?”

Jen nodded, looking apprehensive. “You want to know?”

Lily hesitated, then closed her eyes. “Go on.”

“They’re supposed to be the most dangerous of all dragon breeds.” Jen said slowly, watching her best friend for any signs that she should stop. “And they have the longest fire-breathing range of any dragon. They feed on humans whenever possible.”

“They’re not the worst though.” Sirius said hastily. “The Peruvian Vipertooths have such a liking for humans that the ICW had to start culling them.”

James gave his best mate a grateful smile and rubbed Lily’s arm.

… and the number four.

“Means you’re going last.” Remus said unnecessarily.

“I’d rather have gone first.” Harry admitted. “Get it over with.”

It stretched its wings as he looked down at it, and bared its minuscule fangs.

"Well, there you are!" said Bagman. "You have each pulled out the dragon you will face, and the numbers refer to the order in which you are to take on the dragons, do you see?

“I think we figured that one out.” Regulus muttered.

Now, I'm going to have to leave you in a moment, because I'm commentating.

“How do you commentate something like that?” Arabella asked.

“With difficulty.” Hermione answered. His commentary really hadn’t added much to the event; just enough to occasionally distract the champions.

Mr. Diggory, you're first, just go out into the enclosure when you hear a whistle, all right? Now … Harry … could I have a quick word? Outside?"

“Why?” James asked suspiciously

"Er … yes," said Harry blankly, and he got up and went out of the tent with Bagman, who walked him a short distance away, into the trees, and then turned to him with a fatherly expression on his face.

James gritted his teeth, but said nothing.

"Feeling all right, Harry? Anything I can get you?"

“Anything like what?” David asked.

"What?" said Harry. "I – no, nothing."

"Got a plan?" said Bagman, lowering his voice conspiratorially. "Because I don't mind sharing a few pointers, if you'd like them, you know. I mean,"

“But surely that’s cheating!” Lily protested. “Moody is one thing, but Bagman could get Harry into serious trouble here. Oh, stop it, Padfoot!” She snapped, when Sirius opened his mouth. “You know perfectly well what I mean!”

Bagman continued, lowering his voice still further, "you're the underdog here, Harry … Anything I can do to help …"

“Underdog he might be, but he’s one of the organisers.” David scowled.

Regulus smirked. “Well, taking into account what Fred said about him paying them in leprechaun gold, I’d say that maybe Bagman’s got money trouble. He’s probably got a bet that Harry will win the Tournament.”

“He did.” Ginny confirmed.

"No," said Harry so quickly he knew he had sounded rude …

“Don’t worry about sounding rude, Harry.” Lily whispered. “He’d get you in trouble if you took his help.”

… "no – I – I know what I'm going to do, thanks."

"Nobody would know, Harry," said Bagman, winking at him.

Fred snorted. “Bullshit.” He ducked Hermione’s smack. “People always find out things like that.”

"No, I'm fine," said Harry, wondering why he kept telling people this, and wondering whether he had ever been less fine. "I've got a plan worked out, I –"

A whistle had blown somewhere.

“Cedric’s up.” Narcissa murmured.

"Good lord, I've got to run!" said Bagman in alarm, and he hurried off.

Harry walked back to the tent and saw Cedric emerging from it, greener than ever. Harry tried to wish him luck as he walked past, but all that came out of his mouth was a sort of hoarse grunt.

“I’m sure he knew what you meant.” Jen said.

Harry went back inside to Fleur and Krum. Seconds later, they heard the roar of the crowd, which meant Cedric had entered the enclosure and was now face-to face with the living counterpart of his model.

It was worse than Harry could ever have imagined, sitting there and listening.

Lily tightened her grip just slightly, knowing that it would get worse when it was Harry out there.

The crowd screamed … yelled … gasped like a single many-headed entity …

Hermione chuckled. “That’s one way of describing us.”

… as Cedric did whatever he was doing to get past the Swedish Short-Snout.

“What was it?” Jen asked curiously.

Hermione glanced at James and Lily, who were both very pale. “I’ll tell you later, if the book doesn’t. I think we explained to Harry.”

Krum was still staring at the ground. Fleur had now taken to retracing Cedric's steps, around and around the tent. And Bagman's commentary made everything much, much worse …

“Yeah, that didn’t help anyone.” Ginny muttered.

Horrible pictures formed in Harry's mind as he heard: "Oooh, narrow miss there, very narrow" … "He's taking risks, this one!" … "Clever move – pity it didn't work!"

And then, after about fifteen minutes, Harry heard the deafening roar that could mean only one thing: Cedric had gotten past his dragon and captured the golden egg.

"Very good indeed!" Bagman was shouting. "And now the marks from the judges!"

But he didn't shout out the marks; Harry supposed the judges were holding them up and showing them to the crowd.

“Shot ribbons from their wands.” Hermione elaborated, when everyone looked at them. “Cedric got … 38 out of a possible 50.”

“Not bad.” Lily commented. “Did they mark him down on something?”

“He got slightly injured.” Ginny informed her. “Bad burn on his shoulder.”

"One down, three to go!" Bagman yelled …

“Ominous.” Jen muttered.

… as the whistle blew again. "Miss Delacour, if you please!"

Fleur was trembling from head to foot; Harry felt more warmly toward her than he had done so far as she left the tent with her head held high and her hand clutching her wand.

“Brave girl.” Sirius commented. “She’d have been a Gryffindor.”

“Not necessarily.” Hermione disagreed. “She’s quite intelligent.”

He and Krum were left alone, at opposite sides of the tent, avoiding each other's gaze.

The same process started again …

"Oh I'm not sure that was wise!" they could hear Bagman shouting gleefully. "Oh … nearly! Careful now … good lord, I thought she'd had it then!"

“I don’t think Bagman was helping.” Regulus commented.

“He wasn’t.” Fred agreed.

Ten minutes later, Harry heard the crowd erupt into applause once more … Fleur must have been successful too. A pause, while Fleur's marks were being shown … more clapping …

“39.” Hermione said, anticipating the question.

… then, for the third time, the whistle.

"And here comes Mr. Krum!" cried Bagman, and Krum slouched out, leaving Harry quite alone.

He felt much more aware of his body than usual; very aware of the way his heart was pumping fast, and his fingers tingling with fear … yet at the same time, he seemed to be outside himself, seeing the walls of the tent, and hearing the crowd, as though from far away.

"Very daring!" Bagman was yelling, and Harry heard the Chinese Fireball emit a horrible, roaring shriek …

Hermione shuddered, remembering the awful noise.

… while the crowd drew its collective breath. "That's some nerve he's showing – and – yes, he's got the egg!"

Applause shattered the wintery air like breaking glass; Krum had finished …

“40.” Hermione said automatically.

… it would be Harry's turn any moment.

He stood up, noticing dimly that his legs seemed to be made of marshmallow. He waited. And then he heard the whistle blow.

Mandy breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s switched to Hermione’s perspective.”

“Thank Merlin.” Lily whispered.

“Dragons!” Ginny whimpered for what felt like the thousandth time in an hour as Viktor Krum left the arena, golden egg safely under one arm. “What were they thinking?!”

“They weren’t.” Fred answered ‘helpfully’.

Hermione winced as the redhead’s nails dug into her arm. “Gin, could you loosen your grip a bit?” She hissed, as ten dragon-keepers led in a very large, very angry Hungarian Horntail. “I have a feeling things are about to heat up and I’d rather you didn’t cut off my blood supply in the progress.”
“Let’s just hope that ‘heat up’ is just a term of phrase in this instance.” Ginny muttered, loosening her grip nonetheless.

“That didn’t last long.” Hermione muttered.

“Hermione …” A sheepish voice said from behind her.

“Ron.” Mandy and Arabella chorused.

Both girls turned to glare at their ‘brother’. “What?!”
Ron blinked at the word, hissed in unison with no small amount of venom.

Fred chuckled. “I almost feel sorry for him. You two do venom very well.”

Sirius smirked. “Now who does that remind me of?”

Addie blushed and smacked him on the arm. “Shut up.”

“I wanted to apologise …”

“Isn’t he aiming it in the wrong direction?” James asked.

“No, he knows me too well.” Harry explained. “He knew I wouldn’t even consider forgiving him until he apologised to Hermione.”

“It’s not me you have to apologise to.” Hermione told him coldly. “It’s Harry. Weren’t you the one who said that none of us would betray him?”

Harry grimaced. “Low blow, don’t you think?”

“No.” Hermione, Ginny, Lily and Addie answered together.

