I don't own Harry Potter.
If fact, if you get down to it I probably own very little of the ideas being used in this story. But I am not getting paid for them and have hopefully put them together in a new and interesting way.
Enjoy.Dancing in the Green
Daphne Greengrass was being neither vain nor narcissistic when she described herself as one of the most beautiful girls at Hogwarts; she was already the most beautiful girl in Slytherin and only recently turned fifteen. She didn't normally think about it one way or another except at times like this; times when an arrogant moron was pestering her.
This time it was Malfoy, who seemed to have woken up to the existence of girls as more than just oddly dressed classmates from that other dorm. As such he had decided that as he was the most important and powerful Slytherin he had to have the most beautiful Slytherin girl hanging off his arm. Something Daphne was not happy about; and neither was Pansy Parkinson for that matter.
The Triwizard Tournament had kept him distracted for the most part as he made plans to torment the unexpected fourth champion, and his personal nemesis. Things changed when the Yule Ball was announced and Malfoy become firm in his declaration that she would accompany him. He had even gone as far as to bully and threaten anyone else who might possibly have shown an interest in her. This made her potential alternatives very limited.
It was a Friday dinner when Malfoy's pestering finally got too much for the girl commonly referred to as 'The Ice Queen' and she decided to make a pointed statement. She needed a date who wouldn't be intimidated by Malfoy and his thugs; a very small list but there were names on it.
One name at least.
Daphne pointedly set her knife and fork down, glad she had managed to eat enough, and stood. Her sudden movement actually got Malfoy to stop talking as he watched her walk around the table and towards her target. Initially she didn't get much attention but as she closed in more and more people stopped to watch until the Great Hall was totally silent as she stopped behind her target.
The wizard in question let out an undignified squawk as she grabbed his shoulder and forcibly dragged him around until he was more or less facing her.
"You Will escort me to the Yule Ball." Daphne's level voice stating simple, unassailable and irrevocable facts. "I will contact you later to ensure our attire will coordinate appropriately."
"Huh?" the wizard was in shock as his brain tried to make sense of the unexpected turn of events.
"Do Not disappoint me." Daphne made her threat clear before she shoved him back into an approximation of his previous position.
She spun on her heel and walked, with her usual poise, around the Great Hall. Her shoes on the stone floor sounded unnaturally loud in the silent room. So did the latch and hinges of the door she vanished through.
The bang of the door closing acted as a starter's gun, triggering an explosion of noise as everyone began gossiping about the unexpected event.
Harry Potter sat in shock as the people sitting around him stared at him.
"What just…" Harry didn't manage to get any further.
"You got a date to the Yule Ball." Hermione was one of the few people not looking at him, instead she was looking around the room.
"So that did just happen." Harry's eyes were coming back into focus. "Sorry Hermione but… What The Fuck…?"
"It's obviously a trick." Ron stated. "Malfoy is probably behind it."
"I don't think so." Hermione countered. "He looks too angry and the rest of the Slytherin's are all shocked and surprised. It likes like Parkinson is the only one who might possibly be happy."
"So… I got a date with the Ice Queen because she didn't want to go with Malfoy?" Harry frowned.
Hermione considered what she knew. "That is entirely possible."
"You can't go with her." Ron protested.
"Why not?" Harry asked.
"It's some sort of trick." The red-head insisted. "And she's a slimy snake."
But Harry was doing his own thinking. "You know what, this might not be a bad thing. I'm only going to the Ball because I have to, and I have to have a date. This kinda works out."
"But she's a Slytherin!"
"I know, and I don't know or like her." Harry replied. "That's why."
"Huh?" Hermione seemed as confused as Ron.
"It's probably going to be a lousy evening, why inflict it on someone I like, or might want to like?" Harry explained.
"So you're going to trick her?" Ron guessed.
"Harry." Hermione looked disappointed.
"I'm not going to trick her, nor try and ruin it. But I also don't care about the outcome. We spend one evening together and I never even have to see or talk to her again."
Hermione pondered his words. "I see your point. You have no interest or attachment to her. As long as you aren't mean or rude the outcome of that evening will have no impact on either of you. At worse nothing changes between you. Who knows, you might even find you like her."
"Unlikely, but I suppose crazier things have happened." Harry shrugged.
"Are can't be serious about going through her?" Ron's voice was beginning to rise.
"Keep your voice down." Harry glared. "Besides, it solves my whole lack of date issue."
"And there is the fact that given her very public demand, you probably won't get another girl to go with you." Hermione glanced back at the door the Slytherin girl had vanished through. "There aren't many who would risk annoying her."
"Would you?" Harry asked her, curious.
"For you, probably, but I already have a date." Hermione admitted.
"You do?" Ron looked confused. "Since when?"
Daphne frowned. Her special listening spell that she had snuck onto Harry while claiming him as her escort had just worn off. That spell might not last on a person for more than a few minutes before their own magic overwhelmed it but even on her parents it lasted at least twice as long as it had just then.
Still, she had heard enough to know that he would not be needed an additional talking to about being her escort but he might not be putting much effort in. His attitude towards the whole thing seemed more Slytherin that Gryffindor, which was surprising. She might need to put a little effort to make sure the evening was tolerable but surely it couldn't be worse than dealing with Malfoy. At least his goals were in line with her own.
Tracy Davis found her friend on her bed in their dorm. "Daphne? Are you really going with Potter?"
"Yes." Daphne replied. "He is one of the few people that Malfoy can't intimidate. And he's not too bad looking either."
"Of course. He's going to go through with it, if only because he needs a date to the Ball and this makes it easier." Daphne gave a rare shrug. "He may not put much effort in though; he simply doesn't care about the outcome. It may require a little more effort on my part, but it will be worth it to avoid an evening of Malfoy's pawing hands."
"And piss him off." Tracy giggled quietly.
"That would be a nice bonus." Daphne's lips twinged slightly into the hint of a smile.
The next morning Harry was having breakfast alone with Hermione. Ron was put out with them both; Hermione for not telling them about who her date to the Ball was and Harry for not refusing the Slytherin girl.
The Slytherin girl in question made another appearance at the end of breakfast, thought without the sudden violence of hauling him around.
"Can I help you?" Harry asked.
"Yes. You can go and get what you will be wearing to the Yule Ball and meet me in the Transfiguration Classroom in fifteen minutes." Daphne replied.
"May I ask why?"
"I need to see what you will be wearing." Daphne stated. "I want to ensure that it is of sufficient quality of an appropriate colour. I will not be escorted by a ragamuffin, nor do I wish us to look like a circus act. Am I being clear?"
"Uh…" Harry wasn't sure.
"I can explain it to you." Hermione told him.
"Good." Daphne actually gave a small nod. "Transfiguration Classroom. Fifteen minutes. Don't be late."
With that girl turned and walked away, heading for the dungeons.
"Let's go. We'll need most of those fifteen minutes if we have to go all the way back our dorms." Hermione told him.
"Why are we doing this?" Harry asked as they stood.
"Because you were either too lazy or scared to ask another girl." Hermione pointed out. "Wanting to coordinate colours between a couple is pretty much normal."
"But we aren't a couple."
"You are for that one event."
Harry could only resort to muttering under his breath.
Daphne was already waiting for them when they reached the classroom. "Well?"
"Well what?" Harry replied. "It's been fourteen minutes since you talked to us at in Great Hall. We aren't late."
Daphne didn't reply, she just pushed the classroom door open and marched in leaving the air of Gryffindor's to follow.
Daphne didn't waste any time once the door was closed. "Let's see it."
Harry rolled his eyes as he pulled the carefully formal folded robe out of his bag and laid it out on a pair of desks for inspection.
"Tolerable, I suppose." Daphne allowed after looking it over carefully.
"Tolerable?" Harry protested.
"The cut and material are barely sufficient." Daphne replied bluntly. "But the colour seems suitable. Put it on."
"Pardon?" Harry was taken aback by the sudden order.
"Put it on. I need to make sure it fits you properly." Daphne gave him a little more detail the second time.
"Okay." Harry picked up the robe then hesitated.
"Well? Hurry up. I have more important things to do today than waste time here." Daphne's normally emotionless voice took on a tinge of irritation.
"Will you be changing into your robe right now?" Harry glared.
"Of course not."
"Then get out." Harry demanded. "I'm not giving you a free show unless you're willing to reciprocate."
Hermione blushed a little and started pulling the Slytherin girl from the room. Daphne only hesitated a second before shaking Hermione off and walking out on her own.
"Were you really going to watch him change?" Hermione half demanded in a hissed whisper once they were back in the corridor.
Daphne pondered if she should answer but the girl looked like she was about to pull a wand. "I've overheard many whispered, and not so whispered conversations, about what is under his robes. I could gain many favours by getting an answer. I'm a little surprised you have not been asked, though your loyalty to him is well known."
"I… You…" Hermione spluttered. "You think I've seen Harry naked or something? What sort of relationship do you think we have?"
"Do you actually think I spend any time thinking about what you and Potter get up to?" Daphne replied.
Hermione stared at the dark haired Slytherin girl in silence, trying to figure out the implications of her unexpected words until Harry finally opened the door and let them back in.
Daphne wasted no time in assessing his appearance. "Well, it does fit you properly. You don't look terrible. If you can get your hair under control you might even get rated as handsome."
"Good luck with that." Harry snorted.
"I will provide you with a potion." Daphne replied. "Now, wait there."
Harry blinked as the Slytherin girl pulled a pair of delicate heels out of her bag and changed her shoes. A flick of her wand had McGonagall's wireless playing an old sounding tune and Daphne stepped up to Harry and held out her arms.
"Now what?" Harry demanded.
"We practise dancing." Daphne stated as if he were an idiot. "You do know how to dance?"
"No." Harry admitted.
Daphne's hands dropped. "You actually don't know how to dance? At all?"
"No. I don't." Harry matched her tone. "I never had the opportunity to learn before."
Daphne stared at him in silence for two very long minutes before raising her hands again. "Then it is time to learn. Your right hand goes in my left and your left hand goes on my right waist."
Harry managed the right hand bit but he looked down her body trying to find her waist. Daphne had to physically put his hand in the correct location before instructing him how to dance, step by step.
After an hour Daphne released him and stepped back. "We will continue practising another time. I will be in touch."
"Why are you putting so much effort into this?" Harry asked.
"Why do you care?" Daphne countered with her own question.
"I don't really, but if you are doing this just to annoy Malfoy then I'm curious why you are putting so much effort in."
"Because if you fail as an escort then he will use that as an opportunity to harass me further." Daphne stated. "If a little extra effort beforehand will shut him up then it will be worth it. You will need to practise dancing; I do not wish to be humiliated in front of everyone by you falling over."
"And making you fall over in the process, huh?"
"Correct." Daphne gave a single nod. "And if you cause me to have a wardrobe malfunction then you will not survive the evening."
With that the Slytherin girl left.
"Wardrobe malfunction?" Harry was pretty sure he knew what that meant but wanted to make sure.
"If you cause her dress to move and expose her body underneath it." Hermione clarified. "And for the record, I'd feel the same way. Any girl would."
"Right, good to know." Harry gave a nod to hide his shudder. "Do not permit any wardrobe malfunctions. And you wonder why I found a dragon easier to deal with than girls."
Hermione grinned at that comment.
Harry sat and pulled off his dress shoes. "My feet hurt."
"New shoes will do that." Hermione agreed. "This is a good way to break them in so they won't hurt on the day. I guess that's why she brought hers. That actually reminds me; I should do practise in my shoes too. It will give you more opportunity to practise too."
"I really want to give you, and you deserve, a sincere thank you for that, and when I can manage it I will." Harry was rubbing his feet.
Hermione giggled at his discomfort.
Ron looked up when his two friends showed up for lunch and mumbled around his food. "Where were you two all morning?"
"Honestly Ronald, can't you empty your mouth before speaking?" Hermione scolded.
"It's called multi-tasking." Ron replied.
"It's called disgusting." Hermione grimaced.
Ron forced himself to swallow. "Better? So where were you?"
"Library." Hermione replied. "And before that Harry had a dancing lesson."
"A dancing lesson?" Ron looked confused.
"Yes. I have to open the Ball with the other Champions after all; I'd rather not look like a complete idiot."
"Have you found a date yet?"
"I'm going with Greengrass. You know that."
"You haven't ditched that bint?!" Ron demanded. "Are you nuts? It's a trick, or a trap or something."
"Possibly." Harry shrugged. "But it can't be worse than this whole stupid tournament. Besides, why waste a terrible evening on someone I might like to see again?"
"Yeah... but... she's going to do something to you." Ron insisted.
"I'll just have to be careful then." Harry shrugged. "But it's not like she's even tried before that I know of, not like Malfoy and his group. I don't think she hangs around with them."
"I don't either." Hermione agreed. "I get that she acts cold but she hasn't done anything wrong. We can't judge her just because she's in the same house as Malfoy; that'd make us as bad as he is."
"Exactly." Harry agreed with her. "I don't want use him as any sort of example, except perhaps as a perfect example of a git."
Hermione gave a firm nod of agreement.
"Fine." Ron grumped. "But don't say I didn't warn you."
Ron was not happy that Harry hadn't just tossed Greengrass aside and gone for someone else. His annoyance was compounded by the fact that now both Harry and Hermione had dates and he didn't. Harry and Hermione were in no mood to put up with him and left him to stew on his own.
Harry let Hermione lead their studying after lunch for a couple of hours before he dragged her out to get a walk and some fresh air. Hermione agreed quite easily and they ended up down by the lake, using warming charms to ward off the cold air.
"You're being rather quiet." Hermione commented finally.
"I'm thinking." Harry replied.
"Hey!" Harry protested as Hermione giggled.
"Sorry. What are you thinking about?"
"Greengrass and the Yule Ball."
"Having second thoughts about going with her?"
"No. More how to handle the Ball itself."
"Neither of us have ever used the word 'Date' have we?"
Hermione thought carefully. "Not within my hearing. She specifically said you were her escort. That's all."
"So I don't actually have to dance with her all night; I just have to keep Malfoy away from her."
"I see, you're going to dance with several girls and let her dance with their partners." Hermione nodded in understanding. "Who'd you have in mind?"
"Well, you'd be a good place to start." Harry smiled at her. "I think I'd owe my best friend a dance at the Ball."
Hermione smiled back. "I will make sure to save you a dance."
"I was thinking the second one and a few more later on. I hope your date won't mind dancing with Greengrass."
"You really are serious about keeping away from her." Hermione realised. "I don't think he'll mind too much. And neither would Greengrass actually. Come on, there's a patch just over there was can practise dancing."
"The better dancer you are, the easier it will be for you to dance with other girls." Hermione explained. "And dancing is fun, once you know how. My parents love dancing together. They're almost always up late the next morning."
Harry cocked his head at her. "Dancing is a bit tiring, isn't it?"
"That's not what I meant." Hermione looked back at him. "Haven't you had the... Talk?"
Hermione closed her eyes. "I'm taking you to Madam Pomfrey after this."
"What sort of talk is it?" Harry was getting a little worried.
"It's a talk about boys and girls and puberty and sex and babies." Hermione glared at him. "And I really don't think either of us want me to be the one have that discussion with you. We wouldn't be able to look each other in the eye again."
"I'll take your word for it." Harry shrugged. "But I trust you more than pretty much anyone else."
"Thanks." Hermione smiled. "But for now let's dance."
They practised dancing for about twenty minutes before Hermione had to stop and rub her foot.
"Sorry." Harry apologised.
"It's fine. This is exactly why you need practise." Hermione pulled her shoe off to check the damage. "Just give me a minute."
"Per'aps I can 'elp?" A French voice interrupted them.
Fleur Delacour had been taking a walk, she'd never admit to wanting to explore the grounds, and found them while they were focused on their own feet and been watching them in amusement.
"Feel free, if you don't mind risking your feet." Hermione replied.
"Zat is because you don't 'ave zee right timing." Fleur pointed out. "Come 'Arry. Allow me to demonstrate."
A flick of the French girl's wand had a soft tune playing. "Now 'Arry. Come 'ere. Listen to zee music and feel your partner's presence. Azz long azz you are dancing zee same dance your 'ands will tell you everyzing you need to know. And your partner ezz much prettier to look at zan your feet, oui?"
Harry glanced down. "I dunno; you have nice feet."
Fleur laughed. "Eyez up Mister. Now, right foot forward..."
Fleur was a good teacher and managed to get Harry relaxing and moving more freely. She then handed him back to Hermione who complemented his improvement and Fleur's skills.
"Merci." Fleur smiled. "But I owe 'Arry so is no problem."
"Owe me? For what?" Harry stopped dancing.
"I waz tre rude to you during zee choosing. I am sorry." Fleur bowed her head slightly. "I saw you during zee first task and waz most impressed by your flying."
"Uh, thanks." Harry nervously ran his hand through his hair. "I didn't get to see yours but it sounded impressive. Did you really manage to charm it to sleep?"
"Oui, but I don't zink zat would 'ave worked on zee 'Orntail." Fleur replied. "You 'ad zee 'ardest dragon of zee lot."
Harry shrugged. "I'm just glad I got through it okay."
"And now you are making sure you can dance for your date." Fleur smiled.
"I don't have a date." Harry corrected her.
"Non?" Fleur looked confused. "What about zat girl 'oo asked you last night at dinner?"
"She ordered me to escort her, not be her date." Harry pointed out. "I'm only going along with it because I have to go and I need a partner."
"Really?" Fleur looked confused. "She looked to be a beautiful girl, why would she need to force you to be 'er escort?"
"We think it's to avoid the attention of one of her housemates." Hermione explained. "He's a major bully and Harry is one of the few people in the school not intimidated by him."
"Ah." Fleur nodded. "Very generous of you to 'elp 'er."
Harry shrugged. "I need a partner but I don't care enough about the Ball to put any effort in to finding one."
"Non girl you want to go wiz?" Fleur seemed surprised.
"There is one," Harry admitted, "but when I asked her she already had a date."
"Pity." Fleur commiserated. "You didn't ask your friend 'ere?"
"Hermione?" Harry glanced at her. "Did you want me to?"
"If you'd asked me, and I didn't already have a date, I would've said yes." Hermione replied. "Not that I really expected it; your crush on Cho was pretty obvious, as was your disinterest in attending the Ball in the first place. If I really wanted to, I could have asked you."
"Okay, though to be perfectly honest most of that disinterest is due to the fact I'm being forced to attend rather than choosing to." Harry admitted. "Same as this whole sodding tournament."
Fleur looked him over. "You 'ave a mix review from zee ozzer 'Ogwarts students. Some say you are arrogant and aim to steal azz much glory azz possible, other say you keep to yourself and try, unsuccessfully, to avoid notice. Cedric commented zat you warned 'im about zee dragons, and zat Victor and I already knew."
"You don't know what to believe." Hermione realised.
"Oui." Fleur nodded. "Zen zere are my own observations zat lead me towards zee latter view, but you seemed zee least affected of the four of uzz. And you did zee best; zee distance from which you summoned your broom ezz... impressive. Remarkable. I do non believe I could match eet."
"Harry's pretty powerful." Hermione tossed a grin to her best friend.
"I can believe eet." Fleur nodded as she stood. "I would like to continue, but I need to be heading back. I would be happy to help you practise dancing again, just promise to save me a dance at zee Ball."
"The third dance?" Harry asked.
"Not zee second?" Fleur teased.
"That goes to Hermione."
"Oui. Your best friend. I wonder what one must do to reach that status with you." Fleur smiled.
"You'd be happier not knowing." Hermione replied.
"Now I am more zee curious kitty." Fleur teased. "But anozzer time. Au reviar."
They waited until the French girl was out of sight.
"That was different to what I expected." Harry commented. "Not so stuck up that time."
"She seemed quite pleasant." Hermione agreed. "It would be nice to get to know her better. And I can practise my French too."
"Always looking for an opportunity to learn." Harry grinned.
"Of course." Hermione poked at him. "You should too. Now, do you want to dance some more or head back?"
"Head back I think." Harry replied after a moment's thought.
"Okay. Have you had any thoughts about the egg?"
"No. I can't think of a way to link the noise to the egg. If it isn't then it could be anything." Harry sighed.
"And you've been putting it off because it's over two months away and there is the Yule Ball to worry about." Hermione teased. "That's fine. I'll think about it and come up with some things to try. We'll get stuck into figuring it out right after the Ball."
"What happens if you need to learn a number of spells to be able to complete the task?"
"... Yeah, good point." Harry admitted with a heavy sigh.
"See, procrastination is hazardous to your health."
"You're going to keep using that one, aren't you?"
Hermione just smiled at him in a way that made him very nervous.
During the remainder of the month Harry had four more practise sessions with Daphne Greengrass where he held back just how much he had actually learnt. He also had twice that number with Fleur and even more with Hermione.
He also had a frustrating conversation with Ron...
"Man, you really lucked out getting a date." Ron grumped as he flopped on to a couch in their Common Room.
"It's not a 'date'. I'm just her escort." Harry repeated yet again.
"Whatever." Ron huffed. "At least she's hot, for a snake. I'm still looking. Hey, Hermione you're a girl, right?"
Hermione looked over, seeing Harry wince, as she gave a scathing reply. "Really? I wonder what gave it away?"
"Go to the Ball with me."
"Since it seems you have forgotten, let me remind you that someone else figured out that I was a girl and asked me weeks ago. And I said yes to them." Hermione glared.
"Come on, you're just saying that." Ron snorted.
Harry practically jumped off the couch.
