A/N: The bold sections on December 10 come from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p. 387. This was written for the Tri-Wizard Tournament Task Challenge on SIYE.
This takes place in the universe of my story "The Promise". This will eventually become part of the sequel, but this can be read without having read my other story first. Just know that at the beginning of GoF, Harry became close friends with Ginny and even escorted her to Hogsmeade for her first trip.
As always, many thanks to my beta and cheerleader, jk_salmeier. She gave me the encouragement to get this finished today as I was incredibly worried that I wouldn't make it. Thanks to Manda (nyladnam04) for helping me get started with my plot bunny and allowing me to talk through the task.
December 10, 1994
Professor McGonagall waited until the rest of the class had gone, and then said, "Potter, the champions and their partners –"
"You mean, like a date?" Harry interrupted. Visions of boys walking around the Great Hall preening while girls giggled and cooed from the corners danced in his brain.
The professor eyed him with annoyance. "Yes, like a date. I would assume from your recent behaviour that you would ask Miss Weasley to attend with you. Now the two of you with the other champions and their partners will be opening the ball." The redhead that he had been seen holding hands with quite often lately popped into the vision, whispering to him and smiling a huge grin. The professor's words sunk in.
"What do you mean open the ball? How does one open a ball anyway?" Harry asked, puzzled. The vision turned to one of a ribbon crossing in front of the doors to the Great Hall and the champions holding a rather large pair of scissors.
Heaving a huge sigh, Professor McGonagall replied wearily, "With dancing, Mr. Potter. That's how it's done traditionally." Seeing the rather horrified look on Harry's face, she continued, "Am I to assume that you don't know how to dance?" Harry silently and vigorously nodded. "Well, on the last day of the term, meet me in my office at 4 pm. We'll see about some dance lessons. Can't have Gryffindor looking bad after all."
"Thank you, Professor," Harry responded. He knew that daydreams of Ginny gliding around the dance floor in his arms would be making an appearance soon.
Gathering his things, he proceeded out the door of the classroom, only to find students milling about in the hallways. Slightly perturbed by the amount of noise being generated by all of the bodies, Harry made his way to Gryffindor Tower. During his walk, he was bumped into by no less than five different girls. He didn't know why they were so clumsy, but he wished that he could just get some peace and quiet to think over how he wanted to ask Ginny to the ball.
The common room was packed as usual when Harry strolled in. He knew that if Ginny was here, she would be in one of the window seats. After gazing at each of them, he shrugged, remembering that she had told him at breakfast that she was spending break time with a friend from Ravenclaw today. Harry trudged up the stairs to his dorm room and tossed his bag on his bed before following the path of the bag with his body.
Fingers combed through his hair, causing spikes to stand up haphazardly around his head. He pondered the best way to ask. Girls always wanted things to be done fancy and whatnot, right? Catching his cheek between his teeth, he contemplated taking her to the Astronomy Tower or to the shore of the lake. Maybe it would be better if he asked her in the common room near curfew. He could make it very simple, much like he did asking her to Hogsmeade. Relieved that he had a plan, Harry lay back on his bed, tucking his hand behind his head, wondering what exactly the next task was supposed to be. Even though the egg didn't have to be figured out until February, the champions were being summoned for a meeting tonight after dinner in the room where the champions had congregated the night that they were chosen. Why would they be meeting over two months before the next task?
After dinner, where Harry and Ginny had quietly held hands under the table as Ron, while now a friend once more to Harry, didn't appreciate seeing the affection between the two of them, Harry retreated to the room off the Great Hall.
This time, instead of being the last champion to enter, he was the first, which gave him more time to inspect the room. There were quite a few portraits of different people, of whom Harry had never seen before and as there were no nameplates, he had no idea who they were. A variety of magical devices, much like the headmaster's office, was scattered around the room on tables. Harry was puzzled over the contents of the table closest to the fireplace. An old toothbrush, a tea cup with a crack down the side, an empty bottle and a spare piece of rope adorned the top of the table. It looked incongruous with the rest of the room.
Before Harry could think on the puzzle in front of him, the door opened, admitting Cedric. The older boy crossed to Harry quickly.
"Harry, I just wanted to thank you for the heads up on the first task. It helped somewhat that I knew what was coming, so thanks. By the way, that was some great flying you did. I would never have thought of summoning my broom," Cedric said.
Before Harry could respond, the door opened once more, this time the remaining two champions as well as the judges and representatives from each school entered. Ludo Bagman stepped to the table with the puzzling contents.
"I'm sure you all are wondering what you are doing here, especially as your next task isn't scheduled until February 24th. Well, that's not exactly accurate. Your next task actually begins tomorrow. This one is different from all the others that you will complete in that we won't actually see you completing your task. Therefore, you will be providing evidence as completion of the assignment." At this, he took a step back and let Mr. Crouch come forward with the rest of the instructions.
