Author's Notes: JK Rowling has written under a pseudonym before. That pseudonym is not willyolioleo.
- No, I'm not abandoning this fic... but every time I think I have time to write, life... uh... finds a way. To keep me busy.
Chapter 69: All Eyes On Us
"I don't believe this. You're saying you knew Voldemort was returning?" Moody was so surprised that his fake eye was fixed on Dumbledore instead of roving for eavesdroppers.
"Yes. Severus was my source. He witnessed Voldemort's presence personally," Dumbledore said. "I sent him there on some suspicions regarding the Dark Mark. He wasn't eager to go, but in the end, he agreed."
"Merlin knows that man was never had the temperament for being a teacher. Hell, I could probably do a better job than he did. " Moody stopped to ponder his own remark, and scoffed at the thought. "So that's why you kept that greasy little snake around. Tell me he at least did a decent job of spying."
"One of the best I had," Dumbledore sighed. "Severus was attempting to redeem himself for some youthful mistakes. I don't know if he earned the redemption he needed that day."
"Well, according to our intrepid slayer of dark lords, the man earned himself a dozen flame spears and several blasting hexes. There was barely enough of him left over to identify," Moody added. "And there was only one place in the mansion he could have been standing to have been struck down like that."
It was rare to have Dumbledore nearly silent and hanging on your every word. Moody continued. "There was a saferoom. The attackers knew it was a saferoom, and knew that the Voldemort was inside. Snape must have been inside as well," Moody said. "Seems to me he must have carried the homunculus body to safety while everyone else was fighting. Why didn't he escape instead?"
"That is a question I cannot answer," Dumbledore said, sighing heavily. "Perhaps he thought the attack would be unsuccessful, and did it to earn some trust. With most of Voldemort's followers dead from the assault, he would be guaranteed a place among the inner circle of followers. That would place Voldemort's secrets and plans entirely within my grasp. I could predict his every movement with that much information."
"Yeah, but it's easier to predict the dead. They don't move at all," Moody retorted. "Should have just tossed that abomination into the line of fire like a burning bludger. Face it, Albus. You're making excuses."
"When they need to know. Unfortunately, Severus never had many close friends among the staff, either. If they took it upon themselves to investigate further, it would sully his memory to be found among murdered Death Eaters. It's better to keep this as quiet as possible for now, wouldn't you agree? Tell me what other discoveries you made."
"Entry must have been from the top floor. Not apparition or portkey. Must have been either a broom or fumation; my bet's on the former. The majority of spellfire seemed to be directed upwards," Moody said, recalling details that only his magical eye could have seen. "The spells that had been shot upwards left a distinctly different path through the floorboards as the ones that had hammered the safe room- they were clearly cast by two different groups of people. The attackers were either underpowered or undermanned. What they lacked in pure strength they must have made up for with training, good tactics, and surprise."
"Underpowered? By how much, can you tell?"
"Hard to say. It's a judgement call, in any case. Two things led me to that conclusion- they aimed to maim, not to kill. Injured opponents are a good distraction. Screams are demoralizing. Like I said, good tactics," Moody grinned ferally. He imagined himself in the fight. He probably would have made the same choices if he were working alone. "The second thing is that they made sure to cripple the opponents who were already down. Made sure they couldn't fight even if they woke up or found a wand laying about. Good idea if you don't have enough manpower to watch prisoners."
"How many in total?" Dumbledore asked.
"They hauled in over a dozen Death Eaters alive, and quite a few more dead. I'd wager a force of three or four could have done it, depending on… other factors." Moody began to dig through his pouches.
"Like this," Moody said, pulling something out of his pouch. "Aurors missed it in their investigation. Doubt they'd know what it was even if they found it. At best it would end up stuck in some back room in the Department of Mysteries. I was thinking you could shed some light on it?" He held up his hand, which appeared to be empty at first glance. Only through the subtle movement of his fingers did Dumbledore see a nearly-invisible piece of cloth. "It's obviously part of an invisibility cloak, but unlike anything I've seen before. Even as a fragment it's got better concealment than a brand-new cloak."
