Harry stared moodily out the filthy window he'd found in what appeared to be an abandoned room at the end of a corridor on the sixth floor. It had been a long week. First he'd been entered into the Triwizard Tournament, then Ron wasn't talking to him, and now Hermione kept pestering him about the Summoning Charm.
Hermione was his best friend, but he had to admit she wasn't a fun as Ron. He'd spent more time in the library in the past week than he had in all the rest of the term combined. He rubbed the dirty glass with the arm of his robes. The Beauxbatons' carriage gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight. As he watched the students climbing in and out of the carriage, he realized that like the tents at the World Cup, the carriage must be a lot bigger on the inside than it appeared from the outside.
"Hello, young man."
Harry jumped and pulled his wand. He scanned the room, but didn't see anyone.
"You won't need your wand."
"Who's there?" Harry demanded as he lit his wand and shown it around the room. He didn't see anyone at first, but then he saw a wizard in old fashioned robes looking out from a rather grimy looking portrait. Relaxing slightly, he said, "Hello, sir."
"What are you doing up here?" a female voice asked.
Turning Harry saw a young shepherdess who was overseeing a small flock of lambs. He flushed slightly and shrugged. "I was…I wanted to get away from everyone."
"You're the Potter boy, aren't you?" another portrait asked.
Nodding Harry looked around the room. All told there were five paintings hanging in the room — the portrait of the first wizard who'd spoken, the shepherdess, two witches who'd been painted in a rather modern looking kitchen, young brothers playing Gobstones, and a witch in a formal portrait.
"You look remarkably like your father," the shepherdess said blushing slightly. She appeared to be only a few years older than Harry.
"I've heard that a lot," Harry said. "My name is Harry."
"We know who you are," one of the young boys said. The two boys looked excited to be talking to him. "We've seen all of your Quidditch matches. Our older sister has a painting with a great view of the pitch. We try to watch all of the matches. You're a great flyer."
"Thank you," Harry said flushing slightly under the scrutiny of the occupants of the paintings.
The brothers introduced themselves as John and Edward Benson; their father had been the Charms Professor in the late 1500s and he had a portrait in another part of the castle. Mary, the shepherdess, was related to Phyllida Spore. The witches who'd been painted in the kitchen were Kathryn and Jane Miller. Jane had gained prominence as a pastry chef in late 1950s; she had been a favourite of former Headmaster Armando Dippet. The first man who'd spoken was Vincent Barnes; he'd been the Ancient Runes professor in the late 1770s. The last witch was named Florence — she'd been the school Matron.
As the paintings started introducing themselves, Harry started cleaning off first the picture frames and then under some instruction from Professor Barnes and Kathryn Miller, he was able to clean up the portraits as well.
"How did you guys get missed?" Harry asked curiously as he worked. "I thought Filch cleaned all the paintings in the castle. I know I heard some of the people in the portraits on the ground floor complaining that they were scrubbed too hard and all of the armour is gleaming."
"Filch," John rolled his eyes. "He doesn't usually make it up here."
"What? Why not?" Harry asked looking around the group. It was a bit odd to be talking to a group of portraits, but he'd encountered so many odd things in the wizarding world that he wasn't that surprised.
"I think he doesn't realize that this room is up here. He's not always the most thorough. He doesn't explore unknown parts of the castle," Florence explained.
"There are actually a lot of portraits he's missed," Professor Barnes said. "He cleaned and scrubbed the portraits that are easily visible, but those of us who are in the out of the way rooms or corridors often escape his less than eagle eye."
Harry laughed. "I understand."
"That man," Jane rolled her eyes. "He dotes on that evil cat. Did you know Mrs Norris tried to destroy several portraits when she first arrived? Professor Dumbledore had to cast special spells on the portraits and canvas so that horrid cat couldn't claw up more paintings. It was even worse when she marked her territory. It's hard to get the smell of cat pee out of the canvas."
"That's horrible!" Harry said.
"Your father and his friends discovered many out of the way rooms in this old castle," Florence laughed. "They were quite charming and mischievous. Many young ladies had crushes on them, especially your father and godfather."
"You know about Sirius?" Harry asked in astonishment.
"Certainly," Mary said. "Not only did several of the portraits know about them whilst they were still in school; your escapades in the Shrieking Shack were the talk of the castle all summer. The former headmasters and headmistresses are the worst gossips."
"I bet," Harry said as the thought about everything that had happened to him in the headmaster's office.
"The headmaster is quite concerned about you right now," Mary commented. "He's been trying to discover who entered you in this Tournament."
"Of course that's nothing compared to Professor McGonagall," Kathryn said. "She's been livid. She was most distressed that you were included and she is quite concerned about you."
"Really?" Harry was astonished. He wasn't used to adults taking his side in anything — to hear that two professors were concerned about him was very different from the indifference he was used to.
Looking around at the portraits, Harry asked, "Are there any portraits that could see the Goblet of Fire?"
"There are several portraits in the Entrance Hall," Professor Barnes said. "Professor Dumbledore spoke to them and no one recalls seeing anything. He's concerned that they may have had a spell cast upon them. Both he and Professor Moody are concerned that some powerful Dark Magic has been cast upon the Goblet. No portrait would sleep through that, so he's concerned the portraits were tampered with as well. Unfortunately, all of the portraits have had such powerful magic cast upon them to create mobile and talking occupants, as well as the protection charms that have been added, that he can't detect what other spells may have been cast."
Harry frowned. "You can't be hurt, can you?"
"No, but we are susceptible to sleeping spells or can be blindfolded. As you saw last year, the canvas can be destroyed, but the people in the portrait can escape," Jane explained.
Nodding, Harry recalled how his godfather, Sirius Black, had slashed at the Fat Lady's portrait guarding the Gryffindor Common Room in a fit of temper when he couldn't get into the common room. The Fat Lady had been unharmed, but rather terrified for a while afterwards.
"What is a Triwizard Champion doing in this deserted room?" Florence asked kindly.
Harry's mood deflated instantly. "I'm not a Triwizard Champion! At least I shouldn't be. I'd really rather not compete and just root for Cedric. I'm three years younger than the others and I don't know nearly as much as they do. I don't stand a chance. Professor Moody thinks someone entered me in the stupid tournament to kill me."
"I know some of the other students haven't been very kind," Mary commented.
"Not very kind, some of them are downright mean," Edward said. "I've seen them with their stupid buttons."
Harry nodded miserably.
"What about your friends?" Florence asked.
"Ron thinks I entered myself in the stupid tournament," Harry said bitterly. "Hermione believes me, but she's trying to spend time with both of us and she keeps trying to get me to talk to Ron."
Harry turned startled as another woman entered Florence's portrait. As he watched the other woman started talking. "Sorry I'm late, Miss Weasley was rather upset. Those dratted roommates of hers."
"Ginny, what's wrong with Ginny?" Harry asked in concern.
The newcomer turned at looked at him. She obviously recognized him. "Mr Potter. I've spoken to Miss Weasley several times over the past two years. She's had a difficult time of it as you can imagine. She's doing much better this year, but one of her roommates is…well, I don't like to speak ill of students, but she is not a nice young lady."
"Where is she?" Harry asked.
The woman looked him over assessing his sincerity. "Miss Weasley is in an unused classroom on this floor. If you go down the corridor and turn left, she's in the third room on the right hand side. She could use a friend."
"Okay, thanks," Harry said as he left the room. He wasn't sure what he'd be able to do for Ginny, but the thought that she was also being teased by her roommates was upsetting. This summer Harry had gotten to know Ginny a bit better at the World Cup and he thought they were on their way to becoming good friends.
He quickly made his way to the room described. Stopping outside the door, he knocked softly on the door and called out, "Ginny?"
Opening the door, he saw Ginny quickly wiping her eyes. She blushed when she saw him. "Harry? What are you doing here?"
"I heard you were upset," Harry said shyly. "I…I was worried about you."
"I'm fine," she asserted although with evidence she'd been crying visible on her face, Harry rather doubted that was true.
"Really?" he asked sceptically.
She sighed. "My roommate, Freya, was being mean." Gesturing towards her rather worn and washed out robes, Ginny explained, "Freya's family has a lot of money and she thinks it's funny that I have to wear not only hand me downs, but boy's robes too. This was Percy's at one point and it's looking really bad."
Harry could see from Ginny's downcast eyes and the way she kept fiddling with the frayed edge that it bothered her more than she was willing to admit. He knew he hated wearing his whale of a cousin's hand me downs, but none of his roommates ever made comments about them.
A thought crossed his mind. "Ginny, do you want my old robes? I have all of my robes from first year on. I brought them with me because I was afraid my aunt would burn them or something if I left them at their house. I had to get all new robes this year because I grew. I'm sure some of my old robes would fit you."
"You're sure you wouldn't mind?" Ginny asked cautiously.
"Not at all," Harry said relieved that he might be able to help her. "They're not doing any good in my trunk."
"That would be great," Ginny said.
"Good," Harry said with a smile. Looking over at her, he said, "I'm really sorry I haven't been a better friend to you. I know how hard it can be here and I never reached out to you before. I'm sorry for that."
"Harry, no, you saved my life," Ginny said. "Honestly, that was more than enough."
While Harry disagreed, he thought he could have done a lot more, but it would be rather churlish to continue to argue. As they walked towards Gryffindor Tower, Ginny glanced over at Harry. "How did you know I was upset?"
Harry quickly explained how he'd discovered the portraits and his subsequent conversation with them.
"They could be handy to know," Ginny said. "Lady Maud is the woman who I usually talk to. She's really nice and she's listened to me. She was a matron here sometime in the 1890s."
"She said you've had a hard time of it," Harry said. "I know how it can be. My first year I got tons of attention because of that stupid Boy Who Lived stuff and when I made the Quidditch team everyone thought it was great. Did you hear about the dragon?"
"Hagrid's dragon?" Ginny asked. When he nodded, she said, "Yeah, Charlie told me about it. He was thrilled to be getting a new Ridgeback."
