Thank MaiyaV for getting me to post this chapter. I also didn't want it to be a year since I last updated.
I apologize for my long absence, but I can make no promises that I won't be gone again nearly as long. I will be taking a break from this site come this summer to work on something original. But after that I will return. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this chapter. It doesn't have much original material in it, but does move the plot along some. I don't even have the second task written out yet, but I do have the third. *sighs*
I always enjoy hearing from you guys, so let me know what you think!
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Harry Potter or the quotes I lifted from the book.
Chapter 11: The First Task – Take Two
September 1, 2002
It was a rather warm and balmy night for September. Usually these days were rainy, thundering, and absolutely miserable. Tonight, though, the night was clear and all the stars could be seen.
On the main coast Hogwarts stood strong and tall, its lights gleaming warmly as the feast celebrating the start of a new term went on. The lake around it was still and quiet, reflecting both Hogwarts and the starry night sky.
There was a small boat drifting on the lake to the tomb of Albus Dumbledore, also the location for the Elder Wand after Harry had stored it there. Despite the size of the boat, Harry, Severus, Ron, and Hermione had all managed to fit inside it.
"It's a beautiful night," Hermione murmured, trailing her fingers through the water.
"A beautiful night to desecrate a tomb you mean?" Ron asked.
"He's right, though," Harry said quietly, his eyes fixed on the small island; the white tomb gleamed in the moonlight. "We are desecrating his tomb. It hardly matters why."
"He would understand, Harry," Severus said softly. "He never anticipated such a drastic turn of events."
"But that's the point," Harry said bitterly. "He anticipated almost everything else but this – this completely escaped his notice? The whole time it was 'Harry, destroy the Horcruxes and he'll be mortal once more' and so I did but it didn't do a bloody thing."
"Albus was never omniscient, Harry," Severus said. "He just liked to pretend."
"He was pretty damn close to it, though, wasn't he?" Ron said thoughtfully. "I mean, he knew I'd be having second thoughts and leave. He also knew I'd need a way to come back."
"He went wrong with the wand," Hermione said. "He didn't expect Malfoy to Disarm him."
"So he wasn't omniscient," Harry said, clenching his robes in one hand. "But he missed a pretty big thing. How could he realize Voldemort was using Horcruxes but miss that he could still come back to life? I actually talked to him and he told me it'd be over if I came back!"
"Would you have stayed if you'd known?" Severus asked.
"Maybe," Harry admitted. "It was looking pretty good then and it looks even better now…if only so that I can throttle Dumbledore."
"Don't even joke about that, Harry!" Hermione said sharply. "You're talking about dying!"
"I did last time, Hermione. Don't worry; I don't plan on kicking the bucket until Voldemort's gone for good this time. And even then," he continued, "I'm planning on living for as long as Death allows me to."
"As it should be," Severus intoned. "As it should be."
The boat reached the end of the island then. Ron, sitting at the end, looped the rope around an iron peg and fastened it snugly. They could leave the island by other means but this was the traditional way for those wanting to pay respects to one of Hogwarts' finest headmasters.
The four friends slowly approached the tomb, following Harry. The Boy Who Lived's scar was tingling numbly but he attributed it to the presence of the Elder Wand.
Then he stopped short, almost causing Severus to run into him. "Harry?" The former Death Eater caught sight of what had startled Harry so. "Oh, Merlin."
"What?" Ron craned his head around a stunned Hermione; he swallowed. "Bloody hell. That can't be good."
The tomb was split open, revealing the elderly wizard entombed within. Dreading what he would find inside, Harry cautiously approached. He leaned over the edge, looking for the familiar shape that should be lying in Dumbledore's hands.
"No," he gasped, staggering backwards.
"What, Harry?" Severus asked. "What is it?"
"Bloody hell! The castle!"
"—is snapped in two!"
"Harry! Hogwarts is on fire!"
Ripping his eyes off of the two pieces of the once powerful Elder Wand, Harry looked over to where Hogwarts was standing. His face paled even further as he saw that it was engulfed in flames…cursed flames.
Severus had inspected the tomb and was now looking at the castle himself, face grim. He swept over to Harry. "How long has it been since the tomb was forced open and the wand snapped?"
