A/N: Smallest chapter yet, but I didnt want to get into the next part too early. Anyway, thanks once again to Seel'vor for betaing for me.
The following Sunday, after lunch, Harry received a letter from Moody, requesting a meeting in his office to talk about the attack the previous night. Actually, it was more a demand disguised as a request, but Harry didn't really care. He had planned on talking with Moody about it anyway.
He and Hermione hadn't really discussed anything that morning either. Harry only told her that he had been attacked by Crouch Jr. on his way to check on the basilisk egg. Hermione made him promise to tell her more when he felt up to it, so Harry decided to bring Hermione with him to the meeting with Moody.
So, the afternoon found the three of them in the cramped Defence Against the Dark Arts office, talking about the previous night over a pot of tea. The office wasn't too different from the way Crouch Jr. had it set up in Harry's first fourth year. Various detection artefacts were scattered about, though this time, Moody actually checked them before taking his seat. All of them. Twice.
Harry took a sip of his now-lukewarm tea. "So, after potions, I was on my way up to the seventh floor to..." he trailed off, almost having revealed the basilisk egg. He looked back and forth between Moody and Hermione. Hermione looked slightly panicked and shook her head.
"To what, Potter?" Moody prodded. Both eyes were fixed firmly on Harry's face and Harry had to resist the urge to fidget. It really was an intimidating stare.
Harry couldn't see any way out of it. Moody was enough of a Ministry man that should Harry reveal that he had a basilisk in his possession, Moody might arrest him. And Harry didn't want to reveal the secret of the Room of Requirement unless he absolutely had to. He needed a reason to be on the seventh floor, and claiming that it was a short cut was right out too. Moody was once a student here, and would undoubtedly know that the corridor where the fight took place was well out of the way. He could always claim he and Hermione were snogging up there.
Once glance at Hermione though told Harry that it was a bad idea. His fiancée seemed to be able to read his mind and glowered at him silently.
Seeing no other explanation, Harry decided to tell Moody about the room, but wrapped in yet another little white lie. "There is this... room, up on the seventh floor, that only shows up when someone really needs it. I was doing a report for History on that particular room and was on my way up there to do a little more research when I was attacked."
Moody raised one sceptical eyebrow. Whether he didn't believe the line about the project, or the room, or the entire story was unclear.
"It's true." Hermione piped in. "We call it the Room of Requirement."
Moody's brow lowered. "Go on." he prompted.
Harry cleared his throat. "Anyway, I was up there, on my way to the room, when I heard Draco Malfoy behind me. It wasn't Malfoy; it was Crouch polyjuiced as him." Harry hesitated for a moment and scratched his chin. "I think." he added as an after thought.
Moody looked genuinely shocked, a look that genuinely disturbed Harry as much as Dumbledore looking frightened did. He was so surprised that he stopped pacing the room. "Bartemius Crouch?" he blurted.
"Junior." Hermione added while Harry was lost in thought.
Mad-eye seemed even more sceptical about that. "Barty Crouch Jr. has been in Azkaban for thirteen years now." he said sounding proud. "I brought the little shite down myself."
"Can you be sure he's still in prison?" Harry asked finally. Moody nodded and Harry frowned. "I could have sworn I saw him once at the attack after the world cup. Then last night I'm sure it was him."
Harry stood up and began to pace himself while he pondered things. Could someone be polyjuiced as Crouch Jr.? If so, why on earth would they do that? There was nothing to be gained by masquerading as an Azkaban lifer. Furthermore, why would they be masquerading as a lifer masquerading as Draco Malfoy? Could someone even do that? It all combined into a puzzle that made Harry's head hurt to think about it. But no, he was sure of what he had seen and heard.
Hermione piped up with her own brand of useful information. "How are you sure that it's him?" she asked. "Do the guards regularly check on the prisoners? I thought that the Dementors delivered the meals."
Moody frowned pensively. "Aye, lass, you're right." he said. "I'll talk to my contact in the MLE and have someone check up on Junior." He turned back to Harry, who was still pacing the length of the room. "Back to the attack, Potter. By the way, that was some impressive damage to the corridor. A lot of blood spilled, too."
Harry waved the thin compliment off. Then he had an epiphany. "Hey, what about the blood in the corridor up there? There should have been enough of it for a blood analysis to determine who it was that attacked me, right?"
