.

.

Prank of Pranks


.

Everyone who knew the Weasley Twins was confident something extra delicious would be served up during the Opening Feast. To see Fred and George whispering excitedly together on the Hogwarts Express was nothing new, but never before had they spent the entire journey with such rapturous expressions on their faces.

"Didn't they even give you a hint, Ron?" said Harry, swaying with the lurching coach as it slowly rounded the tight bends during the final approach into Hogsmeade.

"Not a dicky bird except to keep our eyes open at the feast."

"So we have a mystery," mused Hermione, gazing out at the darkening sky. A sudden flash of lightning indicated a storm was coming. "I'm hoping the Headmaster will announce extra tuition for Arithmancy, yet somehow I doubt that's Fred and George's style."

Harry and Ron grinned at each other.

Ron leaned back and gazed up at the ceiling, fantasising. "My dream is that Draco will try to eat a mouthful of indestructible extra-strength Spellotape. What about you, Harry?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing? What sort of a prank is that?"

"Just this once it would be great if Dumbledore announces nothing about dying a painful death on the third floor, and nothing about a useless new Defence professor who later removes an armful of bones and tries to wipe your memories, and nothing about soul-sucking Dementors being posted around the school like last year."

Ron and Hermione both laughed. "Yes," she said, "it would be nice to have a peaceful fourth year. Come on, we're pulling into the station, and it's raining hard now. Oh well, we shall soon know..."

.

Good Conduct Award

As the train doors opened, there was a rumble of thunder overhead. The rain was coming down thick and fast.

"Hi, Hagrid!" Harry yelled, seeing a gigantic silhouette at the far end of the platform.

"All righ', Harry?" Hagrid bellowed back, waving. "See yeh at the feast if we don' drown!"

"Oooh, I wouldn't fancy crossing the lake in this weather," said Hermione fervently, as they dashed through the squelching mud towards the rows of horseless carriages that awaited them.

Soon they'd arrived at the castle and were leaping up the steps into the Entrance Hall, with its magnificent marble staircase.

"Blimey,"said Ron, shaking his head and sending water everywhere, "if that keeps up, the lake's going to overflow. I'm soak– ARGH!"

A large, red, water-filled balloon had dropped from out of the ceiling onto Ron's head, and exploded. Drenched and spluttering, he staggered sideways into Harry, just as a second water bomb dropped – narrowly missing Hermione, it burst at Harry's feet, sending a wave of cold water over his trainers into his socks. People all around them shrieked and started pushing each other in their efforts to get out of the line of fire. Harry looked up and saw Peeves floating twenty feet above them.

"PEEVES!" yelled an angry voice. "Peeves, come down here at ONCE!"

Professor McGonagall had come out of the Great Hall; she was about the only warm, dry person there but became distracted by skidding on the wet, stone-slabbed floor. Peeves could not resist this perfect target and made a daring rush to take advantage.

As his water-bloated balloon came sailing down, Harry reacted without thinking. "Lapifors!" and McGonagall suddenly discovered that instead of a drenching, a cuddly white rabbit had fallen into her arms.

"Peeves, I shall call the Headmaster!" barked Professor McGonagall, "I'm warning you, Peeves!"

Peeves stuck out his tongue, threw the last of his water bombs into the air, and zoomed off up the marble staircase, cackling insanely.

"Well, move along, then!"said Professor McGonagall sharply to the bedraggled crowd. "Into the Great Hall, go on! Not you, Potter!"

Harry stopped in mid-stride. Ron and Hermione crashed into him from behind.

"Have I you to thank for... this?" McGonagall held up the rabbit.

"Sorry, Professor," said Harry in his meekest tone, "first thing I could think of."

"Excellent Transfiguration, I must say. Pity you couldn't quite manage it last year when I taught you the spell, isn't it? As I recall you only succeeded in adorning a tea cosy with floppy ears and a bushy tail."

Harry gave a wry grin.