"What?" Ron looked confused.
"I'm getting out of the line of fire." Harry told him. "You earned a good hexing for that comment. You know she told us she had a date already."
"Come on, help me out." Ron protested.
"Like I know any girls you don't already know." Harry rolled his eyes. "Ummm... Lavender, Parvati?"
"Yes?" Lavender replied for the pair.
"I don't suppose you know a girl who needs a date? Just so we can shut this idiot up."
"Hey!" Ron protested.
Lavender snorted holding in her laughter.
Parvati had a different response. "I don't think my sister has found someone yet. I can ask her."
"Thank you." Harry gave her a smile.
"You owe me a dance in return."
"Me too." Lavender added quickly.
Harry chuckled but gave her a nod. "See me after the third dance."
Harry returned to sit next to Ron after checking that Hermione wasn't about to start sending hexes in his general direction. "There. You should have a date to the dance."
Harry was hoping for a 'thank you' from his friend but Ron just suggested a game of chess.
On the day of the Ball Harry spent a relaxing morning with Hermione and Ron. Fleur even stopped by to join in the impromptu snowball fight after lunch before nearly the entire female population of the castle vanished to begin their preparations.
Hermione had a few parting words for Harry. "Make sure you shower first. You'll probably want to give yourself at least an hour to get ready, maybe a little more to be safe. I can help you with your hair once I'm ready so I'll meet you in the Common Room before we go. I'm meeting my date in the Entrance Hall too so you can escort me down."
Harry gave himself and hour and a half to get ready in, more than Ron did and was showered and dressed and trying to sort his hair with plenty of time to spare. The potion Daphne had provided gave him limited success; his hair was actually responding but since that was a first he wasn't sure what to do with it. He got it as neat as possible and headed down to the Common Room to wait for Hermione. He left a morose Ron poking at his lacy maroon robes.
He wasn't kept waiting too long in the Common Room, it just took him longer to realise it than he thought it would. He glanced up as a beautiful girl in a blue dress stopped in front of him.
"How do I look?"
Harry blinked; he knew that voice. Standing he got a better look at the girl's face. "Hermione?"
"Of course. Who'd you think I was?"
"Wow. I didn't recognise you. You look amazing." Harry complemented her.
"Thank you." Hermione beamed. "You're looking very handsome yourself. That potion seems to have done the job."
"Yeah; for the first time in my life my hair is behaving, and I don't know how to do anything with it."
Hermione laughed. "It's not too bad, I'll just tweak it a bit. Sit down so I can reach properly."
"Thanks." Harry sat and immediately started blushing as Hermione leant forward to get to work.
Seated, with Hermione standing in front of him leant forward, he now had the best view of her developing body possible. "Uh... Hermione?"
"Hush a minute, I'm busy." Hermione cut him off. "And hold still."
Harry did as he was told until Hermione finally pulled back and nodded to herself.
"That is pretty good. I don't think you could look any more handsome." Hermione smiled. "Harry? You're blushing."
"Yeah." Harry nodded. "You ah... I... I don't think I can call you a girl anymore. Young woman seems more accurate. And please be a little more aware of your posture. I'm happy to help you hide the bodies of anyone who tries to take advantage of you but it would be easier if things don't get that far."
"Huh?" Hermione was totally confused.
"I got quite the view while you were doing my hair." Harry explained.
Hermione looked a little confused until she looked down at herself and turned bright red. "Pervert. You shouldn't have looked."
"I didn't look. I was looking straight ahead and then you were right where I was looking... and I couldn't look away."
Hermione backhanded his shoulder hard. "No excuse. But I will be more careful. I can look after myself you know."
"I do know that. If you recall I only suggested you might want help hiding the body, not dealing it him in the first place. But, just so you know, if you don't I will."
"Right back at you." Hermione assured him. "Come on, you can escort me downstairs to meet our dates. Sorry, my date and your escortee."
"Sure. Um... how?"
Hermione shook her head. "Stick your right elbow out. Yes, just like that. Now, don't walk too fast. Just stand up straight and take it at a sedate and dignified pace."
Harry nodded and they left the Common Room and headed for the stairs.
"Hermione." Harry said finally as they were about half way down.
"Thank you. However this turns out, you've done heaps to help me prepare. Thank you for that. I really appreciate it."
"Any time." Hermione hugged his elbow a little. "You are my best friend, of course I'm going to help you any way I can. You've done the same for me."
"Not as much as you've done for me."
Hermione shook her head. "Four years ago you remembered me when no one else did. You saved my life and became my friend. Sure, you're far from perfect, but I've never regretted being your friend."
"Thanks. I'm glad you're my friend too. I couldn't do all this without you." Harry smiled at her.
"I know." Hermione teased as she smiled back.
They reached the Entrance Hall and separated to wait for their respective partners. Harry got a rather large shock when Hermione smiled and approached a newly arrived Victor Krum.
"Hi Victor. You look wonderful." Hermione gave him a gentle hug.
"As do you." Victor replied as he admired her. "Hello Harry."
"Hi Victor." Harry had followed Hermione but kept back a bit. "So this is your surprise date, Hermione. I'm impressed."
"Is not a date. Just friends." Victor corrected. "I have girlfriend back home who could not make it. So I pick sensible partner to join me. I promise I would never try to make her tell me your secrets."
"I know you haven't." Harry replied. "You haven't suffered being hexed by a very wide variety of spells."
Victor chuckled. "Your friend is impressive witch."
"More than you know." Harry stated.
"Harry!" Hermione protested lightly.
"What? It's true?" Harry grinned at her.
"I can see you are good friends." Victor chuckled. "I assure you, she is safe with me."
"Good." Harry met his eyes. "I'll hold you to that."
"'Arry. 'Ermione." Fleur's cheerful voice sounded across the room as she entered with her escort. "You both look wonderful."
"So do you." They greeted her.
The French girl did look stunning in her silver dress. The Ravenclaw on her arm looked to be struggling against her light allure, increased only by her obvious happiness.
Cedric and Cho entered next. "Hi everyone. Are we all here?"
"Harry's still waiting on his date." Hermione replied.
"She's not my date." Harry rolled his eyes at her.
"Very true." Daphne had finally made her appearance.
"You look wonderful." Harry headed over to great her.
"I know." Daphne replied. "You've actually managed to look handsome yourself."
"Why thank you, Miss Greengrass." Harry replied dryly. "Have you met the Champions and their dates?"
"Not yet. Introduce me."
Harry resisted a snort at the near command but offered her an elbow as Hermione instructed and escorted her across the Entrance Hall to the others. Daphne retained her icy aloofness throughout but she greeted the other six politely.
They didn't have much longer to wait before McGonagall made an appearance. "Good, you're all here. It won't be much longer before you can all make your grand entrance."
The professor vanished and returned several minutes later to let them in to the Great Hall. Harry pointedly took up position at rear of the group. No response from Daphne, she just calmly stood to his right, her hand daintily resting in the crook of his arm.
Then they entered the Hall and were paraded across the room to their table. Harry spotted Percy Weasley at the table and carefully steered away from him. Fleur managed to sit on his left and Victor and Hermione were next to Daphne. Cedric got the short straw, being closet to the third Weasley child, who he was already familiar with due to the proximity of the two families while growing up.
He was a little lost looking at the menu about how they would get their meal until he saw Professor Dumbledore, across the table with the other Headmasters, state his order to the menu and it appeared in front of him. Harry could now study the menu with more interest and placed his own order.
Harry focused on eating carefully, especially given the company he was in. His table manners weren't bad to start off with, being nothing like Ron's Hermione had never criticised them, but he wanted to be extra careful given he had Fleur and Daphne on either side of him and they were all in their finery; he did not want to have any accidents.
The conversation was… interesting and awkward. Fleur was happy to talk to him but his limited experiences outside Hogwarts made it difficult and his more 'interesting' Hogwarts experiences were not things he wanted to share. He did try to include Daphne, asking for her opinions or about her travels and while the icy girl didn't make it easy, not volunteered anything, she did engage when directly addressed.
Then the meal ended and the dancing was to begin. Harry carefully escorted Daphne onto the floor and took their position while waiting for the music to start.
Then all his practise with Hermione and Fleur was put to the test as he carefully and rhythmically guided the Slytherin girl around the floor.
"I'm impressed. You're doing much better than our practises indicated." Daphne finally commented.
"I put in some extra practise." Harry replied.
"And hid your progress from me." Daphne actually seemed amused. "A somewhat Slytherin move."
"Really?" Harry replied, hiding his amusement as the song came to an end. "I wonder how you'd rate the rest of my evening's plan then."
Daphne's eyebrows actually lifted in surprise as Harry led them to join Hermione and Victor.
"Victor, your lovely date promised me this dance, but I do hope you'll accept Miss Greengrass as a passable alternate dance partner." Harry presented the Slytherin girl to the Bulgarian as he whisked Hermione away.
And then the next song started. Harry got to enjoy his first non-practise dance with his best friend as her date took his position with Daphne.
"Thanks for all your help." Harry said. "Teaching me to dance and all."
"It was my pleasure." Hermione smiled back at him. "Are you enjoying it?"
"I am actually." Harry admitted. "And I could never have learnt how much fun it could be without you."
"You could say that about a lot of things." Hermione teased.
"I know and I should."
"You do fine." Hermione assured him. "I never expected you to be perfect. We both have room for improvement. And don't argue! New subject!"
"Okay. Um… So, you and Victor?" Harry hurriedly changed the subject.
"We're just friends." Hermione told him. "Like he said, he has a girlfriend back in Bulgaria but she couldn't be here so he needed to ask someone else and I was the least interested person."
"Interesting method for choosing." Harry noted.
"But effective." Hermione pointed out. "He gets a date who won't become a stalker and can hold an intelligent conversation with him. And Daphne really can't complain about dancing with him which helps your little plan along."
"Very true." Harry nodded. "Well, it looks like this one is coming to an end."
"It's okay, we can dance again later." Hermione promised. "And there is nothing that says we can only dance tonight. It might be nice to keep up our little practise sessions; they're fun and it's good exercise."
"Sure." Harry smiled.
"And we can invite Fleur too if you want." Hermione teased.
"We'll see, but for now I owe her a dance."
"I'm sure I will."
Hermione and Harry reclaimed their previous partner's but only momentarily. While Harry went to swap Daphne for Fleur Hermione decided that Harry might have a good idea and approached Cedric and Cho.
Fleur had been a patient practise partner but now she really showed him what dancing was all about as she held him close and encouraged him to whisk her across the floor.
"I'm glad to see 'ow much you've improved." Fleur smiled at him.
"Me too. I can't thank you enough for your help teaching me."
"Yes you can. You can dance wiz me again."
"Hermione did suggest we keep dancing after the Ball, for fun and exercise."
"Just tell me where and when and I will be zere." Fleur promised decisively. "You are a much better dance partner zan my date. Per'aps I should 'ave asked you."
"Perhaps next time you need a date to a dance."
"I will 'old you to zat." Fleur met his eye firmly before she relaxed. "But you might 'ave a girlfriend so I would need 'er permission too."
"That sounds like a novel experience." Harry blinked at the both idea of him getting a girlfriend and Fleur asking her permission to take him to a dance as her date.
Fleur laughed musically. "It does."
The danced in silence until the song came to an end.
"We are friends now, 'Arry Potter, and I would like get to know you better." Fleur stated. "Per'aps during the break we can do just zat. And 'Ermione too."
"I think that would be nice."
As they re-joined the others Cedric met them and offered Cho. "Since you've danced with the others, might as well get the full set."
"I would be honoured." Harry smiled as he accepted Cho's hand.
Cedric whisked Daphne across the floor next to them and Harry got to dance with the girl he had more than a bit of a crush on.
He finished the dance with less of a crush. She was nice but she wasn't as fun to dance with as Hermione or Fleur. Even Daphne was a more enjoyable partner for him, if only because he could enjoy his plan. So he thanked her for the dance and looked for his next partner.
Lavender and Parvati were crossing the Hall with grins on their faces. Harry's look around also spotted a pair of less than happy faces.
"Sorry, can you give me a couple of minutes." Harry's words were for his Gryffindor year mates as well as Daphne.
Ron and Padma were sitting at the side of the Hall on their own and neither looked very happy. Padma noticed his approach and her unhappy expression turned a little hopeful. Ron didn't even seem to notice him as he stared into the room grumpily.
"Okay, what is it?" Harry stopped in front of them.
"What do you care?" Ron snapped. "You're off with Krum and the veela, dancing with all those girls."
"You are my friend, Hermione and I would introduce you if you came over but you'd need to ditch the attitude." Harry pointed out.
"So I'm not good enough for you new friends and your snake girlfriend." Ron's voice was starting to rise. "Why don't you sod off back to them since you seem to like them more than me."
Harry had to fight hard to bite back his angry response. Instead he took a page out of the Slytherin book he had started and turned to Padma.
"Miss Patel, I apologise for this inappropriate situation you've been caught in. May I offer you a dance to make up for it?"
"You may." Padma practically leapt out of her chair and dragged Harry on to the dance floor to escape the red head.
A minute later Padma had started to relax and feel better. "Thanks Harry."
"No, it's fine. I owed you a dance for my part in setting you two up." Harry assured her. "I'm sorry it didn't go better."
"It's not your fault." Padma stated firmly. "You are not responsible for his behaviour so don't make yourself the guy to blame."
"Okay. Thanks." Harry gave her a smile as they focused on just enjoying their dance.
When the dance was over he escorted her to join the other champions. Daphne immediately pulled him back out on the dance floor.
Padma was going to sit when she found herself pulled next to the Bulgarian Seeker.
"My feet need a rest." Hermione stated. "Padma, can you take Victor for a spin on the dance floor. I'll have some drinks ready for us when you finish."
"Uh..." Padma didn't get any further before Victor, taking Hermione's hint, guided her out onto the floor for the next dance.
Daphne was actually glaring at Harry as they danced. "What are you playing at?"
"I'm enjoying dancing at the Ball. Why? What do you think I'm doing?" Harry replied.
"I think you are trying to avoid me."
"No, I'm just having some fun. I'm just your escort, we've both made that perfectly clear. All I have to do is keep Malfoy away from you right? Besides, wouldn't it be easier to say that's all it was if we dance with a lot of other people?"
Daphne's glare intensified. "Correct."
"So if you dance with a lot of different people, especially those Malfoy thinks are beneath him, you can really push the point that he is at the bottom of the list." Harry laughed suddenly. "You could dance with Hermione or Fleur and really hammer that point home."
Daphne's glare did not reduce in any way but she didn't argue any further. She also didn't put up any fuss when Harry stopped for a dance to rest and have a drink then proceed to give Lavender and Parvati their promised dances.
Fleur's date, the Ravenclaw Quidditch Captain Roger Davies, had been getting worse throughout the evening and Fleur had to jettison him before he lost what little control remained and assaulted her. This mean that Harry was getting traded between her, Hermione, Daphne and Padma with only Victor and the odd guy Padma found to alternate with him.
This led Harry to having very little down time. He tried to bow out when the band's tempo shifted from classical to rock and he stared at the totally different style of dancing with no idea what to do. Fleur didn't let him though and dragged him out and got him moving to the rapid tempo.
Then the French girl upped the ante by pulling Padma into the mix forcing Harry to adapt to two partners on the fly.
Daphne was lying on her bed after the dance. She had to admit, if only to herself, that she had had fun at the Ball. Harry had been a good choice, except for the fact that he had been in control the entire time. That was totally unexpected; normally she held the upper hand firmly in her cool grasp and made sure everyone knew it without her having to say a word.
It was proven by the fact that he had handed her off to various dance partners and made it sound logical. She had even taken his suggestion to heart when he was dancing with Padma sometime after the tempo had gone up. Malfoy had made a move while Harry was at the other end of the dance floor. To his credit he had spotted the situation and tried to come to her defence but the crowded dance floor was not easy to traverse in a hurry.
She had resolved the situation by taking a very amused and quite amicable Fleur on to the dance floor to avoid her irritating housemate. Harry had made it back for the next song and been extra vigilant about staying close for the rest of the dance. Another point of interest had been when they were leaving; Cedric had pulled Harry aside to tell him something secretive. Something Harry had not shared but had been very contemplative about. He had silently escorted her back to the Slytherin House before returning to the Great Hall to ensure Padma and Hermione got back to their respective dorms safely. He would have done the same for Fleur but she had joined a gaggle of Beaubaxtons girls and they went back to their carriage as a group.
Aside from the one mishap Harry had taken his duties as escort seriously. She was never unaccompanied and got to choose her partner for each dance, after the first few at least. She didn't actually turn any he offered down but he had given her the choice which she had appreciated. When she had wanted some fresh air Harry had escorted her outside for a light walk around the outdoor areas protected by warming charms. At no point did he make any move on her, nor was there even a hint that he might want to.
Her best friend, Tracy, half jumped on the bed next to her and grabbed a pillow as she folded her legs under her to sit. "So? How was it? You danced with all four Champions. Is Potter anything like the rumours?"
"Yes, Daphne, how was it dancing with that Gryffindork half-blood and the French half-breed?" Pansy butted in.
Daphne sat up. "Much better than dancing with Malfoy."
"How can you say that?" Pansy snapped. "Draco is much better than that insolent, jumped-up half-blood."
"You do realise that the only reason you got to go with him is because I kept refusing him and found an escort that he couldn't bully into abandoning me." Daphne pointed out.
Pansy's jaw locked and she glared angrily before sweeping out of the room imperiously, dragging Millicent with her.
Tracy giggled. "That got rid of her. So, start talking."
"He wasn't what I expected." Daphne admitted. "Even though he was nothing like the rumours say during our practise sessions, he also was a poor dancer. Then all of a sudden he was very good tonight. I believe he put in a lot of extra practise with Granger and Delacour and hid his progress from me."
"Do you think he did that from the beginning?"
"No. The first time he was nervous about even touching me and didn't know where to put his hands. He's not that good at acting. He did manage to hide his progress very well though." Daphne's features twisted slightly into what Tracy recognised as a frown. "He played me the whole evening, and made it sound logical."
"By dancing with multiple partners it would help quell any rumours that we were together. Not his exact words but that was the intent. And he sprung it on me without any warning. It was even his idea to dance with Fleur as a last resort to avoid Malfoy."
"It worked." Tracy pointed out.
"Yes. Potter showed an insight and subtlety I would not have thought possible." Daphne mused. "And he didn't make a single move on me all evening. It certainly made for a relaxing evening; if I ignore the fact that he played me completely and I couldn't do a thing about it. Then there was the thing with Diggory he wouldn't tell me about."
"Diggory told him something that got him very thoughtful but I don't know what."
Tracy looked closely at her friend, then her eyes shot wide and she buried an excited squeal into the pillow she was holding. "You're interested in him. I don't believe it; the Ice Queen is actually interested in the Gryffindor Golden Boy. He managed to get your attention when so many others failed."
"He has not!" Daphne snapped.
"He has, he has, he has." Tracy giggled. "If he hadn't you would have said about four words about the whole evening and moved on. You're interested in him; maybe even falling for him."
"Shut up." Daphne glared.
"Oooooh, you are so bent out of shape," Tracy pointed at her, "you're actually showing an expression. Potter actually got to you. Merlin, I have to meet him now. I've got to meet the one boy who could rile you up like this. Be a dear and introduce me."
"Never!" Daphne snarled.
Tracy dissolved into quiet giggles.
"I'm going to go shower and wash off any residue that Gryffindor left on me." Daphne stated as she primly headed for the bathroom.
The one thing the icy girl hated the most was that it was true; somehow Harry, Mr Gryffindor Golden Boy himself, had managed to get her attention.
'Damn!' Daphne cursed internally. 'Now I'm thinking of him as Harry, not Potter.'
Daphne wasn't the only girl getting pestered about her experiences at the Ball and the company she kept there. Both Padma and Hermione were getting bombarded with questions about their time at the Ball.
Padma had gotten no more than five seconds of commiseration about the bad behaviour of her actual date before demands about what the four Champions were like, what dancing with Harry Potter was like, what Victor Krum was like and why was he with Hermione, was Cedric Diggory as dreamy as Cho and the Hufflepuff's claimed.
Padma did her best but her thoughts were focused on a conversation she had interrupted between Harry and Hermione as he escorted the pair back to their respective towers after the dance had completed.
"Harry?" Hermione nudged him as they walked. "Are you okay? Greengrass or another Slytherin didn't do anything to you, did they?"
"No. It was Cedric." Harry replied. "I think he gave me a clue for solving the egg."
"Well, now we know what we'll be doing tomorrow." Hermione stated.
"Excuse me." Padma interrupted. "But why would Cedric give you a clue? Aren't you competing?"
"He's paying me back for warning him about the dragons." Harry told her.
"You warned him about the dragons? Padma blurted. "Wait; you knew about them before hand? I though you weren't supposed to know until just before the task started."
"Yeah, maybe, but it doesn't work when a dragon mad Hagrid decides that it's a great first date option for him and Madam Maxime." Harry chuckled. "A little awkward being asked to follow them I assure you. I saw Karkarof sneaking around too so... I just wanted to level the field."
"That's very nice you of." Padma smiled at him. "So he's saying thanks to you for your help before."
"Looks like it." Harry shrugged. "I'll know more after I test his suggestion."
"I'd like to help, if you don't mind." Padma offered as they reach the branch in the corridors that would take her right the Ravenclaw Dorm entrance. "Think about it and let me know tomorrow. I'll be fine from here, the entrance is just along that corridor. Thank you for a wonderful evening."