"Did your attacker happen to change back in the middle of the fight?" Moody asked. Harry shook his head no. "Then the blood would identify as Malfoy's. It doesn't matter anyway." he added with a sour look. "Dumbledore had his elves clean the hall up almost immediately. Barmy old fool..."
The revelation that Moody didn't respect Dumbledore as much as he had thought was a shocker to Harry. It rather masked the disappointment that they wouldn't be able to identify Crouch Jr. right away. "Bah." he snarled. "I know what I saw. And I know that it was Crouch polyjuiced as Malfoy. Malfoy isn't... insane enough to attack me alone."
Moody shrugged but conceded the point. "I'll get my contact to look into it first thing in the morning." he said. Then he stumped over to Harry, his face grave. "Now that we know You-Know-Who is after you, have you been watching out for Portkeys and surprise attacks?"
Hermione chipped in again with information from her favourite book. "Only the Headmaster and Hogwarts staff can create Portkeys that work in and out of Hogwarts, and only then with the Headmaster's permission."
Harry felt the blood drain from his face and he slumped weakly back into his chair. Portkeys were the one thing that he hadn't considered. He wasn't as paranoid as his mentor, but Harry thought he did a good job watching his back, and he felt confident enough in his own abilities to take care of himself. But Portkeys just needed a second of contact. Just because only staff and Dumbledore himself could create Portkeys, didn't mean someone couldn't smuggle one in. As far as Harry knew, the wards around the school didn't negate any Portkeys being brought in. And Harry also wasn't sure if any other members of the staff (besides Snape) were Death Eaters or sympathisers. Frankly, the thought made him sick.
"That doesn't stop someone from smuggling one through the wards." Moody said gruffly, echoing Harry's thought.
Nodding weakly, Harry reached for his cup and drained the dregs of his tea almost mechanically. "I still don't know why Crouch didn't do that the last time..." he said.
Hermione stood and gave Harry a warm hug. "It might not make you feel any better, but he couldn't. Voldemort needed to conduct the ritual on that day for astronomical reasons." she said softly.
Harry shook his head. "He still could have portkeyed me away and kept me prisoner until they needed me."
"You would have escaped." Hermione said confidently, plopping down in Harry's lap. She continued to hug him.
"You don't know that. It happened long before we discovered the library." Harry argued back. "And let's face it... I was stupid back then."
Hermione looked ready to argue her point, but Moody interrupted. "I take it this has happened before?" he asked. Hermione sat in Harry's lap and fumed.
Harry nodded. "Something like it." he said. But he differed to Hermione, since she looked like she wanted to talk so badly she was fit to burst.
Hermione told the story, sparing no detail. "In the original timeline... dimension... whatever, Harry was also entered into the Tournament. Unlike this time, though, there were four champions, not six. Your counterpart had been taken over by Junior and was helping Harry behind the scenes."
Moody nodded slowly. "So, you were the fourth champion and had a Death Eater helping you."
Harry cringed. "Could we phrase it slightly differently, please?"
Surging forward, Hermione continued. "The first task was fairly simple, from a preparation point of view. Harry summoned a broom to out-fly the Hungarian Horntail. The second task was held at the bottom of the lake, having to rescue hostages." She blinked. "I was one of them. It was rather disconcerting falling asleep in Dumbledore's office, then waking up when a half-shark drags you to the surface of a freezing lake." She nodded at Harry as he put his arm around her supportively.
"The third task was the breaker. Junior was patrolling the edge of the maze, taking out the creatures and attacking the other champions." Hermione suppressed a smile at Moody's face. "Yeah, it was quite a scandal, really." She sobered up. "Harry and one of the fellow champions, Cedric Diggory, got portkeyed to a graveyard in Little Hangleton. He was gone for over an hour. When they came back, Cedric was dead and Harry was seriously injured. I was... terrified..." She trailed off, prompting Harry to tighten his grip around her.
When she was done Moody's expression was mixture of disbelief and outrage. After opening and closing his mouth a few times, Moody finally settling on something to say. "You flew a broom... against a horntail?"
Harry looked at Moody incredulously. Of everything to take from the story, including the fact that he had been ambushed, captured and impersonated by Crouch Jr., Moody was stuck on the fact that Harry flew his Firebolt against a dragon... "Yes." he said.
