We'll All Fall After the Yule Ball

Chapter Fifteen

Harry blearily opened his eyes. Immediately, he wished he was still asleep.

Sunlight filtered through the closest window and he instinctively put an arm over his eyes; this action cleared his vision and Harry drew a sharp intake of breath as he found himself surrounded. Snape had a customary cold sneer on his face, and he glared at the last of the Potters. Bill Weasley, a surprise guest, twirled his wand with ease, half of his attention on Harry and the remainder on someone in the shadows. Harry's Head of House was present, which usually meant he was in trouble or under attack, and she was looking at him with concern, so it had to be the latter. His glasses were still on, thankfully, but he was wearing a hospital gown and, strikingly, they were all gathered in Dumbledore's office. Fawkes chirped once from up above, but this time, unlike the countless others, Harry did not feel better about his situation.

The Headmaster was seated at his desk as if nothing had happened, though he peered at Harry seriously when the boy began stretching, the muscles in his back sore from the uncomfortable position he had slept in. Wait. Was I just asleep? Harry asked himself, suddenly unsure of the circumstances of his arrival. He had assumed himself recovered enough to be getting on with things, but his very presence in the Headmaster's office put an end to that line of thinking.

"What happened?" Harry choked, beginning to remember some of the events that had transpired. He massaged his temples before running a finger over his surprisingly bloody scar. He stared at his fingers, stained red with his own blood, in wonder; while Harry's scar itched regularly and hurt occasionally, nothing had ever caused it to pour blood or to send him into uncontrollable spasms.

"Let me guess... you can't remember a thing?" The Potion's master ignored Harry's stunned look to complain to Dumbledore. "Surely the boy is lying, Headmaster; no matter the strain he was under during the attack, he still would have been conscious for the entire experience. The Dark Lord would have made it so..."

Harry knew Snape wouldn't believe him even if he had concrete evidence to the contrary, so he couldn't say he was surprised by his Professor's reaction. The older man stepped forward swiftly and put his long nose far too close to Harry's face; the Boy Who Lived instantly felt a torrent of emotion rip through his sternum, and his distaste for Snape suddenly bordered on outright hatred. "Tell us everything, Potter-"

"I remember pain, Professor," Harry snapped, that same foreign emotion clouding all rational thought. "Voldemort," he said, causing Snape to hiss, "tried to do something to my scar, and my entire body seized up like... a manikin in a department store window! I started trying to swing my arms, kicking my legs - anything to get control - and for a long time I felt like every nerve in my body was on fire," Harry rambled, before trailing off, watching his professors' reactions. He could see Voldemort's red, reptilian eyes gleaming when he closed his own eyes to try and get his breathing under control. Fortunately, no one else seemed to notice his sudden discomfort.

"He tried to possess you, Harry; there was a very little else you could have done." Bill intoned. "We don't know why he chose that moment to strike, but we do know how. You-Know-Who obviously has a connection to you with that curse scar, and it creates... a channel, I suppose," he said, sounding uncertain for the first time. "He would be able to launch an attack, but he'd be considerably weakened for his efforts, especially if he is still without a body as we suspect." The knowledgeable man launched into a diatribe about Egyptian curses, particularly the forms of mind control used by dark wizards in ancient times, but Harry was too frustrated to listen properly. His annoyance peaked very quickly, and just when Bill was winding down, Harry finally snapped.

"Well, that's just fantastic, Bill! I really appreciate you coming all this way to give us your bloody expertise, but I am not someone's slave, and we aren't living in Egypt!" Harry's voice rose sharply, and the sound echoed in the small room. "I don't care why, or how, I just want him out of my head! So, if you don't know how to accomplish that then just mind your own damned business!"

"Potter!" McGonagall gasped in surprise. "Hold your tongue!"

"I'm sorry, Professor, but that goes for you too!"

The Deputy Headmistress' shocked gasp preceded her sudden silence, but Harry could see it was taking all of her willpower to prevent herself from whispering the incantation to turn him into an earwig, a feat he was sure she could produce with barely a flick of her wand. Harry was tired of being given the run around by his elders; this time, the boy wanted answers, and he resolved not to stop throwing a tantrum until he got them!

