Not Only No, But...


Herman Tumbleweed

Disclaimer: It has been said that no one truly owns anything. But that was obviously not stated by a lawyer. Consequently, I do not own the HP universe, and make no claims to any of the characters or original situations created by Joanne K Rowling, and as assigned to various publishers and film companies. This is a work of fanfiction and no remuneration is expected or being received. See, I can use lawyer speak, though it greatly distresses me to do so.

Nods from the fuzzy old author: Thanks to Tommy for Brit-picking and betaing, and to Mike for being my sounding board and other beta.

Halloween 1994

Great Hall, Hogwarts

Dumbledore started speaking, giving some sort of inane instructions and platitudes, which Harry wasn't really listening to. That was Hermione's thing, listening to speeches. His thoughts were on whether he could get a date with Chang, whether it was worth the effort, or if he should just do the smart, if somewhat easier, thing and ask out Hermione, who was truly his best friend. He'd heard that best friends make the best couples. His distracted thinking meant he did not notice what was going on until the Great Hall suddenly got very quiet.

Dumbledore's voice sounded rather exasperated as he called, apparently for the second time, if Harry's subconscious was correct, "Harry Potter!" He actually sounded rather more than slightly peeved. Hermione elbowed said young wizard in the ribs.

Harry looked up and saw the flames dying down in the goblet, then slowly flickering out. The big furry bloke with the flamboyant robes and, at present, not-so-twinkly eyes was staring down his crooked nose over those stupid half glasses he never seemed to take off. In point of fact he was, as was everyone else in the hall, staring at Harry in anticipation. He was also holding a slightly charred bit of parchment.

Harry looked at Hermione and asked, "Didn't they already call for three champions? I mean, I may have been spacing for a bit there, but I could have sworn they called Diggory for Hogwarts." She had a pained look and for the first time he could recall seemed not to know what to say.

It seemed, however, Ron knew exactly what to say, although the crap that came out of his mouth was not wholly unexpected. Stupid, immature, vengeful, inappropriate? Yes. Unexpected? No. He hissed, as if as mad as he'd ever been, "How the hell could you do that to me Harry. How the bloody hell could you enter and not tell me, your best mate, what the fuck you were doing. Some damn best mate, you slimy arsehole. I hope you get stung by a Manticore!" He then turned to look away from Harry, who was still trying to suss out why he'd been called and hadn't really paid enough attention to her what the short-fused redhead spouted anyway.

It still seemed Hermione wasn't going to be any help at all. Her mouth was moving but nothing was coming out. Harry wondered for a moment if someone had cast a silencing charm on her.

Standing and looking at the old coot, Harry asked, "You called me, Headmaster?"

"Yes, Mr Potter, would you come to the front please?"

"Why? " As an afterthought, he added, "Sir?"

"Because your name came out of the Goblet, Mr Potter."

"My name... Goblet? Er, forgive me for saying so, sir, but that cannot be possible since I did not put my name into the Goblet."

"Be that as it may, Harry, your name did come out and you must now compete."

Harry looked at the barmy old codger, dumbfounded. After a moment of thought, he finally was able to say, "Let me get this straight, sir. I didn't put my name in the Goblet, which means someone else did, and then managed to make your supposedly infallible and impartial ancient artefact believe there are four schools in a three school tournament. And, you are telling me I have to compete, even though I had no serious desire, ever, to compete in a tournament where people have died? Many people, from what I've read. Is that what you are saying?" Again, he belatedly tacked on, "Sir?"

"Yes, Harry, Dumbledore looked pained, "I'm sorry, but if your name comes out it is a magically binding contract." He turned to look at a man beside him, and asked, "Is there any circumstance you are aware of that a contestant may choose not to compete, Bartemius?"

"No, Albus. If a person's name comes out of the Goblet they must compete. It has been that way for hundreds of years."

Turning back to the young wizard who was still standing in place at the Gryffindor table, the dotty old genius intoned, "There you have the definitive word, Harry. You must compete or you risk loss of your magic, or, at the very least, dire physical consequences."

Harry still did not move. He stared hard at the two old idiots at the head of the room wondering what in the name of "that-warm-place-where-bad-people-go" these people used for brains. "Are you telling me, Headmaster that you had no other safeguards on that object to prevent such a thing as this from occurring, despite that there have been two attempts on my life in the past three years, and a supposedly maniacal escaped convict after me all last year, not to mention friggin' Dementors all over the school who nearly sucked out my soul near the end? Despite that you yourself said there are things afoot that make you think the Dark Loser may be trying to return? Are you telling me, sir, that the one and only protection you put on that bloody piece of scrap metal was an age line to prevent young people from putting their name in? Have you ever heard of such a thing as a paper aeroplane. I've heard that even the fool Ministry uses the things. So you don't think someone could just have made one and used that to fly their name, or someone else's, into the cup? And heaven forbid, Headmaster, that some enterprising student should just wad up a piece of parchment with their name on it and banish it in the general direction of the damn thing. Or, that they might get an older student to do it? Are you really so senile you don't think of safeguarding your students any better than this?"

Out the corner of his eye Harry could see Hermione looking flabbergasted, but quite thoughtful as well, as she took in each of the points he mentioned. Ron however was looking madder, and redder, by the minute, and it was likely the bastard was going even further into his jealousy fit. If he was... well, Harry had other fish to fry at the moment; very large, flamboyant, illogical, naive fish.

Without pause, and now addressing the other adult, the young wizard was on a roll and not about to relent, especially since he had the complete and seemingly rapt attention of the entire assemblage. "So, Mr Crouch, are you saying that if someone should become gravely injured, or extremely ill after their name is drawn they would still have to compete?" The distracted looking old wizard nodded. "I see, so that means that if someone was half dead, they'd have to go out and fight some great bloody dragon, or dive into a lake to rescue a friend, or to wend their way through some silly-arsed maze full of magical traps and deadly creatures even though they would very likely die in the attempt because they were suffering a horrid type of pneumonia that Madame Pomfrey had been unable to cure with a wave of her wand and a few vile tasting potions? Is that what you are saying?"