Ron flinched as though he’d been struck. “I was …”

“Jealous, I know.” Hermione turned her gaze back to the arena, where Harry had just appeared, looking ridiculously small.

“Oi!” Harry protested.

“Was it that bad?” James asked, eyeing his future son. “Harry’s not that short.”

“You’re underestimating the size of this dragon, mate.” Fred said cheerfully.

“Doesn’t seem like such fun now, does it?”

“What are you talking about?” Sirius asked. “Seems like great fun to me!”

Addie smacked his arm, but with no real force behind it. “Can we try to avoid commenting unless we deem it necessary please? At least until after Harry’s faced the dragon.

“No.” Ron whispered. “He’ll be alright though, won’t he?”

“I hope so.” Hermione said quietly. “Now ssh!”

Harry had raised his wand and was mouthing something – Accio Firebolt, she assumed – and then there was nothing.

“Didn’t it work?” Lily whispered.

“It did.” Harry assured her. “I just had to wait for it to get there.”

Hermione groaned. “I should have brought your broom down with me.”

Harry shrugged. “Not the end of the world.”

Sniggers started to erupt from around her. The Slytherins down the row, smirking, pressed the buttons on their robes so they flashed Potter Stinks at her.

“Come on …” Hermione whispered.

Suddenly, she heard an odd noise, like that of a wand swiping through the air, but this was continuous and she squinted in the direction of the castle to see Harry’s broom speeding towards him.

The Marauders cheered and Lily gave them a dark look. “From now on, you speak at your own risk.” She warned.

Hermione could hear Ludo Bagman shouting something from the commentators’ box, but she paid him no heed, solely focused on Harry, who seized his Firebolt and swung his leg over it.

He kicked off hard, soaring into the air, high above the Horntail. He hovered there for a second, and Hermione could almost see the Quidditch moves ticking over in his mind.

Harry nodded in confirmation and James opened his mouth to ask if he wanted to be Captain one day, but caught Lily’s eye and closed it again hastily.

His face was more serene than it had been for weeks and, despite her worry, she couldn’t help smiling fondly – trust Harry to use flying to relax, even under these circumstances.

Jen chuckled. “You get that from James.”

“Jen …” Lily said.

Jen rolled her eyes and stayed silent.

Then he dived, faster than he ever had before, and the Horntail’s head followed him. She unleashed a great ball of fire and he pulled out of the dive just in time.

Lily bit back a scream, clutching Harry’s hand tightly.

With a scream, Hermione’s hands flew to her mouth. Her nails were digging into her cheeks hard enough to leave marks, but she didn’t care.

Harry smirked. “They didn’t fade for two days.”

“Harry …” Lily whispered softly, and he squeezed her hand.

“Great Scott, he can fly!” Bagman cried. “Are you watching this, Mr. Krum?”

Regulus let out a low whistle, but kept his mouth shut, more afraid of Lily’s temper than he cared to admit.

Later, Hermione would endure hours of discussion between Harry and Ron about how Harry had been compared with The Viktor Krum …

James and Sirius were both beaming, but, like Regulus, knew better than to induce Lily’s wrath right now.

… but right now, the words seemed to wash over him as he soared higher in a wide circle, like a bird of prey coasting the thermals.

“Potter blood.” David muttered, too quietly for Lily to hear. He had noticed it when Harry flew the day before, the similarities, not just with James, but with himself, and his father too.

“Take it easy, Harry.” Hermione murmured through her fingers. “Don’t worry about being the fastest. Just take it slow and steady.”

“Good advice.” Remus whispered.

In some ways, she envied James and Lily who, as spirits, could soar alongside him, but their words of comfort did nothing to soothe him.

Lily breathed a sigh of relief, glad that she was at her son’s side, but the fact that she could do nothing to help him diminished that relief significantly.

The Horntail’s head swivelled round, watching Harry’s every move, keeping a very close eye on this threat to her nest. He plummeted again, just as another fireball erupted. He missed the flames, but the spiked tail flew up to meet him …

Addie grabbed Harry’s free hand, unable to hold back her worry any longer.

… and Hermione screamed again as the spikes caught Harry’s shoulder, ripping his robes.

“I was fine!” Harry said hastily, pulling his t-shirt down to show them his shoulder, marred by only the faintest scar. “It only just scraped me.”

“He’ll be fine!” Ron grabbed her waist as she momentarily lost her control over her empathy, and staggered at the wave of emotion that hit her.

“From the crowd.” Hermione filled in. “Not Harry.”

“He’ll be fine. And I’m sorry.”

Sirius smiled slightly. While he didn’t agree with how Ron had acted that month, he understood what it was like to springboard from emotions into the wrong decision. He had the dark memories to prove it.

Hermione shook her head as she gratefully accepted his hug. “Forget about it, alright? Just concentrate.”
Ron nodded in agreement and they turned their eyes back to the sky. Harry’s face was twisted in pain, but he was flying steady, which was a good sign, and his face soon cleared.

Despite Harry’s reassurances, Lily and Addie both relaxed at that.

Harry flew around the Horntail again, this time staying just high enough to prevent her from throwing another fireball, although close enough to remain a threat.

Yellow eyes remained fixed on his tiny form as he edged slowly higher, weaving this way and that, until she finally snapped, rising up from her nest, her wings unfurling, each the size of a small aircraft.

Lily let out a whimper, finally able to visualise just how large this monster was.

And then Harry dived, before anyone could realise he’d moved.

“Come on, Harry.” James whispered.

He dived faster than his first dive, faster, even, than Viktor Krum had at the World Cup, and he was closer to the ground.

“How close?” David asked sharply.

“Closer than he was yesterday.” Hermione answered. “And it was faster than that, as well.”

Lily groaned, gripping Harry tighter.

Even if he could manage to get his hands on the egg, he was going to crash.

The crowd roared, their shouts escalating to screams, as Harry scooped the egg into his arms, pulled out of the dive millimetres from the ground, and sped towards the exit to the arena, landing safely outside the blast zone.

Everyone relaxed at once, most people started applauding, and Lily hugged Harry tightly, shakily threatening to ground him for the rest of his life if he scared her like that again.

Heart thudding in her chest and trying desperately to steady her breathing before she started hyperventilating, Hermione lowered her hands, barely flinching as Ginny threw her arms around her in relief.

The atmosphere in the room was lighter than it had been for several chapters.

“Thank Merlin …” Ron whispered, embracing both of them. “Come on!”

The three Gryffindors raced along the row, down the steps, around the chain-link fence – pausing for a few seconds to greet Charlie …

Fred mock-pouted. “He didn’t say hello to us.”

“He had to get the dragons back to Romania before they caused anymore damage.” Ginny told him briskly. “And you know that.”

… who looked as relieved as they did – and into the medical tent.

Harry was sitting on one of the cots, his robes torn where the Horntail had struck, but the skin beneath was mercifully undamaged.

Lily breathed a sigh of relief, and relaxed her grip entirely.

Lily was standing at his side, berating him in a voice so high-pitched that James, who seemed to be speechless with shock and relief, frequently winced.

James rubbed his ear. “Was it that bad?”

“I think only dogs could understand her.” Hermione said cheerfully.

Harry chuckled. “You were almost as bad, Mione.”

“Harry, you were brilliant!” Hermione cried. Her voice was squeaky, but she ignored it, hugging him with trembling arms, and whispered, “You mum would like to request that you never do something like that again.”

Lily gave Harry a pointed look and he smiled. “I promise, Mum, I will never outfly a Hungarian Horntail again.”

“I didn’t mean it that specifically, Harry.” Lily sighed.

“Done.” Harry grinned. “Thanks for the message.”
“That was amazing!” Ginny hugged him as well, her movements just as shaky.

Hermione saw James narrow his eyes and followed his gaze to where Ron was standing awkwardly in the entrance of the tent. She cleared her throat and nudged him forwards.

“Harry,” Ron began seriously, “whoever put your name in that Goblet … I recon they’re trying to do you in.”

Sirius clapped slowly. “Well done.”

“Caught on, have you?” Harry asked coolly. “Took you long enough.”

Hermione and Ginny both stepped back, exchanging a nervous glance.

“Look, mate, I’m sorry.” Ron sighed. “I’ve been a complete and utter prat, alright? I know that. I should have known you wouldn’t have entered your name, and I’ll understand if you never talk to me again.”

“Harry’s going to forgive him.” Lily predicted.

“What makes you say that?” James asked, clearly not in any mood to spare Ron.

“Because it’s what you’d do.” Lily said simply.

“Forget it.” Harry told him.

Lily smiled.