Bill was taken aback by Harry's behavior, but he handled himself with aplomb, seemingly prepared for such an outburst. "I'm sorry, Harry, but I just wanted you to know what you were up against." He sounded vaguely apologetic, and Harry's temper receded a bit, his inner turmoil not quite as evident on his young face. "You-Know-Who's everyday emotions will affect you, and when he's angry enough, you'll feel it like you're the one hacked off." Bill snickered, smiling at someone in the darkness. "Until you learn how to deal with this you're going to be one angry teenager."

Harry glared at the older wizard. I'll show you an angry teenager, he thought, shivering with fury. Then we'll see how sorry you are.

"We're not sure what is giving Voldemort this power of you yet, but... well, the Headmaster-"

Harry was about to open his mouth again to protest, as he had some rather vile things to say regarding Bill's idiocy, but before he could, someone else spoke out of turn. "Hello, Harry," she said, causing Bill to quickly fall silent.

His hair stood on end as he recognized the increasingly familiar voice coming from the dark corner of the room. Fleur slipped out of the shadows, revealing herself for the first time and gracing him with a soft smile. "Welcome back to ze land of the living," she said, passing the redhead, who looked stunned - whether by her words, her beauty, or his own jealousy, Harry couldn't quite tell, but he ignored Bill to spare Fleur a shallow attempt at a smile.

"Relax. Take deep breaths," she soothed him, coming to stand beside him in solidarity. With her lips so close to his ear, he couldn't resist a brief shudder of contentment. Dumbledore was smiling a bit too broadly, apparently eating up Harry's embarrassment as well as Bill's burgeoning envy. For her part, Fleur was oblivious to all but Harry, and unaware of the Headmaster's amusement. "I'm here for you. We can beat this together. Remember that we're all trying to help you, and if you'll let the Professors explain, they will tell you what you... what we need to do..."

For a long time, Harry quietly considered his admittedly limited options. A part of him wanted to destroy every object in the Headmaster's office, and one or two of the individuals in it, but somehow, perhaps due to Fleur's presence, he calmed the urge to lash out. "Okay," Harry said, forcing himself to be calm, although he found it astoundingly difficult. He suddenly recalled being afraid of the way Fleur would react to the Dark Lord picking his brain, and he realized with a jolt that she had completely exceeded any expectations he had for her; not only was she here, acting as a calming presence, she had been there in the hospital wing and she was offering to help him through his ordeal in the future. He immediately felt bad for making a spectacle of himself, particularly with his Head of House, and he begged forgiveness from the others. "I'm sorry for snapping on everyone-"

"Nonsense, Potter," McGonagall said, sitting carefully in the chair closest to Dumbledore's desk. Harry expected her to be angry with him, perhaps even assinging a warranted detention, but instead she gave him a rare smile. "You have done admirably well so far. It is no small feat to throw off a Legilimens attack from one of the most powerful wizards of our time, especially a prolonged battle such as yours! As you now know, the threat is constant and your enemy is never idle; it is a wonder you haven't been to the infirmary already!"

"It is true, Harry," Dumbledore said, speaking for the first time, "that a lesser man would have succumbed to Tom Riddle's influence. It is your heart, rather than the defenses of your mind, that keep, and will continue to keep, Voldemort at bay. If you are to have any hope of defeating him, it is your capacity for love that will bear you through to victory, not your strength in war. However," Dumbledore said, looking at Snape uncertainly, "it has come time for you to rise to the occasion much earlier than I ever would have imagined. In short, you will need to safeguard your mind or you will never truly be free from Voldemort."

Harry was reminded of Ginny, who spent vast periods of her first year at Hogwarts being possessed by Voldemort without her knowledge. Could that happen to me?

"It is vastly difficult, time consuming and the principles themselves require the utmost reflection before you can even begin to defend yourself. "

"What," Harry began, interrupting the Professor, "like a wall between Voldemort and my brain?"

