Author's Note: I'M ALIVE! Well, this is quite awkward right about now, isn't it? I should probably at least start notifying everyone if I intend to put something on Hiatus. These last few months have been ridiculous. I will spare you my self-pity and the story of my hard-ships and just give you a somewhat true: 'I had writer's block.' I had originally written this chapter two months back, along with new chapters for all of my other stories. And, of course, my computer got infected with a virus to the point where it couldn't be saved; my ingenious plot to post everything all at once had gone to complete shit. So I have had to officially re-write everything. Including this long-ass chapter. So my deepest apologies, and I hope some of you are still interested in this story.

To Aeleorn: I terribly apologize. I told you I would have this up two months ago. So I'm sorry about that. I love when somebody quits and they double everyone else's workload. But It's finally here!

Some General Information: I have made a decision in regards to this story. While I appreciate some Harem and Multi-Pairings stories, that is not what this will be. This will be a strict Fleur/Hermione story. It will still be a hesitant eventual pairing, because I plan to incorporate some obstacles and plot-lines; patience and hopefully intrigue will keep you reading. There will be interests from other characters, because it would be unrealistic if I didn't incorporate that. But when it seems as if I will venture off-track and change the pairing or interest around completely, I won't. Simple as that. Because I am now itching for my own characters to get together as well and it's almost a physical struggle not to just throw down and write some smut. But no, that is for a later time. ;)

To those still sticking with this story and still wanting alerts and leaving reviews: Thank you. You genuinely complete my day. And a special thank you to all of those who have been very consistant in private messaging me and inquiring about the next chapter. You've inspired me to put aside hectic life for awhile and continue on with something that I genuinely love to do.

Warning: Quite a lengthy chapter. Very long. If you get through this without falling asleep or just turning it off, than kudos to you! Hints of sexuality in this chapter. Almost nothing at all, but you know how this site is getting nowadays.

R&R, cause you guys always make me smile.

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Of Suitors And Scolding/The Cave(Yell Fire!)/I Get By With A Little Help(From My Friends)

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The Next Day: Thursday. 12 Days Until The Third Task. 7:00PM.

"I'ma tellin' you, Ronnie! It actually happene'!"

Hermione let out an indignant scoff as she further tried to bury herself in her novel; teenage boys - especially these in particular - were completely vulgar creatures. And she felt as if she were being considerably generous for even saying something as insulting as that. They were inconsiderate, vile, and egotistical neanderthals! Alas, maybe not Harry, who seemed to be as red as a tomato and just as uncomfortable with the conversation as she was...

"Mate, I'ma not makin' this shite up! She unbuckled my belt an' started suckin' me off as soon'as we got inna closet."

"THAT IS IT!"

Hermione winced at even her own offensive screech of fury and indignation; it seemed to complete its task though, because Ron had covered his previously over-eager ears and groaned while Seamus and Dean shot her an unimpressive glare at her intentional interruption. And Harry, while a tidbit of him seemed just as eager to hear the gruesome details, looked pre-dominately thankful for her intervention. She vaguely noticed a few first years jump and scramble upon themselves to get out of their groups' way as they - in Hermione's case, aggressively - trapsied forth toward the Great Hall for supper.

"Merlin's testicles, Granger! No need to'a get your knickers in'a twist."

Hermione glowered at Seamus's arrogant grin; she would have been inclined to think that her tightened hold on her Charms book and her furious expression would have tipped him off. Unfortunately, it didn't. Because facts were facts and Seamus was, well, Seamus. The moron currently had his Gryffindor tie loosened and white button-up untucked; his light brown hair was just as unkempt as his clothes. And those full lips were pulled into his trademark playful smirk. If he wasn't such a pompous and chauvenistic toe-rag, she would actually agree to a visit to Hogsmeade with him. It was similiar to her thoughts on Draco Malfoy. Even their good-looks couldn't make up for their winning personalites and 'ambitious' goals, which dutifully consisted of who they were trying to bed that day or how to cause even more trouble without getting caught.

"Excuse me for finding the way your speaking about a poor, innocent girl in a completely degrading manner absolutely offensive. My apologies."

Seamus's baby blue eyes rolled up towards the Hogwart's ceiling in an annoyed gesture; Dean kept respectfully quiet, for once, while Ron and Harry shared glances full of trepidation. Hermione didn't take note however, because she was too preoccupied in stowing away her novel in her knapsack and keeping the clench in her jaw from grinding her teeth too hard. Her parents were dentists after all, and they would go completely mental if anything happened to her teeth. She couldn't be bothered about Seamus's teeth, however, and she quickly had to escape her violent mindset; it consisted of her knocking the absolute shite out of him - or just hexing him until his male bits just happened to tumble upon the Hogwart's stone floors until Mrs. Norris and Filch stumbled across them in horror.

She pursed her lips and kept her eyes determinedly forward; she could see the blurs of Harry and Ron in her peripheral verson, and they had flinched slightly. Those two always seemed to do that when she had that tone of voice. Ron deemed it immediately - in an almost frightened manner - as 'Danger Granger.'

And she felt the swell of relief blossom when she noticed the tall, elegant doors of the Great Hall come into their view. She didn't know how much longer she could have taken this mindless and beyond offensive torture; boys were boys and she completely understood the misbalance of teenage hormones, but she detested when they had to go and flaunt their 'conquests' up with the others in their dorm. And as much as she loathed to admit it, there was a slight burn that enveloped her chest - of hurt, of more than a little offense - when they continually treated her as if she were just one of the boys.

They had hesitantly approached a new subject - with quite a bit of reluctance from Seamus - as the golden candles of the Great Hall enveloped their moving forms.

The smell of food overtook Hermione's senses and she could feel the familiar warmth settle in her chest as she observed the students miling about and chatting. It wasn't quite full as of yet, just the scattering of student bodies at each table; she could make out the entire teaching staff towards the front of the Great Hall; Dumbledore being his rather odd self and merely watching everyone, and that barmy Trelawney seemed to be discussing something quite peculiar - which probably consisted of future deaths, or maybe an accurate prophecy - with a seemingly unwilling Professor Flitwick. Snape looked his usual sullen self, and McGonagall seemed in a deep discussion with Professor Hopkirk.

But overall the atmosphere seemed relatively light-hearted, and ignoring the deep pang in her chest as she glimpsed at Professor Moody drinking from his flask at the right corner, she trapsied forth.

When his inquisitive and narrowed eyes left her form, in which she vaguely realized Harry and Ron were by her side now, she felt herself breathe again. And the scary realization about this entire damn situation was that this was almost her second nature now; her body going utterly rigid and the feeling of almost panic whenever she saw him. It made her chest constrict and her throat open and close almost spastically, and she only realized after that she always went to grab her wand immediately in a white-knuckled grip of fury.

At least she could predict good reflexes on her part.

She could feel the gentle grip on her shoulder, and she immediately snapped back into her surroundings with a flinch and an unconvincing smile.

Harry had his head cocked to the side in a sign of question; she gently gripped his elbow and kept her - hopefully convincing - smile on her face. But this was Harry, and the boy certainly was in no way daft pertaining to her. Because his emerald green eyes were narrowed behind his shapely glasses; they were slightly narrowed and they were consistantly flashing with amiable concern, and more than a little charmingly innocent inquisitiveness. She could only sigh and pat his arm, jerking her head to the only half-occupied Gryffindor table.

He shook his head, and his voice was merely a low murmur. "I thought you were having supper with Fleur and Gabrielle?"

Her eyes widened hastily in remembrance.

He grinned and shook his head. "You really must be goin' mental, 'Mione."

"I must be," she murmured, faintly.

She huffed out a breath of annoyance and shifted her messy chocolate bangs behind her ear; she had decided to keep it relatively simple with her hair pulled back in an unkempt fashion. She could feel her stomach twist in anxiety and nervousness, because she had completely forgotten about her plans with the Delacour sisters. She most certainly would have put a bit more of effort into her appearance had she remembered; her brows immediately furrowed after her absurd line of thought, because when had she begun to care about the shallowness of appearance? She blamed it on a sudden bout of insecurity; those girls were stunning, and she couldn't very well be looking like a Grindylow when the two of them looked like flawless mermaids.

She only half-heartedly returned Harry's sentimental good-bye, due to her ridiculous nervousness and the current pretty blue eyes that were locked on her own. The French girl was currently surrounded by several of her Beauxbaton classmates, but she only seemed to be partially paying mind to them. Her perfectly manicured nails were interlocked and currently placed under her slightly defined chin, and her head was tilted to the side. She seemed to be paying no heed to them now, because she now seemed to be smiling slightly at Hermione; one of her arched eyebrows quirked up, and her head gestured subtly to the Ravenclaw table.