"That night, Hermione, Neville, and I got caught out of bounds as we were returning from giving the dragon to Charlie's friends. We lost fifty points each that night. It was horrible. No one talked to us. It was bad for Neville and Hermione, but everyone seems to know who I am. Even the Quidditch team hated me — they would only talk to me when they had to and they would only call me 'Seeker'. It was so horrid, but then I was a huge hero again for helping win the House Cup. The other kids here can be so mean." He shrugged. "If you ever want to talk to someone, I'll be happy to listen."
"Thank you, Harry," Ginny said, a bit shocked at the conversation she was having with him. She'd never had such a long conversation with him before.
When they arrived in front of the Fat Lady, Ginny reached out and tentatively touched Harry on the arm. When he turned to look at her, she quickly withdrew her hand. Glancing up at him, she blushed, but spoke up, "Harry, I wanted you to know that I believe you. I know you wouldn't have wanted to enter the Tournament."
Harry's face lit with happiness as he smiled his first genuine smile of the day. "Thanks, Ginny. That really means a lot to me."
Harry led the way up to his dorm, glad that Ron wasn't in the common room. He could only imagine his reaction. Ron hated the thought of charity and could get quite shirty about any attempts to help him out. Harry opened the door to the dorm and breathed a sigh of relief. The room was fairly clean and picked up. Not that he thought Ginny would kick up a fuss about a messy room, she was cool like that, but it was still nice his room wasn't a disaster.
He hurried over to his trunk. Ginny followed a bit more slowly as she was looking around the room curiously. She could immediately tell which bed was her brother's, not only by the Chudley Cannons' poster over his bed, but also the quilt made by her mother. There was an Irish flag over the bed she assumed was Seamus's and some kind of plant next to Neville's bed. There was a very curious Muggle poster over the bed Ginny thought must be Dean's.
She stopped to look at it. Harry turned back and laughed. "The people in the poster don't move. It's a Muggle poster."
"What are they doing?"
"Playing football," Harry explained. "It's a really popular Muggle sport. Dean is a big fan."
Ginny turned towards Harry and looked over his space. He didn't have any posters or homemade quilts on his bed. The only real personalization she saw was a picture on his nightstand. It was of a laughing couple who were smiling up at each other. It was also a Muggle photo, so it wasn't moving at all.
Walking over she picked up the picture and gasped. "Are these your parents?"
Harry nodded a bit shyly. "Hagrid made me this amazing photo album after my first year with all pictures of my parents. I really liked this one and this frame was in my room, broken, so I fixed it and put in my favourite picture. Because it's a Muggle picture, I can keep it in my room at my relatives' house as well."
"Your mum is so pretty," Ginny said with a smile. She looked at the picture for a minute longer. "They look so happy together."
Harry smiled, "Thanks, I think so too." He looked over at her. "Would you like to see the other pictures?"
"Sure," Ginny replied.
The pair sat down cross legged on Harry's bed and he pulled out the album. "I don't get to show this off very often."
As they flipped through the pictures, Ginny stopped at one of baby Harry being held by a laughing man with longish dark hair. "Who is this?"
Harry smiled. "That's my godfather, Sirius."
"Sirius Black?" Ginny asked in astonishment.
He nodded. "Sirius is my godfather and he never wanted to kill me."
"You've met him? I mean recently?"
Harry laughed. "Do I have a story for you! What did you hear about Scabbers?"
"Ron said he ran away."
"No, that's not what happened," Harry countered. He explained what had happened at the end of the previous school year.
Ginny was astonished. "That poor man! He spent twelve years in Azkaban and he was innocent? How awful!"
"Where is he now?"
Harry frowned. "Unfortunately, he's coming here. I…I had a nightmare over the summer of Voldemort, Wormtail, and another man planning to…hurt me. I wrote to Sirius and now he's headed here. I wrote to him when I was entered into the Tournament."
"Why is that bad?" Ginny asked tentatively.
"I don't want him to get caught," Harry said. "I…He's trying to clear his name and then we can live together like my parents wanted."
"What's he doing?" Ginny asked curiously. At Harry's blank look, she elaborated, "To clear his name. It seems to me that if he didn't have a trial the first time around, he should be able to get one."
"Professor Dumbledore said that the Wizengamot wouldn't pay much attention to three teenagers and a werewolf," Harry objected. "Sirius is trying to capture Wormtail. He's hoping that will be enough to free him.
"There must be other people who can testify," Ginny said slowly as she thought it over. "I wonder if your parents left any information or indicated who the Secret-Keeper was in their will."
"I don't know if they had one."
"They would have," Ginny said positively. "Your family is wealthy and I imagine they would have had a will."
She looked over at Harry. He seemed so lost; Ginny's heart went out to him. "Would you mind if I told Bill what you told me? He's really smart and knows a lot about wills and such. He would be able to get you a copy of your parents' will."
"Do you think he would?"
"I'll ask," she promised.
He carefully put his album away before going over to his trunk. After rummaging through his trunk, he unearthed his robes. He handed her a stack of robes. "Here, these are my robes from last year. I think most of them should fit you without a problem."
Ginny stood up and took the robe off the top of the stack. She could tell just from the feel of the cloth that they were much nicer than any robes she'd ever owned before. As she held it up in front of her, she could see it would fit with minimal adjustment. "These are so nice."
Harry smiled as he watched her holding the robes up in front of her. She deserved nice robes all the time and he was glad he could help her out.
"Thank you, Harry." Ginny said happily. "I'm going to put these away in my room. I can't tell you how much this means to me."
"You're welcome," Harry said.
Several days later, Harry was taking a short cut to avoid the throngs of students wearing the 'Potter Stinks' badges.
"Hello, Edward," Harry said with a weary smile for the young boy.
"Are you getting ready for the first task?" Edward asked eagerly. "My sister already told me and John we can watch the task with her."
Harry sighed. "I don't know. I'm not sure what to practice."
"Come back up to the room where you found us," Edward said as he stepped around the grazing sheep in painting in which he was currently standing. "Professor Barnes is really smart. He'll probably be able to help you with some spells and stuff."
For the first time since his name came out of the goblet, Harry felt a bit hopeful. "Okay, I will."
After another interminably long Potions' class, Harry almost sprinted back to Gryffindor Tower. He dropped off his bag and headed downstairs. Ginny was sitting by herself at one of the tables working on an essay. He paused; it would be more fun to practice with someone else. Hermione was still in the library and of course Ron wasn't talking to him.
"Ginny, would you like to practice some spells with me?" Harry asked quietly.
"Sure," she replied easily. She was finding it easier to talk to him without blushing the more she talked to him. Harry waited a moment as she put her books away.
Once they left the common room, Ginny glanced up at him. "Where are we going?"
"I'm going up to the room where I found the portraits," Harry explained. "Professor Barnes is really smart. I'm hoping he might have some ideas."
Soon they were entering the abandoned room on the sixth floor. Harry introduced Ginny to everyone in the portraits.
"What can we do for you, young Harry?" Professor Barnes asked.
"The first task is coming up," Harry said nervously. "I have no idea what to do or how to prepare."
Professor Barnes looked thoughtful for a minute. "Boys, can you ask your father to join us? I believe a Triwizard Tournament took place whilst he was teaching at the school."
John took off and within a few minutes returned with a distinguished looking older man. "Harry, this is my father, Professor Benson."
"Hello," Harry said shyly. "I'm Harry Potter and this is my friend, Ginny Weasley."
"Hello," Professor Benson said with a slight bow. "I have of course heard of both of you."
"Oliver, Mr Potter was wondering how he should prepare for the first task of the Triwizard Tournament," Professor Barnes explained.
"Usually the first task involves some type of dangerous animal," Professor Benson said after thinking it over. "The last tournament was held here at Hogwarts in 1792. The champions were supposed to be catching a cockatrice when it escaped and went on a rampage."
Harry turned to look at Ginny who'd made the exclamation. "What?"
"Charlie told me he'd see me in November," she explained.
"Dragons?" Harry asked weakly as he quickly made the connection.
"That would fit in with some of the things I've heard," Florence admitted.
Harry paled. Looking over at Ginny, he said, "What can I do against dragons?"
"Do you know what the task is?" Ginny asked the portraits.
"I heard that they will have to retrieve something guarded by a nesting mother dragon," Jane admitted.
"Great, it keeps getting better and better," Harry muttered. "How can I get past a dragon? I don't know half the spells and charms that the others do."
"You could fly," Edward suggested. "You're amazing on a broom."
"How would I get my broom?" Harry asked looking a bit better at the thought of flying.
"Summon it," Professor Benson said simply. "Have you learned the Summoning Charm?"
Harry groaned. "We've just started learning it. I haven't had much luck."
"I can help with that," Professor Benson said confidently.
Several hours later a more confident Harry and Ginny left the classroom. "Thanks for coming with me, Ginny. I feel a lot better now that I have a plan."
"No problem," Ginny replied. "I'm glad I could help."
Over the next week, only Ginny and the portraits' support sustained him. Ron continued to ignore him making time in class and in the common room rather stressful. Hermione said she was going to stay neutral, but Harry couldn't help but notice that she spent a lot of time with Ron. Harry did most of his homework with Ginny. Sitting with her, Harry was often able to forget the stress and pressure from the rest of the school. He enjoyed getting to know her better.
After the weighing of the wands ceremony, a rather disheartened Harry headed to the Great Hall. He was very uncomfortable about his interview with Rita Skeeter and felt like such a little kid compared to the other champions. Walking into the Great Hall, Harry took a look around. He didn't see Hermione anywhere around, he supposed she was still in the hospital wing. As he neared the Gryffindor table, he noticed Ginny sitting by herself.
With a sigh of relief, he slid onto the bench across from her. She looked up and smiled as he started to help himself to some beef stew.
"Hi," Harry said quietly.
"What's wrong?" Ginny asked as she watched him.
He took a bite of his stew. "I had to go to a weighing of the wands, for the tournament this afternoon. It was awful." He looked over at her before blurting out, "They are all so much older than me. Cedric's wand was all shiny, he polished it last night. Mine was covered with fingerprints and all dull, I never even thought to polish my wand. Are you supposed to do that?"
He shook his head in confusion. "That wasn't even the worst of it. That reporter, Rita Skeeter, was there and she pulled me into an interview. She was asking about my parents and…I don't know, it was awful. What am I supposed to say? I don't remember my parents. I don't know what they would have thought about me being in the tournament."