"The instructions for the task are as follows: Each champion will first choose a Portkey from this table." He gestured indicating the table with the unusual contents. "At different times tomorrow, each Portkey will take the champion to a designated location. Each Portkey is assigned to a different location to start off at, so none of you will be in the same place at the same time. Each of you will visit the same six locations, but again never at the same time. The Portkeys will randomly activate taking you to the locations throughout the next week before activating one final time to return you to Hogwarts.
Now, for the actual task, each champion will be given two Muggle disposable cameras before leaving tonight. Might I suggest that you take these with you everywhere in case your Portkey activates without you having access to them? With these cameras, you are to take as many pictures of magical creatures as possible. The higher the danger rating given to the creature by the Ministry, the higher the points awarded. As each camera has twenty-four pictures, the maximum number of photos will be forty-eight. Two pictures of the same species counts as only one picture. An example is if you take a photo of a unicorn and one of a unicorn foal, points will be awarded as if it was only one picture. However, if there are different breeds of that species, like dragons, then points will be awarded based on how many breeds are captured on film."
"Why is it that we knew nothing of this before now?" Cedric asked.
"We wanted to ensure that it would be an equal playing field for all champions. This way no one can utilize any pictures taken from earlier," Ludo Bagman answered.
"Zis ratings zat you mentioned? Are zey international ratings or just Britain's? If zey are not ze same as ours, zen Fleur will need a sheet of some sorts telling 'er what creatures are rated," Madame Maxime demanded.
"The British Ministry ratings are the same as those of each of your countries. I had Weatherby check on this just yesterday to be certain," Mr. Crouch replied. Harry made sure to note that Mr. Crouch still had yet to get Percy's name right so he could relay the information to Ginny, Ron and the twins.
"Any other questions?" Mr. Bagman asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet, obviously anxious for the champions to choose their Portkeys.
"What if one of the champions gets hurt? What then?" Professor Dumbledore asked quietly.
"Ah, yes, we forgot that part about the Portkey. If any of you find the need to return to the Hospital Wing due to injury or any other circumstance, then you simply grasp the Portkey and state 'Hospital Wing'. It will return you back here to the wing in Hogwarts immediately," Mr. Crouch answered in a rather reserved manner.
"If there are no other questions, then the champions will choose their Portkeys from this table based on their point standings. As Mr. Krum and Mr. Potter are tied, then they will choose at the same time." Ludo Bagman then gestured to the table. Harry and Krum stepped closer to the table. Harry debated in his mind over which one to choose. He had narrowed it down to the toothbrush or the spare piece of rope, since they were easier to carry, when Krum chose the rope. Harry then immediately picked up the toothbrush and placed it in his pocket. Cedric, being the next in terms of points, chose the empty bottle, leaving the tea cup for Fleur.
Ludo clapped his hands in anticipation. "Oh, isn't this exciting!" Pulling small packages out of his pocket, he gave each champion one. "When you want to enlarge a camera, just tap it with your wand. To shrink it, tap it twice quickly. There are two cameras per package, remember. See you back here in a week with the cameras and pictures. Oh, and remember too that the Portkeys can activate at any time." With a wave, he and Mr. Crouch left the room. The champions just looked at each other before shrugging and turning to leave themselves.
Harry ran a hand through his hair before deciding to get started on his task that night. He felt reasonably sure that he would be the only one able to get a picture of a basilisk. On his way back to the Gryffindor common room, he made a stop in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom to open the Chamber of Secrets once more. After taking four pictures to be sure that at least one would come out, Harry managed to find a way up the pipe that he hadn't seen when he had rescued Ginny two years earlier.
While he traversed the stairs that the pipe had concealed, the young champion marvelled at the changes a few years brought to his life. The last time he has been down here, he hadn't been very close to Ginny, only really knowing her as Ron's little sister. However, time had passed and she became a friend before becoming something more akin to a girlfriend. They hadn't really declared themselves a couple, but they were together at most meals and most nights in the common room.
His musings lasted until he found himself in front of the portrait hole. Giving the password, he climbed in only to be greeted by Ginny.
"Are you just now getting back from your meeting?" she asked him from the window seat. He crossed to her, forgetting the sludge and muck that covered his clothing. "What in Merlin's name, Harry?" Ginny's eyes widened when she caught sight of the state of his clothes. Drawing in a huge breath, she continued with narrowed eyes, "Harry James Potter! Care to explain why you went into the Chamber of Secrets?" Her voice lowered as she spoke. He stared at her, wondering how she knew where he had been. "You smell just like it did two years ago, so tell me why you needed to revisit our past."
