The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment.
I consider Harry's performance in the Third Task and the subsequent encounter with Voldemort to be among his finest moments in the books. It was a great disappointment to me that he seemed to actually regress in his magical ability in Books 6 and 7. Accordingly, I don't intend to change a single thing about that part of the story. But to simply skip over it diminishes its importance. My solution is to tell that part of the tale from other people's perspective – i.e. – of those waiting behind, primarily Hermione. So this chapter will be entirely from POV's different than Harry's.
Chapter 3 – The Third Task and Its Aftermath
Hermione was frustrated – she hadn't been able to talk to Harry since breakfast. Immediately after the meal had ended, he and the other champions had been escorted away, she later learned, to spend the day with their families. In Harry's case it had been Mrs. Weasley and her oldest son Bill who had come to offer their support.
While this was a very nice gesture on their part, it had prevented her from spending any time alone with him. Although she was able to sit next to him during lunch and dinner, the atmosphere at the mealtimes had been strained, since Mrs. Weasley wasn't feeling too friendly toward her right now. This was a result of Rita Skeeter's articles about her relationship with the Boy Who Lived and her alleged toying with his affections. And while she now knew what the nasty reporter's secret was, and was working on a plan to deal with her, at the moment she was more concerned with Harry's imminent participation in the final task. At this point all she could do to communicate her feelings to him was to squeeze his hand under the table, and even this gesture was marred by the Weasley matron casting suspicious glances at her from her seat opposite them.
Finally Dumbledore got up and announced that it was time for the champions to gather for their final instructions. Harry stood, along with the rest of the group seated around him, and his friends began to wish him luck. Bill shook his hand while Mrs. Weasley hugged him hard, then Ginny followed with a hug of her own. Ron and Neville slapped him on the back before he turned to Hermione.
They shared a look that said more than any words they could think of at the moment, and then Harry opened his arms and Hermione flew into them.
"You'll do fine," she whispered while he hugged her harder than he ever had. "And no matter what, remember that I'm so proud of you."
She felt a tug on the back of her robes and reluctantly released him. Ginny gave her an apologetic shrug as she backed away, and Hermione quickly turned so no one could see her wipe at the moisture in her eyes. Then they all joined the stream of students exiting the Great Hall and heading toward the quidditch stadium. At the door she turned back, hoping for one last glimpse of Harry, but he had already disappeared.
It was by far the longest night of her life. The first task, although nerve-wracking for her, had been over relatively quickly. Besides that one, she realized, the Triwizard Tournament wasn't much of a spectator sport. She'd been in an enchanted sleep for the second task, but knew it must have been rather boring for the onlookers, watching the champions enter the water and then having to wait an hour for them to emerge. But the third task was sheer torture.
The champions had run into the maze at intervals, and then all that the watching crowd was aware of were a few shouts that drifted up from the tall hedges occasionally, or the roar of some nameless beast. Twice red sparks shot into the air, and they saw first Fleur, then Viktor being removed from the treacherous battleground. And while this increased Harry's chances of winning the tournament, it also underscored just how dangerous this task was. At this point Hermione was more concerned with Harry making it out alive than whether he or Cedric would claim the prize.
After another long wait Hermione noticed Mad-Eye Moody, who had been staring intently at the maze with his magical eye towards where the center would be, abruptly straighten up with a gleeful look of triumph on his face. Something had obviously just happened inside the maze. The old ex-Auror had been surreptitiously helping Harry during the tournament. Did this mean that Harry had just reached the Cup? Had Harry won?!
But the excitement she'd felt at this speculation soon faded as nothing else happened. In fact, all sound had ceased coming from the inside of the maze, almost as though it was now deserted. And still the wait went on.
A feeling of dread gradually crept over her. This was not right. Something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. She could see the same suspicion slowly growing amongst the other spectators. By now Hermione had gone quite pale, and her hands, which had been twisting nervously in her lap for the past hour, now clenched together so tightly that her knuckles had turned white. Ron, sitting on her right between her and his mother, didn't notice. But Ginny, on her other side, did. And she could see that Hermione's emotions were far more pronounced than any of Harry's other friends. The girl looked as though she were about to pass out.
Ginny nudged her elbow and Hermione jumped, startled out of her trance. She turned to her younger friend, eyes questioning. Ginny leaned close to whisper in her ear. "You're in love with him," she stated simply, part question, part deduction.