"Err…" Harry turned his focus to the magic surrounding the tomb. When he found what he was looking for he swore violently. "Minutes! We missed the bloody son of a bastard by minutes! He knew we needed the wand and—" He cut off, too angry to continue.
"He must have gone to attack the castle while we were arriving," Severus concluded grimly.
Harry growled in frustration and stormed in the direction of the castle. "Come on! We need to help!"
Just after the four Disapparated to Hogwarts, there was a violent explosion and the entire castle collapsed.
November 23, 1994
"Oh, come on, Harry, again!"
Harry waved his wand at the mouse Hermione had on the desk and said, "Ruptispectis!" As he did, he squashed the magic coming out of his wand so that it once again, like it had the last so many times he'd done it, fizzled out halfway before even reaching the animal.
Hermione scowled at the spot where the Conjunctivitis Curse had fizzled out. "It's been over a week and you still haven't got that curse down!"
"Maybe it's just not meant to be," Harry offered, trying to hide a grin.
Hermione didn't want to give up. "How else are you going to get past that dragon? I've looked it up: dragons are impervious to most spells. You're lucky if you don't get roasted alive!"
"Have some faith in Harry, Hermione," Ron said from his spot in the corner. He was doing his Divinations homework. "You make it sound like he's going in to die."
"Well, that's what the person who put my name in the goblet wants me to do," Harry said, rubbing his forehead. "I just have to do my best not to."
"Try it again!" Hermione demanded, glaring at the mouse as if it had affronted her in some way.
Harry rolled his eyes in Ron's direction and said, "Ruptispectis."
This time only a few meager sparks emitted from the tip of his wand.
"That didn't have any power behind it at all!" Hermione was glaring at Harry now. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you didn't want to learn this spell!"
'Bingo!' Harry offered a meek shrug. "I'm obviously not getting it. I don't think it's worth our time and effort to beat this into me. Couldn't we work on something else?"
"You already have the Summoning Charm and the water charm down," Hermione said, looking down at her notes. "I don't think you could be any more prepared to face a dragon. Aguamenti isn't going to do much against dragon fire, but it should offer you some cover. But what are you going to Summon? Sirius already said that the object would have wards against that!"
"I was thinking I'd do something with flying," Harry said honestly.
Ron sat up incredulously. "You're going to out fly a dragon?"
"Not out fly. Just…avoid so I can get to whatever it is that I need to filch."
Hermione looked thoughtful. "Well…it would work, I think. You'd have to be really quick, though, depending on what dragon you get."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Actually, I'm planning on flying as slow as a snail and getting roasted alive for my efforts."
Ron snorted, and Hermione managed a small smile.
Harry looked at the mouse on the desk and Transfigured it back into a teacup with a word and a swish of his wand. "I'll be fine, I should think."
"If not," Ron said, "you can always just chuck a toilet seat at it. I think Fred and George have one on standby…"
"You realize that you have the first task of the tournament tomorrow, do you not?" Severus asked.
"Really? I thought it was the day after!" Harry shot a Blasting Curse at the dummy and dodged the two spells sent his way by other two. "No worries, Severus; I know what I'm doing."
"I would hope so," the Potions master muttered, returning to his book. He continued writing in it.
The night after Harry had received the Resurrection Stone from Severus, he'd gone to the Potions master's rooms and dragged him up to the Room of Requirement. Once there, he'd had Severus sit in a chair and simply watch as he went round after round with the dummies the room provided.
"Why exactly did you see fit to drag me up here, Potter?" Severus had asked, not looking up from the book he was reading.
"Why not? You were the one who trained me in the future. You can help me polish my skills." Harry had purposefully dropped his elbow then.
"Your elbow is dropped," Severus had said without looking up from his book.
Harry had hidden a smile and fixed it. But on the next curse he shifted his foot so his center of balance was off.
"Your foot is out of alignment."
And so it had gone. After that one night, Harry had continued the nightly sessions with Severus and run him through his entire arsenal of spells and acquainted the older wizard with his fighting style. Now, more than a week later, he was honing his skills and getting himself into better shape.