“But …” Ron began.

“Brothers fight.” Harry interrupted. “Don’t they?”

Ron nodded with a faint smile. “But they’re still brothers.”

Sirius grinned at Remus, who had said something similar after the Willow Incident.

“He’s an idiot. But he’s still my brother.”

“Right.” Harry agreed. “Just trust me in future, alright?”
“I will.” Ron vowed. “I knew I was being irrational … and when Charlie told me about the dragons …”

“He knew?!” Jen demanded.

Hermione smiled slightly. “Wait for it …”

“He told you?!” Ginny demanded. “Why didn’t you say anything?!”
“I did!” Ron protested. “Remember? I told Hermione that Seamus had told me that Parvati told Dean that Hagrid wanted to see you. Well, Seamus never told me anything, so it was me all along.

James gaped at the book. “… What?”

I thought we’d be alright once you’d figured that out.”

Harry stared at him. “Who could possibly figure all that out?”

“Ron.” Fred said innocently.

Ron sighed. “It was a bit mental, wasn’t it?” He shrugged. “I guess I was a bit distraught.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Boys.”

"Harry, c'mon, they'll be putting up your scores …"

Picking up the golden egg and his Firebolt, Harry ducked out of the tent, Ron by his side, talking fast, followed by Hermione and Ginny, feeling more elated than they would have believed possible an hour ago.

"You were the best, you know, no competition.

Fred nodded fervently. “Definitely.”

Cedric did this weird thing where he Transfigured a rock on the ground … turned it into a dog … he was trying to make the dragon go for the dog instead of him.

“Not bad.” James commented.

Well, it was a pretty cool bit of Transfiguration, and it sort of worked, because he did get the egg, but he got burned as well – the dragon changed its mind halfway through and decided it would rather have him than the Labrador …

Jen winced. “Ouch.”

“Was he alright?” Lily asked.

Harry nodded. “Madam Pomfrey fixed him right up.”

… he only just got away. And that Fleur girl …

“That Fleur girl?” Arabella repeated in amusement.

… tried this sort of charm, I think she was trying to put it into a trance – well, that kind of worked too, it went all sleepy …

“Veela magic?” Jen guessed.

“Could be.” Regulus agreed. “At the very least, it’d have to be stronger than your regular, run-of-the-mill sleeping charm.”

… but then it snored, and this great jet of flame shot out …

The Marauders sniggered.

… and her skirt caught fire – she put it out with a bit of water out of her wand. And Krum – you won't believe this, but he didn't even think of flying!

James beamed.

He was probably the best after you, though. Hit it with some sort of spell right in the eye.

Sirius nodded. “That’s what I was thinking.”

Only thing is, it went trampling around in agony and squashed half the real eggs – they took marks off for that, he wasn't supposed to do any damage to them."

Lily frowned. “How come Fleur got less than Krum then? She didn’t even get injured.”

“I think they factored in time as well.” Ginny explained. “And he did get it done quite quickly.”

Ron drew breath as they reached the edge of the enclosure. Now that the Horntail had been taken away, they could see where the five judges were sitting clearly – right at the other end, in raised seats draped in gold.

"It's marks out of ten from each one," Ron said, and the first judge – Madame Maxime – raised her wand in the air. What looked like a long silver ribbon shot out of it, which twisted itself into a large figure eight.

Everyone from the past applauded.

"Not bad!" said Ron as the crowd applauded. "I suppose she took marks off for your shoulder …"

“Probably.” Remus agreed.

Mr. Crouch came next. He shot a number nine into the air.

“That’s seventeen.” Jen summarised, as everyone clapped again.

"Looking good!" Ron yelled, thumping Harry on the back.

Next, Dumbledore. He too put up a nine.

“Twenty-six.” Jen said, grinning.

The crowd was cheering harder than ever.

Ludo Bagman – ten.

Thirty-six.” Jen corrected, but was frowning. “He must have a bet on – Harry got hurt; he shouldn’t be giving him full marks.”

“Don’t complain!” James told her, jumping up and down in his seat. “Harry’s only five marks away from beating Krum!”

Regulus snorted. “That’s not going to happen.” He smiled lightly at the looks he was getting. “What? Does anyone really think Karkaroff’s going to mark fairly?”

"Ten?" said Harry in disbelief. "But … I got hurt … What's he playing at?"

"Harry, don't complain!" Ron yelled excitedly.

And now Karkaroff raised his wand. He paused for a moment …

“Calculating how much he can give him so that he doesn’t overtake his champion.” Jen scowled. “Git.”

… and then a number shot out of his wand too – four.

“Which leaves Harry with forty points.” Remus concluded, since Jen was too busy muttering unsavoury things about Karkaroff under her breath. “He and Krum are tied for first place.”

James ruffled Harry’s hair, beaming. “That’s my boy.”

"What?" Ron bellowed furiously. "Four? You lousy, biased scumbag, you gave Krum ten!"

But looking at Harry, Hermione knew he wouldn’t have cared if Karkaroff had given him zero; Ron's indignation on his behalf would be worth about a hundred points to him.

Harry nodded. “It was.”

And it wasn't just Ron … those weren't only Gryffindors cheering in the crowd. When it had come to it, when they had seen what he was facing, most of the school had been on his side as well as Cedric's.

“Even the Slytherins.” Draco said, when everyone looked at him.

Lily frowned. “Wait, so what’s the unexpected task then?”

Mandy chuckled. “I’m not done yet, Lils. Not even close – this is a long one.”

By the middle of December, things had mostly returned to normal for the ‘Golden Trio’, with the only noticeable difference being that Harry was more inclined to listen to Hermione when she urged them to do their homework.

“We’ve lost him!” Fred wailed, dissolving into ‘tears’ as James reached around Harry to pat him on the shoulder.

Lily rolled her eyes at both of them.

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the golden egg.

Sirius frowned. “What?”

The prize from the first task turned out to contain a clue leading to the second …

“Ah.”

“When was the second task?” Lily asked.

“February 24th.” Hermione answered.

… but opening it at the Gryffindor after-party had done nothing but release a high-pitched wail that had Seamus guessing at a banshee …

“They wouldn’t bring in a banshee.” James said.

“They brought in a dragon.” Lily argued.

“But banshees are considered part-human.” Remus explained. “It would cause too much trouble.”

… Neville worrying about the Cruciatus Curse …

Alice put an arm around his shoulders.

… and Fred and George warning Harry that he’d have to attack Percy in the shower, because it sounded like him singing.

Ginny laughed. “It did actually.”

Satisfied by Harry’s insistences that he was working on it …

Hermione glared at him. “Working on it, my arse.”

Harry grinned sheepishly. “Sorry?”

Jen was frowning at the book. “How can a ‘high-pitched wail’ be considered a clue?”

… Hermione found herself in the library, a week from the end of term, trying to finish her Transfiguration essay. She still had a bad feeling, but Harry’s outstanding performance in the first task had provided her with a boost of confidence, and the only things worrying her now were Rita Skeeter, Hagrid’s Skrewts, Karkaroff, Hogwarts’ apparent problem with Dumbledore and, of course, the Yule Ball.

“Ah, of course.” David smiled. “That’s the unexpected task.”

“The Yule Ball is a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament.” Sirius explained, seeing the students look a bit lost. “The champions have to open it.”

Addie frowned. “But Hogwarts balls are normally open to fifth year and above only – Harry would have to find an older date.”

“They changed it.” Hermione told her. “Fourth years and above only, unless an older student invited you.”

“Thank Merlin.” Harry muttered. “Finding a date would have been a lot harder otherwise.”

Professor McGonagall had announced the Yule Ball at the end of their Transfiguration lesson, although Hermione wasn’t altogether sure Harry and Ron heard her …

“Oh, we did.” Harry said darkly.

… because they were having a sword fight with Fred and George’s fake wands, which had turned into a tin parrot and a rubber haddock respectively.

James and Sirius sniggered.

Everyone else had certainly heard though; nothing else was talked about anymore, especially among the female population.

Sirius groaned. “Oh great …”

Addie sighed. “And that is why I was so happy I had the dorm-mates I did in seventh year. Alice came and took refuge in the end.”

Hermione scowled at her. “Lucky you.”

Everywhere Hermione looked, the Yule Ball seemed to have taken over, especially in her dorm room as gossip about dresses, make-up, hair and boys (of course) seemed to reverberate through the walls.

There was nowhere she could escape from it, even here in the library, she realised, as giggles arose from the table behind her.

“You poor thing.” Lily sympathised. “Did you say there was a Christmas Eve ball in seventh year, Addie?”