Padma proved her sister wasn't the only brave one as she quickly kissed his cheek and rushed away to hide the oncoming blush that would be visible against even her own dark skin.
Hermione had expected this barrage from the moment she accepted Victor's invitation to the Ball. She even anticipated the range of girls from other years joining in. She merely underestimated the duration of the questions. Significantly.
It was for this reason that she didn't bother getting Harry to share the tip he got from Cedric. She wouldn't get any time to consider it and having that information without being able to work on it would have ruined any chance of sleeping. As it was she had something new to look forward to in the morning and so just wanted everyone to leave so she could sleep and hasten the coming of the new day.
She was sort of glad for the attention, though normally she wouldn't be. As soon as the pair had entered the Common Room Ron Weasley had started shouting at them. Apparently Hermione had 'betrayed' Harry and Harry had 'stolen his date' and 'ruined his evening' and was 'consorting with the enemy'. Things that hadn't actually happened but when had Ron let facts get in the way of his perceived insult.
Harry had not been amused to be shouted at but had managed to end it very simply. He simply told the twins to do something before he did. Fred and George, or whatever they were calling themselves these days, immediately silenced him and dragged him off to his dorm where they 'put' him to bed with something to ensure he slept instead of causing more trouble.
Hermione had to admit, after she had managed to get the visiting girls to leave and sufficiently threaten Lavender and Parvati to get them to leave her alone, Harry's plan for handling Daphne had worked out really well and he had dealt with Ronald effectively and without violence. Perhaps she would be able to get him to think and plan before just acting more based on his successes this time.
There was a meeting of minds the next morning, a little earlier than most. Most slept in after the late night before.
Interestingly though, they all had different reasons for being in the Great Hall early; or at least earlier than the rest of the school. Only two of those reasons were similar.
Hermione had decided she had slept enough and got up and got ready for the day. She did try to take her time but her excitement to get started on preparing for the next Task was too much and she couldn't even distract herself with a book.
The result was her barging into the boy's dorm and waking Harry.
"Whaa..." Harry blinked and looked around as she shook him hard. "Hermione? What the hell?"
"Language!" Hermione glared. "Get up. We're going to get started on solving the Egg."
"If you aren't quiet, you'll wake everyone." Harry yawned.
"I put up a silencing charm." Hermione rolled her eyes at the obvious. "And another one on Ron. His snoring is awful."
"Yeah. It is." Harry agreed and stumbled out of bed. "Okay, I'm up. I'll meet you in the Common Room shortly."
Hermione nodded, sure that he wasn't just going to go back to sleep, and left to let him get ready.
Harry just gave his face a wash to help wake himself up before dressing for the day and headed out.
"Right…" Hermione started as soon as she saw him.
"Breakfast." Harry cut her off as he went straight for the portrait doorway, letting her choose to follow him or not.
She did and she pestered the still waking boy all the way to the Great Hall.
Padma had risen for a similar purpose to Hermione, though a little more general. She wanted to help Harry to thank him for almost singlehandedly turning a disastrous evening into an amazing one. Given he seemed to have a puzzle to solve then he should recognise the benefit of having a Ravenclaw on the team; even if Hermione was a Ravenclaw in Gryffindor clothing.
Daphne was escaping her Common Room. She had risen early and gotten ready for the day and even done a little reading ahead before other Slytherin early risers began stirring. The problem was the Malfoy was one of these other early risers and he had done so solely to attack her.
"What did you think you were doing?" Malfoy demanded. "Dancing with half-bloods, half-breeds and blood traitors; your family will be ashamed of you. I will make sure they know you need to be punished."
"It's not like I kept it hidden. You can't blame me for your own blind idiocy." Daphne replied in a tone could had the few observers checking for ice. "Besides, you, 'Malfoy', have no say on any Greengrass private matters."
"That will change." Malfoy sneered. "You will be mine."
"I would rather belong to the half-blood or half-breed I danced with. They would certainly bring greater fortune to my House than you would. Malfoy." Daphne countered.
"You forget what else I will inherit." Malfoy's sneer increased.
"I have my doubts." Daphne replied as she turned to leave. "If you really were going to inherit then it would be official, not assumed."
Daphne ensured the door was shut and used the privacy of the empty corridor to get some distance just in case he was as stupid as he appeared to be before making a direct path to the Great Hall where there would be more observers. She was very glad to see that Harry Potter was already there.
This was how the four students ended up in the Great Hall at the same time.
As Harry and Hermione sat, Padma came over.
"Morning. I just wanted to thank you again for last night." Padma smiled at Harry. "I also wanted to offer my assistance again, if you have need of it."
Harry shrugged. "Sure, maybe Hermione will let me eat if she has you to talk to."
"HEY!" Hermione glared at him. "That was rude!"
"And you waking me wasn't?" Harry replied.
"Yeah, okay. Sorry, but you didn't have to say that."
"I'm sorry too; I shouldn't have said that. I think I'm still grumpy after last night."
"I can believe that but I didn't do it."
"I know." Harry sighed. "Sorry, just let me eat and I should be more pleasant."
"Okay. Just tell me Cedric's hint and you can ignore me."
"He told me to take a bath with the egg. He suggested the Prefect's Bathroom as a good place." Harry said as he loaded him plate.
"You need a password to get in." Padma pointed out.
"Pine Fresh." Harry said as he began eating.
"Ah." Padma gave a nod. "Okay."
"The Prefect's Bathroom?" Daphne asked as she sat. "Breaking rules again?"
Harry stopped eating to stare at her.
"What?" Daphne looked at him as if he were stupid, or a pet, or something beneath her. "It seems you work well as a Malfoy repellent."
"Actually, if you hadn't noticed, Malfoy hunts me down to cause trouble." Harry mumbled around his mouthful of food before resuming eating.
"Perhaps, but you are the main person in the castle he cannot intimidate. He only wins because Snape backs him up. Without Snape he loses to you every time. And Malfoy is being an ass this morning. So, why do you want to use the Prefect's Bathroom? The Gryffindor one not good enough for you? Or is this something about what Cedric told you last night? As a Prefect and Quidditch Captain, he would know the password."
Harry was ignoring her, focusing on his meal while Hermione and Padma were staring at her.
Daphne just met their glares with her own calm ice.
They stared in silence for several long minutes, neither side giving an inch while Harry just ignored them and kept eating.
Finally it was Harry who had to break the stalemate and increasingly tense atmosphere. "Will you all give it a rest; I'm trying to eat here."
"Ms Greengrass," Hermione decided to act, "can you please sit somewhere else. We would like to have a discussion that is of no concern of yours."
"I can." Daphne admitted. "But reducing my proximity to Potter reduces his effectiveness as a Malfoy repellent."
"Wouldn't you make a sufficient statement at another table without the potential backlash of hanging around Gryffindor's?"
"Perhaps, but it seems that Potter's plan didn't work. Malfoy probably didn't think I'd actually go through with it so now that I actually did it means I betrayed my house; even though I had so few dances with Potter."
"So you are now a victim of your own plans." Hermione snorted.
"It was always a possibility." Daphne shrugged. "But it's more due to there being a severe lack of anything you could call a 'Man' in Slytherins, they're all just scrabble and scrape for crumbs of power offered by their parents, of which Malfoy is the most successful for the sole reason that he claims to be the Heir to the House of Black, potentially granting him a second power base."
"Claims?" Hermione asked.
"If he was the official Heir, we would know it. That he isn't means he isn't a close to the top as he thinks."
"You're being very forth coming." Padma studied her.
"I'm not revealing anything of personal significance." Daphne actually shifted her shoulders in a minimalistic shrug. "Most of this is about other people. The only personal bit is my dislike of their spinelessness, which isn't much of a secret. Hanging around Harry seems to be more interesting."
"Sure," Harry finally entered the conversation, "if you like risking death."
"Perhaps I can help you avoid such situations in the future." Daphne offered.
"Good luck." Hermione grumped.
"Ignoring her." Padma decided to change the subject. "Are we going to investigate this hint soon?"
"I think we should. Right after breakfast." Hermione nodded.
Padma had been the first to arrive and had nearly finished eating already so she quickly brought her plate over to finish up. Daphne was the last to arrive of the makeshift quartet that morning but not by much and Hermione had been delayed in starting her meal by Padma. As such the Slytherin didn't need to rush her meal to beat Hermione and ensure they couldn't sneak away from her.
So the two Gryffindors were followed back up to their tower so Harry could retrieve the golden egg and then back to a lower floor and along to the Prefect's Bathroom.
Harry quietly spoke the password and led the way in.
"So this is what they've been hiding." Daphne looked around. "I always thought the Prefect's were overly smug. This might explain some of it. Now what?"
"From what Cedric wasn't saying I guess you stick the egg underwater and open it." Hermione was looking at Harry. "It actually makes sense; water is known to distort sound waves."
Harry looked at the massive tub and sighed.
The large egg was difficult to handle while lying on the side of the giant tub but he managed it, even if only by opening it first and dunking it.
"Well, that shut it up?" Daphne uncovered her ears.
"Can you hear anything?" Padma knelt next to Harry.
"... I think so, but it's hard to make out." Harry hesitated. "Sod it."
The three girls watched as he wriggled himself forward a bit and stuck his head into the tub.
Then his head emerged and he took a moment to breathe. "Hermione, start writing. It's a poem."
Hermione dug in her robes and pulled out a small note book and a pen and, with a click, announced her readiness. "I'm ready."
Harry began reciting the poem to her, one line at a time, repeatedly dunking his head to get the following lines. He recited it to her twice to ensure she had it all.
"Towel." Harry said finally.
Hermione hesitated. "Is there something new in the poem or are you asked to be given a towel?"
"I'm asking for one of you to hand me a towel so I can dry myself." Harry grumped.
"Just checking." Hermione assured him as Padma hurried to get a towel.
While Harry dried himself, with Padma assisting by drying the egg and hitting his damp collar with a couple of drying charms, Hermione and Daphne studied the poem.
"It's rather basic really." Daphne announced. "You have one hour to retrieve 'something' that's been taken from you. Based on how the message was presented I would guess that it will be from the Merfolk village at the bottom of the Black lake."
"So what could they take?" Padma asked.
Harry shrugged. "I've only a couple of things of my Dad's, my broom and a photo album. I doubt they could take our wands and expect us to compete. The rest is the normal school stuff; easily replaceable."
"That's not a lot." Daphne frowned.
Harry shrugged. "It's what I've got, unless you know of something. I've not been told anything different. Actually I've never really been told anything about what they had."
Daphne cocked her head at him, obviously thinking hard. "Perhaps you should retain a lawyer to look into it. Gringotts and the Ministry should have some records and a good lawyer can get that information easily."
"Do you know any?" Harry made it clear he didn't.
"I will see if I can get you a name." Daphne offered.
"Back to the Second Task." Padma cut in. "Doesn't it have to be a 'thing'. The Tournament is a show the Ministry is putting on. Why else would you use actual dragons? You can get the same challenge in other ways but they won't be as 'flashy'."
"What do you think then?" Hermione asked.
"What if it was a 'who', not a 'what'?"
Harry gasped involuntarily and found himself staring at Hermione. "They would do that, wouldn't they?"
"Of course they would." Hermione wasn't looking to happy either. "Honestly, what are they thinking? Using the Black Lake in February? That is a recipe for hypothermia if ever I heard one. And putting people on the bottom? That's dangerous."
"Which is exactly why they' do it." Daphne pointed out. "'They' won't be the ones down there. They'll probably put each person under a stasis spell. They wouldn't even know they were down there until they wake up."
"Still, that doesn't solve my two main problems." Harry said. "I can't hold my breath for an hour and I can't swim."
"Sinking seems to be the required option." Daphne pointed out morbidly. "So you are in good stead there. It's just breathing that need to be solved, if you plan on being alive at the end of the Task."
"Since I am planning on surviving, I'm open to suggestions." Harry glared at the Slytherin girl.
"And that is why I wanted you to figure this out quickly, we now have two months to find and practise the solution." Hermione stated.
"Yeah. Thanks. I'd be lost without you." Harry admitted.
"And we have your candidate to be rescued." Daphne pointed out.
"Well," Hermione frowned, "as much as I don't want to be dunked in the lake in February, it would make things easier for you. You could set up a tracking spell or something so you can find me really quickly."
"Very true." Padma nodded. "So, breathing underwater and tracking magic. Library?"
"Just let me drop the egg back in my dorm." Harry said. "I'll meet you there."
"And we can practise the potential solutions in here." Hermione beamed.
"We'll need some swimwear then." Harry pointed out.
Having two extra pairs of willing hands allowed them to make good progress through the library. Then they got a fifth pair at lunch as Fleur joined them. The older witch managed to short-cut them by dropping a seventh year book in Harry's lap and told him to have a look.
Then she joined the girls in looking at options in other subjects.
They had each taken a different subject and begun hunting; Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Runes, and Fleur amused herself with Herbology. Harry had been assigned Charms and found the Bubble Head charm after half an hour of leafing through the book. He copied the details of the spell down onto a piece of parchment and made sure there wasn't another spell in the book before returning to the other, more obscure, charm's books the Hermione had piled in front of him to review.
By dinner time Harry was stiff and sore and stretched hard to try and loosen up. "That's enough for today."
"Harry!" Hermione protested.
"I'm sorry but if we do this every day then I'm gonna to go bonkers before way the Task." Harry replied. "I'm not saying I'm going to be lazy but I can't look in books all day every day. This is supposed to be a holiday."
"Alright." Hermione sighed as she closed her book. "We do have time so we can take it a bit easier. We've all worked really hard today. Thank you, Fleur, Padma. And you too Daphne."
"It's actually been interesting." Daphne closed her own book and looked down at the stack of parchment next to her. "I might not have found a potion to solve this problem, I did find a number of other potions I found interesting. Potions I might never have found, or at least not for years.
"Potter may be right in not doing this every day, but a day every few days would be beneficial. We can practise what we find and do things to relax on other days."
"I agree." Padma nodded.
"Oui." Fleur smiled. "Tomorrow, why don't you all visit me in zee Beaubaxton's carriage? I zink we could 'ave some fun."
"I think that sounds nice." Hermione smiled. "Just us girls or do we permit Harry to join us?"
"I zink it would be mean to leave 'Arry out." Fleur gave Harry a teasing grin.
"Why do I suddenly get the feeling I would be safer if I ran away right now." Harry felt a sudden and inexplicable urge to gulp.
When the quartet of Hogwart's students headed down to the Beaubaxton's carriage the next afternoon as previously arranged Harry was rather nervous. Hermione and Padma were leading the way excitedly while Daphne was her usual icy self and expecting Harry to escort her properly, following behind Hermione and Padma at a sedate pace.
Fleur was waiting for them at the carriage door looking surprisingly excited. "Come in. My room is this way."
"You're rather excited." Harry noticed.
"I am." Fleur smiled and leant in to speak to him quietly. "I 'ave few people I call friends. It is exciting to zink zat I might be getting some more."
Fleur's smile took on a sad tinge. "Between being Veela and my Father's position in the French Ministry, few people want to know me, for me."
"I think I can understand that." Harry nodded.
"I imagine you could." Fleur's smile regained its warmth.
The afternoon with Fleur was very relaxed. Being outnumbered Harry felt a little awkward as the four girls relaxed into chatting about increasingly personal topics. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be left out or included; especially given that he had very little to contribute. If anything it once again highlighted just how stifling his life had been; outside of Hogwarts he didn't have any sort of life. He'd only visited the Burrow twice and stayed in Diagon Alley once. The only real thing of note outside of school he'd done was go to the Quidditch World Cup.
Harry looked down. Here he was with four other people who had all done so much more than him. And only one had the advantage of age. Even Ron had travelled with his family, having gone to Egypt before Third Year and who knows what else they'd done before then; hadn't Ginny gone to Romania with her parents during Christmas of First Year?
"'Arry?" Fleur noticed his dropping mood.
"Huh?" Harry blinked as he looked up.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." Harry said automatically.
"Have you not travelled?"
"No." Harry admitted.
Hermione thought quickly. "I can talk to my parents, if you're able to cover your own costs you should be able to come with us. And we could take a long trip after we graduate."
"That sounds nice." Harry managed a small smile.
"What about all the rumours of your crazy adventures?" Padma clapped her hands over her mouth in shock. "Sorry, I wasn't going to ask that."
"What rumours?" Harry was confused.
"You don't know all the rumours about you?" Daphne queried.
"There were the Heir of Slytherin ones in second year and how I entered the Tournament this year but that's it." Harry replied with a shrug. "I don't know of any others."
Daphne's shoulder's twitched, as much of a shrug as she was capable of. "I suppose most people wouldn't talk to you about them."
"No. No one asked me about what 'really' happened either."
"Would you actually tell us the truth?"
"Very well." Daphne squared herself to him. "Did you kill Professor Quirrell?"
"Uh…" Harry was stunned by the very direct question.
"You killed a Professor?" Fleur gasped.
"Back! Off!" Hermione glared.
"No, it's okay." Harry gently touched Hermione's shoulder to settle her. "You want the truth? Well… He was willingly hosting Voldemort's disembodied spirit and actively trying to steal the Philosopher's Stone to bring Him back to life. When he tried to kill me, a left over remnant of my Mother's protection from when I was a year old burnt him to a crisp. Quirrell died and Voldemort's spirit fled. Dumbledore said that Quirrell was basically dead anyway from hosting Voldemort's spirit and drinking unicorn blood."
Daphne's face didn't shift but she was sitting there unnaturally still.
"Daphne? Daphne?" Hermione gently shook the Slytherin girl's shoulder. "Daphne?"
Daphne didn't respond.
"I think you broke her." Hermione concluded.
"Did you really face You-know-who?" Padma whispered in fear. "He's really not dead?"
"No, but he's not really alive either." Harry told her. "He is trying to come back though."
"Merde." Fleur gasped. "And zis was your first year? You were eleven?"
"Yeah." Harry nodded.
"Ron and I helped him through all the protections the Professors put up to guard the stone but Harry had to enter the final room and face him alone." Hermione added.
Daphne finally reacted. "I didn't expect such a blunt answer. And no indication of ego, grandstanding or exaggerated self-promotion. I am surprised that Weasley managed to contribute though."
"He bet McGonagall's enchanted chess-set." Harry pointed out.
"Is that all?" Daphne snorted. "I could do that."
"I play chess with Professor McGonagall a couple of times a year; I'm yet to lose." Daphne stated. "Perhaps I should challenge him, see his ability for myself."
"Is that sort of thing common here at Hogwart's?" Fleur asked.
"No." Padma answered.
"It is for us." Hermione sighed heavily.
"So it seems." Daphne cocked her head. "Now, second year. What happened?"
"A diary containing Voldemort's memories, his real name is Tom Marvolo Riddle by the way, possessed a first year and forced them to open the chamber and release the monster within. It was a basilisk." Harry told her. "Hermione figured out what the monster was and Ron and I found the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets and headed down there to rescue his sister who had been kidnapped and taken down there. We took Lockhart with us, he was a total fraud by the way; when he was told to go and fight the monster he started packing his things to leave. Ron and I had to force him down there. Turns out all he did was find people who did something great and steal their story; removing their memories to hide his crimes. He tried to wipe my and Ron's minds but he was using Ron's damaged wand and it back-fired."
"He's still in St Mungo's." Hermione interjected.
"Really? Anyway, after a Lockhart caused a cave-in, separating me and Ron, I ended up having to fight the basilisk with Fawkes and the Sorting Hat."
"Seriously?" Daphne looked sceptical. "The Sorting Hat? And Fawkes? Who or what is that?"
"The Sorting Hat gave me Gryffindor's sword and Fawkes is Dumbledore's phoenix. Fawkes blinded the basilisk and I killed it by stabbing it through the roof of its mouth."
"You're lucky you didn't get bitten." Fleur looked like she was about to faint. "Basilisk venom is probably the most dangerous thing in the Wizarding World next to Nundu Breath."
Harry shrugged uncomfortably.
"It Bit You?" Padma shrieked as realisation struck.
"Phoenix Tears can counter the venom." Harry told them.
"I wish you didn't know that from personal experience." Fleur was clutching her chest.
Harry just shrugged.
"I have just one question." Daphne stated. "Basilisks don't petrify people."
"Ah, no, unless you meet its gaze indirectly." Harry answered. "No one got a direct look. It was either a reflection in water or a mirror, or through a ghost or a camera."
"I see." Daphne gave a single nod.
"Merde." Fleur shook her head. "No wonder you didn't want to enter zee Tournament; it would be a let-down for you. You already 'ave more experience than any seventh year I know."
Harry just shrugged yet again.
"What about third year, and Sirius Black?" Padma asked.
"Well, after being worried about that all year, and finding out he was actually a friend of my parents and my Godfather I confronted him towards the end of the year."
"And?" Padma pushed as she leant forward in her seat.
"It turns out that Peter Pettigrew is alive, a Death Eater and the one who actually betrayed my parents and killed those people. Sirius never even got a trial to defend himself."
Two jaws dropped and a pair of eyes were wide open.
"That's… That's… Wrong." Padma gasped.
"Oui." Fleur agreed empathetically. "Zee Ministry should give 'im 'is trial."
"I tried, but do you really think they'd listen? Fudge didn't want to hear it. This is the guy who threw Hagrid in Azkaban in second year to be seen to be doing something, not because he actually thought Hagrid was responsible."