The man again gave a curt nod, but remained silent. Dumbledore, though, appeared to have finally come to the end of his tether and looked as stern as Harry had ever seen him. Radiating an aura of command, and in a booming voice, the headmaster fairly snarled, "Mr Potter, you will kindly join the other champions, so that we may get on with the instructions for the first task and release the rest of the students for the evening."

Sort of like a tennis match, Harry saw about three hundred heads swivel his direction and he could literally feel those six hundred or so eyes eyes riveted on him in expectation that he would acquiesce to the command he'd just received. They were wrong in said expectation.

Harry thought for a moment, and stepped back from the table. He turned to the headmaster, looked pensive for a moment, then said, "No!

"I beg your pardon, Harry?"

"You heard me, Albus. Not only no, but Hell no!"

"Mr Potter," the old fart raged, "you will stop this foolishness this instant, and do as you are told. I will brook no more disrespect or you will serve a severe punishment."

Harry turned and walked toward the entrance hall doors with a determined stride. The room was deathly silent, the hallowed hall ringing with the steps of an angry youth who'd had enough.

As the young wizard walked away, the headmaster demanded in his most authoritarian voice, "Mr Potter, you will come to the front of the hall this instant, and you will compete in this tournament!"

When Harry got to the doors, he turned and calmly said, "To paraphrase a comedy routine I heard this summer by a couple of Yanks, "Headmaster, sir, are you out of your fucking mind?" Aside to the crowd, he added, "Cheech and Chong, in case anyone was interested. Oh, and you get the respect you pay others, head master." With that Harry turned away again displaying to the old bastard and company a V shaped salute with the first two fingers of his right hand, and leaving an extremely stunned throng of witches and wizards

Perhaps the most stunned of all was a certain manipulating old curmudgeon who had gone to great lengths to ensure his weapon, er, rather, one Harry Potter was entered in the tournament and would have to compete. However, he was now at a loss as to how he could possibly salvage the situation. If the boy absolutely refused to compete there was almost nothing he could do to force him to, short of memory and compulsion charms. If he did not compete he would ruin months of careful planning and the advantages taken of certain situations and people. It would throw his whole timetable off. Surely by now the escaped rodent had been to Albania to retrieve his "master" as he'd been memory and compulsion charmed to do. Surely by now, people would be wondering who could possibly have entered young Mr Potter in the tournament. He had to have some time to think this through, but first he had to take care of business.

Albus dismissed the students, and then he and the other two school heads, along with Crouch, Bagman, and the rest of the entourage, (aka hangers-on and suck-ups) retired to the anteroom where the school champions were waiting, no doubt wondering what all the shouting was about and what had taken so long.

Behind the backs of these august personages, the vast majority of students from the three schools looked at each other in wonder, all except for one bushy haired witch and a red headed waste of good magic. The former was concerned for her friend, while the latter was seething with a large dose of jealousy that the sorry-arsed coward was chosen and didn't tell HIM, Ronald Bilius Weasley, his best mate, how he put his name in the friggin' goblet. And that was not to mention his rage at the bloody fool Muggle-raised, half-blood for screwing with magical tradition. He thought, "How could the bastard have that much... erm, what was that word Hermione-the-homework-factory used way too often? Oh yeah, temerity. How could the cocksucker have the temerity to refuse the commands of the Headmaster let alone walk away from being chosen by fabled Goblet of Fire." That thought just made him seethe even more, and as he rose from the table it was to see the essay rescuer, erm, Hermione, already to the doors. He followed in full stomp mode.

As for the young lady in question, she took more direct action, or to be more precise she shot out of her seat and hit the doors running as fast as she could. Needles to say, that was well ahead of the rest of the crowd who were just now coming out of their stupor and talking over one another as they slowly rose from their seats. She had a very good idea of what Harry was doing right now and intended to stop him, or at least get him to slow down long enough for her to talk with him, or something like that. She wasn't totally sure of what she wanted, she just didn't want to lose Harry from her life. As she charged up the many flihgts of stairs a dozen scenarios went through her mind, along with several dozen things she could say to him. It wasn't until she was nearing the fat lady's portrait that she settled on at least an idea of how to approach her friend of three years, the most important friend she'd ever had.

As she entered the Gryffindor common room, Hermione stopped for a moment to catch her breath. Climbing stairs several times a day, and traipsing all over a huge castle and its grounds may have had her in the best shape of her life, but it hadn't prepared her to sprint, headlong, in an adrenaline fuelled, panicked flight to keep from losing her only real friend. That was just too frightening to contemplate... not to mention if he left she'd have no one to compete with, not really. She might excel academically, but Harry was the Guru, the be all and end all, the yin to her yang in magical education. He was who she learned proper wand work from, he was who she measured her achievements alongside of, he was the one who carbonated her hormones... "Wait! Where'd that come from?" she asked herself

Huffing to, and at, herself, the young witch stalked toward the stairs to the boys' dormitories, and as she started up could hear a whistled jaunty tune echoing in the stairwell. To her it sounded like something Scottish, but she couldn't be sure. It could have been Irish for all she knew, music wasn't her forte. She'd tried piano and several other instruments in the course of her younger life, but apparently had no aptitude for music; and as for singing, even Crookshanks left when she merely tried to hum a tune. The traitor!

As she entered the fourth year boys dormitory, Hermione saw Harry casually folding robes and placing them in his trunk. He was doing exactly as she'd feared. She knew he knew where Sirius was and knew the old dog had made an offer of tutors for Harry if he ever felt he needed to "get away from it all". She was scared that he'd leave her life and never again be a part of it. She was also angry that he'd been so rude to the Headmaster and Mr Crouch, and she was sorely ticked that he had the audacity to ignore her when he left the Great Hall. He could have at least told her where he was going and ask if she wanted to join him. She huffed her irritation, again.

"Harry," she asked, in extreme annoyance, bordering on high dudgeon even, "you aren't really going to try to leave, are you?"

"I might, he replied, "but at the least I want the old man to know I know his game and I'm not going to play it. I'm almost certain he somehow made that happen, or let it happen at the least. He's still trying to run my life no matter how hard I try to keep him from doing so. I have no idea why he thinks he has the right to do that, but if it doesn't stop, I'm outta here, Hermione."