Hermione stared at her a moment, then nodded, wiping more tears from her eyes. Ginny said nothing, but laced her hand into Hermione's arm and squeezed, offering comfort, not judgment, and Hermione managed to relax slightly. But only a little bit – Harry was still facing some unknown danger and she was terrified that whatever sinister purpose had put him into this tournament was now being fulfilled.
Turning their attention back to the maze below, the friends noticed that Karkaroff had evidently gone missing, as the two other headmasters had gathered at the entrance along with the rest of the officials and the group was engaged in an animated, and increasingly heated, discussion.
"I'm going down there," Hermione announced, unable to take the uncertainty any longer. Before Mrs. Weasley could object, Ron was on his feet to join her, with Neville and Ginny right behind.
Just as the group reached the bottom of the stands, there was a sudden flash of color in front of the maze. Harry had reappeared! But in the brief glimpse Hermione got before the professors and tournament officials converged around him she could see that he was seriously hurt. And he was holding the unmoving form of Cedric Diggory.
A throng of people appeared from nowhere, shouting and screaming, everyone trying to get to the spot where the two Hogwarts champions lay. Harry's friends tried to fight their way through to reach him, but to no avail. Hermione, immensely frustrated at being too short to see anything, yelled to Ron to tell her what was going on, but he couldn't hear her over the din.
After an eternity, they reached Dumbledore, who was trying unsuccessfully to restore order. "Where's Harry!" Hermione screamed. Despite all the voices clamoring for his attention, the headmaster recognized this one, and the note of panic it contained. An expression of alarm flashed across his face as he only now realized that Harry was no longer present.
"I thought I saw Moody with him a minute ago, but then I lost them again," Ron blurted out breathlessly. This only deepened Dumbledore's alarm, and the students were momentarily taken aback. They had never seen the normally unflappable ancient wizard so shaken up. In a flash he called Snape and McGonagall to his side, and moving more quickly than they thought possible, hurried toward the castle.
The intrepid students attempted to follow, but the crowd that seemed to magically part to let the headmaster pass closed up again behind him, and they promptly fell behind. By the time they reached the castle itself, the group of professors was nowhere in sight. Assuming that Harry would have been taken to the Hospital Wing, based on his apparent injuries, they decided to head there.
Once again, they were frustrated, as there was no sign of him and Madame Pomfrey was as much in the dark as they were. Seeing no other alternatives, they sat down to wait. Again, the minutes ticked past and Hermione felt her already tenuous grasp on her composure slipping away with them. Finally the door opened and they all leapt to their feet in eager anticipation, only to slump back down when Bill and Molly Weasley entered. Immediately the Weasley matriarch began demanding the same answers of the school nurse that were no more forthcoming for her than they had been for the students.
Hermione could stand it no more. While Mrs. Weasley berated the frazzled healer, she jumped up again and darted out of the door. With no other course of action presenting itself, she determined to go to Moody's office on the chance that the Defense professor had taken Harry there.
This time she was in luck. As she made the final turn in the corridor outside the Defense classroom, she spotted Dumbledore and Harry emerging from the door. Her feet flying, she raced the final distance and caught him up in a fierce hug, her tears flowing once more.
Dumbledore, who had wisely stepped aside rather than be bowled over by Hermione's single-minded assault, waited a few moments, only taking care to ensure that the pair of students didn't topple over from the collision. After a decent interval he cleared his throat and asked the girl to wait for them in the hospital wing, as they still had some business to take care of in his office. He was only a bit surprised when she flat out refused to leave Harry's side, but was somewhat taken aback by the forcefulness of her refusal. The once determinedly rule-abiding young girl didn't even hesitate for an instant in defying her headmaster.
When he saw that Harry had no intention of releasing his hold on her either, the ancient wizard relented and allowed her to accompany them to their next destination. To his relief, she refrained from pestering either Harry or himself with questions, being content for now to know that he was alive and had returned from wherever he'd been relatively unharmed. And he had to admit that Harry seemed to be benefiting from her presence. Once they arrived in his office and met Sirius (with Hermione squeezing in next to Harry in his chair so she wouldn't have to let go of him), and he'd persuaded Harry to tell them what had happened, the advantage of having her along became even more apparent. For Harry's inclination to comfort her during the more traumatic parts of his tale actually helped him get through it without breaking down. By focusing his concern on the girl in his arms rather than himself, his own despair was actually more manageable.