"I'm sorry," Ginny said sympathetically. "Bill was interviewed by Rita Skeeter once and said she was horrible."
Harry nodded, "She used this quill that wrote by itself and it…I don't know, but I have a feeling whatever comes out in the paper will be horrible. I saw some rubbish about tears in my eyes when I talk about my parents. I wasn't crying. I wasn't even really saying much of anything. I can just imagine everyone laughing at me about this stupid article. On top of that I have detention with Snape."
"I heard," Ginny said with a smile. "Hermione is fine. Madam Pomfrey was able to shrink her teeth."
"Good," Harry said as he finished up his stew. He smiled over at Ginny, feeling better for the first time that day. "I really like stew when I don't have to chop up all of the vegetables."
"I know," Ginny replied letting him change the subject. "I hate cutting up vegetables. It's really annoying because I know my mum could slice them up with a flick of her wand, but I have to spend forever cutting them up."
Harry laughed, "I hadn't even thought of it that way."
"It's not so bad," Ginny said. "That's one good thing about having so many brothers. My mum makes all of us help so we each don't have to do too much."
"That's good," Harry replied. "My aunt never makes my cousin help out. It's just me."
"That's awful," Ginny sympathized. "Your aunt and uncle don't sound very nice."
He laughed, "They aren't. Mind you they are much nicer now that they think my convict godfather is going to show up and turn them into bats if they aren't nice to me."
Ginny laughed, "That would be funny."
He nodded, "Aunt Petunia hates bats; she thinks they are dirty. It would be pretty funny to watch her flying around trying to get away from herself."
When he arrived in his room later, he was in a much better mood. Ginny just seemed to have that effect on him. Ron glared at him as he tossed his books on his bed.
"You've an owl," Ron said. "We have detention tomorrow night with Snape."
Ron stalked out of the room. Harry shook his head; he really didn't know what to do about Ron. Half the time he just wanted his best mate back and the other half of the time he wanted to pound some sense into him.
He retrieved his note from the owl and gave it an owl treat before opening the scroll.
I can't say everything I would like to in a letter, it's too risky in case the owl is intercepted - we need to talk face-to-face. Can you ensure that you are alone by the fire in Gryffindor Tower at one o'clock in the morning on the 22nd of November?
I don't know why someone would want to enter you in the tournament, but we can assume it wasn't for a good reason. Please be careful and keep your chin up.
Be on the watch for anything unusual, Harry. I want to hear about anything that concerns you. Let me know about the 22nd of November as quickly as you can.
His good mood was challenged the next day when Rita Skeeter's article came out. It was worse than he feared. He was aghast at the inference that he routinely cried for his parents. Ginny sat with him as he read the article. Harry blushed as he read about his supposed love for Hermione. For some reason the thought that Ginny might believe it upset him.
He looked up at her desperately. "I didn't say any of this. I don't cry for my parents and I'm not in love with Hermione."
Ginny looked pleased about something, but all she said was, "I know."
"But…but everyone is going to read this," Harry said glumly. He squirmed inside at the thought of all of the mocking he was sure he was going to get from the article.
He followed her down to breakfast and quickly discovered he was correct. Malfoy and his cohorts found it entertaining to quote extensively from the article. They mockingly offered him handkerchiefs in case he started crying in class because he missed his mummy. They also offered helpful hints for capturing Hermione's heart ranging from buying her a bookstore to much ruder and cruder suggestions. He thought the worst moment came when he saw Ron, Dean, and Seamus laughing over the article.
Cedric seemed a bit cooler towards him than he had before. Harry wanted desperately to explain that he hadn't wanted to enter the Tournament and he certainly hadn't wanted the article to be all about him. Harry would be perfectly happy to stay in the stands and cheer Cedric on, but of course he couldn't do that.
A very disgruntled Harry trudged up to the abandoned classroom after class. The occupants of the portraits were quite sympathetic.
"Who is the woman who wrote the article?" Kathryn asked.
"Her name is Rita Skeeter," Harry replied disgustedly. "Ginny said that Skeeter interviewed her brother and made up horrible things about him."
"I recall Miss Skeeter," Jane said. "She was forever getting in trouble whilst she was at school — she was the worst gossip. And I don't think she was picky about the truth of the gossip she spread around. Professor Dumbledore had to intervene several times."
"Rita Skeeter?" John thought about it for a minute. "I remember hearing something about her recently."
He frowned. "That Malfoy boy, he was telling his mates that Skeeter would pay for stories about Harry."
"Great," Harry groaned. "I'm sure Malfoy will be happy to make up stories about me."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Florence said. "I also recall that she was not the nicest young lady."
Seeing how disheartened Harry looked, Professor Barnes changed the subject. "How is your Summoning Charm coming along?"
Harry brightened up. Looking around the room, he summoned a dust-covered book from the corner of the room.
"Excellent," Professor Barnes praised him. "I have a feeling you will do quite well in the task."
"I wonder how Cedric is preparing," Harry wondered out loud. "Should I tell him about the dragons?"
"I don't know that you are under any obligation to do so," Mary said, "but it would be a nice gesture."
"Maybe he wouldn't be so upset about that stupid article," Harry mused.
"Mr Potter, I wondered if you had considered consulting Professor McGonagall," Professor Benson asked from his sons' frame.
"Professor McGonagall?" Harry was puzzled. "No, not really."
"I heard that she went to London to protest your being enrolled in the Tournament," Professor Benson explained.
Mary nodded. "I'd heard that as well. She's quite upset with the Ministry as well as Professor Dumbledore. She's been investigating who may have entered your name, but thus far she hasn't learned anything."
"I didn't realize that," Harry said in astonishment. "That was really nice of her."
Florence smiled. "Minerva McGonagall may cultivate a stern exterior, but she cares about all of her students."
Harry frowned. "But she didn't believe me about the Philosopher's Stone."
"I think she was taken aback that three first years had discovered its existence," Professor Benson said. "I also don't believe that Professor Dumbledore had shared his fears that Voldemort would attempt to steal it."
Professor Barnes started laughing. "She gave Albus such a dressing down after you were injured. She was very angry."
"Wow, she didn't have to do that," Harry said in amazement.
"She takes her position as Head of House seriously," Professor Barnes explained.
"So are you looking forward to tomorrow?" Ginny asked Harry as they headed back to the common room Friday evening.
Harry shrugged. "I can't wait for tomorrow night to talk to Sirius. I don't really know what I expect him to say, but I really can't wait to talk to him."
"I'd be the same way," Ginny replied. "It's only natural to want to talk to family at a time like this."
Harry smiled; he liked hearing Sirius referred to as his family.
Ginny looked over at him. "Are you going into Hogsmeade?"
"I don't know," Harry sighed. "Hermione told me that she and Padma are going into town together and 'everyone' is meeting for lunch. I don't know that I really want to go by myself and I really don't want to have lunch with your brother."
"Padma? Parvati's sister?"
Harry nodded, "They are in Arithmancy together and have become friends. She didn't want to choose between me and Ron so she decided to avoid choosing between us altogether."
"Do you want to go with me?" Ginny asked. She blushed at her boldness, but continued, "It's my first time going into Hogsmeade and you could show me around."
Harry looked over at her considering. He smiled, "That sounds great."
"I have to go if I'm going to meet Padma on time," Hermione said as she stood up and pulled on her coat. "Are you going to stay here and work on your Summoning Charm?"
Harry shook his head. "No, I have the Summoning Charm down. Besides, I'm going to Hogsmeade with Ginny."
"What?" Hermione exclaimed. "Harry, you can't do that!"
"Why not?" Harry asked in confusion. "You know I have permission to go to Hogsmeade now. I double checked with Professor McGonagall and she said it was fine."
Hermione hovered next to him. "It's not that. Ron won't like it if you are spending more time with his sister. Plus, you know she's had a crush on you for a long time. She might get the wrong idea if you spend more time with her."
"Please tell me you are kidding," Harry said. "I don't care what Ron thinks. He needs to grow up and apologize to me before we can be friends again. Ginny wants to be my friend. She asked me to go to Hogsmeade with her. She wants to spend time with me."
Harry stood up angrily, "I'm not going to make friends based on who you and Ron think are right for me."
Without another word to Hermione, Harry hurried up the steps to his dorm room. This was the first time he was legally allowed to go to Hogsmeade and he was going to make the most of it. As he rummaged through his wardrobe, he realized he didn't have much in the way of nice clothes.
Sighing, he pulled on the nicest of Dudley's hand-me-down jumpers and jeans. At least Aunt Petunia bought nice clothes for Dudley so that even by the time Harry got them, they were in fairly good shape if five times too big for him.
By the time he returned to the common room, Ginny was waiting for him. She stood up as he neared and smiled a bit shyly, "Are you ready to go?"
"Yes," Harry replied.
Ginny pulled on her coat that she'd laid on the chair. Harry noticed she looked really nice in her dark blue jumper. The coat she was pulling on looked a bit big for her and was rather worn. Suddenly, Harry felt better about his clothes — Ginny wouldn't look down on him for wearing hand-me-downs. She caught his eye as she wrapped her scarf around her neck and blushed slightly.
Ignoring that, Harry smiled and gestured for her to lead the way out. "So, do you know what you want to see?"
"I know I want to go to Honeydukes," Ginny replied with her eyes sparkling. "I love the sugar quills. Bill used to bring some home for me when I was little."
"Honeydukes is amazing," Harry agreed. "It just smells so wonderful. You'll like it."
"Where do you want to go?" Ginny asked as they headed down the stairs.
"I need to go to the stationary shop," Harry said. "Two of my bottles of ink broke. I think I left them too near the edge of my desk, I found them smashed on the floor. We have to go to the Three Broomsticks for lunch."
Ginny giggled. "That sounds good." She looked around at the crowd of students gathering. "We'll just avoid 'everyone.'"
Harry laughed, "That sounds like a plan."
It took some time to get through the queue, but then they were on their way to Hogsmeade. Harry felt a huge sense of relief as they headed down the snow covered road to the school. Although several of the students were wearing their Potter Stinks badges, he felt more able to blend into the laughing mass of students off of school grounds. The other students were laughing and joking with their friends and not paying the slightest bit of attention to him.