"We have a new task to complete. I have to collect as many pictures of magical creatures as I can on these cameras that I was given. I went to get a picture of the basilisk since I'm leaving tomorrow by Portkey to go somewhere," Harry answered; still not sure that he completely understood how they were supposed to get pictures for the task. He glanced down at his clothes, grimacing. "How about I tell you all about it at breakfast tomorrow? I need to go burn these robes, I think."
"Just call for Dobby. You know he'll clean them for you," Ginny said with a smile. "But yes, please go clean up. I think it's time for me to sleep anyway."
"Night, Gin," Harry said, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. She shuddered from the smell before pushing him toward the boys' staircase.
December 11, 1994
The next morning Harry realized while he was in the shower that he had forgot to ask Ginny to the ball the previous night. He banged his head against the shower wall three times, letting the water cascade over his head. Why do things seem to get more complicated when you put them off?, he thought. I'll just ask her at breakfast.
At breakfast, Harry was once again holding Ginny's hand under the table. It still amazed him how much that simple act could calm him. He had finished eating and was trying to gather up his courage when a loud pop echoed through the Great Hall. Harry's head shot up, looking around. Chaos erupted at the Hufflepuff table. Girls were screaming and pointing at an empty spot at the table.
Professor Dumbledore at the head table stood and called for quiet. "I had hoped to address this issue before the first champion disappeared, but unfortunately my timing is off apparently. Today starts the second task for the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The champions will be whisked away by Portkey to various locations to complete their tasks. Evidently Mr. Diggory chose the first Portkey to be activated. The champions will be gone for seven days unless one of them has need to return to the Hospital Wing." At this, he looked directly at Harry. Harry just shrugged at the headmaster. Dumbledore continued, "Therefore, alarm is not necessary in this situation. I'm sure that Mr. Diggory will be just fine. Please return to your breakfast."
Ron, who was sitting across from Harry, appeared to be contemplating something since he was wearing what Ginny's referred to as his chess face when Hermione took a seat next to him.
"So what did I miss?" she asked, placing various foods on her plate before pouring herself some juice.
"Oh, just the announcement about the newest task that the champions are being forced to do," Ginny replied warily. "Where were you?"
"I was late getting up this morning," Hermione answered slightly guiltily. She had placed her fork to her mouth when she dropped it with a clatter on her plate. "Task? What new task? I thought the next task wasn't until February," Hermione questioned, puzzled over the turn of events.
"They are being forced to visit different locations for a week to get as many pictures of magical creatures as possible," Ginny answered, leaving Harry to contemplate when his Portkey would activate.
"Wait, how do you know all that? Professor Dumbledore didn't say what exactly the task was," Ron queried, turning toward his sister.
"Harry told me last night," the young redhead responded with a shrug.
Hermione jumped into the conversation after swallowing her forkful of breakfast. "Are you allowed to take books with you? I mean, how are you supposed to identify the creatures?"
"They didn't say we could or couldn't. I guess I could just take Fantastical Beasts & Where to Find Them with me. I'll need to go get it from my room though," Harry answered.
"Harry, you're supposed to be gone for a full week, right?" Ron asked tentatively, still clearly thinking about something.
"That's what Bagman and Crouch said, yes," Harry remarked.
"But what about food?" Ron asked, plaintively. "You're not going to be here at the castle. Are you taking money with you?"
Harry exploded with laughter. Once he regained his breath, he stated, "Only a Weasley would think of the situation with food." Sobering, he added, "But now that you mention it, they didn't say anything about that. I don't know if money would work. I don't know where it is we're going to be or if they even take Galleons."
"I think this calls for a visit to the kitchens during our break this morning," Ron surmised, getting to his feet. Hermione, having just finished the food on her plate, scowled at Ron.
"Ron! House-elves have more than enough to do!" Hermione scolded, smacking him on the arm before rising to gather her things.
"But Hermione, Harry needs to have food on his trip. What if he's sent to Africa or somewhere? He's got to have food to take," Ron argued while they walked out of the Great Hall. Harry, whose hand was still grasping Ginny's, reluctantly let go.
"See you at break time?" he asked her quietly, toying with Ginny's fingers.
"Yes, Harry, provided that you haven't been whisked away by your Portkey," she replied with a grin.
By the time lunch had rolled around, Harry's pockets were loaded down with everything that Ron and Hermione insisted that he needed for his task. While he believed that the book Fantastical Beasts & Where to Find Them and the food would be extremely helpful with his task, he was quite unsure as to what the purpose of taking his broom and a jam jar. He wasn't about to tell the two of them that he didn't think that these items wouldn't help him though. Thankfully he got Dobby to place a spell on all the items making them feather light and shrinking them to fit in his pockets.
His worries over the task and when the Portkey would activate were still not enough to alleviate his anxiety over asking Ginny to the ball. With her hand firmly in his, he turned to talk to her and felt a tug behind his navel pulling him through space, just like the one he felt on their way to the World Cup.