"He really was stupid back then." Moody said to Hermione. Hermione laughed at the gobsmacked expression on Harry's face.
"Oi!" he barked out. "That's not funny!"
Moody waved Harry's protestations off while Hermione tried to control her mad giggling. "That's not the point." Moody said. "I'm more worried that I was taken by surprise by Crouch and no one noticed." There was the Moody that Harry knew and loved. "In fact, how do you know that I'm me now?"
Harry shrugged indifferently. "I know you, that's why." he explained, though he was learning new things about the mad old Auror every time they spoke. "That, and Crouch Jr. isn't in disguise anywhere in the castle."
"How do you know that?" Moody asked.
Harry and Hermione shared a brief look before Harry pulled his map from his pocket. He had taken to carrying both it and his cloak with him at all times. Good old paranoia. "This," Harry explained, spreading the map out on the desk, "is the Marauder's Map."
Moody looked at the blank piece of parchment impassively. Harry knew what Moody saw; a blank piece of parchment that radiated magic. "It's not very map like, is it?"
"You need the password." Harry elaborated. He tapped the wand with his index finger. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
The spidery black lines spread across the map revealing the layout of the castle. Small black dots labelled with their owners names were gathered about in common rooms, or the great hall or outside on the ship in the black lake and ghost train. Harry pointed to the Defence classroom and the three dots with their names. "This is us." he explained. "The map keeps track of everyone on the castle grounds and in the castle herself in real time. If I move..." Harry unseated Hermione and moved to the far corner of the office. "...over here, the map reflects it."
Moody looked impressed. "This is a fine tool you have here, Potter," he said. "But what if someone is under an invisibility cloak, or polyjuiced?"
Harry couldn't help the smile on his face. "It doesn't matter. The map knows who you are really, and where you are. For instance..." Harry pointed to the Gryffindor common room. It was sneaky of him, but he didn't want the rat to remain free for much longer.
Both Moody and Hermione's eyes widened at the name, Peter Pettigrew. "You didn't tell me he was in the castle!" Hermione shouted at the same time Moody said, "I didn't know he was still alive!"
Properly admonished, Harry ducked his head slightly. "Yeah, well, he is." he said defensively. "And I was told not to bother with him yet... as much as I'd like to see him dead..."
Neither of the other two had anything to say to that, so they all looked back at the map. "Besides," Harry went on, "it was the only example of an Animagus I could think of."
Hermione looked up sharply at him, and Harry shook his head slightly. He might have trusted Moody more than anyone else in the castle right now, but he didn't want to spill all his secrets. Hermione seemed to understand and graced Harry with a small, loving smile before looking back at the map. Harry went back to his explanation.
"Anyway, this is how I know Crouch isn't in the castle." He pointed to the ship. "That bird, according to the map, was named Archimedes, and isn't anywhere on the map." He pointed to the Slytherin common room where Malfoy was surrounded by his cronies. "And Draco Malfoy is still Draco Malfoy."
Moody studied the map for a while longer before looking almost awed. "Impressive piece of magic, Potter." he said.
"Honestly, I didn't make it." Harry told him. "It was my dad, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin." An unreadable expression crossed Moody's face briefly making Harry wonder what the grizzled old Auror was thinking.
"Thank you for informing me of this, Harry." Moody said. The use of Harry's first name didn't go unnoticed by Harry. Before the veil, Moody still hadn't taken to calling Harry by his first name, instead using 'Potter'. It filled him with a sense of pride. "Now, why don't you and Hermione go out and enjoy the rest of your weekend? I'll get back to you as soon as I find out about Crouch."
Harry nodded, got up to leave and waited for Hermione to finish her tea before they left the office. They decided to go hang out in the common room and finish one of their essays for McGonagall. As they walked, Harry thought about what was going on. Initially, he had decided to lay low and enjoy a second chance at a school life. But as always, fate had other plans and shoved him head first into a mess. He was tired. He had fought his war, and honestly, he regretted becoming an Auror. It meant more fighting, but it was the only thing he could think of himself as doing. That isn't to say that he didn't enjoy his job. He was good at it, and it was, honestly, easy work for someone like him. But he'd rather play Quidditch or teach for a living. He just didn't think he would be good at it.