For all his Quidditch playing and youth, his fourteen-year-old body wasn't as in shape as his thirty-year-old body.
Bringing his attention back to the present, Harry whirled past a flurry of different curses and snapped his wand through an arc. "Expelliarmus!" The wide-range Disarming spell soared through the air and Disarmed the three dummies simultaneously.
He heard Severus momentarily stop scribbling in his book and looked out of the corner of his eye to see the Potions master look as surprised as he ever did.
"That…" Severus didn't seem to know what to say.
"One of my specialties," Harry said, sheathing his wand. "That, along with Sectumsempra."
Severus seemed to absorb this information for a moment before nodding and snapping the book he had been writing in shut. "If you're quite done then, Potter, it is late."
Harry scrutinized the room once and nodded. "I'm done. I'll see you tomorrow then." He shot Severus a grin. "Try not to get a heart attack, all right?"
Severus sneered and swept past him, his black robes billowing dramatically.
Harry hid a smile and pulled on his cloak. He'd work Severus up to calling him more informally.
The day of the first task was bright and sunny, though Harry's mood was anything but. He had thought he would be able to face the task without the butterflies in his stomach of last time, but it seemed that even age couldn't get rid of the fear that facing a dragon would bring.
'That's the last time I get cocky about facing a dragon,' Harry thought sourly as he followed Minerva down the steps of the Great Hall. Hermione and Ron had already wished him luck and he knew they would be waiting anxiously for his safe return.
Before Minerva let him go, she put a hand on his shoulder. "Now don't panic," she advised, "just keep a cool head…We've got wizards standing by to control the situation if it gets out of hand… The main thing is just to do your best, and nobody will think any the worse of you… Are you all right?"
Harry felt a surge of affection for his Transfigurations professor, who had taught him so much more than even she knew at this point. "I'm fine, Professor."
Minerva led him to the place where the dragons were held around the edge of the forest.
"You're to go in here with the other champions," Minerva explained, her voice sounding shaky, "and wait for your instructions, Potter. Mr. Bagman is in there…he'll be telling you the –the procedure… Good luck."
Harry shot Minerva a smile that he hoped came off as reassuring and not as faintly ill, though he didn't think he was very successful. "Thanks."
When he went into the tent, Harry saw that he wasn't the only one facing an attack of the stomach butterflies. Though this appeased him, the cheerful nature of Ludo made him want to throw a bucket of water on the man.
"Harry! Good-o!" Ludo said happily, catching sight of him. "Come in, come in, make yourself at home!"
'It's a tent,' Harry thought, resisting the urge to eye the man as if he was demented.
"Well, now we're all here – time to fill you in!" Ludo began brightly. "When the audience has assembled, I'm going to be offering each of you this bag"—he held up a small sack of purple silk and shook it—"from which you will each select a small model of the thing you are about to face! There are different, er, varieties, you see. And I have to tell you something else, too…ah, yes…your task is to collect the golden egg!"
Following this explanation, the tent entered a stiff silence as the champions waited for the audience to assemble. Through the haze of his adjusted Occlumency shields, Harry wondered if the audience had any idea just how dangerous this tournament really was. Did it say much for humanity that it enjoyed watching other people put their lives at risk?
'And these are the people I'm trying to save,' Harry thought, looking down at his interlaced fingers. After another moment, he reconsidered. 'No… I'm fighting to save those that are precious to me. If I fight for the rest of the world, I'll never succeed. But if I fight for those I love…' He thought of Severus, Ron, Hermione…and an image of long red hair flashed across his mind before he shoved that into a locked casket.
When Ludo eventually held out the bag for the champions to pick from, Harry watched with some surprise as everyone picked the exact same dragons as last time. He pulled out the Hungarian Horntail with a blank expression, and it bared its fangs at him as he held it.
"Well, there you are!" Ludo said. "You have each pulled out the dragon you will face, and the numbers refer to the order in which you are to take on the dragons, do you see? Now I'm going to leave you in a moment because I'm commentating. Mr. Diggory, you're first, just go out into the enclosure when you hear a whistle, all right? Now…Harry…could I have a quick word? Outside?"
