AN: I don't own the HP universe etc etc you get the idea

-:-

Conversations and a Dragon

The morning of the first task dawned bright and early; a little too early where Hermione Granger was concerned. She would have preferred to stay in bed with her beloved for a few more hours, but Harry wanted to get down to breakfast early so that he wouldn't get a stitch when he needed to start flying. As Harry moved around behind her she flung a hand backwards and grabbed his arm mumbling for him to stay. She was slightly disappointed when he gently removed her hand and kissed the back of her neck. She wished he was less driven sometimes.

Hermione murmured in appreciation as his lips pressed softly against hers. She groped blindly hoping to catch an arm, but missed. Annoyed she flopped back down, and let him know of her disgruntlement with a huff. She heard his soft laughter as he pulled the hangings shut on his four poster bed. The other boys were still very much asleep and she would have time to shuffle back to her own dorm. She could hear Harry scuffling around, getting dressed and hitching his Firebolt up on his shoulder.

His hand slipped under the hangings and she felt it caress her cheek for a moment, and then he was gone. Hermione huffed again and pulled on the cloak. She would dash back to her dorm as she did every morning, but today she would get some more sleep. It was barely seven and she didn't need to be up till nine. Harry would understand; he was so good to her.

Quietly she rushed back to her dorm and closed the hangings around her bed. Fortunately all the girls were still sleeping. She snuggled down into her bed sheets and wondered absently about Harry, he was so sweet and thoughtful all the time, often he would go out of his way to make her comfortable even if it meant he would be in an awkward pose all night or have sore hands in the morning from having worked out the horrific knots in her back muscles.

She couldn't wait until they were away from all of this and when they could finally settle down she would be happy. That brought another thought to mind, what kind of job would he want? Would he want to work together with her or have his own pursuits? Would he even want to work at all? She couldn't blame him if he just wanted to stay at home and look after their children. Children? Where had that thought come from? She smiled to herself as she realized she really didn't mind, the concept of having little Harry's and Hermione's running around was something she could handle with no trouble at all.

That meant marriage of course, and a home. She knew Harry was already thinking along these lines and while she wasn't the girly kind who would enjoy writing 'Hermione Potter' all over her work books she could understand the appeal. She fell asleep thinking about her life together with a certain raven haired champion.

-:-

Harry's morning was significantly less pleasant. His mind was wracked with nerves, and yes he had dealt with worse, and yes he was Harry sodding Potter, but this was a DRAGON. Thankfully he had a couple of hours to psyche himself up. The walk to the Great Hall was quiet, but he had a pleasant surprise waiting for him at the Gryffindor table. As he sat down next to the pretty French witch he felt her lips press against his cheek in a chaste early morning kiss.

He turned and looked her over as they sat in companionable silence. She was wearing practical clothes, much like him, clearly ready for a fight. Her blue eyes were lightly appraising him, smiling slightly he spoke with soft hushed tones.
"I'm okay, I'm mostly just worried about whether my broom can get into the stadium or not with the wards I'm sure they'll have up. Fortunately as a champion I should be keyed into them as a safety precaution."

Fleur nodded sharply, "Yes that sounds right. Are you sure you're okay? I can't even begin to imagine what you're going through." Harry nodded and started pulling dishes of food closer so that he could load up his plate.
"I'm fine, a little nervous, but who wouldn't be. I guess at the end of the day this sort of thing is old hat for me, going into dangerous situations with only a half-cocked plan and relying on my instincts. It's sort of my speciality. Hermione's been a big help too, she is a constant source of strength for me."

Fleur looked towards the entrance to the Great Hall questioningly, "Where is she? I would have thought you wouldn't be able to pry her away from you so close to the task." Smiling Harry started digging into his food and answers between bites.
"I love that about Hermione, if she's still sleepy you can be damn sure she's going to have a lie in come rain or shine. Only classes can get her out of bed or morning exercise. Or breakfast in bed, she enjoys that. But she doesn't feel the need to cling to me, we're comfortable knowing that at the end of the day I'm here in the Great Hall, waiting for her and she knows full well that I'll stay here till she arrives. I'm happy to give her the time to relax, just because I'm stressed doesn't mean she should be too."

Fleur looked a little out of sorts by that proclamation, "But surely you want her close before you face the dragon?" Harry laughed openly then startling the few others who were in the hall.
"Why? To give myself a reason to believe that I might not come back from this? No, continuing life as normal as possible is the best way to keep myself properly calm. If we suddenly start treating this like I might not be able to see her again then it'll only make things worse. I can beat this task; I'll beat it and be back home in time for dinner as they say."

Fleur looked gobsmacked, or at least as gobsmacked as a Veela could look. She opened her mouth to speak before closing it again looking slightly chagrined.
"That's actually an incredibly mature viewpoint Harry." Harry didn't have anything to say to that and the pair of them sat in companionable silence together for a few more minutes before Harry spoke again.
"Have you got your plan ready?" Fleur looked at him with confidence now, a steely glint in her eye that made Harry grin.

"You bet your cute English bum I have my plan ready, do you think I'd willingly walk into a Dragon's den without one?" Harry chuckled at her words and reached over to squeeze her hand softly with his own.
"Of course not Fleur, you're just like my Hermione, plan everything in advance right?" He let her hand go before nodding at the mug in her other hand.
"How's your coffee?"

He and Hermione had discovered much to their chagrin that Fleur was a devout coffee drinker, many mornings they had come down to breakfast only to be assailed by the pungent aroma of coffee, Harry and Hermione were both tea drinkers and the smell of the black coffee that Fleur drank was something they quickly had to acclimatise to as Fleur refused to have anything else with her breakfast.

"It's good thank you Harry, would you like a sip?" Harry shivered involuntarily and shook his head.
"No, no thank you that will be quite all right. I was just enquiring to be polite." Fleur's soft laugh made Harry smile. He loved the easy camaraderie they shared. They sat in comfortable conversation for nearly two hours at which point Hermione finally joined them at the table softly kissing Harry on the cheek as she sat down. Harry gently pushed a plate of food towards her, her usual breakfast, and she smiled at him before cancelling the warming charm he had placed and digging in.