"This is the first time I've headed into Hogsmeade this way," Harry said as they ambled along.
"What do you mean?"
Harry laughed, "Last year, I couldn't get my uncle to sign my permission slip. The first trip, I had to stay back at school while Ron and Hermione went to Hogsmeade without me. The next Hogsmeade trip, your brothers gave me a map. It's called the Marauders' Map and it shows the school and everyone in it. It also shows the secret tunnels out of the school."
"What?" Ginny was astonished. "How did my brothers get this map?"
"They 'found' it in Filch's filing cabinet." Harry explained. "But the cool thing is that my dad was one of the Marauders who created the map."
Harry nodded, his eyes sparkling. "When my dad was in school, he and Sirius and Professor Lupin were like these big pranksters. They made the map so they wouldn't get caught when they were out of bed trying to set up a prank. I'll show it to you when we get back to school."
"That would be great!" Ginny enthused. The two walked along laughing and joking, feeling very at ease with each other.
Harry laughed as he held the door to the sweet shop open for Ginny. The enticing aroma of chocolate hit them as soon as they walked into Honeydukes. They walked around looking at the displays. Harry passed on the pepper imps and ice mice, but picked up some chocolate frogs and sugar quills.
"The first time I was here, I imagined my cousin's expression if he saw this shop," Harry confided in Ginny. "He would think he died and went to heaven."
Ginny giggled, "He likes sweets?"
Harry nodded, "He loves sweets. He's easily five times my size. My aunt and uncle let him eat whatever he wants."
"That's not good," Ginny wrinkled her nose.
"I know," Harry replied. As they made their way deeper into the shop, he said, "That is new."
Looking over, Ginny saw two displays sitting right next to each other. A group of girls from Beauxbatons were gathered in front of one of the displays chattering excitedly in French. "Oh, I bet those are sweets from France." She looked at the writing on the other display and found she couldn't read it. "I guess those are sweets for the Durmstrang students."
"I think you're right," Harry said. "That was really smart."
Ginny gasped, "Harry, look at this." Grabbing his hand, Ginny pulled him forward to look at another display.
Harry had trouble concentrating for a moment as Ginny's touch caused a swooping sensation in his stomach. He wasn't sure exactly what was going on, but he knew he liked being around Ginny — even listening to her giggle made him happy. When most girls giggled, he found it very annoying, but not with Ginny. Shaking his head slightly, he looked at the display that had excited Ginny. She was pointing to little white chocolate snowmen that rolled around forming and reforming their shapes and white chocolate unicorns with little golden coloured babies.
"Isn't that adorable?" she asked. She watched as the unicorns ran in circles around the snowman.
Harry nodded, "It's so cool the way they make the sweets move. Muggle sweets don't do anything but taste good."
They watched the display for a few moments before moving on. Harry picked up a box of each type of sweets. As they neared the register, Harry saw Ginny digging through her small moneybag. He could tell there wasn't much in there.
Reaching out, he covered her hand. "Let me get this, Ginny."
She blushed, "I do have some money."
"I know," Harry replied. "Save your money for something else, I'll get this."
"Thank you," Ginny said with a sweet smile.
After leaving Honeydukes, they headed for the stationary shop. As they neared the shop, Hermione and Padma were leaving. Harry nodded to his friend, but she seemed as though she was still angry at him.
"What's wrong with Hermione?"
Harry looked down at Ginny. "She's being ridiculous. She wanted me to stay and work on my Summoning Charm. She doesn't believe I can do it."
"Is it because you came with me?" Ginny asked.
Harry didn't really want to answer, but he couldn't ignore her. "Sort of. She thinks Ron will get mad that we're friends. It's like she doesn't want me to have other friends."
Ginny stopped walking and looked up at him. "You know you didn't have to come with me, right?"
"I wanted to," Harry replied immediately. "They aren't very much fun to be around right now. You are."
Ginny brightened. "Thank you."
He laughed, "You're welcome."
As he picked up two bottles of ink, he noticed Ginny looking covetously at a box holding a rainbow's worth of colours of ink. The box itself was a wooden box with an intricately carved rose on the top. When Ginny moved on to pick up a sheaf of parchment, Harry checked out the price on the box. It was ten Galleons. Harry checked his moneybag before approaching the clerk. He quickly made arrangements to have the box wrapped and sent up to the castle. He thought it would make a great Christmas present for his newest friend.
After they made the rest of their purchases, they headed back out onto High Street. As they walked down the street, Harry heard barking. Looking around, he couldn't believe his eyes. A large, shaggy black dog was barking and jumping to get Harry's attention. He stopped and stared for a moment.
"Padfoot," he breathed.
Ginny gasped, "Your godfather?"
Harry nodded and started down the street. "Come on, Ginny."
The two teens hurried over to the dog. Harry tried not to laugh at the murmurs he heard from some of the other students about the Grim. When he reached Padfoot's side, Harry dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around the dog. He laughed when the dog gave him a big sloppy lick on the cheek.
"Padfoot, what are you doing here?" Harry whispered to the dog.
Padfoot wriggled out of Harry's arms and tugged at Harry's sleeve. The two teens followed the Animagus out of the town and towards a ramshackle old barn. Once they entered the barn, Padfoot transformed.
"Harry!" Sirius opened his arms to his godson. Harry's eyes lit up as he hugged his godfather. The warmth of his godfather's embrace took him by surprise. He'd been hugged by Mrs Weasley and Hermione, but Sirius's hug was different. It was much more comforting.
"What are you doing here?" Harry asked. "Not that I don't want you here, but isn't it dangerous for you?"
"I'm fine," Sirius replied calmly. "I'm pretty good with stealth and disguises. I've let myself be seen fairly far away so I think I'm safe for a while." He looked over at Ginny who had taken a few steps back to let Harry greet his godfather. "Who is this lovely young lady?"
Ginny blushed slightly as Harry smiled. "This is my friend, Ginny Weasley. Ginny, this is my godfather, Sirius Black."
"Enchanted to meet you, my dear," Sirius said, his eyes sparkling.
"Thank you," Ginny replied shyly.
"I hope you don't mind, but I told Ginny about you and she wrote to her brother Bill to see if he had any ideas on how to help you," Harry said slightly nervously.
"No, of course I don't mind," Sirius said. "I trust you to be careful who you tell."
Harry beamed under the praise from his godfather. "Of course, I wanted to tell Ginny and Bill had some ideas to help."
"Really?" Sirius asked as he gestured to an area that he had obvious set up. There were bales of hay arranged in a square with bedding stacked up on one side.
"He's going to request a copy of Harry's parents' will," Ginny explained. "Bill works for Gringotts and he thought that was a good place to start."
"Thank you," he said gratefully. "I would appreciate any help I can get."
Once they sat down, Harry spilled his story to his godfather. He talked about his name coming out of the Goblet, Ron's desertion, the rumours and the cooling of his relationship with Hermione. Sirius listened in silence, his eyes warm and sympathetic.
After Harry talked himself out, Sirius said, "I am so sorry this is happening to you." He flashed Harry a smile. "I know if this happened when I was in school, James and I would have been the immature prats to try to scheme our way into the Tournament."
Harry and Ginny started laughing. "My brothers tried to get past the age line and ended up with long white beards," Ginny explained.
Sirius' eyes lit up with laughter. "They sound like men after my own heart. I wish you could be that carefree, Harry, but I am so proud of you. You have your mother's sensibilities and you have a good head on your shoulders." He held up his hand when Harry looked as though he was going to speak. "I know you are worried about the tasks. Do you have any idea what the first task entails?"
Harry explained his conversations with the portraits and the realization that the first task involved dragons. "The plan is that I will summon my broom and fly. I'm hoping I can distract the dragon enough to get her away from her nest and then I can get whatever it is they are hiding for us to get."
"You're really good at this kind of thing," Ginny spoke.
Harry blushed. "I don't know. It was a lot of luck that got me through before. I had Ron and Hermione's help to get through the obstacles to get to the Philosopher's Stone and I was bitten by the Basilisk as I killed it. If Fawkes hadn't healed me, I could have died."
"But you did get through them," Ginny argued. "You are the top of your year at Defence Against the Dark Arts. Hermione told me about how you can throw off the Imperius Curse."
"What?" Sirius exclaimed. "Who the bloody hell has been putting you under the Imperius Curse?"
"Alastor Moody, the Auror?" Sirius asked in astonishment as he tried to wrap his head around the idea of someone using an Unforgiveable on his fourteen-year-old godson.
Harry nodded, "Yes, he's our Defence teacher this year."
Sirius shook his head. "I can't believe Dumbledore is letting him actually use that curse on you. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you can resist it, but…damn, did he really have to use it on you?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. He showed us all three of the Unforgivable Curses on spiders. That was pretty horrible — especially the Killing Curse." He shuddered as he recalled how the spider just died in front of him. "I kept thinking of my parents dying like that."
Sirius put his hand on Harry's shoulder and squeezed it gently. Harry was grateful for his godfather's understanding.
Sirius growled slightly. "What the hell are they thinking?"
"We can talk about that in a bit," Sirius said. "One of the things that brought me back so quickly is the fact that I heard Karkaroff is here."
"Karkaroff? The Durmstrang Headmaster?" Harry asked in surprise. "What about him?"
"He was a Death Eater."
"He was in Azkaban," Sirius explained. "He was released when he testified against some of the other Death Eaters. I don't trust him. Plus there is Crouch."
"Mr Crouch? He wasn't a Death Eater, was he?" Harry asked in astonishment.
"He was the one who sent me to Azkaban without a trial," Sirius explained bitterly. "I was caught at the scene of the crime and my last name was Black. Crouch didn't need anything else. Dumbledore testified against me, he thought I was your parents' Secret-Keeper so he didn't see any reason to investigate things any deeper."
"That's awful!" Harry burst out; horrified at the way his godfather had been treated. "No one helped you?"
Sirius shook his head. "Most people assumed I was more like my relatives than I'd let on. Fudge was part of the team that arrested me. He went on and on about how I couldn't be trusted and I was probably one of Voldemort's right hand men. I'd joined my cousins and brother as a Death Eater."