Hermione smiled back at Fleur - berating herself inwardly and hoping her lips were not quaking in uncertainty - and began to slowly make her way to the Ravenclaw table. She shuffled her knapsack repeatedly as she neared, and she determinedly kept her eyes locked on the pretty blonde's, whose eyes were brightening exponentially with each step the brunette took. She could see Gabrielle vibrating with excitement in her seat, giving Hermione a small wave; the brunette felt her cheeks warm ever so slightly when Gabrielle huffed at the girl sitting next to her, shooing her very rudely with her hands to scoot over and make way. Not to mention the rapid-fire French, which consisted of Fleur turning toward her sister with disapproval.

Fleur was looking at her once more, but her eyes were somewhat dimmed and trained at something over the brunette's shoulder.

"Herm-Own-Ninny?"

She whirled around, and her eyes widened in suprise when she noticed the form of Viktor behind her; his shoulders were predictably slouched, and there almost seemed to be an put-off expression adorning the sullen boy's face. She felt immediate guilt well up within her, because she had not been spending much time with the Durmstrang boy before her. Since the Black Lake, she had only really graced him with her presence once or twice a week; beforehand it had been once a day or just about every other day, whether it was him watching her study consistantly in the library or her reading a book whilst he took is daily run around the Black Lake.

Her heart had admittedly brightened a little when he had seemingly ignored his quite annoying fangirls in order to glance her way and send her a nod at each checkpoint. She wouldn't lie, he was an attractive boy, had a very admirable Quidditch career, and was seemingly mature and quite quiet for his age, yet she wouldn't necessarily say she was completely barmy over him.

She wouldn't deny that she enjoyed his company and had yet to complain when he graced her with a kiss; kisses more like, recalling one session that became quite passionate to where she was halfway in his lap and her hands were in his hair. She remembers feeling his strong, calloused Quidditch hands respectfully on her sides while his tongue danced in her mouth and another part of him pressed quite intimately against her thigh. She hadn't let it progress any further than snogging, because while she admired him, she just knew it wasn't him that she was ready for. She was merely fifteen, after all. She respected the boy, but she guiltily admitted that letting it progress further would not be the best of ideas; she wanted to prove that she had good intentions, and leading someone who obviously liked her on would be saying completely otherwise.

"Hello, Viktor," she mustered, glancing down briefly before bravely meeting his gaze.

A tiny smidgeon of hurt flashed briefly in his dark eyes, but it was quickly covered by a soft affection. His roughened hands were twitching and gleaming magnificently, and it merely made her feel all the more guilt. Girl's would absolutely off a tosser to be in her position, and maybe she had just never really been grateful enough for anything. She attempted - it took a lot of her customary stubborn will - to breathe evenly.

"I have missed you, Herm-Own-Ninny. I vas vonderin' if you vould join tonight?"

His voice was silkily rough, if such an absurd thing even existed. And the colour of his exceedingly dark eyes began to match his inward hope; now a pretty hazel brown, seemingly two shades lighter. The guilt now threatened to consume her magical being whole, with the feeling only a small contrast to drowning in the Black Lake. His eyes were twinkling and she could practically feel the negative taste of Igor Karkaroff from where she stood; frozen, like one of the many intricate statues adorning the halls of Hogwarts.

She delicately took his hand - which all but gripped hers tightly - and she smiled placatedly. "I would love to, Viktor, but I promised Fleur I would sit with her tonight."

His eyes resumed the darkness quickly; it wasn't frighteningly so, because it was seemingly a sullen, defeated gaze. It was trained above the brunette's shoulder, and she flicked her head back around in a subtle manner to view Fleur. The pretty blonde in question still had her hands placed delicatedly beneath her chin. But something seemed...off. Knuckles were now bent and clenched and no longer straightened in relaxation. Her lips were almost imperceptively pursed; blue eyes were no longer crinkled happily. Every edge and line of skin in the corner of her stunning blue eyes seemed taut, almost narrowed. If Hermione hadn't of known Fleur, she probably would have missed the tell-tale signs of outright annoyance. There almost seemed to be something beyond that; fierce, and exceedingly beyond her comprehension. It was probably protective, she surmised.

She righted herself, gazing gently. "I'm-I'm sorry, Viktor. May I make it up to you by showing you around Hogsmeade tomorrow?"

He began to smile slightly. "I vould like dat."

He let go of her hand gently, and he handsomely pressed them casually in his pockets. The Durmstrang boy seemed far more relaxed, and she knew that she would be giving them a premature ending to their little romance tomorrow. Despite his initial intimidation and oddness, he was a sincerely nice boy. Maybe if she had not been so stressed, worry-some, and genuinely confused with herself, it might have worked out.

"довиждане, Herm-Own-Ninny."

The Bulgarian on his tongue was smooth and fluid; she could only guess that it was some form of a farewell.

Her cheeks burned ever so slightly as his lips met her cheek delicately; they were chapped and a beautiful pastel pink, downturned and bow-shaped. They still felt nice, if the fluttering of her eyes were any indication. But it was a stark contrast to the negativity and guilt battling in the pit of her stomach, and the moment was over just as quick as it had begun.

She swallowed heavily and ignored the beady, jealous eyes of the scorching girls of the Great Hall taking their interaction in. A few whispers begun to flow; some were merely curious and wonderous as to their relationship, and some were gripped by more than a little bitterness and disbelief. It made her want to just abandon supper with the Delacours and go to her dorm; alas, maybe to bury herself in her novel and pretend that all of this was easier, or maybe just stare outside at the blackened hues in the skies and just attempt to talk herself in carrying on with all the anchors on her shoulders sinking her.

She just blew deep breaths from her still pinkened cheeks as she once more trapsied up to the Ravenclaw's - no, to Fleur. She could hear the French become more pronounced, and admittedly only understood a few of the words in each light conversation. It all flowed so smoothly, but it was just as intimidating as the blue Beauxbaton uniforms reflecting stunningly amidst the black cloaks and the low-lit candles. The pretty faces - no, marvelously radiant; gorgeous in all the right ways - were surveying her as she finally made it to Fleur's side, who was dutifully raising an eyebrow. The Veela had lost all previous traces of annoyance and she was now smiling beautifully at the fidgeting, nervous brunette. The said brunette was cursing herself inwardly as her messy bangs kept reappearing from behind her ear and placing themselves messily on her right cheek.

Because she almost felt a beauty contestant, and against these primped, perfected, and delicate girls - no chance.

"'Ermione, eet appears 'ou 'ave finally graced us with 'our presence."

Fleur's voice held the tiniest tinklings of mirth, and the brunette looked considerably sheepish as she brushed her bangs back once more. She gracefully - that in itself was considerably laughable - sat in the preoffered seat between the stunning blonde and her younger sister; the said younger sister in question was beaming brightly.

"Bonjour, 'Ermione," grinned Gabrielle.

"Bonjour, Gabrielle. Comment allez-vous ce soir?"

She had meant for the question to come out in confidence, but it merely sounded a confunded mess. She had remembered only a little French from when her parents and herself had vacationed in Paris for one week. The had looked liked such measly tourists she reckoned; her father consistantly re-adjusting his glasses as he read sheepishly - and most likely inaccurately - from a French handbook. Her mother had been no help for the poor girl's embarrassment whatsoever, purposely speaking louder when several Paris natives couldn't even fathom her father's broken French. Embarrassing as hell. If it were not for their book-smart daughter practically reading the book the entire night and practicing pronunciation for hours in front of a vanity, than they surely would have found themselves in even more of a tiff.

She must have been somewhat alright, because Gabrielle beamed even more so and whispered, "Mieux, maintenant que vous êtes ici."

The brunette quirked an eyebrow in confusion; Fleur seemed to be enthralled with their interaction, however, and she laughed throatily at the furrow of Hermione's brow. A part of her wanted to grumble like a petulant child, and the quickly overwhelming part of her wanted to grab the young French girl and shake her and demand to know what she said. And maybe have the younger girl teach her the beautiful language without the embarrassment of having a scrutinizing Fleur and her never-ending amusement of Hermione's fear to even speak the language - understandably so, in case she made an arse of herself.

Fleur's rescue was appreciated; it was on a humiliating level, of course. "Gabrielle iz 'appy 'ou 'ave joined us tonight, 'Ermione."