-:-

Hermione couldn't help, but have her gaze be attracted to the gigantic set of grandstands. The wards were a palpable force, physical and powerful, the pulse of magic throbbed below her skin like a second heartbeat while she was near them. The sheer power on display was staggering; it was like being next to Harry when he really let loose with his sorcery.

Her current goal wasn't the stands however, but rather the tent that abutted them on this side. On the other side was the medical tent where she assumed the champions would end up at the end of the task. She quickly moved over to the side of the tent and by reaching out with her magic she identified Harry's location and moved to where he was.

It was a trick the two had stumbled across as they experimented with sorcery, by opening themselves up to the ether around them they could identify different people with their magic; they quickly learned each other's magical signatures so that they could easily find each other in crowds or in the dark. Now she used it to find Harry and gently tap on the canvas behind him.

"Harry? Are you there Love?" Hermione sighed with relief when he responded quickly.
"Right here sweetheart, shouldn't you be up in the stands?" Hermione wished she could push the canvas aside and leap into his arms but there was no way through, she settled for the spoken word.
"I'll go soon, I just want to remind you that I love you Harry, with everything I have. You come back to me you hear?"
She could almost hear his smile as he spoke, "I love you too, don't worry about me. It's this dragon that's going to have a bad day."

Hermione dithered for a moment uncharacteristically before dashing towards the stands, happy that Harry had at least heard her once more before the bout to come.

-:-

Harry appreciated Hermione's support and her thoughtfulness, coming to give him her well wishes before he leapt literally into the dragon's den. It was a huge boost to his morale and it straightened his back. He sighed though; he would have liked a hug before he had to go. As if on cue a pair of slim arms wrapped around him from the side and clung tight for a moment. They moved to let go, but Harry wrapped Fleur up in a tight hug.
"You be safe for me too okay? I need my first real friend in one piece. I love you as well Harry, not quite in the same way as Hermione, but I do; you're family now you hear? You will have more than one pissed off witch coming for you if you don't come back in one piece."

Harry nodded and swallowed thickly, he was amazed at how frequently blessed he was these days. Hermione, Emma, Dan, and now Fleur, they all claimed to love him and he believed them, he loved them back too. They parted with one last stern look from Fleur, and Harry glanced around the tent to size up his competition. Krum looked stoic and Harry nodded to the Bulgarian briefly, their eyes met and a sense of understanding passed between them, Krum saw him as an equal, a true competitor, never mind his age or inexperience Krum respected Harry's strength of character, and the feeling was mutual.

Harry's gaze moved on to Cedric who looked, frankly, like he wanted to throw up. Harry still hadn't forgiven the Hufflepuff for his disdain of Hermione and Fleur. It wasn't obvious, but the Hufflepuff boy seemed to hold himself in higher esteem than the only female champion. Harry privately thought that a good strong dose of terror would do the boy good; his pureblood leanings would not help him against a dragon.

And of course there was Fleur, he respected the Veela witch and knew for a fact that he would be cheering for her regardless of his own interest in the competition. Harry was still on tenterhooks on whether he actually wanted to contend for the title, part of him thought that keeping his head down and getting through the tasks as safely as possible, or withdrawing from a task if he got the chance, was honestly his best bet. The stronger, more Gryffindor side however was champing at the bit to show the foreigners and Cedric exactly what he was made of.

He was broken sharply from his musings as the ever boisterous Bagman and his subdued companion Mr. Crouch. They were followed by the heads, but Rita Skeeter and her photographer were suspiciously absent. The ex-beater explained the terms of the task and the goal to collect a Golden Egg, with which they would proceed in the tournament. Then Crouch handed around a bag, first to Fleur then Krum, then Cedric, then Harry.

Fleur reached in and came out with the Chinese Fireball, the slender elegant red and gold dragon was, Harry thought, a good fit for the French witch. Krum picked the Swedish short snout, a dull grey thickset dragon with smallish wings, but huge bulging muscles. Cedric, much to Harry's relief and second hand sympathy, received the Hungarian Horntail. Despite his quarrel with the young man he wouldn't wish that breed of dragon on anyone, but better him than Harry. Finally Harry came out with the Welsh Green, Harry scowled, the only thing even remarkably as dangerous as the Horntail to Harry's plan was the Welsh Green, it was famed for its near impossible aerial acrobatics and death-defying manoeuvres. It would be, Harry thought, the perfect opponent for his Firebolt that was stashed in a copse of trees some two hundred meters away.

With Bagman's prompting, and a closer inspection Harry spotted the small medallion with a tiny engraved 'two' on it, Fleur's dragon had a three, Krum's had a one, and Cedric's a four. Happy not to be going last or first Harry backed away from the others and sat down on a bench off to the side as Bagman strode out of the tent calling over his shoulder.
"I'll see you soon Mr Krum, on the whistle come out and begin your bout!"

-:-

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! OUR FIRST CONTESTENT APPROACHES!"

Hermione was on the edge of her seat, craning her neck trying to see down the champion's tunnel, but it had no sense of depth. The darkness inside it seemed to be a solid object, impenetrable to the naked eye. She hoped Harry would be first, if he got his bout out of the way early then he would be safe, she reasoned that the sooner this was over and done with the better.

The wards had been opaque when she took her seat in the grandstands, they were a physical thing, they could be touched and to do so was like touching a plate of cold steel: Hard, inflexible, harsh and unyielding. When the wards had suddenly gone translucent she was able to see the wide arena filled with spires of jutting rock nearly forty meters high and a central cornucopia of a lair, shaped somewhat like a tepee made from rocky spires. The arena was huge and she was happy she brought her pair of Omnioculars as it was over two hundred meters wide.

When she saw a figure step from the champions tunnel on her right she focussed her Omnioculars only to frown in disappointment, it was only Krum. Zooming out she watched as the Bulgarian boy seemed to stagger a second, probably because of the sudden light. Then he began creeping around the side of the arena trying to get a view into the central lair.

A gigantic explosion of noise caught the audience and Krum wildly off guard after the eerie silence. The sound was a horrific roar of gargantuan proportions that rattled and rolled with all the assumed power of a god. Hermione shrunk back instinctively from the sound and then the cornucopia exploded outwards. Shards of rock two or more meters across whipped through the air with terrifying speed breaking other spires as a hulking shape barrelled forth from the dust and debris.

