Just You and Me
A/N: Please note: You may or may not have noticed that both the story description and one of the two categories have changed (from Romance/Action/Adventure to Romance/Angst). This does not reflect any changes I have made to the plot since I posted the last chapter, as there haven't been any. The reason is because (as pointed out by a reviewer) it does seem to more accurately describe the story.
I hear the comments on slow updating, and I will do everything I can to work on that. This (about three weeks) may be as fast as I can get them out…we'll see.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Chapter Twenty-One: The Tournament
Looking up at the sky Harry knew that it wasn't a question of if it was going to rain or not, but when. Pushing his way through the crowd of students, Harry tried to locate horseless stagecoaches before the downpour. After a few seconds he found the stagecoaches — but they weren't horseless.
Black, winged reptilian creatures that somewhat resembled horses were now attached to the coaches. Harry did not understand why they were there, as the coaches had always been perfectly capable of moving about by themselves without any assistance. He turned around to find Ron and Hermione standing right behind him, Ginny a few steps back.
"What d'you reckon those things are?" he asked, indicating the strange horses.
"What are you talking about?" Hermione said quizzically.
"The horses attached to the carriages," Harry said, unsure what her confusion was about.
Hermione gave Harry a very odd look, the kind that was sually reserved for someone who had taken a knock on the head. "There aren't horses anywhere near the coaches, Harry."
Harry turned to Ron, but his friend just shrugged. "Trick of the light?" he suggested.
Harry looked back at the stagecoaches, and the creatures were still there. It was most definitely not a trick of the light. And if he was seeing something that didn't exist…did that mean that he was crazy? That the tension between him and Ginny had caused him to snap?
"Go ahead," Harry said, wanting to look at the weird creatures for as long as he could. "I'll be right in."
Ron and Hermione walked past him into the carriage, but Ginny paused right next to him.
"They're real," she said softly. "I see them too. You're not crazy."
Harry glanced sharply at her, but she was already striding away towards the four-person carriage. Following her, Harry thought about what she had said. It was a relief to know that he wasn't alone in seeing them, but how had she known what he had been afraid of? Maybe she still knew how to read Harry.
He just wished he knew how to read her.
"But they get paid? And holidays, and — and sick leave, and pensions and everything?"
Harry stopped listening to the conversation between Hermione and Nearly Headless Nick and instead devoted his attention to the mashed potatoes on his plate. Not a moment ago Hermione had been berating Ron on his eating habits, and now she was refusing to eat, muttering something about 'slave labor'. Ron started to wave the newly arrived deserts in her face, hoping to change her mind, but stopped after Hermione gave him a glare that even made Harry shrink back.
Despite his problems with Ginny and the encounter with the Death Eaters over the summer, Harry was pleased to find out that he could still enjoy the feast. Chocolate gateau, treacle tart, they all vanished until all that was left in the Great Hall were crumbs and the occasional scrap of uneaten food. That soon faded off the plates, and noise died down as Dumbledore got to his feet.
Harry started to tune out most of Dumbledore's speech; he hadn't exactly had a great day, and despite the chocolate he wasn't in the mood to listen to the long list of the items that Filch had banned. He was so lost in thought that he nearly missed Dumbledore's next announcement.
" — My painful duty to inform you that the Inter-House Quidditch Cup will not take place this year."
"What?" Harry said in disbelief, echoed by Ginny. Looking around he saw that Fred and George were too stunned to speak, and all across the Hall words of protest sprung up.
"This is due to an event," Dumbledore continued, and the noise settled down, "that will be starting in October and —"
Dumbledore was interrupted by the sound of the doors being thrown open, a crack from a bolt of lightning, and the large doors being slammed closed again. A clunking noise sounded, followed by a footstep, and then the clunking noise, and so on. Harry heard Hermione gasp, and looked back to see what was going on.
A man had entered the Great Hall, but he was like no other man that Harry had seen before. It was impossible to judge his age; the only clue that indicated that he was an older man was the grayness of his long hair. It was as if someone had haphazardly taken a chisel to a bust of a human face, put scars everywhere, and for good measure knocked a chunk out of the nose.
And his eye…one was normal, small, dark and beady. But the other one was huge, a bright blue color, and it was constantly moving, but not in coordination with the other eye: forwards, sideways, it even rolled backwards and looked inside his head at times.
"That's Mad-Eye Moody," Ginny whispered from across the table.
"Don't be daft," Ron said dismissively as the newcomer greeted Dumbledore like an old friend. "Dumbledore wouldn't bring a nutter like Moody into Hogwarts."
"Dad said he was a great Auror," Ginny said, sounding defensive.
"Ginny, Dad collects sparkplugs," Fred said from a few feet away, joining the conversation. "You have to take his opinions with a pinch of salt. But as a matter of fact, I do think that might actually be —"
"May I introduce our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?" Dumbledore said, once again silencing conversation. "Professor Moody."
"Hah," Ginny said softly in Ron's direction, and despite himself Harry smiled.
"Snape's not happy about losing the post again," Ron said to Harry, and Harry saw that Snape did indeed look unhappy, but unusually so. It was not the loathing he reserved for Lupin and later Sirius, nor was it fear; it seemed to be something one notch below that. Harry noticed that Moody's magical eye pointing in his direction, and did not leave Harry even as Moody took a swig from a hip flask.
"As I was saying," Dumbledore went on, "there is no Quidditch Cup this year. This is because Hogwarts has been given the honor to host the Triwizard Tournament."
Harry was moving with the crowd exiting the Great Hall, still thinking about what Dumbledore had said about the Triwizard Tournament, when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"The Headmaster wants to see you, Harry Potter."
The voice was a deep growl, and it was not until Harry spun around and saw Moody that he realized who had spoken.
"Okay," he said, shrugging at Ron and Hermione. Moody led him away, against the flow of students, and up to the tables where the staff had been sitting; most had vacated their seats, and only Dumbledore and Snape remained, the latter in the process of leaving.
"Harry," Dumbledore said. "I hope you enjoyed the feast. Have you met Professor Moody?"
Harry looked over his shoulder at the battle-worn wizard.
"Yeah," he said, looking back at Dumbledore. "We've met."
"Splendid," Dumbledore said. "Now, I assume that you have been thinking about the Tournament."
"Have you given thought to entering it?" Dumbledore pressed.
"Not really," Harry answered honestly; he had a lot on his mind, and he hadn't really had time to think about it.
"I understand that it may be tempting, despite the age limit," Dumbledore said. "But I ask you not under any circumstances to attempt to put you name in, or have another student do it for you. The Triwizard Tournament is associated with fame and glory, yes — but also death. Especially in light of the attack at the Quidditch World Cup, I believe it would be extraordinarily dangerous for you to compete. I would like your word, Harry, that you will not attempt to enter the Tournament."
"You have it," Harry said. "I've had enough fame to last a lifetime, anyway."
