Chapter 25: Much Ado About Nothing
Sirius stomped into the Riddle manor house, shaking snow from his boots. He paused, looking around at the dusty furniture. He suddenly slapped his forehead. "The chair! Bloody hell, when I get back, I'm going to have transfigure that poor muggle back! It's been months now."
He continued on into the building, pausing when he heard the sound of Celestina Warbeck singing "My Cauldron Boils Over For You." Carefully, he put his ear to the door to the dining hall where the music was coming from.
"For the last time you idiot, I'm not attracted to the man! Or any man, for that matter!"
"But master, you really could do with a nice dinner date. Live a little! You are immortal after all, it would be good for you."
"Fool! I don't even have my own body at the moment! How would I even get together with Black?"
"Well, I'd just take some dreamless sleep potion while you two relax together."
"Simpleton! That would put me to sleep as well for I share your body! This entire endeavor is pointless and-"
Black slipped, and fell into the door, knocking it open. He froze as his eyes met Quirrell's. The man was busy scattering rose petals over the table, which was set for two. Golden candles burned brightly, revealing a sumptuous meal on gilded plates.
"Oh, er, hello there. Um, master."
"Oh, I'll just leave the two of you alone," Quirrell said, practically skipping with joy. He turned around, revealing the abashed face of Voldemort.
"Ah. Black. You are, er, looking hale. How's the job?"
"Oh, can't complain. Hermione's doing well in her tasks. That's um, that's what you wanted, right?"
"Oh, yes, very much so."
An awkward silence descended, filled only with the happy mindless humming of Quirrell.
"Well, um, would you care to eat?" Voldemort finally ventured. "We, ah, we don't get to talk often."
"Er, sure," Black agreed, hesitantly sitting and trying to smile at the hideous face across from him.
Harry, I am going to kill you. I have to have the most awkward love life ever.
Stifling his trepidation, Lupin carefully opened the door to the dungeon. "Breakfast?" he called, keeping one hand over his eyes. After he'd walked in on Tonks naked the week before, he was determined not to relive that rather mortifying experience. Even if it had been very pleasant.
"It's fine, I'm decent," Tonks voice said, sounding somewhat sleepy.
Lupin opened his, gasped, and promptly shut them again. "No you're not!" he squawked.
"Oh please. You can't say you've never seen a girl in her knickers before." By the tone of her voice, Lupin could tell the attractive, no stop that! Young woman had planted her hands on her hips.
"I well, you see, I never-"
"You never what?" Tonks voice got closer, and Lupin could just tell she was up against the bars, leaning towards him, her ample bosom pressed up against-nononono, none of that.
"Well, you see, I haven't exactly...not on purpose you see, Sirius and James pulled a few pranks, but well, you know...with my condition…"
"Oh my God. You've never even had a girlfriend have you?"
Lupin spread his hands and glared with one eye at Tonks, then promptly flushed at seeing her practically naked again and shut it. "Well, you know, I took a few girls to Hogsmeade with the boys, but I never really...look, this is hardly appropriate conversation for a man of my age to be having with a young lady such as yourself."
"Fine, fine." There was the sound of rustling cloth, and Tonks sighing heavily. "Look, it's fine now, you can open your eyes."
Slowly, Lupin did open his eyes. He suppressed a groan. "I hardly think wearing one of my old shirts, and only that shirt, qualifies as decent."
"What? It's big enough on me to cover everything," Tonks said, gesturing to her rather curvy at the moment figure which the shirt did little to hide. "Now bring my breakfast over, I'm starving."
Swallowing, Lupin reluctantly walked over and pushed one of the plates on his tray through the slot. Tonks held out a mug, and he poured her a cup of tea, before setting down at the small table next to the bars with his own breakfast.
"You know, I'm halfway convinced you're not really a Death Eater," Tonks said through a mouthful of food.
Lupin paused with a fork halfway to his mouth. "Oh?"
"Yeah, you're just so nice. Innocent. Pure. I mean, compared to you I'm a filthy wretch."