"Well done, Potter. Five points to Gryffindor for... shall we say, gentlemanly conduct? Off with you now."

.

Forever

Beneath the black and stormy magical sky of the Great Hall, Professor Dumbledore rose to his feet. He was smiling around at the students, his arms opened wide in welcome. Harry crossed all his fingers, and Ron, who had seized his knife and fork and was gazing expectantly at his golden plate as soon as McGonagall had finished the sorting, muttered, "About time."

"I have only two words to say to you," said the Headmaster, his deep voice echoing around the Hall. "Tuck in."

"Hear, hear!" said Harry and Ron loudly, as the empty dishes filled magically before their eyes.

The uttering of a loud grating screech halted the first lunge of all the hungry students in the huge chamber. Ron, a good half-second ahead of everyone else, became almost motionless with his fork already speared deeply into a sizeable steak.

"What the bloody hell was that?" began to form on his lips but the words did not need to be spoken aloud. For the Potions Master, Professor Severus Snape, face livid with anger, was on his feet glaring towards the Gryffindor table.

"Severus, please," said Dumbledore, his voice quite loud in the overpowering silence that had engulfed the room, "Help yourself to some of my food – there is more than enough to go round."

"That is not the point!" spluttered Snape, his face now a vivid puce, and waving towards his own dishes.

That was the moment the student body realised the monumental event that was to reshape magical history: all of the bowls and plates before Snape remained empty.

A buzz of excitement began near the front of the hall. It rapidly grew louder and within seconds cascaded onto the farthest tables in a monumental clamour of cries and laughter.

"IT WAS YOU! I KNOW IT WAS YOU!"

Snape had swept forward around his table, one finger pointing menacingly. Harry cringed out of habit before noticing the digit was aimed over his head.

"ONE HUNDRED POINTS FROM GRYFFINDOR!" cried Snape. "EACH!"

With that, he strode out of the hall while all eyes turned to Fred and George who were calmly chewing on their roast beef dinner. "What?"

At that moment, there was a brilliant flicker of light, a deafening rumble of thunder, and the doors of the Great Hall banged open – but it was not Snape returning. A man stood in the doorway, leaning upon a long staff, shrouded in a black travelling cloak. He lowered his hood, shook out a long mane of grizzled, dark grey hair, then began to limp towards the teachers' table. Another flash of lightning crossed the ceiling. Hermione gasped at the heavily-scarred face, but it was the man's eyes that made him frightening. One of them was moving ceaselessly, without blinking, and was rolling up, down and from side to side, quite independently of the normal eye – and then it rolled right over, pointing into the back of the man's head.

"May I introduce our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher," said Dumbledore brightly, into the silence. "Professor Moody."

Snape was forgotten, eating resumed, but soon the remembrance of the vast number of house points lost developed into a background growling all aimed at the Weasley twins, who still seemed not at all perturbed.

"Fear not, fellow Gryffindors," said Fred. "Would we ever lose you two hundred house points in one night?"

George winked.

"What are they up to?" Hermione murmured to herself.

The answer became quickly evident on their return through the Entrance Hall – if another mystery could ever be referred to as an answer.

"Empty!" cried Neville as they ran towards the hourglasses that kept count of house points. "Snape couldn't deduct two hundred points because there aren't any yet."

But as the crowd slewed to a halt before the tall glass cylinders, he corrected himself. "No, wait... someone's already earned five points – look!"

"That's Harry's! Must be!" chortled Ron. "For saving McGonagall from Peeves! Way to go, Harry!"

"He's right," said Hermione, "but why didn't those few get deducted?"

A crowd was gathering. Harry gaped in wonder.

"This is simply impossible," continued Hermione. "In a thousand years, not one single house point has ever been successfully tampered with. Everyone knows that it's boasted about on page one of Hogwarts: A History."

"Guess they'll have to rewrite the book," said Ron. "Come on, I'm dog-tired. Let's get some kip."