Her smile was genuine. "I have missed the both of you, but I haven't had -"

Hurt and curiosity raged wars on the younger Delacour's face at the proclamation. Her older sister seemed much less concerned, grasping the spoonful of bouillabaisse and pouring an unhealthily small portion into her bowl. At first Hermione was just teasingly tapering off from her sentence; now concern raged within her and she found herself genuinely at a loss for words. And the way the spoon caressed Fleur's delicate lips each time she took only a dainty sip at a time, it made the younger woman's stomach churn - an uncomfortable twisting of her intestines.

With each second of the pronounced silence, Gabrielle blanched and once more tried to re-align herself within Hermione's considerably distracted vision. The brunette hadn't even realized that her arms were moving out of Gabrielle's concerned grip; the younger girl's grip was frighteningly strong and it only tightened with each shrug of Hermione's shoulders. The brunette didn't notice; she was beyond disconcerted.

A harsh frown marred her features. "Is that all you have eaten today, Fleur?"

Fleur had stiffened at the young witch's observance, a pale blonde eyebrow quirked almost imperceptively at the bowl in front of her vision. That former annoyance flashed across her face for the briefest of seconds; it made Hermione huff with a righteous amount of anger as the French woman's lips pursed. She was allowed to be concerned about a friend, and she sure as hell was not going to receive a tantrum of self-righteousness and fake normality from the stubborn blonde woman.

She could hear a snicker from across her way as she forcefully grabbed Fleur's bowl in her hands. The woman looked furious as she tried to snatch it back; her French was hissed between gritted teeth and - even Hermione could determine their meaning - a few curse words were spewed waspishly. It wasn't necessarily in a hostile fashion, because she knew that Fleur was a prideful woman and she didn't want any fuss over her, despite how minor. She acknowledged that her concern seemed the most fearsome and unwelcome to the French witch.

It hurt, and the brunette didn't know why.

She poured more bouillabiasse into the the blonde's bowl; those manicured hands were attempting a firm grasp but were shockingly clumsy in her weak attempt to capture her bowl back. Hermione could already feel the anger pouring off of the woman in waves; it was almost as stifling as the avid curiosity that was bestowed upon them by the wondering eyes of the Beauxbaton clan.

Gabrielle was chortling.

That one brunette - that Hermione still maddeningly didn't know the name of - looked on with nothing but a raised eyebrow; it was as if they were an old-bantering couple, and the French brunette idly twirled her stew in her bowl as she watched the two with curiosity and a seemingly morbid amusement. Her shining eyes spoke volumes of mischief - this look, Hermione definitely was familiar with - and it clashed oddly with her aura of content.

It was bloody awful.

"F-Fleur Delacour! You stop that this instant! You are acting like an immature little girl who isn't getting her way -"

Fleur looked stunned, offended, and baffled; there was a multitude of facial expressions that did nothing to stop Hermione from her rant.

" -And you need to keep your health up. Bouillabaisse is actually considered very healthy for you -"

Gabrielle was giggling in hysterics; the brunette's - yes, the mysterious one - entire face reflected pure amusement. The other girls just looked seemingly curious and mystified as Fleur continuously looked offended; her beautiful pastel lips were parted slightly, her blue eyes reflecting anger and bafflement, and her arm was currently residing at an odd angle in the air. The oblivious and blathering brunette next to her just continued endlessly, placing the - now overflowing - blonde's bowl back in front of her with a determined gaze.

The said brunette couldn't fathom the emotions of a teenage French witch. The best way she could seemingly describe it would be a muggle light-switch; not that there was a magical one, of course. One second they could be raging at someone and artfully planning their death warrent, and the next they could be gazing at that said person - Hermione - like they were the most abstract and beautiful thing they had ever seen. It was absolutely maddening! And-and completely and utterly frustrating! But those blue eyes were boring into her own -

Hermione's cheeks infused with red.

Fleur's gaze was indescribable; it was heated - almost radiating - and gentle simultaneously. A pastel pink lip was encased between pearly whites as the gaze remained, and all the sounds faded from the Great Hall in one fluid motion. She wasn't sure if she was simply lost in a daydream; completely barmy and wondering if everyone's face was actually a brightly-infused blur. Or she could be scarily conscious, her own vision beginning to fail and her own ears faltering out of abuse; with what's happened the past few years, she surmised that loss of hearing and sight would actually be a light punishment; compared to Basilisks and Werewolves and deep, murky lakes.

She on the last stage of acceptance - she's always been certifiably insane, according to Ronald - when her world tilts on its axis as a warm hand nimbly grasps her own.

Everything is clear once more; no longer blurred faces surround her and the sound of chattering greets her sensitive ears.

Her own fingers rub at her temple, and confusion settles in quite abruptly. Fleur's fingers are still encased with her own, and the blonde's concerned murmurs flitter over her muddled mind. She tried her best at a placating smile, weakly squeezing the fingers between her own and gesturing with her head toward the bowl in front of the blonde.

"Please, you need your strength. I-I'll be fine."

Fleur's brows are furrowed deeply, and she opens her mouth at first to protest. She must see the raw pleading in Hermione's dark eyes, because she nods jerkily after a moment and grasps at the spoon in the bowl. She sips at it daintily, almost reluctantly, but she continues on as her eyes flicker toward Hermione every so often. And the brunette knows that it's simply for her sake that Fleur continues eating until she gradually finishes. And she knows that something has been knocked sideways; it was her miniature goblet in their squabble and more so her strenous mind.

Fleur's blue eyes were staggering, and her veins were all connected through more than just blood. It felt like adrenaline.

Gabrielle was rigid in her seat.

Mystery brunette seemed fascinated.

It took deep, even breaths to try to slow herself down, but she felt inable. She was running again; running from a monster with red eyes. But this time it had drawn her in and consumed her whole; it was terrorizing her mind and victimizing her in a completely addicting way. Her throat constricted and the ghost of Viktor's lips on her cheek burned almost viciously. Feminine lips placed themselves in the exact same spot.

"Zank 'ou," was whispered.

The voice was husky and the hand grasping hers tightened almost...

Possessively?

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Hogsmeade Village: The Next Day. 11 Days Until The Third Task. 2:35PM.

Hermione wouldn't deny that she was having a wonderful time.

Viktor - no matter how occassionally quiet or surly at times- definitely had admirable knowledge when it came to literature. It wasn't just the Dark Arts that Durmstrang obviously favoured; it was everything. It was from Laxia Day's The Magic and Muggle Sciences to even a standard book of wizarding charms. And while others may immediately stereotype him as a knockhead quidditch player, he most certainly wasn't. He was considerably smart and while Hermione was completely fascinated by his logical reasonings, she couldn't help but be a little on edge.

Viktor's knowledge just reminded Hermione of exactly what Harry was facing in the upcoming task. Not only was he inevitably facing Merlin-knows-what, but he also had older Champions that were just around every corner. While the Champions were banned from purposely harming one another, it was still rather frightening to know that they could easily hold their own.

Harry was smart, and she was the first to acknowledge this. But he was still young; he was hot-headed and impulsive, as much as she hated to say it, and she found that particularly worrisome. Sure, he had faced things that no other had the courage or bravery to confront, but luck and friends and impulsiveness only went so far. He was a genuinely talented wizard, but there was still so much that he needed to grow into - all of them, even her, admittedly - and mature in a level-headed fashion.

She was scared for him; she couldn't think of a time of when she wasn't.

She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes in concentration, shaking her unruly curls to rid herself of any negative thoughts.

They had eleven days and they would be fine. They would turn Crouch Jr. into Dumbledore and they could get him to admit his currently dangerous plan. Well, if she could convince Harry in eleven days to do so; she would do it with or without him. It would cause a strain in the their friendship, hell, maybe permanently damage it forever. But she absolutely refused to just sit and watch Harry - once again - put himself in immediate danger. She was tired of being the logical one and baby-sitting Harry and Ron.

It was going to stop.

" -And da hills are extraordinary. Ve always cast spells to preserve da Spring."

She shook her head forcefully and she smiled convincingly up at the relaxed form of Viktor. He wasn't over-bearing in any way, like grasping her hand or leading her forcefully into Zonko's or Madame Puddifoot's like most couples - which, by the way, were they even a couple? She didn't know if he thought of them as one, but it left a pang in her chest when she realized that she would have to be honest with the boy.