As for the whole Tri-Wizard fiasco he found himself in this time, he decided that it was nice to have an ally besides Hermione and Sirius. True, his sister knew his secret, but she was still a kid, and Harry had no desire to force her to grow up to fast. It had happened to him before, and he resented Dumbledore for it. No, Moody was just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.
Hermione nudged Harry lightly in the ribs, breaking him out of his pensive mood. He looked at her inquisitively. "Knut for your thoughts?" she asked.
Harry waved her off as another, slightly horrible idea occurred to him. Just why had Hermione had a headache after potions the other day? Snape was a master Legilimens, though his battering ram technique left a lot to be desired. Harry knew that Hermione was an accomplished Occlumens in her own right. She was better than Harry by far, but he was still worried for her.
"It's not important right now." Harry said giving voice to his thoughts. "How's the headache?"
Hermione quirked an eyebrow at him questioningly. "It's fine now. The potion fumes just got to me. Why?" she asked.
"I was just worried is all." Harry said.
He stopped when Hermione stepped in front of him with her hands on her hips. "No, really, Harry, why?" she pressed. Harry opened his mouth to explain but his fiancée didn't give him the chance, once again seemingly reading his mind. "Professor Snape wasn't using Legilimency on me, Harry."
"Yeah... but he could have been." Harry argued.
Hermione huffed. "Harry, Snape's Legilimency is akin to an elephant in a china shop." she said. "I would have known."
"Still," Harry said, unwilling to drop the subject, "I worry for you. And I know you worry for me too."
Rolling her eyes with an entirely unforced fondness, Hermione gave Harry a quick kiss. "I'm a big girl, Harry, I can take care of myself."
Harry nodded. Doesn't mean I won't stop trying, though.
Classes resumed as normal on Monday, though most people couldn't focus on their classes. As usual, the Hogwarts gossip mill was in full form, and rumours about the attack abounded. They ranged from the mundane, such as someone's project going wrong, to the outlandish; Mrs. Norris exploding (to explain the rumour of blood... why couldn't that one be true?). Harry was glad that no one seemed to suspect him, though he did catch a few speculative glances from Dumbledore during breakfast. Just what had Moody told the Headmaster anyway?
The only teacher who didn't seem to care about the distraction was Hagrid. He just plodded along with his class, pointedly ignoring any student that wasn't paying attention while he observed the Skrewts with the other students.
The Skrewts were about the size of terriers now, and Tom, Harry's male Skrewt had asserted its dominance over the other Skrewts by killing one of them. By the mixture of frustration and relief on Parvati's face (oddly enough, far more relief than frustration... she didn't seem that heartbroken... huh...) Harry guessed that it was hers.
Near the end of class, Harry received a letter from a nondescript brown school owl. Wondering just who it could be from as he took the letter from the bird, Harry remembered that Moody would be getting back to him about Crouch Junior's stay in Azkaban. A quick glance confirmed that it was indeed from Moody, but Harry didn't want to chance someone reading over his shoulder so he crumpled it up and stuffed the note in his pocket for later.
Once class was over, (Tom the Skrewt killed and ate Lavender's Skrewt too prompting Hagrid to give the horrid little things their own cages... Harry was oddly proud of little Tom) Harry took a detour and read the note.
You were right. Crouch Jr. isn't in his cell, but his mother's desecrated corpse is.
"Well, at least that's consistent." Harry said wryly.
It seemed that the Ministry, in step with all its usual blundering, wished to keep Crouch's escape from prison a secret. This meant that the Daily Prophet had nothing on it and Harry didn't know whether to be relieved or irritated at the newspaper, settling for mild irritation. Harry wanted to talk to Moody about it, but wasn't able to catch up with him until that Thursday after class.
They had just started in on learning Stupefy, and more than once, Harry caught Moody looking at him while he gleefully stunned Malfoy or Ron from across the room.
Unfortunately, Moody didn't have time to discuss anything right then, but he promised to meet with Harry that weekend, which was a Hogsmeade weekend.