"Must have been McGonagall who stopped it," suggested one of the jostling crowd. "She wouldn't stand for such an outrageous deduction from her own house."

"Dumbledore," said another. "He witnessed himself that there was no proof, so he cancelled the punishment."

Hermione was still shaking her head on the way up. "The Headmaster can subtract points from the other houses to compensate, but even he cannot undo deductions or reset the hourglasses – the castle itself does that once a year and once a year only. It's all magical you see. The Founders' own enchantments automagically maintain the unchangeable principles of Hogwarts forever."

"Except..." began Ron, but shut up when he saw Hermione's stony glare.

"Forever," she repeated firmly, and strutted up to her dorm.

By the time the boys were sleepily laying down their heads, it had been generally agreed to have been a rather good prank to begin the new school year, and no one deserved more to be on its receiving end than Professor Snape.

"What if Dumbledore can't fix it?" yawned Neville. "Suppose Snape can't deduct points from me tomorrow in Potions? Or ever?"

And with that happy thought, he sank into a rather pleasant dream.

.

Willy

Neville's drowsy speculation proved to be true, for the next morning, not only did Snape have to slink off to the kitchens again for breakfast, and not only did Ron not lose any points for talking, but Draco, who had been awarded ten points 'for having a nice clean cauldron', was cheated of his glory. Only five Slytherin points had fallen so far, and they were allocated to Tracey Davis by the Charms professor. The plain truth was that Snape could no longer give or take house points. At all.

"How are they doing this?" fretted Hermione through the entire History class that followed. "How?" In her mind, the threat to the stability of Hogwarts magic was as unnerving as gravity failing a physicist. "How are they doing this?"

Harry rolled his eyes and tried to focus on the Goblin wars once more. But it was Harry himself that finally solved the mystery of the missing points – or rather, discovered enough to blackmail the truth out of the twins.

"Willy Billabong?" he said to Fred, thrusting the Marauder's Map under his nose.

"Ah, now that would make things rather difficult should that particular titbit of information ever be revealed," said George, squirming with his brother in the corner where Harry had them pinned.

"How?" said Harry, waggling the sheet threateningly.

"Promise not to tell?"

"Purely for my own satisfaction," replied Harry. "My lips are sealed."

"In that case, well, it's quite simple."

"Bit of an anti-climax really, isn't it Fred? Like explaining a joke."

"But totally foolproof and untraceable."

"Without the map."

"Yes. We never thought of that, did we, bro?"

"So...?" said Harry, impatiently.

Fred began the tale. "All through summer, Dad was going on about how far behind with the work everyone is at the Ministry.

"Seems that magic is being relied on more and more to handle routine complaints, requests, and so forth," continued George.

"Initially," said Fred.

"Quite so. And the wizarding staff need only oversee that procedure in due course."

"Later."

"Yes, in fact, much later in some departments."

"Like which?" said Harry with a frown.

Fred and George looked at one another. George took a deep breath. "We owled a change-of-name form requesting an alteration of Severus Snape's entry in the magical registry to–"

"–to Willy Billabong," Harry completed for him, gazing happily at the moving name on his map.

"Our beloved Potions professor doesn't know it, but officially, he is now a Willy."

"And Hogwarts no longer recognises him as a teacher employed here in the castle because it still has his original name on its own magical records."

"But won't someone at the Ministry find out eventually?"

"They're months behind, Harry!" cried Fred. "By the time some junior clerk detects that the form is not authentically signed, all the clerk can do is cancel the error and–"

"–and because technically it's the clerk's fault for not keeping up-to-date, we think he'll keep quiet about it. Wouldn't you?"

Harry nodded. A smile had formed on his lips. "You know what this is? This is just... brilliant!"

.

Impotent

But even by Halloween, the ruse's method had not been uncovered by anyone except Harry. Snape had passed through phases of both rage and scowling misery. Potion classes had become quietly seething affairs for it had also been found that detentions were not being magically recorded and many daring students were simply not turning up for their punishment, knowing that the matter could not be referred to the Headmaster without any official record. If you had the nerve, Snape's detentions were unenforceable.