She took a deep breath. "Viktor, look, you've really been a wonderful guy -"

Hermione winced at her own tactless intermission, watching as the surly boy trailed off with a confused frown. This wasn't some ridiculous romantic novel where the princess or the (insert leading lady here) heroine of misfortune turned down a handsome proposal to instead pursue her true love. She had read plenty of her mother's novels and they always made her cringe considerably; completely overdone and even gag worthy for a girl such as Parvati Patil. It was cliche and hopeless and Hermione felt like she was cheating herself and Viktor with such a shallow dismissal.

She grasped his elbow gently and pulled them both to a stop; she vaguely noticed that they were in front of the Hog's Head. The sign was wooden and completely chipped at the edges; she didn't know if it were done artfully and purposely or if this infamous run-down bar really was a shite-hole. It didn't matter to her, because very little Hogwart's students and patrons alike visited this place. It gave her the ability to have a full conversation with Viktor privately and not completely unsettle herself with hoards of people swimming in those mold-crusted swinging doors.

The barkeep looked old and irritated as she lead him just inside; not taking a seat and ordering drinks, but attempting to continue on quietly as they settled against the side wall just on the inside. They probably looked suspicious, because the barkeep was polishing mugs with a very unsanitary rag and his gray eyes were flashing.

"I won'ta be sellin' yer kids any Firewhiskey."

Sod off, her mind scoffed. Viktor glared at the barkeep; she felt reasonably guilty as he turned to face her with that same confunded frown as before, placing himself noticeably between her and the wandering eyes of two hooting men. He was so nice and she would have thought that this would be a fantasy of hers.

"Vat is wrong, Herm-Own-Ninny?"

Her hands were trembling, but luckily it wasn't noticeable with her pink jumper on. She breathed evenly and looked up into his eyes respectively, because he deserved that much at least. His eyes read hers, and his downturned lips appeared even more so in that moment. It hurt her just a little bit, but she honestly couldn't help it.

Acceptance and knowing flashed in his darkened eyes, and Hermione felt the relief that he was woefully observant when he shouldn't be. But it helped her out loads, because this is the first time in her life that she couldn't quote some book or inspirationally loosen tense flesh with beautiful and logical words. This was actually real and happening; Hermione felt a little guilt rear its ugly head when she realized that she almost felt giddy that she was having her first real relationship break-up. Well, they were not really together and they sort of were, so it was dreadfully confusing -

"I vonder if this is for Potter."

His tone wasn't accusing or patronizing, it was merely curious and a tad bitter. His eyes were wonderous and vague simultaneously; curious, yet revealing nothing of his true emotions. It reminded her a little bit of Fleur and she instantly felt her heart speed up for unknown reasons. She frowned frustratingly.

"It is," he murmured, "I can see it."

"No!" Her voice was high-pitched "I-I don't like Harry that way."

His eyebrow quirked up in scepticism, and she realized that she really couldn't blame him for his concerns. Her and Harry were threateningly close, despite recent arguments - in which she knew she was right - and anyone from the outside probably would suspect something. But she wouldn't deny that she full-heartedly respected Viktor right now, because he was asking the personal questions to her face and not annoyingly assuming everything like the whole of Hogwarts. He had never once questioned her when Rita Skeeter verbally assaulted her; he would just scowl distastefully when he saw The Daily Prophet in the library. He had unknowingly comforted her and defended her dignity. She most certainly respected him.

She squared her shoulders and met his eyes with her own hardening irises; she was being honest and she needed him to see it. She disregarded the barkeep hissing out about lover's quarrels and met Viktor's gaze head on, her own jumper beginning to feel too tight and too heated on her small frame. She was burning; from the honest heat or from embarrassment she didn't know.

"Look, I-it has absolutely nothing to do with Harry -" she struggled, "You have been such a gentlemen and I respect you for it -"

Viktor was already nodding. Resigned, obviously.

" -And any girl would go mad for a simple glance from you, but -"

His left hand grasped her shoulder tightly; it was edging on discomfortable, but she knew the firm squeeze held complete innocence and more than little understanding. She found herself lucky, because she knew not everyone was quite as observant as the athlete in front of her. He could have raged; flipped chairs, cursed in Bulgarian, and question his own insecurities and fester on them for a reasonable amount of time. She had to remind herself that he was seventeen years old, and, like Harry - though under most definitely less severe circumstances - he had been forced to grow up fast with his fame.

Relief was blossoming and an anchor that had been residing on her shoulders lifted. It was a beautiful feeling and it made her sigh in complete comfort. She had always hated the feeling of guilt;it was the one emotion that people could never forget. People found themselves over previous loves and previous grudges, but guilt could be eternal. And while she reckoned she was being a bit dramatic, she felt she was allowed to this once. She felt like a normal teenage girl for once, being overly-emotional and dreading the first break-up.

"-But you are not dat girl," he finished. Acceptance brimmed from his voice.

"No, I am not," she murmured.

His hand slowly fell from her shoulder, and she could only watch with a - hopefully mutual - admiration as he slowly backed away from her. His light brown eyes were softened considerably, and even as his back pressed against the moldy and paint-chipped doors his lips continued to quirk upwards.

It was a friendly farewell, and it was everything she could have hoped it would be.

xxxxxxxxx One Hour Later

Grass blades were slowly trickling down into her sneakers in a most comfortable manner. They had been walking the all too familiar walk up toward the hiding place of a very familiar friend. The hadn't seen Snuffles in - excuse her badly inducted pun - a dog's age. Letters had been arriving all the more frequent, but they hadn't of had the opportunity the visit the infamous cave in quite awhile. It was the smart thing; Fudge had the Dementors scrounging non-stop for any trace on Sirius Black, and to stay in the same spot at one time? Not bright at all.

She had faith in the unkempt godfather. He was mercilessly mischevious, but he was irrevocably clever. His antics reminded her of Fred and George Weasley more often than not, which drove her to pure insanity at times, but then he also held this overwhelmingly profound sadness. He hid it by turning his head away from Harry when the boy did something that undoubtedly reminded him of James, but she was always able to catch the slouch in his body and the crinkles around his eyes became more prominent. It was difficult to survey at times.

"How was your date with 'Vicky'?"

She nearly growled as she stomped up the hill. The scenery was probably the most gorgeous thing she had ever seen. It was springtime, so the grass was quickly resuming that delightful shade of green. The flowers were blooming and blossoming; the current field they were in contained an exceptional array of wild flowers. Colours were over-lapping and the air seemed more crisp than usual. It was borderline imaginary, and she almost surmised that Dumbledore had charmed this field to exude this much content. Well, aside from two dolts, it was almost perfect...

"Don't call him that, Ron! And it is none of your business as to how we spend our time together."

"It does if it concerns Harry! Fraternizing with'a enemy an' all -"

Harry quickly interjected, "I don't mind if she's seeing Viktor. He seems like a nice bloke."

He was giving her a slight nod of acquiescence when her head snapped around to face him. It was rather lovely; they could be fighting - which was currently the issue - and they could temporarily hate each other with a roaring passion, but they would always be there for each other. It was nice to recall that particular fact in the midst of all this terror and confusion. She just hoped it would not return to bite her viciously in the arse.

Ron still looked boggled. "Mate, you canno' be serious -"

"I am," Harry snapped, uncharacteristically vicious. "Can we please focus on Sirius and worry about who Hermione is snogging later?"

Ron's mouth closed rather abruptedly and his face turned a magnificent shade of magenta. His hazel eyes were rather discontent as his head turned to survey the surroundings on his left; his avoidance at looking at her directly was abundantly clear. It confunded her slightly, and left her throat feeling wollowed up in admitting the fact -not out loud, for Merlin's sake - that even Ron could be potentially enigmatic at certain times. He was immature and crass; crude and insufferable; but there was a certain charisma that left you wondering at just what it specifically was.

She was sure she didn't think of Ron in the romantic sense; they bickered endlessly and he could be completely disrespectful. Admittedly, she could be a right prude sometimes, but she had always considered it to be in her nature. It was just who she was. And Harry - while he could be annoyed with it at times - had accepted it. Ron just couldn't seem to grasp it. Just like she couldn't grasp his playful outlook on life and the way he just didn't take his future too seriously. He -like Harry - lived for the now and she lived for the present and the future.

Sure, her and Ron were great friends, but they just couldn't grasp each other. If it were that way in friendship than it would most certainly pertain to a romantic entanglement as well. She couldn't even imagine snogging Ron and getting an inkling of anything other than emptiness.

His eyes were glancing toward her as they trapsied forth.