"That you have," Dumbledore said with a smile. "Now, unless there is something you would wish to say, you are free to head up to your common room."
Harry was about to say that there wasn't anything, but then he remembered the dream he had where he was Voldemort over the summer. He hadn't planned to bother Dumbledore about it, but since the Headmaster was asking…
"There was one thing," he said. "A day or two after the Cup I had this weird dream."
Harry briefly retold his dream for Dumbledore, from Bellatrix's words to what Voldemort's body had felt like. When Harry finished he saw Dumbledore briefly glance at Snape, and then back at Harry.
"Thank you for telling me this," Dumbledore said. "Do not worry yourself about it, Harry…but please let me know if you have another one."
Harry nodded and smiled, but on the way up to the common room he wondered if he actually should be concerned about the dream. If it wasn't anything to worry about, then why did Dumbledore want to know if he had another one?
"Shut it, Malfoy."
Harry was walking to dinner when he heard Ginny's voice from inside the Entrance Courtyard. It had been a relatively uneventful day: he had tended to something that Hagrid called 'Skrewts' in Care of Magical Creatures, been scolded by Hermione for forgetting to put on his protective gloves to deal with Bubotubers in double Herbology, and suffered through Treelawny making predictions of his imminent demise for the last two periods of the day.
Stopping and turning around, Harry saw Ginny and Draco standing off to one side. Ginny was wearing an angry expression on her face, her hands on her hip; Draco holding a scrap of paper, sporting his signature a sneer. Changing direction Harry walked over to the pair, trying to figure out what was going on.
" — a sensitive spot, did I?" Draco was saying. "They couldn't get his first or his last name right, that's how insignificant he is — and you're actually proud of your dad, consorting with Muggles and filth all day."
"I'd rather be his daughter than the inbred child of a Death Eater," Ginny shot back.
Draco's cheeks colored with anger and reached for his wand; Ginny mirrored him, but she tried to draw it too quickly and it caught on her pocket; Ginny's wand slipped out of her grasp and fell onto the stone bricks at her feet. Draco quickly aimed his wand at Ginny, and Harry aimed his at Draco. Harry was standing to the side of Ginny and Draco, and neither had noticed him.
"You watch what you say, Weasley," Draco spat.
"You watch what you say, Malfoy," Ginny retorted. "You remember the bat bogeys I gave you a couple years ago? You know, the flying bogeys that come out of your nose? Bet you'd run away screaming again."
Ginny's hostility towards Draco seemed greater than usual, and as he crept closer Harry could see the reason why Ginny was so incensed. The scrap of paper that Draco was holding was actually a newspaper clipping from the Daily Prophet. Featuring an unflattering moving picture of Mr. Weasley, the title was printed in large bold letters.
FURTHER MISTAKES AT THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC: ARNOLD WEASEL UNDER FIRE
"And how's your dad, anyway?" Ginny went on. "Heard he just got out of Azkaban last month. Wasn't that the second time he was locked up in a year? I'm sure it's doing your family name wonders."
"That's it, Weasley," Draco snapped. "Furn —"
"Expelliarmus!" Harry shouted, and Draco's wand flew out of his hand, landing a few feet behind him.
"Potter," Draco said, and if looks were curses Harry was sure that he would fall dead right now.
"You can pick up your wand now," Harry said to Ginny, keeping his wand trained on Draco.
Ginny bent down and retrieved her wand. Turning, she started to walk out of the courtyard and into the hall; she paused for a second when she reached Harry.
"Thank you," Ginny said, and then continued walking, leaving Harry alone with Draco.
"Get your wand and get out of here," Harry said to Draco, and turned around to head back for dinner. Suddenly there was a bang and something hot grazed the side of Harry's face; he spun around, but before he set eyes on Draco there was a second bang.
"OH NO YOU DON'T, LADDIE!"
Mad-Eye Moody was making his way down a stair case, the distinctive mixture of a footstep and the clump of his wooden leg loud among the small crowd which had gathered.
In Draco's place stood a white ferret, shivering and frozen in place with fear.
"Did he get you?" Moody growled at Harry.
"Missed," Harry responded.
"Now," Moody said, clumping over to the ferret. "I don't like people who attack unarmed ladies."
Moody waved his wand and the ferret levitated into the air: moving down he sent it crashing into the ground. He then started to wave his wand, repeatedly sending the ferret into the floor.
"I also don't like people who attack when their opponent's back is turned," Moody went on. "And I especially don't like the spawn of —"
Moody did not turn to face Professor McGonagall, who was coming down the same stairs Moody had came down with her arms full of books, but his magical eye swiveled backwards so that it was looking at her.
"Evening," he said gruffly and continued to bounce the ferret up and down, seeming to take pleasure out of it.
"What — what are you doing?" McGonagall said, her eyes tracking the ferret's progress.
"Teaching," Moody replied.
"Teach — Moody, is that a student?" McGonagall shrieked, books spilling out of her arms.
"Yep," Moody confirmed, levitating the ferret higher than before sending it crashing back down to the ground.
"No!" McGonagall yelled, and she ran down the staircase, drawing her wand: with a swipe and a snap the ferret vanished and Draco reappeared, his robes ripped and his body battered.
"Moody, we never use Transfiguration as a punishment," McGonagall said. "Surely Professor Dumbledore told you that?"
"He mentioned it," Moody said, "but I thought that with this particular student —"
"Never," McGonagall said sternly. "You may take house points, give detentions, speak to the student's head of house, but no Transfigurations."
"I'll do just that, then," Moody said, looking at Draco with visible dislike. "Been meaning to have a chat with Snape anyway."
"Just wait until my father hears about this —" Draco started to mutter, but Moody cut him off.
"Your father, eh?" Moody said, limping over towards Draco. "I know your father very well, boy. When you tell him, let him know that I said this: if there's something I hate more than any other, it's a Death Eater who walked free. You let him know Moody said that."
With that Moody walked away towards the dungeons, dragging Draco by the arm. Putting his wand back in his pocket Harry turned about face and walked over to the Gryffindor table, where dinner was just starting to be served. He managed to find a seat next to Ron and opposite Hermione, and sat down.
"What're you smiling about?" Ron asked, a piece of roast chicken halfway to his mouth.
Harry just shook his head. "Ron, you just missed what could have been the best moment of your life."
When Ginny thought about the start of her three years at Hogwarts, she came to the conclusion that while the first had been both fun and nerve-wracking — for a moment back then she had been sure that she would be expelled for flying a car to Hogwarts — the start of the other two years had, to put it simply, sucked. Last year she had faced Tom Riddle prying his way back into her life, as well as being ostracized by even her fellow Gryffindors for her role in the Chamber of Secrets incident.
