Disclaimer – Nothing but fanfiction
Acknowledgements – As always the hard work of Alpha Fight Club is greatly appreciated. Take a bow guys.
Chapter 16 – Dancing in the Whirlwind
My statement has the desired effect. The other five champions, their advisors, Bagman, Amos Diggory, and the "esteemed" panel of judges are all yelling at the same time.
Snape scowls, "Potter do you know where …" Dumbledore's wand slashes through the air and the entire tent falls silent – at least for me.
Cagey bastard, he deafened me. I don't have to answer any questions that I can't hear. Nice try Snape. I'm pretty sure who he was asking about. Better luck next time, you sniveling sack of festering sphincter drippings. My eyes flit between Snape and Karkaroff, almost daring either of them to make a move.
Striding from his chair with a presence that seems to fill the judging tent, Dumbledore snatches the vial containing the Veritaserum antidote from Snape's grasp and presses it to my lips. The foul taste drizzles down my throat and a minute later the compulsion is lifted.
Dumbledore removes his silencing spell.
Karkaroff's mouth is moving, "…an outrage. The question is what are you going to do about it, Dumbledore?"
He cocks his head at the foreign wizard, "I agree that Harry's actions were most impetuous, Igor. I shall give this matter my utmost consideration. In fact, since Harry has successfully passed his questioning, I believe that I will take him to my office with his new Pensieve and we'll discuss this matter at length. I will entrust the remainder of the verification process to the rest of you. Harry, if you and your advisor would be so kind to accompany me…"
There's a hint of a threat in Dumbledore's voice. As James, I knew him well enough to know that the less Albus Dumbledore said, the angrier he actually was. Karkaroff looks like he wants to say something, but with all the eyes in the room on him, he settles for a glare. Waving his wand, Dumbledore levitates the aged basin off the ground and motions for me to leave. Halfway out, he says, "Harry, perhaps you should apologize to Headmaster Karkaroff for trespassing on his vessel and overhearing his personal conversation. It is, after all, the considerate thing to do."
I look at him like he's insane, but see the twinkle in his eye. The old man wants me to tweak Karkaroff. "Very well, I'm sorry."
"Excellent, lad. It takes a humble man to take responsibility for his actions. I'm glad we can now put this behind us!"
The three of us began walking back to the castle with Karkaroff's growls of frustration at our backs. There are a few people still in the stands of the Quidditch stadium and a smattering of applause broke out. I nod politely, but Dumbleore's long strides don't give me the opportunity to do more than that.
Hermione races over with Ron trailing. "Harry! That was brilliant! Crude, but utterly brilliant!" She gushes for a moment before following us and picking up on the air of seriousness surrounding the Headmaster. "Is everything alright?"
Looking at my two friends, I shrug, "I'll have to tell you about it later. Right now the Headmaster and I have to have a long overdue conversation. Make sure to save me a dance tonight. Ron, I'll see you up in the tower in awhile. You've got that Transfiguration spell down for your robes, right?"
He nods and pulls Hermione to a stop. I can see the wheels in her mind turning and the concern on her face. I give her a reassuring wink.
Back in the castle, people are too intimidated by Dumbledore and perhaps the imposing and dangerous golem walking behind us. The people milling around are mostly of the male variety. The females are already up in their dorms preparing for the Yule Ball. I'm still mulling over how much I plan to tell the old man. I'd made it three months so far on the current story, but I know he's on to me.
So what if he is? Harry Potter would blurt out the truth like a frightened child caught in a lie. James Potter would simply continue denying everything even when confronted with the truth – slippery devil that one, though, in the end not quite slippery enough. I'll let him make the first move.
The gargoyle in front of his office moves quickly aside to allow us to pass. Even the piece of masonry doesn't want to get in his way. He addresses the Hat. "The staircase will be a rather tight squeeze in with your new body. Would you like to leave it here?"
"Very well, come along." We head up the steps and into his office. I consider doing the usual awe struck kid routine at his collection of magical trinkets. Once inside, the Pensieve is floated to sit next to Dumbledore's much more elaborate model.