Harry also received a letter during dinner. Or, more accurately, a note from Sirius and a page and a half of parchment from Remus, all written in his tiny handwriting. Sirius' note was short and to the point, telling Harry that the other letter was from Remus and not to read it without a headache relief potion. When Harry started to read it, he understood why. The amount of technical talk and advanced Arithmancy and theories on what made someone's consciousness made Harry's eyes cross, and he hurriedly handed the letter to Hermione.
Without even pausing her dinner, Hermione took the letter from him and skimmed it over. Once she was done, she folded it up with one hand and gave it back. Hermione set her fork down and wiped her mouth with her napkin while Harry looked at her expectantly.
"Basically, it all boils down to; if someone truly believes that they are someone else at any given moment, the map will reflect that."
Harry blinked bemusedly for a moment. "So... Crouch might have multiple personalities?" he asked.
Hermione nodded. "Assuming that the bird really was Crouch and not just a horrible monster, yes."
Wonderful, Harry thought. The map can be fooled... But why would they even think to... of course... Wormtail. Suddenly, Harry wasn't very hungry.
The third Saturday of November was a cold, blustery day. It was also a Hogsmeade weekend. It was an unspoken agreement between the two of them that Harry and Hermione would be going together. They hadn't been to the all Wizarding village since their sixth year, and Harry was excited to see if anything had changed here. So, Harry woke early to get in the shower and down to breakfast before any of his other dorm-mates. The shower was relaxing, and once Harry was dressed, he met Hermione in the common room and they headed down to the Great Hall. Other than the weather, things the day looked to be off to a good start.
So, of course things had to go down hill from there.
Harry and Hermione were halfway through their breakfast, discussing what they wanted to see in Hogsmeade. Hermione had to play ignorant, since of course she had not been to the village before. It being her first year and all. But Harry managed to decipher that she wanted to visit the book shop and Honeydukes then relax at the Three Broomsticks. Harry wanted to check out the Quidditch store, Honeydukes then just wander the village. Eventually they decided to go Honeydukes, Quidditch store, book store, then wander before relaxing at the pub.
While they were discussing this, Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Someone was behind him. He turned around slowly, silently dreading what ever it was that was behind him, and looked up into the hopeful, blushing face of Michelle Black.
"Hi, Michelle." he said. In the back of his mind, Harry knew that what ever would come next was a very bad thing. "What's up?"
Michelle's blush seemed to intensify and she suddenly found the flagstone floor very interesting. In a very quiet voice, she stammered something that sounded like 'humblemumble', and then looked at Harry hopefully.
Harry knew what she wanted; to ask him to go to Hogsmeade with her. It was one thing to want to go with friends but quite another to want to go with someone as a date. He was sure that this was the 'date' kind of asking. Harry had to give the girl credit. Ginny had never bothered to work up the nerve to ask him on a Hogsmeade weekend, though to be fair; Harry wasn't the 'Boy-Who-Lived' here either. He could only imagine the nerves it would take to ask such a 'celebrity' to go on a date. Then again, maybe Michelle did see him in that light, though she was the only one.
A glance at Hermione told him that she was torn between being amused at his situation, and worried for Michelle. He looked back up at the hopeful blonde girl. "I'm sorry, Michelle." he said as kindly as possible. "I'm already going with Hermione."
It was strange, thought Harry, watching someone's hopes and dreams shatter. You could almost see it in the person's eyes. Michelle seemed to slump, and her eyes welled up with tears and Harry could tell that she was physically restraining herself from crying as she looked back and forth between him and Hermione. Surely she knew that he and Hermione was a couple? Didn't she?
Evidently not, if her reaction was any indication. Then again, she may have just held high hopes. Trying to keep Michelle from being too hurt, he said, "If you would like, you can go with us."
That seemed to break the damn, and Michelle hurried out of Great Hall without even saying good bye. Harry suddenly felt like a steaming pile of poo. Hermione scoffed lightly at him.
"What?" he hissed at her. "I was just trying to be friendly."
"Yes," Hermione argued, "but you could have used a bit more tact when handling her."
"What was I supposed to say? I'm sorry, maybe next time?" Why are the female of the species so bloody difficult?
"Well, no..." Hermione trailed off. "Look, I don't know how to handle young crying girls any more than you do. Perhaps you could have said that you would see her down there."