At long last the small party reached the Hospital wing, Harry being supported between Dumbledore and Hermione, with Sirius trailing protectively in his animagus form. As they came through the door the clamor instantly ceased, as everyone beheld Harry's broken state, but immediately started back up again. While Dumbledore raised his hands to forestall his anxiously waiting supporters, particularly Mrs. Weasley who had already started toward Harry before being intercepted by the headmaster, Hermione led him gently to the bed in the corner that he always used.
Throughout it all, she'd not once let go of him. She fully realized how close she had come to losing him, and she was not holding back her feelings for him any longer. Even while Mrs. Weasley and the others gave him hugs, she still kept her arms around him, only releasing him with great reluctance when Madame Pomfrey took him behind the screen to change into pajamas. As soon as he emerged and climbed wearily into bed she was right beside him again, seemingly permanently attached to his arm, and settled into a chair at the head of his bed. She tuned out the conversation while Dumbledore gave a greatly abbreviated explanation of the night's events and pleaded with them not to question Harry about it, and allow him to rest. Hermione was well aware that the last thing he needed from her was an interrogation. At this point the best things she could offer him were her support, comfort, and affection, and she had all those items for him in an unending supply.
Harry soon drifted off to sleep, one hand still interlaced with Hermione's, while her other hand tenderly stroked his face or ran lightly through his hair, offering soothing calm. Unfortunately, her efforts were soon interrupted when Cornelius Fudge came storming into the infirmary. Despite Pomfrey's strenuous objections, Harry underwent yet another painful ordeal, having to witness the Minister of Magic flatly refuse to believe his story, and deny the possibility that the dark lord could have returned. By the time the blustering politician was finished, Harry was all worked up again and Hermione was fighting an overwhelming urge to hex the idiot.
Along with Ginny's help, Hermione worked once more to soothe him while the focus in the room changed, and the adults began plotting what was no less than a subversive movement to counter the magical government's course of action over the coming months. Hermione paid only sparing attention; her priority right now was on getting Harry healthy again, both physically and emotionally. But as the discussion progressed, she realized that he, and by extension herself and their other friends, would be in more danger than they had ever been, and that their safety would soon become a primary concern. Subconsciously, she moved even closer to Harry, wanting more than anything to crawl into the bed with him and take him into her arms.
One by one the adults departed, Bill to the ministry to fill in his father on the situation with Fudge, McGonagall to fetch Hagrid and Madame Maxime, Pomfrey to see to Winky, Mrs. Weasley to contact Remus and others whose names Hermione didn't recognize, and Dumbledore to resume his official duties. By now only Sirius and the students remained and Harry was fading fast. At this point Hermione managed to convince him to take the rest of his Dreamless Sleep potion and Ginny and Neville decided to return to Gryffindor tower.
As Hermione settled back in her chair by Harry's bedside, her eye caught sight of a peculiarly colored insect on the window ledge, and her breath caught as she realized what, or rather who, it was. As casually as she could manage she stood up and approached Ron, maneuvering so that he was between her and the window.
"Ron," she started as though a thought had just occurred to her. "Could you go back to the common room and bring back a book for me?" As the befuddled redhead looked at her in puzzlement she carefully drew her wand. "I think I left it on the table in the corner … Stupefy!"
A beam of red light shot from her wand and nailed the insect, which flipped onto its back, motionless. "What the Bloody …?" Ron began, but Hermione was already past him and at the window. Sirius, realizing that she wouldn't have shot off a stunning spell for no reason, was at her side as she carefully levitated the immobilized bug into the empty goblet of Dreamless Sleep potion Harry had just taken.
"What is it?" Sirius asked, as she conjured up a lid to seal up her captive.
"This," Hermione declared with satisfaction, holding up the goblet for him and Ron to see. "Is an animagus who's been bugging us for months. Also known as Rita Skeeter, reporter for the Daily Prophet."
Ron moved closer for a better look while muttering his disbelief, but Sirius gasped as the realization hit him. "And she just overheard everything! All of Dumbledore's plans, Snape's mission … and she knows about me." Hermione nodded grimly.
"We can't allow her to keep any of that information," she responded determinedly. "Do you know how to do an Obliviation?"