"It's also a Flamel," he says commenting on the skilled artificer nearing the end of her days.
"It's a beauty."
"Yes indeed, pity there will be no more. The world is lessened by that fact. Would you please withdraw the memory of the conversation you overheard? Though it is not taught on the curriculum, you seem to be quite capable of performing many things not taught here."
I keep my best game face on, ignoring his veiled question, and remove the memory. "Your's or mine?"
"Mine's larger, but if you don't intend to view it with me, I will use yours, for the sheer nostalgia. Seeing it brings back fond memories of the times I spent with Nicholas in far more innocent days."
He fills the basin with my memory and immerses himself in it. I've got a few minutes to kill, so I wander over to visit with Fawkes. The phoenix looks young and powerful and sends a congratulatory trill my way.
"Thanks. I appreciate it. I'm guessing that things are about to get rather tense between me and your master."
Fawkes shrugs and flaps its wings and stares at the Sorting Hat on top of the golem. I wonder what the immortal creature thinks of all this. The phoenix makes a sound I can only describe as laughter and leaps off its perch landing on the golem's shoulder.
The Hat says, "You know, I can finally pay you back for all these years, you miserable, stinking, pile of maggot-ridden shit." The golem swats at the bird, but Fawkes easily dodges.
"Come back here!"
I get a few amusing minutes of watching Dumbledore's phoenix taunt the Sorting hat. Despite the new body, it is just too slow to catch the extremely nimble bird. The constant stream of frustrated vulgarities emanating from my adviser keeps me smiling right up until the moment Dumbledore clears his throat.
"A most vivid recollection, Harry, if you're not aware, it is inadmissible in a court, although with your truth serum backed testimony it might lend credence to your narrative. Still, they were only postulating their support and not actively engaging in conspiracy. Undeniably, it is a black mark on both of them, but not enough in itself to bring a legal case."
"I'm surprised you're not making excuses for Snape, or attempting to justify his behavior."
"Contrary to popular belief, Harry, I clearly do not know everything that happens within these walls. I am simply a man. A great many things escape my notice. For better or for worse I believe Professor Snape is in the process of preparing to leave the school. Despite my best efforts to encourage the two of you to get along, it appears that I've failed."
"I have no use for that pathetic excuse of a man."
Dumbledore tilts his head slightly before taking his seat and motioning for me to sit in front of his desk. "Yes, I've noticed this. I've also noticed that this bitter hatred seems to have increased since you arrived back in school this year. Since I know you're paths did not cross during the summer, I am at a loss to explain why. I was hoping that you could enlighten me."
"What do you want from me headmaster?"
"A portion of the truth will suffice." His gaze bores into me and I sense a light probe of Legilimecy. I parry it and notice the brief flicker of surprise followed by acceptance cross the old man's face.
"Commendable, Harry. You continue to impress me."
"I do my best."
"Yes, and now you are about to tell me something…"
"I am certain Snape will betray you. He is an unwilling servant of the light."
"Pray tell, why is that?"
"The debt he owes to my family. It forced him to change sides and act to protect the Potter family. There's that, and his unhealthy obsession with Lily Potter."
"I see that Sirius has colored your impression of the events of yesteryear."
I glance over at the Sorting hat. Arms crossed, it gives me a slow nod of encouragement. "I'm afraid that is my own conclusion. I must confess to a bit of a lie. My encounter with the Dementors did notbreak loose some new well of power inside me. It did, however, free the memories locked in my mind."
Dumbledore leans forward, "Memories? Whom do they belong to?"
"James Potter. All of them. His life and even his death."
"I see. You will forgive me if I ask you for some proof."
"I'll give you two memories. The first is you and James in this room discussing The Prophecy. The second memory is James Potter's final seconds trying to fight off Riddle. Will that be sufficient?"
"Indeed, you seem to have put a great deal of thought into the choice."