Harry landed on his back, looking at the sun glimmering through the trees that surrounded the small clearing. Glancing to his right, he saw Ginny sitting up, taking stock of their surroundings. He followed her example and saw a range of mountains to his left and a small lake to his right. Realizing that he had landed on snow, which was rather cold, he started to stand up when Ginny let out a startled squeak.
"Oh, I know where we are, Harry! This is Romania, very near Charlie's dragon preserve. In fact, it should be," she gestured with her hand, pointing toward the mountains on the left, "just through those trees. He and I went walking down around this lake when I came with my parents four years ago."
"Wait, so we're in Romania? I'm going to get in so much trouble!" Harry stated, running his hands through his hair.
"Whatever for?" Ginny asked.
"How about the fact that YOU came with me on MY task? Dumbledore's going to have my head." His eyes widened. "Your mum is going to kill me!"
"Harry, let's calm down. You have a task to complete. Let's get over to the dragon preserve so you can get your pictures. I'm sure that Charlie will let us stay at his cottage as well as actually being kind enough to feed us." She started tugging on his hand, trying to lead him toward the preserve.
"Maybe I should just use the Portkey to take us back to Hogwarts. We can just go back to the Hospital Wing. It's not like I want to win this thing anyway," Harry muttered, fighting against Ginny's pulling.
"So you're just going to give up? I know I made you promise not to enter, but I didn't make you promise to lose either. Harry, you're tied for first. You're three years younger than the other three and you want to go home instead of trying to succeed at this task? Are you a Gryffindor or not? All you have to do is take pictures! Come on, it's not like we're in any danger. My brother is just over there. Let's go," Ginny pleaded.
Sensing that she would be incredibly stubborn about this, Harry could see that it was best to just acquiesce to her demands. A thought struck him and he pulled her to a stop. "Wait! I have a broom with me. We could fly that to the preserve, couldn't we?"
Ginny nodded, so Harry sorted through the items in his pocket before finding the Firebolt. He enlarged it with a flick of his wand.
"Harry! Won't you get in trouble for underage magic?" Ginny worried.
"I doubt it. The owl that would have to deliver the letter probably wouldn't make it here before the Portkey goes off tomorrow," Harry said sceptically. "I doubt that they would find it worth mentioning."
Harry threw a leg over the Firebolt before gesturing to Ginny to sit in front of him. Once she was on, he pulled her in close so he could grip the handle better by wrapping his arms fully around her. Up together they flew, gliding through the trees with Ginny pointing the way.
Luckily, the preserve had been notified that the champions could be headed their way during this task. Charlie wasn't too shocked to see Harry, but Ginny, on the other hand, was a different story. The older Weasley kept glancing at the two of them warily as he guided them through the area. Although Harry kept expecting one of the professors to show up at any time to take Ginny back to Hogwarts, he found himself enjoying the preserve and learning about the different types of dragons. Charlie even helped him take a picture of each of the four different types of dragons that they were nurturing there at the time.
After dinner in Charlie's cottage, the three of them stayed up talking in front of the fire about different magical creatures that existed on the mainland more so than in England. Harry confided in them regarding his fear that he would be unable to identify any creature, even though he did have the book that Hermione had thrust into his pocket earlier in the day. While the older wizard couldn't completely assuage Harry's fears, he did offer his thoughts that he didn't think the judges would have planned too hard a task for the champions as they weren't in the eyesight of the judges. He figured that each location would be an area full of magical creatures. After all, this location had a dragon preserve nearby. Maybe all that was required was scouting the area around the Portkey drop point.
With that strategy in mind, Harry was more relaxed about the days to come and drifted off to sleep in front of the fire.
December 12, 1994
When Harry woke up the next morning to the smells of bacon and eggs, he startled trying to figure out where he was. The past day came rushing back to him and Harry made short work of making sure that everything that was supposed to be in his pockets was exactly where they were supposed to be. It wasn't long after they had finished their breakfast that Harry heard a short beep sound coming from his pocket. Trying to figure out what would make that sound, he and Ginny routed through his pockets before feeling a quick pull that jerked them off their feet.
They slammed into the soft sand, facing a large body of water. Waves lapped gently against the shore.
"At least I managed to land sitting this time. Maybe eventually I'll get the idea and be able to land on my feet," Harry muttered. Struggling to get to his feet in the sand, he eventually managed it when Ginny lent him a hand.
"I'll never figure out how it is that someone so incredibly graceful in the air is so clumsy when it comes to other forms of magical transportation," Ginny said with a giggle.
"You think I'm graceful in the air?" Harry asked.
"You're one of the best fliers I've ever seen," Ginny answered earnestly. Their eyes caught for a moment before Harry took a deep breath. His head cocked to the side as he tried to place the smell that enveloped him.