Sirius cast an admiring glance at her. This girl had continued to impress him more and more ever since he'd met her a year ago in the Shrieking Shack, and then been rescued by her and his godson on a hippogriff. While she gave every appearance of being a level-headed, proper young lady who was deeply respectful of authority, under certain circumstances she could be as devious and disregardful of the rules as any Marauder. And those certain circumstances were always centered on the messy-haired young man sleeping beside them in the hospital bed.
"Don't worry," he replied with a gleam in his eye. "I'll take care of her."
A sound at the door alerted them that Madame Pomfrey was returning, and Sirius quickly transformed back into a dog. Hermione immediately moved back to Harry's side, resting her hand on his arm as she took up her vigil once more.
"Are you two still here?" the hospital matron asked in surprise at seeing Ron and Hermione. "Back to your dorms with you now, it's getting late." At this instruction Hermione's eyes grew wide and she moved closer to Harry, her fingers tightening around his upper arm.
"Please, Madame Pomfrey, can't I stay?" she pleaded. "He needs me … I mean I need to … I just want to be here with him, just to make sure he's …"
"Nonsense, dear, he'll be perfectly fine here by himself," the healer smiled. "This is a hospital wing after all. He's spent plenty of nights here before this, as you well know."
"But what if he wakes up?" Hermione persisted with a note of desperation in her voice. "I'll need to be here for him then."
"I'm sorry, but that's just not possible," Pomfrey stated firmly, but with a sympathetic note. "You know the rules as well as anyone. Only patients are allowed to stay the night in the infirmary."
Ron followed this exchange with growing interest. He was aware that Hermione had been on the edge of hysteria ever since Harry reappeared, and was now coming close to breaking down. While he may have been a complete idiot as far as girls were concerned, even he could see how close Harry and Hermione had grown in the past few months. They were together nearly constantly, and Harry, who in the past had always shied away from physical contact with people, now was perfectly at ease with Hermione touching him. Ever since the second task she regularly took his arm or gave him quick hugs, but more surprisingly he often put his arm around her when he was feeling particularly grateful, or even for no discernable reason. And for the past hour Hermione had been clamped onto him as though her life depended on it. But, Ron was not at all prepared for what she said next.
"Ron," she spoke suddenly, turning to him with her voice quivering, and tears welling up in her eyes. But there was a fierce determination on her face.
"Break my arm."
"What!" Ron stared at her in stunned disbelief.
"Miss Granger!" Madame Pomfrey gasped, totally aghast at what she'd just heard.
"If that's what it takes for me to be able to stay here with him," Hermione sobbed. "Then …"
"I cannot permit you to go through with this," the nurse interrupted sternly. "You may return in the morning. I assure you he will survive without you until that time."
Ron's mind was working furiously. It was obvious that Hermione's feelings for his best mate were far stronger than he'd realized. He wondered if Harry knew. But the immediate problem was how to get out of this impasse without Hermione completely losing it. The three of them had often done things and been places they weren't supposed to over the years but … Then he had it. He reached out to grab Hermione's arm and spun her around to face him.
"Cloak!" he whispered to her. Her glistening eyes stared at him for several moments before the light of understanding sparked in them. She nodded and turned back to the still disconcerted school nurse.
"I'm sorry. I'll go now," she stated meekly. Pomfrey blinked in surprise at the abrupt turnaround, wondering what Ron had said to convince her. "But I'll be back first thing tomorrow."
The two Gryffindors quietly made their way back to the common room, neither comfortable with discussing aloud any of the things that had been revealed that night. Hermione hurried up to her room to change into her pajamas and don her dressing gown while Ron went to the fourth year boys dorm to retrieve Harry's invisibility cloak, shaking his head in astonishment over what Hermione was about to do. Meeting once more before the portrait hole, Hermione accepted the cloak from him without looking him in the eye.
"Thanks," she murmured.
Ron nodded. "Good luck."
A short time later Hermione re-entered the now quiet and darkened infirmary. The large black dog at the foot of Harry's bed was instantly alert and raised his head, sniffing carefully before recognizing the scent of the young witch who was so important to his charge. Quietly, Hermione crept back to Harry's bed, removed the cloak and her dressing gown, gave a wave of acknowledgement to Sirius, and climbed in beside her beloved, wrapping him in her arms. If any nightmares awakened him this night, she would be there to soothe him back to sleep.