Addie nodded. “You and James talked the teachers into it.”

She glanced up, exchanging a small consolatory smile with Madam Pince, who was glaring at the girls in question, and sighed, trying to focus on her work. She couldn’t care less about who had just asked whom to the Ball, but she couldn’t help but feel slightly envious. She doubted anyone was about to line up to ask her out.

Hermione blushed slightly and she glared at the book. “Stupid future people.” She muttered.

“You or me, Mione.” Harry reminded her lightly. “And that’s because most of the boys at Hogwarts are idiots.”

Hermione’s empathy picked up a hint of irritation, and she looked up again, raising a questioning eyebrow as Harry collapsed into the seat opposite her.

Now it was Harry’s turn to turn red and Hermione smirked at him. “If I go down, I’m taking you down with me.”

“This is hopeless!” He proclaimed loudly, causing Madam Pince to look over and hiss a warning at him.

Hermione sighed. “What’s wrong?”

“This bloody Yule Ball, that’s what’s wrong!” Harry told her heatedly, but in a quieter voice.

Hermione heaved another sigh as Madam Pince glared in their direction again. This was hardly the place for this conversation – the table behind her had suddenly gone quiet as the girls began to eavesdrop.

Harry grimaced. “Didn’t realise my predicament was that entertaining.”

Hermione shrugged. “They just realised you might not have a date yet.”

Yet another annoyed sigh slipped past her lips as another group of girls filed in, one of them with a Bulgarian scarf tied around her waist.

Lily tutted. “Oh, honestly!”

Great. Just what I need.

Viktor Krum spent a lot of time in the library. Normally, Hermione wouldn’t have minded – he was quiet and didn’t disturb her, so why should she? Unfortunately, he also had a self-proclaimed ‘fan club’ that followed him everywhere and it was impossible to concentrate with them around.

“Come on.” She muttered to Harry, closing her book. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one trying to avoid them. The two Gryffindors reached the doors just as Viktor Krum did.

“What’s the point in being famous if you don’t want the perks?” James asked.

Sirius grinned. “Prongs … you do know you’re famous, right?”

James looked at Lily, who was smiling at him. “Oh … that’s why.”

He held the door for them, acknowledging his fellow champion with a nod.

It was Hermione he spoke to, though.

“Why?” Arabella asked curiously.

Mandy shot her an amused glance. “If you let me read, we might find out.”

“Excuse me, may I haff a vord?”

Hermione glanced at Harry, who shrugged at her. “Alright,” she said slowly. “I’ll meet you under the beech tree, Harry.” Adjusting her Transfiguration book in her arms, she followed him to an alcove, where he turned to face her, his smile making him look far less surly than he had at the World Cup.

“Amazing how that happens, isn’t it?” Jen commented, glancing at Draco.

“Ve met at the Vorld Cup.”

“Really?” Arabella asked mildly. “You’d think you’d remember meeting an international Quidditch star.”

He said unnecessarily. “Herm-own-ninny?”

Hermione glared at Fred and Draco, both of whom had sniggered. “It’s a difficult name.”

“Of course it is, Herman.” Harry said innocently, ducking the pillow that flew at him.

“Hermione.” She corrected, shaking his offered hand. “Yes, we did.” Out of the corner of her eye, she could see James and Lily unashamedly eavesdropping …

Lily blushed, but James just shrugged. “Can you blame us?”

… and resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

“I vas wondering,” Viktor continued, “if you vould accompany me to the Yule Ball.”

Silence fell, and Hermione leaned back against the sofa cushions, smirking at their stunned faces.

“I …” Jen hesitated. “I was not expecting that. And I realise that sounds quite mean, but it’s nothing to do with you, Hermione.”

“Oh, I know.” Hermione told her. “I was just as shocked, I promise.”

Hermione’s eyes widened with shock and she only just caught her book before it fell to the floor.

Sirius chuckled. “Isn’t that how you reacted when I first asked you out?” He asked Addie casually.

She rolled her eyes. “No, my response was ‘Why the hell would I want to do that?’”

Sirius shrugged. “Close enough.”

“Wh-what? Out of all the girls in this castle, you’re asking a fourth year who barely glances in the mirror before she leaves the dorm?”

“You can’t take that as a bar of attractiveness.” Lily argued. “Look at Addie – she never looks in a mirror.”

“That’s because I have a chronic fear of my reflection.” Addie said flatly, leaving everyone wonder if she was joking or not.

Sirius gave her a warning look. “Ads, we’ve been through this.”

Addie sighed. “I know,” she said in the same tone, “I’m perfect.”

Addie snorted. “The hell I am.” She muttered.

“But,” Addie’s lips twitched in a smile, though her voice stayed perfectly emotionless, “I am to him and that’s what matters.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “See if I say ridiculously cheesy things to you anymore.”

Lily stared at them for a few seconds, unsure whether they were messing around, before turning back to Hermione. “My point is, Addie never looks in a mirror, and she’s stunning. Don’t,” she warned, pointing at Addie, “you are, and the whole school knows it, even if you don’t.”

“You haff a best friend who is famous also.” Viktor pointed out. “You do not get … vot is the vord?”

“Oh, that makes sense.” Arabella murmured.

“Well, why wouldn’t he ask her?” Harry asked.

Arabella smiled. “There’s no reason, Harry, but it still stands that Viktor is eighteen. Most eighteen-year-olds wouldn’t look twice at a fourteen-year-old.”

“Star-struck?” Hermione suggested, knowing that it was true. “Look, I’m flattered – really, I am – but …”

“I do not mean this to be a date.” He interrupted. “I haff a girlfriend in Bulgaria I love very much, but as a champion I need somevon to accompany me.

“And she couldn’t come for the ball?” Jen asked, slightly sceptically.

“No, Katarina, believe it or not, is quite a shy person, so no one outside Viktor’s family knows they’re together, and she’s a year younger than him, so she wasn’t part of the delegation.” Hermione explained. “We’ve stayed in contact over the summer.”

I vould rather it be somevon I can talk to and is not using me for my fame.”

Harry was nodding in agreement.

“Just as friends?” Hermione clarified.

“Just as friends.” He repeated.

Hermione hesitated, her eyes flickering towards James and Lily.

“And how are you going to ask us?” Lily asked.

Unable to ask aloud, she casually lifted her left hand and scratched her temple.

James frowned. “Is she doing what I think she’s doing?”

What do you think?

“Yes.” Sirius answered in a whisper. “She is. But … But … How?”

Mandy smiled. “Luckily for you, Sirius, that very question is about to be answered.”

At the end of third year, after Sirius had escaped with Buckbeak, the trio had decided that it might be a good idea if they had some form of sign language that they could use, just in case something like what happened in the Shack happened again.

“Yeah, but the same one we use?” Sirius asked.

“You have your own sign language?” David questioned.

“It’s not really a sign language.” Addie answered, when no one else did. “There are a few … gestures, for want of a better word, that have phrases attached to them.”

“How did you decide on them?” Regulus asked.

“Cross between random signs and animal instincts.” Sirius explained. “When we’re in animal form, we can have quite detailed conversations just through basic instinct. But it doesn’t explain how they know it.”

(“Yeah, but Sirius and Professor Lupin are the good guys,” Ron had argued. “But they might not have been,” Harry had retorted.)

David gave Harry a proud smile. “That’s my grandson.”

Harry had admitted to them that there were a few gestures that he seemed to associate with different messages or phrases. When he had mentioned this in his letters to Arabella and Mandy, they had told him that the Marauders had also used a form of sign language that used those very movements.

Hermione guessed that he had picked it up subconsciously around his parents, the same way he had begun learning to talk.

“So you’re bilingual.” Alice concluded. “Except your second language is non-verbal.”

Harry nodded. “Pretty much, yeah.”

“Go for it.” Lily said with a smile.

“Don’t trust him.” James disagreed instantly.

Jen sniggered. “Well done, Mr and Mrs Potter. United front all the way.”

Lily rolled her eyes at her. “James, Hermione wouldn’t even be considering it if she’d picked up anything in the air.”

James sighed. “Lils, I haven’t said that yet. Besides, I’m probably just filling in. Padfoot’s not there to play overprotective father figure.”

“Sirius was fine with it.” Hermione argued.

Sirius snorted. “The hell I was. I just trust you a hell of a lot more than I trust him.” He explained, when Hermione looked startled.

With a barely audible sigh, Hermione extended her empathy, finding nothing that would suggest Viktor was a threat to her. “Okay then.” She agreed. “Where should I meet you?”