"Salt? Wait, this is salt water, has waves and judging by the sun, is to the west of the land. Where can we be?" Harry struggled to recall his geography lessons from primary school. "Let's see. It could be Ireland. But I would have expected it to be greener than this."
"Actually Harry I would have expected Ireland to be a little colder," Ginny pointed out. "Besides, does it really matter where we are?"
"Well, only in the sense that it would help us figure out what kind of creatures to look for. But I guess we can just fly on my broom looking around the area for any magical creatures," Harry thought aloud.
The pair mounted the broom and flew as close to the ground as possible over the sand dunes and even further into the forests that stretched out over the cliffs. After a few hours of avoiding civilization as much as possible since they didn't know if it was a Wizarding or Muggle area, Harry brought the broom down in a clearing in the forest. A small waterfall fed the pond that took up over half the clearing.
"Why are we stopping?" Ginny asked.
"Gin, we need to eat. Thank Merlin for your brother. Otherwise, we would be stuck without food," Harry replied. Harry grabbed the basket of food that Dobby and the other house-elves had put together for him out of his pocket. Flicking his wand over the basket, it reverted back to its original size. "We'll have to ration ourselves though. The elves were only expecting me to be on this trip, so I have enough food for me."
"I'm sure there's enough. This is Dobby we're talking about. He would do anything for you now that's he's no longer employed by Malfoy," Ginny retorted.
After looking through the contents of the basket, which was overflowing with enough food to last both Harry and Ginny well over a week, they decided on steak and kidney pudding. Fortunately, Ginny knew a warming spell to heat the food from the cold preservation spell that Dobby had placed on the basket. The smells that wafted through the air made Harry's mouth water.
Shortly after the duo had finished all they could eat, the sound of hooves echoed through the trees. Harry and Ginny both clenched their wands tight in their hands and each backed up against an oak tree. Not knowing what to expect, they listened intently. When a grey hippogriff entered the clearing, Harry almost fell over in relief. He knew exactly who and what had appeared.
"Sirius?" Harry asked, although he knew he was right.
"Harry?!? What in the blazes are you doing in Portugal? Why aren't you at Hogwarts?" the older wizard said, bounding down from the back of the hippogriff to catch his godson up in a hug.
"I'm currently involved in a Tri-Wizard task. Don't ask," Harry warned. Sirius just held up his hands in capitulation. Ginny edged her way closer to Harry, coming up behind him from his right.
"And who might this lovely lady be?" Sirius asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"Sirius, this is Ginny Weasley. You can thank her for making sure the common room was cleared the night we talked," Harry introduced. "Ginny, this is my godfather, Sirius Black, aka Snuffles." The dawn of recognition spread across Ginny's face as her features went from very wary to bright and welcoming.
"How did you manage to get the judges to let Ginny come with you?" Sirius queried, looking over at the redhead, smiling.
"Well--," Harry started.
"It just so happened that when his Portkey activated, I was holding his hand, which meant that I was pulled along with him to the location," Ginny answered, her chin held high. She then grabbed his hand in hers as if daring Sirius to make something of it.
"Well, well, well, Harry. A girl with spunk. What is it with you Potters and fiery redheads?" Sirius said, grinning all the while at his godson, whose face was turning as bright red as the girl's hair beside him.
"Anyway," Harry stated to turn the conversation away from the embarrassing topic it was on, "my task is to take pictures of as many magical creatures as I can. Sirius, can I get a picture of Buckbeak? It won't matter if they recognize him because they won't know which location the picture came from," Harry asked.
"What is Buckbeak?" Ginny asked very cautiously.
"Haven't I told you the story about the hippogriffs from last year's Care of Magical Creatures class?" Ginny nodded. "Buckbeak is the hippogriff that I rode," Harry finished.
"Of course you can take his picture," Sirius responded. "You know, what lured us here was the smell of food."
"Oh my, what was I thinking?" Harry rambled. "We have a basket with food from Hogwarts. Dobby fixed for us. Here." He pulled the basket from his pocket. "Take whatever you need."
"We'll take some, Harry, but you have to have supplies for the rest of the task. How much longer is it you have to do this task?" Sirius questioned, picking his way through the food in the basket.
"We're to be sent back via Portkey on December 17th, so five more days. We just never know when the Portkey will go off taking us to another location," Harry answered.
"I'm guessing then that Ginny just holds on to you at all times, right? Like you would have a problem with that..." Sirius trailed off when he saw his godson's gobsmacked face.
"I have no problem with holding on to Harry," Ginny said smugly.
"I hadn't even thought about the fact that if she's not holding on to me, she could be left behind in a place that we might not know where she is," Harry replied. He pulled Ginny around to stand in the circle of his arms. Looking down into her eyes, he asked her, "Are you sure I shouldn't just take this Portkey and send us back to the Hospital Wing?"