Snape's lip twitched, but he answered the question nonetheless. "No, you foolish boy. The Dark Lord would rip apart any defense you could project in a matter of moments, and the energy and willpower to sustain those poorly constructed walls would drain you and leave you in much the same position you already occupy." His sharp tone only increased in volume as he carried on, building up a head of steam not unlike the Hogwarts Express. "Instead, you must dissuade the Dark Lord that you are even capable of a defense; he must believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that everything he sees within your mind is the truth. It is vital that you protect your secrets."

"If you don't mind me asking, sir," Harry said, the faintest hint of annoyance in his words, "how do I do that?"

"Mind your cheek, Potter, and you will soon be informed," Snape growled, glancing at Dumbledore. The Headmaster merely continued to smile levelly, unconcerned with Harry's petulant attitude. The Potions' master was silent for a few moments as Harry again tried to reign in his temper. "Occlumency," Snape said abruptly. "The ability to occlude the mind, to permanently hide your thoughts from any outside influence. You must become a wizard capable of complete emotional and mental control - something which has eluded you thus far, but is certainly attainable if you were to apply yourself diligently. Only a trained Occlumens will have a chance of surviving a Legilimens' attack, and... trained you will be." His voice was filled with his exaggerated resignation, an act purely meant to annoy the Boy Who Lived. "While I have my doubts you'll last a moment in the Dark Lord's vacinity, the Headmaster is convinced that you will succeed."

Harry ignored Snape's tone, but he absorbed his words with reckless abandon. If there was any chance that he could hide his mind from the Dark Lord, Harry knew he would have to take it, even if it meant working with Snape to achieve his goals. Obviously Snape was capable of Occlumency, and Harry found it increasingly likely that Dumbledore would see this an opportunity for the two to bond - a laughable thought, but probably true nonetheless. Harry knew that Voldemort was one of the supreme sorcerors in the land before his downfall that Halloween night, and it wouldn't be easy reaching his level of expertise, even with the beneficial advice of an Occlumens who was equally as adept as the Dark Lord. He wondered if that was how Snape was able to spy for Dumbledore (or Voldemort, Harry inwardly seethed). His thoughts were broken by the voice of Dumbledore, who seemed to be gauging Harry's resistance to his proposal.

'"I understand," Harry said solemnly. While he was reticent to experience any extra lessons with his least favorite Professor, he couldn't deny that this was potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity. "Thank you, sir," Harry said, looking Dumbledore in the eyes. He ignored the slight tremor in his chest, an emotion he was beginning to recognize as a vestige of the Dark Lord's influence. "I know I'll need your help - all of your help," he added, glancing at Bill, "to get through this." Harry noticed Fleur smiling pleasantly, obviously pleased that he had decided to listen to the Headmaster, and he instantly felt better about the decision.

"This is a gift that has many benefits, my boy, but first and foremost among them is the supreme confidence you will have in your mental faculties. You must understand the importance of blocking Voldemort from your inner most thoughts, for he will ruthlessly exploit any weaknesses he perceives you have. You must make your greatest insecurities unknown, even to yourself, and at all times you will need to concentrate on exuding a calm, collected confidence. It is imperative you take this seriously," Dumbledore said, his grandfatherly exterior giving way to momentary austerity. It was obvious that he expected nothing less than Harry's full dedication to learning Occlumency, and Harry wasn't about to let him down.

"I considered another accomplished individual to teach you," Dumbledore said, pausing dramatically, "but he has enough to be getting on with already." The dark-haired Professor's face was unreadable when Harry turned to gauge Snape's reaction. Harry barely restrained the urge to cheer. "To ensure you will not be bereft of a proper educator, I will be teaching you, effective immediately."

Harry's eyes widened at the admission that the Headmaster would be giving him private instruction in Occlumency. His surprise gave way to steely determination to succeed.

"I have concerns that Voldemort will attempt to use you to spy on me; however, your need is too great to go unaddressed. We will move swiftly; doing naught would allow you to be susceptible to Voldemort's wildest whims, and if he were to try to possess you again, there is no guarantee that he would not succeed."