Dumbledore himself seemed more impressed than annoyed. Oh, he'd consulted the house elves about the missing food, and he'd cast every detection spell he could think of upon Snape – but no hex, charm, or jinx could be detected. He'd resorted to patting the man on the back by way of consolation, but there was always a twinkle in his eyes when he did so. And if he ever cast a name-identifying spell, well, then he kept the results to himself with a smile.

"We'll just have to wait and see how it works out, Severus," he would say very calmly after every interview with his teacher, usually just before an important meal. "By whatever means the spell has been cast, it surely can't last forever." And then one day, he added, "Besides, as you know, I have some very important announcements to make at the feast in a few minutes. Shall we?"

.

The Goblet of Fire

"Harry Potter." said Dumbledore, as he stood beside the Goblet of Fire in the Great Hall.

Harry sat there, aware that every head in the vast chamber had turned to look at him. He was surely dreaming.

There was no applause. A buzzing, as though of angry bees, was starting to fill the Hall; some students were standing up to get a better look at Harry as he sat, frozen, in his seat.

Harry turned to Ron and Hermione; beyond them, he saw the long Gryffindor table all watching him, open mouthed.

"I didn't put my name in!" Harry said blankly. "You know I didn't."

Both of them stared just as blankly back.

At the top table, Professor Dumbledore had straightened up, nodding to Professor McGonagall.

"Harry Potter!" he called again. "Harry! Up here, if you please!"

"Go on," Hermione whispered, giving Harry a slight push.

Harry got to his feet, trod on the hem of his robes and stumbled slightly. He set off up the gap between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables. It felt like an immensely long walk; the top table didn't seem to be getting any nearer at all, and he could feel hundreds and hundreds of eyes upon him, as though each was a searchlight. The buzzing grew louder and louder. After what seemed like an hour, he was right in front of Dumbledore, feeling the stares of all the teachers upon him. Snape, who was still clutching the remains of a packet of stale ham sandwiches he'd begged from the kitchen, sneered at Harry's dilemma, and his black eyes lit up with malice.

"Well ... through the door, Harry," said Dumbledore. He wasn't smiling.

.

The Binding Contract

"Mr Crouch ... Mr Bagman," said Karkaroff, "you are our – er – objective judges. Surely you will agree that a fourth champion is most irregular?"

Crouch said, "We must follow the rules, and the rules state clearly that those people whose names come out of the Goblet of Fire are bound to compete in the Tournament."

"Well, Barty knows the rulebook back to front," said Bagman, beaming and turning back to Karkaroff and Madame Maxime, as though the matter was now closed.

"How this situation arose, we do not know," said Dumbledore, speaking to everyone gathered in the room. "It seems to me, however, that we have no choice but to accept it. Both Cedric and Harry have been chosen to compete in the Tournament. This, therefore, they will do ..."

"Uumm..." a nervous little voice piped up, and all eyes swerved towards Harry. "but don't I, erm... have any say in this?"

Snape uttered a low snort of disdain from where he stood observing the proceedings.

Dumbledore's eye opened a little wider. "It's a binding magical contract, Harry. There's no way out."

"But... but what actually would happen if I didn't compete?"

Crouch answered. "But, that's not possible. You can't break such a contract or all your magic would automatically fade and die. Effectively, you'd become a Muggle."

"He's right, Harry," said Dumbledore softly, "and in your case that would mean you could no longer remain at a school of magic. Your name has come out of the Goblet so is bound by that contract."

Harry never heard what was said after that. He shrunk into himself and scarcely remembered slinking away to the furthest part of the castle, there to milk the most out of the painful injustice and contemplate his fate.

.

Weighing Heavily

"Wand Weighing?" Harry said nervously.