Once she was settled in, the black dog transformed back into Sirius, who walked over and stood looking down at the slumbering couple for several minutes, smiling wistfully. At least one good thing had happened to his godson this year. Reaching down for the discarded cloak, which he recalled so fondly with regard to his and James's escapades during their school years, he arranged it expertly around Hermione. Taking a step back, he nodded to himself; this would hide her from any casual glance that Pomfrey might take in this direction during her nightly rounds. Satisfied with his work, he changed back into his animagus form and took up his faithful watch once more.
"Hermione." Sirius gently shook the bushy-haired girl's shoulder. "You need to get up now." Hermione's eyes fluttered open and she blinked several times as she became aware of her surroundings. She found herself snuggled up to Harry's side with her arm draped protectively across his chest, while one of his arms was curled around her waist. She couldn't suppress a yawn as she turned to focus on Sirius's smiling face.
"Rough night," he commented as she carefully disentangled her and Harry's arms and legs and rolled away. "It's good that you were here." Hermione nodded, feeling vindicated in her decision to sneak back to the hospital wing to be with Harry. Several times during the night he'd started trembling and writhing around in the bed. Each time she'd been able to calm him down by holding him close to her and kissing his forehead, discovering that her kisses directly on his scar had the most soothing effect. Eventually he'd stop shaking and settle down once more, only to start up again an hour or two later.
While she rolled out of the bed and donned her dressing gown, Sirius quietly explained that this was a nasty side effect of Cruciatus exposure. She scowled, but before she could complain about Pomfrey not doing anything to help Harry through it, Sirius, anticipating her reaction, reminded her that the healer hadn't been informed that he'd been subjected to the vile torture curse. Then the former Marauder suggested that she return to her dorm, make it look like she'd spent the night there, get dressed, and return. When he added with a smirk that she probably ought to do something with her hair, which looked an absolute fright, she shot him a dirty look, but had to agree after catching a glimpse of herself in a mirror.
As instructed, Hermione made her way quietly back to Gryffindor tower under the invisibility cloak with a silencing spell on her feet. She stayed that way until she was behind the hangings of her bed, then took off the cloak and removed the charm before she climbed back out and began to gather her toiletries for the bathroom. When she returned to the room to put on fresh clothing, she made sure to make enough noise to wake her roommates.
"What time is it," Lavender grumbled without opening her eyes.
"Don't worry, it's still early," Hermione responded promptly. "Go back to sleep."
"What are you doing up?" Parvati mumbled, still half asleep.
"I'm going to go see how Harry is," came the soft reply. "I'll stop back before breakfast and fill you in," she added, forestalling any more queries. Having successfully closed off the conversation, she hurried out the door and down the stairs.
"She is so in love with that boy," Lavender murmured to her best friend. "Do you think she even realizes it?"
"I'm pretty sure she does," Parvati replied, stifling a yawn. "What I'm wondering is if Harry knows." As neither of them felt like pondering the mind of a teenage boy that early in the morning, they set the question aside and went back to sleep.
Half an hour after she'd left, Hermione was back at the hospital wing. Opening the door, she was surprised to find it exactly the same as she'd left it, completely still. She'd expected that Madame Pomfrey would be up by this time. Sirius promptly relieved her curiosity.
I thought Poppy deserved a bit of a lie in this morning," he grinned. "She'll be sleeping for another ten or fifteen minutes. I wanted a chance to talk to you privately." Hermione grinned back, wondering exactly how he'd managed to 'charm' the hospital matron into oversleeping. She settled into her seat at Harry's side, taking his hand in hers and nodded to the Marauder to continue.
"You realize, I'm sure, that what happened last night changes things dramatically around here," he began solemnly, all traces of humor gone. "Not only Voldemort's return and but also Fudge's reaction to it. Britain is now a much more dangerous place. Especially for Harry." He paused and Hermione nodded again. She'd been thinking those exact thoughts while she showered and dressed earlier.
"I have to think Harry is going to be his number one target, after he escaped like that," Sirius continued. "Voldemort will be furious. It's even worse that it happened in front of his Death Eaters, since it made him look bad. And I'm afraid that makes you and everyone else close to Harry targets too."
"I'm aware of that," Hermione acknowledged with a bit of an edge to her voice. "But I'm not leaving him! And I'm sure the rest of his friends – Ron, Neville, Ginny – would feel the same way."
