Apologies for the long delay and thank you for sticking with this sometimes meandering fic. Ten points for anyone who can spot the Private Eye references in this chapter.
Chapter 13: Rita Skeeter
Potions Class was never Harry's favourite lesson, and it didn't help matters that he had to keep avoiding Ron's eye, for fear of the look of hurt and betrayal that he would find there. Snape that was much harder to bear when Harry didn't even have his best friend to help him take the flak.
"Mister Potter, I knew that you were incompetent but I had thought even you would have had more sense than to make such elementary errors," Professor Snape said in his silky sneer as he swooped down upon Harry and his potion. "Clearly you have learnt nothing in the previous three years of my tutelage."
Harry fought to keep his temper under control, "Sorry sir, I'm just a little distracted by,"
"Oh, distracted are you?" Snape said. "Mister Potter is distracted. Hold the front page."
Professor Snape leaned in to whisper in Harry's ear, "You may be a champion of the school Potter, but do not expect any favours on account of it from me."
I stopped expecting favours from you my first potions lesson. Harry thought sourly. And it isn't like I asked for the extra responsibility. For crying out loud, why didn't anyone seem to realise that?
"Erm, Professor Snape?" Hermione said tentatively from the workstation next to Harry, her hand rising gingerly into the air.
"No Miss Granger, I do not wish you to rewrite the Potions textbook," Snape said. "Continue with your work."
"But, Professor," Hermione continued. "I just wondered if you knew what, that was?"
Harry and Snape both looked at where Hermione was pointing, to see what appeared to be a big square paving slab scuttling across the dungeon floor towards Harry. Snape frowned at it in bemused disgust, while Harry was just trying to work out what the hell it was.
"Identify yourself, and explain the ridiculous disguise," Snape snapped. "And tell me at once what you are doing interrupting my class."
"Reducto!" the paving slab exploded in a cloud of coloured smoke and fragments of cardboard and papier mache, to reveal Colin Creevey, Ginny Weasley and Jimmy Peakes on their hands and knees sounding as if they were coughing their lungs out. It took Harry a moment to realise that they all appeared to be wearing pairs of glasses just like his own. Which was especially odd because, well, what were the odds of them all picking his style?
Wait a minute, Colin and Ginny have only just started wearing glasses and the style is the thing that's throwing you off? The snarky voice in Harry's head that sounded like Snape said. You really aren't all there are you?
"Ginny?" Ron murmured. "What are you doing?"
"I think maybe you gave the spell too much power Ginny," Colin coughed.
"I think you're right," Ginny said, still spluttering.
"What," Snape's ever word was laced with a malice that bordered upon the homicidal, "is the meaning of this?"
It seemed to dawn on Colin, Ginny and Jimmy that everyone in the dungeon was staring at them. Colin laughed nervously, and then cleared his throat very loudly, "Okay, lets take it away!"
Silver sparks shot out from the end of Jimmy's wand as he leapt up to assume a mantis posture, "I'm Jimmy Peakes, I love quidditch!"
Ginny twirled as she assumed a pose that made it look like she was about to start running and throwing spells simultaneously, "And I'm Ginny Weasley, the prettiest and most powerful witch in third year, yeah!"
"And I'm Colin Creevey," Colin rose to stand between the two of them, striking an ass kicking pose as he did so. "The coolest wizard in Hogwarts- bar one. And when we're together; we're the Colin Creevey Corps!"
The dramatic emphasis which he put on this, complete with flourishing wand movements, was more than slightly undermined when Jimmy, through a nose dripping with snot, said, "I thought you said we were going to be the Harry Potter Corps?"
"Shut up Jimmy, it's my team."
"You liar Colin, you know that we made Harry the leader," Ginny said.
"Er, hehe," Colin gave another nervous laugh. "Okay, okay, when we're together, we're the Harry Potter Corps, yeah!"
He flourished his wand again and this time all three of them shot silver sparks from their wandtips.
"Hey Harry," Ginny said, starting to blush bright red. "So, what did you think?"
Colin chuckled, "Pretty cool huh, boss?"