Harry stared at Ludo for a long moment, causing the man to shift uncomfortably. "Can't it be said in here?" he finally asked, vaguely remembering that Ludo had a bet on him winning.
Ludo looked uncomfortable. "Ah…well…"
"If it has to do with the tournament, shouldn't the others hear it as well?" Harry pressed.
"Cedric's about to go," Harry prompted, enjoying the flustered look on Ludo's face.
It was with no small relief that Ludo announced he had to leave and he dashed out of the tent.
Cedric stared at Harry. "What was that?"
Harry was vaguely surprised that the boy even had the sense of mind to ask. "I don't know," he said untruthfully. A whistle sounded. "Isn't that your call?"
The Hufflepuff turned slightly green at the reminder and nodded. Like an automaton, he walked out of the tent, leaving the other three champions behind.
Harry ignored the two foreign students and took a seat, staring down at the model of the Horntail he held. He didn't move from this position even as Fleur went to face hers and Krum was the only one left.
Nor did he move when it was finally Krum's turn.
Only when he was alone did he begin flicking the miniature of the Hungarian Horntail between his fingers, ignoring its writhes of discomfort.
The cheers of the crowd registered somewhere in the back of his head, though he was more concerned with the reactions of his own body. Merlin, he'd faced Voldemort no less than a dozen times and he was getting this scared over a dragon?
'You've done this before, Potter. And when fourteen to boot. You're fully trained as a wizard now…'
But that thought didn't really help when he had to pretend he was a fourth-year Gryffindor.
Inhaling deeply, Harry pocketed the figurine as the whistle blew to announce his turn. He dropped the rigid Occlumency shields he had been implementing over the last months to dampen his reflexes and returned them to the normal sort he'd first learned.
The noise of the crowd as he entered the field was instantly tuned out as he focused on the Horntail, which was protectively curled up around her eggs. Raising his wand, Harry remembered to voice the incantation. "Accio Firebolt!"
His magic was stronger this time, meaning his Firebolt should be here any second. Sure enough, within ten seconds Harry heard the telltale whooshing sound.
Not taking his eyes off the dragon, Harry flicked his wand to direct the broom's path. Breaking into a sprint, he mounted the still moving broom and took off, using his magic to abruptly accelerate from slow to fast.
The Firebolt hummed under his hands and the familiar giddy feeling of flying was filling Harry's body. Despite this, Harry continued to focus on his goal: the golden egg under the Horntail's body. His eyes flickered down towards the egg before returning to the Horntail's, which snorted smoke at the eye contact.
Fearlessly, Harry performed a swoop towards the nest and was rewarded by a pillar of flame. Pressing so close to the broom that he was practically one with it, Harry angled a hard left before swerving up and curving over the flames. He aimed a Stunning Spell at the dragon, purposefully missing and shooting over the head.
He tuned into the announcer to hear Ludo shouting, "Oh that was a close one! What's this? Mr. Potter is tackling the dragon head-on! Merlin, it's as if he was made to fly! Mr. Krum, are you watching this?"
Tuning back out, Harry focused on his flight pattern, as he was indeed flying directly towards the agitated nesting mother. At the last moment, however, he banked right, avoiding another blast of fire. He aimed for the tail now, watching out of the corner of his eye as the Horntail followed his movements.
When the tail lashed out at him, Harry corkscrewed under it, diving towards the ground.
'Come on… Give me some flames here.'
His wish was granted as the Horntail attacked with fire again as he came too close to the nest and the dragon – only ten meters away. Harry used the distraction of the extremely hot flames to press so close to the ground that he was skimming it with his feet and knees. His elbows were tucked tightly into his sides and his left hand was gripping the broom handle. His right was resting right on top, his wand held fast.
Using the dragon's unintentional cover of flames, Harry veered under her belly and over the nest, snatching the golden egg with his left hand.
Dead focused now on getting back to safety before the Horntail noticed the egg's absence and decided to roast him for good, Harry urged his Firebolt to the limits of its ability. Like a bolt, he streaked out from under the enraged mother's belly, diving to the side to avoid another torrent of flames. His maneuver brought him closer to the exit and he blasted through the safety charms a split-second later.