I shake my head, "The first shows the extent of my knowledge and since only you and James were there you can compare it to your own. It should give you enough to believe me. The second shows that I know what I'm up against. For all his training and skill, James Potter lasted barely a minute against Riddle on a battlefield of his own choosing. I have the son's power, the mother's blood protections, and the father's memories. Even so, it might not be enough."
"Should I still call you Harry?"
"That's as good a name as any. If you changed now, people would get suspicious. If you looked at the map, it shows my full name. The Marauders didn't make it that way."
The headmaster agrees, "It is a most interesting situation you find yourself in, Harry. One can only postulate what might have happened had Professor Lockhart been successful in his spell. He might have truly reaped the whirlwind. I gather that you chose to keep me unaware because of The Prophecy?"
I hadn't thought of what might have happened with that poser. As for the second part, there's no denying it. "You could have leveled with me back in the first year, or the second, or anytime up until now. From my perspective, you didn't deserve it."
"Even after the events of at the end of last year, I did not think you were ready. Tom truly desires a new body, but he remains frustrated and still lacks the means. Quite simply, I was waiting for you to mature and hoping that until that time, you would be able to enjoy what remained of your childhood. I say this with all honesty; 'Guilt' is a word that defines the last two decades of my life. I am ashamed that I could not save James and Lily, or so many of the others that fell, that I could do nothing more than leave you with her relatives, that I was duped by Quirrel, misled by the memory in the diary, and condemned Sirius to years at the hands of the Dementors. Time has indeed revealed my shortcomings in a most painful way. When I first defeated Gellert, my world was much more certain, I was a hero among heroes and they saw fit to elevate me to a role of leadership. After all, who was I to stand in the way of my own greatness? After years of battling my wayward friend, I thought I deserved that reward. Humility Harry, if there is but one truth I can teach you in this life it is to weigh your decisions with humility."
After that kind of admission, I'm at a loss for words. As usual, Hat isn't, "Ever the soft-hearted human, eh Dumbledore? It's your greatest weakness."
"It is what makes me the man I am and I prefer to see it as a virtue, Hat. I would not wish to see the world in any other way."
"It will get you killed!" The Hat practically spits. "Do you know how many of your predecessors I've watched, so certain in their power, drunk on the milk of human kindness, die all the same? That useless slit of a healer, Derwent, ignored her illness to 'finish out the year – for the sake of the children' and died behind that desk in a pool of her own bodily fluids. Helga patted me on the brim and told me not to wait up while she went to parlay peace with the giants and goblins. Two days later her head came back atop a pike. You flesh bags come and go, but rarely do you ever learn. Isn't that right Phineas?"
The painting of one of Sirius Black's loathsome ancestors scowls back at the Hat, which answers in a cackle, "This pureblood maggot spent the last year of his life diddling his Head Girl to amuse himself, filling her as much with false hope as he did his pecker. When the bint realized that he couldn't deliver on the first and barely on the last, she lured him out into the forest, drugged him and flayed him alive."
Dumbledore clears his throat. "Thank you for that fascinating history lesson, but while there is not much life left in these old limbs, I'm not ready to die just yet. Now Harry, we must decide how to proceed. The rules of this tournament forbid me to help you in any overt way."
"I can handle the other champions…"
"Yes, I see that clearly now, but those oaths deny me the luxury of helping you directly prepare for the real task ahead until the tournament is over."
"I appreciate the offer, but I'm still coming up to speed with the memories of James Potter. If I had to estimate, I'm almost on par with him, maybe in another two months, I'll be everything that he was and looking for something more. Until I've mastered what he once knew, anything you could teach me wouldn't be effective."
He leans back in his chair and a smile crosses his face. "Of course, though there is something to be said for indirect assistance. Now that or cards have been revealed, I can seek redemption for the mistakes of my past. Let us make plans for what happens after the end of this year."
Hours later, Dumbledore releases me and I hurry down the corridor to get to the Gryffindor common room. We reached an agreement. I'm on my own for the rest of this year, but we'll have a more coordinated effort after that.