"He'll never succeed," Fleur assured him defiantly, her fingers running up the back of his neck and causing a pleasant shiver that felt out of place with all the strife he was feeling. "I promise you zat," she said, her French accent shining through.

"As you'd expect," Dumbledore chuckled, some merriment coming back into his voice, "that's a worst case scenario; as you'll be aware of his presence already, you should be able to drive him off if you concentrate on happy emotions. The method is not dissimilar to producing a Patronus; focus on something that brings you great joy." Harry wasn't sure, but he thought he saw Dumbledore wink at Fleur, who had the faintest red tinge to her face for some reason. "If anything abnormal happens, it is my greatest wish that you come to one of us immediately."

The Headmaster gestured to McGonagall and Snape, but Harry knew he wouldn't willingly consult Severus Snape about his problems even if his own head was on fire. Their dedication to hating each other was one of the few things they had in common.

Of course, Snape had to get the last word.

"You must clear your mind of fear and guilt, Potter. It is quite reasonable to sustain both emotions given your ineptitude in relation to the Dark Lord's wealth of experience and the casual, careless way you carry yourself in your private life." Harry deemed that a low blow, even from Snape, and the glare the Potions master shot Fleur nearly had Harry leaping from his seat in anger. "So, do try to enjoy yourself, Potter. Until you can master your own mind," Snape said, the sarcasm rolling off of him in waves, "happiness... is your key to defeating the Dark Lord."

While many of the students at Hogwarts were excited to see February 24th roll around, the morning of the second task came far too quickly for one Gryffindor in particular. January had progessed into February and he and the Headmaster still had not started an Occlumency lesson, though he promised one would come on the heels of the second task. Apparently, Dumbledore thought Harry's focus should be on the tournament, but Harry found himself doing anything but concentrating in the days leading up to the task.

"I'll see you by the lake," Fleur whispered, despite the Silencing Charms cast on his bed. Fleur had decided a pep talk was in order before the task, and she had chosen to visit him in the dead of night to give it. She pressed her plump lips against his and he moaned as she pulled away. The loss of contact accompanied a rising tide of distaste that he never quite could force away. "You're going to be fine in the Hall, right?"

"I'm not entirely hopeless," he whined, buttoning up the robes required for the occasion. Fleur was clad in a white dress, which was hiked up rather fetchingly and required an additional inspection before Harry would let her go. She laughed, the pleasant sound muffled by a quick kiss from Harry.

"I never said you were. You know what I mean," she chided lightly, her nose touching his and making his face tingle. The feeling of annoyance subsided, and then came back full strength as she stood and swept open the curtains. Neville, who was reading with his legs crossed on his bed, gaped at Fleur and Harry.

"Morning, Nev," Harry quipped, as Fleur straightened her attire with a grin. Neville clamped his mouth shut, blushing bright red and returning to his reading. The title What To Do When You've Done it Wrong: Saving Your Potions jumped out at Harry; he supposed that Neville had just started reading the rather thick tome, as his confidence in Potions hadn't improved since day one and he was still prone to destroying a cauldron once a year.

"You still didn't answer my question," Fleur said, her mock glare aimed at Harry. The Boy Who Lived chuckled, waving away her concern.

"I'll be alright, Fleur. It's always harder without you, but I can manage it for half an hour, I think."

Apparently, that was all Fleur needed to hear, as she pressed a butterfly kiss against his cheek and bid him farwell, gliding out of the room with a soft smile on her face. Harry turned and saw Neville gleefully watching her bum, but rather than be angry, he nearly howled with laughter. Neville looked torn between dying of embarrassment and flinging himself out of the tower. He inched toward his wand, just in case Harry was angry Neville had been caught looking.

"I saw that," Harry said, barely keeping a straight face. "Are you checking out my girl, Neville?"

If anything, his face turned redder. "No!" he stammered, protesting his innocence. "She's just... it's hard not to look at her sometimes, 'cause of all that allure stuff..." He trailed off when he noticed Harry was laughing.