But she had still been friends with Harry. This year she felt so much more alone, and Draco's taunting really hadn't helped matters. Ginny was glad that Harry had both been there and decided to intervene, because Draco had been about to hex her. Perhaps it hadn't been a good idea to bring up his father while he was holding her at wandpoint, but when he started to insult her dad she hadn't been able to help it. Ginny felt very close to her dad; she had managed to tell him about Tom Riddle, making him the only person besides Harry who she had ever told. To her relief he hadn't questioned the authenticity of her tale or displayed the kind of excessive pitying that her mum would give. From her mum's behavior — more specifically, the lack of any changes —told Ginny that her dad hadn't told her, and keeping that confidentiality meant the world. So when Draco tried to prop up Lucius Malfoy, who would give Tom Riddle to an eleven year old girl, over her dad…
The only thing that had made the three days since her arrival bearable was that other students were no longer avoiding her like she had the plague. Joining the Quidditch team had helped immensely with that over the course of the previous year, and with the passage of another summer Ginny figured that only the students that had long memories and were prone to keep grudges remembered — and the attack victims.
She hadn't had much in the way of contact with Justin Finch-Fletchley simply because not only were they in different houses, they were also in different years; as a consequence, their schedules didn't match and their recreational time was less likely to be spent near each other. Colin Creevey, on the other hand, was in Gryffindor and still seemed scared to death of Ginny, a fear he had passed on to his newly-arrived younger brother.
Ginny was not scheduled to take Defense Against the Dark Arts with Professor Moody until right before dinner on Thursday, along with the Ravenclaws. Ginny had heard good things from other students: Moody was supposedly demonstrating the three Unforgivable Curses, even to fourth-years. Ginny didn't know a whole lot the Unforgivables, only what she would overhear from her dad's conversations.
Ginny desperately hoped that Moody would draw the line a fourth-years; she knew that the first and second-years had not been shown the curses. The last thing she wanted to do was to hear the incantations, see the wand movements. Not with Tom Riddle still lurking in her head. And as Ginny shuffled in to the classroom and took a seat near the front of the room, Ginny started to cross her fingers — and stopped when she remembered the rumors that Moody could see through desks.
"Curses come in many strengths and forms," Moody said. "The Ministry of Magic doesn't see it fit to show you what illegal Dark curses look like until your sixth year. They want to have me teach you countercurses and leave it at that. You're not supposed to be able to handle it until then."
Moody slowly paced across the front of the room, his eye swiveling in his head.
"But Dark Wizards don't draw a line at a certain age," Moody went on. "They'll kill you just as dead whether you're eight or eighty. I say that thirteen is plenty old enough to deal with the darkest of curses. The sooner you know what you're up against the better. If you haven't seen it, how are you supposed to defend yourself against it?"
Moody's eye roamed the class as he took a quick swig from his flask and grimaced before continuing.
"So," he said, wiping his mouth with the back of a scarred hand, "do any of you know which of the curses are most heavily punished by wizarding law?"
A few hands rose into the air, and Moody pointed at a Ravenclaw girl with long, dirty-blond hair who Ginny had never noticed before.
"There's the Imperious Curse," the girl said in a dreamy voice. "The Ministry is currently using it to make an army of house-elfs —"
"You would be Lovegood," Moody said, not bothering to check the register. "Your father's views aside, it did give the Ministry quite a bit of trouble back in the day."
Moody limped over to the desk and withdrew a jar, which turned out to contain a single spider. Putting it on the table he held it in the palm of his hand so that it was visible; Ginny had to suppress a smile when she imagined how Ron must have reacted to the lesson.
"Imperio!" Moody said, pointing his wand at the spider. With a wave of Moody's wand the arachnid started to act as if it was a performer at a circus, launching into a tap dance. Pretty much everyone Ginny, save Moody, was laughing at the spider's antics.
"It's not funny," Ginny whispered, watching the spider. When Tom Riddle had possessed Ginny she hadn't been in control of her actions, and she didn't see the humor in doing something similar to anyone else, even if it was just a spider.
"She's right," Moody growled, and it was then that Ginny realized that he had somehow heard her. "You lot think it's funny? You'd like it, then, if I did it to you?"
The laughter vanished.
"A dark witch or wizard isn't going to use the Imperious Curse to make you dance," Moody said, his voice low, but since everyone else was silent it seemed to fill the room. "Anything I can do with this spider, they can do with you. Have you jump off the highest tower, set yourself on fire, betray everything you believe in, slit the throat of your best friend…"
Moody trailed off, and both his eyes fixed on Ginny. "You're Weasley?" he said, as much a statement as a question.
Ginny nodded. She was pretty sure that she knew why Moody was looking at her like he was. The fact that she had been possessed two years ago wasn't exactly a secret, and she was sure that a former Auror, especially one like Moody, would find interest in that.
"Right after You-Know-Who fell from power," Moody went on, "a lot of his followers claimed that they had only been serving him because they were under the influence of the Imperious Curse. Some were, of course, but here's the rub — how do you sort out the liars?"
Moody let his words hang in the air for a moment before continuing. "The Imperious Curse can be fought, and in some cases resisted. I'll be teaching you how to do it, but it takes real strength of character and not everyone is up to it. Your best bet is to avoid being hit with it, if you can. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" Moody barked, causing Ginny to start along with the rest of the class.
Moody waved his wand at the spider, which was still doing a tap dance, and it became still.
"Anyone know the next one?" Moody said, his normal eye roaming across the room — but Ginny noticed that his magical eye was still fixed on her.
"There's the Cruciatus Curse," one of the Ravenclaws said.
"Ah, yes," Moody said. "Nasty one this is. Engorgio!"
The spider grew in size until it surpassed that of any normal spider that Ginny had ever seen before.
Moody kept his wand pointed at the spider and said, "Crucio!"
The spider rolled over on its back and tucked in its legs in as if it was dead, but the rest of its actions showed that it was most certainly not; the spider rocked from side to side, twitching, obviously in pain but unable to make any noise. Ginny bit her lip, because even though she hadn't had the misfortune to experience the Cruciatus before, she did know what being tortured felt like. Ginny looked at Moody, hoping that he would stop, and for a moment Ginny was disconcerted because in that instant it appeared that Moody was almost enjoying himself —
But then he raised his wand and the spider's legs curled out again, although it continued to twitch and did not roll over off its back. With the tip of his wand Moody flipped it right side up and then looked at the class.
"The Torture Curse," he said. "The most painful form of it there is. You can steel your mind against knives and fire, but the Cruciatus doesn't work like that. Very, very few people can hold out against it, which is why it was a popular one back in the day. And the last one?"
No one raised their hands, either because no one knew, or the people who did know didn't want to see it.
"Avada Kedavra," Ginny said without thinking.
"Correct," Moody said. "The Killing Curse."
Ginny blinked, startled at herself. She knew of the Killing Curse — how could she not after having read so much about Harry Potter — but couldn't recall ever hearing the incantation for it before. She had no idea why, or how, she had said that.