"We have to check that your wands are fully functional, no problems, you know, as they're your most important tools in the tasks ahead," said Bagman. The expert's upstairs now with Dumbledore. And then there's going to be a little photo shoot. This is Rita Skeeter," he added, gesturing towards a witch in magenta robes, "she's doing a small piece on the Tournament for the Daily Prophet ..."

"Maybe not that small, Ludo," said Rita Skeeter, her eyes on Harry.

"I wonder if I could have a little word with Harry before we start?" she said to Bagman, but still gazing fixedly at Harry. "The youngest champion, you know ... to add a bit of colour?"

"Certainly!" cried Bagman. "That is – if Harry has no objection?"

"Er – no, I would like to say something actually," said Harry. "I've given this a lot of thought and decided not to participate. I never put my name in and it's unfair on everybody else."

Everyone had stopped talking and were staring at Harry as if he'd grown an extra head. Skeeter was fumbling in her bag, pulling out a roll of parchment and a quill.

"Harry," laughed Bagman, nervously, "you don't know what you're saying!" His face had turned pale and he was now regarding Harry as he might contemplate a man trembling on a very high ledge – next to him.

A fear did indeed take hold of Harry, and when he tried to speak he could not. Had he made the right decision? To risk all his magic and his position at Hogwarts?

Rita, meanwhile, was thinking furiously of a new angle. "What happened to change your mind, Harry? To make this noble sacrifice in protest against antiquated rules and regulations?"

"It's n-not noble. I'm... the..."

But Harry was saved from saying anything further when the door opened and Dumbledore came through with Mr Ollivander, the wandmaker.

"Dumbledore!" cried Bagman. "Speak to your boy – he's confused about the rules. Says he's not competing."

The Headmaster's gaze turned to Harry but before he could say anything, Harry cried, "I choose not to be in this competition. So my wand doesn't really need checking so I'll just erm... go then..."

"Go? Go where, Harry?" said Dumbledore.

"Mmm... back to my class, I guess, with..."

"Professor Snape is it not?"

Harry could not help wondering if the Headmaster had a mental list of every student's daily schedule. Certainly the idea of continuing the Potions class was very unappealing.

"The weighing of the wands does not commit you in any way, Harry, and it will allow you more time to reconsider. Suppose some new information came your way too late?"

Harry hesitated for a few moments, visualising his magic fading away to nothing during Snape's class. "No excuses, Potter!" and with Draco sneering on the sidelines, maliciously fingering his own wand which now seemed all-powerful. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to put off making the decision for another day...

Harry looked defeated as he nodded his agreement to Dumbledore, who quickly signalled to Ollivander to continue with the wand weighing.

.

Saying No

And so it went on for the following weeks. Harry did not resist when Hagrid took him to see the dragons that would be the first task. And, for the sake of fair play, Harry willingly informed Diggory, the other Hogwarts champion, about the creatures. He even submitted to Moody's hint that he find a way to use his flying skills to outwit the dragon. And finally, with Hermione's faithful help, he mastered the summoning charm needed to call the broom which, he hoped, would not be needed.

But as he went to lunch in the Great Hall with Hermione on the day of the first task he could put off the brutal decision no longer. Professor McGonagall was hurrying over to him in the Great Hall. Lots of people were watching.

"Potter, the champions have to come down into the grounds now ... you have to get ready for your first task."

Harry stared at McGonagall. People looked quite different when you were wondering if you were ever going to see them again, he realised. Certain words croaked themselves up out of his dry throat while he gaped awkwardly, "I'm not going."

"What? What did you say?"

Abruptly, after the revolutionary words were delivered, a clear bright light seemed to be shining right through Harry's mind, as though a sweet, minty breeze had blown away all the doubts and fears and everything was clear and obvious. "I'm not participating in the contest." He'd said this quite loudly so that everyone within range would hear, and the corresponding mutters that arose confirmed that they had.