Forty meters high at the shoulder and nearly sixty long the gigantic shape of the Swedish Short Snout was a terrifying sight, its scales were a dull iron colour that reminded Hermione of gunmetal and rather than possessing a shine, they instead had a deep rich lustre like the armour of a classical Roman Legionnaire. The beast's wings were folded across its back and the four limbs beneath it moved in indomitable strides that shattered rock and stone with terrifying ease. It ate up the distance at a prodigious rate, giant limbs propelling its titanic bulk forwards with unstoppable inertia.

Krum looked so small before the beast. Barely up to its knee the Bulgarian nevertheless had a powerful stance and wasn't backing down from the terrifying dragon bearing down on him. When the dragon was barely fifty meters away Krum aimed carefully and with accuracy that stunned Hermione into hitting the replay to watch it twice, shot a curse straight into the dragon's eye. The howl of rage and pain that came from the beast as it veered made Hermione's teeth chatter even from the other side of the arena. The dragon crashed into the wall shaking the entire structure with a sonorous boom of sound. Flames jetted up the side of the wards from the dragon's enraged outburst of breath. Hermione's gaze was locked on the meter and a half long talons the dragon possessed as they ripped through the ground like it was water as it skewed trying to stay upright. She didn't even want to consider what those would do to Harry or Krum for that matter.

Krum was moving already and Hermione had to give him credit that even on the ground the boy was fast. The half blinded dragon followed him rapidly, although with a drunken unsteady gait that slowed it down considerably. The Bulgarian wasted no time, vaulting over lower rocky outcrops and wending between the jutting spires he dashed rapidly towards the cornucopia and even now Hermione could see he would get away with it. Strangely at this moment her brain decided to start registering Bagman's commentary.
"…ill he get away with it? I think he will ladies and gentlemen! Look at him go! The dragon won't be denied however, watch for those flames!"

Hermione's gaze snapped back to the dragon just in time to see its jaw snap open and thin jets of white flame burst forth and splatter in a molten fashion on the rocks just behind Krum. Hermione winced as the boy shrieked in pain as a globule of the liquid fire scorched through the shoulder of his robes. But then he was gone, dashing into the cornucopia. The Short Snout seemed to consider going in after him but it never got a chance as Krum dashed out the other side a few moments later with a golden egg clutched under his arm. The furious dragon roared again in rage as the champions dashed out of reach, flames licking at his heels.

The wards turned opaque again and Hermione assumed that the handlers were resetting the arena and changing the dragon for the next bout. She glanced briefly at the judge's scores but didn't really concentrate on them. How could she when all she could think about was the fact that Harry was mere minutes from walking into the arena with one of those horrifically powerful and gigantic beings. She began praying, hoping for a miracle.

-:-

When the whistle sounded Krum took a deep breath and Harry watched him square his shoulders before walking down the corridor to the entrance to the arena. Abruptly he vanished and Harry realized there must be an illusion on the end of the tunnel to disguise whatever was in the arena. It seemed the whistle was the only sound that could penetrate the wards surrounding the arena however because the remaining three champions didn't hear anything until the whistle sounded once more, although the entire tent shook at one point.

Harry took a deep steadying breath, just like Krum had, and felt a soft kiss on his cheek, turning he grinned at Fleur who had a worried but proud look on her face.
"Don't worry about me, worry for the dragon!" It was nevertheless a daunting prospect, he was about to engage the most agile Dragon in the world in an aerial battle. The words from the portrait hole came to mind, 'Gryffindors charge'

Without a second thought he strode forwards, the Accio spell already on his tongue ready to cast the moment he stepped into the arena. He had no idea how long it would take his Firebolt to arrive, he was hoping for a few seconds. But every second would count in there and he couldn't afford delays.
The tunnel got progressively darker until suddenly he was assailed with sunlight so bright he had to shield his eyes. Acting on instinct he yelled his spell 'ACCIO FIREBOLT' and then dashed behind the nearest pillar of rock.

All was silent for several seconds and then Harry heard the sound that would haunt his nightmares for decades to come. A long continuous slithering rattle, like a line of nails tied to a strong pulled across a stony floor, then an ear splitting roar shook the entire arena. It was high pitched and keening, the roar rose in pitch until a thick pulsing headache sprung up in Harry's mind. He and Hermione had researched a variety of dragon breeds for this task and Harry knew that the roar was a hunting aid to incapacitate animals before the dragon swooped and plucked them from the ground.

The roar abruptly shut off and Harry let go of his ears before quickly flicking a pair of deadening charms at them, hopefully that would fix the pitch problems without him losing his sense of hearing. The air was filled with several bone rattling thumps and Harry knew that the dragon had taken to the air, those were the tell-tale sounds of powerful wing beats. Taking several rapid and deep breaths he stepped away from the spire to take his first good look at his foe, and was immediately struck dumb with awe.

Seeing illustrations of a dragon in a book was one thing, but seeing one in person so close that you could see the individual scales on its chest? That was another thing entirely. The Welsh Green was still a hundred meters away, but already Harry could see the most striking features of the magnificent being. It was hovering; the huge wingspan of the Welsh Green was well used in keeping the gigantic creature afloat, its lower body and tail pointing towards the ground.

Harry noted the pair of gripping legs at the base of the dragon's proportionally short body and its twenty meter long, gently swaying tail that it was clearly using as a rudder to keep balance. The Dragon's scales were a deep green that shone in the sunlight like polished gems and Harry had to avert his eyes from staring at them full on. The membranous wings of the dragon were another matter entirely. Partially translucent they filtered the light into a vivid green that pooled over everything in Harry's half of the arena.

The most striking feature of the dragon however, was its head. Very long, nearly five meters, the dragon's lower jaw jutted out slightly ahead of the upper, clearly designed for scooping up animals in its mouth. Above the snout were a pair of thick ridges that arched back over the dragon's brow and then dissembled into two identical rows of aerodynamic spines that ridged down the beast's back before shortening and disappearing entirely just before the tail. Harry's eyes followed the ridges up the dragon's face until he found one of the dragon's eyes.

Utterly transfixed by the familiar emerald shade of the dragon's iris' Harry suddenly felt tiny, less than tiny as he was looked down by such a majestic creature. That something so enormous and powerful would even deign to look upon him gave him a feeling of utter insignificance that he would only ever admit to Hermione many years from now. Fifteen rapid beats of Harry's heart had passed since he dashed from the spire at his side. Then the dragon swooped.