Harry took pity on the boy, crossing the room and offering his hand. Neville eyed Harry carefully, unsure if Harry wouldn't try to break his arm.

"There's nothing I should be worried about, is there?" Harry tried to pose as intimidating, but his earlier laughter gave him away. Neville smiled, his earlier uneasiness wearing off. "Put 'er there," Harry said, still holding his hand out for Neville to shake it.

"I hope you don't think I'm actually touching that hand," he said, making a face.

Harry laughed, and he let Neville go back to his reading. He was pretty sure Neville wouldn't tell anyone about Fleur being in the dorm, and he appreciated his friend's discretion more than he'd ever know. He thought of Rita Skeeter, who would surely have a field day with his private life once she realized two Triwizard champions were dating.

Harry went about grabbing his things, getting ready to go down to breakfast. He wore his best trainers (cast-offs from Dudley), a slightly too small tank top (that he thought showed his rather well defined muscles), as well as his only bathing suit (a maroon pair that almost matched Gryffindor's colors). Just before he was set to go downstairs, Harry donned his Invisibility Cloak; he knew he would be stopped on the way to breakfast and he hoped to evade the countless students he correctly assumed would be trying to throw him off his game before the task.

Students were seemingly streaming through the halls, and he instantly knew it was going to be tough sliding past all the bodies without being noticed. He took his time, and more than once he had to go out of his way to avoid crashing into someone rushing down the hall. By the time he had reached the Great Hall, his odd path through the school had landed him at the rear of a band of Slytherins, and he was fortunate enough to listen in on Draco Malfoy bragging about a plan to sabotage him before the second task.

"He thought it was funny pinning the trophy room on us," Draco said, scowling. "Let's see how he likes it when we turn the tables on him."

There was scattered laughter as Draco swept into the hall proper, and Harry stood in the entry way in silence for a moment, pondering how best to address the situation. In the end, he decided not to sit in his usual spot at the Gryffindor table. He figured what the blonde boy had planned would be embarrassing, but not overtly cruel, so he resolved to sit in a different area of the hall just to see how Malfoy reacted right before it happened. It was likely that sitting at another table would draw a few raised eyebrows, but he could always pass it off as visiting a friend if anyone asked questions. Fleur wasn't going to be there, as she preferred not to eat before such adventurous pursuits, so Harry wasn't too concerned with his decision to occupy the Ravenclaw table.

Under the cloak, his fellow students' conversations were muted, but that didn't keep him from picking up some vital information as he stood outside the hall. Apparently, some students noticed the massive stands which had popped up overnight on the shore of the Great Lake, and he found that many of his wildly-inventive classmates expected a naval battle as part of the day's festivities.

Of course, Harry had discovered the secret of the golden egg weeks in advance (albeit with Fleur's assistance) so he knew that the resident mermaid colony, as well as many less civilized creatures of the lake, would be tasked with holding hostage someone that he cared about. He was slightly worried about who had been chosen in his honor, but he found solace in the fact he and Fleur had a good, teamwork-based plan for the task.

After lengthy discussions in the Headmaster's office on the night he had almost been possessed, Fleur had slowly walked him back to the hospital wing, where he found blissful silence. Hermione and Ron had returned to the hospital wing shortly after dinner, bringing Harry a warm plate that he nearly leapt out of bed to reach, but they were nearly as tired as Harry, especially Ron. He knew that both of his friends felt uncomfortable being in Fleur's presence for long periods (and Ron's inability to fully control his reaction to her allure was beginning to grate on Harry's nerves) so he politely told them both to get some rest. With his hunger finally satiated and his friends finally absent, Harry began to drift into inevitable slumber and Fleur kissed him on the forehead before joining Ron and Hermione in exiting the infirmary.

"You need time to understand all of this," she said, just minutes before she left. "I'll be here for you when you decide what you want to do."

That night, they considered themselves fortunate that they had been given plenty of time to intimately discuss Harry's new private instruction with the Headmaster, but in the weeks that followed, Fleur was left thinking that Harry seemed hesitant to breach any of his other problems.