The headmaster carefully plucked the fabric from Moody's hand and set it on his desk. He'd recognized it instantly. After all, it came from a cloak he'd studied for a decade before returning it to its rightful owner.
Contrary to the students' impressions, Slughorn didn't only hold Slug Club meetings for students. He knew his own limitations on his ability to help his club members succeed if their talents lay outside his own realm of expertise. Most of the staff members were present- at least, those that Slughorn considered worth their salt in teaching ability. Notably absent were Hagrid – Slughorn had heard many complaints about the half-giant from his own students; Trelawney – as she said herself, you either had the inner eye or you didn't; and Burbage – Slughorn had learned enough about the muggle world from various Slug Club members to know the Muggle Studies professor would be of no help to anyone.
"This tea really is quite good, Horace," Vector said, sipping lightly as she leaned back in her chair. "Haven't tasted anything like it."
"Courtesy of one of the former Slug Club members," Slughorn answered. "Exchange student from India, about twenty years ago. A little before your time here, Septima. His family owns a mystic tea plantation; and he sends me the results of his breeding experiments each year. This one is supposed to stimulate the mind, camaraderie, and the leaves improve accuracy in divination readings for lost pets. Never did put much weight on the last one."
"I wouldn't either. And the bannock?" McGonagall asked.
"Err… that's just from the Hogwarts house-elves," Slughorn told her.
"You're joking. I've been at this school longer than you have, Horace! They've never made them like this for me!"
"It may or may not have involved a little bribery involving butterbeer…" Slughorn said with a grin. McGonagall threw him a disapproving smirk, but grabbed another piece anyway.
"Sufficed to say, we have enough good food here to least the whole evening. So what do you want us to do to get you into Potter and Granger's good graces?" Professor Babbling asked. She never did have an easy time keeping her lips from showing the world what was on her mind.
"Now, now, we're not playing favourites," Slughorn reassured everyone. "You know I have the Slug Club for exceptional students, I need all your help to figure out how to make them thrive! Ordinary lessons would only hold such students back."
"Charity's right. Crude, but right. Harry and Hermione may as well be the next Merlin and Morgana. No offense, Filius, but not even any of your eagles hold a candle to those two," Professor Sprout said to her Ravenclaw counterpart. "You've only got a year with them, and by all rights they'll achieve great things whether or not you're a part of their lives."
"Now the question is how this happened at all," Flitwick said as he stared at his tea, stirring it hypnotically. "Did something… strange happen to them over the summer, or have they simply been holding back all along? Minerva, could you shed some light for us? Both of them are lions, after all."
"I'm afraid I'm in the dark as much as anyone else. Both of them claimed to have been tutored over the summer by a very secretive instructor, who wishes to be anonymous, who have been giving them extra lessons since after their first year."
"How can a tutor make any money by remaining anonymous? He'd never find more students!" Slughorn wondered aloud.
"That's their story, and they're sticking to it. I'm more worried if their instructor has any penchant for the Dark Arts. Even the best tutors in the world couldn't expect these levels of improvement legitimately," McGonagall sighed. "All this secrecy... it's unnerving. I'm doubting I ever got a straight answer out of them. Three years ago, with the troll- "
"You mean when Miss Granger decided to go troll-hunting?" Flitwick recalled, for Slughorn's benefit.
"Yes, and is valiantly saved by Mr. Potter and the youngest Mr. Weasley," Babbling finished for him.
"That incident. I'm more certain than ever that the story is a lie. What the truth is, I couldn't even guess at," McGonagall told them. "Two years ago, with the basilisk- a girl kidnapped. She was a Gryffindor by the way, and the thought of alerting me didn't even cross Potter's mind. He can't be that dimwitted, despite what Severus said about him. I'm sure we never received the real story behind that one, either. And after that incident with Lockhart, I doubt we ever will. His… unique Hogwarts experience has not given Mr. Potter much appreciation for the staff. Severus wasn't much help, either."