Bringing his broom to a smooth halt, Harry tuned back into the outside world, hearing Ludo loudly announce amidst deafening roars, "—never seen flying like that before! Our youngest champion is the fastest to get his egg and completely unscathed! This should shorten the odds on Mr. Potter!"
'Unscathed except for fatigue, you numbskull,' Harry thought numbly, getting off his broom with incredibly shaky legs. Skilled as he was, his fourteen-year-old body was not used to such flying, being more adapted to the much more leisurely pursuit of the Snitch.
Hermione and Ron were anxiously approaching him now.
"Harry! Oh, Harry!" Hermione squeaked, her face white with fright. "Are – are you all right?"
Ron was also paler than usual. "Blimey, mate…you gave us both an awful scare. What were you thinking?"
Harry flicked his wand back into its holster and gripped his broom. "Gave myself a fright."
"How'd you manage that?" Ron asked incredulously. "You flew right under the fire! We thought you were a goner!"
"Pressed reeeaaally close to the ground," Harry answered. "Wouldn't recommend it unless you're a good flyer."
Ron gave Harry a relieved thump on the back while Hermione hugged him fiercely, causing him to flinch in reflex and almost draw his wand. When she released him, he gave her a sheepish grin and once again strengthened his shields.
They followed him into the tent, where he was promptly fussed over by Poppy.
"Unscathed, are you?" she muttered angrily. "I'll see about that. What are they thinking, bringing dragons onto the grounds? Do they want to kill everyone?"
After two thorough medical scans, Harry had convinced a highly skeptical Poppy that he was indeed unscathed from facing the most dangerous dragon in the entire tournament. Giving him a Calming Draught just to be sure he wasn't in shock, Poppy finally let him go.
Medical checkup done, his friends accompanied him to the field – thankfully with no dragon now – to await his scores.
"You were the best, mate," Ron told Harry proudly. "No competition from the others. Cedric did this weird thing where he Transfigured a rock on the ground…turned it into a dog…he was trying to make the dragon go for the dog instead of him. Well, it was a pretty cool bit of Transfiguration, and it sort of worked, because he did get the egg, but he got burned as well – the dragon changed its mind halfway through and decided it would rather have him than the Labrador; he only just got away. And that Fleur girl tried this sort of charm, I think she was trying to put it into a trance – well that kind of worked, too, it went all sleepy, but then it snored, and this great jet of flame shot out, and her skirt caught fire – she put it out with a bit of water out of her wand. And Krum – you won't believe this, but he didn't even think of flying! He was probably the best after you, though. Hit it with some sort of spell right in the eye…probably that Conjunctivitis Curse you were working on. Only thing is, it went trampling around in agony and squashed half the real eggs – they took marks off for that, he wasn't supposed to do any damage to them. Guess it's a good thing you didn't use it after all, eh?"
Harry grinned at Ron as his friend finally finished his diatribe, giving him a friendly nudge on the shoulder with his broom handle. "Thanks for letting me know, Ron. Next time I face a hungry dragon, I'm going to Transfigure a rock into a dancing girl and shoot it in the eye with the Conjunctivitis Curse – if I ever the hang of it – before I fly in and grab the egg."
"Don't even joke about that, Harry!" Hermione said reprovingly. "Dragons are a really dangerous business. You're lucky you weren't roasted alive!"
"I know, Hermione. I was the one flying under the flames." Harry looked up at the judges to see what scores they would give him this time around. From what he recalled – very vaguely – Karkaroff had given him the lowest score of all the judges. What would he give this time around considering his performance?
The first judge was Madame Maxime, and her wand released a silver ribbon that trailed itself into a ten.
"Perfect score!" Ron crowed as the crowd applauded. "Not surprising, though, considering you didn't get hurt at all."
Crouch was next and he shot a nine in the air.
"That's probably because it looked like you were being roasted alive," Hermione said.
"Should've been a ten then since he wasn't," Ron disagreed.
Dumbledore's score was next and his wand emitted a ten, causing the crowd to erupt into even louder cheers. When Ludo shot his own mark – a ten as well – the crowd really went crazy.
