Well, here it is guys, as promised. The hiatus is over and I'm now officially updating again. I know it took a couple months longer than I had promised, but my plans changed a bit unexpectedly. Anyways, here it is and sorry for the long wait.
There was a loud cackling sound that resonated across the old manor. A cruel and hoarse noise, half a laugh, half a cry, that sent shivers up Wormtail's spine.
"What… what is the matter, my Lord?" the former marauder did not like this. Not one bit. Ever since the Dark Lord had announced that he intended to do something about Harry Potter, Wormtail had been quite uneasy. They had devised a plan perfectly. Even had Crouch take up a post as a Hogwarts Professor, and everything seemed to be going along smashingly. But then the small, baby-like (and VERY ugly at that) creature had declared that, not only had he always shared some sort of link with Harry Potter, but that, ever since a few weeks back, it had progressively grown stronger and stronger. Wormtail did not know whether to believe this, but he was much too scared to question his lord's statements. According to his master, something had changed within Harry Potter. Something big. And it was up to Wormtail to find out whether this sudden change could jeopardize his master's plans.
He had been ordered to find someone that could keep an eye out for Harry Potter, but this had proved to be nearly impossible. With the Dark Lord's still unnanounced return, most former death eaters would be hard-pressed to allow their sons or daughters to become spies for someone of whose power they were now uncertain. And those few who would have once jumped at the chance were now in Azkaban, courtesy of one Harry Potter, and their off-spring carefully watched by other relatives. Draco Malfoy would have once been the perfect choice, but now, firmly guarded by his mother, who had always refused to take the mark and now refused to follow in her husband's wishes, he was no longer an option. Wormtail feared that, having failed in his task, his master's deranged laugh was now indicative of his own bleak future prospects.
He was very surprised, then, when the deformed creature's "lips" contorted into a grimace that, he could only guess, attempted to be a smile "The little boy thinks he's got it all figured out, doesn't he?".
Wormtail was momentarily relieved to discover that apparently he was not to suffer for now, but soon appeared confused at his master's words "The boy…sir?"
The vile creature wheezed a response "He is in great turmoil. I know not why, because such a thing had never happened before, despite my best efforts, but I was able to see glimpses of Harry Potter's mind. My best guess is that he is very distressed, which has caused his mental defenses to weaken, and our link to become stronger" he paused, appearing contemplative (or as contemplative as a vile, babyish-monkeyish-snakeyish creature can appear to be), and proceeeded to explain "I could not understand it all. I saw bits and pieces that seemed out of place, as if they did not belong. The boy might be a seer, but I can't be sure. What I did understand was one thing" at this, the creature fixed its gaze on Wormtail "He knows of our plans. He understands what will happen if he reaches the trophy at the very end."
Since such a long and elaborate speech was hard on its body, the creature began to cough violently, and Wormtail hurried to fetch it a glass of water. Once his master had been properly hydrated, the former marauder proceeded to listen with rapt attention.
"We must make other arrangements, and quick and discreetly. If the boy is a seer, we must tread carefully, so that he doesn't predict our plans again. We cannot be sure that Crouch can be trusted, some of the images I saw… I do not know how to interpret them, but it is better to err on the side of caution."
"So, then, what will we do, My Lord?" asked the rat-like man.
Voldemort grinned ferally, a gesture made even more sinister by the body he occupied "Oh, I believe it's time to demand payment of a certain life-debt, Wormtail… I believe it's high time we payed a visit to an old friend. High time indeed…"
… … … lll llll … … … …
It was obvious to everyone at Hogwarts that their resident Golden Couple was acting rather strangely.
They continued to walk to classes, hand in hand. Harry would always wait for Hermione before heading over to the Great Hall and carried her books everywhere, despite her very adamant protests, and they were always seen studying and doing their homework together. But where there had once been excited whispering, there was now only occasional murmurs. Where there once had been small smiles, there were only nods of acknowledgement. And their now-famous silent communication had become non-existent, as they rarely met each other's eyes anymore.
None were more aware of this change than the Golden Couple itself, and yet they refused to acknowledge the source of their discomfort.
Harry had tried, really really tried to let go of what had happened. He hadn't seriously expected Hermione to fall in love with him right away. Heck, when he'd first come back, he wasn't even sure he could get her to fall for him at all. He knew he was irrational in his hopes that Hermione would have genuinely fallen in love with him by now. He also knew he really needed to speak to her and apologize for his behavior. Because being kissed so forcefully and then abandoned for the night must have hurt her, he knew at least that much. Something had changed since that day, and their usual easiness around each other had been drastically diminished.