Harry felt an incredible onrushing force, like the wave front ahead of a fighter jet, but massive, so huge and powerful that it buffeted at Harry even from where he was standing. The dragon's speed was terrifying and its powerful wings threw buffets of air in the young teen's direction. Then, all of a sudden, the direction of the buffets changed. Harry was no longer being pushed away from the dragon but rather sucked towards it as the gargantuan creature's chest expanded, inhaling enormous quantities of air. What happened next was inevitable.

Thick, roiling, billowing clouds of white hot flames engulfed Harry's position, scorching the rock and vaporising the grass, seconds later the rocks split and then began to melt under the inferno. It was a good thing then that Harry was no longer there. Even as the dragon's mouth had opened to incinerate the teen Harry had felt a tug on his magic, acting on impulse he leapt forwards blindly grasping in the air. He was unsurprised when his hand clenched around his firebolt that had arrived just in the nick of time. With an incredible feat of dexterity Harry mounted the broom mid-flight and tugged sharply upwards on the handle of the broom sending him first skyward and then in a tight backwards loop.

Rolling to stay right side up he went over the stream of flames roiling beneath him and then realized his mistake. The terrific acceleration of the Firebolt and the dragon's own momentum had brought them far closer than Harry had anticipated. The dragon's mouth snapped shut and it collapsed a wing rolling in mid-air, neck craning to keep Harry in sight as he whizzed over the Dragon's shoulder, close enough that had he reached down his hand would have brushed the beast's scales. Executing a quick dive he dodged out of the way of the flying tail that tried it's best to knock him ground wards before putting on an extra burst of speed.

Behind him the dragon executed a manoeuvre for which Harry had no name as it twisted upon itself in mid-air before snapping its wings out and flapping hard. The result was that it turned its direction one hundred and eighty degrees almost on the spot and somehow managed to keep its momentum as it rocketed after the tiny black speck that was evading it. So began the most incredible cat and mouse chase the school had ever seen.

Harry was, arguably, the best flier in the British Isles; if only through raw talent and a refusal to back down from any challenge. He flew recklessly taking hairpin turns and winging route through spires of rock. He was constantly a blur of motion, pulling his broom first one way, then another. He and his Firebolt worked together like an extension of each other as they wended rapidly through an increasingly dangerous set of obstacles. Harry's reflexes seemed super human, his body reacting to things before his mind had even identified them. It was only just barely enough.

If Harry was the best human flier in the British Isles, then the Welsh Green dragon species was the best non-human. Elegance and power did not even come close to being adequate to describe the sinuous ability that was the slim dragon. No matter where Harry went, no matter how difficult the turns; the dragon managed to keep up. It used a combination of flapping hard where possible to maintain altitude and then using that altitude to pick up speed as it dived after its prey.

The centuries old dragon was wily and cunning; it knew that any burst of flame would blind it long enough that the gnat could escape. So instead it relied purely on snapping jaws to catch Harry, especially after it found that it's magnificent and terrifying roar seemed to do nothing to the agile broom rider.

Harry was tiring fast, he was fit, incredibly so for a wizard, and he had amazing amounts of talent and endurance. But even he had his limits and the restless and constant movement was almost too much for him as he constantly evaded the dragon's snapping jaws. He had to make a gambit and fast. Flipping hard to the right and utilising a roll to burn off the extra G-Forces he shot between a pair of very close together spires and flicked his wand at them.

The overpowered sorcel impacted the spires with the force of a bomb, detonating and sending shards of stone flying back the way he had come, straight into the dragon's path. Harry didn't stop to look back, but the roar of pain and frustration was enough for him to veer towards the cornucopia to make the sprint for his prize. If he had looked back he would have been heartbroken to see the elegant and majestic wings of the dragon shredded by dozens of small and large holes. Thick blood from its wounds splashing on the rocks below as it struggled now to keep up with its prey.

Harry reached the cornucopia in seconds and shot towards the golden egg, hand outstretched to grasp it, when the world erupted around him.

-:-

Hermione ran, it wasn't often that she ran but when she did it was a mad cap affair of rapid footsteps and flailing hands as she forced people out of her way. When the cornucopia had exploded she had cried out in shock involuntarily. Huge shards of rock cart wheeled away from the epicentre to shatter on the wards a hundred meters away and the dragon was swatted from the air by a hail of debris. Hermione had watched carefully for any sign of Harry, tears springing up in her eyes when she saw a staggering figure collapse into the connection to the medical tent. So it was that Hermione had her destination, and she ran.

People yelled at her as she passed and people everywhere were screaming in shock and fear as spells started flying to the wounded dragon to subdue it. Distantly she could hear Dumbledore's sonorous voice incanting powerful spells that shook her magical core. But none of that mattered; there was only one thing on her mind, the brave foolish wonderful boy who held her heart. She had been on the edge of her seat the entire bout, her eyes wide in a mixture of fear and utter awe at Harry's continued ability to avoid his gargantuan foe.

When he had shredded the dragon's wings she had leapt out of her seat cheering wildly, letting out all the exultation she had been keeping bottled for fear of letting it out too soon. All around her the audience had realized that Harry was away laughing. Then the unthinkable had happened. And so Hermione ran.

The medical tent was guarded by Hagrid and upon seeing her he tried to block her from getting past yelling after her, but she was too nimble and dashed past. Only to be stopped by a wand wielding Professor McGonagall. She skidded to a stop, her need to see Harry blazing in her eyes but she refused to attack her teacher even in such circumstances. Nevertheless her need to see Harry prevailed and she tried to dash past only to be held back by Hagrid. Tears were streaming down her face, her throat hoarse as she yelled his name over and over. Hoping he could hear it, hoping he would respond. Her heart jumped when a weak cry met her ears, that wonderful husky voice yelling her name back to her.

She was beyond frantic, she had to see him and she managed to slip out of her robe and dash past McGonagall wearing only her uniform skirt and blouse. She burst into the tent with his name on her lips. She spotted him immediately, dashing to his bedside where he was magically restrained. She had to restrain herself from flinging her arms around him without pause. What she saw as she looked at him shocked her to the core.