"Whatever do you mean? You're a wonderful young woman, and an auror. I'm sure you've got a sterling reputation."
"Yeah, you see, I've actually been in a few broom closets with blokes before, and I seriously doubt you've ever done the horizontal hula with anyone," Tonks said casually, taking a sip of her tea.
Lupin sputtered, spattering himself with his own beverage. He was having a very hard time not imagining himself with Tonks in a broom closet. "Just because I haven't...I mean, it's none of my concern what you've done nor yours what I have or haven't done."
"Really? Because you know, as a metamorphmagus, I can do all sorts of interesting things. Look like practically anyone. Tell me, what would you change about me to make me sexier?"
"Nothing." It was out before Lupin could even register that he was speaking. He flushed, trying to look away from the young woman who was so close to him, separated only by those damnable bars. He coughed. "I mean, you're already lovely. Who would try to change anything about you? That would just be living some sick fantasy. I rather like who you are, even if I know you can never like me for keeping you prisoner here."
"Well, that's sort of my fault now isn't it? I tried to kill Dumbledore. It was Dumbledore, wasn't it, that you brought to see me? Old coot always was sucking on some weird muggle candy or other."
"They were caramels," Lupin said forlornly. "I do wish you had believed him. Maybe...maybe if you changed your mind, promised me you wouldn't go straight to the ministry...I could let you out?" Lupin tried to keep the desperate hope and pleading from his voice, but he didn't quite succeed.
Tonks met his eyes for a long minute, then slowly, shook her head. "I couldn't do that. I'm honor bound to fulfill my duty as an auror. The moment you let me out of this cell, I'd have to turn you lot in. At the very least, you are wanted for questioning about You-Know-Who and Sirius Black, as well as other suspected death eaters."
Lupin sighed. "I was afraid you'd say that." He glanced down at his tea speckled shirt and grimaced. "Well, I should go get cleaned up. Want any new books from the library while I'm up there?"
"Sure, anything trashy and romantic, or swashbuckling and bloody," Tonks said, handing over a novel. "Finished with Lockhart's latest. Thanks for getting it for me. Chasing Chupacabra's was pretty good."
"Of course, be back soon." Lupin hurried up the stairs, and Tonks watched him go, biting her lip.
"Damn it all, I think I really am falling for you, you big lug," Tonks muttered, shaking her head. At first she'd tried the whole sexy seductress angle to get herself free, but more and more she found she was more interested in actually catching Lupin than escaping. After all, if she did escape, she'd have to turn him in, and somehow she didn't think a werewolf's stay in the ministry holding cells would be half as pleasant as her stay in the Black dungeon.
Oh well. She lay back on the bed, carefully loosening the top two buttons of the shirt. At least it was something entertaining to do. And besides, it would be nice to be the one in a relationship with all the experience for once.
Most people, when they hear a name like Forbidden Forest, have a spark of curiosity and a desire to explore such a place. However, after hearing that this particular Forbidden Forest played home to vampires, giant spiders, demi-werewolves, centaurs with a chip the size of an American Indian Reservation on their shoulders, and now dragons, most sane individuals would find that particular spark of curiosity extinguished. It must say something about our "heroes" that each and every one of them had been in the forest multiple times, and considered it to be more of the Don't-Get-Caught-Going-in-There Forest.
"Well, looks like you're all here then," Charlie said, clapping his hands. "Good to see you again, Hagrid."
"Well, when I heard that there was gonna be a class on carin' fer dragons you knew I was gonna come runnin' Charlie," the enormous game keeper said. "You sure I can't have one of the leftover ones? They're just so cute ya know."
Charlie winked and shook his head. "Not a chance."
"He wouldn't let us have one either," Harry said mournfully, and Luna nodded, gazing wistfully at the baby dragons resting with the four champions.
Hagrid stroked his beard, gazing at Cedric who had two Welsh Greens perched on his shoulders. "Ya know, Cedric. Iffin raisin' two dragons gets ta be too much work fer yeh…"
"Sorry Hagrid, but the Headmaster explicitly forbid me from giving you a dragon," Cedric said apologetically.