"Looking great, mate!" Ron shouted excitedly.
And now Karkaroff came, shooting a miserable seven in the air. The undeserved mark gave him a round of boos from the crowd, which he ignored.
"Seven?" Ron choked angrily. "He gave you a bloody seven? He gave Krum a ten and his dragon squashed the eggs!"
"Who cares?" Harry said dismissively. "It's better I survived, eh?"
As they made their way to the school, they were met by Charlie. "Great job, Harry! You're in first place, you know. Krum's right after you. Listen, I've got to run, I've got to go and send Mum an owl, I swore I'd tell her what happened – but that was unbelievable! Oh yeah – and they told me to tell you you've got to hang around for a few more minutes… Bagman wants a word, back in the champions' tent."
Ron and Hermione stayed behind then as Harry went back into the tent. He was joined by the other three champions. Cedric had a thick orange paste covering his face where he'd been burned.
He grinned at Harry. "Nice, Harry."
Harry smiled amiably back. "Thanks. You, too."
Ludo joined them at that moment. "Well done, all of you! Now, just a quick few words. You've got a nice long break before the second task, which will take place at half past nine on the morning of February the twenty-fourth – but we're giving you something to think about in the meantime! If you look down at those golden eggs you're all holding, you will see that they open…see the hinges there? You need to solve the clue inside the egg – because it will tell you what the second task is, and enable you to prepare for it! All clear? Sure? Well, off you go, then!"
With the first task behind him, Harry rejoined his friends and they set off towards the castle.
Once in the Gryffindor common room, Harry was assaulted by the noise of the party. His wand was out in his hand before he could stop himself, although Ron's hand on his arm prevented any curses from flying from the tip.
"Brilliantly done, Harry!" George shouted above the din. "That'll show them what you're worth, eh?"
Harry kept the golden egg clutched under his arm, wincing imperceptibly as the din jangled his nerves and stiffened his muscles in preparation for a fight. He was edging towards the dorms when Lee caught his arm and pulled him to the middle, where a large table was set up.
"Let's see what's in the egg, shall we?" the dark-skinned teen asked eagerly.
Heart pounding in his ears from the attention and his skin humming with magic, Harry prayed that nothing would happen as he put the egg on the table. He cracked it open and immediately the most horrible screechy wailing filled the air, causing everyone to flinch and cover their ears.
For his part, Harry had meant to keep the egg open longer, but the noise caused him to react faster than he could think, and the egg was slammed shut, abruptly cutting off the wailing.
There was a stunned silence for a long moment.
Then Ron spoke. "What in bloody hell was that?"
"It sounded like Percy singing in the shower," George quipped, rubbing his ears.
"Maybe you have to attack him," Fred added.
"Oh, don't be such prats!" Hermione scolded. "He's your brother!"
"And a git—"
As the party continued, Harry gave up on trying to sneak up to the dormitories as it was being blocked by some boys (who'd probably been stationed there to stop him from doing that, he thought sourly) and pulled on his Invisibility Cloak to sneak out of the common room.
He sighed in relief and sagged against the wall as blessed silence enveloped him and soothed his nerves. Rubbing his temples, where a headache was beginning to bloom, Harry adjusted his grip on the egg and made his way to the Room of Requirement.
A door was already there and a surprised Harry opened it to find a cozy sitting room with two armchairs. Slipping inside, he pulled off his Invisibility Cloak and left it hanging around his shoulders like he always did.
"I wasn't sure if you'd be coming," Severus said from his chair by the fireplace.
Harry sighed and sat in the other chair, placing the egg between his feet. "I can't handle the noise. I almost cursed Lee when he dragged me into the middle of the room to show them all the egg. They're just lucky Ron was holding my arm when I first entered."
Severus didn't say anything for a long while and Harry took the opportunity to relax and unwind from the stress of that day. He'd just started on relaxing his muscles when the Potions master spoke again.
"Was it your plan to look like you were being roasted alive?"
Harry stared at him blankly. "Pardon?"
"Did you plan on giving the appearance of being roasted alive?" Severus repeated shortly.