"Well, that certainly has to change, doesn't it?" Slughorn proclaimed. "The two of them can't go through life alone, and a little networking could help them even more! We just have to find out what their interests actually are. For example- the twin pranksters? They may be delinquents, but they're hardly procrastinators. Their potions work is simply marvellous! In fact, I've been giving them a little advice through the Slug Club, connecting them to some old former members, and I'm certain they could have a legitimate business that could rival Zonko's before they leave Hogwarts! It's the same with Harry and Hermione- you've just got to find out what their passion is!"
"I'm sorry, did you just say that you've been helping the two great pranksters of Hogwarts?" McGonagall sputtered out with an incredulous look. "I'm the one who has to deal with them every time they're caught. It's no wonder that the walls haven't been the same colour for more than two days straight."
"This is exactly why I called this meeting. We shouldn't be looking to punish these children, we should just be… redirecting their efforts towards more productive uses. I'm sure the twins will tone down their act by Halloween, when they'll be much, much more busy trying to create products for their upcoming business."
"And how does this relate to Harry and Hermione?"
"Well, other than being exceptional students, what do they want?" Slughorn asked. Most of the professors turned to McGonagall.
"Other than being exceptional at Quidditch, I think Harry's simply searching for his place in the world. And I'm not even sure if he truly loves Quidditch- I admit I took advantage of him in placing him on the team in his first year, and he's too reserved to admit that he'd want to quit the team if that was what he truly felt."
"Don't worry, Minerva," Vector reassured her. "At the very least, Harry's very keen on flying- he designed, and built, a broom like I've never seen in a week, told me it wasn't even his best work, then ran me through the arithmancy of his fourth design. Flying is very much a passion of his."
"Good, good! Flying is a good place to start. I'll have to invite Madam Hooch to our next meeting. What else?"
"Well, when he needed to prove he could keep up in NEWT-level Ancient Runes, he showed me a different project altogether. He's taking advantage of the Rin-Kaleid Effect of magical energy storage to recreate the Elder Wand… I think," Babbling added.
"The Elder Wand's just a legend," scoffed Flitwick. "Back in the day, I couldn't go to a single duelling tournament without half the participants searching for, or using, what they claimed was the Elder Wand. It doesn't exist."
"Which could be why Potter's trying to build his own. His theory is sound, to say the least, which is why I accepted him into my class. Right now he's trying to solve the problem of etching runes onto a diamond without destroying its kaleidic properties," Babbling replied.
"Diamond? Etching? Good luck finding something that can scratch diamond reliably," Flitwick remarked.
"Yes, that is one of the more difficult issues."
"Not to mention the size. You'd need one that's marble-sized to truly take advantage of the effect…"
"Snitch-sized is the eventual goal. That's the… other difficult issue."
Tea was spat from various mouths around the table.
"Horace. Are you certain you want to be a close confidant to Mr. Potter? You could end up bankrupting yourself in the process."
"I'll… I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. I might… know some people. Sufficed to say, if he's interested in duelling and flying, he's the adventurous sort. We'll work from there," Slughorn said, making mental notes for himself. Perhaps cursebreaking would be up Potter's alley. "How about Miss Granger then?"
"Hermione? Well, no mystery there, she loves to learn. I may have misjudged her propensity for it, but the drive is there, without a doubt," McGonagall answered. "Second only to her loyalty to Harry. I remember last year when she risked her friendship by taking a anonymously gifted broom from Harry and showing it to me. They got into a row over that, but they resolved it by the time I gave the broom back. It seemed to me that their friend Ron was more upset about it than Harry was."
"She's very much a natural leader. She likes to try to teach the other students in her class when she learns a charm," Flitwick said. "…as much as the recipients dislike her efforts," he added.
"No, that's not exactly right. She isn't one to take charge as often, at least, not compared to Potter. She's much more suited as a… director, or manager. I can't imagine her in politics, or leading a student revolt…" Sprout answered.
"What's there to revolt against in Hogwarts, now that Severus is gone? House elves? Madam Pince's unfair library hours?" Professor Vector laughed. "She and Potter work well together. If you think Potter's inventions are amazing, wait until I show you what she's created…"
"Well, they certainly make a good couple. You might just be a third wheel if you try to get close to either of them," Sprout warned Slughorn.