"No, he wouldn't, but I didn't know he would go that far." Daphne agreed as a frown creased her brow. "Not when he can boost his ratings with a simple execution. Perhaps a different approach is required."
"I'm open to suggestions."
"Can't Professor Dumbledore get him a trial?" Padma asked.
"He hasn't managed it yet. And he's known Sirius is innocent as long as we have." Hermione sighed.
"I will zink on zis." Fleur promised. "But I will be cautious, I promise."
"One question." Daphne spoke up. "If you had both Black and Pettigrew, what happened?"
"Remus Lupin was with us, and Snape too, but there was a full moon; he's a werewolf. Pettigrew used that as an opportunity to escape. Then we were attacked by a bunch of dementors." Harry replied.
"Zat is so dangerous." Fleur paled. "You are lucky to be alive. Zey are happy to take zee soul of any in zeir path."
"Harry chased them all off with his Patronus." Hermione told them proudly.
"Non." Fleur shook her head. "I do not believe. Adult's struggle wiz zat spell."
Harry shrugged and pulled his wand. "Expecto Patronum."
The girls stared at the silver stag that was now looking around Fleur's room.
"I believe you now. I'm very sorry." Fleur stared in wonder. "Can you teach me?"
"Sure." Harry wasn't bothered. "You heard the incantation and there's not really a wand movement. The real key is the emotions behind the spell. I was taught that you use a really happy memory but I find that what you're doing is summoning and enveloping yourself in some really strong positive emotions to power the spell. You don't need a memory, just something that gets you feeling something strong, powerful. Something that you would give everything to protect."
Fleur pulled her own wand as she nodded, already focusing hard on finding the emotions she needed to power the spell. "Expecto Patronum!"
A silver mist began flowing from the tip of her wand building into a surprisingly large mass.
"Nicely done." Harry complemented her. "It took me weeks to get that far. I think you just need practise and a stronger memory or thought and you'll get there."
"Oui. Merci." Fleur beamed at him. "'Arry, I cannot zank you enough for zis."
Harry just shrugged. "You did it; I just gave you a quick pointer."
Harry glanced around the room to see the other girls all had their wands out and were trying to find their own happy memories.
And so the get-together turned into an impromptu classroom as Harry helped the four girls learn the extremely advanced spell.
As they decided to leave for dinner Daphne called for their attention.
"Since Granger decided on yesterday's activity and Delacour today's, can I decide on tomorrows?" Daphne asked.
"What did you have in mind?" Padma asked.
"I would like for Harry to provide confirmation on something by taking us to the Chamber of Secrets."
"Uh..." Harry stumbled over his words.
"I'd like to see it too." Hermione said quietly.
"Oui." Fleur agreed. "And Padma and 'Arry can choose what to do on zee following two days. I would like to know what 'Arry zinks is fun."
"Bon. I like flying too."
"I'm not a fan." Hermione admitted.
"Zen we can help you." Fleur offered.
"Okay." Hermione gave a nod.
"So, tomorrow we go exploring." Padma looked both nervous and excited. "Anything we need to know or bring?"
"Uh... Wear old clothes and bring a broom." Harry replied.
It was a group of exhausted girls that trooped through the carriage as Fleur escorted them out.
They were stopped by a pair of older French girls who ended up in a heated discussion with and increasingly angry Fleur.
"Doesn't anyone know what's going on?" Harry asked.
"There seems to be some disbelieve in your ability to teach the Patronus." Hermione explained as she followed the argument carefully.
"Then perhaps Potter's stag should escort us out in style." Daphne stated.
With both Hermione and Padma agreeing Harry shrugged and cast the spell once more.
Silence fell as the silver stag made its appearance.
"Come on Prongs." Harry spoke directly to the stag. "Lead the way."
The silver stag actually gave him a nod before prancing magnificently along the corridor to the carriage door.
Fleur gave the other girls a haughty sniff as she followed her new friends. The French girls were just staring, open mouthed at the spectacular sight.
Harry felt like he was shrinking into himself as all the French students stared at the sight until they escaped the carriage and Harry released the spell.
"Well, I'm not doing that again." Harry shuddered.
"Why not?" Padma asked.
"You certainly made a statement." Hermione added.
Harry shot a glare at his best friend. "You know I don't like the attention."
"And I'm sorry but you didn't understand the foul statements those girls were making." Hermione glared back.
"Aren't you the one telling me not to retaliate?"
"Your form of retaliation would result in half the school ending up in a pitched battle. This just shut-up the stuck up nuisances." Hermione pointed out.
"So retaliation is fine when you do it?"
"No. If you can come up with a good way of shutting that ponce up that isn't against the rules then I'll listen."
"I'll help." Daphne offered. "His head could do with being shrunk a few sizes."
"This isn't fair." Harry groused. "You get to do all the fun stuff. You even got to punch him in the face last year."
"Really?" Daphne looked at Hermione in surprise. "Did you actually punch him in the face?"
"It wasn't my finest moment." Hermione replied.
"I dunno; it was an impressive punch." Harry pointed out.
"Per'aps we need to use a pensieve one day so we can zee for ourselves." Fleur suggested as they reached the castle.
"A pensieve?" Hermione looked interested.
"It is a device for viewing memories." Fleur told her.
"Fascinating." Hermione's eyes took on a distant look.
"Want to make your own?" Harry guessed.
"It would make a good project." Hermione nodded.
"If I help, can you make me one too?" Harry offered.
"Of course, but you'll have to learn a lot to be able to help."
"I'd kind of figured that one out already."
They entered the Great Hall and split up to head to their tables. Fleur decided to follow Padma to the Ravenclaw table where the Beauxbatons students usually sat.
Harry and Hermione headed to the Gryffindor table and sat next to Neville, opposite Ron.
"What are you still doing hanging around with them?" Ron demanded.
"What?" Harry frowned. "They aren't so bad. They've been helping me with the next task."
"Helping you over a cliff more likely." Ron spat. "You can't trust them."
"Why not? Malfoy I can understand but they haven't done anything wrong."
"So you steal my date and just keep on going." Ron was getting angry.
"I didn't 'steal' anything from you." Harry stated. "And you don't get to tell me who I get to be friends with. If you have a problem then it's 'your' problem; don't dump it on me."
"Fine." Ron snarled. "But when you get hexed in the back I'm going to laugh at you."
"So, Neville, what did you do today?" Hermione tried to get a less explosive topic.
"Not much." Neville shrugged.
"You've been helping Professor Sprout in the Greenhouses, correct?"
"Yeah." Neville nodded. "But with the winter everything's slowing down so there's not much to do. There are only a few winter plants to look after and we got them sorted before Christmas. They'll be fine until after New Year's."
"That's nice." Hermione smiled.
"Have you made any progress towards the next task?" Neville asked Harry.
"A bit." Harry nodded. "I either need to learn how to hold my breath for an hour or breathe water. Any thoughts?"
They pointedly ignored Ron's grumbling.
"Well…" Neville thought. "I think… maybe… but you'll already know that one… if I'm actually right."
"Hey, if you have an idea, I'm all ears." Harry stated.
"I need to check a book I have in our dorm. Is after dinner okay?"
"Sure. That's fine. I can't wait to see what you've got." Harry assured him.
Neville gave a shy nod and focused on his food to avoid any more attention.
Neville's book revealed the existence of Gillyweed, a water weed that would cause the person eating it to form gills and webbing between their fingers and toes.
"This looks really good." Harry read the description. "I don't suppose you know where I can get some?"
"I can try and find out." Neville offered.
"Please. If you can get a few small pieces quickly that would be great. I'll pay you back, or give you the money to send. I just want some soon so I can try it out." Harry told him.
"Sure." Neville nodded, ducking his head in embarrassment.
The next day saw Ron avoiding the pair. Not that they ended up being that bothered. Padma and Fleur joined them for breakfast and Daphne joined them later with another girl.
"This is Tracy Davis." Daphne stated. "My friend."
"Nice to meet you." Harry greeted her.
"Uh. You too." Tracy replied shyly. "So, c… can I ask… what we're doing today?"
"Didn't Daphne tell you?" Hermione asked.
Tracy shook her head. "No, I think this is one of her little jokes."
"She has a sense of humour?" Harry blurted without realising it.
"I do actually." Daphne stated. "For those with the wit to understand it."
"Okay. Everyone ready?" Harry asked as he lifted his broom to his shoulder.
"Oui." Fleur held her own broom.
"I think so." Padma nodded, her broom behind her back.
"Yes." Daphne indicated a thin pouch on her hip. "My broom is in here. More convenient."
"Useful. I'll have to get one of those." Harry looked it over.
Daphne inclined her head slightly in thanks.
"This way." Harry led them deeper into the castle.
The non-Gryffindor's were surprised when they stopped outside a girl's bathroom and Hermione went in first to make sure it was empty. Of living occupants at least.
"Hello, Harry." Myrtle smiled at him shyly.
"Hi, Myrtle. How have you been?" Harry replied. "Sorry I haven't seen you in a while. I've had a few things on."
"I know. Murderous wizards, the Tournament." Myrtle nodded. "You didn't even manage to have a bath in the Prefect's Bathroom.
"N…" Harry cocked his head at her suspiciously. "How did you know I was in there?"
"Sometimes I get caught by a surprise flush and end up in the lake. I.. get lost on the way back sometimes. I didn't want to disturb you so I didn't say anything." Myrtle replied evasively. "Why are you here?"
"Underground tour." Harry joked. "Join us if you want."
"No, but thank you." Myrtle vanished into a cubicle.
"Why are we in here?" Daphne half demanded.
$Open$ Harry's hiss was her reply and the sinks ground open. "This is why. See you at the bottom."
Harry calmly moved his broom out of the way and with a calm step, vanished down the hole.
The five girls stared down the hole that Harry had opened under the sinks but it was too dark to see more than a dozen feet down.
"Hurry up." Harry's voice floated up.
"I am so telling you off for this." Hermione growled before she followed Harry's example.
Fleur was next, taking a deep breath first.
"Bloody Gryffindors." Daphne cursed.
"Yeah. After you?" Padma offered.
Daphne snorted. "Whatever. But you had better follow me."
With that Daphne, then Tracy, took the long step down followed shortly afterwards by the scared Ravenclaw.
The dark tunnel twisted and turned as they slid down it until the fell out the end into an underground cave, landing on a pile of white bones.
"How insane are you to just jump down there like that." Daphne growled angrily.
"Hey. I did not ever just jump down here." Harry protested. "Ron and I push Lockhart down here first to make sure it was safe."
"Oh. Nice." Daphne had to admit.
"Now what?" Fleur looked around. "Zat way?"
Padma was looking herself over. "Now I know why you recommended old clothes. I don't think these will ever be the same again."
"Sorry." Harry lit his wand. "Come on."
The girl's followed a very calm and casual Harry with wide eyes as they looked around the rough walls of the tunnel. Until Padma squeaked as she spotted the snake skin.
"Is that...?" Daphne stopped mid-sentence.
"A basilisk skin? Yeah." Harry ignored it.
"Harry." Hermione spoke in a tightly controlled voice. "Please tell me the one you fought wasn't that big."
"It wasn't." Harry replied. "Ah, the cave in."
"Cave in?" Fleur lit her wand and shone it over the fallen rocks. "How did zis happen?"
"Lockhart, when his obliviate backfired."
"You are lucky you were not under zat."
"Yeah. Ron was on this side, I was on the other." Harry looked it over. "We should move it or something, I'm not sure we'll squeeze through that gap."
Five wands casting shrinking charms while the very quiet Tracy provided light quickly made room for them to get through and the followed Harry as he continued. Fleur followed up with a few extra charms to secure the ceiling.
"Great Salazar's Ghost." Daphne whispered. "The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets."
"I know. I never thought I'd ever see this." Tracy agreed.
"It's less of a buzz when you're trying to save someone's life and hopefully not have to fight a mythical monster in the process." Harry snorted. $Open$
The girls stared as the snakes surrounding the circular door shifted and allowed the door to swing open.
Harry causally walked in while the girls, led by Daphne and Tracy were looking around in awe, spending more time spinning in circles than walking to make sure they didn't miss anything.
Then a piercing scream shattered the almost unnatural stillness of the Chamber.
Padma was nearly white, something not previously considered possible given her natural skin tone, and pointing as a mass on the Chamber floor ahead of them.
"Merlin." Daphne gasped, all pretence of maintaining her icy facade gone.
Tracy couldn't even speak while Fleur was talking in French, probably using very impolite words.
"HARRY JAMES POTTER!" Hermione went ballistic at him, punctuating her words with actual punches to his arms as he had to fend her off. "You told me it was a 'big snake' not a Fucking Gargantuan one! How could you keep this from me? Do you know how close to dying you came?"
Hermione's rant broke off with a sob as she stopped attacking him and buried herself into his chest, bawling her eyes out. "I hate how much danger you're always in. I couldn't bear losing you. You're my best friend; life without you wouldn't be worth it."
Harry hugged her awkwardly as he tried to comfort her. Then he ran out of arms as both Padma and Fleur sought comfort from him as well. Tracy was hugging Daphne, who was trying to hide the fact that she needed a hug as well.
It was nearly half an hour before all the girls had calmed down.
"I thought those dragons were intimidating." Padma gulped. "I can't imagine how you faced that thing."
"I didn't. Not until Fawkes had blinded it at least. I ran around blindly, trying not to get eaten." Harry pointed out. "I didn't really get a choice; not if I wanted to live."
"And it bit you?" Fleur shook her head. "You are lucky you did not lose an arm."
"It was more me catching a fang when I drove the sword through the roof of its mouth then actually getting bitten." Harry admitted.
"Just as well." Tracy shuddered. "That thing wouldn't need poison to kill you, its bite would do the job."
"And you were only twelve." Daphne shook her head. "I really am impressed."
Harry shrugged. "It was more being bloody lucky than any actual skill."
"But, you didn't say a word. I know of no one else who could honestly claim this kill and not brag about it. It is worthy of bragging about." Daphne stated. "How could you sit on something like this and not say anything?"
Harry shrugged. "I didn't really want the attention."
"Then why share this with us now?" Fleur asked.
"I dunno." Harry admitted. "You did sort of push me into it. It's not anyone actually asked me what happened before either, or to be brought down here."
"Sorry for forcing you but thank you for sharing this." Daphne gave him a respectful nod.
"Did you ever consider having it harvested?" Tracy asked.
"No. I didn't even know it was possible." Harry looked over at her. "How would I go about doing that?"
"I can talk to Papa." Fleur offered.
"I'm sure my father can help too." Daphne added. "For a small fee. One or two percent should be enough to keep him happy."
"What about Professor Dumbledore?" Hermione looked around.
"It's been down here for over a year and it seems he never told Harry that it could be harvested." Daphne pointed out. "By getting official and professional representation we can stop him from taking it now. If he wanted it he should have said something sooner."
"Good point." Fleur agreed. "Besides, it is 'Arry's kill. 'Ee get's first rights to it."
"And when you get some money, you can get some decent clothes." Daphne added.
"Back off Greengrass." Hermione, still clutching Harry, felt the shift in his body.
Daphne quirked an eyebrow but fell silent.
"Sorry, I think I want to leave now." Harry finally said.
"I think that is a good idea." Tracy agreed. "We should wait until we have a team of Curse Breakers to make sure it's safe and find any hidden areas."
"It could become a part of the castle proper." Padma added.
"No offense, but I think the Slytherin's would take it over and hex everyone else to keep them away." Harry mumbled.
Daphne had to fight back a giggle to maintain her usual demeanour. "You might be right, but I do think that the whole school should be allowed to see this. For better or worse, it is a part of his legacy. But Trace is right, we don't know what else is down here. We should wait until we know it's safe. I'll owl my father and get him started."
"I will do the zame." Fleur agreed. "Per'aps zey can work togezer?"
"We will suggest it."
"I'll write my father too, I think he will know some people willing to purchase what is harvested." Padma added.
"Would they be buying the venom too?" Hermione asked. "Is that safe?"
"Oui." Fleur answered. "Zere are many honest uses. Like making anti-venom."
"Ah, I see." Hermione nodded. "Thanks."
Fleur smiled back at her.
The group split up once they reached the bathroom and dismounted. All of them were planning on taking a long shower to get clean after their brief sojourn in the bowels of the castle.
Then there were a few letters to be written. Then it was lunch time.
"Does it feel weird that it's only lunch time?" Harry commented as they sat to eat.
"Oui." Fleur agreed. "Being in zee Chamber does... distort zings."
"Sensory Deprivation." Hermione stated. "With a huge dose of shock and fear."
"Ah. Of course." Fleur nodded.
"Oh, Harry, before I forget, can I borrow Hedwig to send a letter to my parents?" Hermione asked.
"Sure. You need her permission more than mine." Harry joked lightly. "But I think she'll like the exercise."
"You need your owl to give permission?" Daphne quirked an eyebrow.
"Hedwig is not your usual owl." Hermione clarified.
"She's better at keeping me in line than Hermione, she's just not around as much at school." Harry grinned.
"So, to the Owlry after lunch then?" Padma asked. "I think we all have letters to deliver."
"Sure." Harry suddenly shifted his head as a large white owl back-winged to land silently on his shoulder. "Hey girl. How have you been?"
Hermione was the only one of the five girls, Tracy having followed Daphne to the Ravenclaw table, clustered around Padma who was familiar with how Harry interacted with his highly intelligent owl as he chatted and fed her treats.
"She is magnifique." Fleur hesitantly reached out a hand to stroke the white feathers.
Hedwig gave her and her hand a hard stare before relaxing and allowing the French girl to give her attention.
When Hermione noted that Hedwig had had her fill of attention she caught the owl's attention. "Hedwig, would you please take this letter to my parents?"
Hedwig nodded and flitted over next to Hermione and offered her leg. Hermione quickly attached the letter under the owl's strict observation and Hedwig launched into the air to carry out the delivery.
"Zat is a very intelligent owl." Fleur commented.
"Yeah, she's great." Harry grinned.
"You know Potter," Daphne regarded him, "you just get more and more interesting."
The next day got a fair amount of time in the air, given the good weather Padma ceded the day to Harry in case the next day wasn't as good.
Fleur managed to borrow a couple of brooms so they all had a decent broom at minimum and Harry spent the first half hour helping Hermione get more comfortable in the air before joining the other girls, minus Tracy, for some random form of aerial tag. With a lot of laughing.
Harry was definitely the hardest to tag and the girls ganged up on him, with little success. On a Firebolt the experienced Seeker was nearly untouchable.
"That does it. We're swapping brooms." Daphne demanded.
Harry laughed but landed so he could hand it over. Daphne only lasted a wobbly five minutes before a hard landing had her limping a little.
"Oww." Daphne rubbed her ankle. "That's not as easy as it looks."
"Are you okay?" Harry asked.
"Yeah. I just landed on it a bit hard." Daphne assured him. "Someone else can try it. I did learn one thing though."
"As good as the broom is, you have to be good to use it properly." Daphne looked back at the broom. "Maybe with a bit more practise I'll at least not make a fool of myself."
"I think you just rushed it a bit." Harry agreed. "If you want to try again later, just let me know."
"Thank you." Daphne actually gave him a small smile.
Harry smiled back then turned to the others. "Anyone else want a turn?"
"No thanks." Padma replied. "I know I'm not good enough."
"Me neither." Hermione agreed vehemently.
"I would like a turn." Fleur offered her own broom in exchange.
Fleur's broom was unlike any he had seen before, obviously made outside England. Fleur got off to a lightly wobbly start before she got a handle on Harry's broom and began swooping around gracefully.
Harry got a slower start as he carefully tested the broom's capabilities before he started pushing the limits. He scared Fleur a couple of times as he pulled moves she didn't know her broom was capable of.
""Arry, you are truly magnifique on a broom." Fleur complemented him when they swapped their brooms back.
"Thanks. You too. That's a really good broom." Harry returned the compliment. "I'm wondering what would happen if we merged the best parts of my broom and yours."
"Zat would be most interesting." Fleur agreed.
"Well, if you had studied Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, you could look into it." Hermione pointed out.
"I wish I'd known that last year." Harry grumped.
"If you're willing to put the work in, you could try catching up..." Hermione suggested. "It would mean working all summer break though."
"I'll think about it." Harry replied. "I need to focus on the Tournament first. I might borrow your books from last year, if possible, and see what I think."
"That's a good idea." Hermione nodded happily.
"If you wish to try making zis broom of yours, let me know." Fleur told him. "It sounds fun."
"Yes, it does." Padma agreed with Hermione nodding her own agreement.
"Well, if you manage to make it, let me know." Daphne added. "I'll help you sell it."
"It sounds like we just went into business together." Padma commented.
"I could think of worse things." Daphne replied.
Padma got the next day's activities and introduced them to some of her culture since Fleur showed some of hers on her day. This settled them into something of a routine. The remaining weeks of the holidays were essentially split the same way. A day of study and half a day each of activities purely for fun.
While five people didn't split into four half days very cleanly, Harry wasn't bothered. With the harsh winter weather there weren't many days suitable for flying so they grabbed the chance when they could and shifted the girl's turn to the next slot. Harry didn't have many other ideas to offer that the girls hadn't already suggested.
This did mean that he was learning a lot of different sorts of things. They hadn't actually started practising any of the spells they had found; that would wait until the new term started. They were on holiday and didn't want to spend too much time wasting their limited time off studying. Even Hermione was amiable to that which actually surprise Harry, though he figured she was learning other sorts of things so she was fine.