Harry wondered at the tone for a moment before he realized that Severus had been worried. A grin split his face. "Why, Severus! Were you worried about me?"
Severus sneered, though Harry could see that it was halfhearted. "Of course not, Potter. Merely wondering what possessed you to perform such an act of stupidity."
"Well, I did warn you not to get a heart attack," Harry said cheerfully, enjoying Severus's disgusted look. "It's all right to be worried, Severus. To be entirely truthful, I did plan on the dragon giving me some cover so I could get to her nest. But I didn't plan on pressing so close to the ground like that."
"Brilliant. The Boy Who Lived To Be Fourteen Again ends up dying because he didn't plan on being roasted by a dragon."
"I know my protective enchantments," Harry said. "At worst, my robes would've caught on fire."
"At worst, he says," Severus muttered, rolling his eyes. "At worst his robes would have caught on fire…"
Harry stifled a grin and covered his yawn behind a hand. "Think you can wake me up around three? I think the party stops then…"
"I'm sure I can manage," Severus said snidely, pointing his wand at the fireplace to lower the flames. "Have a nice nap, Potter."
But Harry had already Transfigured the chair to a bed and fallen asleep.
At three-thirty in the morning, Harry made his way into Gryffindor common room, thankful that the party had finally ended. The house-elves had already cleaned up the mess, though he could still see the remnants of the drinks that the Weasley twins had managed to smuggle in.
He'd just pulled off his cloak when a voice from the fireplace made him startle. "Where—"
Whirling, Harry had his wand out in his hand and aimed towards the source, only to find himself staring into a stricken Hermione's face. Exhaling shakily and realizing he'd just avoided cursing one of his best friends, Harry sheathed his wand and frantically thought of a way to cover his completely overblown reaction.
"Harry—" Hermione's voice squeaked and she had to clear her throat. "Harry…where have you been?"
This he could answer. "Out."
Hermione bit her lip, eyeing him cautiously. "This isn't the first time."
Harry shifted nervously. "I'm sorry?"
She took a deep breath. "This isn't the first time you've been out of the common room after curfew. I've noticed…you're not in your bed—"
Harry's eyebrows disappeared into his fringe. "You're telling me that you're sneaking up to the boys' dormitory in the middle of the night?"
Hermione blushed furiously. "No! It's just…I was down here one night doing homework when I saw the portrait door open but no one was there. I thought it was you under your cloak and just let it be, but…that wasn't the only time. Where are you going?"
Harry cursed himself for his laxness and then grudgingly admitted to himself that this was why he had his Occlumency shields up. "Like I said before…I'm going out."
Hermione stood up, folding her arms across her chest defensively. "You've changed, Harry… You're jumpier than usual. You wouldn't have reacted the way you did just now last year. You've been jumpy ever since the Quidditch World Cup." She inhaled deeply and looked Harry right in the eye. "What's going on, Harry? Are you all right?"
For once, Harry wished that Hermione didn't have to be so bloody brilliant. She figured out the most inopportune things at the most inopportune times. But he supposed he should thank his lucky stars that she didn't know what exactly was up.
There was no particular reason he shouldn't tell her to be honest… But she was only fourteen and didn't have any idea of the horrors Harry had gone through. He didn't want to have to spoil that innocence too early. Someday he'd tell her, but now…
"Something happened to me over summer," Harry said slowly, watching Hermione for her reaction.
Hermione's face twisted. "Something bad? Was it your relatives? Harry, if they—"
"They didn't hurt me!" Harry said hastily. "No, really, they didn't. Something else happened. It's not bad, but this is the result."
Hermione nodded slowly. "And what about where you're going?"
Harry sighed, adjusting the grip he had on the egg. "Hermione, there are things I can't – shouldn't – tell you."
"You can't or you shouldn't?"
"Is someone forcing you, Harry?" Hermione asked softly, her face pale.
"It's my own decision." Harry hesitated for a moment before he made his choice. "I'll tell you someday, Hermione; and Ron, too. But for now…just know that I really appreciate everything you've done for me, Hermione." He gave her a smile. "That Conjunctivitis Curse really is a nasty piece of business, you know?"