"Wait, they're a couple already?" Professor Sinistra blurted out, slightly surprised. When everyone else nodded and stared, she explained, "I just lost twelve sickles to the Weasley twins."
"Eight here," Professor Flitwick answered.
"Five," Sprout said.
"Bloody hell, I lost an entire galleon to those two," McGonagall muttered.
"Am I the only one who didn't place a bet?" Professor Vector asked.
"Well, I obviously wasn't here when all the betting began. And the twins never told me about their betting rings, either. Is this how they were funding their products?" Slughorn replied. "Moving on- I think I have an idea to put them on the right track. Since the Triwizard Tournament's coming up-"
"You can't possibly be thinking of entering their names in," McGonagall said, slapping her hand on the table. "They may be as advanced as seventh years, but they really are only fourteen and fifteen right now!"
"No, no. That's not it at all. You see, Professor Dumbledore's plan for greeting Beauxbatons and Durmstrang involve little more than standing around on the grass and clapping. I propose we let our top students give a little… welcoming performance. It'll be the perfect chance for them to show off their skills, and raise some school pride for the Hogwarts champion..."
After the endless practice and rehearsal sessions for the greeting ceremonies, Harry was glad to be back in a nice, quiet classroom again. Unfortunately, the boredom was driving him as crazy as the chaos had before. DADA had never been this dull, and Harry found himself dreading the boredom more than he'd ever feared the danger. Quirrell may or may not have been faking his fear of vampires; either way, as a first-year student new to the magical world, Harry the lessons riveting. Lockhart had been wholly incompetent, but his incompetence was what kept Harry awake during the class. Remus was quite a competent teacher; Harry was sad to see him go. And Moody had been… Barty.
"Alright, class. Can anyone tell me the greatest tool you have in the defense against the dark arts?" Hewer had a droning quality to his voice much like Professor Binns. Most of the class was asleep, but like the ghostly professor, he made no attempt to keep them attentive.
"Anyone? Anyone? Malcolm?"
Sandra Malcolm was one of the few still paying attention. Reluctantly, she answered, "Your wand?"
"No. Anyone else? Anyone? York? York? What is the greatest tool you have in the defense against the dark arts? York?"
"A shield charm," she mumbled out, mostly to get him to stop repeating her name.
"No. How about another? Somebody?"
Oh dear Merlin, is he going to go through this entire class like this? Harry thought as he dropped his head into his desk. Anything would have been more productive than letting his brain rot in this classroom. Heck, give him Lockhart again. Even that man's flamboyant blunders forced Harry to think on the spot.
He looked over at Hermione. His ever-attentive girlfriend was having trouble keeping her eyes open. She rarely let that happen- despite the most monotonous lectures in History of Magic, she took useful notes in class. Despite despising divination, Hermione diligently took notes there, too- until she dropped the class, of course. This was the first time he'd seen her actually bored to sleep by education. She turned to face him, and mouthed out something silently. Harry didn't realize what she was saying. His brain felt like it was partially shut down.
"…Potter? Potter? Potter? Potter?" Hewer's voice finally reached him like a distant alarm clock that he couldn't turn off. "What is the greatest tool-"
We're still on that question? Harry thought. I wonder how many others have tried answering. "A plan," he answered. Hopefully it was vague enough for the professor to accept it.
"Hmm… I guess that's close enough. Your brain is your best defense, class." He paused- nobody in the room moved. The few that were awake were hoping he'd finally continue with the lesson, and the rest were asleep. The awkward silence continued as everyone continued to stare, sleep, or pretend to sleep. "I recommend taking notes."
Seriously? You've spent the last hour in order to tell us ONE thing, Harry thought irritably. He didn't bother pulling out a quill.
"For example. Let's pretend you are picked for the Triwizard tournament. You are now facing a dragon… a common Welsh Green..."
Harry already knew what he'd do against a dragon. Run. Unless, of course, he had several week's preparation- he'd get something more reliable than an enhanced crossbow, and pack a few extra brooms to boot. He could see himself swooping over the dragon's back again, arcing around its neck, dodging its flames, all to get at that stupid egg around its neck.