"Boss?" Harry said, still taking in what he had just seen. "What are you three doing, and why have you started wearing glasses."
"We're copying you boss," Colin said.
"Except for me, I actually need glasses," Jimmy said, wiping his nose.
"Why are you calling me boss? Why are you copying me? And what in god's name is the Harry Potter Corps?"
"Naruto said that you'd notice us more this way, that you'd think it was cool and then you'd stop treating us like we're annoying you," Colin said.
"But you are annoying me," Harry said, and immediately all three of their faces fell as a gong sounded in the distance and a dark cloud appeared to descend upon their heads, blocking out their facial features and causing large black lines to sweep down them. He was half sure he could spot kanji outlines in the cloud as well. It was a bit weird.
"Why is it everything that's going on around here can be laid at the door of those ninjas?" Ron grumbled.
"At least Ginny's talking to Harry now," Hermione ventured.
"Yeah well, it's always easier to make a fool of yourself when you've got other fools riding shotgun," Ron said. "It's why Harry kept me around all this time."
Harry knelt down in front of the Harry- no, he refused to call them that. Just because they wanted to worship him didn't mean he had to become their god. They would be the Colin Creevey Corps as long as he had breath in his body, "Listen, I didn't mean to upset you, I just meant that you surprised me a little that's all, and-"
"We just want to be cool like you boss," Colin said.
"We love you Harry," Ginny said, going beetroot purple as she said it.
"You're our idol," Jimmy said.
"Great," Harry deadpanned. "This will really convince people I'm the soul of humility. Brilliant. Listen, could you please go back to being the Colin Creevey Corps, it makes me sound like less of an arrogant-"
"Arrogant, attention seeking, glory hunting narcissist with delusions of grandeur and a rampant god complex?" Snape said, pronouncing each sarcasm-dripping word with the same care he might have put into caressing a lover if he'd had any, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. "I'm afraid its far too late for that Mister Potter."
Harry had almost forgotten that they were in a class at all, "Hello sir. I really didn't know that this was going to happen."
"A likely story. I will deal with your role as instigator of this later," Snape said.
"I will hear your excuses, if excuses they be, when you are serving detention. Now as for you bumpkins, twenty points each from Gryffindor and get out of my classroom, now."
"Sir, we were sent by Professor Dumbledore to go and bring Harry for a photocall," Colin squeaked. Harry wished he could sink into the floor.
Snape's lip curled into a smirk, "So it takes three Gryffindors to deliver a message now? Standards are slipping. One almost wonders how many it takes to change a lamp wick. Get out, all four of you, and don't forget Potter that you are still in detention."
The four of them vacated at speed, interrupted only by Colin walking into the wall instead of the doorway, making a large thumping noise as he splatted into the stonework.
"Um, are you okay?" Harry said.
"Sure thing boss," Colin looked a bit woozy, but managed to give Harry a thumbs-up. "It's just that these glasses make it kind of hard to see where you're going."
"I can imagine," Harry deadpanned, wondering if there would ever be an end to the madness.
Rita Skeeter scowled as her photographer attempted to begin arranging the five Triwizard Champions for their photograph, as if that were possible before Harry had arrived. The dirty old goat was clearly trying to get Fleur Delacour in the middle of the shot, and using very transparent excuses for his behaviour as well. It was high time that he was put in his place, or suffer the same ignominious fate of her last photographer who had failed to recognise the pecking order of their partnership.
"Let's just leave it there for now Lunch," she said acidly. "After all, we're still missing one champion."
Lunchtime O'Booze, the Prophet's staff photographer, shrugged, "No reason we can't get a few extra pictures in Rita."
Rita rolled her eyes and wondered how she had gotten such a dense colleague. Doubtless it was a scheme by fearful editors to keep her down, as if they could possibly stop her march to glory. Rita preened her curly blonde hair, confident in the knowledge that her rise could not be halted by a few stuffy old men who were long past their retirement age.
"Lunch, can I have a word?" she said, flashing her teeth dangerously. "In private?"
She drew her hapless camera man off to one side, "Do you not understand how our relationship works?"