"The last of the three illegal curses," Moody said to his hushed audience, "and the worst."
Moody aimed his wand at the spider, which was now trying to feebly crawl away, and Ginny felt her skin turn to ice as if a Dementor had come into the room: she knew what was going to happen, but she didn't want to see it —
"Avada Kedavra!" Moody roared, and a green jet of light erupted from his wand; when it hit the spider it instantaneously rolled over on its back, dead.
A few students cried out, and Ginny felt a little faint. That was how Harry's parents had died, and the Basilisk surely had killed Kettleburn as quickly as that.
To think that she had heard other students laughing about how amazing Moody's first class was…
Moody swept the dead spider off his desk with his wand, and then looked at the class with his original eye.
"It's not nice or pleasant," he said. "There's no countercurse. No way to block it. Only one known person has survived it, and I think we all know who he is."
Ginny wasn't sure what to think about the fact that for the entire remainder of the lesson, and even on her way out the door, Moody's magical eye never stopped looking at her.
It was midnight, but Ginny was still sitting up in bed, wide awake. It wasn't that her day — which had been pretty lousy — was keeping her up, but rather that she was trying to stay awake, frightened by the thought bouncing around in her head.
She was lonely. Hermione had pretty much stopped talking with her, and to be perfectly honest Ginny had never really developed much in the way of friends besides Harry and Hermione.
And just like her first year, Tom was waiting for her, the person to run to when she had no one else. Only unlike last year he was no longer a friend that listened and cared about her every worry; now he was in charge and cared only for himself, and not for her at all.
And yet when Ginny inevitably drifted off she wasn't all that surprised to find herself back in her room at the Burrow; Riddle was standing in his usual corner, leaning against the wall.
"You can say it," Ginny said when he did not speak. "You were right. I was wrong."
"I do not gloat, Ginevra," Riddle said. "Even though you were wrong. Did you really think that you could stay away from me?"
"It's not like that," Ginny protested.
"You are still deluding yourself," Riddle said, straightening up. "My dear, if you were simply lonely it would have been far easier for you to mend the gap between you and Potter. It is quite obvious that he would jump at the chance. That is not why you came back."
This was why Ginny really hadn't wanted to be with Riddle again. It wasn't so much the fear that he would hurt her: she was pretty sure that would be reserved for times when she broke his rules. It was that he confused her, twisted her mind in ways that she didn't like.
"Alright," Ginny said slowly. "I know you want me to learn spells. But I can't get through school and learn all the other magic I need to know if I can't get any sleep at night every day of the week. So we do this two, maybe three times a week."
Riddle's face was unreadable, but since he said nothing Ginny pushed on. "And if I want to stop, then you —"
"No," Riddle said forcefully, cutting Ginny off. "You are forgetting your place, Ginevra — do you need a second reminder? Your first request is reasonable, for you will indeed need to know more than dueling to succeed…three nights per week shall suffice. But you are not in charge here. If we stop it is because I say we do. Do you understand what I am saying?"
Ginny could only nod; the thought of another night like the one last year, when he had written who she belonged to on her, was enough to get rid of any disobedience.
"Good," Riddle said, casually pulling out his wand. "We shall practice the Stunning Spell today, but it may not be too long before we graduate into something more practical. I believe you now know what the Unforgivable Curses are?"
"Hold on," Ginny said, just remembering something. "I knew what 'Avada Kedavra' meant. How did I know that? I've never heard that before in my life."
"Actually, you have," Riddle said, causing Ginny to look sharply at him. "I mentioned it approximately one and a half years ago, in the Chamber of Secrets."
"But — I don't remember —" Ginny stammered.
"No, you don't remember that," Riddle agreed. "It makes you wonder what other blank spots are actually repressed memories, waiting to be unearthed. Maybe all the things that you don't remember from your first year that are actually buried memories, not times you were unconscious…speaking of that, you can't recall the times when the Basilisk was unleashed, can you?"
Ginny swallowed, and Riddle smiled.
The small rat-like man cowered in front of Harry, his eyes looking everywhere but at the chair that Harry was propped up in.
"You said you had something to report," Harry said, his voice unnaturally high and cold. "Tell me what it is, Wormtail."
"My Lord," Wormtail said shakily, "The spy at Hogwarts managed to get a message out —"
"Look at your master when you talk, Wormtail," Harry said sharply, and Wormtail reluctantly raised his eyes to Harry. "Now," Harry continued, "what was the message?"
"He said — he said that Harry Potter told Dumbledore about a dream," Wormtail stammered. "In the dream he heard a conversation you had with Bellatrix. My Lord, I talked — I talked with Bellatrix, and it was something you talked about, word for word."
"You are sure of this?" Harry hissed softly, and Wormtail nodded nervously. "Contact the spy and tell him not to communicate with me until he is finished," Harry said. "And then speak no more of the spy until Harry Potter is dead."
Wormtail nodded again —
— And Harry opened his eyes to find himself staring at the top of his bunk at Hogwarts.
It had been another dream.
At breakfast Harry finished telling Ron and Hermione about the dream, having started the tale on the way down to the Great Hall. When he was done talking he started to put jam on a piece of toast, in the process giving Hermione an opportunity to speak.
"You need to tell Dumbledore," Hermione said. "He asked you to tell him if you had another one of those dreams."
"Yeah," Harry said, "but last time I told Dumbledore, Voldemort's spy ending up hearing it all."
"You can't honestly think that Dumbledore is a —"
"No, I don't," Harry said, cutting Hermione off. "But Snape was standing right next to Dumbledore when I told him about my first dream."
Hermione sighed. "Harry, we suspected that Snape was trying to steal the Philosopher's Stone —"
"Right," Harry said, "But —"
"Then after that," Hermione continued as if she hadn't heard Harry, "you two thought that Snape might be the Heir of Slytherin —"
"That was more Ron —"
"In fact, about the only thing you haven't suspected Snape of was aiding Sirius last year," Hermione finished. "I know you two don't like each other, but that doesn't mean that he's helping You-Know-Who."
"In that case you're saying that the spy is Moody, because he was the only other person within hearing distance," Harry countered. "And who seems more likely to be spying for Voldemort: the Auror who spent most of his life fighting dark wizards and got mutilated because of it, or the evil git from Slytherin, who for some reason Dumbledore trusts?"
"But that's just it, Harry," Hermione said, sounding exasperated. "You said it — Dumbledore trusts him. I trust Dumbledore's judgment, and you should too. Just tell him, Harry."
"No," Harry insisted. "Dumbledore might tell Snape. What we have to do is find out if the spy is Snape or not."
"No offense," Ron said, spooning some eggs onto his plate, "but I'm getting a little sick of figuring out a mystery and saving the world from You-Know-Who every year. Maybe we could just leave this one alone."
Harry relented and returned to his nearly untouched breakfast. He would be keeping a close eye on Snape, because despite what Hermione had said he had a feeling that something was not right with the Potions Master.