"Good work, Potter. I can see you're already visualizing dragon combat. Although, I'd never recommend using a broom against a dragon. Alright, everybody. Let's all begin visualizing! Imagine the dragon in front of you. See how it will play out in your mind. Think of the possible situations. That way you can end the fight before it even begins! With the power of your minds, you can accomplish anything, even defeating a dragon!"
He wanted us to take notes on cliché catchphrases. Great. Harry mentally gave a snort of disgust. Outwardly, he just sank his head further into his arms on his desk. Maybe I'll just use this time to visualize how I'm going to destroy that last horcrux.
"Still can't believe he roped us into this," Harry muttered as he mounted his broom.
"I'm surprised nobody else fought for the role. Everyone else is far more excited about the whole tournament than the two of us," Hermione replied as she strapped a smoke-blower to Harry's broom.
"That's because everyone wants the fun and fame but nobody wants to do the hard parts," Harry sighed. "You'd think Slughorn would at least have taken on your job."
"No, he wants to sit back and enjoy the whole thing from the comfort of the staff seats, so I've been left to direct everything. Harry, omni check."
"Check, check, it's working fine," Harry casually responded. "And I have to say, these ones are much more comfortable to wear than your first version."
"Thank you, Harry. I figure if James Bond could squeeze everything into a wristwatch, I could fit things into a smaller earpiece with magic. Cedric, omni check!"
"Hearing you loud and clear, Hermione," came the response.
"Roger, omni check."
"Wait, wait, how does this thing work? Are you hearing me right now?"
"Yes, I hear you just fine. Don't talk too much. Daphne, omni check."
"Alright everybody, get to your places!" Hermione ordered. "Durmstrang's due to arrive first in about ten minutes!"
Right on time, the Durmstrang ship broke through the surface of the Black Lake. From his vantage point high above, Harry could see a torrent of water spill from the upper decks and drain into the lake, while several unlucky students were manning their posts on the deck. The ship may have had magic to let them breathe underwater, but it certainly did nothing for the cold or the wetness. Nevertheless, they worked quickly to unfurl the sails immediately, proudly displaying the double-headed eagle of the Durmstrang Institute. Within minutes, they had steered and docked the massive ship.
"Charms team, keep that dock warm and dry! Flight team, it's your time to shine!" Hermione gave the order through the magical microphones.
Harry's job came into play immediately, as he led the flight team on a low approach, trailing coloured smoke behind their brooms. They raced from the entrance of the castle all the way to the entrance of the ship, where they all broke off in separate directions. The charms team triggered the smoke's special effect, creating a whirlwind of colour that transfigured the trail of smoke into a long, red carpet. The transfiguration effect zipped down the trail laid by the fliers like a spark down a fuse, ending at the Durmstrang ship just in time for their headmaster to step out of the ship's hatch.
"Rider team, your turn! Remember, Durmstrang values power! Stand tall and proud, and put a little extra 'oomph' into your spells than you normally should." Harry heard Hermione shout orders through the omnis.
To some, it appeared that four pairs of students were floating through the air unaided. To others, they were riding fearsome winged horses. By the looks of the Durmstrang students, it appeared that most of them knew what was going on. The thestral-mounted students landed beside the red carpet, holding their wands aloft, each pair shooting out a continuous stream of their house mascots. Blue eagles, red lions, green snakes, and yellow badgers flew, leapt, slithered and scurried through the air, forming a canopy of light for the Durmstrang students to walk under. The eight students were chosen for their endurance, but it would still be difficult to sustain the spell for the entire Durmstrang party to pass through.
"Harry, you're up again. Is everyone else ready?"
While the rest of the flight team only needed to lay down coloured smoke (which would be turned into a floating Hogwarts coat of arms by the charms team), he had the additional work of skywriting. The message was simple, merely "HOGWARTS WELCOMES DURMSTRANG," but nobody could pull off the manoeuvres necessary with a regular broom- not even Harry's Firebolt. The proposal had nearly died then, but it was soon discovered that Harry's duster (Mk. IV) was up to task- but nobody other than Harry was willing to ride that contraption.