The Boy Who Lived was particularly quiet about his life before Hogwarts, and Fleur correctly assumed that his Aunt and Uncle had been very hard on him. There was some occasions when he shied away from contact (though, admittedly, there were others where he craved further contact) and he was very quick to clam up when she asked about certain scars she found when navigating his body. She wanted to breach the subject but, from the things she had heard about Harry from Hermione and Ron, he wouldn't be forthcoming with any details even if she asked him outright. In a way, Fleur was afraid of their sudden dependance on one another; she found it equal parts distressing and exciting that she was becoming as reliant on Harry as he was on her.

For his part, Harry found himself feeling a lot worse about his situation when Fleur wasn't around. Even now, he had to force himself to face the students in the hall, and he realized belatedly that, despite what he told Fleur, he wasn't prepared for the attention of the school. Strange, he thought sarcastically. She used to make me jittery when she was around, and now I can't calm down without her.

His reverie was broken when the doors of the Great Hall opened in front of him; a fervent discussion about his potential victory in the second task followed, coming from the mouths of a long line of witches leaving breakfast to head down to the lake, and Harry considered himself lucky that he was still wearing his cloak. After they passed, he covertly stuck his cloak into his robes and swiftly stepped into the hall.

His sudden entrance produced a cacophony of cheers from the Gryffindors and more than a few jeers from the other houses, mostly Slytherin, who were closest to the door. "Hey, Scarhead! Good luck making it through the task," Blaise Zabini was yelling, a sarcastic smile on his dark face.

Harry noticed Malfoy smiling along with his companions, and when the boy's cold grey eyes came up to meet his own, Draco's smirk became slightly predatory. The moment ended when Malfoy turned away to speak to Pansy, and Harry frowned, considering the conversation he had overheard outside the hall. Beside him, Millicent Bustrode was giving Harry a death glare, but he inwardly laughed; he wasn't a cruel person, but getting the Slytherin students in trouble after the Yule Ball had been one of the highlights of the night.

"Hope you know how to swim, Potter!" Theodore Nott jeered, causing half his table to erupt in laughter.

"Better than you, I bet," was Harry's muttered reply, though he had no real confidence in his swimming abilities. Fortunately, Gillyweed would give him fins the ability to breathe under water. Harry and Fleur had even tried a bit of it beforehand, and they took a swim to find the colony, which, by their reckoning, was nearly dead center of the massive lake. Harry had found their adventure rather tame in comparison to some of the things he'd seen at Hogwarts, but Fleur was a natural swimmer and judging by how the spent the last quarter of an hour underwater, she really enjoyed the experience. Still, they knew Grindylows and sea serpents could launch an attack at any point after the starting gun, and for that reason, he and Fleur decided to stay together to watch each other's respective backs. In his own opinion, the first task had been far more dangerous than the second, but he was well aware he could be getting over-confident. He kind of felt like a cheater for doing next to nothing to actually answer the riddle of the egg, but he counted his blessings that he had a concrete plan with a high likelyhood of success.

"Don't worry about them," Ginny called. "They don't know a champion when they see one!" she yelled, her voice louder than the boisterous cries of the Slytherins. Harry came to stand by the redheaded girl, giving her a smile for her efforts. A blast from the high table, produced from Snape's wand, left the Slytherin's dissolving into laughter and the rest of the hall reeling in shocked silence. Ginny, however, ignored Snape to watch Harry with confusion, noticing that he remained upright rather than taking a seat. "Something wrong?"

"Not yet," Harry said, his eyes on the Slytherin table. Nott was giving him a dirty gesture that Harry swore Snape cracked a smile at. "You might want to move further down the bench," he whispered to Ginny, deliberately being vague. "I'll see you later." Ginny stared at his back as he passed the Gryffindor table, and he ignored Ron, who asked him where he was going. Eyes from all corners of the hall watched his slow progression to Ravenclaw, and Harry decided halfway over that he'd sit with a familiar-looking blonde girl who seemed dreadfully lonely and thus had her attention solely on a bagel when he approached. "Do you mind if I sit here?" he asked her, waiting to see her reaction.