Honestly, I'm not sure what to think. I'd been prepared for angry, unrepentant "I did what I had to do and regret none of it" Dumbledore. A tired old man sitting behind the desk, his eyes full of regret for paths not chosen, troubles me. The words "I am simply a man" reverberate through my mind as I step past the portrait of The Fat Lady and into the room filled with excited and nervous teenagers.
I fight my way to the people who are solely interested in seeing the prized Pensieve and up the to the fourth year boys dorm. The quick check of my word alliance shows that Fred and George haven't been active lately. They appear to be either getting bored or up to something big. Given the fact that I was going to be out in the middle of public tonight, I'm not going to put it past them to try and humiliate me in some way shape or form.
Showering in a hurry, I take comfort in the fact that with the right switching spells, I can be dressed in less than five seconds. I still have enough time to help Neville finish preparations for his big date with Hannah. There's something of a pang of guilt knowing that Frank and Alice can't be here to offer him any parental advice.
"Make certain you tell her how pretty she looks tonight. Just stick with pretty, don't try and go into great detail, otherwise it'll sound like you been practicing it." Hannah didn't agree to go to the dance with Don Juan de Longbottom, so it's best that he strives to be as genuine as possible.
"Thanks Harry," he gulps. "Do you have any other advice?"
"Tell her how much you're enjoying yourself. Don't get caught looking down her dress. Defintely don't get caught looking at any other girls on the dance floor, but if you do notice the one of her friends doesn't seem to be having much fun, point it out to her and ask if you think it'd be a good idea for you to ask her for a dance. Girls like it when a guy is observant, but still focused on them. After every few dances, make certain to ask her if she needs something to drink, but don't pester her. Most importantly, just have fun and be yourself."
I've got plenty of other things to tell him when he gets older, but Neville needs to ease into this before he's ready for more advanced advice. It's like James' father told me – sort of, "Make your first impression in public as a gentleman and if you're lucky enough to make a first impression in private be a rogue."
Of course, this advice doesn't help me. I'm already something of a rogue.
"You look very nice this evening. Teal is a good color on you."
Aimee smiles and rolls her eyes slightly as I pin the corsage on her dress. "You're off to an early start. I'm in for a long evening, aren't I?"
Finishing, I press my lips to the back of her gloved hand. "I try. More importantly, I'll keep trying and that's the fun part." I should have gone ahead and added six months or a year with an aging potion. As it stands, I look like a smartly dressed kid, but ultimately still a kid.
The mass of guests file by us and into the Great Hall, while we wait for the rest of the champions to assemble. I spot a rather pretty looking version of my best friend in a periwinkle gown looking awfully chummy with Roger Davies and several members of the Hogwarts competition team. The Head Boy enamored with the fourth year Gryffindor? I'll definitely get a few laughs out of that. She obviously put a great deal of effort into her hair.
My date interrupts whatever half-formed plans I have for amusing myself at Hermione's expense. "So, we were told this incident on the ship is not to be mentioned. That means by the end of the night there will be roughly ten people who haven't heard. How will I get you to tell me the story behind the story?"
"I keep tabs on those who would do me harm." I pause and then chuckle before continuing, "Other than that, my lips are sealed. Your lips might unseal them, but by the time they do, you might not be interested in that story."
"You don't lack confidence do you? Please keep in mind that my heart is already spoken for."
"Yes, you said something about a boyfriend in exile. I'll try to keep that in mind, but I may forget that fact several times tonight."
She's in the middle of composing a witty reply when another champion and his date walk up, "Hello Cedric. Cho, you look very nice tonight." The two make a nice couple. The Ravenclaw in her ivory white dress blushes while Cedric greets Aimee with a good natured hug and compliments her.
He pats me on the shoulder and lowers his voice. "My dad is going to want a word with you at some point about the thing that went on in the tent."
"I'll be happy to speak with him, or he can talk to the Headmaster if he wants."