"Let's do it," responded Harry. The four of them took to the skies above the castle and laid down the special smoke again. He eyed a few notable students on the carpet- Krum was obviously right beside Karkaroff, surrounded by an entourage of sorts. Ivan seemed to be leading the rest of the "regular" students, with a clear gap between them and Krum's group. Harry didn't really notice this special treatment for Krum before, but then again, he hadn't really been paying attention the first several times.
He quashed the distracting thoughts, as he needed his concentration for writing the message. The W's and M's were particularly difficult. Along with the G's, A's, and R's. E was an annoying letter to write as well. Come to think of it, every bit of it was annoying to write, especially the extra flourish he had to give for the H. Every line was a change in direction, and every time he had to strain his duster to its limits. He had to do it all quickly, or else they wouldn't even see the message before walking all the way to the castle, which meant zipping between letters at whiplash-inducing speeds. When he finally finished, he was sweating despite the cold northern Scottish winds, and his hands felt raw from gripping the duster so tightly.
When he looked back to see if he finished fast enough, he noticed that the Durmstrang students hadn't moved at all. They'd all stopped in their tracks and were staring at Harry. Including Krum.
"Err… Escort team! Move further down the carpet! Get those Durmstrang students walking again! The rider team's getting tired and Beauxbaton's due in less than fifteen minutes!" Hermione was scrambling to keep things on schedule.
Surely enough, by the time the last Durmstrang students were ushered through the main doors, a distant speck could be seen on the horizon. Harry was too busy changing out the smoke canister again to watch- but once you've seen a dozen giant flying horses pull a house-sized carriage, you've seen 'em all.
This time, they flew along the longest stretch of flat grass in front of Hogwarts before beginning a gradual ascent towards the approaching carriage. Behind them, the charms team was turning their smoke into a wide runway, complete with blinking lights. They maintained a steady flight towards the carriage but broke off early, careful not to spook the abraxans- one of the most aggressive and territorial winged horses in the world.
As they looped back, they were glad to see that the Beauxbatons driver had accepted their invitation and was following the path they had laid down through the air. For the people on the ground, it looked as if the horses were galloping along a flying road that lead to Hogwarts.
"Rider team, get that whiskey ready! We need those abraxans calm and out of the way! Charms team, start charging those runes!"
The carriage stopped exactly where they had planned (helpfully guided by the blinking lights), where the second part of the welcoming act began. Hagrid was the one who actually fed the abraxans their drink, as none of the students in the rider team could safely approach the beasts- they were mostly there as extra wands to transport a dozen barrels of whiskey. As soon as they were out of the way, the charms team's work sprang to life.
Knowing that Beauxbatons was more about elegance, subtlety, and smart use of magic, an archway of sparks from mounted wizards wasn't appropriate. Instead, a runic array greatly accelerated the growth of some pre-planted rose seeds to the point where the plants sprang to life and formed an series of arches from the entrance of carriage up to Hogwarts. Of course, due to the unnatural growth speeds, the plants would die out within an hour, but by then all the students would be inside the Great Hall. As the first students stepped out, they witnessed the plants create a garden path specifically for them. Dozens more were piling up at the windows of the carriage to get a better look.
Everything was running smoothly until they saw Madame Maxime step out behind her students. The archway formed by the climbing roses reached up a generous eleven feet high, which they checked with Hagrid for headroom. Unfortunately, Madame Maxime had dressed up for the occasion, with up being the operative word. She must have been wearing eight-inch heels, and a hat with peacock feathers sticking straight up.
"Charms team, don't stop. Gambert, Anderson, Professor Babbling, help me out," Harry heard Hermione say. He noticed the four of them dart out, etching runes into sandstone as they ran. It took her little more than ten seconds to reach a part of the rune array- quick for running across a field, but a long time to be a headmistress standing around with nowhere to go.