Sirius gave her a grim smile. "I thought as much. But what I'm really suggesting is that Harry leave the country, and I wanted to know how you felt about that."
Hermione was taken slightly aback, and the expression on her face showed it. She'd thought Sirius was trying to warn her about how dangerous Harry's life was about to become, not come up with a way to make it less dangerous. Up until now whenever a dangerous situation confronted Harry he'd met it head on, and the adults in his life hadn't done much about it.
Sirius noted her confusion. "Just to be clear, I would go with him," he explained. "I only came back here because he was in this tournament. Believe me, I don't have any reason to stay in this country after the way it treated me. But I can see how important you are to Harry and …"
"Oh, I fully understand what you're saying," Hermione broke in. "I was just surprised you'd suggest it. It's always seemed that Harry's been expected to stand up and fight whatever evil arises. He and I have actually had discussions along those lines before, especially last year after what happened with you. We've become more and more disenchanted with conditions in this country, particularly with our wizarding government."
"So you wouldn't be opposed to the idea?" Sirius asked.
"Not at all," she stated fervently. "And I'd go with him. I'd do anything for Harry."
Sirius raised an eyebrow and cocked his head in the direction of the sleeping boy in the bed beside them, causing Hermione to turn bright red at the implication of what she'd just said, considering where she'd spent the night. Sirius grinned at her discomfort. This was one of the most mature, sophisticated, thoughtful young ladies he'd ever met. But she was still only fifteen, and he knew all girls that age could easily be flustered by a little sexual innuendo.
"After what I saw last night there's not a doubt in my mind," he assured her, moving closer and giving her a quick one-armed hug to let her know he'd only been teasing her. "But what about your schooling? And what would your parents have to say about it?"
Hermione shrugged. "There are other wizarding schools in the world, right? And my parents have always supported me, if I show them I've thought something out and can give them good reasons for it. Besides, they've been talking about leaving the country themselves, once I've graduated. They've had this idea about moving to Australia for several years now."
"Good," Sirius declared. "I just wanted to be sure where things stood before I suggested this to Harry. Now, one more thing before Harry wakes up – does he know how you feel about him?"
Hermione blushed again and looked over at Harry, unable to keep a smile of affection from her face. "I think so," she answered softly. "We haven't said it in so many words but … it's hard to explain, but we have an understanding. Sometimes we'll share a look and, well, we just know."
"If I may make a suggestion," Sirius commented with a knowing smile. "Boys that age can be remarkably dense about this sort of thing. Tell him. Spell it out in the most obvious way possible."
Hermione nodded that she understood. "All right. I will."
"So, do you know the spell to wake someone up?" Sirius inquired, turning to the task at hand.
"I know the counter to the sleeping spell," Hermione replied. "Does that also work with a sleeping potion?"
"It's not normally used that way, but James and I discovered back in school that it would," Sirius revealed. "It's not ideal, but it gets the job done. He'll need to get back to sleep afterward, but we only have a short time available before Poppy wakes up."
In hindsight, Harry's response to their plan should have been entirely predictable. After waking, and welcoming a good morning hug from Hermione (with a bit of an effort Sirius managed to refrain from any teasing, instead becoming temporarily interested in the view from the window – there would be opportunities later to give his godson a hard time about sleeping with a girl before he was even fifteen), he was quickly informed of the other two's discussion.
"No way! I can't leave Hermione … and erm, everyone else here," he objected, flushing slightly at his inadvertent revelation. "How could I run off and leave all my friends to be attacked?"
"For one thing, I'm going with you," Hermione broke in before he could get too wound up.
"Oh … well, that's … that's good," he decided, being partly swayed by the realization that Hermione, at least, would be safer. "But …"
"Look, Voldemort's going to attack, and probably kill people," Sirius cut in. "That's what he does. It will happen whether you're here or not. But since there's a good chance that you'll be his number one target, staying here will automatically endanger anyone who's around you. Will the Weasleys be attacked? Maybe. But won't they be more likely to be attacked if you're at the Burrow than if you're not?"
Harry reluctantly admitted that Sirius had a point, and the three of them eventually concluded that there was no advantage to Harry remaining in Britain. After that the discussion turned to the obstacles involved in getting him out. They knew that Dumbledore would insist on Harry returning to Privet Drive, though he'd never revealed just why this was so important.