The problem was that the closer he got to the four girls the further he seemed to get from Ron who refused to associate with a 'Slimy Slytherin' or the 'French Bint'. Harry had to struggle to not attack the red-head for his casual and unfeeling insults towards the French Champion or his Slytherin acquaintance. He even seemed to have an issue with Harry befriending Padma, even though he had basically rejected her at the Yule Ball.
It was Neville who seemed to be replacing Ron as Harry's male friend. The shy boy had procured several small pieces of Gillyweed for Harry, as a gift. Each would only give ten or so minutes of use but they would be enough to test their effectiveness.
This led them back to the Prefect Bathroom to try it out and to test it out. This time they all brought something to swim in; Harry got Hermione to transfigure something for him. Hermione's reply from her parents took longer than she expected but her father had provided an unexpected response to one of her comments about the upcoming task; information about non-magical propulsion in and under water.
Hermione pondered this new information carefully. Mostly it was useless; the majority of non-magical aquatic propulsion used a propeller. The bit that had her deep in thought was her father's reference to a water jet that used high-pressure water forced out of the back of the boat to propel it forward. The jet worked equally both above and under the surface, as long as the intake was suitably submerged. So all she had to do was find a magical equivalent.
Their group visit to the bathroom clearly displayed the cultural differences between everyone. Harry was wearing some transfigured swimming shorts and a fitted t-shirt, thanks to some precision spell work by Hermione, which she turned into a lesson so Harry could repeat it himself in the future. Hermione herself was wearing what would have been a modest bikini during the summer. Her growth during the year had been a little more than she anticipated and it was now a little more revealing than she expected. At least Harry was the only male who would see her.
Fleur had a sleek silver one-piece while Padma and Daphne's selections were close to old full-body bathing costumes, not quite Victorian but not far off.
"What in Merlin's name do you call that?" Daphne looked Hermione over.
"A bikini." Hermione replied. "A perfectly normal muggle swimsuit. Though I'm out growing this one."
"Non, it just enhances your femininity." Fleur smiled as she looked the younger girl over. "Zee colour suits you too."
"Thanks." Hermione smiled back, beginning to relax.
"I think my parents would have a heart attack if they saw me dressed like that." Padma commented. "If they survived... I would be punished rather badly for dressing so immodestly."
"I didn't even know such things existed." Daphne added.
"Zis is what 'appens when the Magical World is so distant from zee Muggle one." Fleur explained. "You don't see zee changes. Muggles 'ave very good clozing for all occasions. You can zee girls wearing less at French beaches."
"They have nude beaches too." Hermione added.
Harry blinked and turned bright red.
Hermione laughed at him. "I've seen them, but I've not indulged in that practise."
"Per'aps if you visit me zis summer you can in a more private setting." Fleur grinned.
"I might consider that." Hermione replied.
Harry's brain was about to melt and Hermione pushed him into the bath to force a reset.
"Honestly Harry." Hermione scolded when he had resurfaced. "It's like you think I'm a nun or something."
"I have no idea what a nun is like." Harry replied. "It's more I didn't know girls would go naked in public, or outside, or anything like that."
Hermione was about to reply but stopped and cocked her head as she studied him. "I understand. Dumbledore really is an idiot sometimes. You really need to travel and see the World."
"Like Dumbledore would let me." Harry sighed heavily.
"I wish he would let you have a proper holiday for once." Hermione agreed as she stepped into the giant tub. "Well, for now let's focus on getting you and Fleur ready for the task."
Harry nodded and waded to the edge of the tub so he could get the packet of Gillyweed from his bag. As he chewed on a small piece the other three girls joined him and Fleur in the tub and Harry found he had to duck under the water to breath.
Harry found himself enjoying his time underwater. The Gillyweed gave him gills and webbing between his fingers and toes to make swimming easier and a little over ten minutes later he was forced to surface as it wore off.
"That is brilliant." Harry grinned, "The change is a little uncomfortable but apart from that it's really good. A lot of fun too."
"Well, that's good to know." Padma replied. "Now, can you get Hermione to tell us what she is doing? She's been ignoring us."
"I heard that." Hermione commented absently.
"Then can you give us an answer?" Harry prompted.
"Failing miserably." Hermione sighed as she stopped. "This is a time when magic is a pain in the behind."
"What are you trying to do?" Fleur asked.
"I asked my father about how muggles propel themselves through water and the main methods are a propeller or a water jet. The problem is that magic seems to ignore Newton's Third Law."
"I'm not familiar with that one." Daphne admitted. "Or 'Newton'."
"That's the action and reaction one right?" Harry tried to remember.
"Exactly." Hermione beamed at Harry. "Newton is a muggle scientist who wrote some laws on how physical objects move and interact. His Third Law is that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is actually a major underlying rule used by a huge range of muggle devices. The problem is that even when producing a physical effect, magic doesn't produce an equivalent reaction for your action."
"What were you trying to do?" Harry asked.
"I wondered if the Aquamentia spell could be used as a water jet to propel you through the water but it doesn't produce back pressure, even underwater."
"Of course not." Daphne pointed out. "What would be the use of that?"
"You could zip through the water several times faster if it did." Hermione replied.
"Zere is still zee propeller option." Fleur pointed out. "Per'aps we can work togezer and make something for 'Arry and myself. I 'ave no issues working wiz you for zis task. If fact I 'ave been zinking about 'oo would be picked for each champion."
"And?" Daphne looked at her curiously.
"I zink more than one of you tree will be at zee bottom of zee lake." Fleur stated ominously and pointed at Hermione then Daphne. "Victor. 'Arry."
"Of course; the Ball..." Hermione's voice trailed off.
"I think you're right. Who would your hostage be?" Daphne asked Fleur.
"I do now know." Fleur admitted. "But I 'ave become closer to zee four of you zan anyone at my school."
"So, me then." Padma guessed.
Harry was getting angry. "Fleur, you have a deal. We work together as a team and make sure every single one of them is safe."
"Oui. Deal." Fleur swam closer to shake his hand and seal their agreement.
"Then before we get changed I'm going to measure all of us." Hermione interjected. "My parents suggested wetsuits to help protect us from the cold of the lake. I'm going to make sure we are all fully prepared."
"I can make a petiete bag for us to 'old this suit and a little Gillyweed. Just to be safe." Fleur offered. "I will 'elp 'Ermione make a means to move through zee lake too."
"Then what do I do?" Harry asked.
"You work on learning 'ow to fight underwater." Fleur met his eye. "My magic will be... limited under zee water."
"Because Veela are of fire and air?" Padma guessed.
"Oui." Fleur gave the girl a nod. "Anozer reason I am glad for zee 'elp."
"Okay." Harry nodded.
"I'll help you with that." Daphne offered. "Just promise I won't spend a second longer down there than necessary."
"I promise." Harry smiled at her. "And thank you."
A rare smile touched Daphne's lips in return.
Classes restarted and January progressed. Harry found himself spending a lot of time with Daphne and Padma as they helped him train for the upcoming task. Hermione seemed to have a new best friend in Fleur as they worked on constructing the devices to aid them and was always really cheerful after their sessions.
"Is there a problem with me being happy?" Hermione glared at him when he commented on it.
"Of course not. It's nice seeing my friends happy. I was just curious." Harry assured her.
Hermione relaxed. "It's nice to have someone, especially a girl, who is willing to really get deep into the academics of what we're doing. Padma and Daphne can but struggle to keep up, mostly because I like to apply muggle theory as well. Fleur knows enough so she can keep up."
"She's not stealing you away from me, is she?"
"Never." Hermione swatted at him lightly before giving him a one arm hug. "We're far too good a team. You give me a different perspective, more so now that you are taking your studies and training seriously. Between the two of you I get a good breadth of opinion."
"Happy to help."
"Likewise." Hermione smiled at him. "I promise you, you are my first and best friend. No spell or muggle tool will ever pry me away from you."
"Thanks." Harry looked away not understanding the emotions that were suddenly bubbling within.
It was the first weekend in February and the pair of Gryffindors had been warned to keep their day free and head to the Beauxbaton's carriage straight after breakfast. They found out why when they were introduced to a rather large group of people who had commandeered one of the larger rooms.
The return introductions meant he met the fathers of the three girls he become friends with over the last couple of months. There were also two teams there, a team of harvesters for the basilisk corpse and a team of curse breakers to explore the Chamber.
"Uh, it's nice to meet you all." Harry felt rather awkward.
"You as well." Anton Delacour gave him a nod. "Before we head up to the castle and see the carcass, we need to go over this contract."
Harry joined Fleur's father at the table and listened as each section was carefully explained and Harry initialled it to indicate he understood and approved it.
"Bon. " Anton smiled as the contract was signed by all parties and then duplicated so they all had several copies. "Now we go visit this beast of yours."
"Can we change first and I hope you have brooms." Harry said.
"We were informed about that requirement." Anton replied. "We are fully prepared."
Fleur opened her robes, showing that she was already wearing the same clothes from the last visit. "I can lead them to the entrance while you both go change."
Harry and Hermione nodded and hurried off so they wouldn't keep everyone waiting.
The large group must have given them a head start because they were only just arriving when they got there with several professors in tow.
Professor Dumbledore seemed to be arguing with the three parents and being rebuffed.
"Harry." Dumbledore spotted him. "Can you explain this please?"
"I was told there was some money to be made off that basilisk I killed, so I thought 'why not'. It'll help me when I graduate. I've only got so much gold in that vault of mine; I need to make it last." Harry shrugged.
"Why didn't you come to me about that?"
"Why didn't you tell me it could be harvested?"
"I'm sure it just slipped my mind."
"Likewise." Harry followed Hermione into the bathroom and opened the sinks.
The adults who followed stared as the sinks completed opening.
"This way." Was all Harry said before stepping into the pitch black hole.
"I recommend leaving a few seconds between each person to let the one before get clear." Hermione said before following Harry.
There were strangled gasps from the three fathers as they watch their daughter's calmly follow after the two Gryffindor's.
There was a flurry of activity as the two team leaders consulted and set up a plan to get them and their equipment down safely.
The five students at the bottom stayed out of the way as people and equipment were efficiently moved down into the deep underground tunnels.
"Lead on." The designated team leader told Harry once all the people and equipment were organised.
Harry nodded and led them through the tunnels and into the Chamber itself.
It didn't take them long to spot the dead basilisk at which point the swearing started.
"Language!" Harry scolded the grown men causing Hermione to roll her eyes at him.
"Fuck my language!" One of the men fired back. "How the fuck did you kill that thing by yourself?"
"Well, after Fawkes, a phoenix, blinded it I ran a sword up through the inside of its mouth." Harry shrugged.
"Without getting bitten?"
"No, it bit me but Fawkes managed to heal me." Harry replied.
That had everyone staring at him in awe.
"Kid, you ever want a job as a monster hunter, come see me." The leader told him. "If you can do this at fourteen I really want to see what you can do once you've got your NEWTs."
"I killed it when I was twelve." Harry repeated.
"Damn. When did you do at thirteen then?"
"He chased off about a hundred dementors with his patronus." Hermione interjected. "And if you keep trying to get him to walk such a dangerous path like that then I will be having words with you!"
"And you won't want that." Harry whispered to him. "She scares me more that the basilisk did."
"Right." The man grinned as he whispered back. "No pissing off the missus. You lose all the nice perks that come with it."
"She's not my girlfriend." Harry pointed out.
The man studied him. "So she bosses you around without giving any perks? You need to work on your negotiating skills."
"She helps keep me alive; I think it's a fair trade." Harry shrugged. "She's the one who figured out what was down here after all."
"Hmm. I suppose you are a little young for the real perks. Well, time to get to work. Unpack and get busy."
Everyone bustled into activity. They knew their jobs and did them quickly and efficiently.
"Well Daphne." Lord Greengrass spoke to his eldest child. "When you told me you negotiated such a low fee I was not impressed but I can see you still made us more than we normally would. Choosing Potter as an ally was an unexpected move but it seems to be paying off."
"He has much to learn of our world but being a little more generous is definitely beneficial." Daphne replied. "I enjoyed my time at the Yule Ball and I am learning things I never expected to; he taught me to cast the Patronus Charm."
"You can cast it?" Lord Greengrass actually looked surprised, his impassive mask failing.
"Somewhat. I've room for improvement but I can get good results."
"You wish for an alliance with Potter."
"It seems a viable option. Even the company he currently keeps is… entertaining. Certainly worth being around."
"Then I will leave you to continue. If I can aid you, please let me know."
"Thank you, Father. I deeply appreciate your offer. I will let you know." Daphne gave her father one of their rare expressions of affection before they turned to watch everyone at work.
Harry was working closely with the Curse Breakers exploring the Chamber, his ability with parseltongue necessary to open the hidden rooms they found. The rooms contained nothing of value though. Either Tom had taken everything of value or Salazar hadn't left anything. Or time's ravages had stolen them.
"Pity." Harry sighed. "It would have been nice to find something."
"That's just how it is." One of the Curse Breakers replied philosophically. "Sometimes you search a place and disarm all the traps to find it empty. Or just a dead snake."
Harry glanced over at the bloody mess that was the basilisk. "I could have done without that one."
That got a lot of laughter from the adults.
The basilisk was harvested and the usable parts were taken for processing. Padma's father would arrange the sales of a small amount to cover everyone's fees and the rest would be held for Harry until he decided what to do with it; sell or keep. And he had somewhere to store what he was keeping. It would be months before the processing was done for the most difficult parts anyway.
Daphne's father did comment that his caution might be in his best interest in the long run; by not releasing too much too quickly the prices would remain high, if not increase given the potential quality of these parts. Slow and steady would maximise his profits, even if he stuck to reputable buyers only.
Dumbledore had more than a few words with Harry regarding the harvested parts leaving the castle but the signed and sealed contracts took away any ground he had to stand on. Especially given the argument that if the Tournament was only for adults and Harry was forced to compete then he had a default adult status and could enter such an agreement without needing an adult to countersign.
It didn't make Ron any happier to know he'd missed out on everything. Even less so when Harry pointed out it was his own fault for being unable to tolerate Daphne. The rage on Ron's face had two of their three dorm-mates pulling wands while the third ran for a Prefect for help.
Harry was more than glad that he now had a few spells he could cast to protect himself while he slept and his trunk on a more permanent basis. A bonus was that the Dursley's wouldn't be able to keep it from him or do anything to his stuff if he was forced to return to them that summer.
As for the four girls, he kept on spending lots of time with them, both training and just having fun; although they did make learning fun. They also made repeated visits to the Prefect's Bathroom. In theory it was continue training but mostly because it was fun. It became more fun when Padma and Daphne took the plunge and got Fleur to transfigure muggle style swimwear for them; they had very attractive bodies hidden away and Harry felt very lucky to get to see them, even if they did tease him about his blushing.
They had everything ready more than a week before the Task was to begin and they just had to wait, which was probably even harder than studying to figure out the Task and how to beat it.
Then the morning of the Task came and both Fleur and Harry had to struggle through breakfast. A breakfast where Daphne and Padma were present but not Hermione.
"If anything happens to her…" Harry growled as Padma tried to get him to eat.
"We will make them pay." Daphne emphasised the 'we'.
"Oui. But now we 'ave to figure out my 'ostage." Fleur sighed.
"At least we know of one person down there so we can track her." Harry's hands tightened until his knuckles were white.
"Relax." Padma stroked his hand. "Eat, keep your strength up, both of you, and bring them back to us."
"That's an order." Daphne added with a small, teasing, smile.
Harry managed a small smile back. "Should we tell Cedric and Krum about having a tag on one of the hostages? I know I should be competing to win but there are people down there, at the bottom of a cold lake. I care more about getting them back safely."
"I know." Daphne nodded. "And I should growl at you for your lack of competitiveness. But I know you well enough now to know you put lives above winning. The two of you can make that choice for yourselves."
"I zink 'Arry 'as a point." Fleur said slowly. "If eet were just us four zen fine but not with innocent's at risk. We will tell zem. Zee rest is up to zem."
Time seemed to drag until they had to head to the event. Harry and Fleur had to go change first so Fleur, coming from her school's carriage, said she would meet them there.
As such Harry was flanked by just his Ravenclaw and Slytherin friends as he headed down to the lake. Fleur was already there and looking a little panicked.
"Fleur?" Harry hurried to her side.
"I cannot find Gabby." Fleur replied before dissolving into French.
"Uh?" Harry looked at Daphne and Padma for help.
"Her little sister is missing."
"Her… sis…ter…" Harry finished in a groan. "I think I know where she is."
Fleur looked at him as he stared at the lake and began growling.
"Now she is just swearing. Badly. Quite educational actually." Daphne looked impressed. "You don't normally get to learn this side of a language unless you grow up with it. Padma, I don't suppose you know any from your family's native tongue?"
"One or two. I suppose I could share them." Padma grinned. "Now, you two. Focus! Go save them! Fast!"
Harry nodded and took Fleur's arm and guided her to where the other Champions were waiting.
"You ready?" Cedric asked.
"To do the task? Sure." Harry's voice descended to a growl. "To kick the arse of whoever thought dumping people at the bottom of the lake was a good idea? I can't wait!"
"So that explains why I haven't seen Cho since last night." Cedric's expression turned unhappy.
"Hermione and Fleur's little sister are down there too." Harry told them. "I've a tracking spell on Hermione so I can find them easily. Try to keep up."
Victor Krum grinned. "Zat a challenge?"
Harry returned the older boy's grin with a hard look. "My best friend is stuck at the bottom of a freezing cold lake along with another friend's little sister and two others. I don't give a damn who wins as long as everyone comes back safely."
"If you are ready..." Ludo Bagman interrupted.
"Just start the damn task already." Harry snarled at the older man.
Fortunately Harry wasn't heard by anyone other than the other three Champions. He listened with mounting frustration as the presenter kept talking until finally the cannon sounded to start the task. Harry pulled out the slimy water weed and began chewing while Fleur summoned their additional gear and attached the propulsion devices to herself and Harry. With Harry now struggling to breathe they dove in.
Harry activated the tracker on Hermione and gripped Fleur's hand as they made full use of their better speed to overtake the other two and leave them behind. They descended quickly, and then kept going down as the lake floor fell away underneath them as they swam to the centre of the lake.
This proved to be a mistake. They were swimming over a bed of thick kelp when a swarm for grindylows burst out of the thick greenery like an armada of underwater pygmies.
Fleur knew her magic lacked potency underwater and so she let Harry take the lead while she covered his back. From there she got a perfect view as the younger wizard proved he was more than just a famous name. His wand shifted smoothly and with a speed that seemed to defy the resistance of the water.
The problem was that while they were fighting they lost speed allowing the grindylows to try and surround them. Fleur picked off a few who managed to circumvent Harry's wide area of fire and tried to pull him along and get clear of the water monsters territory.
Finally the water monsters gave up and let the pair swim away. Fleur got a good look at Harry's expression and knew he felt exactly the same as he did; that was too close for comfort. How Harry had managed to maintain such a furious rate of powerful casting was beyond her but she was glad he had. If she had been alone she was have been forced to retire. Or killed.
Maintaining a greater distance from the bottom in case of another ambush they proceeded as fast as they could to make up for lost time. They heard the village before they saw it; the poem from the egg was being sung in a haunting, and what felt like a taunting, chorus from directly in front of them. Finally the merfolk's village came into view and the cluster of singing merfolk guided them to a stone formation to which four people were tethered.
Harry spotted the shining blonde hair first, so similar to Fleur's. Next to her was the distinctive bushy brunette hair of Hermione. Harry and Fleur separated to retrieve their own hostages and Fleur easily freed her little sister. Harry wasn't so lucky.
As he approached his best friend a merman blocked his way.
"Hey!" Harry tried to protest but it was more bubbles than words.
"Only take your own!" The merman ordered, pointing to another hostage with familiar red hair.
Harry needed a minute to recognise Ron Weasley; he was the last person he was expecting down here.
A movement off to the side had him looking back at Fleur who had already freed her sister and wanting to return to the surface. She was pointing at Hermione vigorously, obviously telling him to hurry up.
Harry response made his confusion and frustration very clear and he pointed to Ron. At least Fleur looked as confused as he was about why he would have to retrieve someone he was barely speaking to.
Harry motioned for her to get her sister to safety and Fleur looked torn but Harry insisted and with a glare that spelled out, very clearly, what would happen to him if he didn't return safely she left; taking a steep ascent to avoid any dangers to her unconscious sibling.
Harry reluctantly freed the red head while keeping a careful eye on Hermione. She was far more important to him that the belligerent Weasley he had used to be close to.
He was lucky he didn't have to wait long; Cedric arrived a short while later and quickly freed Cho and began his own ascent. Victor wasn't far behind Cedric but his partial transfiguration was not well suited for freeing his hostage and Harry punched his shoulder to get his attention before the Bulgarian Quidditch star accidently dismembered the girl.
The diver's knife was handed over, Hermione was released, the knife returned and Harry followed them back to the surface. The race to the finish line, the dock, didn't begin until they were all safely back on the surface. Harry used his advantage of having propulsion to get ahead of Victor and even managed to catch up to Cedric to take second place by an extremely close margin.
Madam Pomfrey tried to bustle him off to the medical tent but he refused to budge until he had helped Hermione onto the dock and then he had a long wait for the gillyweed to wear off.
Hermione was rushed behind a screen for a thorough drying and examination all the while the Healer scolded the imbeciles who thought dumping a bunch of children at the bottom of the lake was a good idea. Then she was given a pepper-up potion, followed by a hot drink and was bundled up to sit next to Fleur and Gabrielle.