Luna opened her mouth and raised a finger, but Cedric cut her off. "And McGonagall told me she'd turn me into a newt if I gave you one Luna."
"You'd get better," Luna grumbled, kicking at the dead leaves under her feet.
"Can we get on with zis, s'il vous plait?" Fleur asked, stroking the head of her Swedish Short Snout. "Gaston and I have much more to do this day. I promised him I would take him fishing in zee lake later on. He does so enjoy zee water."
"Ah! That's a good thing that is. Short Snouts are famous fishermen, and unlike most dragon species they actually enjoy a bit of paddle in the fjords from time to time," Charlie said. "Now, I'll go over the unique aspects with each of your dragon species later with you individually, but for now here's the basics of rearing hatchlings."
Charlie walked the four champions (and Ron, Hagrid, Harry, and Luna, who eagerly assisted with some of the extra hatchlings that had survived Hermione's ocean) through the basics of dragon care, such as checking for dragon pox, what to feed and how often, hide and talon maintenance, and how not to get your hand burned off or your eyes clawed out.
"Gaston would never attempt to bite me, would you mon tresor?" Fleur said, scratching the tiny dragon under his chin.
Gaston cooed, blinking his eyes and lashing his tail back and forth.
"Hmph. Speak for yourself," Victor grunted. He batted away his dragon with the back of his hand as the hatchling snapped at him. "Down, Karadzha!"
Fleur sniffed. "If you treat that poor thing so, how can you expect anything but violence from him?"
Victor muttered something in Bulgarian, but Charlie shook his head. "You're both half right actually. Ironbellys are notoriously rough characters, and they're always fighting to see who's top dragon. You have to remind them that you're top dragon frequently. However, a little kindness will go a long way; dragons like people are most impressionable when they are young."
Victor grunted, and roughly petted Karadzha on the head. The dragon accepted such as it's right, then tried to nip at Krum's fingers only for the nimble seeker to easily avoid the attack.
"I think Ramoth and I are getting along famously," Hermione declared, peering at the underside of her dragon's left forelimb. "Ron and I have been reading her Principia Mathematica and chess theory books for bedtime stories. I think she quite likes them."
"Yeah, we'll have her doing algebra and playing Bobby Fischer in no time," Ron declared.
"Who's this Bobby Fischer fellow?" Hagrid asked, placing one of the Peruvian Vipertooths on his shoulder. "Awe, look at the little tyke. He's quite fond o' me I think."
"Still not giving you a dragon," Charlie said without turning around. "And I believe Bobby Fischer is some sort of muggle chess prodigy."
"Only the greatest grandmaster of all time!" Ron declared. "I think I'll have to go play in a muggle chess championship sometime. Hermione's been telling me about the FIDE and I think it's a shame that wizards don't have an international chess championship themselves."
"That I vould be paying money to see," Victor mused. "A Vizard playing chess with palmuk. I vill have to try reading to Karadzha. Perhaps a quidditch book or two."
"You should ask Ginny, I think she has a copy of The Victor Krum Story she's been wanting signed," Luna said.
Victor snorted. "I vill sign book if Tiny Fierce Vitch asks, but do not like that one. I did not say most of what I said in that book, and the pictures...bah! They must have some glamor charms on them I think, I do not look so good in my own mirror."
"She's got Jonesing for Quaffles: Gwenog and the Haprpies and Quidditch Through the Ages too," Hermione said. "I think the libraries copies are all checked out."
"That vould be better I am thinking," Victor mused. "My own books vere soaked by idiot cephalopod in your lake. I am vondering though, how is salt water creature like giant squid living in fresh water lake?"
"Ah, see, that's because it was charmed by these enterprizin' young lads 'bout 25 years ago," Hagrid explained. "Poor thing can only survive in fresh water now. Ol' Nemo's terrible lonely like. Never met another of his kind since he was a larva."