"Anderson! I need an Uruz, not Ansuz! Professor Babbling, can you stack a Siegel on top of the Sowilo? Gambert, don't stop etching those Laguns! We need as many as you can make! One for every arch! Don't insert them there, it'll only make the arches thicker instead of taller!" Hermione's hands flew into action so quickly, even the professor could only comprehend her orders. Within seconds, it looked like the rose pathway was about to falter, but no more than a few petals fell from the flowers before it stabilized again. A few seconds later and the entire construct began to rise, growing an additional foot taller.
With enough clearance to keep her hat on, Madame Maxime strode forward after her students. While Hermione kept her eyes down to maintain the stability of the runic array, the headmistress was pointing out the masterful display of runework to her silver-haired student. Everyone could see she was impressed by her quick thinking and talent. As they passed her by, Madame Maxime thanked her for her efforts. Hermione could only manage a nod in reply as she was still furiously keeping the modified runic array from collapsing.
As soon as the Beauxbatons students passed through the castle's main doors, Hermione collapsed on her back and lay on the grass. Moments later, the artificial path collapsed, and a pile of brown leaves and wilted petals covered the ground. She was too exhausted to hear the cheering and was barely aware of being scooped into the arms of a black-haired boy.
"Dumbledore! Several of my students are insisting they meet the great Harry Potter. Where is he?" Karkaroff demanded, letting his eyes roll as he drawled out the "great."
The wizend old wizard looked up from his breakfast. "I dare say my students should be allowed their privacy," he said. "I'm not sure if he will be in the mood to see you."
"Nonsense. He's a Quidditch fan, is he not? Would he turn down the chance to meet Viktor Krum in person? Now where is he?"
"I don't know," Dumbledore said nonchalantly. Now that he thought about it, he realized he really didn't know, and he'd been meaning to look into Harry's invisibility cloak. None of the portraits had seen Harry since early this morning. He presumed the boy was getting an early start on the Hogsmeade weekend, but none of the portraits within the town had seen him, either. Even if the boy's cloak was still functional, none of the secret passageways' wards had been tripped, save for the Weasley twins making their way to honeydukes. And the castle's standard wards hadn't informed him of Harry's movements, either. The only assurance he had came from his little whirring instruments tied to Harry's health. Perhaps he could use an extra pair of eyes to search.
"The boy may have left the castle already. It is a Hogsmeade weekend, after all. If I were so young, and still had all my teeth, I'd be enjoying a nice, fresh, cockroach cluster from Honeydukes right now."
"You mean you don't even keep track of your students? Such delinquent and irresponsible behaviour would never occur in Durmstrang." Karkaroff left in a huff.
Dumbledore was about to return to his poached eggs when he was interrupted once again. This time, it was Professor Babbling. "Headmaster, have you seen Miss Granger today? Minerva told me she'd already left Gryffindor tower, but I didn't see her come down to the Great Hall for breakfast."
"Has Miss Granger caught your attention somehow? I haven't seen her either."
"Caught my attention? Her brain works faster than a snitch hopped up on hummingbird hooch. I still want her to explain exactly what she did yesterday with that arch! I mean, the runes she chose made sense, but manual stabilization of a running rune array? That's talent I never thought I'd get to see in my lifetime!"
"Perhaps…" Dumbledore wondered if he could set two eyes on the same prize. Hermione wasn't nearly as important as Harry, but these days it seemed like the two of them came packaged together. Find one, and he'd find the other. "Well, she tends to spend time with Mr. Potter, doesn't she? The two of them are like two peas in a pod. Two teacups on a tray. Two classmates in a closet…"
"Now there's an idea," Babbling said as she departed.
His fork had barely pierced the yolk when another shout interrupted him. "Oh, Dumbly-door!" The attention of a ten-foot-tall woman could hardly be denied. "Where is zat girl who fixed ze pathway just for me? It was marvellous work, wouldn't you agree? I would like to zank 'er personally, and introduce 'er to a few of ze Beauxbatons students who study Runes also! We could not find 'er at ze feast last night!"