After a routine Astronomy and Charms class Ginny found herself actually enjoying double Potions. The class of Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs were attempting to make Pepperup Potions, and if they were deemed passable they would be bottled up and given to Madam Pomfrey for use in the infirmary. It wasn't an easy potion to make and she had a feeling that most of the attempts would be Vanished, but after adding the last pinch of finely chopped ginger, pouring the small amount of potion into the provided vial and setting it down on Snape's desk, Ginny she felt pretty confident that it would pass.
The bell rang and the students filed out of the classroom. Ginny hesitated; she wasn't hungry, and didn't really have anyone to talk to anymore.
"You will be late for dinner," Snape said, and Ginny looked up at him.
"I'm not hungry," Ginny said. "Do you need any help putting things away?" she asked, figuring it was something to do with her time.
"I do not give out extra credit, and in any case you do not need any," Snape replied. "Your potion was near perfect and your grade is high."
"I'm not looking for points," Ginny said. "I just need — I just need something to do."
Ginny dearly hoped that Snape would not ask why she did not currently have any friends that she could to do things with, and to her relief he did not.
"During summer break there was an accident and the majority of my supplies were ruined," he said. "I had time to replace them, but not to sort them. Every jar, vial and book are labeled, but not placed in any order. They are in that cabinet," he finished, indicating a massive wooden cabinet on the far wall. "Alphabetical order should do."
"Thanks," Ginny said, and walked over to the cabinet. It spanned nearly the whole length of the wall and there were multiple large doors across it. Upon opening the door on the far left Ginny could immediately tell that it was not a task that could be accomplished in one day, or even one week. The shelves were deep and every inch of space was packed with potions supplies, from rat tails to instructional books.
"Right," Ginny said, and she went to work. While the work was both challenging and somewhat repetitive — which was typically not a good combination — Ginny had inherited a knack for cleaning up things from her mother, and was actually making progress while Snape disposed of the botched attempts to make the Pepperup Potion and graded some essays. Ginny wasn't watching the time, and an hour, or perhaps two, passed in silence before Ginny spoke; based on her previous dealings with Snape she figured that he wouldn't be a bad person to ask the question that had been nagging her.
"Are the carriages pulled by something?" Ginny asked.
"Since you are asking the question I assume that you have seen them," Snape said. "They are Thestrals, visible only to those who have seen death."
Ginny was relieved, because that meant that there was a logical explanation behind the odd horses. But it also left her with a question: why could she seem them? She was pretty sure that Kettleburn was the only person that she could have had seen die, but she had been possessed at the time…unless Tom was right, and he hadn't been possessing her. Or maybe there was a third possibility that Ginny hadn't thought of, something that would explain it but wouldn't mean that she had gone along with Riddle's plan willingly.
Things with Tom Riddle were never simple.
"Do many students do this?" Ginny asked after a few moments. "Help out?"
"Sometimes a Slytherin looking to get on my good side will offer to help clean up," Snape said, "but typically Gryffindors exit this room as fast as physically possible."
Ginny smiled. "Well, I can tell you that I won't be able to finish this tonight. I might have to come back another time and keep working on it."
There was a long silence during which Ginny sorted more supplies, finally broken by Snape.
"Has the Dark Lord been any less harsh?" he inquired.
"Why do you ask?" Ginny said, not looking at Snape.
"Last time we talked on the subject you had blood on your face," Snape stated. "I do not know what happened, but as I am the one responsible for both giving you the sleep potion and taking it away, I do have some interest in the matter."
Ginny put the flask she was holding down and looked at Snape. "It's better," she said. "He's not hurting me anymore. That was just when I did what he told me not to do."
Ginny hesitated, wondering if she should keeping going and venture into even more private areas. But for some reason Snape seemed like a person that she could talk to and trust that it would stay between them. Admittedly she had been a pretty poor judge of confidants in the past — which had nearly cost Ginny her life — but Snape didn't seem anything like Tom Riddle.
"But now he's…he's confusing," Ginny went on. "I'm confused around him. I don't know what I feel about things, what I feel about him…"
Ginny trailed off.
"The fact that you are confused is of little surprise," Snape said. "The Dark Lord was always one of the most accomplished manipulators, and it would be child's play for him to make a young witch doubt herself."
"He says that I'm like him," Ginny went on. "And it scares me a little, because he gave me all this evil dreams, and I — part of me liked some of the bad things I did."
"Of course," Snape said, causing Ginny to glance sharply at him. "Everyone has that in them, even the Headmaster. The Dark Lord would have no trouble bringing that to the surface and making you wonder if it was just a part. It is not that you have that part of you that defines who you are; rather, it is what you do with it."
Ginny was quiet for a moment before speaking. "I thought that I was unconscious for the whole time I was in the Chamber, but I'm starting to remember some of it. Tom says that some of the other times I might have just forgotten, and I was awake, not unconscious or possessed. Like the times when the Basilisk was attacking people."
"That he told you this is your strongest proof that it is not true," Snape said. "You would be a fool to believe everything he says, Weasley. Being possessed would make you forget what happened, and in this case a blank spot does not mean that it has to be a suppressed memory."
"But — what if —"
"If you were awake and conscious when the attacks took place?" Snape finished. "In that extremely unlikely scenario you are still not at fault. As I said, tricking you into doing things would be easy for him. Besides, that three out of the four victims are still breathing is proof that in either case you resisted; a Basilisk does not know how to wound. Finch-Fletchley, Creevey and Granger avoided dying because they managed not to look it in the eyes, but it would have taken only a matter of seconds for the Basilisk to finish the job. You stopped it, Weasley."
"I told you that you could call me Ginny," Ginny said softly.
There was yet another period of silence, before Ginny asked, "Why do you always call Voldemort 'The Dark Lord'? You never flinch or anything if his name is said, and you don't call him You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but you don't call him by his name."
"Force of habit," Snape said curtly.
"But who exactly calls him that?" Ginny insisted.
Snape was slow in responding. "We all make choices in life," he said. "Sometimes they are the wrong ones."
He didn't elaborate on the subject, and since Ginny could sense that he did not wish to talk about it she let it be. Ginny resumed working and kept at it until one of her occasional glances at her old watch showed that it was nearing time for her to go to bed.
"I should be going now," she said. "See you on Monday, Professor."
Snape nodded and Ginny walked out of the room, slowly making her way up to Gryffindor tower. Back when she was only old enough to dream about the magical school, this was certainly not what she had imagined her third year at Hogwarts would be like.
"Hey Loony, I saw a Snorakrack over there."
"Yeah, I saw it too. Come on, Loony, have a look."
Ginny was walking down on a corridor on Saturday morning, looking for a place to sit down and write her essay on the Unforgivables for Defense Against the Dark Arts, when she heard two male voices around the corner, jeering at someone.