Hermione, for her part, was more confused than she'd ever been. Love? How could she know she was in love? Hell, how did Harry know he was really in love with her? And also… that night. There had been something amiss that night. When Harry had grabbed her so forcefully… just for a moment… she'd been genuinely scared. Then he'd turned around and ran, and when he hadn't come back, even when he said he would… she couldn't even describe the feeling. Betrayed, perhaps? And what was worse: she just couldn't get that smell off of her thoughts! The smell of Harry covered in another girl's perfume! It was irrational, she knew, so very much, because Harry worshipped the ground she walked on, and yet she couldn't help the sick feeling in her stomach every time she remembered.
They both knew they needed to speak to each other about it, but neither could make the first move.
Furthermore, the clock was ticking, and the first task was looming nearer and nearer, and they hadn't even discussed what Harry would do then.
One particular Friday afternoon found them lounging around in the common room, sitting close to each other but not quite touching, which spoke volume for the state of their relationship. Anyone who'd seen them during the first few days together could attest to the fact that Harry never seemed able to take his hands off of her, which had seemed downright odd, considering the guy rarely even high-fived others.
"We really should devise a strategy Harry. I don't know how, since we don't even know what you're facing, but you should, I don't know, just train generally and be prepared for everything. I know you became so much more powerful during the holidays, but people have died during this tournament Harry, and the others are older and…"
Harry, who'd pretty much become completely submissive since the "incident" (he hated it, especially after being used to getting what he wanted and when he wanted, but he didn't know how else to show Hermione he was no danger, and the guilt, damn his remaining nobility, was killing him inside), forced a smile "Don't worry love, I'll be fine."
"How on Earth can you say that Harry?"
"Just because, I mean, you said it yourself, I got stronger during the summer and…"
"You don't even know what you'll be facing!"
"Of course I do, I'm facing a dragon and getting one of its eggs."
Shit! That had been a slip of the tongue. Harry hadn't been around Hagrid that much lately, and therefore he hadn't technically found out about the dragons in this timeline, and hadn't thought of telling Hermione.
"How on Earth would you know that you're facing dragons Harry? And more importantly, why did you not feel the need to tell me?" she was raising her voice now, and Harry was at a loss of what to do.
"It…it slipped my mind love. You see, a few nights ago I couldn't sleep and I went to see Hagrid, and he was acting very strange you see and…"
"A few days ago! Meaning you've had me worrying about how to breach the subject with you for days and thinking of all the possibilities, while you've…"
"It really did slip my mind Hermione, I swear!" Harry was practically counting to ten in his mind, he wasn't used to anybody raising his voice at him anymore, but he couldn't possibly lose his temper with Hermione again. Never again. And he wouldn't compel her; he realized now that he simply couldn't do that, as much as he wanted to.
"How on Earth could something like that slip your mind?"
"I…I don't know, I've just, we haven't spoken that much lately and…"
"We speak every day Harry!"
"You know what I mean Hermione, don't pretend you don't."
"Oh, so now this is all my fault, is it?"
"Stop putting words in my mouth!"
It was as if all those days of pent-up guilt, worry and frustration were coming up all at once, and Hermione couldn't handle it anymore "So then, what's your brilliant strategy for fighting a dragon of all things? And you better have one!"
"Of course I do! I'm gonna accio my firebolt and…"
"Since when do you know how to do a summoning spell?"
"I learned it over the summer. Anyways, I'm going to summon my firebolt and then I'll just get the egg."
Hermione was officially gawking. "So let me see if I get this straight" she said, more to herself than to him "You are going to climb atop your broom, and try to outmaneuver a dragon, a magical creature that is quite tall, breathes fire, can fly, and will probably be quite pissed off that you're gonna be stealing one of its eggs… did I get that right?"
Harry had the grace to look sheepish "Umm… yes?"
Hermione stomped her foot, actually stomped her foot and Harry had to control the urge to laugh because he found it absolutely adorable. He would have hugged her because of the sheer cuteness of it all, were it not for the fact that their relationship was still in a rather uncomfortable and awkward phase, which he did not like at all.