Looking at his godson, Sirius said, "Harry, I don't want to worry you more than necessary, but please be careful. The fact that Karkaroff is here and you are entered into the Tournament makes me very uneasy. I've been reading the Daily Prophet when I can get a hold of it. There is a missing witch, Bertha Jorkins. She went missing in Albania and she would have known about the Triwizard Tournament."
Harry recalled something Professor Dumbledore had shared with him the previous year. "Voldemort was last seen in Albania."
Sirius nodded. "It just concerns me that he might have found out about the Tournament and decided to use it to harm you."
Glancing at his watch, Harry was disappointed to see it was getting late in the afternoon. "We need to be getting back soon." He looked over at his godfather and asked, "Can you come with us as Padfoot? We can get you some food."
Sirius thought about it for a moment. "That's actually a good idea. I've only had a rat since I arrived yesterday."
Ginny wrinkled her nose. "A rat? We can get you some real food."
Most of the students were still in the village when the three of them headed back up to the castle. As they entered the castle, Harry heard his name.
Turning he saw Professor McGonagall walking towards him. Padfoot whined slightly and tried to hide behind Harry and Ginny. She raised her eyebrows at such behaviour. "Mr Potter, may I ask why you are bringing a dog into the castle? You already have a pet."
Harry looked down at his godfather and recalling what he'd learned from the portraits, he made a decision. "Professor, can we talk to you in your office?"
"Certainly," she replied. Leading the way up to her office, she opened the door letting the teens and the dog precede her into the room. Closing the door she cast a few privacy charms.
She gestured for the teens to sit down. They did so and Padfoot sat at Harry's feet. Harry petted him reassuringly on the head. Once Professor McGonagall sat behind her desk, Harry asked, "Professor, what did you hear about Sirius Black's capture and escape last year?"
Harry was gratified to see he'd shocked his normally unflappable professor into silence for a moment. She gathered her thoughts together and thought back to what she'd heard.
"It was very confusing, actually," she admitted. "We knew that he'd been brought into the castle after the Dementors tried to attack not only him, but you and Miss Granger as well. He somehow managed to escape from the castle, but I never heard more. Professor Snape, of course blamed you. I thought he was being ridiculous, but perhaps I should have given his version of events a bit more credence."
Harry laughed and shared the events of the previous year. He explained how Peter had been the Secret-Keeper and how he had framed Sirius. Professor McGonagall stared at him in astonishment. She glanced quickly over at the dog still lounging at Harry's feet.
"Professor Dumbledore knew about this?"
Harry nodded, "He did. He said that the word of three thirteen year olds and a werewolf wouldn't convince anyone so we used Hermione's time turner to free Sirius."
She turned her attention to the dog sitting on the floor. "Mr Black, I presume."
Padfoot seemed to gather himself up and changed back into Sirius.
"Merlin, I can't believe it," Professor McGonagall whispered. "Sirius."
She looked Sirius up and down for a moment. Pulling her wand she summoned a platter of sandwiches and a pitcher of pumpkin juice. "Please have something to eat. You look like you're about to fall over."
"Thank you," Sirius replied. He was thrilled at the thought of another person who knew the truth about that awful night so many years earlier. The four of them ate together and talked. Sirius heard how Harry had made the Quidditch team during his first year, the adventures Harry and his friends had faced during Harry's first year, and Ginny's encounter with the sixteen-year-old memory of Voldemort. To say he was shocked was an understatement. "Merlin, kiddo, you certainly don't catch any breaks do you?"
Harry blushed under his godfather's scrutiny and shrugged a bit. Sirius laughed and reached out to mess up Harry's hair. "I am so proud of you. You have a very big heart and you don't hesitate to help others. I would ask that you remember - you don't have to do everything alone. Ask for help."
Professor McGonagall cleared her throat. "I am afraid, I might have contributed to his reticence to ask for help. Mr Potter, please allow me to apologize for not listening to you during your first year. I was taken aback that you even knew about the Philosopher's Stone and I have to admit I was unaware that Professor Dumbledore anticipated Voldemort would attempt to acquire the stone."
Harry smiled at his favourite professor. "That's okay, Professor. I'm not used to asking adults for help."
"Didn't your teachers in primary school help you?"
He shook his head. "No. They believed my aunt and uncle so they didn't believe anything I said."
Harry squirmed a bit, before he shrugged. "My aunt and uncle always told everyone that I was a troublemaker and I lied a lot so that's kind of how people saw me. My cousin used to bully people and misbehave and I'd get blamed for it."
He stared down at his hands, afraid to meet anyone's eyes. Therefore he missed the look that passed between Professor McGonagall and Sirius. Ginny reached out and laid her hand on Harry's arm. He glanced up at her, half afraid he'd see pity in her eyes. To his relief, he only saw sympathy and support. He tentatively smiled at her and to his relief she returned his smile.
Professor McGonagall looked at the clock. "Merlin, it's getting rather late. Sirius, where are you staying?"
He downed the last of his sandwich. "There's an old barn just outside of town, that's where I slept last night."
"I have a better idea," Professor McGonagall said firmly. "My family home is less than an hour away. There is no one there this time of year. Why don't you stay there for a while? At least until we can figure what we can do."
Harry brightened at the thought of his godfather being safe and sound. Sirius seeing the hopeful look on Harry's face couldn't bring himself to refuse. "That actually sounds wonderful, Minerva. Thank you."
Standing up, Ginny said good bye to Sirius and waited by the door. Sirius pulled his godson into a hug. "Thank you, Harry. I'll be in touch. If you need me for anything, tell Professor McGonagall."
"Okay," Harry replied shyly. He looked up at his godfather. "Will you be at the first task?"
"Of course," Sirius replied promptly. "I will be in some sort of disguise, but I will be there."
Smiling down at his godson, Sirius pulled him into another embrace. "Be good and keep practicing your
As Harry joined Ginny by the door, Professor McGonagall handed him a piece of parchment. "In case you get stopped for being out after curfew. I probably won't be in the castle tomorrow until later in the afternoon, but I will be back tomorrow night."
Harry nodded his understanding. With one final goodbye to Sirius, Harry and Ginny left Professor McGonagall's office and headed towards the tower. Filch was very disappointed not to be able to give them detention after Harry showed him their permission slip and the two made it back to the tower without further incidence.
"Where have you been?"
Harry looked up a bit startled at the anger in Hermione's voice. Before she could slip into a rant, Paul, the sixth year prefect approached them.
"Potter, why were you out after curfew?"
"Sorry, Ginny and I were with Professor McGonagall," Harry explained as he offered the parchment to the prefect. The older student nodded and grinned at the pair.
"Good, I hate having to take points from my own house."
Hermione waited until Paul had re-joined his friends before turning back to the other two. "You were with Professor McGonagall? Why? What did you do?"
Stung, Harry glared at her. "I didn't do anything. She wanted to talk to me. Unlike some people, she is trying to help me."
Turning his back to Hermione, Harry looked at Ginny. "Thank you. I really had a wonderful day."
Ginny blushed, "Me too, thank you for including me."
Harry reached into his bag, pulled out the box of white chocolate unicorns, and shyly gave it to her. "I got this for you."
She blushed, "Thank you, Harry. You didn't have to do that."
"You're welcome," he smiled. "I saw how you were looking at them and you've been so great to me so I wanted to do something nice for you."
As Harry headed off towards his dorm, he noticed Edward peeking out from the landscape over the fireplace. Edward gave him a thumbs up and Harry grinned as he passed by. He needed some time to absorb everything that had happened that day.
The portraits all looked on in amazement as Harry shared everything that had happened over the weekend.
"I think that is wonderful news about your godfather," Jane said. "Perhaps they will be able to find the proof needed to exonerate him."
"That would be amazing," Harry said, "right now I'm just thrilled that he's staying somewhere safe and has food to eat."
"I hear you told Cedric about the dragons," Mary said proudly. "That was quite noble of you."
Harry blushed. "I'm pretty sure that Fleur and Viktor know about the dragons. I just didn't want for Cedric to be the only one who didn't know," he mumbled.
Florence came bustling into her picture frame saving Harry from further embarrassment. "Good afternoon, young Harry."
"Good afternoon," he replied. "Is something wrong?"
She frowned. "I'm not certain. Lady Maud and I were near the dungeons and Professor Snape is quite upset that his stores are being raided. He's missing Lacewing flies, Bloomslang skin, and Fluxweed."
Harry frowned. Those ingredients sounded familiar, but he couldn't recall what potion they made.
"Polyjuice Potion?" Mary asked.
"Aye, that is the concern," Florence said.
"Who would be making it?" Harry asked.
"Professor Snape suspects you."
He laughed. "Professor Snape always suspects me of everything. I saw what Hermione did to make that potion second year — I couldn't do that. I wonder who would. Probably not a student, most people hate Potions."
"It could quite possibly be the person who means you harm," Professor Barnes said with a frown. "Be careful, my boy, and good luck in the first task."
The next day, Harry found himself in the Champion's tent awaiting his turn. Harry's nerves reappeared after Viktor Krum left the tent leaving Harry alone. He paced around listening for the sounds from the crowd for clues as to how Viktor was doing. The shriek of the Chinese Fireball was, quite frankly, scary. Harry heard the cheering of the crowd and realized rather uneasily that it would soon be his turn.
The whistle sounded and Harry made his way out to the arena. The huge Horntail seemed to take up almost half of the space with its' huge leathery wings and long spiked tail. Harry spotted the golden egg hidden among the other eggs being guarded by the dragon.
"Accio Firebolt!" he shouted.
He spent a few anxious moments waiting for the broom to appear, but once he was up in the air he felt a freedom he hadn't felt in months. He soared up above the dragon causing her to snap at him. The dragon shot flames at him and he easily ducked under them.
Harry gleefully flew above the dragon, happy to be both back in the air and happy to be doing something proactive. He was able to draw the huge dragon up into the air. The noise was astonishing and he felt the wind generated by the powerful flapping of it's wings. His joy was tempered slightly when the dragon's sharp spikes grazed his shoulder, but he'd been hurt worse than that in Quidditch. Taking the opportunity, he dove down and grabbed the golden egg.