They were questioning. She turned her head away when she thought she saw a sliver of jealousy slip through at Harry's remark. She had snogged Viktor; several times, to be perfectly honest. She had felt him. and it was honestly none of Ron's damn business as to what she has and hasn't done with any bloke. She was bright and clever and someone like Ron Weasley didn't need to be her protecter. And she just knew his mind wasn't just on protector; something far more difficult was nagging through his brain and he seemed to be realizing it and coming to terms with it. His mind screamed potential lover upon finally realizing that she was certainly nothing less than a young woman.

She sighed in relief when they reached the entrance of the dark cave.

Rogue murmurings and the fluttering of wings grew in-depth as they stumbled forward. It had the faintest of echoes as it revolved around the grimy cave walls and their excited beings. It had been several months since they had last frequented Sirius and Buckbeak and this now familiar cave, and despite the obvious rule-breaking and the hint of fear at the framed man being caught, she had missed them. But she was nothing in comparison to Harry, who was practically trembling with excitement as the two worn and slighty exhausted forms came completely into view. Harry's hand grasped hers nimbly as he all but yanked her forward.

Sirius had most definitely seen better times.

She had seen some older pictures of him; this courtesy of a weepy Hagrid and a curious Harry. He had been a strapping young lad from what she had seen. With the straggly hair, the aristocratic Black features and the piercing eyes, girls had probably fawned shamelessly over him. He had looked so young and carefree in those pictures with the Potter's; they had been young and had thought that nothing was standing in the way of their youth. Their future possibilities had been endless; until they hadn't been. Now death had taken that away and left nothing but misery behind. It was apparent in his eyes whenever he layed eyes on Harry. It must be devestating to have only one thing left in the world and to have it completely resemble the thing that you lost

Now rags and intricate tattoos spread across his dirty and thin form. It was lankier than the last time she remembered, and it didn't take a bright witch to realize that he probably hadn't had a decent meal in quite a long time. She squinted, because there was a form inked on his neck that hadn't been there the last time they visited. It was slightly difficult to make out, with his head turned in their direction the rest of the ink flowing down into his rank jumper. Instead of opening her mouth and questioning something that probably didn't concern her, she released Harry's hand as she fiddled with the straps of her knapsack.

"Harry!"

The black-haired boy had embraced the wanted criminal like he was a long-lost family member. Which he sort of was, in a sad sense.

Harry was almost Sirius's height now, with his messy black hair just reaching the top of his godfather's ear as they held each other desperately. She almost felt like she was intruding on something private, and she gestured her head at Ron as she moved off to the side to check on a ruffled Buckbeak, who had raised his head in inquisition as the two approached. She bit her lip nervously as she bowed her head, lightly thwapping Ron in the stomach when he failed to do the same. She stepped forward as the majestic creature bowed his head back, almost seeming too tired to care nowadays.

He had a large scratch on his beak, and positioned was one of his talons at an odd angle.

Sympathy swelled within her as she knelt in front of the creature; she could vaguely hear Harry and Sirius having a whispered conversation and she purposely tried to block them out.

"Here you are, 'Beaky'," she cooed, pulling out a few skived rolls from her knapsack.

The creature's intense eyes zeroed in on the food in her hands, and before she could even blink Buckbeak had made a desperate gargle in the back of its throat and gobbled the exceptional portion down. Even Ron could never surpass the sheer intensity and speed of Buckbeak; the poor thing looked so thin that it made Hermione believe that Sirius was bluffing in his attempts to persuade Harry that they had found a residence. They both looked so worn and exhausted she surmised that they must stay in a different place every night.

Without even realizing it, she had slapped half-heartedly at Ron's hand; it was pathetically clenched tight around a chicken leg. She didn't even need to know that his eyes rang with guilt when he handed the dry food back to her, his hands wiping at his legs awkwardly as Harry and Sirius finally seemed to end their conversation.

"Those are for Sirius, Ronald."

"Sorry, 'Mione," he shuffled, standing up and stretching his long and gangly legs.

"I believe I heard my name over here."

A roughened hand fell on her shoulder in a deceptively gentle fashion, and she turned to face the ragged owner. Sirius's eyes were dampened with supressed worry as he gazed at her. They came together in a hug almost as naturally as him and Harry had, and that pleasantly suprised Hermione, because she had never felt the particular closeness that Harry seemed to feel; for obvious reasons, of course. But then she realized that this man didn't have much, and the things he did have he cherished more than anything.

His long arms tightened around her and her nose scrunched up at the smell of dirt, sweat, and the general uncleanliness from the man. She was much too polite to ever say anything about that, especially in his current situation, and it made her hug him all the tighter. She remembered the gratitude in his eyes when she saved him, and the way he gazed at her with something she couldn't quite place. Like he had met her before.

It made her recall a certain conversation with a former professor of theirs.

"So it's true?" She swallowed hard. "You are getting kicked out of Hogwarts then?"

Remus Lupin's tired eyes surveyed her from where he stood by his desk, flicking his wand defeatedly as the objects across the room scattered and rearranged their places. His gray robes were ripped and frayed; they were almost matching the right side of his face, heart-breaking as that was. Despite all this, he gave her a kind smile.

"The parents don't believe this a fitting place for a Werewolf, and seeing what happened last night -"

He paused painfully and swallowed, his arms stiffening as he seemed to recollect those fearful hours of when he had lost control. Hell, he had even chased after her for Merlin's sake and you didn't see her waving a resignation flag to his scarred face. Sure, he was a dangerous creature, but everything in the magical world was dangerous; the quicker people came to terms with this, the better. Whether it be House-Elves or Werewolves, every unique creature should be given equality in her opinion. She could feel the outrage quickly blossoming and her throat closed up painfully as his eyes glossed over with slight hurt.

Every Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher that had walked through these halls had been positively ghastly thus far. Remus Lupin was a kind man and undeniably the best professor that had ever taught the children in this classroom. He just had this certain technique and patience about him; it made children just unconsciously relax in his presence, even though he was frighteningly upfront about the darkness that lurked out in the magical world. It made her unbelievably angry.

"This is absolute rubbish," she shook her head forcefully, her curls bouncing and her lips trembling.

He had taken several steps toward her rigid form already, his eyes softening and his head cocking to one side. His hand tentatively grasped her elbow and he opened his mouth quietly. Hermione could only watch him as he surveyed her almost adoringly; the tears in her eyes could not supress the vision of his eyes boring into her own, his thumb rubbing circles on her elbow almost unconsciously.

"You are so much like Lily...," his voice is reminiscent; the whisper sounds anguished and it's as if the clouds purposely darkened outside.

Hermione's breath hitched at the man's words; this was probably the highest compliment she could ever receive from the man. Even Minerva McGonagall's eyes would glaze over in fondness whenever someone mentioned the woman and her accomplishments. From what Hagrid and an eager Harry had said, Lily Evans had been quite an exceptional witch. But it wasn't just her intelligence that everyone seemed to be sweet on, or her beauty - which she apparently had quite a line of hopeful suitors in her day - and general looks, it had been her kindness. She recalled a teary-eyed Harry relaying the information that Lupin had told him to her.

His smile had been bright that day, as did his emerald eyes. A sense of pride had revolved around him the rest of that day, and Lupin's words of Lily must have been beyond the highest of praises. It was beautiful in a way, until she remembered that time was never on anyone's side; it could take something away as quick as it could create it. It was tragic at how his parent's could have accomplished even more than they already had. And it's as if Remus was reminded of this everytime he gazed at Hermione. It was almost as if he was looking at someone else everytime he saw her.

"Thank you," she whispers, throat constricted.

She shook her head forcefully when her name was called. The looks of worry and confusion on their faces alerted her that she must have been lost in her own memories for quite sometime. She attempted a weak smile as Sirius cocked his head to the side from where he stood, now across the cave and several feet away from her.

She couldn't exactly say why she avoided his sharp and questioning eyes; maybe a part of her - the slightly arrogant and over-contemplating part - didn't want to cause him any pain or misery. She didn't want to unintentionally trigger anything that might remind of him of Lily or any part of his past. Inwardly she began scoffing at herself, because Harry was a spitting image of James and there wasn't any way that Sirius couldn't not think of the past every damn day of his life when he surveyed the younger boy. She met his eyes across the cave in slight trepidation.

They flashed with that familiar gloss of fondness, but it disappeared so fast that she would have questioned herself if she hadn't of seen it before.