Harry raised a sceptical eyebrow at his fiancée. She didn't know how to handle young crying girls? If his memory served him, and it usually did, wasn't she a young girl? If she wasn't crying now, she may have in the past. Harry just rolled his eyes and focused on finishing his breakfast. When he was done, he wiped his mouth and said, "Look, if it'll make you feel better, I'll apologise to her the next time I see her, alright?"
Hermione seemed to think that was acceptable. Once she had finished with her own breakfast, the two of them got up to leave for the village. Filch seemed to be particularly nasty with his probity probe and Harry started down the lane, rubbing his sore ribs.
"That is it." he groused. "No more pranks from me at all. Not if this is what I get for them."
If she wasn't nursing a sore shoulder, Hermione would have been laughing at him. She had been probed simply due to her association with Harry.
Halfway to the village, Holly finally managed to catch up with them. They stopped while she gasped and wheezed trying to catch her breath. "Did... anyone ever tell... you that... you walk too damn... fast?" she panted.
Harry smirked at her. "It comes from always being in a hurry, sorry. What's up?"
Finally catching her breath, Holly said, "Mum wanted me to tell you to meet her in the Three Broomsticks for lunch. Dad and Uncle Sirius will be there too."
That bit of good news went a long way to cheering Harry up. At least until Holly asked her next question. "Hey, what happened to Michelle this morning?" she asked. "She ran past me in tears when I was on my way to breakfast."
Harry suddenly felt like a shit again. "My fault." he droned. "She wanted to go to Hogsmeade with me today."
Holly sighed and rolled her eyes, whether at her brother, or at Michelle, Harry wasn't certain. "Want me to talk to her for you?" she offered.
"Oh god, yes please!" Harry begged. He still planned on apologising and explaining things between him and Hermione to her, but having his sister bat for him would go along way to smoothing things over.
With a nod, Holly bid them goodbye and hurried off to visit with her friends and find Michelle while Harry and Hermione did their shopping. Despite the weather, Harry rather enjoyed their visit. After a prolonged and almost excruciating visit to the book store where Harry had to physically drag his fiancée out (while some things had certainly changed with crossing dimensions, that hadn't), they walked to the Three Broomsticks.
It seemed that they were early, since only James and Sirius were in the pub. The two Aurors were chatting amiably with each other and neither noticed Harry and Hermione arrive until they sat down. "Hey, Dad, Sirius." Harry said.
"Pronglet!" James exclaimed, reaching across the table to ruffle Harry's hair much to Sirius' amusement and Harry's ire. James turned to look at Hermione. "Who's this?" he asked kindly.
"Oh!" Harry realised that his father and Hermione had never met. Technically, neither had Sirius and Hermione, so he hurriedly introduced them. "Dad, Sirius, this is my fia... girlfriend, Hermione Granger."
Sirius winked at her, while James took her hand and said something in French that Harry didn't catch. Not that he spoke French in the first place, but he was sure that his father was flirting playfully with his fiancée. "All right, quit it, Casanova." Harry growled. Hermione seemed to find the situation very funny if her giggles were any indication.
"Hermione, these two over-aged children are my father, James and my godfather, Sirius Black." Harry finished.
"Pleased to meet you." Hermione said. "I've heard so much about you from Harry."
"So, you are the girl that had my son twittering all summer," James teased.
"I was not twittering. I have not, do not and will never 'twitter'." Harry protested.
While James, Sirius and Hermione chatted with each other, Harry shivered at the cold feeling that ran down his spine. He had just remembered that the story he fed his parents about Hermione was different from the story the entire school had about her. He was honestly surprised that his mother hadn't caught on yet. Glancing surreptitiously over his shoulder, he desperately hoped that none of his friends showed up. It could be very bad. But then again, he couldn't recall telling his parents just who the girl he had a crush on was. For all they knew, it was someone he had met last year. He would have to watch what was said around them.
It wasn't long before Lily and Holly showed up, but Harry found himself unable to enjoy his family since he was so tense and worried that someone would say something damning. Luckily for him, however, no one seemed to care about his and Hermione's relationship very much. Instead, they all wanted to talk about the Tri-Wizard fiasco, much to Harry's chagrin. But before they could start talking, Sirius had a question. "Hey, where's Michelle?"
Almost immediately, everyone at the table looked at Harry and he felt himself withering under the stares. "What?" he snapped.