At this point Sirius shared with the two students that there was something about the way the headmaster responded to Harry's account of Voldemort's resurrection that made him uneasy. He seemed to accept what happened too readily, almost as though he was expecting it. Harry pointed out that while Dumbledore always congratulated him on how he handled his yearly life-threatening situations, he hadn't exactly ever done anything to prevent them.
Sirius then confirmed that Dumbledore was expecting him to join in the fight against Voldemort, but that his first priority was Harry. Hermione promptly echoed that sentiment, which generated another pair of blushes by the teens. Sirius continued that he needed to look into the Black family assets – money, properties, etc. When Harry expressed surprise that his godfather was that wealthy, Sirius reminded him that he'd bought a Firebolt the previous year, and confided that it hadn't even put a dent in his available funds.
"You know, that tropical island you hid out on last summer sounds pretty good," Harry joked. Hermione suddenly found her thoughts drifting to what it might be like to be on a beach with Harry. Particularly if he were wearing that tight swimsuit she'd bought him. A glance at the expression on his face suggested that he might be having similar thoughts, and the two shared a shy smile. She promptly decided that she needed to buy some new bikinis – and they would be skimpier than anything she'd owned in the past.
"That's not actually a bad idea," Sirius admitted, not seeing the unspoken interchange between the two teens. "It's in French Polynesia, which means it's completely out of British jurisdiction."
Before they could continue with that thought, Sirius checked the time and decided to cut off the discussion, as Pomfrey would be coming in soon. After promising to stay in touch, and extracting a promise from Harry to be careful, he transformed back into Padfoot. Then he curled up at the foot of the bed once more, while Hermione scooted closer to Harry and began to tell him about how she thought she'd done on her exams.
The remaining few days until the end of term passed by in a blur, with only a few things standing out. The first was Ron's awkwardness around Harry and Hermione, from knowing she'd spent that night in the Hospital Wing. He would alternate staring at them with looking away in obvious discomfort when either of them caught his eye. That lasted until Hermione dragged him into an empty classroom and pointed out with a touch of exasperation that Harry had been asleep the entire night, as Ron himself knew, since he'd been there when Harry had taken the dreamless sleep potion. (She didn't see any reason that he needed to know the details of how she'd cuddled up to Harry all night in order to soothe his post-Cruciatus tremors.)
The second noteworthy item was related to the first, since she'd also needed to inform Harry of her nocturnal visit. To her relief, after some embarrassment on his part (which included a fair amount of trepidation regarding what Sirius would have to say on the subject), he'd eventually understood her need to be certain that he was okay. Inwardly, she wanted to think that he would feel the same way about her, if their roles were reversed.
To her delight, he then admitted to having thought about doing exactly that, sneaking into the infirmary to see her back in second year when she'd been petrified, but he'd been afraid Ron would think he was mental. He claimed that meant that she was braver than he was, which gave her a nice tingle inside. This grew into a glowing thrill that reddened her cheeks when he followed it up by teasing that the next time she crawled into bed with him he hoped to be awake enough to enjoy it.
But mostly the close knit group of Gryffindor friends kept to themselves. Most of the other students avoided Harry, a not entirely surprising reaction considering his mysterious involvement in the death of one of the most popular students in the castle. Notable exceptions to this were Harry's quidditch teammates, who rallied to his side in a show of support. Fred and George were particularly quick to indicate their displeasure to any student they overheard raising a question about what had 'really happened', but Angelina, Alicia, and Katie were also very public about their confidence in Harry.
Finally it was time to leave, both for the Hogwarts students and the visiting delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. On their way out of the Entrance Hall, Harry and Hermione were intercepted by the two remaining Triwizard champions. Hermione politely accepted Viktor's suggestion that they keep in touch, seeing no point in alienating a boy who, after all, had thought enough of her to invite her to be his date to the ball. She did keep on eye on Fleur and Harry, though, noticing the part-Veela's enthusiastic farewell and his slightly dazed reaction to her hug. She did have to admit that he was better than Ron, who looked about to pass out, even though he only received a smile and a handshake when Fleur turned her attention to him.
"Anything I should be concerned about?" she wondered in a teasing tone as they walked out to the waiting carriages.
"You mean besides the fact that she said how much she admired me and pledged to help me any way she could against Voldemort?" Harry smirked, returning her teasing tone and taking her hand in his.
"She really said Voldemort?" Hermione asked, impressed despite her urge to be jealous of the beautiful French champion.