The silence ran rampant throughout the cave as she awkwardly tossed her knapsack over to Sirius, who fumbled with it momentarily as he tried to open the clasps. The gratitiude in his eyes was overwhelming when he stumbled across several knicked rolls and a couple of chicken legs wrapped gingerly and pristinely in a white napkin. The noises of desperation and hunger echoed in the cave as Sirius - not that she could blame him - threw etiquette and patience out of the window as he attacked the food like a starving man who never got any real food. Which was exactly what he was.

He seemed suprisingly boisterous. "If it wasn't for good ole' Hermione here -"

Crunch.

" -And her kind consideration -"

Garble.

" -I would probably die of starvation tonight."

Hermione grinned a little at the man's positive attitude, even though she did wince a little when he swallowed painfully and his eyes watered. It's almost like her wasn't even tasting the food, because he was devouring it so stead-fastedly that even Ron was watching in pure amazement. Harry just seemed so relaxed that he didn't even notice Sirius's disgusting eating habits or Ron's overall jumpiness or Hermione's anxiety to talk to Sirius. This was the first time he smiled - genuinely smiled - in quite awhile. And despite the uncomfortable atmosphere and the unspoken conversation that lingered in the air, it was almost perfect.

Buckbeak trilled relaxingly from his little bed of newspapers; the Daily Prophet, Hermione secretly hoped, was the little area for all of his droppings.

Sirius had sunk his form into the cave wall across from her, rubbing his stomach in a content fashion and almost looking relaxed. If it weren't for his subtle glances in her and Harry's directions, she could almost fool herself into thinking that they didn't have the burden of death hanging over their heads. But she knew the conversation that was about to take place, and she dreaded it with her very being. Harry would no doubt lose his temper with her for conveying all the recent happenings to Sirius without his consent. It was why she had written him in the first place, demanding that he talk sense into the boy.

Sirius seemed to sense the impending explosion from Harry as well, so he treaded lightly into the conversation.

"How's training for the final round comin' along, pup?"

Harry's shoulders slouched guiltily as he pointedly avoided everyone's expectant gazes.

"It's goin' alright, I s'ppose," he muttered.

Sirius hummed in a decidedly skeptical fashion, tossing his leftover bones to Buckbeak with a grin. He met Hermione's annoyed gaze across the cave and gave her a nearly imperceptive nod; he was obviously as concerned about Harry as she was, and she knew he was about to give a firm talking to pertaining to staying alive by any means necessary. This was probably going to be done in a typical Sirius fashion; blatant profanity, un-eloquence, and basically a no-nonsense 'what the hell are you doing' tone. Maybe that's what Harry truly needed right now, and not her admittedly haughty and mother-ish approach to scolding.

Ron seemed to stay neutral with the obviously upcoming argument, twiddling his thumbs and looking worriedly between his two best friends. One of which who was currently glaring in anger and the other of whom met her eyes in a challenging gaze. Sirius just clasped his hands repectively behind his back and walked determinedly between the two stewing teenagers, his grin seemingly light-hearted but his dark eyes rang with seriousness. Hermione made a noise of pure disbelief and Harry narrowed his gaze on her once more, obviously opening his mouth to tell her off...

It was like a spell went off and everyone - excluding a sighing Sirius Black - suddenly jumped down each other's throats.

"Don't give me that look, Hermione! All you've done is nag me since -"

"If you would actually put forth effort into saving your life we wouldn't be here -"

Ron snarled at the both of them, "Bloody hell you two, get your heads out'ta yer arses -"

" -This tournament started and I'm getting damn sick of it -"

" -And it's always me that has to push you forth to study! Who helped you learn the summoning charm?! Who jumped in the -"

Hermione didn't know how long this arguing match went on for. She just knew that she had angry tears welling in her eyes; her fists were clenched tightly and her nails kept digging continuously into the palm of her hand painfully. Her already voluptuous hair felt like it was crackling with energy and getting even thicker with every shout of anger; her chest, amusingly enough, was also feeling particularly lighter with every single dig thrown each other's way. Like this explosive argument had been building non-stop ever since Crouch Jr's discovery and their very first disagreement.

She could tell, even through her angry tears and Sirius's protective form, that It was seemingly doing the exact same thing for Harry. If Hermione weren't so frustrated and completely raging artfully and aggressively at his prowling form, she might call him beautiful in that moment in time. His cheeks were a blazen rosemary red; it started from his still boyish cheeks and it trailed magnificently down his neck. His emerald eyes were narrowed and on fire, and she absolutely hated that she was the object of his ire this time 'round. Everyone once in a while he would stop gesturing wildly with his wand and he would pace back and forth like a caged animal, still shouting obscenities at her, of course. She would fancy him like all of those giggling fangirls if she didn't know him so well.

Harry and Ron were like the siblings she never had, and it hurt to even be in this position at all. She could remember Sirius's echo of 'Help Harry as much as possible in this tournament,' and she almost felt nauseous that all they were getting accomplished was yelling at one another like mindless banshees and being prats.

Buckbeak was trilling annoyingly from his little area; the intelligent creature seemingly knew that aura had escalated and he was warning them off. Ron seemed to be doing the same, if his cursing at the two of them didn't already tip them off. But Sirius was the only neutral participant to truly take action, brandishing his black wand and flicking it towards the two of them and wrapping them in ropes nonverbally. They twined around her slowly, tauntingly; they were reminding her how stupid they were being and that it had to result in them getting tied up.

Harry seemed angry compared to her defeat, snapping at Sirius and struggling on the floor momentarily before his shoulders hunched over defeat. His gaze was still narrowed on her and Sirius, but he made no further move to open his mouth and argue once more, let alone struggle against the ropes. Ron was just watching on with wide eyes.

"Sorry 'bout that," chirped Sirius. His tone held anything but remorse; she detected a hint of cheerfulness, actually.

Ron just rubbed his hands on his pants nervously, sitting down after a moment and just surveying the two of them with disbelieving eyes. Normally it was him and Hermione bickering foolishly at each other with no qualms, but he and Hermione had never quite reached that level of anger in any of their encounters; the two had actually had their wands out and pointing at each other in an aggressive manner. Sure, they probably weren't going to actually fire any spells at each other, but it was still the aspect of it. Besides, Harry and Hermione had never truly argued that much, and watching them interact in a most hostile manner was mind-boggling. This was ridiculous.

"If you two children are done arguing, " Sirius whistled and sat back leisurely, "then we can get to the real reason of this visit."

Harry's eyes met hers from a little across the cave. He still looked more than a little furious, but his emerald depths were beginning to tinge with regret and he nodded his head in a sign of truce. She nodded right back without any hesitation, relief in her chocolate eyes that they were hopefully about to settle this in an adult way.

Sirius faced her suddenly, and all humor was erased from his face. "Was it true what you said in the letter, Hermione?"

"Yes," she whispered, flickering her eyes over to Harry's confused face before facing Sirius with nothing but honesty.

"That is not good." He was standing up now, all relaxation gone from his shoulders as he crossed his arms and stared at the wall in a distracted manner.

Harry and Ron were glancing in between the two of them now, unconscious frowns flickering over their faces as the air seemingly got more humid. It was like all the happiness had been sucked out of the cave and nothing was left but a serious problem that needed to be resolved and quick. It bubbled up in her throat and her mouth gained a very dry edge to it; it was like cotton was blossoming in her mouth and gums and it hurt to even swallow at this point in time. Her chest gave a soft twinge, because Harry was not gonna be happy.

Sirius sighed, "How can everyone here be so completely foolish? There is a known Death Eater impersonating an auror, and no one has told Dumbledore or at least informed an authority figure?!"

His voice rose in pitch at the very end, his rapidly darkening eyes narrowing on all three of them. Hermione felt a chill shoot over her body at the man's face; he looked considerably furious, as he should. This was his godson and action should have been taken the second they had found out. Pure self-remorse welled within her, because she could have disregarded Harry and Ron's foolish logic and immediately informed Dumbledore. She could've been helping Harry train each night for the Third Task, even though she had no inkling as to what it actually was. She could have done more research over it...

Harry and Ron looked at her in a betrayed fashion and Hermione promptly rolled her eyes at them, opening her mouth automatically in self-defense when Harry looked ready to have out another round of arguing with her. But before any of this could even happen, in the blink of an eye, Sirius shot sparks out of his wand in warning.

"Don't you two start in on Hermione. She did what was right by informing me."