“Outside our ship.” Viktor told her.

“That, I don’t like.” Jen frowned. “There might be nothing wrong with Krum, but I wouldn’t go near Karkaroff with a …”

“He wouldn’t have tried anything, not while Viktor was there.” Hermione interrupted. “Wants to keep him on his good side.”

“I haff to valk in vith my school.”

Hermione nodded understandingly. “That makes sense. Alright, I’ll see you then.” She departed with a wave and headed outside, to where Harry was lounging under the beech tree.

“What did he want?” Harry asked as she approached, obviously trying not to sound suspicious and failing miserably.

Harry pouted. “And here I thought I did a good job.”

Hermione patted him on the arm. “Of course you did, dear.”

Harry growled and muttered something that sounded a lot like ‘patronising’ and ‘best friends’.

Hermione shrugged, her expression blank. “To hex me until I was unconscious and stuff me in a broom cupboard – I only just got away.”
“What?!” Harry jumped to his feet, drawing his wand. “Where is he?!”

“Gryffindor.” Draco muttered.

“I was being sarcastic, Harry!” Hermione sighed, settling down on the grass and tugging him down beside her. “Flattered though I am that you’re willing to curse someone older and with more training just to defend me.”

“Well, of course I am.” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “You’re my best friend.”

“You might belong in Gryffindor where dwell the brave at heart,” Ginny recited, smirking at Draco, seeing that he’d just made the same point, “Their daring, nerve and chivalry set Gryffindors apart.”

Harry scowled at her. “Don’t do that.”

“What’s bothering you, Harry?” Hermione asked, ignoring him.

Harry sighed. “The dance thing. And the date thing. I can’t dance.

James chuckled. “Oh, Harry …”

“Leave him alone.” Lily chided. “It’s not like you know how to dance.”

Jen sniggered. “No, Lil, James does know. He just doesn’t advertise it.”

James flushed under his girlfriend’s gaze. “Of course I know, Lily. I’m a pureblood. Moreover, I’m a rich pureblood. And what does that mean?”

“Ministry balls.” Draco, Neville, Addie, David, Regulus, Sirius, Sirius, Addie and Jen answered in unison.

“Emily taught James to dance when he was eight.” David continued. “It was …”

“It was one of the last things she ever did.” James finished in a whisper.

Lily rested her head on his shoulder and gestured for Mandy to keep reading.

And how are you supposed to ask a girl out if they move in packs all the time?!”

“Oh, Harry …” Ginny sighed, miraculously keeping a straight face. “Harry, Harry, Harry.”

“You should have written to me.” Sirius told him. “Don’t keep things bottled up.”

Addie looked horrified. “Harry, if you ever find yourself in this predicament, for the love of all that is holy, write to Remus, NOT Sirius, alright?”

Harry nodded, trying not to laugh. “Alright.”

“I’ve failed my son!” James wailed. “How could this have happened?!”
“Oh, shut up!” Lily said, rolling her eyes. “It’s not like you were a Casanova yourself!”

Lily snorted. “No, he was not.”

Harry perked up. “You never did tell me what they said, Hermione.”

Hermione smirked. “Now you’ll know.”

“Excuse me?” James looked affronted. “I’ll have you know, Lily, that women threw themselves at my feet.”

James tightened his arm around Lily’s waist. “I love you.”

Lily chuckled. “I know.”

Harry looked faintly disturbed. “Is that true?” He whispered to Addie.

She smiled at him. “Oh, yes. Sirius more so than James, but they both had a certain gift when it came to the females of Hogwarts.”

“Pity it never worked on you, really.” Sirius responded to her smirk.

“Never?” Addie questioned, glancing down at their joined hands.

Sirius chuckled. “Alright, good point.”

Lily raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“I ignored them, of course.” James amended instantly, with a charming smile. “How could I not with you around?

Sirius coughed loudly. “Whipped.”

But they were there, all the same.”
“Nice save.” Lily remarked, her lips twitching. “But that doesn’t change the fact that it took you a year and a half to get me to go out with you …

“Did it?” Harry asked in surprise. He had just always assumed that his parents fell in love immediately.

Sirius chuckled. “James told me and Jen he was going to marry Lily the second he laid eyes on her.”

Lily turned to James. “Really?”

James blushed. “Thanks Padfoot.”

“No problem.” Sirius said cheerfully. “But because we were all friends, he never managed to ask her out until the end of third year, except he was joking when he did it …”

“Because Sirius used to ask me out in the most bizarre ways sometimes,” Addie continued with a smile, “so James was mocking him. Lily’s refusals were partly her mocking me and partly because your father had a big head back then and she was waiting for it to deflate.”

“At the beginning of fifth year, he stopped joking around,” Lily added, “except I never got the memo, so I kept knocking him back, quite meanly sometimes.” She pointed at Addie. “I blame her.”

Mandy smirked and read the next line.

... whereupon you told me you were in love with me and ran away.”

Harry laughed. “Really?”

Addie nodded. “Sirius and Remus cursed his seat at breakfast one morning so he’d say the first thing that came into his head. He was looking at Lily, the first thing he said was “I think I’m in love with you”, and as soon as he realised what he’d said, he grabbed a piece of toast and tore out of the hall so fast you’d have thought Voldemort himself was after him.”

“So I chased him down,” Lily said, smiling at her boyfriend, “and told him that I love him too.”

“I should have hexed your seat.” Sirius remarked, looking at Addie. “Would have solved a lot of problems.”

“And created new ones.” Addie reminded him gently. “I wasn’t ready, Sirius – I would never have forgiven you.”

Hermione burst out laughing. “You’re kidding me?!”

Hermione winced. “Sorry, Harry.”

“Hey!” Harry protested, looking hurt. “It’s a valid question!”

“Sorry, Harry!” Hermione said, still giggling. “I’m not laughing at you, I promise. Now,” she turned to him, giving herself a moment to order her thoughts, “let’s take the dating thing first.

“Good idea.” Lily approved.

If you were Ron, I’d ask you who you want to ask, but you’re not Ron, you’re you.”

“Good observation.” Fred teased.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Thanks.”

“And that changes things?” Harry asked blankly.

Hermione smiled at him. “Not usually. But you have to open the Ball, Harry. Everyone is going to be watching you – do you really want the added pressure of a first date?

Lily was nodding in agreement, looking relieved that someone was there to give her son advice.

You’re better off asking someone you know quite well, who you can have a laugh with. Plus, you’re guaranteed that they’re not there with the Boy-Who-Lived.” She glanced at Lily, who was nodding emphatically. “Your mum agrees with me, if that means anything.”

“It did.” Harry said softly.

Harry considered this for a few minutes, staring out across the still surface of the lake. A large tentacle lifted lazily into the air, snagged a passing bird, and sank below the water again, leaving only ripples in its wake.

“You’re right.” He said eventually.

“Are you surprised?” Draco drawled.

“As always.” Turning to face her, he gave her a charming smile that made her stomach seem to vanish.

Hermione turned bright red and Harry raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Oh dear.” Lily sighed, but she was smiling. “He’s got his father’s smile.”

“That’s my boy.” James grinned.

“How much had you eaten that day?” Mandy asked.

“Erm …” Hermione thought back. “Now that you mention it, I didn’t eat much lunch, and it was nearly dinner.”

“That explains it.” Mandy said, nodding. “Even we fell victim to James and Sirius a few times, when we hadn’t eaten for a few hours.”

“Mione, you know you love me …”

The sentence trailed off, and Hermione fought to catch up with his implied question. Good Lord, I’m his best friend and he can throw me off-guard with a smile. If he ever figures this out, no girl in Hogwarts would be able to resist.

Harry smirked. “Really?”

“Don’t even think about it.” Hermione and Lily said sharply.

“Er, yes, Harry, I do, and if we were having this conversation yesterday, I’d have said yes in a second, but … I already have a date. I’m sorry.”
“You …” Harry broke off, his face a palate of emotions. “Krum?”

“Which emotions?” Lily asked curiously.

Hermione tilted her head, thinking hard. “Surprise … concern … suspicion …”

Harry nodded. “That about sums it up.”

“Yes.” Hermione confirmed cautiously. “I’m a big girl, Harry; we’re just going as friends.” Dimly, she wondered why she had told Harry that …

“Why did you?” James asked.

“After how he reacted to Ron?” Hermione questioned.

… then remembered what he’d said about Ron when he’d nearly cursed her.

“Hermione, what you do is up to you.” Harry told her. “As long as he treats you well, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s not like he could lie to you, is it?