"Is 'Arry alright?" Fleur asked, looking around for him.
"I think so. He helped me out of the water so he made it back." Hermione looked around as well.
"He might 'ave to wait for zee gillyweed to wear off." Fleur guessed.
"I think you may be right." Hermione nodded and focused on the tent's entrance.
"Hermioninny?" Victor Krum drew her attention away from the tents flaps.
"Hi, Victor. Are you okay?" Hermione smiled up at him.
"Da. I must apologise to you. If it were not for Harry, I might have injured you badly. I apologise." Victor bowed.
"Thank you. I'm glad Harry was looking out for me." Hermione nodded. "Apology accepted."
"Da." Victor nodded.
"I had Gabby." Fleur added. "Cedric 'ad 'is girlfriend. Why did 'Arry 'ave zat red-'aired boy?"
"Ron?" Hermione shrugged. "No idea. It doesn't make any sense. Sure, they were friends but they've barely spoken this year; ever since Halloween. There was a bit between the First Task and the Yule Ball but that's it. Daphne or Padma would have made much more sense."
"Oui. I do not know what they were thinking. About any of zis." Fleur shrugged. "But 'Arry was not going to leave wizout you."
Hermione shook her head in exasperation, but had a small smile.
"He could have beaten me back to dock by more than he did." Victor added.
"That's Harry. He cares more about people's safety than winning." Hermione explained.
Gabrielle suddenly started tugging at Fleur and pointing.
"Ah, 'ere comes 'Arry." Fleur lit up.
A dripping Harry was hurried behind a screen by Madam Pomfrey and more of the Healer's grumbling emerged.
Finally Harry was released and joined them in his own blanket. "Is everyone okay?"
"Oui." Fleur nodded.
"Yes." Hermione added. "Thanks for looking out for me down there."
"And me too." Fleur stood and kissed both his cheeks twice with firm, lingering kisses. "I would 'ave been beaten by zose grindylows wizout you."
"It's fine. I'm just glad it's over and everyone is okay." Harry blushed.
Fleur just smiled and give his cheeks another pair of kisses before sitting.
"Here." Hermione gently tugged at his blanket as she shifted over so he could sit between them. "Sit here."
Harry tried to sit but Dumbledore appeared in the tent's entrance. "Can the Champions please join us outside for your scores?"
Harry grumbled but headed out with Fleur at his side.
Ludo Bagman began his closing speech, his magically enhanced voice booming out across the lake. "Well, that was exciting wasn't it? But what you really want to know are the scores, don't you?
"First and Second place; Fleur Delacour of Beaubaxtons and Harry Potter of Hogwarts. They surprised us all when they worked together didn't they? Fleur used the Bubblehead Charm and Harry used Gillyweed and they jointly used some enchanted devices. After an epic battle with a swarm of Grindylow they retrieved their hostages and returned, Fleur at thirty nine minutes and Harry at fifty two minutes racing the other two Champions to the finish line.
"Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts also used the Bubblehead Charm most effectively and was third and also at fifty two minutes.
"Last, but by no means least, Victor Krum of Durmstrang used an interesting, but very effective, partial transfiguration and returned at fifty four minutes."
Ludo stopped to let everyone applaud. "Now, after consultation with the Leader of the Merfolk the judges made their final score as follows: Fleur Delacour, full marks at fifty points."
The French section of the stands exploded in cheers.
"Cedric Diggory gets forty points and Victor Krum gets thirty five points."
There was more applause but it seemed to be questioning.
"Now," Ludo seemed to get more excited, "I haven't forgotten Harry Potter. He reached the hostages with Fleur Delacour but actually remained behind when Fleur left to ensure the other hostages were rescued and held back until they reached surface before making his dash for the finish line. He showed a strong moral character, a shining example to us all.
"While we were unable to give him the full points most of us felt he deserved." Ludo shot a glare at Igor Karkarof. "We were able to give him a very well deserved forty seven points."
The majority of the Hogwarts contingent exploded in cheers and applause.
"So, after two tasks the scores are as follows..." Ludo continued once the cheering died down. "The Third Task will take place in June; the Champions will be given some details about it a month beforehand to allow them time to prepare. It will be a Winner-Takes-All rush to the finish line. I can't wait. Thank you and have a good day."
"Come on." Madam Pomfrey bustled over. "You should all go take a hot shower and put on some clean clothes."
"That sounds nice." Harry agreed.
"Come on." Hermione linked her arm with his.
Fleur, gave him a final hug before she took her little sister back to the Beauxbaton's carriage.
Harry smiled as he saw Daphne and Padma pushing through the crowd to join them.
"Congratulations." Padma beamed at him. "You did great. You're leading the whole Tournament."
"Indeed." Daphne gave him a nod. "It seems like all your preparations worked nicely."
"'Our' preparations." Harry corrected. "I couldn't have done it without all your help."
"I was a little worried when Fleur returned without you." Padma added.
"She had to get her little sister out of there so I told her to go. I only stayed long enough to ensure Hermione would be safe." Harry replied. "Just as well too."
"Oh?" Daphne raised an eyebrow slightly.
"Krum's transfiguration was a little dangerous; he nearly hurt Hermione getting her free." Harry explained. "I don't think she would have been too happy to be missing a leg or two."
"No, I would not." Hermione agreed. "Thank you for looking out for me."
"Any time." Harry smiled.
"I imagine the Gryffindor's will want to have a big party." Daphne noted. "Can we meet up tomorrow?"
"Sure. Usual place?" Harry checked.
It took a while before the rest of Gryffindor let Harry and Hermione leave for long enough to shower and change before re-joining the normal ruckus that accompanied a Gryffindor party.
Ron was more than a bit grumpy as he watched the pair head for their respective stairs. Sure he had been a part of the task but Harry had obviously been more focused on Hermione and the French veela sisters while he had been forgotten. It had been since that Slytherin girl had ordered Harry to take her to the ball. Harry had changed at that point and gotten increasingly distant to him. She must have done something to him, there was no other explanation.
Harry was sick of repeating himself about what the depths of the lake were like, or being asked about Fleur. It was after midnight before he managed to escape everyone and head to bed. He was utterly exhausted by that point. He'd worked harder than he realised during the task and was in need of rest.
He didn't even manage to undress; he just kicked off his shoes and burrowed into his blankets before passing out more than falling asleep.
It didn't seem like much time had passed before he was being shook awake.
"Come on, you have to get up. It's lunch time." Hermione's voice invaded his returning consciousness.
"Wha…." Harry broke off to yawn. "Oh, 'Minee. Hi."
Hermione giggled. "Come on. I know you're still tired but you have to eat."
Harry let himself get hauled into a sitting position and slouched there as he tried to finish waking up.
"Harry." Hermione kept prodding him. "Go have a shower; that'll wake you up."
The shower did wake Harry up and he dressed and joined Hermione down in the Common Room to head to the Great Hall.
"You awake yet?" Hermione teased him.
"Yeah. I just feel really out of sorts." Harry tried to shake off his bad mood.
"I'm sorry I woke you but you really do need to eat. A good lunch and dinner and an early night should see you right." Hermione assured him. "From what Fleur said, you singlehandedly fought off an army of grindylows down there."
"Well, there were a lot of them but I couldn't have managed without Fleur helping." Harry shrugged.
"Yeah, that's you." Hermione smiled as she took his arm and pulled him out of the Portrait doorway. "Always underplaying your part in things. I'm just really glad we all made it through that safely."
"Me too." Harry agreed fervently.
"But why was Ron picked as your hostage? You haven't had a rational conversation with him since the Yule Ball. And there was that big gap between Halloween and the First Task." Hermione pondered out loud. "He hasn't been a good friend to you this year."
"He's not so bad." Harry replied absently.
"Huh?" Hermione actually stopped in her tracks. "Where did that come from? He actively dislikes Daphne and Padma and is jealous about Fleur and lashes out at you because of it."
Harry frowned. "I don't know why I said that."
"Would I sound paranoid if I said we needed to keep an eye on him?"
"Moody is paranoid. You're just cautious."
"Thank you." Hermione smiled. "Now come on. I'm hungry and you must be starving."
"I'm okay…" Harry's stomach gurgled loudly. "Or not. I think my appetite has just woken up as well."
Hermione laughed and pulled him along.
Padma, Fleur and Daphne all joined him as they sat at the end of the Gryffindor table.
"Afternoon. How are you?" Padma greeted him. "We missed you at breakfast."
"Sorry, but I was more tired than I thought. And it didn't get to bed as early as I wanted." Harry replied. "I'm still tired now."
"And grouchy." Hermione added.
"Well, eat up and shake off your mood." Daphne told him. "I want to talk to you afterwards. Alone preferably, but I assume Hermione will insist on joining you."
"If you don't mind." Hermione nodded.
"I'll survive." Daphne shrugged, but they could tell she was just playing with them.
Harry loaded him plate and began eating, only half listening in to the conversation around them.
Afterwards they found an empty classroom and Daphne pulled Harry in first, asking Fleur and Padma to wait. Surprisingly Hermione waited outside as well.
"So…" Harry sat on a desk.
"How serious are you about winning the Tournament?" Daphne demanded more than asked.
"Dunno. I've been more focused on surviving it than anything else." Harry admitted.
"Understandable." Daphne agreed. "But the Third Task seems to be different and only involve Champions."
"Hmm." Harry nodded.
"What I want to know is, could you go for the win, even if it means beating the others." Daphne met his eye. "I'm not suggesting you cheat or hurt one of the other champions, you aren't like that and I won't ask you to change, that'd be pointless. Could you fight for the win like you were trying to beat Malfoy to the snitch in a Quidditch finals?"
Harry pondered. "I don't know. They don't irritate me like Malfoy does, and I do see Cedric as the proper Hogwarts Champion."
"I had gotten that far." Daphne rolled her eyes.
"Why are you asking anyway?"
"Because I am offering to help you and want to know if you are willing to make it worth my effort." Daphne explained. "If you are beaten then you are beaten but I will expect you to fight hard for the win."
"Hard but fair huh?"
"Exactly. With both bravery and cunning."
"Trying to turn me into a Slytherin?"
"If that's what it takes for you to win."
"I beg your pardon…"
"Why do you want me to win so much?" Harry expanded his question.
Daphne blinked at the unexpected question. "What do you mean?"
"It's not that I don't appreciate all the help you've given me but to go this far… I'd just like to know why?"
Daphne shifted uncomfortably. "To be honest, I'm not really sure. Possibly investing in the future. I've come to enjoy your company."
"I consider you a friend now too, but you don't have to go that far to keep my friendship."
"I know." Daphne looked down. "But I want to."
"What about Fleur?"
"I've nothing against her; she's become a friend too." Daphne replied far quicker than she would have liked. "But she became my friend because of you."
"Still…" Harry wasn't convinced.
Daphne let out a long sigh. "Becoming friends with you has changed my life in so many different ways, pretty much all for the better. No one is Slytherin is going to challenge me, other than Malfoy's little crew, since we got the basilisk harvested. Having everyone find out how big that thing was made a very big impression on them. Malfoy lost a lot of support in the process. And for myself and Tracy to have been down there helped to raise our own standings too."
"Glad I could help." Harry chuckled.
"So let me help you now. And you need it more anyway; the others have years of education on you."
"I dunno. Between trolls, cerebus, dark lords, acromantulas, basilisks and dementors I think I've got a bit of experience on them."
"All of those?" Daphne looked faint. "When did you come across a cerebus or an acromantula?"
"Hagrid has a pet cerebus called Fluffy, I met that first year. And there's an acromantula colony in the Forbidden Forest."
"Just one of the reasons why it's forbidden I guess." Daphne shivered. "Still. I want to do this for you. But I want you to put the work in and fight to win."
"How would this work? If we were to do it?" Harry asked.
"We would arrange training sessions for just the two of us. I would work on specific things with you then."
"Well, it sounds okay. But why keep this from the others?"
"Because what I will be teaching you are things we don't normally let anyone outside out family know."
"Then why share them with me?"
"I… It just feels like the right thing to do." Daphne pushed past the awkward question. "Anyway, I will only be sharing some of the more basic things not the really secret ones."
"And all I have to do is fight hard for the win."
Harry pondered carefully. It didn't seem like a trap, she genuinely seemed to want to help him. As long as he was careful then surely the worst she could do is ask a favour of him afterwards, if he won the Tournament. And not a big favour either really since she had offered this as a gift.
"Alright. You set you the times and I'll be there." Harry made his decision.
Daphne actually smiled. "Agreed."
"And you can tell the others." Harry added.
Daphne huffed but with good humour. "Very well. Though I would have thought a Gryffindor would have more courage."
"You need a monster slaying and I'll show you courage." Harry fired back.
"Very true." Daphne conceded. But not completely. "But you don't do so well against girls."
"No." Harry admitted freely.
Daphne burst out laughing. She couldn't help it.
Still chuckling she let the others in. "So, what are we doing today?"
"I want to dance." Fleur stated.
Harry found himself being pulled into the middle of a room who's desks were moving to the to the walls and music started playing.
"Shall we?" Daphne nudged Padma.
"Uh, okay." Padma gave a hesitant nod and let herself be pulled forward.
Harry didn't get much time to rest. While Fleur and Daphne were willing to lead another girl in a dance, Harry was the preferred dance partner.
"Thank you." Harry said suddenly when they had all stopped to rest.
"For what?" Hermione asked, curious at his sudden statement.
"Teaching me to dance. I'm glad. I really do enjoy it. It's fun."
Hermione hugged him firmly. "You're welcome."
"Oui." Fleur gave him a quick hug as well.
"So, what did Daphne want to talk to you about?" Hermione asked Harry as they sat down in the Gryffindor Common Room.
"She made me an interesting offer. I can't really talk about it though. Basically she would share some of her family's lower level secrets with me as long as I promise to 'go for the win' in the Third Task."
"You agreed, didn't you?" Hermione guessed.
"Yes. So I will spending some time alone with her."
"Okay." Hermione nodded. "I understand. Just let me know if anything odd happens."
For a normally very reserved person, Daphne was passionate about her family's secrets and teachings. She constantly forced Harry to do better. When he described what she was like to the other girls Fleur giggled and offered to get Daphne a leather outfit and whip.
Daphne glared at her while Padma and Hermione laughed. Harry's teasing comment made them laugh even harder.
"That could work on her. It would certainly keep my attention completely on her. Perhaps a little too much."
Daphne blushed slightly even though she glared at him; the complement in the gentle tease made her happy.
Harry was progressing very well and keeping up with his school work at the same time. He found that by focusing hard on completing his class work and assignments he actually had more time to spare, even with Daphne added her own lessons to the mix. This allowed the odd group to keep having plenty of fun together.
But life wasn't all fun and games for Harry. He was feeling more and more irritable in the mornings until one morning he snapped.
"SOD OFF." Harry snarled.
Hermione stared at him with wide eyes. "Harry? What's wrong?
Harry seemed as surprised by his outburst as everyone else was. "I don't know. Can I just get some quiet? Please?"
"Okay." Hermione nodded meekly. "Perhaps you should take a quite walk; it's nice outside and the fresh air might just be what you need to shake this mood."
"Fine." Harry said tightly as he stood and stormed out.
"He's really feeling the pressure, isn't he?" Padma commented. "I've noticed he's been getting more and more annoyed every morning. Is he sleeping alright?"
"I think so. He's not said anything. Of course, he probably wouldn't even if there was an issue." Hermione watched Harry vanish out of the Great Hall. "He's not normally like that though."
"Pile up some toast." Fleur told them. "We will go outside and keep an eye on him. From a nice distance."
The other three girls nodded and did just that. Outside they found a spot where they could watch a frustrated Harry pace along the lakeshore in the distance. And tried to figure out what could have caused Harry to get so angry.
"Daphne's lessons?" Hermione suggested.
"I don't think so. Yes, I push him but he's doing really well, better than me actually, and I've told him that. He actually seems happier after those sessions." Daphne replied.
"The Tournament?" Padma offered her suggestion.
"Possibly, a little at least." Hermione pondered. "But he wasn't this bad before either of the first two tasks, and that involved dragons or a friend in danger. If it were closer to the Third Task then maybe but... I don't think so right now."
"Sexual frustration?" Fleur suggested and found herself the target over several stares. "What? He is about the age to start getting interested and having four beautiful girls constantly around him could be difficult."
"I think there would be more blushing and stammering and less anger." Hermione pointed out.
"Oui, I did not zink it likely."
"Could it be all of the above?" Daphne suggested. "Lots of things building up until he reaches breaking point?"
"No. He would be getting worse during the day, not better. It's more likely a sleeping problem." Hermione sighed.
"Then perhaps you need to watch him sleep." Fleur suggested. "A pepper up potion on Friday night and sleep in Saturday morning."
"You want me to spend the night in the boy's dorm?" Hermione snorted.
"That would get you in a lot of trouble if you were caught." Padma told her.
"She would need to use the disillusionment charm to hide herself then." Fleur told them.
"It's a lot to ask for just one person." Padma mused.
"And how would you suggest one of us help him?" Daphne snorted.
"I could visit my twin sister, and just not leave..." Padma offered. "Hermione and I could take turns."
"That could work..." Hermione shook her head hard. "I'm not comfortable with spying on Harry. Yes I'm concerned but this is a real invasion of his privacy."
"We will talk with him about it when he calms down." Fleur stated.
They sat in silence while they waited until Hermione nervously checked the time. "We are going to be late for class."
"Go." Padma told them. "I have History first today so I won't be missed. Well, not by the teacher anyway. Perhaps I should see if Madam Pomfrey can check him over?"
"That's a good idea. If you can get him to go." Hermione finished in a dry tone.
"I will see what I can do. You have class with him, don't you?" Padma checked.
"Yes." Hermione nodded. "I'll tell the professor that Harry isn't feeling well."
"I was just going to ask that."
Hermione smiled at her Ravenclaw friend.
"If you tell Harry all that, and that he will need to visit Madam Pomfrey to corroborate your stories or get everyone in trouble..." Daphne suggested.
"That would probably work; Harry wouldn't want to get us in trouble unnecessarily." Hermione gave Daphne a nod in appreciation.
"I'll do that then. You all need to go or you'll be late to class." Padma gave them a gentle push to send them on their way.
It was another half hour before Harry finally headed back to the castle. Padma moved to meet him near the castle doors.
"Hungry? They're still warm." Padma offered him a napkin wrapped pile of toast.
"Thanks." Harry took the offered pile. "Where are the others?"
"They had to go to class." Padma explained. "I only have History so I wasn't bothered; I do better when I ignore Binns anyway. Hermione will tell your professor that you weren't feeling well so we need you to visit Madam Pomfrey so that if they check up on us we've covered everything and won't get in trouble."
"Sorry." Harry slumped.
"It's fine." Padma assured him with a smile. "Are you feeling better?"
"A little. I just woke up feeling so out of sorts." Harry shuddered in repressed frustration. 'I shouldn't have taken things out on you four; I know you've done nothing wrong. I just..."
"I think a chat with Madam Pomfrey might help. If she finds something that's causing this then she can fix it. If not, then we can look into other possible causes." Padma gently took his arm and drew him along with her. "We are your friends and we care. We will help you figure this out so you can feel better."
"Thank you." Harry looked at his feet. "I don't like feeling like this."
This was the first time that Harry had willingly gone to see Madam Pomfrey for himself and he submitted to the familiar fussing as she checked him out.
"Well," Madam Pomfrey finally sighed, "you aren't unwell, nor did I detect any potions. You are showing a higher level of fatigue than I would expect and there is an odd spell residue but I can't determine anymore. I don't think it will last past lunch time. Have a good meal and an early night. If you are concerned you can sleep in here and I will monitor you."
"I would prefer not to." Harry admitted. "I've spent enough time in here as it is."
"Can I make a suggestion?" Padma cut in.
"Please." Madam Pomfrey motioned for her to continue.
"Harry spends the night in his own bed but if still wakes up irritated like he has been then he tries a night in here and sees if there is something happening."
"A fair idea." Madam Pomfrey nodded. "Mr Potter?"
"Okay. But just one night; I'll be out first thing the next morning." Harry stated.
"Of course. You are not suffering any injury that needs monitoring." Madam Pomfrey replied. "Please come see me tomorrow morning, just so I can track your situation. What class are you both supposed to be in? I'll write you both notes and send them to your Professors."
"Thanks." "Thank you very much."
The two teenagers headed out to relax in the library until it was time to head to the next class of the day.
"Thanks for staying with me." Harry said finally.
"You're welcome." Padma smiled at him. "I know you would do the same for me. I'm just glad to be of some help."
"You were, and I appreciate it. I know I can be a pain to deal with when it comes to that sort of thing." Harry admitted.
"Yeah, you can." Padma smiled. "But that's okay. It's not that hard to deal with."
"Thanks, I suppose." Harry seemed a bit confused.
"You aren't used to people doing things to help you, are you?" Padma realised.
"Not really." Harry shrugged. "It takes some getting used to."
"You will; you have a few friends that will do that for you now."
Padma made sure to pass on all the details of Madam Pomfrey's examination to her friends. They were all concerned for Harry's wellbeing and wanted to ensure whatever was causing him these problem was sorted as soon as possible, if not sooner.
When Harry showed up the next morning, just as grumpy as the previous they enacted a plan to ensure Harry would spend the night in the Hospital Wing under the Healer's care. Harry was stubborn but Padma reminded him of their agreement and Daphne and Fleur both told him that they were happy to put him in there for 'another' reason, but his stay would probably be longer than overnight.