He flew back in the air holding the egg aloft. For the first time he became aware of the crowd as it started going wild, screaming and cheering. As the dragon keepers rushed out to subdue the dragon, Harry landed at the edge of the enclosure.
Professor McGonagall hurried over to him with a big black dog close on her heels. She laid a rather shaky hand on his shoulder. "Harry, that was very impressive."
Harry grinned happily and the professor continued. "You'll need to see Madam Pomfrey."
"Okay," Harry said. He started laughing as the dog started barking at him. Harry dropped to his knees next to the dog and hugged him. "What did you think? Was I good?"
Padfoot licked him on the face which caused Harry to start laughing again. Harry stood up and Padfoot followed him over to the tent that had been set up for the injured champions. Harry waved happily to Cedric and sat down on the empty exam bed. Padfoot jumped up next to him and rested his head on Harry's lap. Harry kept petting the dog, happy the first task was over and he'd done so well.
"That was so cool! At first I was afraid she wouldn't try to fly after me, but it was brilliant when she finally took off. I don't even think she saw me dive." Harry grinned at the dog. "I love flying!"
Madam Pomfrey fussed over Harry and bandaged up his wounds. She offered him a mild pain potion and although Harry didn't think he'd need it, he took it after Padfoot nudged his arm.
Once Madam Pomfrey cleared him, Harry headed towards the edge of the tent. He was met by Ginny who threw her arms around him.
"Harry, you were amazing!" Ginny cried. "You were easily the best of the bunch."
Padfoot barked adding his endorsement of her statement. Ginny grinned and petted the large dog. As they walked over to the arena for Harry to get his scores, Ginny told him how the other champions had done.
"I bet Krum is upset he didn't think about flying," Ginny said. "He used some kind of spell on the dragon, but some of the dragon's real eggs got squashed and that wasn't supposed to happen. Charlie's going to be really upset about the eggs."
"How'd Cedric do?" Harry asked curiously as he watched Madam Pomfrey fuss over the other boy.
"He transfigured a rock into a dog," Ginny explained. "It was pretty cool, but the dragon lost interest in the dog and went after Cedric instead. He got the egg, but the dragon got him a bit. Fleur did some kind of trance spell. Her dragon fell asleep, but then snored flames and set her skirt on fire. She put out the flame, but it wasn't very exciting. Yours was definitely the most exciting! When that dragon took off it was amazing, the power behind her. Can you imagine if she hadn't been chained?"
Harry laughed. "I'm glad I just got grazed with the spikes. I was afraid I'd get burned with the flames."
"Does it hurt?"
Harry shook his head. "No, I'm fine. Padfoot made me take some potion, but I'm fine."
Turning, Harry saw Hermione and Ron approaching. Hermione was rather pale, she smiled rather shakily. "Harry, you were amazing!"
"Thanks!" Harry replied bouncing with excess energy. "It was great!"
"Harry…" Ron was also rather pale. He looked at Harry in astonishment. "You were amazing. I…I reckon someone really is trying to get you."
"About time you realized that, you git!" Ginny said heatedly.
Harry placed a calming hand on her arm. She looked back at him half afraid he'd tell her to leave now that Ron was talking to him again. To her relief, he just smiled at her.
"Let's go find my scores."
Harry wasn't surprised to find a party in the common room by the time he returned to Gryffindor Tower. He was cheered on by everyone.
"What's with the egg?" Ron asked.
Shrugging Harry pried open the egg. It immediately started shrieking. Harry slammed it shut.
"What the bloody hell?" Ron said.
"Language, Ron!" Hermione reprimanded.
Harry barely managed to suppress rolling his eyes. "I don't know. I guess I'll have to open it somewhere else or something. I'm not going to worry about it now."
After putting the egg safely in his trunk, Harry managed to make his way over to Ginny's side. He pet Padfoot before sitting down on the floor next to the big dog. As soon as he sat down, Padfoot laid his head on Harry's leg. Laughing the two kids played with the dog and watched the rest of their house party.
"So Ron finally realized you didn't enter yourself?" Ginny asked.
"I hope so," Harry said. "I hate not talking to him."
The portrait hole opened and to Ginny's delight Bill stuck his head in and looked around. When he caught Ginny's eye, he beckoned her outside. Harry and Padfoot followed.
Bill hugged his sister and shook Harry's hand. "Harry, that was amazing. I'm really glad I got the chance to see at least the first task."
Harry blushed, but thanked the older boy. Bill laughed and said, "I have some news for you, do you think we could talk somewhere?"
"Sure," Harry said. They headed down the stairs and ended up in the portrait room. Harry quickly introduced Bill to Professor Barnes who was the only one in his portrait at the moment.
"The others are off celebrating your amazing victory," Professor Barnes said proudly.
Harry blushed slightly. "Bill had some news about my parents and I thought it might be good if you heard it as well."
"I appreciate the trust," Professor Barnes replied.
Bill cast some privacy spells. Harry and Ginny both sat down on a couch that he'd discovered and placed in the room and Padfoot sat on the floor at Harry's feet. Bill conjured up a chair and sat across from them.
Reaching into his robes, Bill pulled out a small scroll. "I have a copy of your parents' will. I think you need to read it."
With a slightly shaking hand, Harry reached out and took the scroll. Breaking the seal he scanned the document before looking over at Bill. "I'm sorry; I don't understand all of this."
"Oh, that's okay," Bill said as he took the scroll back with a reassuring smile. "The first part is the legal stuff establishing your trust vault. You get the family vault when you turn seventeen, but you can visit it or make withdrawals with your legal guardian's approval."
"So I have another vault?" Harry asked in confusion. Padfoot jumped up on couch next to Harry who automatically put his arm around the dog.
Bill nodded. "The vault you're using now is to get you through your schooling. Once you take money out for your school supplies, it replenishes itself from the family vault. The family vault seems to be quite old and it should have family heirlooms, art, jewellery, and maybe even furniture. I'm not entirely certain. When you turn seventeen, you will get an accounting of everything in the vault."
Harry tightened his grip on Padfoot's fur as he listened to Bill talk. "But…but my aunt and uncle always told me that my dad was just a layabout with no job and no money."
Padfoot growled lowly as Bill shook his head. "Your dad may not have had a job, but he certainly had plenty of money. Your father's family was very, very wealthy and your father honestly didn't need to work. You are probably one of the wealthiest wizards in Great Britain or you will be once you come of age."
Harry blinked and buried his face in Padfoot's fur as he got his emotions under control. "Why didn't anyone ever tell me? Couldn't they have given my aunt and uncle some money so I could get clothes that fit or food at every meal? My uncle is forever going on about how expensive it is to feed and clothe ungrateful freaks. Maybe if they'd been given some money they wouldn't hate me so much."
Bill looked rather discomfited. "I'm sorry, Harry. I wish I knew what to tell you. I'm not sure why you ended up with your aunt and uncle to begin with. Your parents were quite firm that they wanted you to go to your godfather, Sirius Black. Unfortunately, they didn't give other options; they just stated if something happened to them you were to live with Mr Black."
Harry nodded as he absentmindedly petted the large dog who was trying to make him feel better. Bill put his hand on Harry's shoulder and squeezed. "I do have good news though. Your father definitely states that their Secret-Keeper was Peter Pettigrew. Of course this does not clear Sirius of the charges of killing Peter and the twelve Muggles, but it does take away his motive. That might be enough to get him a trial."
Padfoot whined and looked at Harry meaningfully. Harry grinned. "I trust Bill if that's what you're asking."
Bill looked at Harry in confusion, but his unasked question was soon answered as Padfoot transformed into Sirius. Harry and Ginny both started laughing at Bill's reaction. Harry performed the introductions. "Bill, this is my godfather, Sirius Black. Sirius, this is Ginny's oldest brother, Bill Weasley."
Laughing, Sirius extended his hand to Bill who shook it without hesitation. "Sorry for the surprise."
"Somehow, I don't think you really are," Bill laughed. "It is nice to meet you. Ginny told me you were an Animagus, I should have known."
Sirius grinned before sobering as Bill continued. "I don't know if you were aware, but the Potters' will was sealed before it was read. Ostensibly that was done because Harry was an infant at the time and obviously couldn't benefit from the will. However it would have shed some light on the matter of the Secret-Keeper. From what I understand that is the main evidence used against you."
Sirius shrugged. "When I realized something was wrong, I headed to James' house." He paused taking a deep breath before continuing. "I arrived just as Hagrid was taking Harry out of the house." He looked over at his godson. "You were so small and you were still bleeding from that wound on your head. I wanted to take you, but…Dumbledore insisted that Hagrid bring you to Hogwarts. I don't know why, but I figured I'd find out what was going on with Peter and then go get you. When I caught up to Peter, he yelled something about me betraying James and Lily before casting a very Dark spell. He killed everyone on the street before cutting off his own finger and disappearing down the sewer."
"So how did you end up in Azkaban?" Bill asked in confusion. "Surely this came out in trial. Your wand would have shown you didn't kill those people."
"I never received a trial," Sirius said tightly. "I was captured on the street with all of those poor dead Muggles. I was so shocked that little Peter got one over on me I started laughing. That, combined with my family name, convicted me. My cousin Bellatrix Lestrange is one of Voldemort's most devoted followers and her sister, Narcissa, married that ponce Malfoy. Even my own brother was a Death Eater."
Bill's jaw dropped. "You never received a trial? That's horrible. What can we do?"
Sirius smiled. "Thank you for your willingness to help. I'm not sure yet what to do. I broke out of Azkaban because I realized that Peter was here at Hogwarts with Harry. I was so worried that he was biding his time to use Harry to get back in Voldemort's good graces once Voldemort makes his move. I'm afraid if I don't find him, I won't be able to prove my story."
"Do you know what happened to your wand?"
Sirius frowned as he tried to recall. "Crouch grabbed it. I don't know what he did with it. I assumed they snapped it."
"Why didn't Dumbledore do anything?"