He was battered; there was no other way of explaining it. Foot long gashes were open in his skin in several places including an even longer gash across his abdomen that was weeping fluids despite the spells holding the boy together. Tears sprang to her eyes as his own, pain filled, gaze met hers. She took his hand in hers, the one thing she seemed to be able to touch, and with far more restraint than she thought possible knelt down next to him and kiss his hand several times, murmuring to him as pain filled sobs wracked his body.

Only then did she see Madame Pomfrey swishing her wand over the nearly insensate love of her life. As a slice on his abdomen sealed he let out a long strangled cry that made her cringe. Harry had an immense pain threshold and for something to hurt him badly enough that he would cry out in such a way was truly frightening. Sobbing she clutched at his hand for what seemed like an eternity, their eyes locked. No one tried to move her, she could only guess that they didn't want her to see him like this and now that the damage was done the point was moot.

She could only cling to him, hope, pray, and stay strong for him, supporting him tacitly with her presence and her unflinching need to be at his side. Even in these dire straits.

-:-

It seemed like hours before Madame Pomfrey stepped back from Harry's body, but in reality scant minutes had passed and Harry hadn't lost consciousness. How she had no idea, but she assumed it had to do with his incredible strength of will. Years later he would tell her that, in truth, the only thing keeping him conscious was the desire to never leave her, and the fear that if he did slip away he would never wake up.

Harry was lying back against the wall of the tent, the bed no longer necessary as it was being re-prepped just in case Fleur needed it. Harry was physically fine, just drained. Hermione had been relieved to hear that he would only be left with a single scar from the ordeal, a long jagged affair down his left arm where a spike of rock had sliced straight through his arm and shattered the bone. The bone was healed and the flesh knitted, but the nerves and skin were just too heavily damaged. Not even magic could solve that problem, and Harry would probably always have a bit of numbness around that scar.

Hermione had snuggled up to him on the bench holding him tight and refusing to let him go. But when Dumbledore arrived Hermione had stood, and surprising everyone including herself, slapped the aging headmaster. Her follow up yell was something that would go down in Hogwarts history as the most violent anyone had ever seen Hermione Granger, and the one time Dumbledore had looked legitimately scared. Whether that was true or not no one, not even Hermione, would ever know as she couldn't even remember the contents of what her rant was. Suffice it to say that she was angry that something like that could have happened, surely the security for something like this should have been tighter.

Harry looked at the older man and saw something that truly scared Harry. Confusion was written all over the headmaster's face, as well as disbelief and shock. And not at what Hermione had said and done, but at the events had transpired. Harry watched as Hermione, suddenly aware of what she had done blushed heavily and sat down next to him mumbling apologies. Dumbledore seemed to have not noticed however as he locked eyes with Harry.

"I wish I could say otherwise Harry, but I have no understanding of what happened in that arena. The magical signature from that explosion suggested sorcery, but I have never encountered someone with the strength to pull that piece of magic off. Not even I with all my skill and experience could replicate that feat. The handlers are being questioned as we speak to see if one of them was responsible, but I doubt it. I truly have no concept of the amount of power required to create an explosion that could toss nearly a thousand tons of rock."

Harry looked at the aging man and saw not even a hint of deception on his face, and that more than anything scared Harry. The idea that Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard in the world, had no idea of the spell that created that explosion… it was a terrifying thought. He managed to find his voice after a moment.
"Why? How? What do we do now?" Dumbledore looked his age as he sat down on one of the benches. Harry noticed belatedly that the other teachers had left the tent to deal with other things
"The why is probably not as simple as a single answer, there could be dozens of reasons involved. The how is obviously out of our reach. What we can do? Absolutely nothing, regrettably our hands are tied in this case, you must continue with the tournament or you will die regardless and the other champions along with you. You are now forced to compete in the subsequent tasks and I can't help, but feel that you are going to be attacked again. I have no answers for you now, none that will satisfy your mind, let alone Miss Granger's here. Hopefully, soon, I will have the answers you seek."

With those enigmatic words the old man swept from the tent leaving Harry and Hermione almost more confused and bitter than they were before. Harry had no escape, he was going to be forced to put himself in harm's way time and time again in the tasks of this tournament and something told him they would be just as dangerous as this one, if not worse. The pair stayed together for many minutes simply holding one another, they were quite shocked when Fleur dashed into the medical tent, her Golden Egg under her arm.

The French Veela set the egg down and brushed past Madam Pomfrey as she was unhurt, concern was etched in her eyes at the haunted look on their faces.
"What happened?"

-:-

Fleur Delacour was a witch who angered easily, it was a part of her heritage she felt indignation and anger more strongly and frequently than others purely because it was who she was. She embraced the more fiery aspects of her Veela upbringing and personality as they gave a good outlet for her emotions.
"When I catch the cochon that did that to you I'm going to arracher les testicules et les pousser jusqu'à son arrière, puis…"

Her rant extended for several minutes as she vented her spleen slipping into more and more heavily accented French curses as she truly lost her temper. Harry couldn't help, but grin at his friend as her indignation and fury on his behalf was not only amusing it also showed her true concern for him which comforted him more than the threats themselves. Eventually he laid a hand on her shoulder and asked her quietly to look at him.

"I'm ok, I'm in one piece, they've done nothing more to me than give me another scar, I have a few of them now, they're good company. Chill out a bit and give he a hug you two." The last was said to both her and Hermione who was penning a letter on to their parents about the task and what had happened. They were back in the library long after the task had finished. Fleur had used a powerful sleeping aura to knock out her dragon and simply walk off with the egg. No explosive cornucopia's for her.

None of them had seen Cedric's performance but apparently it had been 'Embarrassingly underwhelming' and several students had thanked him for actually putting a good front on for the school. Daphne and Tracy had stopped by briefly to make sure he was okay, so had several others of their closer acquaintances. The real shock had been Neville.

-:-

Harry and Hermione, along with Fleur, had just told Rita Skeeter to shove off when a loud yell made them turn around. Neville Longbottom had jogged up to them and locked eyes with, surprisingly, Hermione.
"I'm sorry Hermione, after seeing what Ginny stooped to and talking to my Gran I've realized what a right wanker I've been. You don't deserve my prejudice or anyone else's," His eyes flicked to Harry and Fleur, "and neither do you."