"I don't believe that the Crumple-Horned Snorkack would fit in that cupboard," a dreamy voice said; it sounded familiar, but Ginny couldn't quite place the voice. "But you may have seen a Skipping Meleekey. They can look quite similar."
Curious, Ginny rounded the corner and saw three people walking down the hall. In the lead was the Ravenclaw that had mentioned the Imperious Curse during the Defense Against the Dark Arts class — Lovegood, Moody had said her name was. Ginny had noted her long, dirty-blond hair in class before, but not the other features that immediately stood out. She had protuberant silvery eyes, wore a necklace that seemed to be made of butterbeer corks, and appeared to have radishes for earrings. The two boys Ginny recognized as sixth-year Ravenclaws, and they looked to be following Lovegood.
"A Skipping what?" one of the boys mocked. "I think the only thing skipping is your brain, Loony."
"Oi, you two," Ginny called, and the sixth-years looked at her. "Leave her alone."
The three Ravenclaws were about twenty feet away. Ginny wasn't entirely sure what had possessed her to intervene, but she wasn't about to stop now.
"Who're you?" the taller of the two boys demanded. "And what do you care about Loony?"
Ginny was aware that her recent string of not-so-happy events had made her temper quick to rise, but that knowledge wasn't enough to stop her from drawing her wand and pointing it at the older students.
"I'm sure her name isn't Loony, so stop calling her that," Ginny said, slowly moving her aim between the two. "Find something better to do with your day than pestering someone not even your own age."
"Or?" the taller Ravenclaw said, raising an eyebrow. "You gonna curse us?"
Ginny tilted her head to the side. "Have you ever heard of Bat Bogeys?"
The boy frowned. "Bat what? What did you —"
He stopped midsentence as a jet of light from Ginny's wand impacted him in the chest, within the course of a few seconds his mutated bogeys started to claw their way free from his nose. Spreading their wings as soon as they exited his nostrils, the bogeys took flight, swooping around his face and attacking it. The Ravenclaw started running in the opposite direction to avoid the bogeys, and soon vanished out of sight. Ginny kept her wand pointed at the other boy, who had started to reach for his wand. Raising his hands, he turned around and walked off in the direction of his companion.
"You're Lovegood, aren't you?" Ginny said when both sixth years were gone.
"I'm Luna," she said. "Thank you. No one has ever done that before."
"I'm Ginny," Ginny said, pocketing her wand. "I don't suppose you've done your Defense Against the Dark Arts essay yet?"
As Ginny walked with Luna towards a nice, quiet spot that Ginny sometimes studied in, she found herself liking the Ravenclaw girl. Sure, Luna didn't always make complete sense when she talked, but when she did make sense she really made sense.
"You were right in class," Luna said. "Putting the curse on that spider wasn't as funny as everyone thought it was."
"I guess it's different when you only see it happen," Ginny replied, surprised to hear the bitterness in her voice. "It stops being a neat trick when it happens to you."
"It's not your fault, you know," Luna said. "None of what happened back then."
"How do you know what?" Ginny asked, stopping. "You don't know me. Maybe I actually helped with the attacks."
"No, I know you didn't do that," Luna said dreamily. "I can tell that you're a good person."
Ginny took a look at Luna, who cut a ridiculous figure with her garb and sounded even more ridiculous when she talked about fantastic creatures and colossal conspiracies. Luna was someone who Ginny never would have run into if her year was 'normal', and definitely not someone that she would have imagined herself spending any time with.
But in that moment Ginny knew that she had made a friend.
Sirius Black walked down the streets of Tëraz, making sure not to move too quickly and attract any attention. The small village was right out on the edge of the wilderness, and not commonly known of to outsiders. From what Sirius could tell it was made up entirely of Muggles, all of whom had been very kind to the traveler who spoke broken Albanian — perhaps it was a lack of newcomers that inspired the kindness, but whatever the reason Sirius was sorry to be leaving for darker places.
Soon he reached the edge of the village and continued walking, finding his way using the landmarks that Lupin had mentioned. It was slow going, and when Sirius checked his watch he saw that it had been nearly an hour; taking what appeared to be a water bottle from the bag that was slung over his shoulder he downed another dose of Polyjuice Potion, grimacing at the taste. He was in the disguise of a random Muggle he had found passed out in an alley in London, an empty bottle of beer clutched in his hand.
The sun was starting to go down by the time he found it. The final landmark was distinctive: a large white tree, split in half by a bolt of lightning. A small clearing lay beyond the tree, and Sirius made his way over to it, drawing his wand as he moved; if this was indeed Voldemort's former camp than it was possible there would be booby traps — but nothing happened when he entered the clearing. Shifting his wand to his left hand he withdrew a small vial full of a red liquid from his bag, took off the cap on the end, and held it high in front of him.
"Cruor Reperio," Sirius muttered, touching his wand to the vial, and with a flick of his wrist he tossed the vial high into the air. It spun in circles as it flew, spinning faster than it had any right to, and when the liquid sloshed out of the vial it also did not behave as it should. Dissolving into a red mist it scattered, each section slowly settling down onto the ground. With a grim smile Sirius returned his wand to his right hand and walked over to the nearest red patch on the ground. Acquiring Bellatrix's blood hadn't been easy, but the Ministry did have some on file that they had taken when she had been imprisoned. Using Order connections and more than a few Galleons, Sirius had been able to get a vial of it.
Lupin had managed to land exactly one hit on Bellatrix the night that he had been tricked and ambushed, and from watching the werewolf's memories Sirius had determined that she had been bleeding a little bit from a leg wound, perhaps so little that in the panic which must have ensued afterwards she wouldn't notice. Lupin was supposed to have died, not escaped, and they would have had to move fast as a precaution against being located.
Sirius had viewed Lupin's memories over and over, and had noticed things that the owner of said memories had not. Lupin had followed Voldemort from Albania to the ambush spot in Hungary, but Sirius had noticed far less supplies at the new campsite than Lupin had seen during the period he had been observing them in Albania. Sirius' theory — supported by so little evidence that it could be more accurately described as a hope — was that they had not moved everything by the time they had ambushed Lupin. If they hadn't moved everything then they would have hurried back to Albania to grab all the other supplies before Lupin could report his findings. And in a hurried move things can get left behind.
That was the theory, anyway. Observing the red spots on the ground, Sirius could see that Bellatrix had indeed been here, and had moved back and forth across the clearing.
"Veneficus Quaero," Sirius said clearly, waving his wand in a circle.
Nothing happened. Moving his wand in a complicated pattern, Sirius tried again: "Prodigiosus Commotus."
Still nothing. After running through a dozen such incantations and exhausting his inventory of spells that would help him find anything, Sirius snapped.
"Accio Voldemort's fucking plans!" Sirius yelled.
A piece of parchment soared out of a small mound of dirt and landed in Sirius' hand. Blinking in surprise, Sirius looked down at the piece dirty parchment, which was so covered in dirt and grime that no words were visible.