“That’s true.” Arabella murmured.

Not with your … gift.” He grinned suddenly. “Do you want to tell Ron or shall I?”

Fred snorted. “There’s the question.”

“I’m not saying anything until the Yule Ball.” Hermione smirked. “Hopefully, he won’t kick up as much of a fuss with that many witnesses.”

“Don’t count on it.” Ginny scowled.

“Don’t count on it.” Harry muttered …

The two pseudo-siblings exchanged a grin.

… shifting slightly. “Hermione … you don’t think … I mean … he doesn’t … you know … like you, does he?”

Everyone sat forward, especially Sirius, who clearly hadn’t even thought about it.

Hermione frowned. “Harry, I know he’s been a bit horrible to me in the past sometimes, but we’re still friends.”

Fred snickered. “I don’t think that was what he meant.”

“No,” Harry sighed, his face rather red …

“Awkward conversation.” Jen sang.

… “I mean like you, like you.”
“Oh.” Hermione was silent for a few seconds. “No.” She said finally.

Sirius breathed a sigh of relief.

Addie caught it and smirked. “Hey, Harry, Hermione, you two should get together.”

“What?!” They asked in unison.

Addie nodded, ignoring Sirius’s incredulous expression. “You should.”

“Why?” Hermione asked slowly.

“Because I want to know whose side Sirius would take if you break up.” Addie answered.

Harry laughed. “That’s a good question.”

Sirius frowned. “You’re all mean to me.”

“At least I don’t think so.

“You can be rather oblivious.” Ginny commented, her eyes flickering to Harry. “Then again, you’re not the only one. But I don’t think Ron has that sort of feelings for you.”

I certainly haven’t picked anything like that up. Why do you ask?”

Harry dropped his gaze, pulling at the grass by his side. “Just that … Ginny mentioned something the other day about you two bickering like an old married couple.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Thing is, Harry, they’re not an old married couple, which means they’d never work. Most couples start fighting like that after sixty-odd years together, because they’ve worn on each other’s last nerve. Hermione and Ron have already done that, after three years.”

“We’d done it after one.” Hermione corrected.

Hermione pulled a face. “When we bicker we might sound like a married couple, Harry, but then we could also sound just like Ron and Ginny do – like brother and sister.

Ginny nodded in agreement. “True.”

Most of our arguments are just that – arguments. Far too damaging and far too long to be healthy in a romantic relationship.

“Also true.” Lily agreed.

Hell, it’s a miracle a platonic relationship has lasted, if it weren’t for you, I really don’t think it would have done.”

Harry nodded, looking slightly relieved. “That’s good. I was worried that you two would hook up, break up and then I’d have to take sides.”

Hermione smiled softly. “Even if he did have feelings for me, Harry, he put me through too much over the last few years for me to be able to think of him that way.

Sirius relaxed completely.

He’s like my brother, and I love him despite every single one of his flaws, but that’s all.” Her smile shifted into a smirk. “Not a word about Viktor, understood?”

“But if Ron doesn’t have feelings for you, why would you going with Viktor be a problem?” Lily asked.

“Firstly, Hermione didn’t have the hero-worship that Ron did, and yet Krum showed her more attention than he did Ron.” Ginny answered. “Secondly, Ron hadn’t quite … realised that he saw Hermione as a sister, so he’d feel as protective as he would of me, but not realise why and …”

“Subsequently act like an arse.” Jen finished sweetly.

Ginny nodded. “Exactly.”

“My lips are sealed.” Harry assured her. “So who do you think I should ask?”

Hermione thought about it for a few seconds, running through all of the girls in their year. It was probably best if it was someone their age.

“Probably,” James agreed, “if it’s going to be someone he knows. Unless he took one of the three chasers.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t even think of them.”

“They already had dates.” Fred pointed out. “Alicia went with Lee, Katie went with George, and Angie went with me.”

“Angelina didn’t already have a date.” Hermione smirked. “You hadn’t asked her yet.”

“Story?” Addie guessed.

Harry sniggered. “Two days later, when Ron still didn’t have a date, he asked Fred who he was going with. Fred said Angelina, at which point Hermione said, “Have you already asked her then?””

Hermione smirked. “To which Fred replied, “That’s a good point. Oi! Angelina! Go to the Ball with me?””

Addie rolled her eyes. “That’s something this idiot would do. Something he has done actually.”

“That wasn’t the Ball, Ads.” Sirius reminded her mildly. “That was the February Hogsmeade trip in fifth year.”

Addie looked at him incredulously. “I should be surprised that you can tell me when it was, but I’m not.”

“Wait a second.” Jen frowned. “Fred, I thought you said George liked Alicia? Why’d he go with Katie?”

“Because they were still in their awkward we-don’t-really-like-each-other-we’re-just-really-good-friends stage.” Fred explained. “So George went with Katie, and Alicia went with Lee. They swapped halfway through the evening and needed to be pried apart by the end of it.”

“Katie and Lee as well?” Ginny asked innocently. “I thought Katie had a thing for Oliver.”

“She does?” Fred frowned. “Huh. Maybe we shouldn’t keep owling him to get over it then.”

Let’s see … Can’t be a Slytherin.

“What’s wrong with Slytherin?” Narcissa asked.

Hermione sighed, and counted them off. “Pansy Parkinson, Death Eater in training. Millicent Bulstrode, ditto. Artemis Moon, don’t talk to her enough to be able to judge her. Tracy Davis, neutral, but gives off a really strong don’t-even-think-about-it vibe. Daphne Greengrass is a nice girl when you talk to her, but …”

“Hermione?” Mandy interrupted. “You’re about to explain that in your head.”

“Oh.” Hermione sat back. “Go on then.”

Daphne Greengrass is the only decent one that I can think of, but it would be social suicide for her and he’d never hear the end of it.

“Ah.” Narcissa nodded. “That does make sense.”

Ravenclaw … Let’s see, that’s Mandy Brocklehurst, Su Li, Padma Patil and Lisa Turpin. Well, Lisa’s got nothing in common with him at all – they’d have nothing to talk about even if he did know her.

Draco grimaced, nodding in agreement. He and Hermione both had Ancient Runes with Lisa.

Mandy and Su are both too shy, they’d never handle the attention … or the gossip. Padma could work, but … No, she might be the smarter sister, but she’s still far too shallow.

Hermione never got along with Padma, but she couldn’t help feeling guilty for leaving her with Ron, who by all accounts had been a truly rubbish date.

Hufflepuff then … Susan Bones, Hannah Abbott and Megan Jones.

“Jones is too shy.” Draco commented. “She wouldn’t handle it either.”

“How do you know her?” Narcissa asked.

“I have Arithmancy with her.” Draco explained.

“What subjects did you take?” Narcissa prompted. “I don’t think you ever said.”

“Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, and Care of Magical Creatures.” Draco answered.

Megan’s too shy, so she’s out. I think Susan’s got a thing for Neville …

Neville pulled a face. “Hermione!”

“I didn’t know she was your cousin!” Hermione protested. “How was I supposed to know?”

… and Hannah’s dating Ernie Macmillan, so it can’t be either of those. Pity, really, because they’d both have been a good choice.

“They would.” Ginny agreed. “But it all worked out in the end.”

As for Gryffindor, I’ve got a date, Lavender’s going Seamus and Parvati’s worse than her sister. Plus, I think Dean’s got his eye on her.

“He does.” Harry confirmed.

Last thing we need is another fight in the boys’ dorm.

Hermione sighed, shaking her head. “I can’t think of anyone right …” She trailed off, catching sight of Neville and Ginny making their way towards her, laughing about something. “What about your sister?”

Lily beamed. “Now that’s a good idea.”

“One I couldn’t believe I hadn’t had yet.” Hermione agreed.

“I don’t have a …” Harry stopped, following her gaze. “There’s an idea.”

“Hi.” Hermione greeted as their classmates reached them. “You two have dates for the Yule Ball yet?”

“No.” Ginny answered, as Neville blushed and shook his head. “Boys have asked me, and I’d love to go, but I don’t feel comfortable dating yet, so …”

“Perfect scenario.” Lily said happily.

Harry cleared his throat. “In that case, Miss Weasley, care to solve two problems at once?”
Ginny sat down on the grass beside him. “That depends entirely, Mr Potter, on what you have in mind.”

“Would you go to the Ball with me?” Harry elaborated. “As friends, obviously. That way, you can go to the Ball, without having to start dating before you feel ready, and I can open the Ball without worrying about being on a date.”