Harry had carefully watched Hermione for any signs of an explosion, but the brunette had simply huffed slightly before hugging the bemused Neville before slapping him soundly. She waved her finger in his face for a moment.
"And don't you do it again Longbottom, I still know the body bind curse. Don't make me use it again." The three Gryffindors had laughed soundly and Harry had shook Neville's hand.

"She kind of took the words out of my mouth"

Neville looked at him seriously, "Look I know Ginny only got expelled, it's not like they could do anything more to her since she didn't really try and kill you. It was more criminal stupidity than anything else. But there's a hearing scheduled and she's been charged with attempted kidnapping, attempted rape and possession of an illegal substance. Gran wants the Wizengamot to throw the book at her and be done with it. You might be called on to testify."

Harry nodded as Neville spoke, happy that something was going to be done more than just a simple expulsion.
"Good, she's gone off the rails. If I had a choice I'd have her in a mental ward but she's dangerous. Best to just chuck her in prison and be done with it. I wish there were alternate options to Azkaban though; I wouldn't wish that place on a teenage girl."

The conversation continued for a few more minutes with Fleur carefully watching the young man, when he finally left she turned to Hermione.
"Was that the cochon who called you a… you know what?"
Hermione shook her head, "No that was Malfoy he's the blond over there." She pointed through the crowded thoroughfare to the castle at Draco who was sitting chatting with his cronies as if he hadn't tried to kill harry just a few weeks earlier.

Fleur nodded in satisfaction, "He and I will have a chat at some point, a chat where I will be talking and he will be listening to the sound of my knee repeatedly crushing his testicles." The three laughed heartily and they continued back to the castle.

-:-

Back in the library the two girls released him from their enthusiastic hug and let him breathe a little, laughing at the look of mock suffocation on his face. Fleur turned to Hermione a teasing tone in her voice
"So tell me, how hot did Harry look on his broom?" The reactions from the two younger teens were comical, Harry choked slightly and Hermione went a deep shade of red as she looked down at her feet.
"Maybe just a little hot." The French witch laughed enjoying putting Hermione on the spot, especially with Harry right beside her becoming steadily more insensate.
"Only a little hot? Not magnificent or awe inspiring or sexy or yummy?" Hermione mumbled something into her chest as she looked down and Fleur chuckled before saying in a sing-song voice
"I can't hear you!"

That was the last straw and Hermione looked up and half yelled, "My panties were soaked the whole time, there you happy now?"
Harry nearly passed out from the mental image and Fleur let out gales of laughter as Hermione slumped forwards onto the desk mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like, 'Curse me now'

They were shooed out of the library by Madam Pince, and they instead made a beeline for the grounds and the Black Lake. Harry had a brief thought about how he was supposed to be deciphering the clue inside his egg but shrugged, he had months. Hermione on the other hand looked like a tomato and had the mannerisms of someone who wanted to sink into the floor and disappear. Much to Harry and Fleur's amusement Hermione couldn't look at either of them and they happily linked arms with the brunette and headed down stairs to the grass to enjoy the day.

-:-

Later when Hermione and Harry were curled up together in bed with Harry absently stroking his girlfriend's hair he gently asked her, "Do you think God helped me today? In the explosion I mean, at first I thought it was my magic keeping me safe but now I'm not sure."
Hermione turned in his arms to face him and pecked his lips softly; her voice was tender and curious
"What brought this on love?"
Harry shifted and leaned on one elbow, the fingers of his other hand still toying with her hair.
"I was just thinking about how it felt to be in the middle of that explosion, the forces around me buffeting me every which way and pushing me just out of the way of the most dangerous debris. Sure I got smacked around by them but never hit full on."

Hermione looked thoughtful and she ran her nails lightly down his chest as she thought.
"I don't think we'll ever know for sure, maybe it was your magic, maybe it was just the physics of the explosion and the pressure fronts on the various pieces of debris. I like to think God helped you out though, and that's really all that matters. If you can believe that he did something to help you, if you can trust in that then he'll keep doing more of the same."

The concept was new to Harry, putting his faith into something that he couldn't test, couldn't examine or understand. But what was there to lose really? As long as he did nothing different, still took the normal precautions and simply hoped for a little more from this elusive deity that he was considering. Maybe that's all he needed and in the end he had everything to gain. He had a question for her though.
"What does God say about the things we do while we're in bed with each other love?"

Hermione frowned slightly at him before her features relaxed into a tender smile, "He says we should be married before we do any of this, I want you to try something for me."
Harry was curious and nodded along, "Reach out with your magic and touch mine."
Harry's breath hitched, they'd only done this once when they were curious and the emotions had nearly overwhelmed him, but he trusted her so he carefully reached out with his magic.

Hermione met him halfway and they both gasped at the sensation of suddenly being aware of exactly what was running through the other person's mind and how they felt. The love they felt for each other was a sort of loop. Harry and Hermione had their initial feelings for each other, which they then felt in their partner, creating deeper feelings for the other to feel ad infinitum. They could only hold the connection for a moment before the rapidly escalating feelings of affection forced them into a situation they didn't want to explore yet. Other emotions were also shared and fed of each other or balanced out and they knew that one day, when they could hold the connection for longer, they could truly become partners in body mind and soul.

Harry found the entire experience to be unbelievably intimate, they kept their eyes locked with each other the entire time and he could literally experience her love for him straight from the source. The deep seated affection and devotion she had for him, just as he had for her. They gasped slightly as the broke apart and Harry immediately felt empty and lonely, the urge to reach out to her again was incredibly strong ,but he resisted as best he could. After they caught their breath Hermione gently stroked his face
"I know things happen a little different in the Wizarding World, and after we tried that the first time I wanted to research it a little more." She smiled at the soft snort of amusement from Harry before continuing. "Apparently a witch or wizard can only touch the magic of someone their magic has accepted and bonded with: which means in the eyes of Wizarding Law we're betrothed, and will be married upon attaining our majority as long as we're both alive and… well… together."

Harry's heart nearly broke at the nervousness in his girlfriend's voice, tenderly he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, softly kissing and caressing her, letting her know she had him forever.
"Nothing could ever break us apart love." He thought for a minute about the implications of what she said.
"So we are essentially married?"

Hermione shook her head slightly. "Not yet, in about three years when you turn seventeen we will be though, don't panic we don't have to tell mum and dad anything and we can still have a lovely Muggle ceremony one day with all our friends. But with us being as close as we are, the closest of friends, for so long, meant that our magic bonded with each other."