"Is Snape going to be sacked?" Cho asks. I shoot an accusing eyebrow at Diggory, but Cho brushes it aside. "Oh he didn't say a word. I had to hear it from a Beauxbaton student."
"I'd like to think so, but I doubt it. Why?"
She looks very serious, "I'm in my OWL year. If they're going to make a change, I'd prefer they make it now and not carry on about it for the next two months and then get rid of him."
Can't argue with that logic. Apparently, Cho's like an Asian version of Hermione. The few remaining stragglers part as Fleur and the wizard who won the raffle to be her date arrive. She is quite the sight and a reminder that the aura only enhances her natural beauty – not the other way around. I nod to her pleasantly and greet the wizard, who eyes me suspiciously. His name is Gunter, Gregor, or something with a hard "G". I didn't quite catch it.
His English is halting, "They say you trespass on our ship. Many people are angry. I would advise you not to come back."
I sigh at the newest addition to Hogwarts "well kept" secrets, "I don't plan to. I found out what I needed to know."
"Headmaster is a dangerous enemy to make, even for you, Harry Potter. He deals harshly with troublemakers." There's a trace of malice in his voice.
Athena Manos walks up and breaks into the conversation. "Pay Gerhardt no mind, his cousin was one of the ones on guard duty and is being punished by our cowardly Headmaster."
At least I'm not the only one with a low impression of Igor. Still, it offends me that people are being punished because of my actions, "And what is there punishment."
She adopts a serious look, "While all of us are here, Gavrill and Brenna are spending the evening entertaining the Giest without their wands. I am certain Headmaster wanted this oaf to tell you that in an attempt to make you feel guilty at their plight. Do not be. Every student at my school has faced it at least once in our time. This is not new to them."
"Here I was prepared to ask for a transfer. I guess I'll pass." Athena must still be a bit perturbed at how Karkaroff is always favoring Krum over her. Speaking of which, I see Krum approaching and see Fleur stiffen and turn from her conversation with Aimee.
At his side is an extremely beautiful blonde. I recognize her from the pinups that grace many of the male dorms in this castle – an Eastern European Veela named Paulina. She's every bit as devastating in person and a pureblood Veela to boot. That explains the territorial anger everyone in our party is sensing from Fleur at the moment. He wanders over with her on his arm.
She looks down at Fleur haughtily and speaks in French, "Another lesser breed who has no control, what is the world coming to?"
Aimee's hand on Fleur's shoulder prevents the catfight, or maybe delays it. "She has more talent than you ever will!"
The woman scoffs at this, "I suppose, that is if talent is measured in human magic. Honestly Viktor, couldn't we have just dined in London or Paris. I was hoping for a bit more out of 'England's social event of the year', but this is so very sad. Do we have to stay?"
His French is only about as good as his English, but he manages, "Just through the dinner and a dance or two. Then we can go see the sights."
"Thank goodness for that. Is this Harry Potter? He's the local celebrity right?"
Krum eyes me with derision, "So they say…"
"I thought he'd be bigger."
"That's a nice trophy date you have there, Krum. I didn't realize that third place in the competition rated one."
She adopts a well practiced look, "Oh, he's trying to impress me. I'm sorry little one…"
I cut her off, "No thanks, I'm immune to your charm and your attitude doesn't do much for me either. Are you charging Krum by the hour or is this a set fee?"
"Immune you say…" That drew a little ire. Unlike Fleur's magical aura, which smacks everyone's face in the room, a pureblood can choose not to use her aura or wield it with precision allowing her to give a bloke a private showing, even in a full room.
It's the origin of the phrase, "I only have eyes for you." The magic tries to draw my attention to her full lips, the curve of her neck, and her ample cleavage. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't really object. After all, I'm still a hormonal teenager, but when has my life ever been normal? I run through a quick Occlumency exercise and turn back to Aimee, "Like I said, the color of your dress suits you."