Harry looked up in interest at Bill's question. Sirius shrugged. "I'm not sure. I think because he thought I was Secret-Keeper, so I must have been guilty. He knew there was a traitor who was close to the Potters so he just assumed it was me. Fudge and Crouch are certainly not going to admit they were wrong. Last year when I talked to Dumbledore he didn't think that Remus, Harry, Hermione, and Ron were convincing enough witnesses. He said no one would take the word of an escaped convict, a werewolf, and three teenagers that Pettigrew was alive. Minerva's making some discreet inquiries to see if I might be able to get a trial."
"A trial?" Harry brightened. "So you could be free?"
"That is the hope," Sirius said with a gentle smile for his godson.
"If there is anything I can do, please let me know," Bill said sincerely.
"Thank you," Sirius said gratefully. "Earlier you said that Harry could enter the family vault with his guardian. Is that still me or Dumbledore?"
Bill reviewed the scroll. "You are still listed as his guardian, so you could accompany him to his vault and give him permission to remove anything from the vault. Is there something in particular you wanted?"
"No," Sirius shook his head. "I just remember it being full of all sorts of objects d'art and a real sense of history of the Potter family. There is no family home anymore; it was sold after James' grandparents died so much of what would be in a family estate is in the vault. I think Harry would have fun exploring in there." He grinned at his godson who looked quite interested.
Professor Barnes cleared his throat. "I think trying for a trial would be an excellent idea. Did Harry tell you about the Polyjuice Potion?"
"No," Sirius and Bill replied in unison.
Professor Barnes quickly brought them up to date. Both men frowned at the implications.
"Karkaroff would be an obvious suspect," Sirius said.
"No," Professor Barnes disagreed. "While he is not a pleasant fellow, he stays on his ship. I don't believe it is he."
Bill looked over at his sister and Harry. "Any of your professors act differently? Did any of them show a marked change in their behaviour from last year?"
Both teens shook their heads. "No," Harry said slowly. "Everyone is the same."
"Could it be Mr Crouch or Mr Bagman?" Ginny asked. "They've been at the school a lot."
"Mr Crouch has been visiting the school a lot," Harry confirmed.
"Mr Crouch?" Professor Barnes looked confused. "He hasn't been to the school except for the choosing of champions and the first task."
Harry frowned. "I've seen his name on the map."
"What map?" Bill asked.
"The Marauders' Map," Harry said as he pulled it from his robes. As he activated it, Sirius explained the map to Bill.
"This is amazing," Bill said as he looked over the map. "Here's Crouch with Bagman, Dumbledore, Madam Maxime, and Karkaroff." He continued to look at the map. "Wait…here's Crouch talking to Professor McGonagall."
Sirius whirled around. "He's in two places at once? That's impossible."
"Does Crouch have a son?"
"He does," Sirius said slowly. "He was arrested as a Death Eater after me. He was brought in with my psychotic cousin, Bellatrix. From what I remember he was a hard core believer."
"How could he be out?" Harry asked.
"He shouldn't be," Sirius replied. "Do you want to go check?"
A few minutes later, Harry, Ginny, Bill and Padfoot were in the Entrance Hall looking around. Harry surreptitiously glanced at the map. "It says he's still talking to Professor McGonagall, but that's Professor Moody."
"Moody's new this year, right?" Bill asked. "Dad had to go sort something out at his place at the beginning of the year."
"That's right," Ginny said as she looked over at the wizard in question who was currently watching the larger group with Professor Dumbledore.
"If he's the one using Polyjuice, it would be in his flask, I'd imagine," Bill said nodding to the flask attached to Professor Moody's hip. "We need to get that."
Looking around the hall, Bill said, "I'll be right back."
The teens watched in confusion as Bill hurried outside and returned with a stick. He handed the stick to Harry. "Don't you want to play fetch with your dog?"
Harry's eyes lit up as he took the stick. Looking down at Padfoot who nodded, Harry threw the stick near Professor Moody. Padfoot bounded after it and 'accidentally' bumped into Moody timing it as he knocked the flask out of the professor's hand.
"Padfoot!" Harry pretended to scold his dog. "I'm sorry, Professors."
Professor McGonagall gave him an odd look as she picked up the flask. She cautiously sniffed the flask. She looked up in shock. "This is Polyjuice Potion."
"What?" Professor Flitwick had been speaking to Madam Bones who had come to watch the Tournament. She reached out for the flask and confirmed Professor McGonagall's identification.
Professor Moody was looking rather panicked as he looked around the hall. He tried to run, but Professor Flitwick had him Stunned and bound in short order.
Several long hours later, Harry and Ginny approached their common room. The Fat Lady smiled at them. "Mr Potter, it is a wonderful thing you managed to do for your godfather. I heard he's been cleared of all charges."
"Yes," Harry said with a smile. "He's been cleared and Barty Crouch, Jr is back in Azkaban. Mr Crouch was humiliated."
"He deserved it after what he did," Ginny spoke up. "First, he sends Sirius to prison without a trial and then he sends his son to prison only to help him escape. He should be in prison for using the Imperius Curse on his son."
"I heard he was asked to resign," the Fat Lady said.
"He was," Ginny said. She giggled. "My brother, Percy, will be crushed. Madam Bones was wonderful! She really helped Sirius and she'll make sure that whoever is appointed will be good."
"Madam Bones was great," Harry agreed. "She even made sure that Sirius got his wand back. Crouch had it displayed on his desk."
The Fat Lady opened the portrait hole after Harry gave the password. Hermione and Ron were sitting by the fire.
"Where have you been?" Ron burst out. "You left with Bill hours ago."
Harry laughed. "Wait until you hear what happened!"
He eagerly launched into his tale. Ron and Hermione were a great audience gasping and laughing in the correct places. It took over an hour to answer all of Hermione's questions.
"So Sirius has custody of you now?" Hermione asked in amazement.
Harry nodded eagerly. "He does. He's going to St Mungo's for treatment, but then he's going to look for a place for us to live. He promised it will be out in the country somewhere."
"What about your aunt and uncle?" Hermione asked. "Won't they be upset?"
Harry laughed. "Are you kidding? They'll be thrilled to get rid of me."
While Ron laughed and Hermione scolded him, Ginny frowned slightly. She was glad he was out of his relatives' house. She didn't know exactly what was going on there, but from what he'd said this afternoon it didn't sound good.
"Are you looking forward to the Yule Ball?" Florence asked as Harry finished cleaning off the latest portrait he'd found on the ground floor. He and Ginny had rescued several portraits from other remote parts of the castle over the past few weeks, but tonight Harry was alone.
"Yule Ball?" Harry asked in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"The Yule Ball is traditionally part of the Triwizard Tournament," Mary said with a sigh. "I always wanted to go to the Yule Ball. My older sister met her husband at a Yule Ball."
"What?" Harry looked around the room. "I don't know anything about a ball."
"I believe Professor McGonagall is planning to announce it tomorrow," Professor Barnes said. "You will be required to bring a young lady to the ball. Traditionally champions and their dates open the ball."
"Open the ball?" Harry was aghast at the idea. "I don't know how to dance."
He groaned. "Why do I have to do this?"
Florence laughed. "Because you are a champion! Don't give me any rubbish about you not being a champion. Your performance in the first task belies that stance. You have every chance to win this Tournament."
"I don't think so," Harry replied.
"Who will you ask to the ball?" Mary asked, ignoring the byplay between Florence and Harry.
"I have no idea," Harry replied his cheeks going warm.
"What about your friend Hermione?" Kathryn asked.
"No," Harry replied. "I mean Hermione is one of my best friends, but no."
"You don't think you'd have fun with her?" Jane probed.
Harry shrugged. "I don't know, but I don't know how to dance and I can just hear her correcting me the whole time or telling me what I'm doing wrong. That wouldn't be much fun."
"I can see that," Jane conceded. "Is there anyone you'd be interested in going with?"
Blushing slightly, Harry thought about it for a moment. The other two fourth year Gryffindors were both giggly and Harry didn't think it would be much fun with either of them. He didn't know that many other girls. The other girls on the Quidditch team would be fun, but they were all older than him. He'd like someone who was fun and easy to be with. The day in Hogsmeade came to mind.
"Ginny," Harry said. "I think I'd have fun with Ginny. Do you think she'd go with me?"
Florence smothered a laugh. "I think she would be thrilled to go with you."
"I still don't know how to dance," Harry said.
"I imagine Miss Weasley would be thrilled to teach you to dance," Professor Barnes said.
"Madam Grace, who is in a portrait on the ground floor, used to be a dance instructor," John spoke up. "I'm sure she'd be happy to teach the two of you."
The next day in Transfiguration, Harry was glad he'd had a heads-up about the ball. As he'd imagined, Lavender and Parvati were very giggly about the whole thing. To his surprise, even Hermione looked interested. Ron on the other hand looked rather disgusted at the whole idea.
As class was dismissed, Professor McGonagall asked him to stay after. "Traditionally the champions and their partners open the ball."**
"Yes, I know," Harry said.
Harry blanched as he realized what he'd said. "I-I've made friends with some of the portraits upstairs. They told me about the ball."
"Very well," Professor McGonagall said after a short pause. "I just wanted to make sure that you were prepared."
"Professor, one of the people I met in the portraits told me that you went to London to protest my inclusion in the Tournament."
"Yes, I did," she replied. "I take my position of head of house seriously. I don't believe that you should have ever been entered in the Tournament nor should you have been forced to participate. Unfortunately as I discovered in London, the magical contract was unbreakable. We couldn't change the tasks as they were part of the agreement. Once the contract was signed by all three schools, it was set. If you did not participate, there would have been grave consequences — you would have lost your magic."
"Thank you for trying," Harry said shyly.
"You are quite welcome. Have you heard from your godfather?"
Harry nodded. "He's doing really well. The healers at St Mungo's have started him on some potions to help him regain some weight and get him healthy."
"I'm glad to hear that," Professor McGonagall said warmly.
"Thank you, Professor."
Harry hurried down the corridor to the meet his friends for lunch. A flash of red hair in front of him distracted him. Suddenly his mouth felt dry and his heart started racing. Was he really ready to ask her to the ball?
As he watched Ginny talking animatedly to one of her friends, he realized that he really would like to go to the ball with her. She was fun and pretty and she'd stood by him.
She turned when he called out her name. Blushing slightly, she said something to her friend and waited for him to catch up. "Hi, Harry! Are you heading for lunch?"