Harry ran through a list of possibilities in his mind to what he could best relate this to eventually only one came to mind, his voice was filled with awe and love.
"Are we soul mates?" Hermione smiled up at him and kissed him softly again before continuing.
"It doesn't really have an official name, but I guess that one is as good as any; our magic has determined that we are the closest and most compatible matches for each other which, honestly, I'm not complaining about. The proof comes from another talent that has netted you another friend recently."

Harry racked his mind before he realized what she was getting at. "My immunity to the Veela allure?"
She smiled and kissed him again as a reward. "That's right love, simple infatuation or a crush won't break through that enchantment, only a man who is deeply in mutual love with someone he considers his life partner can break through the allure. You ignore it completely. There are some natural defences and learned ones, but I'd be willing to wager you have neither of those as your defences are flawless against it, you don't even recognize the tug do you?"

Harry shook his head a little in awe at what she was driving at. "So what it boils down to is proof that I'm head over heels in love with you?"
She chuckled and pushed against his chest gently with her hand, enjoying the warmth.
"More than that Harry, it is proof that you're so in love with me that, even subconsciously, you consider me the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. And that is honestly the most amazing gift you could ever give me Harry. You know what this means?"

Harry shook his head, unaware of what point she was trying to make.
"Your magic has, by finalizing this bond, confirmed that you'll beat Voldemort Harry, or at least that we'll both live long happy lives."
Harry was a little gobsmacked and understandably so. "Um… What? How can it do that?"
His beautiful girlfriend shook her head against him again. "I don't understand the magic behind it but it's sort of like a contract with the universe, it is old powerful magic and I don't have the faintest understanding of it, but it tells me without a doubt that I'll have you with me for a long time."

Harry was dumbstruck, the implications of that were immense. He felt a giddy sort of relief flow over him.
"Am I invincible?" Hermione scowled at him and he shrank back.
"No, you're not, believe it or not you can still be horribly maimed, or put in a coma, or have your memories wiped, or become insane. There are still plenty of ways for people to take you away from me. I just know you'll be alive at the end of it all, you still need to look after yourself buster."

Harry gulped and nodded gently kissing her. "Then I'll endeavour to do that, I have to ask though, how does this all relate to my original question?"
Hermione grinned and spoke with a slightly hesitant, but hopeful tone.
"It relates in that, if you still want me, one day I'll be Mrs Hermione Potter, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason I can't get my head around the magic of this bond is because God doesn't want me to. He wants me to just live my life with you and enjoy myself because we have much darker days ahead. So long as we don't go all the way before we're married I don't think we'll have too much of a trouble."

Harry softly kissed her then, forsaking words for the power of unspoken communication as he let her know his body's desires. His entire being was thrumming with arousal and he could tell she was too. There was an amazing level of intimacy between them as they tangled together naked but for Harry's boxers. They kissed and caressed each other Harry stroking Hermione's body in a variety of sensual ways and Hermione returning the favour by bringing Harry to orgasm several times over the course of the night, just as he did for her. The stress of the day melting away between the sheets as they explored their relationship with a whole new confidence and level of unconditional trust that even years later they were still working on. Harry was glad of silencing charms that night.

-:-

Breakfast in the Great Hall the following morning was something of a subdued affair. No one was looking forwards to lessons that week after such an exciting weekend, the return to the daily humdrum grind of schoolwork was a bit of a downer after four bouts with dragons. Fleur met Harry and Hermione in the Great Hall for breakfast and they were once again treated (or cursed depending on your point of view) to the rich aroma of coffee. They talked for a while and Fleur subtly congratulated them on deepening the connection she had sensed between them. They blushed and dissembled the conversation towards the day's lessons.

Hagrid had something of a surprise for them that afternoon as they reached his class, and while Hagrid's surprises were usually terrifying, the crates of cute furry creatures were actually an improvement. The lesson went swimmingly and Neville, much to everyone's surprise, ended up with the most proficient Niffler and ended up winning a bar of chocolate. Hagrid was interrupted however by Rita Skeeter at the end of the lesson who managed to secure and interview with him at the Hog's Head to talk about 'Zoological Issues'. Harry rolled his eyes. He was sure the implication was that 'Zoological' stood for 'Harry's life' although Hagrid missed the byplay. Both Hermione and Harry warned Hagrid against the interview, but he was obstinate.

-:-

Friday came as both an unpleasant and pleasant surprise, the previous day Rita Skeeter had released an article describing a sordid love triangle between Harry, Hermione and Fleur. The unpleasant surprise came for the trio (Fleur inclusive) as they ate breakfast. Hermione was steadily munching her way through some waffles and bacon when the post owls came in. Immediately the table was swamped with dozens of owls and Hermione had to battle her way free of the creatures to get stock of the situation, as did Fleur. They carefully started removing the letters and stacking them to the side to be opened, when at last all the birds were gone Hermione opened the first letter and promptly snorted in derision.

"Well that's just immature." The two witches had received a staggering amount of hate mail claiming they were both 'toying with Harry's affections.' The three of them knew better of course, but nothing could have prepared them for when a large amount of bobotuber pus that erupted from an envelope and coated Hermione's hands. Harry blasted the letter to smithereens before helping Hermione up with Fleur and the two of them escorted Hermione to the hospital wing amidst the jeers of the Slytherins.

One particularly feminine voice shrieked, "Serves you right you mud blood bitch!"

Hermione now in tears sprinted ahead of the two as Harry turned his icy gaze upon the hall before leaving, disgust etched on his face unwilling to make a scene. Fleur had no such qualms and the row that erupted between Pansy and her was short, but brutal and the hospital wing had another patient that afternoon, the fact that the teachers turned a blind eye was just icing on the cake.

-:-

Harry followed Hermione into the hospital wing where she was already being checked by Madam Pomfrey, he moved up beside her bed where she was being examined and gently pressed a kiss to her forehead.
"If it helps, Fleur's dealing with Parkinson; I wanted to be here with you though." What came next Harry would never have expected, after the mediwitch walked back to her office having done all she could Hermione spoke her voice was dripping with venom and Harry's heart clenched at her words
"You really shouldn't have bothered, why don't you just go back and have some fun with your perfect French Blond I'm sure her hands are perfect."