Ginny smiled. “Thanks Harry. That sounds great. Who are you going with, Hermione?”
Hermione grinned and leaned over to whisper in her ear. “Viktor Krum.”

“Mind-blown!” Ginny chuckled.

Ginny gasped. “No way!”

“Who?” Neville asked.

“Don’t ask.” Harry warned.

“Thanks.” Neville chuckled. “I didn’t need to know.”

“First of all, you won’t believe it. Second of all, you want plausible deniability for when Ron blows up at her.”

“He didn’t, did he?” Sirius asked.

“It was more of a simmering anger than an explosion,” Hermione conceded, “but I did get both barrels eventually.”

Neville winced at the thought. “Fair enough.”

“What about you, mate?” Harry asked. “You got your eye on anyone?”

Neville flushed slightly. “Not really. I was going to ask Hermione, you know, as friends …

“Really just as friends.” Neville confirmed hastily.

… but …”
Hermione smiled apologetically. “If I didn’t have a date, I’d have said yes, Neville.”

Alice beamed at her, and Hermione blushed slightly. “Well, I would.” She muttered.

“Really?” Neville asked, sounding surprised.

“Of course.” Hermione said truthfully. “Why wouldn’t I? You’re a great guy, Nev; stop selling yourself short. What about Susan Bones?”

Hermione’s blush deepened and she muttered something that sounded like ‘How was I supposed to know?’

Neville looked thoughtful. “I suppose I could ask her … Might look a bit weird though …”

“You could go as friends though, sweetheart.” Alice pointed out. “In fact, it’s probably for the best at the moment – unless you’ve got someone in mind, it means that no one gets …”

“Alice?” Lily called, interrupting her mid-flow. “This happened last Christmas for them, hun.”

“Why’s that?” Hermione asked with a frown. “You spend a lot of time together.”

Ginny chuckled. “They’re cousins, Mione. At least I think they are.”

Okay, so she doesn’t have a thing for him. But Harry knows Ginny better anyway.

“Plus, Susan had a crush on Harry back then.” Neville put in. “It would have been awkward.”

“Had?” Lily questioned.

“They talked at the Yule Ball.” Neville explained. “And she realised that she does really like him, just in a more platonic way.”

“My mum and her dad were brother and sister.” Neville confirmed.

“I can’t believe I didn’t ask.” Hermione whispered. “You’d never mentioned your parents before.”

“I wouldn’t have answered.” Neville admitted, before catching his mother’s eye. “I’m not ashamed.” He insisted hastily. “I just don’t like being pitied. And Gran’s always saying how I’ll never live up to you two and I just don’t want other people doing the same thing.”

Alice hugged him tightly. “Sweetheart, the best thing you can do to make us proud is to be happy and do your best. You don’t have to ‘live up to’ anything.”

“But we could just go together like Harry and Ginny are. Means she’s not being taken advantage of, I suppose.”

The boys nodded, as the girls rolled their eyes.

“I’m sure Susan could take care of herself.” Jen remarked.

Neville shrugged. “Probably, but we were only fourteen.”

“Good on you, mate!” Harry called as Neville jogged away.

Ginny and Hermione exchanged an exasperated glance, but didn’t comment on the male mind-set.

“Wise move.” Arabella said sagely. “They wouldn’t listen anyway.”

Instead, Hermione prompted, “Harry, I think you had another problem, didn’t you?”

Harry looked confused for a second. “Oh yeah. I can’t dance.”
Ginny rolled her eyes and got to her feet. “Come on. Get up.”

Lily smiled at her. “Thank you.”

“Are you going to teach me?” Harry asked, scrambling up after her.

“No, I’m going to make you hop on one leg and sing the national anthem.” Ginny said briskly.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Honestly, what else was I going to do?”

“Give me your hand.”
As she began to teach Harry a basic waltz, Hermione leaned back against the tree and chatted to Lily, who was reminiscing about the Christmas Ball in her seventh year.

“Oh yeah,” Hermione turned to Sirius, “why was Amos Diggory there three years after he graduated, and do I want to know why you nearly hit him?”

“His wife wanted a word with McGonagall – she was taking her mastery.” Addie answered before Sirius could. “And, no, you really don’t.”

“That bad, huh?” Addie asked quietly.

“Worse.” Sirius said darkly.

“It wasn’t all bad.” Addie disagreed lightly. “He’s a dick – we’ve known that for years. Besides, I think we both did a pretty good job of forgetting he even existed.”

Sirius allowed himself a smirk, as her ecstatic cries seemed to echo in his head, finally accessible in his memory for the first time in fourteen years. “Yes we did.”

Hermione turned back to Mandy resolutely. “I’m not going to ask. Go on.”

After half an hour, Ginny called for a halt. “My feet are killing me.”

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “After half an hour?”

“It wasn’t my fault.” Harry mumbled, blushing.

“Sorry.” Harry muttered sheepishly.

Ginny smiled at him. “It’s not your fault; you’re actually pretty good.

Lily smiled, but it was tinged with sadness. The only time James had willingly mentioned his mother was when he told her that she taught him to dance. It must have been such an important part of his memories of her, and she wished she could have done the same with Harry.

I’m just not wearing the proper shoes to dance in.”

“What are you doing?” Ron’s voice asked. He was standing on the path leading down to the lake, watching Harry and Ginny with a bewildered expression.

“Bewildered?” Sirius repeated. “I was a bit more than bewildered.”

“You took it very well.” Jen reminded him.

“I talked to you after I calmed down.” Sirius informed her. “Believe me, that was not my initial reaction.”

“Teaching Harry to dance.” Ginny answered, spinning out to face him. “Harry has to open the Ball, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” Ron sank down next to Hermione, squinting up at them. “Got a date then?”
“A friend.” Harry corrected, exchanging a smile with Ginny.

“Alright for some.” Ron grumbled.

“And here we go again.” Hermione sighed.

Ginny smiled sweetly. “Still reeling from the Fleur disaster?”

“The what?” James asked, smirking in anticipation.

“Fleur disaster?” Hermione repeated.

“He asked Fleur Delacour to the Yule Ball.” Ginny elaborated.

James and Sirius howled with laughter, while Jen gaped at the book. “No offence to your brother,” she said, turning to Fred and Ginny, “but he didn’t honestly think she’d say yes, did he?”

“Who knows?” Fred responded, sniggering.

Ron glared at her. “Thanks a lot.”

“What are sisters for?” Jen asked lightly. “Other than to tell highly embarrassing stories?” She smirked at Sirius, who was still choking on laughter. “Watch it, Padfoot – I’ve got some good ones of you.”

“Yeah, but they’ve heard them all.” Sirius pointed out, still grinning broadly.

Jen turned to Remus with a bright smile. “Have I ever told you about our seventh birthday?”

Sirius’s laughter swiftly vanished and he turned to Mandy. “Read. Now.”

Harry gaped at him. “You what?”

“I don’t know what came over me!” Ron groaned. “She was standing there, talking to Diggory, and I just blurted it out!”

Jen frowned. “Veela blood.”

“What did she say?” Hermione asked sympathetically.

“Nothing!” Ron cried. “She just looked at me like I’d crawled out from under a stone or something! Then I came to my senses and ran for it!”

“Oh, she is part-Veela.” Harry told him. “You were right; her grandmother’s one. She told Ollivander during the Weighing of the Wands – one of ‘grand-mere’s’ hairs is her wand core.”

Hermione sighed. “Your pronunciation was terrible, Harry.”

Hermione flinched. “Harry, remind me to teach you French – you’ll probably need it one day.”

“He will.” James confirmed. “One of our villas is in France.”

Lily gaped at him. “You what?”

“We have a villa in France.” James repeated, smiling. “Did I forget to tell you that? It’s down near a little town called Sarlat.” He turned to Sirius. “Did I …?”

“That was where you spent your honeymoon.” Sirius answered, predicting the question.

While Hermione was sufficiently distracted by staring at James, Ginny patted Ron’s arm sympathetically. “See? She was probably turning on the charm for Cedric and you got a blast of it.

Jen nodded in agreement.

She’s wasting her time anyway – he’s going with Cho Chang.”

Harry looked up. “Is he?”

Sirius winced. “Ouch. Sorry, mate.”

“Yeah.” Ginny’s expression cleared and she winced slightly. “Sorry, Harry. You like her, don’t you?”
Harry shrugged, making a non-committal noise in the back of his throat.

“Yes.” Addie answered, as Harry went bright red.

Ron hesitated, clearing his throat awkwardly, then cracked a smile. “Hey, you’ll never guess who Neville’s going to ask!”