"That's very gracious of you, Olympe. I've been told she's already left her dormitories, so I wouldn't know where she is. Professor Babbling wants to speak with her on the same subject, perhaps you should seek her help?" Madame Maxime rushed off to catch up to Babbling, who had just disappeared around the corner.
"Dumbledore, you've got to tell me where Harry and Hermione are. There are dozens and dozens of foreign students and teachers looking for him! I've called for an emergency Slug Club meeting, but I'm missing the key ingredients! Potter and Granger! This could be the single greatest opportunity for international student interaction this whole year!" Slughorn was looking more flustered than when he first went into hiding during the war with Voldemort.
Just let me have my breakfast already, Dumbledore thought. "With so many searching for Harry, you'd best make sure the entire Slug Club can stand out from the crowds. Perhaps if you all wore matching socks?"
"Come now, Albus. Be serious for a moment."
"I am perfectly serious, Horace. Socks are an excellent conversation starter. Make sure you bring extra pairs for Harry and Hermione when you find them."
Slughorn laughed, knowing from experience when he wasn't going to get anything more out of Dumbledore. As he walked away, a nervous-looking Ron Weasley was left standing in front of him.
"Yes, Mr. Weasley? My divination skills are not quite as astounding as Professor Trelawneys, but my inner ear tells me you're searching for Harry and Hermione. Or was that an inner eye?"
"Err… yes, sir…" Ron sputtered out.
"I would think that you or your housemates would know their whereabouts better than I," Dumbledore responded. "What makes you come to me?"
"I dunno. If Harry's got himself in a pinch then you always seem to know where he is."
"I can't say that I don't always know where he is." Although it would certainly help a lot if I did.
"I 'spose not. It isn't June yet." Ron hurriedly separated himself from the staff table.
Finally, it was time to enjoy some food! Dumbledore looked down at his plate at what used to be an egg. It had been replaced by a very familiar phoenix. Fawkes was busy pecking away at the remains of the hash browns, having polished off the egg sometime earlier.
"You know, Fawkes, some would consider that a form of cannibalism," chided Dumbledore. Fawkes squawked nonchalantly and flew off with a piece of bacon.
From a tunnel accessible only by Parseltongue, Harry and Hermione emerged deep in the Forbidden Forest.
"Are you sure about this, Hermione? You were dead tired after yesterday. Maybe we should hold off until the next Hogsmeade weekend…"
"I'm fine. We can't afford any more delays, anyway. Let's get that horcrux."
Author's Chapter End Notes:
- So, to answer a few reader questions (in general): Harry and Hermione do want to still be students, for now- basically, they've learned everything up to sixth year and a bit of seventh (plus a lot of extra-curricular knowledge) but they feel that Hogwarts still has some things worth teaching to them.
- So far, I haven't really gone in-depth into how the time travel actually works. Because time-travel, in general, leads to funny paradoxes and such. Mostly because I'm still making sure there is a strict set of rules for this to follow that I haven't already broken. Oh well.
- Random thoughts: following from the above, most people will say Harry Potter magic breaks the laws of physics. I always thought they didn't have to, which is why I always want to have an explicit set of rules for each magical spell or effect. For example, the levitation spell. There's nothing in the laws of physics saying things can't levitate. All you have to do is exert a force on it. Could be from a rope, a table, magnets, air currents- anything. In fact, levitation should take almost zero energy- things sitting on a table take no energy to remain at the height that they do. Magic simply needs to find a way to exert the same forces, and cut out the middleman (i.e. the table). With that in mind, I generally view magic as simply a very efficient tool. Like a car that can move you very quickly, but without needing an inefficient two tons of metal to do it. Instead, we get broomsticks, which could probably run on the energy from body fat alone, if it's near 100% efficient.
- Conjuring/vanishing is still an odd issue, though. Simply a convenient teleportation and rearrangement of atoms? For vanishing, could it be dispersing atoms across the universe instantaneously (or at light speed?). It would make it seem to vanish/appear from nothingness, because if something were to be dispersed over a sphere with a radius of one light-second, that's still 50x the radius of the earth. I doubt any wizard would have noticed that the object's atoms never truly vanished.