The young witch was dumbstruck at his speech, but not taken totally off guard. They'd had similar discussions before, though he'd never been so vehement as he was now. "Harry..." she couldn't continue because she wasn't, for one of the few times in her life, entirely sure what she wanted to ask her friend; her very best friend.

Noticing her silence, the young man looked over and realized how much of a conflict she was in. Her deep respect for authority had been badly shaken in the last year and a half, so one of the previously most rock-solid supports of her world was crumbling. He knew it was hard for her, so he wasn't sure what to say at first either.

Inspiration struck after a minute or so of tense silence, and he said, "Hermione, I want you to know you are one of only two people in the world I know I can rely on. It has been you who has stuck by me when things didn't go well, every time, for the last three years. I have to say something that will probably make us both blush, but you need to know this." He was already turning pink. "When the old man called my name the first time I was wondering whether to try to ask out Chang... or to ask you. Now I know who I want to go out with. She may be pretty, but I don't know her. You are at least as pretty, and you are my friend . I want to er, spend some time with you... if, erm well, that is... er, if you would... er, youknowwannagooutwithme..." he finished in a rush and trailed off.

The young witch's heart began racing as he stumbled through what she had wondered if she'd ever hear from one of the two boys. She had hoped one day it would be Harry. Now it was out there and all Hermione could do for a moment was was blush and look speculatively at the young wizard before her. She realized she knew him better than she knew just about anyone in the world, maybe even better than her parents by now. She had, after all, spent a lot more time with him over the past three years. For that matter, she knew what made Harry tick better than anyone, including Ron. It was also a certainty that he knew her better than most anyone, again, especially Ron. There had always been a chemistry between them that made them able to know what the other was thinking most times.

After thinking about it for a few moments, she realized Harry was turning very red, probably redder than she was, and that he was losing his nerve, and in a moment he'd drop his hopeful eyes from her face and start apologizing. She knew what she wanted, had known for a while in the recesses of her mind, but just hadn't seriously considered it until now.

"Yes, Harry, I would love to go out with you." And she quickly stepped up to hug him tightly and more fully than ever before. He still stiffened slightly at first contact, but not nearly as much as he usually had before. After a moment, though, he settled into the embrace and hugged her back. When they pulled away and grinned at each other, still blushing of course, a thought came to her mind. "But, there's one problem, Harry. If you plan on leaving how are we supposed to go out?"

"Well, I haven't quite worked that part out yet, Hermione." He was scratching the back of his head, and his gaze drifted downward so he was looking, eyes unfocused, at the floor. But then he looked up at her again, and his back and shoulders straightened as if with purpose. She knew he'd made a decision, and that she wasn't going to like it.

His eyes now firmly on hers, he told her, "I am going to get Sirius to help me. As you know he offered to get me tutors if I ever decided I'd had enough of this crazy archaic world in Britain. You also know that from what he and Moony said the magical world is a lot different outside of Europe. Since my dad was wealthy enough that he and my mum didn't have to work, I don't have to worry about money for now, so long as I don't go buying an island or something." He chuckled, and, surprising them both, she joined him. "So he and my mum worked full time helping that thing called the Order of the Phoenix after Hogwarts. Moony said Dumbledore ran that as part of the fight against Voldemort, though why the stupid Ministry couldn't handle it without his help, I'll never know.

"Anyway, I'm going to Sirius, I know where he is and how to get there." He chuckled at her look of mild surprise; he hadn't told her that. "Then I'm going to use the tutors we talked about to complete my education and such. So I think it really is time for me to bid old Hoggy Warty Hogwarts adieu and go elsewhere." His voice turned somewhat plaintive, as he added, "They keep trying to kill me, Hermione, and I'm tired of winding up in the hospital wing every other month."

She nodded at that, but the mind of the smartest witch of her age was spinning with all Harry had just told her and reminded her of, besides all he had said in the great hall. That was not to mention how he had stood up to the headmaster. But now they could already hear voices from downstairs, so she knew she had to make some kind of a decision quickly. She also knew that Harry didn't trust the headmaster, hadn't since the end of last term, and now neither did she, at least not like she used to. In fact, after the past three years and all that had happened to her and Harry, she was nearly convinced that the old man was totally barmy, and this school was anything but as safe as the barmy old coot kept proclaiming it to be.

Coming to a tentative decision, Hermione asked, "Harry, is there some way I can contact you? It's just that I'm not sure if I can leave here right now, knowing I might not be able to come back."

"Hermione," he put a hand on her slim shoulder, "I care a lot for you, and I know you are worried about me, and about how things could go in the future for us. I want to live long enough to find out whether we can even be a couple. I want to live long enough to have the kids I should be able to have some day. And I want to live in a world where crazy, manipulative old headmasters and even crazier dark wizards aren't trying to make my life even worse than it has been."

His hand came up to cup her cheek, and she automatically leaned into his touch. His voice was warm when he continued. "Most importantly, I want to be part of your life. You don't have to come with me right now, but you can whenever you are ready, if that's what you want. Maybe after this school year, or even when you go home for Christmas hols, you and I can get together to talk and try to figure out where we go from here. I won't pressure you to come with me because that wouldn't be fair."

Turning a bit more businesslike, he dropped his hand from her cheek to continue packing what few things he had left to put in his trunk. "You'll have to use school owls to write to me. I'm sure they'll be able to find me, but it'll probably take a few days for the round trip. I hope you will, if just to tell me how things are going. And I'll write to you every time you do. I won't risk sending Hedwig here in case he tries to use her against me, or something." He turned back to her, stopping his packing again for a moment. They could hear footsteps on the stairs, and voices coming their way now.

She replied, "Alright, Harry. I can't help but wonder if you are doing the right thing, or that it might be the best for me, as well. I just have to think about it." Her bottom lip trembled as she almost sobbed out, "I'll miss you terribly. You are the first person I look for in the morning, no matter what. And now... now you'll only be the last thing I think about at night. I wish I could be like you Harry, and just make a decision without having to think so much about it..." and then she did sob once.

They fell into each others' arms then and hugged tightly until they heard someone clear his throat from the door. When they looked over, Neville was watching them, seeming a bit embarrassed. Harry told him, "Sorry about that, Neville. We were just saying goodbye."