Everyone started talking at once, but the general gist of it was that everyone who didn't already know thought it was Harry's fault. Which it was, but that wasn't the point. Harry didn't like everyone automatically assuming that it was his fault.
"Look, I said I would apologise for hurting her feelings after Holly calmed her down." he said with a pointed look at Holly.
Holly shrugged. "I couldn't find her in town." she explained. "She's probably in her dorm. I'll talk to her when we get back."
Somehow, whether it was her intent or not, Holly's words just made Harry feel worse. He didn't think that Michelle would take rejection badly enough that she had to go and cry in her room. Still, there was nothing to be done about it now.
"What about you, Harry?" James asked. "How are you coping with the tournament and all?"
"I'm fine, really." Harry answered back. He watched Sirius raise his eyebrows questioningly, and saw Hermione's expression mirror Sirius'. The two that knew him best, knew that, 'I'm fine' held too many connotations. But what they didn't know was that Harry really meant it this time. He was a bit angry that he had to go through with it all again, but he very well couldn't blurt that out at the table with the present company. And, with the knowledge and skill he had now, it shouldn't be too bad anyway.
"No, really." he pressed.
He was saved when Madam Rosmerta came over to take their orders. Harry desperately wanted a FireWhiskey, or something definitely harder than a Butterbeer, but had to make due since his parents were around. Once she went off to prepare their lunches, conversation resumed.
"Do you know what the first task is?" Sirius asked.
"We know it has something to do with dragons, since the clue Harry got was 'Saint George'." Hermione offered.
Harry turned to his mother who had asked the question. "Yes, we. Nothing in the rules states that I can't have an advisor or help with this." he told her.
"Who's your advisor then?" Lily asked.
James choked on his mead. "Professor Moody? As in, 'Mad-Eye'?"
"What other Professor Moody teaches at Hogwarts?" Harry asked rhetorically.
"How, in the name of Merlin, did you get him to help you?" James asked. Sirius had an inquisitive look on his face as well.
"Well..." Harry said, looking for an excuse that might work. "We made friends?" He had to forcefully keep himself from laughing at the look on his fathers face; a mixture of pride and disbelief while he spluttered in his drink.
"What did he have to say on the matter?" Lily asked, while James spluttered.
"He told me that I would have to, and I quote, 'Get cosy with Johnson,' the other Hogwarts champion." Harry said. "I honestly have no idea what he meant by that, other than we might have to work together."
"Maybe you have to rescue her?" Sirius offered with a shrug. "Or work with each other to rescue something."
"I don't think so." Hermione said. "In the story of Saint George and the dragon, Saint George rescued a princess from a plague spewing dragon. Saint George acted alone; he didn't have a partner."
"I remember that story, though it is different from what Hermione just said." Sirius said excitedly. "It was one of my favourites as a boy."
Everyone looked at him expectantly and Sirius told the Wizarding version of the tale of Saint George and the dragon. It was decidedly different from the Muggle version, in that there were no religious contexts, or damsels in distress. There was the fact that it actually happened too. A travelling knight, by the name of Richard St. George happened upon a mixed village of Muggles and magical folk. They were upset because a flight of dragons had made their new lair near their village and were eating the village's sheep and occasionally residents. The knight, who happened to be a wizard as well, drove the dragons off by contacting his friend, a dragon handler. The village rejoiced and St. George became a hero.
There were confused looks around the table as everyone pondered just how that tale would have anything to do with the first task. Unsurprisingly, it was Hermione who came up with the first idea. "Maybe... maybe they meant the Muggle version of it?" she asked hesitantly. Lily agreed
"There really isn't anything to derive a task from in the Wizarding version of the story," Harry's mother said. "Where as, in the Muggle version, or any variation there of, Saint George rescues a damsel after slaying the dragon."
"They wouldn't have me killing the dragon, would they?" Harry asked hesitantly.
Lily shook her head. "No. Killing a dragon without authorisation is a felony, isn't it James?" James nodded. "So killing is right out then. That leaves rescuing someone, since I doubt that they'll have you try and convert someone to Christianity."
"Regardless, our son has to go up against a dragon." James said to Lily. "So, any tips?"