"Look Rita, I know how to take pictures-"
"And I know how to sell newspapers! Do you think anyone honestly cares about some stupid inter schools competition? Do you realise that if there were only the usual three champions this would be lucky to make the middle of the sports pages? The only reason I'm not completely insulted to be writing this feature is because of the fact that Hogwarts has two champions this year and one of them happens to be industry gold. Listen, there are only four things that sell newspapers: sex, government cock-ups, You-Know-Who and Harry Potter. And unless Krum and Delacour are having an affair that is about to come out in the next three seconds there is only one of those four elements present here!"
"Is a foreigner who doesn't even play for an English squad. In a few years when he's been brought by Chelsea I will gladly search through his underwear draw for dirt on him but at the moment the only people who know who he is are men in anoraks with an unhealthy quidditch obsession. So when Harry gets here you will put him centre of the shot come hell or high water do I make myself clear?"
The photographer nodded meekly, "And what about the orange kid without a wand?"
"The shinobo, or whatever? Witch Weekly has hired me to write a piece on them, so I'll deal with him later. In the meantime, ah Harry, you're here."
Harry Potter had just walked in, looking rather apprehensive. Of course, poor boy, he hadn't had much exposure to the press. Dumbledore had kept him shockingly sheltered and isolated. Rita resolved to change that, the boy needed to be shown how famous he truly was, and who better to be his guide through the murky world of fame and celebrity than the Daily Prophet's Number One columnist and feature writer?
"Harry, darling, you made it. Come here, sit down, right there, in between Miss Delacour and Mister Naruto."
Harry looked unbelievably wary as he sat down in the middle of the Five Champions. Rita couldn't believe how utterly new this was to him, he was the Boy Who Lived for crying out loud it wasn't natural he should be this chary of fame, especially compared to his fellow competitors. Viktor Krum, the Bulgarian sporting idol, looked as if this happened to him every other week and in all fairness it probably did. Fleur Delacour, the Beauxbatons girl with a face to die for, was looking like she had been born waiting for the cameras. Cedric Diggory looked conventionally heroic as he stared down the lens. And Naruto the orange clad ninja was grinning like a madman.
"The Five Rivals! Together for the first time!" he said with a chuckle.
Rita frowned as she considered that. It was actually rather good. It would make a good byline for the piece, and a tag for the group photo as well. She made a mental note of it for when she came to write the thing up, and as she did so her journalistic sense, which was at least as concerned with making money as it was with anything else, perceived what a range of possibility there was in one phrase. She had come here for one article, plus a possible feature for Witch Weekly, but with just that one word 'rivals' a gravy train opened up before her. The basic article on the tournament could be followed by a short piece on the rivalry between the three schools, followed by a more in depth piece on the five rivals this year; she might even be able to stretch it out to a whole week by running one interview in each day's Prophet from Monday to Friday. Then an interview focussing especially on Harry, then something on the peculiar arrival of the ninjas and Naruto, then interviews with all the other ninjas to see what they thought of him. And perhaps she could even get some comments from the students on who they thought the most likely. If there were enough students she could run one interview each day until the tournament finished. It would be a year long moneyspinner. She can't believe she hadn't thought of this before.
"Take the photo's Lunch," Rita said suavely. "And then we can get started on the interviews."
And with my trusty Quick-quotes quill I'll be quids in no matter what they say, Rita thought. Welcome to my parlour, said the spider to the flies.
A Glorious Spirit
An exclusive interview with Harry Potter, by 1993 Columnist of the Year Rita Skeeter
Harry Potter, possibly the most famous wizard of our times, takes his seat opposite me with a care which I, with my exquisite eye for reading people, can tell is born of nervous tension. Indeed this poor child, who has suffered so much for all our sakes, is constantly on edge, introverted, clearly ill at ease with the attention. This poor, brave little boy, it is plain to see, has been cruelly neglected by those who ought to have taken the greatest care with him. Albus Dumbledore for one, has clearly not done his part in preparing the boy for the limelight he must have known Harry would have to face sooner or later.