"I have no problems just holding on to you. Plus, I think that beeping we heard this morning might be a slight warning that the Portkey is going to activate. We'll be fine, Harry," she replied, completely relaxed.
After taking the picture of Buckbeak in the waning light, Harry, Sirius and Ginny spent the time getting to know one another. Buckbeak was kind enough to offer the three of them shelter from the wind under his wings. Before long, the trio was asleep.
December 13, 1994
Harry woke up slowly. His back was leaning against Buckbeak's warm body. Having slept all night in a mostly reclining position caused aches and pains to break out over his body. Yet, someone else was also keeping him warm. Ginny's arm was thrown across his waist as her head rested on his shoulder. He smiled at the trust she displayed just by that innocent gesture.
Looking up, he saw his godfather smiling at him. A beeping noise rent their surroundings seconds before Harry and Ginny were tossed through the air once more by the tug behind their navel. Harry closed his eyes, hoping that he would be able to feel when his body was slowing down better this way, so maybe he could figure out how to land properly.
His body slammed into the cold, wet ground with Ginny sprawled on top of him. The force of the Portkey had jerked her from her slumber and she was now spitting mad. Harry knew the look in her eyes and tried to figure out how to avoid being hit.
"Oh! I'm going to hex those judges as soon as I see them! How dare they interrupt my fabulous dream with their stupid Portkey!" Ginny fumed, placing her hands on either side of Harry's shoulders and leveraging herself up. "That's cold!" she exclaimed when pulling her hands back from the snow covered ground.
Snow furiously was falling all around them. Sheets of white surrounded the pair, making it difficult to see.
"Harry! What are we going to do?" Ginny asked. The wizard quickly pulled his wand from his pocket and cast a spell that issued bluebell flames into a jar that he also pulled from his pocket.
"That's the last time I ever question anything that Hermione suggests I bring," Harry muttered as he peered around the area. Ginny grabbed his hand and pointed to a small structure just to their left. Holding hands, they tramped through the ever-deepening snow. The structure turned out to be a small cottage that was locked. Harry cast a quick Alohomora and had the door opening in moments. Together, they pushed against the wind that had started to pick up and managed to get the door closed without too much snow drifting in.
The rest of the day was spent looking out the window at the blizzard. Fortunately, there was wood in the fireplace, allowing them to keep warm throughout the night.
December 14, 1994
The next day Harry and Ginny were still at the cottage in the snow through what they figured was most of the morning. It was as they were cleaning their utensils from lunch that they heard a beep. Harry yanked Ginny to him and they were sent careening through space once more. Gently landing on sand, Harry was shocked to think that for once he might have landed properly, but then Ginny's hands pushed on him, causing him to fall over.
"Oh, and who was it who called me clumsy?" Harry grumbled. Ginny looked upset, but said nothing. Harry helped her stand before looking at their surroundings.
"I can't believe it! We're in Egypt this time. Bill's place isn't too far that way," Ginny pointed. "He brought us out here to the pyramids when we came the summer after my first year. In fact, outside that pyramid there, I debated with myself whether to send you a birthday card."
"I would have loved a card from you, Ginny. I wish you had sent one," Harry averred.
"Well, you'll be getting one from me from now on," Ginny answered. "I think it's pretty safe to use your broom here. This is a Wizard tourist site."
Harry pulled out his broom and the two clambered aboard. On the flight to Bill's place, Ginny spotted something.
"Harry, is that what I think it is?"
"I don't know. What do you think it is?" Harry asked, looking around wildly, trying to figure out what Ginny saw. She grasped his head with both hands and turned it towards the creature that was appeared to be sleeping below. He slid the camera out of his pocket and handed it to Ginny before guiding the broom a little closer to the Sphinx. She snapped the picture before Harry zoomed them away quickly, not feeling up to answering any riddle that the Sphinx might have for them.
Once they arrived at Bill's place, they discovered that he wasn't home, so they used the spell to let them into his flat. While Bill was shocked to see Harry again, he allowed them to stay with him for the rest of the day. Harry and Ginny were getting very tired of the travelling by this point and didn't want to do much more than sit on something other than a broomstick. The pair went to sleep fairly early on the floor of Bill's sitting room.
December 15, 1994
The next day found the pair whisked to a country with mountains in the distance. A great open plain with very little trees dotting the landscape met their eyes when they took in their environment. Several animals were grazing the locale. Ginny, noting the horn on one of the animals, grabbed Harry's arm excitedly.
"Oh, look, it's a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Luna would be so jealous!"
"A what? And who's Luna?" Harry asked, cocking his head to the side.
"A Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Luna Lovegood. She's a Ravenclaw that's a friend of mine from childhood. She lives just over the hill from the Burrow. They have a horn from the Snorkack in their living room. That's how I know what it is."
"Ginny, I've never heard of such a thing. Let me look it up first," Harry said, pulling out the book. He flipped through the pages, looking first in the section of Cs before going to the one for the Ss. "Gin, it's not in here."