"Tergeo," Sirius said, waving his wand above the parchment, and as the dirt faded away three lines were revealed. Three lines, written in a very familiar handwriting.
1: Riddle's bone. Will have access to.
2: My hand.
3: Potter's blood. Triwizard.
Sirius stared at the parchment, which appeared to be a note of some sort that Wormtail had written. It didn't make a whole lot of sense: 'Riddle' had to refer to Voldemort, but he didn't understand what Wormtail meant by 'will have access to'.
The last line chilled Sirius, because even if the meaning wasn't clear the wording was sinister.
Potter's blood. Triwizard.
Harry's blood. The Triwizard Tournament.
Sirius had hoped to find more, but he didn't have time to stick around and look for anything else. Only a month remained now until the goblet picked the champions and the Tournament began, and if his suspicions about that last line were true then time was running out quickly. Sirius may not have fully understood the note, but what he did understand was that he had to get the piece of parchment to Dumbledore right away.
School was passing at a snail's pace for Harry, and by the time there was just a month until the other schools arrived it felt like the whole year had passed. Perhaps it was that no one was actively trying to kill him, but school seemed to go by relatively uneventfully: he listened to Hermione talk about the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, managed to partially throw off the Imperious Curse in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and watched the Professors grow increasingly nervous as the arrival date of the two schools neared. Harry kept a close eye on Snape, who was being particularly foul to him, but the Potions Master did not show any signs of treachery. Then again, in the dream Voldemort had told Wormtail to warn the spy, so Snape would be acting carefully.
Things just weren't quite the same without Ginny, though. He saw even less at Hogwarts than he had over the summer, as they didn't share any classes due to their difference in their years. Harry had to admit that he was doing a horrible job getting over her, and wasn't even sure if it was possible to do so.
Snape had kept Harry after class so that he could lecture him without any interruptions, and so the halls were devoid of students as Harry belatedly made his way to lunch. Rounding a corner he stopped in his tracks, seeing something unexpected: Sirius was standing in front of Dumbledore, the two deep in conversation. It was a quite a surprise to see his godfather; not only had he not seen Sirius since the summer, but before Harry had left Sirius had also told him that he would be unreachable by owl. Slipping back around the corner so that he would not be seen, Harry strained to hear the conversation: they were talking quietly, but as their conversation was the only source of noise in the corridor Harry was able to make out what they were saying.
" — That you knew what it meant," Sirius said. "Peter always had trouble remembering things, so it could be a reminder he wrote to himself."
"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed. "But of what, is the question. The bone of Lord Voldemort…Peter Pettigrew's hand…Harry Potter's blood, having something to do with the upcoming Triwizard Tournament. Most curious."
"The numbers suggest a list," Sirius said. "I've been thinking about this a lot on the way back from Albania, and the part after 'Riddle's bone', 'Will have access to', that seems like the availability of the bone. Perhaps that means that Harry's blood is available because of the Tournament."
"That takes us into a grim line of thought," Dumbledore said gravely, "because this Tournament is looking to be very, very dangerous."
"And you're sure that he can't get in?" Sirius checked.
"I drew the Age Line myself," Dumbledore said gently. "And perhaps I am being a foolish old man, but I consider Harry's word that he would not attempt to enter stronger a precaution than any charm."
"He's a good kid," Sirius said. "If he told you that he won't enter, he won't enter."
There was a moment of silence before Sirius spoke again.
"I should get going," Sirius said. "I'm meeting Remus within the hour, and then I'm off to the next best guess of his base."
Harry heard a couple of footsteps that meant that Sirius was walking away, and Harry started to walk back the way he had come when Dumbledore spoke.
"Sirius," he said softly. "Be careful. Voldemort would not care for someone trying to unravel his plans and— with no offense to your skills— if he discovers you —"
"Albus, I remember Bellatrix kicking my arse perfectly well," Sirius said, trying to come off casual but with a note of bitterness in his voice. "I can put aside my pride and run if I see her coming after me."
Sirius' footsteps started up once again, getting fainter. Harry headed back the way he came, taking a different path to the Great Hall to avoid bumping into Dumbledore. Harry wasn't entirely sure what he had just overheard, but it sounded like he might be in danger.
Despite the school year dragging on, the day that Durmstrang and Beauxbatons arrived somehow crept up on Harry. And so he found himself in his best robes, standing in a line waiting for the arrival of the other magical schools. The two schools had pulled out all the stops to impress those at Hogwarts: instead of taking the train both schools had opted for more dramatic entrances. The flying carriage of Beauxbatons, initially mistaken for a dragon, was in Harry's opinion outdone by Durmstrang's ship which somehow surfaced from the depths of the lake.
The feast that ensured shortly afterwards was one of the best that Harry had ever tasted; he supposed that the house-elves were being especially diligent with the food preparation now that there were two new schools to impress. The Durmstrang students, including Viktor Krum — who Harry recognized from the World Cup — settled down at the Slytherin table while their Headmaster, Karkaroff, sat by Dumbledore. The students from Beauxbatons were seated with the Ravenclaws; their enormous Headmistress, Madam Maxime, also sat down near Dumbledore.
"You can put your eyes back in your head," Hermione said rather crossly to Ron, who was gaping at a Beauxbatons girl who had just passed.
"She's a veela," Ron said, looking at Harry.
"Of course she isn't," Hermione snapped.
"She is," Ron insisted. "They don't make them like that at Hogwarts."
"I don't know," Harry said distractedly, watching Ginny out of the corner of his eye. "They make them alright at Hogwarts."
Harry's train of thought had been completely derailed when he had started to look at Ginny, and he was focused enough on her that did not register Hermione pointing out that Ludo Bagman and Mr. Crouch had arrived, or the food vanishing off his plate, or really anything until Dumbledore started to speak.
"The moment has come," Dumbledore said with a smile. "The Triwizard Tournament is about to begin."
"You gonna put you name in?" Ron asked on the way back to Gryffindor Tower.
"Can't," Harry reminded him. "There's an age limit, remember?"
"You could use your invisibility cloak," Ron suggested.
"Somehow I doubt the Age Line works by sight," Harry said, pausing halfway up the set of stairs he was on as it rotated to the side.
"Right…" Ron said slowly.
"Besides, it'd be nice to have a year without anyone trying to kill me," Harry said.
"I guess," Ron said grudgingly, reluctant to give up on the idea of competing. "What about Karkaroff, though? Did you see him with Moody?"
Harry frowned. "Yeah," Harry said. "It was like he was scared of him."
On that line of thought, Harry realized that Karkaroff wasn't the only adult that Moody had an effect on; while it was not as pronounced on Snape, he quite obviously did not want to be anywhere near the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor.
As always, there was something going on — Harry just hoped that for once it wasn't anything that involved Voldemort trying to kill him.