"Yeah, I have to admit that my opinion of her has changed considerably since I first met her," Harry reflected. "She said she's going to try to stay in Britain. I think she could be a valuable ally." He squeezed Hermione's hand in reassurance, then turned the tables. "And what about your little farewell with Krum?" he challenged, still in a lighthearted banter.
"You mean besides his asking me to marry him?" she responded lightly. This brought Harry to an abrupt halt, his mouth dropping open as he stared at her, only to grimace as she broke into a big grin, realizing that she'd put one over on him. "No," she laughed. "I think he's finally given up on me. He only asked if I'd write to him occasionally. I thought that was a reasonable request." Harry shrugged his assent.
"You know, he took me aside that night Crouch went missing specifically to ask about you and me," Harry revealed, turning serious. "I told him we were very close. I don't think he was satisfied with that answer." Hermione moved closer to him, taking his arm and pressing up against it.
"Would you believe Fleur sought me out a few weeks ago and asked me the same thing?" she revealed in turn. She laughed again at the look of shock on Harry's face and continued. "I told her we were very good friends. I think she got the message."
"And what message was that?" Harry wanted to know.
"The same message you gave to Viktor, of course," she replied, her eyes sparkling with delight. Harry responded with a grin and helped her into the carriage, where he put his arm around her and she leaned happily against his side. Ginny smiled wistfully at this display of affection while Neville and Ron pretended to ignore it.
Things stayed much the same all the way back to King's Cross, save for an unpleasant exchange with Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle that left the overly confident Slytherins hexed into unconsciousness when Fred and George ambushed them from behind. Hermione waited patiently while Harry spoke privately to the twins before getting off the train. Her suspicions about what he was doing were confirmed when he rejoined her and she spotted them tucking away a large bag that strongly resembled Harry's Triwizard winnings, while wearing a pair of dazed expressions.
Harry caught her knowing smile and shrugged. "Won't really need that with what we're going to be doing, right?" She shook her head and wrapped her arm around him again as they passed through the barrier to the muggle side of the station.
Harry's mood took a decided turn for the worse when he spotted his aunt and uncle waiting impatiently for him, and Hermione resolved to do something that would dramatically change his outlook, and make a definitive statement about her intentions. She stepped back to wait while his other friends said their farewells, noticing at the same time that her parents were approaching. Neville shook Harry's hand and wished him a good summer, and Ginny gave him a quick hug and hurried over to join her mother.
"See you, Harry," said Ron, clapping him on the back.
"Bye, Harry!" said Hermione, and gathering up her courage she did something she had never done before, and kissed him. On the lips. A hard, passionate kiss.
It took less than a second for him to kiss her back, and time seemed to stand still in the busy waiting room. Finally they broke apart, both flushed from the display they'd put on, but quite pleased with themselves.
"I love you, you know," she whispered to him.
"I know. And I … I love you too," he gasped, looking surprised with himself that he'd managed to actually say the words. Hermione beamed at him, then turned him to face her parents, her arm locked with his.
"Mum, Dad," she announced with a mischievous smile, not caring that she was in for quite an interrogation on the drive home. "I think you've met my boyfriend, Harry Potter."
A/N 1 In the hospital scene in the book, Dumbledore instructs Sirius to gather up the 'old crowd'. How does that work? The 'old crowd', like the Weasleys, still think he's a murderer! So in this version Sirius stays in the infirmary watching over Harry in his animagus form.
A/N 2 In her talk with Sirius, Hermione refers to conversations that she and Harry had in previous years regarding their dissatisfaction with the wizarding world. These can be found in the initial sections of my story, There's No Place like Home? Escape From Oz.
Final A/N This finishes up my alterations of Book 4. This effort was partly inspired by a reviewer of the story mentioned above, who claimed that it was hard to believe that Harry and Hermione wouldn't have left Britain earlier than they did. So, here they're bailing out after fourth year.
This leaves me in a quandary. I suspect that my readers will want to know what happens next. I have a few ideas of some things that will take place during the coming summer, and lead to their getting out of the country, but not much past that.
So, I've decided to call this story complete, and write a sequel as a sort of alternate Book 5, which will continue to the end. (In other words, no Book 6 or 7.) The sequel will be titled, What If? … An Alternative to Order Of The Phoenix and Beyond. Watch for it in a month or so.