Harry relented at that threat which had all four girls staring him down. He didn't want to risk them making good on their threats; they sounded painful.
"I wondered if I would see you again, Mr Potter." Madam Pomfrey greeted him as he entered. "And your friends as well. I assume they are responsible your presence here."
"I would have thought that would be obvious." Harry grumbled as he sat on his usual bed, he didn't see any point in trying to hide it; his dislike of staying in this room was well known.
"Indeed, you have very good friends there." Madam Pomfrey chuckled. "Come on, I'll just cast a few diagnostics spells and then let you change and settle in to sleep. I think an early night would do you some good."
"Yeah." Harry grumped as he let the Healer do her thing.
"Honestly, Harry." Hermione chuckled. "You're like a kid going to the dentist."
Harry huffed at her. "I wouldn't know."
"All done." Madam Pomfrey smiled at him. "Say goodnight to your friends and I'll leave you alone to change and you can read quietly until you feel tired."
"Night." Harry said shortly.
Hermione laughed at his obvious dislike of his location. "Goodnight, Harry. I hope you sleep well."
"Yeah, me too." Harry sighed.
"Night." "Goodnight." "Bonne nuit." The other three girls said and left with Hermione.
Harry was quite sure he head them all start laughing once the Hospital Wing's doors had closed behind them.
"I'll let you change and relax." Madam Pomfrey gave him a small smile. "I'll be in my office if you need me. I'm sure you know where everything is."
"Yeah." Harry sighed. "Night."
"Good night, Mr Potter."
Harry shifted the screen to get some privacy and changed so he could settle down in the familiar bed and pulled a book to read until he felt ready to sleep.
Harry woke the next morning feeling better than he had in a long time. Madam Pomfrey, checking him over carefully agreed whole-heartedly and told him that he could return any time if he felt like he wasn't sleeping properly again. And to go eat a good breakfast.
Harry bet his friends to the Great Hall by a surprising margin, until they told him they had gone to the Hospital Wing to find him.
"I would have waited, but Madam Pomfrey told me to go and eat a good breakfast." Harry pointed out, gesturing to his meal.
"I should have known you wouldn't stay a moment longer than necessary." Hermione sighed as she selected her own meal.
"True, though normally I'm trying to leave before she clears me." Harry admitted.
"I'm just glad to zee you are feeling much better zis morning." Fleur smiled at him.
"I am feeling better. I don't know what's been happening lately but last night was the best sleep I've had in a while." Harry replied. "I just hope I don't have to spend every night there if I want to sleep properly."
"So, you're feeling up to some proper training today then." Daphne asked.
"You bet." Harry nodded.
"Hmm." Daphne studied him. "You seem a little cocky. Perhaps some four on one training will help ground you."
"Bring it on." Harry met her gaze firmly.
And bring it on they did. Fleur and Daphne were both well trained at duelling and Padma had a variety of spells to call on to assist them. Hermione had a very wider variety of spells and was backed by her familiarity with Harry and prior experience having been through a number of his adventures with him. The four powerful and talented witches spread out and bombarded the sole wizard of their group with everything they could without using spells that could accidently kill someone.
Harry, with better focus and energy than he had had in weeks met their challenge with a vengeance and showed them exactly why he had become the youngest Seeker in a century and thwarted so many of Voldemort's plans and was currently leading the Tournament for a reason. Only the increasing coordination between the four witches kept them from being defeated as Harry smoothly dodged their spells and returned fire with speed, accuracy and more power than they could have expected.
"Enough." Padma suddenly called and the match ended. "I need a break."
"Really?" Harry grinned. "I'm happy to keep going if anyone else is?"
"Yeah yeah, we know you're powerful." Hermione grumped as she sat next to Padma.
"You have shown a huge improvement today." Daphne added. "It looks like everything I've taught you has begun to sink in. It seems that your sleeping problem has been holding you back more than we realised."
"Yeah." Harry nodded as he and Fleur sat with them. "I know I was pretty stubborn about it yesterday, but thanks for making sure I saw Madam Pomfrey; it really has made a difference. I just wish I knew what was different between my dorm and the Hospital Wing."
"I'll have a think and do some research." Hermione offered.
"Well help." Padma said with Fleur and Daphne nodding in agreement.
"Thanks. All of you." Harry smiled. "I really appreciate it."
Hermione spent most of the day in thought regarding Harry's sleeping problem. She tried to look the situation from all angles and applied everything she could think of in both the magical and muggle worlds.
This led her to asking Daphne and Padma to whip up a potion for her while she sneaked into Harry's dorm and borrowed his Invisibility Cloak. When Harry retired to his dorm for the night Hermione did the same, pulled the curtains around her bed and used the cloak to sneak into Harry's dorm.
Settling in a safe place where none of the boys would walk she prepared for a long night, glad she had a full vial of Pepper Up potion to sip at to keep her awake all night and, hopefully, awake the next day.
She averted her eyes to avoid seeing more of a couple of the boys than she wanted and finally they all settled down and fell asleep.
Then one boy got up a couple of hours later. Hermione thought he was just going to the bathroom until he pointed his wand at Harry.
Hermione jumped out of her spot, whispering the incantation for the silencing spell on him as she rushed him and firmly pressed her wand tip into the boy's neck and snatched his wand away from him with her free hand.
"One wrong move and I'll blast you through the wall." She growled harshly in his ear.
The boy jumped and probably screamed as well but the noise didn't penetrate her silencing charm.
"We are going to take a walk. You can walk properly or I can carry you in a bucket. Move." Hermione growled as she pushed him.
She wasn't sure which boy this was in the dim light of the dormitory but in the brighter common room it was obvious who she had captured. Ron Weasley.
Hermione made sure to stay behind him as she pulled the cloak off and tucked it away while ordering him to open the portrait door and pointed him in the direction of McGonagall's office.
Professor Minerva McGonagall was not happy to be woken so soon after going to sleep.
"Ms Granger, why do you have Mr Weasley at wand point?" Minerva demanded angrily.
"Because I caught him in the act of casting a spell at Harry while he was asleep." Hermione stated.
"Mr Weasley?" Minerva focused on the boy and her frowned deepened when she noticed he was obviously silenced.
Hermione cancelled the charm.
"Finally. What's your problem, Granger?" Ron snarled.
"Mr Weasley." Minerva gave him her firmest glare. "Were you about to cast a spell at Mr Potter while he was asleep?"
"Uh…" Ron didn't need to answer, his face said it all.
"What spell?" Minerva's anger increased and became more focused on her target.
"Uh..." Ron shrank under the increasing rage of his Head of House. "It was nothing."
"If it was nothing then you won't mind telling me exactly what spell you were going to use." Minerva practically snarled.
"Just a Confundous Charm." Ron finally admitted.
"And just what were you trying to achieve with that?" Minerva demanded.
"I don't know what you're getting angry at me for?" Ron suddenly blurted. "That Slytherin Bint has been confunding Harry or worse since before the Yule Ball, or before, and no one's done anything about it. I've been trying to get him away from her but he wouldn't listen so I did something about it. No one else was doing a thing."
"Professor, can you look away for a second?" Hermione asked in a very tight voice.
Minerva glanced aside for a moment. That was all Hermione needed as she demonstrated just how well she could throw a punch when she wanted to. Ron had hit the ground before the pain registered and he let out an undignified yelp.
"What the hell was that for?" Ron demanded from the floor.
"Do you know how much you have been screwing Harry up?" Hermione let rip. "He's been struggling for ages thanks to your interference. Daphne has done nothing to Harry but help him. She has gone out of her way to help him train for the Tournament. Something you should've been doing if you were actually his friend."
"Why should I?" Ron protested as he got up. "He hangs around with a Snake and that Veela chick and he stole my date at the Ball in case you forgot!"
"Please." Hermione snorted. "You were a terrible date to Padma and Harry did the noble thing to try and make sure she had some fun that evening since he had helped you get her as a date in the first place. And if you were actually Harry's friend you would know that Fleur is actually really nice and very intelligent. Don't ever take your stupid mistakes out on Harry ever again!"
"That will be enough, both of you." Minerva got the feeling she had been forgotten during their heated exchange. "Ms Granger, please head back to bed. I will handle Mr Weasley personally."
"Yes Professor." Hermione nodded and sent a final glare at Ron before storming off back to the Gryffindor Common Room and her dormitory.
"Now, Mr Weasley," Minerva fixed her stern gaze on the remaining teenager. "Why don't you come in and discuss just what made you think that casting spells on Mr Potter was a good idea..."
Ron gulped at the icy tone.
"So Weasley really thought I used magic to get Harry to like me?" Daphne shook her head as Hermione related the previous night's activity. "What an idiot. Seduction would have been more plausible."
"I'm more annoyed that you left me out of it." Padma said. "I thought we were going to work together?"
"I know. I'm sorry." Hermione ducked her head. "I just got caught up thinking about everything and jumped without asking for help."
"I'm more concerned about you being there while I was changing." Harry looked at her. "I don't want to think about how angry any of you would be if I did that, even for the best of reasons."
"And you are right about that too. I didn't look but that doesn't make it any better." Hermione slumped further. "I'm really sorry. I was the one saying I didn't want to invade your privacy or go behind your back and what happens? I do just that. I get stuck in my own plans and forget everything else. Guess I can't scold you about acting without thinking anymore, can I?"
"No, not really." Harry agreed.
"I wouldn't mind if 'Arry wanted to guard me while I changed." Fleur teased him, trying to raise the mood. "I trust 'im to act respectfully around my vulnerable and exposed body."
Harry turned bright red causing the girls to giggle.
"Well, at least it's resolved things." Daphne relaxed. "Harry is sufficiently powerful that what Weasley tried had minimal effect. It just disrupted his sleep and confused him. That's why Harry never actually felt negatively about any of us but got increasingly and inexplicably irritable until he snapped at us. We should just be glad it's sorted now and forget about any improprieties on Hermione's part. She acted in good faith and as much as Harry makes a good point I think we would all forgive him for acting in a similar fashion. It's not like it was him taking our choices away from us and making important decisions for us without consultation. I will say that Hermione should remember to consult with us before acting."
"I will. I really am sorry." Hermione said, trying to convince Harry as to her sincerity.
"I know." Harry finally replied. "It's just..."
"I invaded your privacy. I know. It was wrong of me. I won't ever do that again." Hermione stated.
"Thank you." Harry finally gave her a smile.
"Still, it would have been nice to see you punch Weasley." Padma mused.
"I remember her punching Malfoy last year." Harry grinned. "That was quite the sight. She had him, Crabbe and Goyle all running away in terror."
Hermione blushed a bit at that while the other girls laughed at the image.
Then Harry's mood dropped.
"Harry?" Padma asked gently.
"Sorry, it's just... Ron and I used to be good friends and now things are so messed up." Harry sighed. "And what's really stupid is that after the Yule Ball I actually cast protection charms on my trunk and on my bed every night. I forgot to do them the night after the Second Task because I was so tired and didn't start again. I guess I got careless since nothing ever happened."
"Ron also acted uncharacteristically subtly." Hermione pointed out. "He'd made no significant overt acts since the blow-up after the Ball. I would have dropped my guard by that point too."
"Just learn from it and don't repeat this mistake." Daphne stated. "And despite everything, you should be able to feel safe in your bed. It's more than a little disturbing if you can't."
With Ron Weasley under threat of expulsion if he broke any more rules, and removed from the fourth year dorm, life slowly returned to normal. For Harry and the quartet of girls that were his near constant companions now, it returned quicker than for others.
Well, as normal as possible while preparing for the Third Task. The four Champions had been summoned to the 'destroyed' Quidditch Pitch to be informed about the format of the final task of the Tournament; a maze filled with challenges, obstacles and various magical creatures. Harry got a little worried when Hagrid was mentioned as assisting with that last part, though given the Ministry had brought in dragons for the first task, they were more than capable of making this task a potentially fatal experience.
Harry was already thinking about ways to tackle this challenge when Victor Krum pulled him aside.
"What's up?" Harry asked.
"I vas vondering about Her-my-o-knee." Victor said. "Vat is your relationship vis 'er?"
"She's my best friend. Has been since first year. She's been through a lot with me." Harry stopped at looked up at the older teen. "If you're asking me for permission to date her then it's not mine to give. It's hers and hers alone. Given I thought you had a girlfriend already I have to say that if you hurt her then you had better run; I wouldn't want her to be pissed off at me; and I'm not just talking about the very wide range of spells she knows."
Fleur, standing a short way off while she waited for the two boys to finish talked, couldn't help but giggle at Harry's words.
Further conversation was halted as someone crashed out of the forest and headed towards them. Harry pulled his wand as the man approached him. The man was mumbling something incoherently.
"…Dumbledore… …Him… …Warn him… …My fault… …Mistake…"
These were the only words Harry could understand, but he did recognise the man. "Mr Crouch? Are you okay?"
The man blinked and even in the receding light Harry could see a sudden clarity enter his eyes for a moment.
"Ah, Mr Potter, you will have to compete in the Tournament. Just do your best." Blink. Confusion and fear replaced the normal expression. "Dumbledore. Have to warn Dumbledore."
"Damn, I have to get Dumbledore." Harry was about to rush off.
"Calm down, 'Arry." Fleur caught his arm. "'E iz not well. 'E should go to zee 'Ospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey can call Dumbledore from zere."
"You're right. Give me a hand please?" Harry asked.
Harry, with Fleur's help, supported the man and helped him towards the castle. Using some back corridors Harry knew they quickly got Mr Crouch to the Hospital Wing and Madam Pomfrey quickly called for Dumbledore before she began examining her patient.
"Thank you for your quick action, Harry." Dumbledore said as he watched Madam Pomfrey work. "And thank you too, Mr Krum, Ms Delacour. Your assistance is appreciated. You should go now and let Madam Pomfrey work."
The three teenagers took the hint and left. Victor headed off on his own but Fleur casually linked her arm with Harry's and the two wandered along to where their friends were waiting.
"Does zis 'appen often 'ere?" Fleur asked.
"Rambling men showing up or bizarre occurrences in general?" Harry asked.
"Both, I suppose." Fleur replied.
"Well, someone showing up like that is a first for me, but weird stuff happens all the time." Harry shrugged. "To me more than others. I suppose you get used to it."
Hermione, Daphne and Padma were all very interested in the sudden appearance of Mr Crouch but soon turned to scheduling the training of the two Champions for the last month before the Third Task.
While they would still have group training, Harry would have additional time with Daphne and Fleur would do her own training back at the Beauxbaton's carriage. Just so that they could surprise the other on the big day.
Harry did make sure that Hermione, and Padma who was recruited by Hermione to help, didn't miss out on any special tasks while their friends were otherwise occupied. The very evening that Mr Crouch made his unexpected visit Harry took Hermione aside in the Common Room and began a quiet conversation.
"I have an idea." Harry began. "If it were anyone else but you I wouldn't bother but I trust you actually have a chance to succeed."
"Your confidence is appreciated." Hermione smiled. "So what is this secret plan of yours?"
"With the final task being a maze, I was pondering the best way to get through it." Harry said. "And the best way will be to have a map of it."
"Which would be cheating." Hermione pointed out.
"Yes. But if I made a map once I was in there..." Harry pointed out. "With spells you invented..."
"Yes, they couldn't complain about that." Hermione nodded. "Oh, I see. You want me to create a spell, a process, to replicate the Marauder's Map. One you can perform inside the maze."
"Correct." Harry nodded. "If I owl Moony, I'm sure he can send you all the notes he can find or remember to help. And we have the Marauder's Map you can study too."
"I would need them both..." Hermione was already deep in thought. "I would need to replicate itself updating method to detect the maze walls, given it's a Wizarding Maze they are probably going to move randomly. Detecting any creatures in the maze would be good too."
"Just the walls would be enough, but if you can manage more then that would be great." Harry commented.
Hermione gave an absent nod as she scrambled for parchment, ink and a quill and began writing notes.
Harry grinned at her interest and dedication. "I'll just go and get the map shall I?"
"Yes please." Hermione replied absently.
The last month was busy and lacking the fun that had underlined everything the small group had done together since it had formed. Even Daphne, though she would never have admitted it, was feeling worried about her two Champion friends and it showed in how hard she pushed Harry during their private training. Harry wasn't complaining; he was well aware of the risks and stakes and was doing everything he could to prepare.
The group spent less time together as they focused on their respective training or tasks though they made sure to meet up for lunch and dinner. They could chat about various things and allude, teasingly, the things they were doing to help that they couldn't share.
Hermione, mostly thanks to the information Remus Lupin provided and Padma's assistance, came through for Harry and drilled him hard until he could repeat the necessary sequence of spells quickly, easily and accurately.
The day before the Third Task, Daphne called her training session with Harry to an end early.
"You've done really well." Daphne actually complemented him. "You've learned everything I planned to teach you and more. You need to rest and relax before the task tomorrow. Why don't you grab your swimming shorts and meet us at the Prefects Bathroom?"
"Okay." Harry nodded. "Thank you. For everything."
Daphne snorted. "You can thank me by winning."
The four girls were waiting for him when he arrived at the bathroom door. Entering and securing the door behind them they removed their outer layers, revealing their swimwear underneath, and jumped in.
Padma and Daphne had borrowed bikinis from Fleur this time. Padma's more petite form was well covered, for a muggle bikini at least, but Daphne, while shorter and still smaller at the hips and chest, was already bigger breasted than the part veela and it showed clearly from behind the triangle string bikini that Fleur had somehow convinced her to wear.
For the next couple of hours they got to forget about pressures of exams and the Tournament and just be carefree teenagers for a change.
All five went to bed that night tired but also refreshed and had fun memories to fall asleep remembering so they could be well rested for the stresses of the day to come.
It was a much cheerier group that met for breakfast the next morning. Hermione, Daphne and Padma made it a point to keep Harry's and Fleur's minds off the impending challenge that evening. The main problem was that they had classes to attend while Harry and Fleur were given the day off for their final preparations.
Professor McGonagall's arrival ensured they would not be stuck alone together.
"Ah, Mr Potter, Ms Delacour." The transfiguration professor greeted them. "Your families have arrived to spend the day with you. I will escort you to the waiting room."
Fleur lit up at that but Harry was confused, he could not see how the Dursley's would ever want to visit the school.
"Well, since it's nearly time for class, you two should go." Hermione pointed out.
"Well, Fleur can. I don't have any family to visit me." Harry replied.
"Then you can visit mine." Fleur gently tugged Harry's arm. "I know Gabby would like to see you again and I want you to meet my mother."
"Uh... okay." Harry shrugged.
"My parents will be here to watch the task tonight." Daphne said. "I'm sure they would want to meet you again."
"Okay..." Harry nodded.
"Mine as well." Padma added.
"Okay." Harry repeated. "I, uh, guess I'll see you all later."
"You will." Hermione stated with a smile.
Harry followed Fleur into the waiting room very hesitantly. The Delacour family was easy to spot; the half-veela drew everyone's attention, even with Harry's resistance to the veela allure. There was also another family, or two members of said family, that was easy to recognise.
"Harry." Mrs Weasley greeted him loudly as she closed the gap, arms spread for a hug.
"Hi Mrs Weasley." Harry found himself getting pulled away from Fleur. "Hi Bill."
"Hey Harry." Bill grinned. "Charlie was really impressed by how you handled yourself in the First Task; can't wait to see how you do today."
"I can." Harry grumbled. "But thanks for coming."
"Professor Dumbledore thought you might appreciate having us here to cheer you on." Mrs Weasley smiled happily.
Harry wasn't sure how to respond to that given he wasn't getting on so well with Ron and hadn't been since before the Yule Ball, and definitely worse afterwards.
He was saved when a pile of long blonde hair seemed to wrap itself around him from the waist down.
Looking down Harry managed to identify the face that peeked out of the hair.
"Hi Gabrielle." Harry smiled down at her.
Gabrielle smiled back and backed up enough to tug at him to get him moving over to Fleur's family was.
"Sorry, looks like I'm needed elsewhere." Harry apologised as he let himself get pulled away by the small girl.
Harry thought he saw Mrs Weasley about to protest but he let himself be rushed across the room.
"Harry," Fleur greeted him with a smile, "I see Gabby found you. This is my mozzer, Appoline Delacour. Maman, zis is one of my friends 'ere at 'Ogwarts, 'Arry Potter."
"It's nice to meet you." Harry managed not to stammer as the older woman's allure hit him harder than Fleur's.
"It is very nice to meet you as well." Appoline replied, her English better than Fleur's even with her strong accent. "Fleur has had a lot of good things to say about you. I'm glad she has made such good friends like yourself and the others I am yet to meet."
"You're welcome. Fleur's been a great friend too. She's helped me a lot." Harry replied.
"Oui, so she mentioned. She enjoyed teaching you to dance and prepare for the Second Task. She also mentioned that she likely only completed it because you protected her. Thank you. Both my daughters are very precious to me."
Harry flushed at the praise and stammered, trying to deflect the praise.
"Perhaps you can give us a tour of the castle." Appoline asked. "I'm sure Fleur has learnt a lot about it during her time here, but I think a Hogwarts student would still know a few things she had yet to learn."
Fleur nodded. "I think 'Arry knows zee castle better zan most."
Harry shrugged. "I'll do my best."