Cedric whistled, and his two dragons scampered to his side. "Well, as fascinating as squids are, I'm taking Siggy and Linde back to the sett for a nap, they're right knackered. See you around!"
"We'd best be going too," Hermione agreed, cradling the sleeping dragon in her own arms. "I've loads of studying I need to do to keep up in arithmancy."
"Don't worry, I took good notes," Ron said as put his arm around Hermione's shoulders. "And I found a nice empty classroom for us to study in. One Fred and George haven't even found yet."
Fleur turned to Charlie, smiling sweetly at him. "Would you care to come to zee lake wis Gaston and I? I would like to see the proper way to bas a dragon. It is cold zough, and I am worried, could he catch a chill? He is still very small for a dragon, oui?"
Charlie nodded amiably. "Sure, Norberta and I can tag along. She could even heat the water, make it a bit more comfortable for Gaston. Might make a regular steam bath."
Fleur beamed. "Merci, that would be excellent! Ah, and I brought my bathing suit, just in case. I do hope it is not against school rules though. We french, we are a bit more libertine in our attitudes towards swimwear than you english." She eyed Charlie up and down a bit hungrily, her eyes lingering over his well muscled arms and chest. "Would you judge it for me? That is, if it is acceptable or not."
Charlie, bless his soul, nodded and smiled innocently. "Sure, I can do that."
Norberta, for her part, rolled her eyes. She might be a dragon, but she wasn't blind to a veela's tricks.
"Ugh, what am I going to do!" Hermione wailed at breakfast a month later. "Professor Dumbledore just told me that their is going to be a Yule Ball! I was already planning on staying at school for the holidays, I doubt very much my parents would approve of my keeping a dragon at home, but this is going to seriously cut into my study time!"
Ron half choked on his bacon, until Harry helpfully pounded his back a few times. "You...you're going to a ball?"
"Yes, didn't you hear me Ron?" Hermione said absently as she tossed a bit of bacon to Ramoth, who eagerly snapped it up. There was now a separate table just for the champions and their dragons (and the Weasleys) set up outside of the Great Hall. Ramoth and Gaston were rather well behaved, but the other three dragons were more than a bit of a handful during meals. "I'll have to get a dress, and spend hours on my hair and makeup...it will ruin at least three days of perfectly good studying time!"
"Oh. Would you like to-" Ron began, but Charlie smacked the back side of his head.
"Not like that you moron. You have to do something special for a ball."
"Zat is true," Fleur agreed, tossing a bit of ham to Gaston who daintily snapped it out of the air. "I look forward to seeing what you come up with, Charles."
Harry glanced at Luna, but she just shrugged. "I don't require anything fancy Harry."
"Well, I'll try and think of something anyway," Harry said, earning approving nods from Hermione and Fleur, and causing Ron to break out in a cold sweat.
Charlie, for his part, had turned bright red. "Do they let non-students attend the ball?" he whispered to Hermione.
"I don't know," Hermione grumbled. "I haven't had time to review that section of the tournament rules just yet. I haven't even figured out what the second task will be!"
"Ve vill race our dragons, I think," Krum said, shoving Karadzha back down, then giving the dragon a rasher of bacon and patting the dragon's head when it accepted it. "They vill be a good size by the spring, I am thinking."
"Yep," Cedric agreed amiably. He had given up on draconic table manners, and was simply tossing bits of meat down to two very large dog bowls he had set out for his greens. "The last one's sure to be some sort of trial by combat. These things always end in that."
"But that's absurd!" Hermione protested. "They're just babies, and we're kids! We can't be expected to fight!"
"Says the woman who has killed half a dozen monsters and battled an equal number of dark wizards," Fleur said, shaking her head. Gaston copied the gesture, and was rewarded with another bit of bacon. "Ooo! Such a clever boy you are!"
"He's an amazing dragon," Charlie said. "Beautiful too." He wasn't looking at Gaston when he said the second part, but Fleur didn't seem to mind.
Later, the Weasley men (and Cedric, who at this point given up on having a social life outside of the Band of the Red Hair, as well as Krum who found his inclusion bemusing if a bit charming) held an emergency meeting.