He nodded. "I am, but I was wondering if I could talk to you first."
"Of course," Ginny said.
Looking around the crowded corridor, Harry pulled her to an out of the way alcove. "Ginny, I don't know if you heard about the Yule Ball or not." She nodded and he continued, "I was wondering if you would like to go to the ball with me. As one of the champions I need to open the ball and I thought that we would have fun together."
"I'd like to," Ginny said blushing.
"Good!" Harry smiled. "I was really nervous about asking you."
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. It's not like I have a lot of experience in asking girls out and I wasn't sure if you would want to go with me. I'm sure lots of boys would want to ask you out."
"What? Why would you say that?" Ginny asked in confusion.
Harry blushed as he looked down at her. "You're fun and nice and pretty. I thought lots of other boys would think so too."
"Thank you, Harry," Ginny said as she also turned red. "I don't know about all that, but I'm glad you asked me. I think we'll have fun together."
Harry grinned in relief. "Do you know how to dance? I don't and I was hoping you might know. If you don't that's okay. Florence told me that there is a portrait down on the ground floor who used to be a dance teacher."
"I do know how," Ginny allowed, "but it would be fun to learn more from a real teacher. I just learned from my mum. She made me practice will all my brothers."
"So you just asked her?" Ron asked in astonishment.
Harry nodded. "You don't mind, do you?"
"No, of course not," Ron replied. "I don't know why you'd want to go with her, but you need a date so I guess Ginny's as good a choice as any."
"What about you?" Harry asked curiously.
Ron's ears turned red. "I don't know. It was so horrible when I asked Fleur. She looked at me like I was a slug. Do I really need a date?"
"Not really," Harry said, "but I know Seamus and Dean are both going with someone. Seamus and Lavender are going together and Dean is going with Mandy from Ravenclaw. By the way, if you'd asked I could have told you Fleur is going with Roger Davies."
"How do you suddenly know all of this gossip?" Ron asked in amazement.
Harry laughed. "I don't know, I just hear things."
The two boys headed for the common room. Hermione and Ginny were both waiting for them to head down to dinner. Ron perked up suddenly. "Hermione — you're a girl!"
"Well spotted," Hermione returned sarcastically. "It only took you four years to realize that."
"You can come to the ball with me," Ron announced. Ginny shook her head and took a few steps away from Hermione.
"Oh, that's so nice of you," Hermione said. "As it happens, I already have a date for the ball."
"Come on," Ron said, "who would ask you? You just said that because you didn't want to go with Neville — I heard that he asked you."
"What?!" Hermione looked very offended now. "Just because it took you four years to realize I'm a girl, doesn't mean other people are as dense as you."
Harry shook his head as Hermione stomped off. "Mate, you're lucky she didn't hex you for that."
"What, you don't think she really has a date, do you?"
"Yes," Harry and Ginny replied at the same time.
Harry opened his golden egg and it started screeching and wailing. After a moment, he closed the egg and looked hopefully up at the portraits. "Does that sound at all familiar?"
"That sounds like Mermish," Mary said. "There was a colony of mermaids in the lake near my home. That's what mermaids sound like when they aren't underwater."
"You're right, lass," Professor Barnes said. "One of our professors spoke Mermish." He shuddered. "I swear that man did it to watch the rest of us squirm."
"So he can listen to it underwater?" Ginny asked.
"That makes sense," John said. "I heard someone telling Cedric to take a bath with his egg. I didn't see who it was though. The password for the prefects' bathroom is 'pine fresh'."
"Who told him?" Harry asked sharply.
"I'm sorry, Harry, I didn't see who it was," John said.
"That's okay," Harry said. "I wonder if it was Mr Bagman. He keeps asking if I need help or something."
"He shouldn't be doing that," Professor Barnes said. "That's cheating."
"I haven't accepted his help," Harry said a touch defensively.
"Maybe over the Christmas hols you can sneak into the prefects' bathroom," Ginny suggested. "Sirius would be happy to help you."
"That's a great idea," Harry said.
"How are Miss Granger and Mr Weasley?" Lady Maud asked. "I hear they had quite a row the other day."
Ginny nodded. "My brother was being his usual insensitive self and he really hurt Hermione's feelings. He basically said that no one else would want to take her to the ball so she should go with him."
"Ouch!" Lady Maud said. "No young lady wants to hear that."
Harry shook his head. "Even I know better than to say that. I don't know why he's so mean to Hermione. She's nice and pretty. I'm sure guys would want to ask her out."
"I was rather surprised that you didn't ask her," Florence said.
"Hermione is more like my sister than anything else," Harry said. He sent a furtive glance over at Ginny. "I'm perfectly happy going with Ginny."
She looked up with a smile. He smiled at her and continued, "I think we'll have a great time together."
"Harry! Harry!" Edward came racing into his frame. He stopped short at the sight of Ginny and coloured.
"What is it?" Harry asked.
"Rita Skeeter," Edward said tearing his gaze from Ginny. "She's a beetle Animagus!"
"I saw her talking to Malfoy and then she changed into a beetle and back to show him what her form looked like. That's how she gets the gossip she does, she flies around in her beetle from and listens to private conversations," Edward said excitedly.
Harry tried brushing his hair flat, but it wasn't working that well.
"You look fine," Ron said impatiently. Ron was glaring at his hated dress robes. Although he'd removed all the lace from his robes, they really did look like a dress more than robes. Ron's anger had increased when he'd seen the beautiful green dress robes Bill and Charlie had sent to Ginny so she could attend the ball.
Glaring at his imagine in the mirror one last time, Ron stomped down to the common room. Several of the boys were still waiting for their dates while several of the younger students were just watching the spectacle.
Parvati was waiting for Ron wearing shocking pink robes with her hair in a long plait. She looked over Ron and her face fell a bit.
"Where's Hermione?" Ron asked looking around the common room.
Looking a bit insulted, Parvati said, "She already left."
Ron sighed. "Okay, let's go."
A noise caused Harry to turn. He almost forgot to breathe. Ginny looked amazing in her dark green robes with her hair piled on top of her head. Sirius had lent her pearls that she wore around her neck and at her wrists.
"Wow," Harry said. He knew he should say something else, but no words were coming to mind.
"Ginny, you look amazing!" Angelina gushed as she walked by.
"Thank you," Ginny said blushing.
"You do," Harry said, "look amazing, I mean. You look…you are… beautiful."
Ginny smiled up at him as he stumbled through the sentence. "Thank you, Harry. You look very nice as well."
Grinning, he offered her his arm. As they walked down to the Entrance Hall, they talked about their Christmases.
"It was really nice of your brothers to get you dress robes," Harry said. "They look great on you."
"Thanks," she replied. "Bill told mum that they wanted to give me robes. It was really nice of Sirius to lend me the pearls. I've never seen anything so nice."
"He said they were my grandmother's," Harry said happily.
"I'm really glad they let Sirius stay with you," Ginny said.
"Me too," Harry replied. "I've never had such a great Christmas before. It was so funny — he jumped up on my bed as Padfoot and woke me up. We played in the snow together."
Ginny smiled as she listened to Harry talk. She noticed that in all the things he mentioned about his Christmas, he'd not even mentioned presents. She knew that Sirius had given him new clothes as well as a really cool penknife that would unlock any lock, but Harry was more thrilled with his godfather just being there.
They arrived at the Entrance Hall and Harry grinned at Hermione who was with Viktor Krum. "You look nice, Hermione."
"Thank you, Harry," she said. She did look very different from usual — her hair wasn't as bushy as it usually was and she wore it up. She had on pretty blue robes, but it wasn't just what she was wearing, she was also seemed a bit more confident.
Glancing over at Ginny, Harry was very happy that he'd come with her. She looked beautiful and she was very easy to talk to. He was proud to walk into the ball with her on his arm.
The champions walked up the head table with the judges. Mr Crouch, of course, was no longer a judge. He'd been replaced by a friendly looking, black haired witch named Hestia Jones. Remembering what Sirius had told him, Harry held out Ginny's chair before sitting next to her. Dinner was fun. Not only was Harry enjoying his time with Ginny, but he was getting to know Viktor as well. The Quidditch player wasn't overly talkative, but he was nice.
All too soon it was time to open the ball. Harry felt his nerves return with a vengeance. Ginny placed her hand on his arm. "You'll do great! Remember Madam Grace said we were proficient."
Harry laughed. "That was a great compliment from her."
He reached out for her hand and placed his other hand at her waist. Smiling down into her eyes, he suddenly felt very confident. He could do this. As the music started, Harry twirled her around the floor feeling on top of the world.
After dancing for the first hour, Harry and Ginny made their way out into the rose garden. The fairy lights lit the garden and paths had been made out of plants and statues. The sound of a fountain splashing was calming.
"Poor Hermione," Ginny said.
"I can't believe Ron was such a prat," Harry agreed. "I don't have a problem with Hermione dating Krum. She'd never give away secrets or anything."
"He's just being an idiot," Ginny agreed.
"Are you two behaving yourselves?"
Turning around, Harry grinned at Sirius who had been invited to chaperon the ball. "What are you doing out here?"
Grinning, Sirius held up a small jar with a beetle inside.
Harry gasped. "Is that…"
Sirius nodded. "Rita Skeeter! We're going to have a long talk with Albus Dumbledore."
The beetle started buzzing in the jar, but Sirius gave the jar a shake. "Behave Rita!"
"Have fun you two!" Sirius said as he headed inside.
"I'm glad she's not spying on us anymore," Harry said.
Shyly he reached out and took Ginny's hand and pulled her towards the fountain. When they reached the centre of the garden, Harry was relieved to find it empty except for the fountain. "Ginny, I want to thank you for everything you've done for me this year. You believed me when not everyone did and you helped me train. Not only that, but you've been a great friend to me."
Reaching out he took both of her hands in his. "Ginny, would you be my girlfriend?"
Ginny nodded rapidly before she regained her speech. "Yes, Harry."
Leaning down, he hugged her tightly before kissing her gently. It was a wonderfully magical night for the new couple.
A/N: Thank you so much to StephanieO and Arnel for their beta work! I really appreciate it the help.