She looked up once, but her eyes quickly fell back down to her bagel. She tenderly smeared cream cheese across it with a knife, smiling lightly. "Harry Potter," she said, ignoring his question. "Thank you for the kiss you gave me; the blibbering humdingers haven't been silent in years."

Rumors had been flying about Luna being strange, and her butterbeer cap necklace and raddish ear rings did nothing to detract from that well-earned image. Still, Harry sensed she was being deliberately obtuse and he doubted any Ravenclaw girl was lacking intelligence. He reckoned the social structure of her house (where she was assuredly confined to the bottom) had forced her to cleverly evade her classmates' harsh words with off-putting words of her own. Harry redoubled his efforts to be kind, gracing her with the same smile he usually reserved for his best friends. She was a nice girl, and it wouldn't hurt others to treat her like a human for a change.

"I'm glad to be of service," he dead-panned, "but I've got to tell you I was surprised. It's not often that girls I don't know give me a kiss."

"I don't see why," she said, her foggy blue eyes rising to meet his own. "From what I've heard, you were kissed by a few different girls that night, so it's not all that surprising another would pop up."

Harry conceded the point. "True, but I knew all of those girls by name. You, I haven't had a chance to meet." He put out a hand to shake. "Harry Potter," he announced, mindful of the bewildered students watching their conversation.

He half-expected another confusing or evasive comment, but instead she offered her name and a tiny-looking hand. "Luna Lovegood," she said, a mouthful of bagel, "but then, you already knew that, didn't you?" At his stunned look, she smiled. "I believe your friend Seamus asked me on a date once he found out I had," she lowered her voice, "kissed you. I think he hoped I would kiss him too. " She giggled, the sound out of place with the eyes of the hall on their backs. "I told him no, of course - I may be lonely, but ew, Seamus?"

He stifled the urge to laugh; he quite agreed with her estimation of Seamus, but he belatedly realized he had been gossipping with the boy about kissing Luna - it had been unintetional, of course, but she didn't know that. His plate was ignored in favor of tapping his fingers on the table nervously. "It might have come up," he conceded, tugging at his collar. "I didn't know your name and-"

"It's alright, Harry. If you say you didn't tell Seamus to come see me, I believe you. You're too nice not to believe." She munched on the bagel, looking thoughtful. "Crunchy," she decided.

Harry couldn't recall confessing anything to her, but she seemed to take him at his unspoken word, so he let the matter drop.

"Can I try one?" Harry asked, tentatively reaching for a bagel. "I don't think I can eat much today. I think I'm too nervous to keep it all down if I do," he admitted, chuckling weakly. "I thought I was ready for the task, but now, I think I'd rather go back up stairs and have a lie in."

Luna passed him the bowl. "You're covered in Wrackspurts, Harry Potter," she said, nodding sadly. Harry made a show of checking his sleeves, which were unsurprisingly free of... well, anything. Unperturbed by this fact, Luna pressed forward, laughing lightly. "They feed off of our appetites, you know, making our stomachs upset." Then, she gave him a bright smile. "Don't worry; you'll be right as rain as soon as you eat this."

Inexplicably, that made him feel better. "You're right," he said, taking a bite. "Thanks a lot, Luna."

She shrugged. "Thanks for talking to me."

"It won't be the last time," he said, but his words were muffled by the sound of an explosion as a blue light raced across the hall and smashed into their food. Harry immediately feared the worst, and pulled his wand to defend himself as he felt the blast push him backwards. He managed to stay seated at the Ravenclaw table with some difficulty, but the damage was done. The bagel Harry had just taken a bite of, as well as half of the food in his general area, was now plastered to his face, clothes and the other exposed parts of his body. Eggs fell off of his cheeks and the smell of citrus filled his senses, owing to his glass of orange juice landing on his head with a thick thump.