"It has to be. Mr. Lovegood told me all about them. Let me see that," she replied, pulling the book from his hand. After a few minutes of searching, she slowly handed the book back to Harry with a sheepish look on her face. "So those aren't Snorkacks, but they still could be a magical creature. I say you take a picture anyway. If it's not, then it's not. But if it is, then you get points."
Harry agreed with this assessment and pulled a camera out of his pocket. After tapping it to enlarge both the camera and his broom, he zoomed across the plain to get a closer picture. The boy wizard pushed the camera button and pulled up sharply on his Firebolt. Below him, the creature rushed toward another. When the two collided, both of creatures exploded, sending Harry careening back toward Ginny. He landed in a skid a few meters away from her.
"Harry! Harry!" Ginny screamed. She rushed over to him, checking over every part of him. "Are you hurt? Harry, answer me!"
He sat up, dazed. "I'm okay, Gin. Just a little woozy. Let's stay under one of those trees for now, shall we?"
Ginny helped him over to a tree trunk, leaning him against it. She pulled the basket with the food out of his pocket and found the flasks of water. Conjuring a small cloth to wipe his face, she sat beside him.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I should have had Bill or Charlie take me home instead of me being selfish and accompanying you on this adventure. I almost got you killed." Ginny sobbed into his chest. He patted her back, wrapping his arms around her.
"Ginny, I'm fine. I was just a little shaken up, but I'm good now. We'll just stay here. Then tomorrow is the last day before we go back to Hogwarts. We'll be okay. We just won't do too much exploring wherever it is we are tomorrow, okay?" Harry pulled her chin up so his emerald eyes stared into her chocolate ones. She nodded, taking a deep breath. They cuddled together under the tree until they both had dropped off to sleep.
December 16, 1994
It was another coastal locale that they were deposited at when they landed at the next to last activation of the Portkey. Ginny took a look around.
"Harry, I'm not sure what type of creature would be around here," Ginny said. "I have no clue as to where we are."
Harry also gazed at his environment. Noticing the architecture of some ruins nearby, he drew Ginny's attention there. "I think that's a sign of Greek architecture. I'm fairly certain that's a Doric column. I can't be completely sure. Primary school was some time ago, but I think so."
"Greece? But then we might be able to spot a hippocampus," Ginny exclaimed.
"A what?" Harry asked.
"A hippocampus; a Mer-horse. It's a creature with the top of a horse and the bottom of a giant fish. I love horses. This is just another kind to me. Oh, I hope we can spot one," she answered.
They settled on the shore with the camera out in case they spotted one of the creatures swimming by. Several hours passed as they talked, when Ginny shot to her feet.
"Look! There's one. Quick! Give me the camera!" Taking it from Harry, she rapidly snapped three pictures in a row to make sure that at least one would come out.
That night Harry pulled out the jam jar to place bluebell flames once more to help them keep warm.
December 17, 1994
It wasn't long after they woke up the next morning that they were returned to Hogwarts. The two of them landed haphazardly in the room where Harry had chosen the Portkey. After they got themselves sorted out, the two judges entered the room.
"Ah, Mr. Potter, right on time," Mr. Crouch said. "I hope you fared well. Please turn in your cameras."
Harry handed the two over to Mr. Bagman. "Are we allowed to go now?"
"We?" It was then that the two judges saw Ginny. "Oh my, you had help on your task, didn't you?" Ludo Bagman stated.
"Unfortunately, Ginny was dragged along with me on this trip," Harry said. "Now if you'll excuse us, we need to return to our dorm rooms, the Scourgify and Tergeo charms only work so long on clothes."
"Make sure you're at dinner in the Great Hall for the points presentation," Mr. Crouch told them as they left the room.
The two rushed up to Gryffindor tower. After taking long, hot showers and a couple hours catching up on much needed sleep, the two met back in the common room to go find Hermione and Ron. They first headed to the library, but Hermione was nowhere to be found. One of the younger Gryffindors who tried to brush up against Harry, smiling, mentioned that Hermione might be in the Hospital Wing again.
Harry and Ginny looked at one another and ran out of the room, much to Madam Pince's horror. They actually skidded their way into the Hospital Wing to find their friend at the bedside of one Viktor Krum. Before Hermione saw them, they gave each other a look, saying 'What is going on?'.
"Do I need to check you over, Mr. Potter?" Madam Pomfrey asked, her voice wafting over their shoulders.
"Oh, no, ma'am. I'm fine. Thank you," Harry answered.
Hermione, hearing their exchange, ran over to give Harry a huge hug. "Are you sure you're all right, both of you? I've been so worried, especially since Viktor came back early."
Harry was surprised to see Hermione blush slightly when she said Viktor's name.