At that moment a very angry looking Ron Weasley stormed through the door, pushing Neville aside, and took in the scene of Harry and Hermione standing closely together, holding hands. He stopped suddenly, about half way between the door and them, and seemed to grow even angrier and redder, if that was possible. Harry noticed a large number of other Gryffindors coming into the room behind Ron, or congregating outside in the stairwell.

The first thought through Harry's mind was, "This ain't gonna be pretty!" Oddly, or maybe not, Hermione had the exact same thought.

As usual, Ron's mouth took off without his mind, and he proceeded to exhibit the worst of the Weasley traits, learned at his mother's knee no doubt. He started with, "What the fuck are you doing, Hermione?" He demanded. "Get away from that slimy, bastard. He's no different than a stinking, no good, cowardly Slytherin." The gasp from the crowd behind him was loud, but he paid no mind to it. Further cementing his image as an utter imbecile in the minds of all the girls and most of the boys, he yelled, "Who do you think you are, Potter? You come into a school full of decent Wizarding folk and throw our traditions in our faces. And now you're what, running away from an obligation to represent Gryffindor? And you, Hermione, standing there holding hands with a traitor to everything Gryffindor. No wonder the blonde ponce calls you a mudblood." Spittle was flying from his mouth as he yelled, contempt fairly dripping from his words. One could almost see brain cells running out of his ears, bent on saving their own lives.

The crowd's gasp from his last statement should have been audible in the Great Hall, and they all backed up a pace, except for one girl who barged forward to stand next to him; his sister. She glared at the two in front of them, and took in the way the pair was calmly holding hands, watching the scene play itself out. "Well?" she demanded, sounding eerily like her mother, "What have you got to say for yourself, Hermione?" The sarcasm was thick as molasses (in January, of course). "Huh? Ron not good enough for you, you had to go and claim the one boy you know I want? The one boy I've spent my whole life dreaming about? The one boy who is worth shite in this whole bloody school?"

Aside from the two imbecilic redheads, it was obvious to all assembled,including their twin brothers, who had come up to try to rescue the two bubble-heads from themselves, that this was absolutely the worst thing she could have said. She would later wonder why she couldn't get a date: a situation existing for the rest of her Hogwarts career and well beyond. No one ever explained it to her, either. At the moment, though, Fred and George, just shook their heads, but didn't have time to do anything before what was perhaps the worst thing happened in the whole confrontation.

Apparently enough of Ron's brain cells had abandoned ship, so to speak, for him to take action and he screamed, "GET AWAY FROM HIM, HERMIONE! NOW!" When he stalked forward, reaching to grab her arm, she was suddenly behind Harry, and Ronald Bilius Weasley was facing a wand at extremely close range, the tip already lit with some hex. He knew that, with Harry being Harry, this was a really bad thing.

Harry wasn't sure how he'd moved Hermione behind him, or he in front of her, or both perhaps, nor how his wand got into his hand so fast, but he did know Ronald Weasley was not going to lay a hand on the girl he, Harry, was quickly starting to think of as "girlfriend".

With a growl that came from somewhere well down below his toes, Harry told the red-headed worm in no uncertain terms, "You will back up. NOW! WEASLEY! Or you will not walk out of here." He didn't even have to add that, if being carried out, the git would be in more than one piece.

Showing he did actually have one or two brain cells left intact, though they obviously weren't capable of getting together to form coherent thoughts yet, Ron remained frozen. He had suddenly realized that the holly wand tip pointed at his long nose had magic fairly dripping off it.

However, his sister took that moment to prove short tempered idiocy ran in the family and shouted, "HAH! SO YOU THINK YOU CAN TAKE DOWN JUST ANYONE YOU WANT, POTTER?" She also stalked forward, her fist raised, as she sent her popularity in Hogwarts deeper into the Chamber of Secrets, "I GOT NEWS FOR YOU, YOU TWO-TIMING, WORTHLESS, HALFBLOOD, MY BROTHER IS ALREADY TWICE THE WIZARD YOU COULD EVER BE. THE BEST OF YOU RAN DOWN YOUR MUM'S ARSE..." Just what she'd have added to that preposterous, vulgar statement would remain forever unknown because she suddenly also found herself nose to wand-tip with, in this case, a vine-wood wand. It too was lit with some spell or other. In a moment of insanity, wholly outside of her other irrationality, she noticed how nice the carving on the wand was. Her hand remained raised, but whatever she was going to say died on her lips. One could almost hear the strains of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western film from the seventies playing in the background.

The twins, who'd started forward to try knocking some sense into their siblings immediately backed up from the pair. Their hands were held up, palms out and waving back and forth in the universal gesture that says, "We don't know these people, have never met them, and are damn sure not related to them."

Ron gulped. Ginny gulped. Hermione sounded just about as feral as Harry, though in not quite as deep a growl, of course, when she said, "Back up very carefully, Ginevra Molly Weasley. Your presence here has become objectionable to my BOYFRIEND and I." She could feel Harry's grin, though Ron got a much better look at it. And, he didn't like it even one iota, being as it was rather wicked and all.

Harry said, "I think the two of you had best go back to the common room, or, even better, as far as you can get from here and think about how you have screwed up just now. Your lives in Gryffindor are over, whether my GIRLFRIEND and I stay or not. You have both managed to let your mocking bird mouths overload your songbird arses. Now you have a lot more consequences to live with than had you kept your gobs firmly shut. Mr Weasley, I hope to never lay eyes on you again. If I do, you had better hope I am not in a bad mood, because it is likely I will take it out on you. Ms. Weasley, I hate to say it, you being what I thought was a lady and all," (What was was said earlier of dripping sarcasm? Harry's voice was running freely with it, by comparison) "but the same thing goes for you."

Hermione added, "Since I feel exactly the same way, that goes for me as well. Both of you had best stay as far from us as you possibly can and still be on this planet." In a cloyingly sweet tone she added, "I do hope the two of you enjoy your remaining years at Hogwarts." However, what she said next was anything but sweet. She smirked for a moment, while thoughts of the certain and possible repercussions from what the two insanely angry redheads had said and done in the last little bit showed in their eyes and their rapidly paling complexions. Then the angry young brunette witch calmly shouted, "BEGONE! NOW! BOTH OF YOU!" She then turned the smirk on Harry over the result. He dutifully smirked back. Thoughts of Rudyard Kipling's poem about the female of the species ran through his mind briefly; he'd read it over the summer.