Moments later, Paulina's derisive snort is the sound of me scoring a few points with Miss Beaucourt. Viktor's date drags him to look at some of the paintings and the magical aura fades. Why is it that no one ever believes me, I'll never know.
Give Krum a bit of credit, he lives his life like he plays his sport. He wanted to embarrass me and get under Fleur's skin as well. I was right. He really is everything little Draco Malfoy wants to be.
"Well done," Aimee switches back to English. Fleur continues to stare daggers through the back of the pinup queen.
"One thing I've never understood is how Veela purebloods exist? All of them are female?"
Fleur snaps out of her anger, "They only procreate with non-magical humans. It allows their racial magic to completely infuse the unborn and always female child – guaranteeing the line continues. They hold those who marry and have families with magical humans in contempt."
"I think you got the better end of the deal. She can't use a wand and you can."
Fleur gives me a grateful nod. Perhaps, I just gained back a little ground, or at the very least made way for the others at the top of her shit list. The small talk continues for a few minutes more while McGonagall and a few other teachers usher the last remaining students inside the hall.
She gestures for us to come over and arranges us by way of the current standings. I lean over and whisper to Aimee that it's her lucky day being paired up with the leader. Finally, the doors open and we do the walk of champions to some heraldic music, the cheers of the crowd, and the occasional flash of photography. I smile and wave at the masses. It's nice to bask in their adulation, but I know all too well how quickly they can turn on a person. Still, no reason not to enjoy the ride in the applecart just because there is a chance that things could get all mushy down the road.
We take our seats and place our order. "I'm still amazed you can resist," she says.
"It's a combination of Occlumency and power."
"You keep saying you're full of surprises. How many more are you hiding?"
I smile wolfishly and butter my roll, "That would be telling, but I'll give you a free one. I'm a surprisingly good dancer."
She answers with her own smirk, "I think I'll be the judge of that."
"Eat up," I encourage, "You're going to need the energy. Interesting belt you devised."
"Thank you. Your tactics were most unusual as well."
"We were at the opposite ends, Aimee. You had an elegant solution to an intricate problem. You crafted a key and picked the lock as it were…"
"…and you settled for blowing the door off its hinges." She finishes my analogy.
"I prefer to think of it as Transfiguring much of the room into a dust cloud, but your way works just as well."
I sneak a glance over at Neville to see how he is faring with Hannah. He seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown, which is calm for him. "Oh that reminds me, I do owe some people dances at various points in this evening. Do try to contain your jealousy."
"Trust me, I'll manage."
We continue to banter throughout the rest of the meal. I've got Cedric and Cho on my right hand side, so they join in the conversation at various intervals. Eventually, the plates vanish and under the Headmaster's command, the tables and chairs march to the corners of the Great Hall and out of the way. I'd love to know how he does it. Runes on each piece of furniture would be too involved. My guess is a command on the Hall itself tied to the Headmaster. With the memory of James Potter falling at the hands of Voldemort relatively fresh in my mind, I scold myself for not using that tactic in Godric's Hollow.
But after a moment or two of thought, I concede that even with every item in the room assaulting Riddle, it probably would have only bought James another whole minute. A touch on my shoulder draws me back to the present.
Aimee regards me with a quizzical eye, "You looked like you were miles away just now. Is something wrong?"
"Probably, there always is, but for the moment it can wait. Are you ready to dance?"
"I believe that's why we are here. Is it not?"
Banishing memories that I hope one day to avenge, I lead my date onto the floor for an evening of dancing. Ignoring the eyes of everyone else, we start to dance when the music begins, while I dredge up more pleasant memories of James Potter's life and enjoy taking a pretty witch for a waltz around the dance floor.
Roughly forty-five minutes later, I find myself in the company of one Hermione Granger. She's enjoying our dance and trying to wheedle my secrets out of me.
"Somehow, after everything I've learned about your so called relatives, I can't picture them teaching you how to dance."
"They didn't. I picked it up the same way I picked up flying on a broom. It just comes naturally to me." Amusingly enough, I'm telling her the truth – minus a few facts of course, but I've already told one person today my little secret and have met my quota for now.