"Really? Can we ask what happened, Viktor? May I call you Viktor?" Ginny asked in her most sweet voice.
"I vill tell you. At the first location, I had managed to spot a Fvooper in the short trees or at least vat I thought vas one. I cast a Silencing Charm on it before I approached it. I knew that it could drive me insane othervise. After snapping the picture of the Fvooper, I vandered around, trying to figure out vere I vas. Judging by the sun and the mountains in the distance, I thought I vasn't too far away from Bulgaria, but that vas a guess. It vasn't too long before I found a small trail that had everything on it killed by something. Recalling my Magical Creatures class at Durmstrang, I thought it might be a Streeler. So I followed the trail to discover this small snail-like creature vose shell was a bright blue. Assuming that to be the Streeler, I took a picture of that too. By this point, I was getting hungry. I had no idea how ve vere expected to find food. I managed to find shelter under some trees. I managed to sleep just a little ven I was sent off to the coast of another country."
"Wait, the one with the mountains in the distance, were you at this big open field area?" Harry asked.
"Vell, yes," Krum answered with surprise in his voice.
"Ah, we didn't see any birds, but we saw these animals that were grazing. After I got a picture of them, two collided horns first and exploded," Harry shared.
"Harry! They were Erumpents! Please tell me you weren't that close to them," Hermione begged.
"I was several hundred meters in the air. Luckily I was on my broom," Harry answered.
"Don't let him fool you. He was dazed afterward. Then we got to Greece. We didn't do very much," Ginny said. "Viktor, will you tell us how you got here to the Hospital Wing?"
"Sure. I came close in the second locale of coming back here. I'm still not sure how I got avay from the Chimaera, but it vas easy getting photos of the dragons at the preserve," Krum continued. "The next day I landed on the coast again, but this time I landed on a mackled malaclaw. It bit me. I didn't know vat had bit me so I came back here."
"Oh, my," Ginny said. Her eyes were wide when she realized what it was that had sent Viktor back to the Hospital Wing. "So now you're supposed to have a week of bad luck?"
"That's vat your nurse told me," Viktor said in a surly voice.
"I'm so sorry. Are you going to be able to make it to dinner tonight? They are announcing the points," Harry asked. Viktor just shrugged.
Harry and Ginny excused themselves to go find Ron to let him know that they were back. Once the door had closed behind the two of them, they both burst out laughing.
"How sad is it that his bad luck started before he was bit?" Ginny said through her laughter.
After Harry's laughter had subsided, he asked the question that was on both of their minds, "What was Hermione doing at Krum's bedside?"
Ron wasn't anywhere they looked until they finally found him in the common room playing chess. He greeted them without any hint of annoyance or jealousy that had pervaded their conversations prior to the First Task. He simply asked if his suggestions had been helpful. When both of them recounted their trip to him, he simply grinned.
That night, at dinner, the locations that the champions had been to were revealed. The countries in the order that Harry and Ginny had visited them were Romania, Portugal, Russia, Egypt, Morocco, and Greece. Each champion had visited the same locales in the same order, but they started in different places.
Harry was stunned to learn that he had the lead after the points had been tallied for this task. He had earned thirty-nine points, bringing his total to seventy-nine. Cedric had earned the most points for this task with forty, so he was one point behind Harry. Fleur had managed to collect thirty-four points on her trip, but she considered her meeting Bill Weasley the most important aspect of the task. Her point total was now an even seventy. Viktor, even with the bad luck, had garnered twenty-four points, bringing his total to sixty-four, going into the egg task.
Harry remembered once he was sitting alone on the couch in front of the fire in the common room that he still had not managed to ask Ginny to accompany him to the ball. He wanted to hit himself upside the head when he thought about all the possible places and ways he could have asked over the course of the past week. Remembering the cottage in the blizzard, he realized he could have asked there during their extremely long conversation.
"What are you thinking about so hard?" Ginny asked, slipping on the couch beside him. Instinctively, his hand reached out for hers.
"Actually, mainly you," Harry started.
"Me?" Ginny parroted. "Why?"
"Have you heard about the ball that is taking place on Christmas?" Harry asked.
"Yes," she answered slowly, unsure of where he was going with it, but hoping that it was what she had been waiting for.
"Well, as a champion, I'm being required to open the ball, which means I have to have a date. So Ginny Weasley, would you do me the honour of accompanying me to the ball?" Harry asked, holding his breath, terrified that she would say no.
"Harry, are you asking me to go as friends?" Ginny asked for clarification.
"No, I'm not. Ginny, I got to spend so much time with you this week. Every day I learned something new about you, which made me even more fascinated. There were no huge disagreements, no extra drama. Just you and me, conquering my task together. I've never had a girlfriend before, but there's no one I would want to be mine more than you. Will you? Will you be mine, Ginny?" Harry asked.
"I thought you would never ask," Ginny responded.