Harry opened his mouth angrily, "We could handle it ourselves -"

Sirius's face scrunched in fury then, and it was fascinating the way his thin body suddenly looked twice in size. The raging sparks had suddenly developed into fire; it was a raging inferno, and Buckbeak let a little squawk of fear escape his beak as backed away slowly from the scene on his hunches. The former-Azkaban native took no notice, as he was glaring ferociously at his godson. And it was subtle at first; a chest huffing at a racing speed, steadily picking up the pace as the huffing grew louder and more intense in its depth. Sirius actually looked mad now, his face twisted in an almost sinister smile - edging on sarcasm, no doubt - and his black eyes showing an almost emptiness...

And his maddening laughter was completely disconcerting, making her shudder into the ropes that binded her.

"THAT'S RIGHT!" He roared, directly at Harry.

Horrified emerald eyes took in Sirius's apparent loss of control, and the muscles in his body looked supremely taught as he struggled against his bindings. His throat bobbed nervously as he tried to escape his raging godfathers sudden descent into apparent madness. It was utterly terrifying, but at the same time, something in Hermione's head was telling her that this was what he deserved. If Harry was going to continue acting like a rash child then maybe he should get a wake up call. And it apparently came in the form of a tall and skinny ex-convict. With tattoos and glittering black eyes that dared Harry to challenge him. Even their red-headed friend failed at a witty remark.

No sarcasm was spared. "Because apparently you can handle everything, Harry."

Harry looked furious.

"Don't!" Sirius snapped.

Suprisingly, Harry obediantly slammed his mouth shut abashedly, sinking further against his bindings.

Ron was looking on with wide eyes between everyone. For the smallest second, he had almost looked prepared to jump immediately to his best friend's defense, but something had stopped him just as quick. That's when Hermione noticed that very familiar look across his face; the look of being completely torn. He held this look many times throughout the years, when Hermione would say something to him and he would whip out a hurtful retort. There was always that brief look that flittered across his face before he said something right back to her. And this was it. Ron didn't come to Harry's defense. His hazel eyes locking in on her form instead, he then looked determined. And decided.

Sirius sounded exhausted. "James and Lily didn't sacrifice themselves just for you to continue on being reckless."

His hand was clutching a protruding part of the rocky and grimy cave wall. He was clutching it almost desperately; angrily for sure, but now his movements were also tinged with more than a little exasperation. It made her swallow painfully and recall just how hard it is to care for someone and look out for them only to have them not truly notice. It hurt more than she was willing to admit.

"We were going to turn him in," Harry retorted, rather on the cold side.

Sirius hummed, sarcastically mollified. "When your body was discovered, yes?"

Hermione snorted in a very un-lady like manner and Harry visibly bristled and rolled his eyes. "No, before the Third Task."

Sirius looked exceedingly skeptical once more and Hermione joined him in their little glare-off against Harry. And it was as if Harry had lost all patience whatsoever with everyone there. With her raven-haired best friend there was always a discreet series of warning signs. When he was about to get furious and throw a little raging-fit, his emerald eyes would darken to an almosy murky green. They became almost swamp-like in their colour; his eyes would also narrow almost imperceptively while his cheeks flushed ever so slightly. But that wasn't what gave him away.

It was, startingly enough, his magic. Everyone knew that Harry had always been a rare case among wizards. It wasn't just his past or his back-story of fame, it was also the way he presented himself; shy, nervous, and completely rash when he wanted something done. But when something in him was angry or feeling like he was trapped in a corner, he would flare with almost impossible capabilities. Like his patronus last year with all of the dementors. It had flared brightly and its power had echoed beautifully over the lake and the entire region.

The magic surrounded him like a protective cocoon. It crackled with energy and fizzled around his form in a magnified gesture as to what he was feeling. And he was flaring now.

His eyes were murky and his cheeks were flushed; the air around them felt thick and she could've sworn she saw the air visibly lock itself into a bubble and expand through her as the breath escaped her lungs. Sirius was turned towards her and frowning, obviously upset. His eyes danced with amazement, however.

"He's being helped by Peter Pettigrew. That's the contact he's been going off grounds for and who helped him get to Hogwarts."

Rage flashed in Sirius's eyes, but he admirably detained it when he took a deep breath. "Do you have proof, Harry?"

Harry opened his mouth for several seconds, looking as if he would answer in the affirmative. But brief hesitation flashed in his currently malachite eyes; it was enough to tip off the already considerably irked Sirius and practically shout at him that this was just another reckless - beyond mindless - leap into the fray. Sirius almost looked at his godson hopelessly. Annoyance was present, certainly.

"You are - ," he scratched his head half-heartedly, "You just haven't any idea of what is going on, do ya boy?"

Hermione swallowed reflexively as her best friend further shrank into himself. His grimy, thin hands were limp in front of him and his expression expressed defeat. He seemed to acknowledge that this entire tournament was already a walking death-trap, and the fact that he was parading around so inconsistantly and not putting forth his all was complete bullocks. Maybe he was finally admitting what was at stake here. It wasn't just his life that was on the line anymore; something dark and wicked was raging under the surface, and there was eventually going to be an ending to it all. It wasn't necessarily the knowledge that there was an ending ahead that was particularly frightening. It was the complete naivety and the fear that they couldn't figure out what that ending actually was.

Because Voldemort didn't do anything lightly; he was calculating and a mastermind of the horrific sense. He never did anything half-arsed or just didn't happen to have a plan that had an inconsistencies. And it would be positively moronic to even try to deny that Tom Riddle was in this entire scheme. Like Hermione had previously mentioned before, the man - no, snake, if she were honest with herself - was anything but inconsistant in his plans to always off Harry.

Sirius had come to terms with this long ago. His hand was tightened on the thick rock, the sinews of his wrist and lower arm were bulging in tension. He now looked beyond fierce; he looked on the brink of considerably frightening. But it wasn't in the terrifying manner in the creatures they had stumbled across over the years, it was more along the lines of authority-like. He looked like he was a powerful foe, despite his aging, tawdy appearance.

His lips were tight. "You let me deal with whoever is helping him. And if it does happen to be Peter, well..."

His dark eyes grew distant, briefly flittering over the floor before his gaze latched frighteningly among the three of them. It was almost annoying; back and forth, back and forth, and his eyes flickered to the cave entrance more than once, a suddenly manic gleam in his eyes.

"If you three do not tell Dumbledore by tomorrow, you will have me to answer to."

She was vaguely aware of the protested sound that Harry made when Sirius turned his back on the three of them, gesturing weakly for Buckbeak to follow him towards the cave entrance. The creature just seemingly trilled and followed him like a creature would its master; or maybe just a creature who loved its master. The sounds of fading footsteps and expanding wings and fading backlash rang throughout the cave. All that remained was heaving breathing and grunts as they tried to escape their bindings.

Sirius looked back toward the darkness of the cave one final time as he mounted Buckbeak.

It made Hermione stiffen as she surveyed the look on his face - almost not even aware that Ron had cut through their ropes and was helping the two of them to their feet - as he looked back at the three of them. He looked almost vindictive; maybe ready, was what she could readily detect. Tomorrow, he mouthed.

His dark eyes flashed and Hermione thought for the briefest second that he actually looked like the grim.

/

/

Outskirts Of Hogwarts(Near The Beauxbaton Carriage): 1 Hour Later. Still 11 Days Until The Third Task.

"You two go on ahead."

She trudged along the path only half-heartedly; her gaze wasn't necessarily aimed at anything in particular. She just knew that she needed to think about things. After all the begging and fighting and almost-tears, they were finally going to come clean with Professor Dumbledore. Worry ran itself throughout her head relentlessly, because all of these scenarios were currently having it out and battling over her conflicted thoughts and slightly throbbing head. What if he did believe them, but others happened not to? Would Cornelius Fudge, that slightly close-minded and bought off excuse for the Minister of Magic, really actually believe their claims? Would he have several dementors at the ready, ready to put Crouch Jr. back in the horrifying hell that was known as Azkaban prison?

Or would he just thin his lips out and adjust the pudge in his robes and sneer while Dumbledore tried to reason with him? Her head throbbed and her clothes were more than a little dirty from being bound by ropes on a cave floor. Her unruly chocolate hair was tied back half-arsed on her right shoulder; she never thought she would ever want to go near the scary realms of make-up, thanks to Lavender and Parvati, but with the slight sweat that still lingered and the dirt smudged on her chin and the freckles on her nose standing out even more so because of her currently pallor complexion, she oh-so wished that she had some.

She snorted.