It wasn't fast enough to be called Apparating, but the pair did move rather quickly. In about a heartbeat and a half they were through the door and the snickering occupants of the room could hear voices yelling in pain and anger on the stairs. A moment after that they heard the portrait on the common room entrance slam open over the loud protests of the occupant of said portrait.

The worst of the commotion over, Neville told the couple, "I'll be down in the common room. I'd like to talk to you when you're done, Harry." When the other nodded in reply, the formerly pudgy boy pushed the gawkers out into the stairwell firmly telling them the show was over. He was assisted by two quite pensive red-headed twins.

Harry smiled tenderly at Hermione, taking her loosely back into his arms. Gazing into her warm brown eyes he softly asked, "You alright then?"

Parroting how she'd answered that same thing in first year, she told him, "Never better."

They both smiled at the memory of when he'd gotten out of the hospital wing that year. But then she asked, concernedly, "Are you alright, though?"

He shook his head, sort of to clear the memories of the last little while, replying, "I'll be fine. But, even if I hadn't before, I've definitely made up my mind now. I can't stay here. People like Weasley and his sister will just make it too weird. And that's forgetting the headmaster who, barmy and manipulating as he is, will continue to try to force me to compete. I don't know if I'll still have my magic in a few days, or whenever the first task is, or just what will happen. I'm almost positive they were blowing smoke, but I don't care if they weren't."

"I understand," she said into his shoulder as they embraced even closer. "I don't know either, Harry, but one thing I do know is that those two twits made up my mind too. I'm going with you, and Dumbledore be damned if he tries to stop us." She grinned at him then, as he chuckled at her casual use of profanity.

"I believe I'm becoming a bad influence on you, Miss Granger."

"Naw, my dad was a bad influence long before I met you, Harry." They both laughed, then she added "I'm going to go pack, why don't you finish up and meet me in the common room. You need to talk to Neville anyway, and it won't take me long. I've been trying to learn the packing spell, and I believe I have it down now."

He snorted and she playfully swatted his bum. Then, a very soft look in her eyes, she asked, "Kiss me, Harry?"

He regarded her for only a moment, before his head bent to hers. It lasted only a few seconds, but was a lifetime to the two youngsters. It spoke of promises to come, even though it was close-mouthed and chaste.

Neville had only wanted to tell Harry that he was proud of how he'd stood up to the headmaster and Crouch, and that he supported whatever Harry had in mind. He also wanted to make sure they kept in touch, even if his friend became a squib. Their friendship, though not as close as some, had become quite important to the other boy, and Harry was touched.

He told Neville he'd be sure to write occasionally, and that if he, too, ever wanted to "get away from it all" to let him, Harry, know and he'd do what he could to help. They embraced in a quick manly hug and let it go at that. After that, Fred and George, among others, expressed the same sentiments which touched Harry just as deeply. He also received tearful and heartfelt hugs from the other Quidditch team members.

It had only taken Hermione less than five minutes to be ready to leave and she'd come down the stairs with tears in her eyes, but a determined set to her jaw. She reminded him of one requirement, for which he had to dig into his trunk and find an important piece of parchment. She already had hers out. After finding it, and using parchment and quill she supplied, their resignations from the school were ready just a few minutes time. Neither was happy to be leaving the new life they'd come to only three years before, but also knew they could not remain under the questionable guidance of the current Hogwarts Headmaster. Did not, in fact, wish to remain there at all.

As Harry and Hermione approached the bottom of the stairs in the entrance hall, it sounded like a lot of people were hurrying after them. A quick look over his shoulder showed Neville, Fred, George, and the rest of the Quidditch team leading what he thought was probably everyone from Gryffindor tower. It gave him a small, sad smile, echoed on the face of his girlfriend when he glanced over at her.

One final confrontation was about to take place, though, as Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Moody moved to stand in front of the entrance doors, obviously to prevent the pair of students from leaving. The two professors bracketed the headmaster, as if the three of them could intimidate the pair of students with a show of force. All three adults had wands in their hands, which Harry found amusing for some reason. McGonagall looked very unhappy, while Moody seemed non-committal, and Dumbledore appeared slightly smug.

The pair of almost-ex-students had held hands all the way down from Gryffindor tower, their other hands pulling their trunks behind them. They stopped a few paces from the trio of professors, their free hands letting go of their trunks for the moment. There was no need for either of them to have their wand out, as there was no way that two fourth year students could hope to best three of the most knowledgeable magic users in Britain.

Dumbledore was the first to speak, as he asked sternly, "Where do you think you are going, Harry?"

Ignoring the demand of the headmaster, Harry turned instead to his head of house. He and Hermione dropped their clasped hands, and each pulled a pair of rolled up parchments from their pockets. Handing his to the elderly witch, he said, "Professor McGonagall, as per the requirements of this institution I hereby present you with my resignation as a student of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."

Hermione also handed her parchments to the stunned Transfiguration professor, adding the same line required by the rules of attendance, or in this case resignation. The elderly witch took both with a slightly shaky hand. On her face was a look of having just eaten lemons. Clearly she was not happy with this situation, but said nothing, only nodding and unrolling the parchments to verify the contents. Both former students then turned to the headmaster who was obviously seething, but now had a wholly superior smirk on his face.

As if speaking to a particularly slow child, and in a very condescending tone, Dumbledore looked at Harry and told him, "I'm afraid, Harry, that I cannot allow you to leave the school grounds. I am your guardian while you are away from your Muggle relatives, as I am of you as well, Miss Granger. So you see, unless I give you permission, you may not leave. I do not give you that permission, Harry." Glancing at Hermione, he added, "However, Miss Granger if you insist on leaving I will allow you to do so." His voice still just as condescending and smug, he added, "As I'm sure you know, once you have resigned from Hogwarts and left the grounds you are not allowed to re-enrol for any reason, short of a petition brought before the Wizengamot. With their approval, if given, you then must also petition and be granted acceptance to return from the Hogwarts Board of Governors. It has never been accomplished, and as a Muggle-born you would not get the time of day from the Wizengamot I assure you."