The tour of the castle was a little awkward for Harry; Gabrielle insisted on holding his hand the entire time. Something of a new experience for Harry. Then, due to the size of the castle and the number of staircases, he ended up giving the young part veela a piggy-back ride back to the Great Hall to be in time for lunch.
Given group Harry normally ate with picked the end of the Gryffindor table, as Daphne still wasn't all that popular even after all this time, they easily made room for Fleur's mother and sister to join them. Mrs Weasley had gathered her brood more centrally at the table and seemed to expect Harry to join them and was shocked when he didn't.
"Don't bother." Fred cautioned her.
"They normally eat together." George took over.
"Have done since before Christmas."
"Well, Daphne joined them before Christmas."
"Padma joined them afterwards."
"Seems she had more fun sharing Harry."
"Than with her own date."
"Not that I can blame her."
"Or him. That's a cute group of girls he spends his time with."
"But I thought he was friends with Ronald?" Mrs Weasley frowned.
Ron actually stopped eating and shrank away from her.
"Dear Ronald stuffed that up."
"Then he nearly got expelled."
"He's safer keeping away from them."
"Wouldn't ever want to piss off Hermione."
"Left a right good shiner on Ron's face for a couple of weeks."
"Seems she's just as dangerous without her wand as she is with it."
"And why have you not fixed things between the two of you?" Mrs Weasley growled at Ron.
"He's not allowed to even look at Harry." George.
"Let along talk to him." Fred.
"And why would Harry want him back?"
"He's got much better company now."
"Makes me a bit jealous really."
"We'd join them."
"But Ron kind of ruined that for us."
"They don't dislike us or anything."
"But our family is a bit of a touchy subject for them right now."
"All Ron's fault." Ginny growled, glaring at the offending sibling.
"But let's face it."
"He's got the hottest French chick."
"The hottest Slytherin chick."
"One of the hottest Ravenclaws."
"Certainly the hottest in their year."
"And a few others."
"And no one is going to deny Hermione is one of the hottest Gryffindor's."
"Not after the Yule Ball."
"She's cleans up real nice."
Back at the end of the table the group couldn't help but overhear the back and forth of the twins.
"I have to agree. You four are some of the most attractive and intelligent girls in the school." Harry commented quietly. "I feel pretty lucky to have you all around me."
"We feel the same way." Fleur smiled. "But thank you for the complement."
The other three echoed Fleur's thanks.
"So humble and honourable." Appoline smiled with a mischievous expression.
"Mozzer?" Fleur narrowed her eyes at her parent.
"Taking such a tone with me daughter?" Appoline raised an eyebrow.
"Oui. I know what you are like." Fleur's expression turned into a full glare.
"I was just commenting on what a wonderful young man Harry is." Appoline replied.
"And the rest of your thought?" Fleur pressed.
"It's just that a less honourable guy would be trying to get in all of your panties." Appoline pointed out.
Harry turned bright red, and he wasn't the only one.
"Harry is not like that!" A red-faced Hermione growled angrily.
"I know." Appoline replied easily. "He is definitely a rare find."
Harry wasn't sure how to comment about the conversation going on around him, and wasn't sure he could talk without stuttering either. The French woman's next comment made sure he wouldn't be regaining that ability for the rest of the meal.
"I wonder how you as a group will handle his choice when it comes to dating..."
The remainder of the meal was very uncomfortable for the five teenagers.
"I am sorry." Fleur apologised to her four Hogwarts friends. "I am tre sorry. My mozzer is... well, you saw what she izz like."
"Not your fault." Hermione sighed. "My mum can be a bit embarrassing too."
"I think all mother's can be like that at times." Padma agreed with Daphne nodding.
Harry stayed silent; it's not like he could comment.
"It's nearly time." Fleur sighed.
"At least your mother distracted us from that." Harry finally spoke.
"Oui. I wonder if zat was 'er plan." Fleur shrugged. "She did not 'ave to choose such an embarrassing method."
"I think my parents will have arrived." Daphne said. "Padma's too. We can meet them before you head to the Champion's waiting area."
"Okay." Harry stood and helped the girls up.
The group headed to the Quidditch Pitch and quickly found the various parents and gathered them together so everyone could meet each other.
"It's good to see you again." Was the common theme as Harry was greeted by the various parents and introduced to the ones he had not yet met.
He did get an update on how the processing and selling of the basilisk parts was going; very well seemed to be the general gist of what they told him. Harry was getting a little overwhelmed by the attention.
Fleur rescued him, saying they had to go to their waiting area, and led him away from the veritable mob.
"A little too much for you?" Fleur commented as she linked her arm with his.
"Yeah." Harry nodded. "I don't think I've ever been around that many people before. Not like that anyway."
"Wait up." A voice called from behind them.
Hermione, Daphne and Padma had broken free of the adults and run to catch up to them.
"Good luck. Both of you." Hermione hugged Harry hard before hugging Fleur. "And come back safe."
"Good luck." Padma echoed as she followed Hermione's example.
Daphne stayed back. "Fleur, do your best and good luck. Harry, I expect to see your foot print clearly visible on her behind."
That got a laugh from the other three girls.
"I can see 'oo she is 'oping to win." Fleur smiled.
Daphne shrugged. "You may be a good friend frenchy, but I've put a lot of effort into helping Harry train. So, Mr Potter, if you do something stupidly noble like sharing the win or letting someone else win then I am going to hex your clothes off in front of everyone."
"Right." Harry gulped.
"Just do your best, and go for the win." Daphne stepped forward and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. "And the both of you had better come back safe."
Fleur had had to stifle the burst of giggles at Daphne's threat, not at all offended by Daphne's statement. "Oui, but if we both do, and I win, zen I will want my dainty foot print on both of your behinds."
"Agreed." Daphne offered her hand to seal the bet.
Then to everyone's surprise, Hermione stepped up to shake on the bet as well.
"I've put enough time into preparing Harry that if you win then you will have beaten me as well." Hermione explained.
Fleur nodded and then shook with Padma who had to agree with Hermione's statement.
"You'd better win now, Potter." Daphne grinned. "All of our arses are on the line now."
That had the four girls laughing and Harry blushing.
"Come on, we need to get going." Harry quickly changed the subject.
Fleur smiled and nodded and with a final round of hugs they separated from their friends and headed for the Champion's Tent.
"You two ready for this?" Cedric greeted them.
"Oui. Of course." Fleur sniffed in an imperious manner that didn't come even close to fooling Harry. "May the best witch win."
Cedric just grinned. "May the best Hufflepuff win."
"Like you can beat an International Champion Seeker." Victor grunted.
The three older teens all looked at Harry.
"What?" Harry looked around at them. "I have three of the smarted witches in the country on my side; I'm not worried at all. You lot can keep your egos to yourselves."
"I think Harry just tried to put us in our place." Cedric snorted. "Confident, aren't we?"
Harry just glanced at Fleur.
Fleur nodded as she remembered her trip into the bowels of the school. "'E 'as reason to be. 'Arry may be much younger but 'e 'as experience we lack. And 'e 'as zee 'ead start."
"Only a small one." Cedric pointed out. "Anyone could win."
"True." Harry shrugged. "I guess we will find out soon."
"You've been hanging around with that Slytherin girl way too much." Cedric said.
Harry just shrugged again and turned to the tent's entrance as the officials entered.
He listened to their final instructions and watched them perform their final checks before they were led out in time to hear Ludo Bagman's magically amplified voice introduce them.
Harry kept his breathing under control, using the slow, rhythmic pattern to manage his nerves. Fleur, standing next to him, quickly gave his hand a brief squeeze, seeming to get as much comfort out of the discrete action as she gave him.
Then the first cannon sounded and Harry moved into the maze. Once within the confines of the hedge line path he quickly enacted his plan; transfiguring parchment and ink and reciting the list of spells Hermione had taught him. As the magical map formed before him, he began picking his way through the maze.
Hermione was sitting between Padma and Daphne, with their friends and family surrounding them, and alternating between looking at the maze and the magic's used to allow the audience to watch the unfolding events, and the piece of parchment in her hands. This map was the last of the prototypes she had developed with Padma and provided a perfect method to keep a track of her two friends.
The people around them were very impressed by the map, even more so when she revealed that it was Harry's idea and his plan was to make one in the maze itself to help him win.
"And he kept that a secret too." Daphne praised him. "He really does have a wonderful Slytherin side. If only he had developed it sooner, he would have been a wonderful house-mate."
"Somehow I really can't see Harry as a Slytherin." Padma commented. "I think he's just right the way he is; an example of all the houses in one package."
"I have to agree." Daphne admitted after due consideration. "I do like the person he has become this year. Oh, that was a good move."
The dot on the map in Hermione's hands that represented Harry had seemed to move through a wall.
"Did he just blow a hole in the hedge?" Parvati leant over Hermione's shoulder to try and see what they were looking at."
"That's a smart move." Tracy commented.
"I agree." Padma nodded. "He got a lot closer to the finish with that move. He's gotten a huge lead. I almost feel sorry for Fleur."
"We can console her later. The faster someone wins the sooner they will all be out of that place." Hermione replied through gritted teeth.
"Do you need a calming charm of something?" Daphne asked.
"If I get any tenser or stressed then probably." Hermione freely admitted.
"He's nearly there." Daphne said suddenly. "There, he just blasted through another hedge, he's about to win."
The excitement in the group began exceeding the tension as Harry raced towards victory and then vanished.
"Where did he go?" Hermione searched the map with increasing panic. "He's gone missing. Can anyone see him? This map only shows what's in the maze, not around it."
"No." Daphne had stood. "But the judges seem to be worried too."
"Oh, Merlin." Hermione's eyes were tearing. "What happened to you now?"
The wait for news about Harry was incredible stressful for everyone. The group, joined by a sad and then increasingly worried Fleur, had moved closer to the judge table to try and find out what was going on. Appoline had kindly applied calming charms on the four girls to keep them from panicking and had to reapply it on Hermione twice already.
Then Harry appeared. Stained in blood and with torn, battered clothing, he could barely stand. Hermione had shot forward and reached him before anyone and had a front row seat as he told Dumbledore about Voldemort's return. Hermione buried Harry in the biggest hug she could, both giving and seeking comfort as she was the only thing that kept the exhausted and injured teen upright. At least until the other three girls caught up and Harry disappeared into their midst.
They finally broke apart when Professor Moody stumped up to them. "Come on lad, I'll get you to the Hospital Wing so you can get your injuries looked at."
The battle scarred retired Auror began leading Harry away when a voice stopped him.
"There isn't anyone in the Hospital Wing to treat Harry. Everyone is at the Medical Tent." Daphne stated.
The brief hesitation is Moody's actions had the four girls pulling wands, followed shortly by their parents.
"Perhaps you should let the boy go and have a seat." Daphne's father instructed.
"I agree." Dumbledore had come to investigate the sudden disturbance. "We can figure out who you are any why you are impersonating Alastair."
Moody's next move was to pull his wand and point it at Harry. "Back off or the brat dies."
Everything froze except for one person.
Whoever was impersonating Alastair Moody either wasn't watching his captive closely enough or he didn't think there was any fight left in the teen but he wasn't paying any attention to him. Harry, seeing the looks of worry and fear on his friends faces showed just how tough he was in the face of adversity. His left had grabbed the tip of the offending wand and twisted it away at the same time as his right hand brought his own wand up and under the imposters chin.
"Stupify." Harry's tired voice still managed to get enough power into the spell to drop the man where he stood.
Seconds later the man was stunned again, paralysed and wrapped in ropes as the adults acted on the opening Harry created.
"Why don't you young ladies take Harry to Madam Pomfrey while we figure this mess out?" Dumbledore suggested.
The four girls need no further prompting and half dragged, half carried their friend to get the medical attention he both needed and deserved. Harry didn't protest at all; the looks on his friend's faces told him just how scared they had been and any protesting on his part would not go down well.
Madam Pomfrey had to force the girls back so she could preserve Harry's privacy and modesty while she treated him. As soon as she finished the four girls were back at his side and refused to leave, even as Harry fell into a well-deserved slumber.
Harry didn't get much sleep, though he had been transferred to the Hospital Wing during his slumber. Dumbledore had moved quickly to handle the fake Moody issue and now wanted answers from Harry.
Harry woke to the discussion, which was just shy of an argument at that point, between Dumbledore and pretty much everyone else.
His groans as the sensations of the damage inflicted upon him during his most recent adventure returned to him alerted though around him of his return to consciousness.
Yup, they had heard him.
"Just stay still for a minute while I check you out." Madam Pomfrey's familiar voice instructed. Then she spoke again a short while later. "Well, most of your injuries are healed but you are going to be achy for a few days; there is a reason why a Crucio is classed as an Unforgivable. Pain relieving potions will have no effect on those aches and you can expect tremors to shake your body randomly for at least the next couple of weeks while your nerves recover."
"Great." Harry groaned.
"There is little more I can do, getting as much rest as possible is the best advice I can give you now." Madam Pomfrey raised her voice, clearly focusing her final words on everyone else in the room. "I'll bring you a light meal and then you can go back to your much needed peaceful sleep."
"Indeed." Dumbledore interrupted. "But first I really need you to tell me what happened when you were kidnapped."
Harry grimaced as he spoke, a slight stutter affecting his speech. "Okay, but what happened with Professor Moody?"
"It turns out that he had been replaced by an imposter. We managed to rescue the real Alastair Moody and he is now recovering." Dumbledore explained.
"So it was the imposter that entered me into the tournament." Harry guessed. "When did he manage to replace him though?"
"Before he even arrived at the beginning of the year." Dumbledore admitted.
"He was the one stealing ingredients from Snape, for Polyjuice, wasn't he?" Harry guessed. "Who was he? A Crouch?"
Dumbledore's hesitation was small but spotted. "Yes. To both. He was Barty Crouch Junior, thought to have died in Azkaban already. He was imprisoned shortly after you defeated Voldemort the first time as a Death Eater."
"Damn. How did he escape?"
"It seems his father snuck him out at his mother's request, by swapping them." Dumbledore told him. "Now, about what happened...?"
"The Cup was a portkey. It took me to a Graveyard. Riddle's Father's graveyard." Harry began.
"I see." Dumbledore nodded.
"Wormtail was there with Voldemort in some sort of baby form." Harry continued. "His presence gave me a major headache through my scar and I couldn't stop Wormtail from stunning me.
"When I woke up I was tied to a gravestone and Wormtail was performing a ritual to resurrect Voldemort. Bone of his father, Blood of the enemy, Flesh of an ally." Harry stopped. "And then Voldemort came back. Looks like he's part snake now but he's as evil as ever. And he could touch me now; he broke that protection my Mother left.
"He summoned his followers and they can running; Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Macnair, lots of others, they were all there grovelling before him, even after he hit a few of them with a Crucio."
"That's sickening." Hermione was pale.
"Yeah. Then He made me duel Him, right there in front of everyone, to prove himself my superior." Harry snorted.
"Big ego." Fleur commented.
"Yeah. He tried to use the Imperius Curse on me at the start but I could resist it and tried to hit him with a blasting curse. From there it was an all-out fight." Harry shuddered. "He's powerful, and fast. I couldn't hit him with anything and was only barely escaping getting hit directly.
"He nearly had me a dozen times until I got blasted by debris from an explosion next to me and went flying. I'd gotten to a knee when he cast the killing curse at me and I cast back blindly. Our spells hit and linked and all sorts of weird stuff happened. I managed to force the join of the spells back at Voldemort and ghosts started emerging from his wand..."
Harry was silent for several minutes with his audience waiting with almost painful anticipation.
"I saw my parent's ghosts." Harry said finally. "And a few others. Bertha Jenkins, and some old guy I saw killed in a dream last summer. They distracted Voldemort while I summoned the Cup and escaped."
There was a long silence.
"When was it that you suffered the Cruciatus exposure?" Madam Pomfrey asked quietly. "During the duel?"
"No." Harry shook his head slightly as his gaze dropped. "That happened before he summoned his Death Eaters, while I was still tied up."
"Cowardly bastard." Hermione snapped.
"Even 'is name iz proof." Fleur added. "Et means 'Flight From Death'."
"And it's a made up name too." Harry followed on from Fleur. "Like I said, he was born 'Tom Marvolo Riddle'. The leader of pure-blood superiority is the son of a muggle. Not a muggle-born but an actual muggle. My blood is purer than his, if you care about that sort of thing."
"True. Well, thank you for sharing. You should get some more sleep." Dumbledore said before he turned and left.
Daphne sighed. "Never a dull moment around you, is it Harry?"
"I could use a little less excitement personally." Harry grumbled. "I just want to be normal and have a normal year. Just once."
"Well, you aren't normal and you probably won't have a normal year." Daphne poked at him. "And you should be glad because no normal person would have managed to get the four of us as friends."
"That is one thing I am grateful for." Harry smiled at her even as he shakily swatted her hand away.
"I am sorry though." Daphne retreated physically and emotionally. "For pushing you to win so hard. For inadvertently helping you fall into his trap."
"No!" Harry's voice had a firmness they had never heard before. "If it hadn't been for your training and pushing someone could have died. If anyone else won they'd have been killed immediately, I only had a chance because he was toying with me. If you hadn't pushed me I might have shared the win and they would have died. If you hadn't pushed me so hard in our training I wouldn't have stood a chance duelling Voldemort. You are the reason I made it back alive. So thank you very much."
Daphne looked away but they all had a very strong feeling that she was hiding how her eyes had just teared up.
"Alright, that's enough. You, Mr Potter, need to get back to sleep. The rest of you, you've seen for yourself that he will be just fine so you can all go and get some much needed rest for yourselves. Scoot."
The four girls reluctantly let themselves get chased out, promising to visit him before breakfast in the morning.
Harry had to drink several potions under Madam Pomfrey's stern gaze before sleep took him back into darkness.
Harry felt a lot better when he woke the next morning. The aches were subsiding and his injuries were healing nicely. He still had the occasional tremor but they were smaller and further apart. Hermione, Daphne, Padma and Fleur were all feeling rather protective of their younger friend and acted as a buffer between him and the rest of the school as they ate together at the Ravenclaw table and then whisked him outside and away from all the stares and whispers.
It was the first time that Padma and Daphne had been in the quiet clearing where Fleur and Hermione had taught Harry to dance back before Christmas.
"This is a nice spot." Padma looked around as she sat next to Harry.
"Oui." Fleur agreed. "I 'ave always thought so."
"When did you find it?" Daphne asked.
"Before zee Yule Ball. 'Ermione and I taught 'Arry 'ow to dance 'ere."
"And I'm only just learning about it?" Daphne protested with a small smile on her face.
"Fleur found it on her own. This is Harry's private spot." Hermione explained. "Where he goes to get a little peace and quiet. I'm lucky he showed me earlier this year before the first task."
Daphne nodded. "Well, thank you for trusting me enough to show me as well. I sent my father a letter about what you told us last night, about... Tom Riddle. Hopefully he will be able to help us."
"I sent my dad a letter too." Padma added.
"Oui, me as well." Fleur nodded. "We will get you as much support as possible for zee coming days of 'ardship."
"Thank you." Harry managed a small smile. "But make sure you and your families stay safe too."
"Oui, we will."
"Good." Harry nodded.
Fleur was the only one still standing and pulled something from her pocket and knelt at Harry's feet.
"What're you doing?" Hermione asked.
Fleur didn't answer and poked at Harry's right foot. "Lift please."
As soon as Harry's foot was high enough she spread something on the ground under and hit the bottom of his shoe with two spells then firmly planted Harry's foot on the item on the ground. Then she lifted Harry's foot back up, repeated her first spell and took the item away.
"Zhere you go." Fleur handed the item to Daphne.
Daphne, raised an eyebrow as she took the small bundle and unravelled it to see what it was. "A used pair of panties?"
"You said you wanted to see 'Arry's foot print on my derriere." Fleur replied.
Clearly visible on the back of the functional pair of cotton panties Daphne was holding aloft was a black print of Harry's shoe.
"I do hope these were laundered first." Daphne commented dryly.
"Oui." Fleur glared. "Of course."
"Then I think I will have them framed and mounted on my bedroom wall." Daphne folded item and tucked it in her own pocket. "They are very nice though, for a functional pair. You will have to show me where you got them when I'm next in Paris."
"You can get them in London." Hermione said. "They're a muggle brand."
"Really?" Daphne pulled them out for a closer look.
"Oui." Fleur confirmed. "You like them too?"
Hermione nodded. "Yes, they're very comfortable."
"Then we will have to go shopping together over the summer break." Daphne stated. "All of us. You too Fleur if you are in the country."
"I would like zat." Fleur smiled. "And I will 'appily take anyone 'oo visits Paris around my favourite stores."
"Harry, you can use the Knight Bus to meet us at the Leaky Cauldron." Daphne stated. "You could use some new clothes too."
Harry looked down. "I've never actually gone clothes shopping before. Well, not for anything but my school uniform."
"Time to change that." Daphne replied. "It will serve you in good stead for when you get a girlfriend."
Harry managed a wan smile.
The girls picked up on his dropping mood and Daphne cast a spell that start some soft music playing in the clearing.
"Come on." Daphne hauled Harry to his feet. "You've danced with Hermione and Fleur here, you can dance with me too."
Harry left her pull him close and link her arms around his neck. And his arms wrapped around her waist she started them on a simple swaying step in time to the music, not pushing his recovering body with a proper dance step.
Harry found himself relaxing into her soft warmth as the gentle breeze seemed to keep the bright spring leaves of the trees around them rustling in time to the music as if they were dancing along with them.
- Fin -