"Right, as the resident experts on love-" Fred began, when the door banged open.
"No, you're not," Percy declared, striding in and shoving Fred to the back of the room. "Boys, it's time to learn about what love really is and become men."
"Hey, I'm older than you are!" Charlie protested.
Percy gave his older brother a level look. "And which of us is engaged? You seem to only be interested in dragons and women with dragons. From what Ginny has told me, Fleur had to practically scream at you to get your attention."
Charlie sat down, his ears turning as red as his hair as he muttered to himself.
"I am not decided if I should be offended you find me so inept at romance, or amused that you are including me in important family gathering," Victor deadpanned.
"Oh please. Ginny always get's what she wants, and you've had nothing but praises for her since that quidditch game two weeks ago," George said.
"She is little girl! I am four years older than she!" Victor protested.
"Right, which is why you'll be a perfect gentleman at the ball for her," Fred said amiably. "Or you'll find that there are two balls even more important than the snitch."
Cedric snorted, covering his mouth to keep himself from grinning when Victor glared at him. "Oh come off it man. You've told me you find the girls at your school insufferable fan girls, the french girls talentless airheads, and the rest of the girls at hogwarts boring as Ireland's seeker."
"Am villing to admit dearth of good options," Krum admitted. "Still, am not convinced."
"You'll have to do what feels right to you," Percy said, waving his hand. "Now, gentlemen, the first thing you need to learn is that not every girl wants flowers and chocolate all the time. They're nice, and few girls don't appreciate them every time, but I learned the hard way with Penny that their are plenty of things she finds much more enticing. The same will be true of each of your prospective dates."
"We already knew that gov!" Fred shouted, writing notes furiously.
"Yeah, say something witty for once," George agreed, scribblings something on the palm of his hand.
"Uh huh," Percy grunted. "Anyway, you also need to know if she'd prefer something public and flashy, or something more intimate and personal. Penny loves it when I make a big production of bringing her something at the office, because she gets to show it off to all her girl friends. However, some girls would be mortified at the same kind of theatrics."
"Next, which of you know how to dance? Fred, George, put your hands down, you bloody well don't."
"Am I seriously the only one?" Cedric said, looking around at the rest of the boys, his hand the only one in the air."Victor, you surely know how to dance!"
"Am not learning how to dance with red haired beanpole," Krum grumbled.
"No problem, I have an assistant," Percy said, stepping aside and bowing to the door. "My ever lovely bride."
Penelope stepped into the classroom, snapping pictures of Krum and Cedric. Cedric smiled winningly, while Victor glowered. "This will make an excellent piece for the Quibbler! Dancing with the Champions!"
"You're going to let us dance with your girl, Princess?" Fred said.
George batted his eyelashes. "What if we woo the lovely lady away from you?"
"I'm not worried. Penelope doesn't have a thing for idiots who don't bathe frequently," Percy said. Before Fred and George could protest, he produced an ancient gramophone and put it on one of the desks.
Penny smiled and motioned for everyone to stand as Percy took her in his arms. "Now, we'll start with a waltz, the work on some folk dances. Follow what Percy is doing doing, then I'll take turns with each of you to make sure you've got it."
"This is so embarrassing," Ron groaned.
Harry shrugged. "What would be more embarrassing? Having Penny teach us, or tripping over ourselves come the ball?"
Run grunted, and began to waltz with the rest of them.
You know, at some point I think Harry actually stopped being the main character but I'm sort of alright with that. Hail Khalisi!
Also, relax. I have plans for Bill. In fact, he's going to make a guest appearance at some point in the new spin off story, Monster Hunters Extraordinaire! This is the adventures that Lockhart and his "sidekicks" get up to in the meantime. I've already got a chapter up, with more to follow, including one where Bill ends up dragged into an ancient Egyptian Tomb to hunt a deadly prey.
Now if only a beautiful and mysterious woman were going along with Lockhart who could tame the heart of a Weasley….