Hermione grimaced. “I’d just like to apologise for Ron in advance, Nev.”

“What did he do?” Alice asked immediately.

Neville sighed. “Just be himself, Mum. Ron can be a git sometimes. It’s fine, Mione.”

“Susan Bones.” Ginny answered. “He just left.”
Ron frowned. “No. Hermione.”

“Yeah, he said he’d thought about it.” Hermione agreed. “But I told him I already had a date and …”

Hermione pulled a face. “That sounds like I was lying about it. I wasn’t, Neville.”

“I know, Hermione.” Neville chuckled. “We just read it, remember?”

Ron snickered. “I don’t blame you.”

Hermione glared at him. “Ron …”

“Hey!” Ron interrupted. “Neville’s right, Hermione – you are a girl!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Addie stated in disbelief. “He honestly said that?”

Hermione just sighed. “Yeah.”

“Thanks for noticing.” Hermione said coolly.

“Well, then you can go with one of us!” Ron said, gesturing to himself and Harry.

“Didn’t Harry already say he had a date?” Lily asked.

“I don’t think he really heard.” Harry told her. “I never said explicitly that I have a date.”

“And you have to be explicit with Ron sometimes.” Hermione said with a smirk.

“Leave me out of it, mate!” Harry said hurriedly. “I’m taking your sister!”
Momentarily distracted, Ron narrowed his eyes at them. “Oh are you?”

Jen chuckled. “Ah, the brother thing.”

“Harry needs someone who’s not using him and I can’t go unless a fourth year or above asks me.” Ginny said, in the same tone as Hermione.

“Fine.” Ron shrugged, turning back to Hermione, either misreading or ignoring the murderous look on her face.

“Misreading it.” Harry said firmly. “Or just missing it altogether. Ron’s an idiot sometimes, but Voldemort would have backed off at that look.”

“That’ll be the Black blood then.” Addie said cheerfully, before rolling her eyes at Sirius. “Oh, you know you’ve got a terrifying death glare.”

“Then what’s yours?” Sirius asked.

“Just as scary, apparently.” Addie conceded. “Never worked on you though.”

“It worked sometimes.” Sirius argued.

“I’m starting to realise why James hexed you.” Mandy muttered.

“Sorry, carry on.” Addie said.

As Mandy found her place, Sirius leaned closer to Addie, whispering, “Besides, it did work on me, just never in the way you intended it.”

Addie shivered, remembering his whispered confession that, far from off-putting, he actually found that look quite attractive and how he had proceeded to demonstrate just how much. She gave him a stern look and he smiled back innocently, as though he didn’t know exactly what he was doing to her.

Yeah, right.

“Me then. Come on, Hermione! We’re going to look really stupid if we don’t have dates!”

Addie sucked in a breath. “Why’s he assuming that you don’t have a date yet? You just said that you did.”

Hermione snorted. “Yes, but who in their right mind would ask me out?”

“Quite a lot of people.” Harry answered loyally. “Ron’s just being a prat.”

“As usual.” Ginny added.

“We?” Hermione asked acidly. “I have a date!”

Ron laughed, though not unkindly.  “Come on, Hermione! You and I both know you just said that to get rid of Neville!”

“No I didn’t.” Hermione said softly, as Alice let out an angry hiss.

“Actually, I mentioned that before he even brought it up!” Hermione snapped. “And if I didn’t have a date, I would have said yes …”
“No you wouldn’t.” Ron disagreed. “Who would?

“I would.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “You know, as friends. Because, no offence, Nev, I just don’t feel like that.”

“Me neither.” Neville agreed, smiling at her. “So thanks.”

So are you going with me?”

Hermione jumped to her feet, shaking with both anger and suppressed tears.

Whatever silent interaction was happening between Sirius and Addie, it was forgotten in an instant. His gaze shot to the book, glaring at it, and she wrapped a protective arm around Hermione’s shoulders.

“Just because it’s taken you four years to realise I’m a girl, Ronald, doesn’t mean it’s taken the rest of the world that long!” She turned on her heel and ran for it.

It wasn’t the dramatic exit she’d have preferred, but anything was better than staying and crying.

Addie nodded in agreement, pulling the girl closer. After confronting and breaking up with Amos, she had been spared from running as far and as fast as possible before he saw her cry; Sirius and James had translated her words into ‘man-speak’ by dumping him in the lake, which, in her heightened emotional state, had been enough to push her tears into hysterical laughter.

She rounded the greenhouses and let herself collapse on the lawn, burying her face in her arms, too emotionally drained to run any further.

Lily crouched next to her. “Are you alright, hun?”

“No.” Hermione answered flatly.

“Of course.” Hermione lied, wiping her eyes. “It’s not like Ron means to be like that.”

“He doesn’t.” Ginny agreed. “But that doesn’t make it better.”

“But that’s the way it sounded.” Lily sympathised, patting her arm pointlessly.

“Is everyone else going to think like that?” Hermione whispered. “How on earth could she get a date?!”

“No.” Draco answered. “Most people were thinking ‘where the hell has she been hiding?’”

Hermione blushed and hit him, but she smiled, which was what he’d been aiming for.

She fell silent abruptly, partly due to the sobs that overtook her voice and partly due to the footsteps that approached.

She could only hope it wasn’t someone who would carry this image to the rest of the school or a Slytherin who might not say anything to anyone else, but would never let her live it down either.

“Who was it?” Addie asked, her arm tightening slightly.

“No one bad.” Hermione assured her with a smile.

So it came as a relief when a gentle arm wrapped around her shoulder, pulling her into a comforting hug. She leaned into it gratefully, feeling someone else rub her arm softly.

The tears dried after a few minutes and Hermione pulled away, accepting the tissue that was handed to her.

“Do you want me to get Harry?” Neville asked …

Alice beamed, kissing his forehead. “I’m proud of you, sweetheart.”

… in concern, his hand resting on her arm.

“I don’t need anyone else to see this.” Hermione whispered, drying her eyes. “I’m being silly, that’s all.”

“You’re not being silly.” Addie said in a low voice. “If it upset you, it’s not silly.”

“If you’re sure …” Susan said uncertainly …

Alice’s smile widened. It was the first time her niece had been mentioned directly, aside from at the sorting.

… from her other side, her arm still around her shoulders.

“I am.” Hermione smiled weakly. “Silly.”

“What happened?” Neville prompted.

“Nothing.” Hermione sighed. “It’s nothing. Just Ron being … Ron. That’s all.”

Mandy sighed. “And that’s the end of the chapter.”

Lily let out a shaky breath. “I know we just had lunch, but can we take a break? My heart hasn’t quite recovered from the first task.”

Everyone agreed, and Addie made sure Hermione was alright, before releasing her and catching Sirius’s eye, nodding to the other room.

He closed the door behind them and set up a Silencing Charm. “Problem?”

“You need to stop, Sirius.” Addie told him sternly.

Sirius smiled innocently. “Stop what?”

“You know full well ‘what’.” Addie said, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, Padfoot, you’re hardly being subtle – it’s only a matter of time before Harry or Hermione catches on – if she hasn’t already – it’s not fair, Sirius.”

“Alright … alright.” Sirius pulled her closer as she paused to catch her breath. “I’ll stop.”

“Thank you.” Seeing his almost-hurt expression, Addie smiled coyly. “Besides, if you don’t stop, I can’t guarantee I won’t jump you.”

“Now that wouldn’t be fair.” Sirius smirked. “Although I wouldn’t complain.”

“I bet you wouldn’t.” Addie tilted her head back to look up at him, accepting his kiss as she did so. When they broke apart, she buried her face in his chest, sighing softly, unwilling to release him just yet.

She wasn’t stupid – she knew that they were at least halfway through the story. And at the end … when they had caught up … it seemed too much to hope for that the future would be revealed, even if they wouldn’t remember it afterwards.

If it wasn’t, they would be forced to say goodbye once the last page had been read.

She could see the worry in Lily’s eyes, the panic about what might have happened to Harry, the need to read as quickly as possible, to get the hard part over and done with.

But Addie wanted to drag it out for as long as possible.

Part of her – the optimistic part – wanted to believe that she wouldn’t have been included if she didn’t play some part in Harry’s future, that she would escape in the next few years and everything would be fine.

But another part, the part that was getting louder by the hour, whispered that maybe she would never escape, that she would die out there – or (and this made her heart clench even more painfully) that maybe she did escape, but not before Sirius had been killed in this new war.

Maybe they were here so they had another chance to say goodbye.

And if that was why they were here, all she wanted was one more night with him.

Was that so terrible?