"You really expect me to believe that?"
"Yes, I do. At least for now… So you and the Head Boy? When did that happen? I'm beginning to wonder what's been occurring on those late night study sessions."
Hermione rolls her eyes and tries to play it off, but she's blushing profusely, "Roger is a perfect gentleman."
"Somehow I doubt it. I'm a guy and am anything but a perfect gentleman. Still, I don't have to have faith in him. I have faith in you. If you're happy, then I'm happy for you."
Hermione is suitably stunned. "Really?"
"Of course, you think everything through. People keep telling you that you're the smartest witch in your generation for a reason. The closest thing to impulsive I've ever seen you do was when you punched Malfoy in the face and I'm reasonably certain you thought that through as well."
Her brow crinkles, "Interesting way of giving a compliment, Harry, but I'll take it."
"I could go give him the 'If he hurts you speech' if you'd like, but I suspect I'd only get to him after you gave him a thrashing. Although, I could send the Hat and its new golem body to have a word with him…"
She humorously protests, "No! That'd traumatize him. I think the less people that have to talk with that thing, the better. I'm honestly surprised that you can put up with it."
"Hat is an acquired taste."
"So is manure."
I spy the third member of the "golden trio." His date has already deserted him and he looks a tad bored and frustrated. "You seem to have caught Ron's eye as well."
"Do you think he finally figured out that I'm a girl?"
"I'm pretty sure he doesn't know what to think right about now. Make sure you go over and ask him to dance."
We have a quick laugh at his expense as the music ends and the band onstage makes way for Fudge. I hoped he'd forgotten about it, but one thing you can always count on from a politician is if there's a stage to be found, they'll be on it.
Fudge places his wand at his throat and uses a sonorous charm, "Good evening and I hope everyone is enjoying the festivities. My compliments to Headmaster Dumbledore and his staff for providing such a wonderful evening of entertainment. Tonight, I take great pleasure in rectifying an oversight on behalf of the Wizengamut. As one, we have never recognized the achievements of our youngest Triwizard champion. Harry James Potter, would you please come up here?"
I give Hermione an exasperated roll of my eyes and she pushes me towards the stage. Several people pat me on my back on the way up and the applause is suitably impressive. Fudge, naturally, is beaming like I'm some long lost relative.
As he goes into his spiel about something that happened when this body was a toddler and an incident that I recall with significantly less enthusiasm, I scan the crowd and locate my quarry – Severus Snape. My lips curl into a confident smile as we briefly lock eyes. Hey, if I have to suffer through this, he should too. I look away not giving him an excuse to try and pry.
"…so, in conclusion, it is my distinct honor to confer upon Harry James Potter The Order of Merlin, Third Class for his and his parent's defiance of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
Rita's photographer snaps the pictures of me shaking Fudge's hand and him placing the medallion around my neck. He encourages me to say a few words to the crowd.
"Thank you, Minister. On behalf of my family name, I accept this. Much has been written of that day and, as the sole remaining witness, I can honestly say that it is all speculation. James and Lily Potter were truly great people. I am certain they had their flaws, as everyone does, but they rose to the challenge and risked everything to save me. I hope that wherever they are, they are proud of me."
I spy Dumbledore in the crowd and mentally thank him for the earlier advice on "humility". There's more applause and I smile for a few more pictures before heading off stage and rejoining Aimee. I make certain that we get photographed as well. Her absentee boyfriend needs a not-so subtle prod.
Funny, if they'd have given James a medal, he'd have worn it proudly and proceeded to use it to bed every witch possible. Lily would have worn it as validation that a Muggleborn could succeed in a world that is slanted against them. Little Harry, he'd be overwhelmed by the circumstances and would be doing his best to fade in the background.
Me, I'll just accept it and move on. From the corner of my eye, I spot Hermione leading a protesting Ron onto the dance floor, "Ready for another dance, Miss Beaucourt?"