McGonagall saw the fixed purpose in Harry's expression and did not argue. "Very well, Potter. May I suggest you visit Madam Pomfrey then? Losing one's magic can be extremely traumatic. Go now."

Hermione gasped, only just becoming aware of what exactly was happening – and the terrible repercussions.

"No," said Harry. "If you don't mind, Professor. I think I'd rather remain here with my friend."

"Very well." McGonagall nodded. There was a noticeable catch in her voice. "Good luck." And she left them both there without looking back once.

"Harry, please don't..." began Hermione, her eyes shining. "You needn't try really hard or do anything too risky. Just show up, summon your Firebolt and make a few flights out of range..."

"No, Hermione. I think I know what's going to happen now."

"Are you... is your magic... are you still feeling... alright?"

"Yes. In fact, never better! I say, these scrambled eggs look rather good. I wonder what old Snape's getting from the elves. I heard they were reluctant to give outsiders free food other than scraps for beggars. They only serve Hogwarts you see."

"Harry, you're talking very oddly; Snape isn't an outsider."

"Isn't he, Hermione? Isn't he?" And he winked.

.

Surprise Announcements

At dinner, Dumbledore had more than one important announcement to make:

"It is my duty to report that the person you knew as Professor Moody was an impostor." He waited for the gasps and cries of the students to subside before continuing. "When I informed him that the fourth Triwizard Champion would not be participating in the Tournament, his actions rather gave him away, and he was taken in by Madam Amelia Bones for questioning. The real Professor Moody will be joining us in a few days after he has had time to recover from the ordeal of being locked in a chest since the start of the year."

Dumbledore raised his hand to suppress the squeals of horror, then went on:

"Stemming from the information received, Sirius Black has been pardoned, and a search for Peter Pettigrew caught him red-handed murdering what at first appeared to be a deformed Muggle child. Subsequent use of Veritaserum on Pettigrew revealed that in fact the creature was none other than Lord Voldemort who had somehow lost all his magic." Amidst the renewed screams and gasps of the gathering, Dumbledore's eyes stared piercingly towards Harry before continuing.

"For reasons unknown, Voldemort's true name – Tom Riddle – had been falsely changed on the official magical registry to that of... Harry Potter."

Neville fell off the end of the bench at this point while the crowd roared its confusion and Dumbledore raised an arm for silence.

"It has long been suspected that Voldemort had somehow rendered himself immortal. But at the end, with his magic utterly lost to him, he became mortal once more, indeed, he became a member of the group he most despised: a Muggle."

Dumbledore allowed longer for the tumult to die down this time, before announcing, with blue eyes twinkling:

"Finally, I am delighted to report a new Potions master on our staff – not to be confused with Professor Snape whom he closely resembles. May I introduce Professor Willy Billabong!"

Snape scowled darkly, reluctantly rose his feet, then stiffly bowed before returning to the first square meal he'd eaten in a long while.

There was no quelling the riotous commotion that followed the Headmaster's speech. Neville, who had just been clambering back up, subsided once more under the table and decided to stay there. The Weasley twins were performing the tango on top of the table claiming that someone had hexed them. Ron was trying to apologise to Harry for not believing in him, but could not be heard for the noise. Harry, meanwhile, well, Harry PORTER was kissing Hermione, much to her surprise and delight.

.

The End


Author's Notes

A fun idea that came and nagged me to write it. I dashed it off in three or four hours and, instead of slowing me down, it fired me up for my next 'Chance of a Lifetime' chapter which I virtually completed that same day! That's why I prefer to keep a few chapters ahead because although I can average a chapter a week, some weeks the words come more slowly. :)

It might be supposed that one becomes a Squib if you lose all your magic. But in fact, Squibs do have a little passive magic: they can see Dementors, for instance, and Hogwarts castle. :)

Thanks to everyone for comments and reviews. These are most welcome and very encouraging. Let me know of any weaknesses or faults – I'm always trying to improve my writing so feedback is really useful. :)

- Hippothestrowl

.