Harry chuckled, looking at Hermione, who also gave a bit of a giggle. They both found the old man's posturing to be a bit ridiculous. They then turned to McGonagall and the young witch asked, "Professor, I assume we have presented to you the proper documents as decreed by the Rules of Entry to and Resignation from Hogwarts."

"Aye, lass, indeed ye ha'." Her Scottish brogue came out in times of considerable stress, and she was as stressed right now as she'd been in a long time. Turning to the headmaster, who was looking at her inquiringly, she said sadly, "I ha' here the permission o' their magical guardian, Albus, and 'tis not you. 'Tis in fact, a man whom you allowed tae go tae prison wi'out a trial, and who was left there for far too long. He may be an escapee, but he is legally their guardian in the Wizarding World, and these documents prove it."

The old man's furry face turned bright red, and he snatched the parchments from her hand to angrily peruse them himself. Having done so, he all-but threw them back at his deputy and snarled, "You will not be leaving here, Harry. I can have Sirius's guardianship set aside before midnight, so there will be no reason for you to leave only to be forced to return." His wand came up to point directly at Harry, as did Moody's.

McGonagall's wand, however, remained at her side. In clipped, Scottish accented words she asked, "Why o' earth would ye dae such a thin', Albus? Ye canna' keep a student prisoner here because ye thin' they shoul' nae leave for some reason. While 'tis a tragedy tae lose two such promisin' students, 'tis beyon' the pale for ye tae thusly threaten Mr Potter."

Dumbledore seemed to regain his dignity in that moment, and looked at her seriously. "I'm not at liberty to tell you the exact reason, Minerva," he said in his most soothing tone, "but it is important, even imperative that young Harry remain at Hogwarts to complete his education."

Harry took that moment to correct something, knowing it would throw the headmaster a bit. "Begging your pardon, Headmaster, but would you be so kind to address me as Mr Potter. We are no longer on friendly terms, and I find your familiarity rather rude, frankly."

The old man looked disconcerted, but only for a moment, then took on his favourite grandfatherly look and tone. "My apologies, Mr Potter, you are correct of course. However, it does not alter the situation in the least. You will return to your dormitory immediately or face quite severe consequences."

"I think not, Headmaster. The only way you will keep me in this castle is by physical or magical force. I will not willingly spend another night here so long as you are headmaster. I wish, now, to continue my magical education elsewhere."

Trying another tack, the old buzzard continued in his most irritatingly conciliatory tone, at least to Harry, "Now, Harry, please be reasonable.."

"Mr Potter, please, Headmaster," Harry interrupted.

The old bastard sighed heavily, "Alright, Mr Potter, as I was saying, it is essential that you remain at Hogwarts to complete your education or the Wizarding World could be in great peril." He groaned inwardly and realized the boy was getting to him. He'd not made such a mistake of unintentionally giving away information like that in more years than he cared to think about. It had been a difficult evening, he rationalized, not even considering age might be a factor. He was, after all, the most powerful wizard alive, at present, or so he kept telling himself.

A snicker escaped before Harry stifled it. He was almost certain the old fart hadn't meant to let that out, and the momentary pain in the old eyes confirmed it. Going for the throat, the famous youngster asked, "And would you be willing to state the exact reasons for that right here and now, Headmaster Dumbledore?" He knew he was getting under the old man's skin, and intended to keep doing so no matter what, until he was out of the castle. The only way the old fart could keep him here was, as he had said, by restraining him.

"No, Harry... I apologize, Mr Potter." He corrected himself immediately upon seeing the youngsters eyes narrow. "I would not care to reveal that particular secret in so public a setting. Perhaps if we could adjourn to my office?"

"No, Headmaster, I would not like to go to your office where you will not doubt find a way to keep us here. Compulsion charms, ring a bell? You know, Headmaster, I've asked you several times now why Riddle keeps trying to kill me, and every time you tell me I'm too young. If you think I'm old enough to compete in a set of tournament tasks designed for seventh years, then I should think you would find me now mature enough to handle your secrets. But that's the whole problem with you, isn't it, Headmaster? You have so many secrets you can't quite keep track of them all any longer can you."

Harry was on a roll now and Hermione took his hand, squeezing it in support. "Tell us, Headmaster, why do you feel you need to hold three very important positions in the Wizarding world? Why do you feel that any one person should have that much power? Isn't that the same kind of power that you want to keep Voldemort from getting?" There was, of course, the obligatory collective gasp from the crowd at his use of the Dark Lord's name. "Tell us," Harry waved his hand around to the whole assemblage which now included probably most of the students of all three schools, "why you are so much better than he is that you have not become corrupted by that power. Your insistence that I have to compete in this tournament tells me that you are not nearly as incorruptible as you would have everyone believe. There is no way you will ever convince me that I have to compete in something I did not enter myself in, magical contract or not."

So far, Hermione had remained silent, which rather surprised Harry, given how he'd been berating the old fool. But now, as he paused, she piped up, sounding nervous but her voice strong nonetheless, "There is a Muggle saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, Headmaster. Do you really think you are strong enough in your morals to completely resist that?" It was said as levelly as anything Harry had said. Neither had been vindictive in the way they had spoken, nor were they sarcastic. Everything had been stated or asked with honest sincerity.

It occurred then to Harry that he was surprised McGonagall hadn't stopped them in what they were doing, but she seemed to be either frozen by what had been said, or enjoying it. He wasn't sure which; her face was as inscrutable as ever. Oddly, Moody seemed to be enjoying it entirely too much, and that set off warning bells in his head. Something was definitely wrong there, if a supposed close friend could enjoy seeing the man squirm that much.

With an even heavier sigh this time, the old man levelled a commanding stare at them both and said, "I do not answer to you, young man, nor to you young lady. However, I am in those positions because the wizards and witches of Britain have entrusted them to me. Now, will you return to your dormitory, Mr Potter, or must I force you to?"

"Headmaster, I believe I speak for my friend when I say what I said before. Not only no, but Hell no. I will not willingly stay another night in this castle. End of story."