"Not yet, I need to powder my nose, but I think Fleur could use a dance."
Fleur looks irritated by the close proximity of her date. Her aura seems to be getting the best of him and he looks a tad infatuated with her.
"How about it?
"No. She stays with me!"
She rounds on him and whatever he sees in her eyes, it isn't pleasant. Very slowly she says, "I go where I please."
The wizard shrinks back in fright. Fleur practically drags me onto the dance floor. "Careful," I say, "you'll start leaving bruises on me if you don't relax."
The French witch calms slightly, "He is another weak-minded fool."
"Well it's nice to know that you are having fun."
"You are having a laugh at my expense, no?"
"No, not really. Remember, we both have our problems. There are a lot of people out there who want you because of your heritage. There are a few out there who want me dead because of mine. Neither of us loves the spotlight. Take it from a guy who was just getting an award for being lucky enough to survive. Unfortunately, you made yourself a 'prize' for the evening and though you did it for a good cause, I'm guessing you're regretting it right about now."
The up tempo music finishes and a slower ballad begins. Fleur hesitates, but I go ahead and encircle her in my arms and start slow dancing. Maybe one day I'll tell her that she did actually dance with Monsieur Pronghorn – perhaps a day when there is no wand nearby and everything I'm wearing has been fireproofed.
Fleur compares rather favorably to all the females that I've slow danced with tonight. Even irritated and upset, there is a natural grace to her movements. People can learn the steps and the motions, but grace is something that can't be taught.
"I hate the crowds," she mumbles softly.
"Me too. Is that why you enjoy broom racing so much?"
"Yes, the crowds are still there, but always distant enough. When I fly, I race ahead of everyone else's expectations for me. I am not the diplomat's daughter. I am not the 'Belle of Beauxbatons'. I am not some delicate, beautiful flower. I am a person who flies very fast and few can keep up with me."
She pauses, probably wondering if she is saying too much. I give her something in return, "My life is in the middle of a whirlwind. I escape it every so often, but it always manages to track me down and drag me back into the maelstrom. Sometimes, I can see it coming for miles, other times it sneaks up on me and catches me off guard."
"It seems you embrace the danger. Why else would you sneak onto the ship and risk the wrath of their Poltergeist?"
"Ever since my name popped out of the goblet, that whirlwind has been coming for me. The wizard, the one they just gave me an award for beating, the one they can't bring themselves to name – he isn't completely dead and gone as they'd like to think. He's trapped somewhere in between, searching for a way back and I know that if he does figure out a way, he'll try to kill me again. It's forced me to grow up and figure out how to deal with it."
We continue to dance with her lips near my ears. "And what have you figured out?"
"That I've been far too lucky for my enemies to keep underestimating me. I can't count on that anymore. The world already thinks I am the next coming of Merlin and I say, 'So be it!' Maybe if I'm fast enough and powerful enough, the whirlwind will start running from me."
"Just like that? You make it sound very easy." Her breath is warm on my neck and I'm starting to get a tad uncomfortable with how this dance is playing out.
"It's not, but I also don't have much of a choice." I release her and step back as the music changes yet again. "It looks like our dance is over now, thank you."
Fleur smiles and composes herself. "Hopefully, we can both overcome our problems. I think I'll go get some fresh air."
I watch her walk away as Megan Jones bounces over to me wanting to collect on her dance. Something just passed between the two of us. Harry wouldn't have known what it was. It was what people call a moment or a connection. String enough of those together and it becomes a relationship. A younger version of James would chase her down and try to capitalize on it. I don't. The older version, he made that kind of deep connection with Lily, but only after years of childish behavior. She betrayed him in a moment of weakness and I might not be ready for something like that right now. It may have happened a long time ago, but for me, the memories are all too fresh.
Dumbledore isn't the only one troubled by events of the past.
Author's notes – Well, it's been a long time coming. Thanks for reading. Visit my profile for news on my original stories. Comments and story discussion can be found on Darklordpotter and the Fanficauthor's forum.