She hoped she didn't encounter any of the Beauxbaton girls, because surely they would be in fits of jealousy because of her graceful stumbling and her perfectly muddied up clothes and her absolutely flawless complexion and physique. So when she actually does come across some Beaubaton girls - to top off her night, Fleur just happens to be there as well - she nearly groans out loud.

It's not that she didn't like stumbling across her friend(s), but with her current being and slightly boggled state of mind, now just wouldn't be a good time. But fate always had like giving her a swift kick up the arse with its shoe that was probably embedded with some powerful poison or painful knife at the steel-toed end...

The girls were slightly giggling at something a pretty brunette was saying - Fleur excluded - and were light-heartedly trudging down the path from Hogwarts.

Hermione tried to swerve over to a pair of bushes - in a subtle manner, of course - in hopes that the beautiful girls didn't see her.

Luck was such a low-life git, because like every other time it had occured, Fleur's eyes swept over to her awkward form, as if she magically sensed Hermione was present. It made the brunette witch scoff and shake her head in annoyance; she would normally feel flattered that Fleur could always scout her out and notice her even in a large crowd, but right now it irritated the clever witch to no end. Because the French witch had done nothing wrong and Hermione's day had just gone swell - notice the sarcasm - and she was frantic about tomorrow and now was not a good time.

She swallowed as Fleur branched off from the other girls, a furrow between her brow and worry flashing through her eyes at her more than slightly disheveled state.

The blonde had stopped a few feet away from her, hesitantly reaching out her arm and grasping Hermione's elbow. It made the younger girl draw back slightly and give Fleur a forced grin; she tactfully tried to maneuver herself around Fleur, acting as if she were in a hurry. Which she kind of was - to get away from Fleur. See, her logic was logical in her mind.

"'Ermione?"

The blonde's voice was quiet, presumably to not alert the other girls that one of their own had disappeared.

Hermione's voice was slightly shaky, and she winced when it came out slightly cold. "Fleur, it's good to see you, but I'm in an awful hurry and I must be on my way -"

She turned around in hope that Fleur would give up all pretenses that Hermione wanted to have a friendly interaction and would simply rejoin her giggling group of friends. But the clever witch knew that Fleur had always been too stubborn and prideful for her own good, even matching Hermione's on many levels. The hand that had previously grasped her elbow re-grasped it tightly, making her twirl around and face a slightly confunded and hurt Fleur.

But the blonde's eyes raked over her form intimidatingly, the lines between her eyebrows becoming more prominant as she noticed the dirt and more than ruffled appearance up close. She opened her mouth hesitantly, almost sensing that Hermione had probably had a rough day; she was always so considerate that way, and it made Hermione slightly swoon. If this weren't Fleur Delacour and this was a potential suitor, he would have already had a date with her instantly. She shook her head at her deliriousness.

"Are 'ou feeling well, 'Ermione?"

Soft hands stroked her still slightly sweaty forehead, and she quickly snapped out of her daze.

"Fleur," she scolded, "I'm not exactly the most sanitary and clean person right now. You are probably going to get your hands all filthy because of me."

The blonde scoffed pointedly and continued her stroking; she moved from gentle wisps on Hermione's forehead to gently cupping the underside of her jaw and stroking her thumbs over her cheeks. If Hermione hadn't of felt ridiculously filthy and more than a little self-conscious of her hygiene and just about everything else, she would probably savour this tender moment. Her eyes slid shut for the briefest of moments against her wishes, her inner voice screaming at her to just leave, because Fleur would understand, and go and get cleaned up, eat a proper meal, and proceed to panic about tomorrow.

Her breathing was evening out, and her bloody eyes were still shut!

She snapped her eyes open forcefully, and met Fleur's gentle gaze. She opened her mouth, ready to make her escape, but somehow Fleur sensed this and she stalled the panicky younger woman. Fleur always could read her mind better than almost anyone else, and to her that was almost depressing, because she had only known Fleur for a few months.

"Eet iz ok. Go and get cleaned up and we will talk tomorrow, non?"

She sighed in relief and nodded, only startling slightly when she felt the gentle lips on her cheeks and a pristine white hankerchief being gently put into her hands by a softly smiling Fleur. But as she began to trudge off, squeezing her eyes shut to block off her inner images of Fleur's intense arctic eyes, the slightly fierce voice spoke out from behind her, making her twirl around in suprise.

Fleur looked a little bit more on edge than she had just mere seconds ago; her shoulders were tight and stiff and her jaw was clenched reasonably hard. She thought she saw the blonde twirling her hand in her robes and confusingly it seemed as if the blonde had ahold of her wand. Hermione frowned when Fleur's gaze cut right through her. She looked beyond intimidating and that made Hermione slightly tuck into herself unconsciously. That is one thing Fleur did not notice, because her gaze was reaffirming itself with Hermione's dirty jumper.

"Did-did anyone hurt 'ou?"

The blonde's voice was like ice.'

Butterflies swarmed and took flight in her stomach at Fleur's overprotective nature, and she glanced at the ground to hide the heat that suddenly suffused her cheeks. Her palms had been sweaty beforehand, so there was absolutely no way that Fleur had anything to do with that. She could a deep breath and attempted to crush her inner-school girl, raising her head and meeting Fleur's intense gaze.

"No, Fleur. No one hurt me today." Her voice was more faint than she originally planned.

And as she turned around and walked away up towards Hogwarts, pretending not to hear Fleur's expelled breath of relief, she pointedly ignored the voice in her head.

But you could someday.

She wasn't even sure herself what that meant.

xxxxxxx 20 Minutes Later

As soon as she was outside the Fat Lady and ready to go on in, a body came barreling out of it and straight into an unsuspecting Hermione.

"OOF!"

"Blimey, sorry Hermione!"

Hermione dazedly grasped Harry's hands as he pulled her slightly unsteadily to her feet, looking slightly guilty as she swayed for the briefest of moments. She tries to send him a placating grin, but it probably looked more along the lines of a pained grimace. She knew that the two of them needed to discuss tactics for tomorrow - and Ron too, perhaps - and plan out a strategy for confronting Professor Dumbledore. But she was truly exhausted and all she really could imagine doing right now is cleaning up and curling up with Crookshanks. No reading any of her texts - the thought made her nauseous - and planning ahead of homework, no contemplating on the Delacour sisters or trying to find out more about their heritage, and no discussion of Crouch Jr.

But she realized very quickly that she would not be getting hardly any sleep tonight. For one, Harry was practically bouncing. His emerald green eyes were unmistakably vibrant and alive, and he was practically on the edge of his toes as if he had a very entertaining story to tell. It made his best friend slightly worried, because she had only been away from them for maybe an hour or two, and something couldn't have surely happened. He was practically salivating at this point, grinning like one of the Weasley Twins who had too much firewhiskey.

She eyes him suspiciously. "What happened?"

He glances around quickly to see if they could possibly overheard, but seeing not even a ghost entertained that particular hall of Hogwarts, he drew his gaze back to her. He released a deep breath and he grabbed her hand, gesturing with his head toward the portrait hole.

"So we got back in the common room all worried, yeah?"

She nodded at her best friend as he kept his voice down to nearly a whisper.

"And we come across Fred and George and their friend, Lee Jordan."

She groans and rolls her eyes toward the ceiling pointedly, because there was absolutely no way that she had the patience to deal with any of their shenanigans tonight. She shoots Harry an annoyed look and moves around him as she waits for the Fat Lady to stop singing, nearly cringing as the Merlin-awful sounds begin to grow in volume.

"Listen, Harry, if this happens to be a stupid plan than you can exclude me."

His mouth opens defensively, "It's not a plan, Hermione."

She finally seems to loose her patience. She twirls on him aggressively and faces him with the angriest look she could possibly muster. She was just so exhausted right now that she wanted to curl up into her unflattering pajamas and just pass out until McGonagall came and forcefully pried her out of her bed. Her hands find their way almost unconsciously to her hips, and she hadn't even realized her foot had been tapping against the stone floors rather impatiently. She must look somewhat impressive, because her best friend shrinks a little into himself.

"Look -its not a plan alright, Hermione?"

She hums skeptically, and she lets out a suprised gasp when Harry grabs her hand and whirls her to face him. She gulps slightly when she's pressed tightly against his chest and his blazing emerald eyes are boring into her own, trying desperately to convey his message.

"They have the map, Hermione," he hisses.

"Wha?"

"Fred and George got the Marauder's Map back, Hermione! And it's not all they found."

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Hope this long chapter somewhat makes up for my absence. But big chapter ahead, no?

R&R.

And to those who still continue reading this, thank you very much. It truly means a lot.