The old man gave another tired sounding sigh, as if this was just too much trouble to be dealing with and he wanted it over and done. "In that case, Harry, you give me no choice..." He raised his wand again, as did Moody, though McGonagall's remained at her side.

Suddenly there were several shouts from the crowd. A number of students pushed their way to the front, led by Fred, George, and Neville, and including many others who were not all Gryffindors either. Looking over his shoulder, Harry thought he saw Cedric Diggory in the group. All of them had their wands levelled at the headmaster and Moody. Interestingly, Professor McGonagall backed away from the pair, and also levelled her wand at them. From out of nowhere, Professors Flitwick, Sprout, and several others joined her.

Fred seemed to take on the role of unofficial spokesman for them all, and said, "Headmaster, if you take the action you seem to intend against Harry or Hermione you will find that a lot of people will take extreme displeasure with that."

He didn't get anything further out, because suddenly there was a pop and a house-elf stood between Harry and the headmaster. "You will not be harming the great Harry Potter sir, Headmaster Whiskers. You and young Master Barty Crouch will be putting your wands away and leaving my friend alone, or Dobby will be using all his magic to stop you."

There was a loud gasp then, as the import of part of what the little creature had said sank in to many people. From the corner of his eye, Harry took note of the resident bat, aka the potions professor, who had been shoving his way through the crowd. He, too, paused and looked very shocked. The man's wand was out, but now he freed himself forcibly from the crowd and pointed it at Moody, whose magical eye was whizzing on overdrive round and round at the assembled witches and wizards.

The look on Dumbledore's face was priceless, and would have been extremely humorous if not for the dangerous and tense situation. He half turned to gape at the man beside him, then goggled at Dobby, then again at Moody, and back and forth a few times. Finally he said softly, "Dobby, I think you are mistaken. This is my friend of many years, Alastor Moody."

"Dobby is not making mistake, Professor Long Hair. That is the young Master Crouch who Dobby's friend Winky used to serve until she was given clothes and came to work at Hoggywarty. Dobby doesn't know why young Master Crouch look like old Whizzy Eye, but he be young Master Crouch, alright." The hands of the small creature were still raised in the gesture Harry had seen him use nearly a year and a half before on Lucius Malfoy.

The wand of the grizzled retired Auror then pointed directly at Dobby's chest, though the little fellow didn't seem perturbed by that. But, before the wizard could fire a spell, he was hit with several disarming spells, some shouted, some silently cast. The multiple cries of "Expelliarmus" echoed around the entry hall in the silence that followed. Dumbledore was not one of those to cast it, though the result was still that the imposter was thrown bodily into the front doors of the castle and slid to the floor in a heap.

Snape stalked over to the unconscious man and cast an unknown spell on him, unknown to Harry and Hermione anyway. The result was a ghostlike representation, hanging in the air above the unconscious ex-Auror, of a man much younger and still whole in body. There were several gasps of recognition from staff members.

Harry looked over at the collection of adults and asked, "Professor McGonagall, is that really Barty Crouch Junior? Isn't he supposed to be dead?"

The woman looked positively ill, but answered, "Yes, I'm afraid that is indeed the younger Crouch, Mr Potter, and yes, he supposedly died in Azkaban some years ago."

Ever the inquisitive one, and unable to resist, Hermione asked into the continued silence following that pronouncement, "Professor, may I ask what spell Professor Snape used just now?"

A tiny smile worked at the corners of the older witch's mouth and the mood of those assembled seemed to lighten a little. She replied, warmly, "That is a spell designed recently by Professor Snape to reveal those using Polyjuice Potion, and a few other methods of concealment. It hasn't been tried too many times before, given the unpleasant nature of that potion. It does seem quite effective, though, doesn't it Miss Granger?"

The girl nodded, and murmured her agreement, slightly awed that the potions professor had crafted a spell. Said bat smirked at her, and she smiled back, knowing it would irritate him. She was rewarded with a scowl, and had to stifle a giggle. She'd always wanted to get one over on the crappy and wholly unfair professor without danger of being punished. She'd take those kinds of small pleasures when they came.

Harry turned back to the headmaster who was looking decidedly green around the gills and standing rooted to the spot. There was a gobsmacked look on his face and his mouth was working soundlessly. He seemed to be unable to take in, much less believe, that he'd been duped so completely.

Professor McGonagall moved forward to take his arm, while Harry couldn't resist taking one more shot at the meddling and too-controlling old man. Call it the tactlessness of youth, but given how the man had seemed to have manipulated his entire life, he didn't feel badly at all. He said, using sarcasm for the first time since the confrontation had started, "Looks like you are not so infallible as you would have the Wizarding World believe, now, does it, Headmaster. Isn't it interesting that a man could waltz into your oh so safe school and impersonate another man who is supposedly a long-time friend of yours." He then added, in a lighter tone, "Looks like it might be time for you to give up some of those positions the sheep of Britain have entrusted you with, wouldn't you say, Headmaster? I bid you a good evening, sir. My girlfriend and I have a bus to catch." The old man didn't react, didn't even seem to have heard, as the two youngsters turned to once more grab their trunks.

Poppy Pomfrey wormed her way through the throng in the Entry Hall, looking daggers at the crumpled and now bound form of the imposter Moody. Gently she took the very confused looking headmaster from McGonagall and ushered him, still in his dazed state, through a large opening in the crowd that materialized in her path.

Harry and Hermione didn't know what was going to happen now at Hogwarts, and neither really cared much. This was definitely the last straw for both of them, and they no longer wanted any part of a school where such could happen. He paused a moment, though, to kneel down in front of his little green friend, and told him, "Dobby, thank you for standing up to them for me, for us," he added, smiling up at Hermione. "You've been a very good friend to me. Do you want to stay here at Hogwarts, or would you like to come work for me. Where we are going, I'm pretty sure we could use a good house-elf, and we can always use a very great friend."

The elf threw himself at Harry, and sobbed, "Harry Potter sir is truly a great wizard, even greater than Dobby has thought before. He asks Dobby to come to work for him, and Dobby has been wanting to do that since the great Harry Potter sir freed Dobby. Dobby thanks Harry Potter sir, and hopes he can be as good a servant as the great Harry Potter sir and his nice Grangey deserve."