Seeing him stifle a laugh seemed to only incense her further "You know what Harry? You're unbelievable!" and she headed for the door.
"What? Wait, Hermione, where are you going?"
"Somewhere that isn't here because I can't stand you right now!"
And so with one last huff she left, leaving a bewildered, confused and increasingly frustrated Harry behind. This whole business of caring for someone again? So not his cup of tea.
Hermione, for her part, wandered around the castle, her feet walking with determination but heedless of a destination. It wasn't until she arrived at the library that she realized what she wanted to do, and she couldn't help but slap herself on the forehead. "Even when I'm mad at him, I just have to help him, don't I?" she mumbled.
And thus she made her way to the magical creatures section, where she proceeded to start browsing through every book on dragons known to mankind. After two hours or so, she still hadn't found any solution that satisfied her, and she sighed loudly.
"Vot are you researching, if I may ask?"
She turned around in surprise, and was greeted by none other than Viktor Krum, the international Quidditch superstar that she'd seen play just this summer. Now that she thought about it, hadn't Harry gotten really jealous then? Funny, she couldn't remember all that well what had happened. And that had been their first kiss, it wasn't like her to be vague on the details. She frowned.
"Oh, I am sorry, I seem to haf disturbed you."
Hermione realized that Viktor must have misinterpreted her confusion as annoyance and was quick to shake her head "No, no, sorry, I was just thinking about something else. As for research, well, I'm not sure I could tell you. I'm trying to help my boyfriend out, with the first task."
He frowned, but she couldn't tell whether it was because of something she said, or the fact that he saw the titles of the books she'd been reading, most of them referencing dragons in some way or another. He lowered his voice "So Harry Potter knows of da' third task as vell?"
Hermione looked alarmed and slightly miffed "How do you know about it?"
Krum shrugged, he seemed almost apologetic "The headmaster, he knew, I do not know how, but he told me."
"That hardly seems fair."
"How did Harry Potter find out then?"
Hermione tried to form an answer to this, but just couldn't. She chose to believe that it was just the stress of her fight with Harry that was making her usually witty responses less effective than usual. Instead, she decided to change the topic. "What are you doing here, if I might ask? Came to do some research of your own?"
Krum's lips twitched slightly, and she guessed that was probably an attempt at a smile "No… I do like reading but I do not do it all that much. I do not haf' da' time anymore. I just come here because it is…quiet."
She smiled slightly, feeling pity for him. It reminded her of Harry, how he hated his fame. Or at least, how he used to… he really seemed much more at ease with it lately, now that she thought about it. Krum seemed almost embarrassed but glanced towards the chair beside her "I… vould you mind if I join you? I vould like the company."
Hermione smiled and nodded, clearing some space on the table for him. This was nice, she decided, she preferred having the company. Harry had usually come with her before their first fight, and they would research together. He still came with her at times, but their normally comfortable silences had become awkward. This was quite alright, on the other hand.
Harry chastised himself for not thinking of the library sooner. He'd been looking for Hermione all throughout Hogwarts, intent on apologizing for whatever it was that he'd said that set her off. He wasn't sure what exactly it had been, but he didn't really care, all he wanted was to keep Hermione happy and to make things go back to the way they used to be, if he had to take the blame for it, so be it. He knew he wouldn't be able to take much more of this tenseness and awkwardness for long. For one, they'd barely even kissed since the "incident" and Harry was a teenage boy with a lot of repressed sexual desires, all centered on Hermione, so he was seriously frustrated. But, and much more importantly, he missed their closeness and the way she would hug him and comfort him and just make him feel so alive and so cared for with her mere presence.
He made it to the library entrance and froze.
There, sitting together on the same table, were Hermione and Krum. Viktor Krum. The same guy who'd taken Hermione to the Yule ball the first time around. Her first kiss. And they both seemed to be chatting happily. His first impulse, of course, was to strut over there, grab Hermione forcefully by the arm, shoot daggers at Krum, tell him not to mess with his future wife and all-around soulmate, and steal Hermione's lips in a soul-searing kiss… but he couldn't. Something stopped him.
Remember what happened when you got all jealous and angry? The look of terror on her face? Do you really want to see that again?
He remembered it then. Those brown eyes, usually shining and sparkling when directed at him, darkened by confusion and terror. That snapped him out of his jealous haze. Controlling himself, and before he could change his mind, he turned around, and ran.