They didn't get to share any tips for thwarting a dragon, since their food arrived. After they finished eating, however, the conversation turned back to the first task. Harry didn't pay much attention though. He had ways of dealing with a dragon. His transfiguration was top notch, and if he needed to, he would reveal just how skilled he was. He and Hermione could come up with an excuse later. If nothing else, he could simply overpower it with stupefys. Briefly, Harry wondered what kind of score he would get for knocking a dragon out.
"If you had an Animagus form-" James suggested but was cut off when Sirius choked on his drink. "You okay, Padfoot?"
Sirius nodded while coughing and discreetly glancing at his godson. Harry wasn't paying attention though. He was distracted by his sister bouncing in her chair like a house elf on a sugar high.
Finally, things wound down. James left to go back to work after wishing his family well and giving them his love. Lily made a scene by kissing each of her children before retreating up to the castle to grade papers. Harry still didn't bother wiping his cheek though Holly seemed disgusted by the action. To Harry, each and every act of affection from his parents was a gift. Eventually, it was just Sirius, Holly, Harry and Hermione left at the table. Sirius turned to Harry and said, "So, how are things?"
Obviously he didn't want a rehash of what they talked about at the table. Harry was able to read between the lines and understood that Sirius wanted to talk about what they couldn't around James and Lily. Hermione decided to take her leave of them too, Harry and his sister to talk with their godfather. She kissed him goodbye and left the pub. "Well, I'm sure you heard about Crouch Jr.?" Harry asked. At Sirius' nod, he continued. "Well, he's been prowling the castle, either in animal form or polyjuiced as Malfoy."
"So, that's why you wanted to know if the map could be fooled." Sirius said with sudden realisation.
Harry nodded. "Yeah. Did you hear about the... incident on the seventh floor the other day?"
Harry sighed, not being particularly proud of that fight. "Crouch, for whatever reason, decided to attack me. I kicked his arse, but just as I was about to stun him, he portkeyed away."
"So, it wasn't a prank gone wrong then?" Holly asked.
Harry turned to face her, an incredulous look on his face. "Is that what the rumours are saying now?" he sighed. Holly nodded. "How the hell did it all come back to me? I mean, it is my fault and all, but... why am I suspect by default?"
Sirius and Holly both had matching rueful expression on their faces and refused to meet Harry's eye. "What?" Harry demanded.
"You... weren't the most rule abiding student your first three years," Holly muttered.
Harry rolled his eyes then buried his head in his folded arms on the table. "That's it." he groaned, gesturing vaguely. "Straight and narrow from here on out..."
Sirius snorted something that sounded suspiciously like, 'As if...'
Harry managed to catch up with Moody on his way back up to the castle. The professor stumped up to him, calling for Harry to wait. His claw footed wooden leg made strange squelching noises in the damp earth. "Potter." he said shortly. "Got a moment?"
"Sure." Harry said with a nod. "This about Crouch?"
Moody nodded back. "Aye, but let's not talk here." he said, his eye whirling in the socket. "My office."
Harry followed the Auror into the Defence office, and Moody closed the door behind them, taking a moment to cast a few secrecy spells over it. "You really kicked over an ant hill at the ministry with this one, Potter."
Harry had to fight the urge to argue with Moody. "Er... I'm sorry?" he offered lamely. "What's going on?"
Moody growled. "They don't want to acknowledge that Crouch escaped from Azkaban and are going to cover it up."
The thump of Harry's head banging off the desk in dismay echoed hollowly throughout the office. Never in his wildest dreams would he have suspected Madam Bones to be as corrupt and incompetent as Fudge. "Why?" he groaned.
"Why else?" Moody said back. "It's already common knowledge that You-Know-Who is back. The Ministry doesn't want it to get out that one of his followers has escaped from prison."
"Wonderful. Bloody wonderful," Harry groused. "What are we going to do then?"
Moody frowned at Harry. "I managed to convince the Headmaster that the incident on the seventh floor was me, and one of my... paranoia attacks." he said. When Harry raised an eyebrow at him, Moody smirked. "You look like you've bought into it too. I'm not as crazy as I lead people to think I am. It works for me."
Harry blinked bemusedly as this titbit of information sunk in. "Okay..." he said at length. "What about Crouch himself?"
"Just keep an eye out, Harry. It's what I'll be doing."