"You look rather miserable," Luna said offhandedly, her eyes closed.
Ginny glanced strangely at her. It was the morning after the goblet had been unveiled and, the two were sitting against a stone wall in a deserted corridor.
"How can you tell what I look like when your eyes have been closed for the past five minutes?" Ginny asked. "And I don't look miserable."
"I don't have to see you to see that you look miserable," Luna said, causing Ginny to frown in confusion.
"Okay, for the sake of the argument let's say that you can see me without seeing me," Ginny said. "Why do I look miserable?"
Ginny had now known Luna for two months, and from experience she was not expecting an answer that made any sort of sense.
"Because of Harry Potter, of course," Luna said, surprising Ginny; that answer made a lot more sense than Ginny wanted to admit.
"Luna, there's nothing I can do about that," Ginny said, not really wanting to get on the subject again: Luna had brought it up and least six times in the past two months.
"Why?" Luna asked.
"Why?" Ginny repeated.
"I just don't quite understand why you can't go up to Harry tonight and tell him that you're sorry," Luna said.
Ginny opened her mouth to say that wasn't possible, and then closed it. The truth was that it was possible; she was pretty sure that Harry would accept her apology. Leaning back against the wall, Ginny sighed.
"Will you stop bugging me about it if I talk to him tonight?" Ginny asked softly.
"Alright," Ginny said slowly. "I'll do it."
"That's good," Luna said dreamily. "I'm glad that you're finally starting to think clearly. I was going to have to smear Wrackspurt repellent on your forehead tomorrow to keep them out. It tastes a bit like peanut butter, you know."
Ginny took a long look at Luna, who still had her eyes closed, and looked for any signs of a joke. Detecting none Ginny shook her head, a smile on her face.
"You really are something," she said, and closed her eyes as well. She would need to think long and hard about what to say to Harry.
"I hope it's Angelina," Ron said to Harry as they finished up desert. "Just not Diggory."
"I don't think he's as awful as you make him out to be," Harry said, helping himself to a small piece of apple pie. "Besides, wouldn't you rather it be him then a Slytherin? I hear they entered Warrington."
"I still wish it could be one of us," Ron grumbled, unwilling to acknowledge Harry's point.
"You saw what happened to Fred and George when they tried to cross the Age Line," Harry reminded him, swallowing the last bite of pie and putting his fork down. "Honestly, I'm fine not entering the Tournament; I've had plenty of excitement over the past three years."
Ron was about to reply when the food vanished and Dumbledore stood up. The talking quickly died down, replaced by an intense feeling of expectancy that almost no one in the Hall seemed to be immune from; Karkaroff and Madame Maxim were certainly not immune from it, and even Ludo Bagman's waving and winking at some of the students seemed to be distracted. Indeed, the only person that Harry could see who did not seem interested was Mr. Crouch, who actually appeared to be almost bored.
"It appears that the goblet is nearly ready to make its decision," Dumbledore announced. "I estimate that it requires one more minute. Now, when the champions' names are called, I would ask them please to come up to the top of the Hall, walk along the staff table, and go through into the next chamber where they will be receiving their first instructions."
Dumbledore withdrew his wand and swept it across the Hall, and at once all the candles save those inside the pumpkins were extinguished, darkening the Great Hall. It served to increase the dramatic effect; Harry could practically feel the tension in the room. The Goblet of Fire was now the brightest object in the Hall, and the blue-white flames that lapped up from the edges were almost painful to look at.
After a few seconds the flames turned red and sparks started to fly from the goblet. A tongue of fire shot into the air and a charred piece of parchment fluttered out from it, causing the entire Hall to gasp. Dumbledore caught the piece of parchment and held it up to the light.
"The champion for Durmstrang," he announced loudly, "is Viktor Krum."
"I don't know why they even bothered brining all the other students," Harry said to Ron, having to yell over the cheering in the Hall. "We all knew it would be him."
As the applause continued and Karkaroff shouted his approval, Krum rose from the Slytherin table and slouched up the Hall, past Dumbledore and along the staff table, disappearing through the door that led into the next chamber.
The noise quickly died down as the goblet turned red again, and everyone's attention focused on it. Another piece of parchment was ejected from it, and once again Dumbledore caught it.
"The champion for Beauxbatons," Dumbledore said clearly, "is Fleur Delacour!"
The applause and cheering starting once more as a girl with long, silver-blond hair stood up — a familiar looking girl.
"Ron, that's the one!" Harry shouted, recognizing Fleur as the one that Ron had taken to the previous night, the one that looked suspiciously like a veela.
Harry noticed that the applause from the male Hogwarts students seemed to be greater for Fleur than it had been for Krum. But when she disappeared into the chamber the Hall was silent once more, the excitement somehow even greater than before. This was the Hogwarts champion, the one that they wanted to hear most.
Once again the goblet turned red and the tongue of flame shot up, delivering another piece of parchment.
"The champion for Hogwarts," he said, and the staff and students of Hogwarts held their breath as one, "is Cedric Diggory!"
"No!" Ron cried out, but no one heard him but Harry, who joined in the deafening applause that was coming from the Hufflepuff table. He had no problem with Cedric, and had in fact been impressed by how well he had taken the loss during the Quidditch match the previous year; if it couldn't be a Gryffindor who would be the champion, than perhaps the next best thing was for it to be a Seeker.
The applause for Cedric lasted far longer than any of the other champions, but Dumbledore seemed willing to allow the celebration to continue. When it finally died down enough so that Dumbledore could speak, long after Cedric had entered the chamber at the back of the room, the Headmaster still needed to raise his voice to make himself heard.
"Excellent!" Dumbledore said happily, and the last cheers finally died off. "Well, we now have our three champions. I am sure I can count upon all of you, including the remaining students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, to give your champions every ounce of support you can muster. By cheering your champion on, you will contribute in a very real —"
Dumbledore stopped midsentence, his piercing blue eyes suddenly fixed on the goblet, along with everyone else in the Hall. Once again sparks were flying out of it, and for a fourth and unexpected time the flame shot up in the air, expelling a piece of parchment.
As it fluttered down and Dumbledore automatically caught it, Harry felt a thrill of foreboding. Only three names should have come out of the goblet, and he had a bad feeling about it, and wanted Dumbledore to cast the singed parchment back into the flames, not read it.
Holding it high, Dumbledore stared at the name written, stared for a long time. No one dared to move, or even to breath. Finally Dumbledore cleared his throat and spoke the name, far more softly than any of the other announcements.
A/N: It was going to end the chapter much later, but I decided to stop here in the interest of getting it up. Chapter 22 should hopefully have less canon scenes in it. Oh, and I made up the name of the village in Albania; any similarities to an actual village/city is purely coincidental.
As always, criticism/pointing out mistakes can be very helpful in the writing process, so if you notice anything or have any comments please say so. I think there may be too many commas in here…oh well.