Hermione snickered at the effusive little fellow, as did quite a few other people. But Harry, just nodded, and, after prying Dobby loose, he asked, "Is there anything you need to get before we go, Dobby? Any possessions you want to take with you?"

The little head bobbed, seeming in danger of coming off, and the large ears flapped wildly. "Yes, Dobby will go and get his things and catch up with Harry Potter sir before he gets to the gates of Hoggywarty."

"That will be fine, Dobby. We can wait for you if you like, though." But then the diminutive creature looked pensive and almost frightened for a moment, his eyes bigger and even more round, if that was possible, and his ears were drooping. So Harry asked, "What is it Dobby? Is there something wrong?"

Looking almost terrified, the small fellow asked, "Dobby is so afraid to ask this of the great Harry Potter sir, but there is a problem with another elf. Winky, who was disgraced and given clothes by the mean Mr Crouch. Winky is here at Hoggywarty, and Dobby has become her friend. Dobby wonders if the great Harry Potter sir would give his kindness to poor Winky too, and take her with him and his Grangey."

Harry didn't even have to think about it, "Of course, Dobby. We'd love to have Winky come work for us as well. I'm not sure there will be enough work to keep two house-elves busy for now, but we'll work something out somehow."

The little guy was now bouncing on his feet. "Dobby is so happy, and thanks the great Harry Potter sir. He will get Winky and his things and Winky's things and meet the great Harry Potter sir and his nice Grangey on their way to the gates of Hoggwarty. Dobby will only be a minute or two."

And with that, the creature popped away, leaving Hermione snickering at her boyfriend. She asked him, "Can the great Harry Potter sir afford to pay two house-elves?"

"I'm fairly sure, Harry Potter's nice Grangey, that I can." He smirked at her, but then turned serious. "I doubt Dumbledore is paying Dobby very much, and I don't think he would take very much anyway, just enough to know he is being paid. We'll have to see how Winky takes it. She seemed awfully broken up over being sacked."

"True," she replied. I do hope she is alright."

"I guess we'll see in a few minutes. Ready to go, then?" He asked.

"Yes, I really am, Harry," she said aloud, but then leaned into him and whispered, "Let's go before I lose my nerve."

He only nodded, and, taking her hand they stepped up to the front doors of the castle. Once there, they turned to wave and give a final farewell to their friends and school mates.

Professor McGonagall walked over, opened the door, held it for them, and then followed outside. She fired off a Patronus in the form of a large cat which made a beeline for Hagrid's hut out on the grounds. Seeming oddly serene, after all that had happened in the last little while, she looked out at the darkness. They waited, knowing she had something to say or she wouldn't have followed them out.

Finally the older witch spoke in a low, but firm, voice, saying, "That is a messenger Patronus which will alert Hagrid to meet you at the gates and let you out." Her voice grew a bit softer, "I'll miss the two of you. I wish you didn't have to leave, but I think I understand why you do. There is much in the magical world of Britain that is good, Harry and Hermione, but I have to admit there is much that is good elsewhere as well. Do you know where you will go?"

He answered, by asking, "May I ask you to keep this in confidence, Professor?"

"Of course, Harry."

Also speaking very low, he told her, "I know where Sirius is, and I have a way to get there. Obviously we aren't sure if Hermione can join me just yet, but I hope her parents will let her. We are going to their house for tonight, I guess, then on to where Sirius is. Or at least I will go on, I guess." He looked at Hermione who nodded and shrugged which he understood to mean, yes to the first, not sure on the rest.

"Very well then," McGonagall said softly. "I want you to know, despite what a certain meddlesome old coot said, that you will always, both of you, be welcome here, and I hope you will come to visit occasionally. I truly do wish to know how you are. A letter now and then would not be amiss."

Harry had a lump in his throat, and he could tell from how tightly Hermione was gripping his hand that she was on the verge of tears. But he still managed to choke out, "We will do that, Professor. You have always been kind to us, even when you had to discipline us for things." He smiled up at her, and added. "Thank you for everything you have done and tried to do for me, for us."

Hermione finally managed to say, "I'll miss you too, Professor. You have always been my favourite professor." But that seemed all she could get out, before throwing herself into the woman's arms, sobbing slightly. "Thank you," she choked out, "thank you for being so good to us."

"You are both very welcome." The older witch's tone was sad, and sounded forced as if she was holding back tears. "I don't often get too very attached to students, but you two... well, all I can say is that, again, I hate to see you leave. You take care of yourselves and each other."

"We will, Professor," Hermione said sadly.

Harry added, also sadly, "It's hard to leave, but thank you for understanding and for everything. I hope you will take care of yourself, as well."

The two youngsters then grabbed their trunks again, and walked slowly down the stairs and into the light of a nearly full moon. They had no sooner gotten to the ground when dual pops sounded alongside them and they were relieved of their trunks by two very enthusiastic house-elves.

The night was growing cold, as they marched determinedly toward the gates, and they could already see what appeared to be frost forming in some places already. They looked back when they were a few dozen yards from the castle and waved one last time at Professor McGonagall, who replied with a wave of her own, then slipped back inside while they turned back toward the gates and an uncertain future.

They didn't know for sure what was down the long road, which the Knight Bus would take them on only the first portion of, just that they would meet what came as best they could. Each hoped the other would always be there, but knew things could change, that few people ever stayed with their first boyfriend or girlfriend. So, yes, the future was very murky indeed, but they knew it had to be better and safer than what they were leaving behind. Merlin knew, that living with Padfoot would definitely be a challenge, one they were both looking forward to.

::The End::

Furry old author's note: This story may one day be used, in a highly edited form, as a chapter in one of my longer stories. It is highly doubtful this will ever become the start of another multi-chaptered story, so please don't ask. This was written from an idea I've had bouncing around in my head for sometime, and it just seemed like it was time to get it on paper, or in pixels I suppose, actually. In the past couple of days I've read a two rants/confrontations by/with the Weasley twits (as portrayed here) which are similar to what I wrote. I had, however, written that scene at least a week before stumbling across those. It is odd how often that happens, but only proves how impossible it is to have a truly original idea with so many folks writing this stuff. Thank you for reading, and, as always, feedback is helpful to the muse.