I ask Harry about this, hoping to break the ice and set him at its ease, instead it just seems to make him more nervous.
"I don't see myself as anyone special," he says with an absolute sincerity that makes his blindness even more disturbing. "I haven't got half the brains that Hermione has, I can fly pretty well but so can a lot of people. I've done some stuff, but most of it was luck and I always had my friends with me. I'm no prodigy or anything."
Such modesty, from one who has little to be modest about! I ask him if he is completely unaware of the awe which he inspires in so many quarters.
Harry looks down at the floor and his next answer is mumbled so quietly that my Quick Quotes Quill can barely pick it out, "I've never felt like it was any great feat to have my parents killed."
Ah yes, for as we all know with Harry Potter's greatness also comes great tragedy, for he has been denied what so many of us take for granted in our own lives. I ask him what it is like to grow up without his parents. His eyes fill with tears and he looks upward, as if hoping to see the spirits of Lily and James watching over him, "Sometimes it's just, it's just so hard you know? Knowing that I'll never have any of it? No one was ever there to hug me when I cried. No one was there to warm me when it got cold, to kiss me better when I got hurt, to catch me when I fell. No one was ever there to teach me how to live, you know, like a parent does. And I look around at people, at what they have, and I get so, so jealous its like there's a monster raring up inside my chest struggling to get out. And all I can do is," he bites his lip, and I know that I have struck a real nerve here as tears begin to pour down his face. "You know some nights I just to just lie there and cry because I didn't have anybody to dry my tears. All I can do is just, with all the stuff that's happened to me, all these things that I've done, I just hope and pray that wherever they are my parents are watching, and that they are proud of me."
I suddenly find that I have some something in my eye [I have something in my heart- Ed], and while I am distracted this poor lost soul, who has searched so long for a mother figure and has now, at last (I flatter myself) found something approaching one, continues, "My friend Ron, doesn't have a lot of money. With my parents inheritance I could buy him a hundred times over, maybe more, but I would give it all up to have what he has, because he's richer than I'll ever be. Because he has a loving family."
This is almost too much, and I enfold this brave spirit into my arms and pat him on the shoulder. Truly, the hero we need but not the hero that we deserve.
But what about the Mr Weasley he has just mentioned; I have heard it said that he and Harry have fallen out.
"Yeah, he um, he hasn't really forgiven me for being entered in this tournament," Harry says, wiping at his tears with one hand and I can see him withdrawing back into his shell as he does so. "I think it's partly jealousy, and partly some other stuff I don't understand, but that doesn't matter because I just want him back, you know?"
It strikes me that he might be better off without such a friend, and I am sure that all true friends of Mr Potter will join me in sending Ronald Bilious Weasley a stack of hate mail so large it buries him.
"No!" Harry protests, his eyes beginning to well up. "He's a good friend, honestly. He's my best friend, and I love that man, and he's always been there for me, and I just need to be here now when I need him most."
Not to worry Harry, all the Prophet's loyal readers are right behind you! [Is this what you call unbiased reporting?- Ed]
And speaking of best friends, is it true that he has been spending great amounts of time in the company of one Hermione Granger, a muggle born student of Harry's House?
"I'm never happier than when I'm with her, she helps make the pain a little more bearable. You see that's what I love most about this school, I'm never alone because all my friends are with me here."
As Harry and I say goodbye, one things is clear: the Wizarding World has not done well by Harry James Potter. If we are to repay the great debt we owe to the Boy Who Lived, it is surely on us all to do far better by him in the future. Most importantly, we must hold Albus Dumbledore to account for the staggeringly inadequate provisions he has made for the boy's future. Why was this man allowed for so long to hold a stranglehold over this young man, who carries scars far deeper than the lightning bolt on his forehead. Join the Prophet's Help for Harry campaign for a full inquiry into Dumbledore's conduct today!
Gemma's backing Harry! Our Page Three Lovely is looking hot in Potter-style specs, and not much else!! See Page Three!
"Oh my god," Harry thought, as he put the paper down. "Even the Harry Potter Corps was better than this."