Harry stuttered, totally stunned by her words, never had she spoken to him with such anger in her tone, he had no idea what he'd done wrong and he could only stare as she continued
"I look hideous, you don't have to say it, it's just what I get for having mud running through my veins isn't it? That's it; stare at my fucking malformation like a gormless idiot. Get out!"

Harry staggered back from her bed, she wasn't looking at him and he could see the tears streaking down her face.
"Love you're not-"
"Don't you dare tell me I'm not ugly or hideous, look at this, I have boils covering my fucking hands Harry, you clearly don't understand what I'm going through right now, you should go."

Harry felt tears prickle in his eyes; never had she shown such spite and hate in her words. He had no rejoinder as she obviously wasn't going to let him get a word in edgewise. Downcast he left the hospital wing for Transfiguration cursing Rita Skeeter with every breath in his body, hating that her spiteful hurtful words could provoke such a reaction in his normally mild mannered love. He knew, rationally, that Hermione was just using him as an outlet for her anger and misery, but it didn't make it any easier to stomach being on the receiving end of.

The end of Transfiguration held the pleasant surprise for the day as Minerva described the Yule Ball and its significance as well as Harry's part in it and how he would require a partner. In a stroke of inspiration that he was sure he would never match again he struck upon a plan. Not caring about History of Magic he dashed back to the hospital wing and went straight to Hermione's bedside where she was nursing the painful boils. He knelt down beside her and, careful not to hurt her, took her relatively undamaged palms in his hands.

"Love, please look at me" Hermione pointedly looked in the other direction and Harry had to ruthlessly supress a laugh at the childishness of her pout.
"Okay look, Professor McGonagall just told me about the Yule Ball that gets held as a sort of tack on event to the Tri Wizard Cup. Normally I'd be daft about this whole thing and not really know where to look, but she mentioned to me that I need to have a partner for the ball. I came straight here when I found out. All I could think about was having my beautiful girl with me on the night so that she could show up Parkinson at her own game. You're elegant, beautiful and awe inspiring to me and I would be honoured if you would be my date to the Yule Ball Hermione."

It was he thought quite nice for something he thought up on the fly and he waited with baited breath as Hermione continued to look away from him, then he heard her soft sob.
"And what if I've still got these things by the time of the ball? What if something else happens? You won't have your Hermione then; you'll have this ugly troll instead."
Carefully so as not to hurt her Harry let go of one hand and gently turned her chin to face him so that he could look into her tear streaked eyes.
"Then I will still have the most beautiful girl in Hogwarts all to myself. Your physical beauty is only one third of the whole my sweetheart, your beautiful mind and soul have captured my heart as well. And no bobotuber pus can mar those aspects of your beauty."

Hermione broke down into soft sobs and Harry carefully slid around behind her to hold her close in a hug, supporting her upper body in his arms and gently kissing the top of her head.

Her hiccoughs abated after a while and she said sadly, "I was horrible to you earlier."
Harry just nodded, waiting for the rest of whatever was coming. "I felt horrible and ugly and I couldn't bear to have you see me like this, I don't feel like your Hermione right now, I'm swollen and bloated and foul and it's horrible. I didn't want to take it out on you love I swear, it just happened."

Harry cradled her against him and softly shushed her, kissing her hair lovingly. "It's okay sweetheart, I forgive you. I don't even blame you really, I'm sure I would have been much the same in similar circumstances."

She hiccoughed again before saying softly. "You are far too good to me you know that right?"
Harry chuckled, "And you never forget it."
They stayed talking through Harry's History of Magic class and all the way through the lunch period. By that time the ointment had reduced the swelling completely, and she was able to join him for Potions. It was the first of many hurdles in their personal life. But nothing would tear them apart. They looked forwards to the coming trials with hope and high heads. They would do this, together.

-:-

AN2: Well here's another one, arghas;jg this took a long time to write, my computer decided to crash twice while I was writing it, thousands of words of progress lost instantly, TWICE. Anyhoo, here it is

AN3: Review responses:

Oldkerosen: Wow… thanks for picking that up, I didn't even think when I wrote that scene, the mistake has since been fixed.

Modges: Consider that Draco doesn't think Harry has many rights as a human being, very spoilt certainly and misinformed, but at the end of the day he's got a superiority complex the size of Hagrid and that… affects people. Especially privileged people who carry lethal weapons around with them at all times.

Starboy: Thankyou, I certainly thought so

Iceflame: Thankyou for your review! Always nice to have a fan.

Texan Muggle: Good points one and all, I'm sure I'll get around to dealing with them when I have a spare moment or two. Anything to say that isn't about the construction of the story? Maybe about the themes or content?

Lisbeth Lou Who: You have got to stop making me blush, my lord ;) thank you very much

Vegasman: I knew someone would get it! Yaaaaaaay

Anotherboarduser: I've been purposefully seeking out fiction lately that uses both magic and gunplay for its combat and I find that they fill two very different but important roles when using traditional HP magic. Hopefully when the wider implications of sorcery are explained in subsequent instalments of this series you'll understand a bit better why in at least this fiction I'm not using guns. I might consider it for others.

Hadrian James Black: Good to hear! And yeah… Neville's had a bit of a rough rap till now. No matter the world will go on and alliances change.

Beyondthesea: Lots of people seem to be talking about Neville, should Harry be jealous or is everyone just suggesting I pair Hermione and Neville together for when I finally write my Flarry fic? No matter, I'm glad you liked the chapter.

Leo Oculus: Thankyou so much for pointing that out, I would have died inside if that had gone on and I hadn't noticed for a while, I believe it's been fixed now after a bit of effort.

Fallen: Never fear! The twins shall never be separated, not in my fics.

Kkerklan: I'm glad you came around! What do you mean a whole new kind of fanfic? This isn't that strange is it? Guys? Guys?

JHarry: I think I covered your main concern adequately in this chapter as to why Ginny wasn't initially punished more harshly. At worst she could have gotten manslaughter or criminal negligence as she never actually meant for Harry to die, as it is she can only be charged with the charges mentioned and will be charged as such or so help me god I'm not a Harmony writer.

-:-

Thanks for reading and other shenanigans as always! Love to hear from you and I'll see you all at the end of the next chapter: Duelling, the Yule Ball, and a Bath