To make matters worse, Luna had suffered almost as bad as Harry; her hair was matted with syrup, and a particularly doused pancake rested on her shoulder. Most of the students had been giving them a wide berth and the more brazen Ravenclaws were openly jeering them by the time Harry processed what had happened. He was clenching his teeth in rage, angry with himself for expecting an attack on the Gryffindor table rather than one on his food itself.

Harry looked over at the Slytherin table to find Malfoy just putting his wand away, an eerily intense expresison on his face. The blonde boy quickly flashed Harry a sadistic smile, and his friends began congratulating him for his well-cast curse; Harry recognized the blue spell as the Expluso curse, meant to cause anything it came into contact with to explode. Fortunately, his curse had only touched the food in front of him rather than the table itself, but Harry was forced to wonder if Malfoy had been intending on simply embarrasing him or if his purpose was seriously injuring him. He doubted his nemesis was capable of destroying the whole table, but if he had, there was no doubt Harry would have been incapacitated for the second task.

"I'll get you back," he mouthed to Malfoy, who smiled reflexively as the increased volume in the hall gave way to another blast from Snape's wand. There was nothing he could do about Malfoy's curse now, but he inwardly swore revenge. Despite knowing about Malfoy's attempt beforehand, the attack had completely shifted his focus from the task to how to get back at Draco. After a few moments to compose himself, he remembered who he was sitting with. "Are you alright?" he asked, turning to give most of his attention and concern to Luna. In his experience, girls became volatile when things like their clothing and their hair were ruined.

However, he was flabbergasted when he saw Luna's face; the blonde, who was usually quite calm and collected for a crazy person, positively roared with raucous laughter, tears streaming out of her blue eyes and the largest smile he'd ever seen painted on her face. "That was brilliant!"

Then, he started laughing too, and pretty soon the two of them were regaling each other with stories of the other's expression just after the explosion. "You should have seen your face," Luna said, giggling lightly. She had combed most of the eggs out of her hair, and Harry used a few cleansing charms Hermione had taught him to rectify the situation. "I've never seen someone so surprised and angry; not even the landlord when Dad told showed him the new Gurdyroot garden-"

"Well, we can't all be graceful under pressure like you," he said, giving her a mock bow that brought some more egg crashing down to the table. "Nor can I be that loud when I laugh," he said, shoving the girl lightly.

"Hey!" she said, acting scandalized, though her smile gave her away. Harry just snickered behind one syrup-stained hand. "I'm plenty graceful," she said, refuting his claim. "Watch this," she said, narrowing her eyes at the Slytherin table. She leaned back as if trying to do a backflip, despite her feet still being trapped underneath the table; just as quickly, Luna shot back up to her proper posture and launched a relatively whole bagel across the hall before turning her eyes back to her plate. The bagel connected with the top of Millicent Bulstrode's head, and the big girl turned and reflexively slapped Theodore Nott off of the bench; the hall again rang with laughter and, of course, Snape's retaliatory spellfire.

Luna turned to Harry and whispered, "I was aiming for Malfoy. Damn."

"If I have to do this again I'm taking five points for every transgression!" Snape was saying, his eyes settling on the back of Harry's head. "Get yourself going, Potter-"

Non-plussed, Harry smiled. The task would start in about thirty minutes, and many of the students were already filing out to head down to the lake. Harry decided to do so as well, and bid Luna a fond farewell before he left. "Let's be friends," he told her, holding a hand out for the prim girl to shake. She did, smiling broadly.

"We already are," she enthused, her cheeks slightly red. "Come eat with me anytime."

He promised to return and made his way out of the hall. The second task was about to begin, and while he'd have plenty of time to wreak havoc on Slytherin's students in the near future, he forced himself to keep his thoughts on his plan with Fleur. As he walked, he received the jeers from students wearing Potter Stinks badges, shrugging them off with little difficulty. He started to smile as he walked, his confidence shining despite their rude comments; Harry couldn't stop them from insulting him, but he could break their hearts in the competition.

-end of Chapter Fifteen-


A/N: I edited this Chapter on 3/17/2014 to make a few things clearer. No big changes.