With another hidden smile at the look on Hermione's face as she absorbed the information he had just given her, he moved upstairs to bed. She wouldn't tell Ron, he knew that. If she had wanted to, she would have had Ron stay down as well.
At the moment, though, he just wanted to sleep.
September 2, 2002
A distance away from the smoldering ruins of Hogwarts, a camp of survivors was huddled together. They were wide-eyed, singed with soot, and sporting burns of various degrees.
Ginny had just finished helping a small second-year girl with second-degree burns when Harry stepped by her. "She'll be all right?"
"She'll live," Ginny said quietly, standing up. "And you, Harry?"
Harry gazed blankly at her for a moment and then shook his head. "I'll live, too," he said.
He was numb with shock and horror. Hogwarts, the castle he'd been calling home since 1999 (or 1991 if he wanted to be really honest), was gone. And gone on the first day of term.
The first years had made it out, as did the Sorting Hat for some odd reason. But while they'd been lucky with the younger years, many of the older students hadn't made it out.
"Come on, Harry," Ginny whispered, recognizing the haunted look in his green eyes. She took his hand and gently guided him to where their friends were sitting.
"Minerva's gone," Harry rasped as they joined the group. "I looked but…"
"She was taking care of the first years," Draco said hoarsely. He held an ice pack to his face, which was red and raw. "I tried to get her out…"
"She wouldn't listen," Ginny finished quietly.
"A true Headmistress," Severus noted tonelessly, gazing out at the lake.
"Who else?" Hermione asked dully. "I haven't—"
"Neville," Harry murmured, sitting down heavily. "And most of the seventh years if I figure it right." He glanced over at the camp of students. "Most of Hogwarts really. I checked…but no one made it."
"It happened so quickly," Draco whispered, hands shaking. "The fire…"
"It was cursed," Ginny said, clutching Harry's hand. "No matter what we did, it kept consuming everything."
Severus looked up, eyes gleaming. "Fiendfyre?"
Draco shook his head. "No. It was cursed fire of a different nature. It seemed to come from the stones."
Ron's face was ashen. "Hogwarts did that fire?"
"It's not possible," Hermione protested. "There's no spell—"
"Unless it was a safeguard," Harry said. "A safeguard that was somehow tampered with… Minerva must have known, just like she knew about the Apparating safeguards."
"Who tampered with it?" Ron asked. "You-Know-Who?"
Harry's mouth twisted. "He got to the Elder Wand moments before we did. He's the Heir of Slytherin and probably familiarized himself with Hogwarts. It's a safe bet it was him."
"The wand's gone?" Draco repeated numbly. "But—"
"I know," Harry said tiredly. Since he'd first murmured about the Elder Wand several days ago after King's Cross Station, he'd known instinctively that the wand was it: the tool to end the war. "That was virtually our only shot."
"That is not true," Severus snapped. "We aren't done yet. The wand is merely a tool."
Filius Flitwick joined the group then, looking even smaller than how he usually did. "We will help you, Harry," the tiny Charms master promised. "There's more you can learn."
"I'm not worried about that," Harry said, looking down. "It's the students."
"Horace is still here," Filius said. "As is Poppy. Matthew and Rebecca are also ready to help. We should be able to pull something together with the Ministry's help. Kingsley—"
A silver light bolted into their midst and was promptly the recipient of seven wands.
"A Patronus," Ginny breathed. "Who's—?"
The Patronus solidified into a lynx and began speaking in Kingsley's deep voice. "We are under attack. The Ministry—"
The message cut off abruptly as the Patronus flickered out like a light, leaving them once again in relative darkness.
"What did that mean?" Ron met Harry's eyes, confusion and fear painted in his own. "That's never happened before."
"The Minister is dead," Draco said harshly. "Someone has just killed him."
Harry stood up, his knuckles white as he clenched his wand tightly. "We're moving. Now. It's not safe."
His tone held such finality and power that even the older wizards heeded him without saying a word.
How'd you like it? I haven't dealt with Rita here, but I can't do everything at once. I know the length of this chapter doesn't really make up for my long absence, but that's how it was planned. And if you have me on author alert and have noticed my 20,000+ words chapters in the Avengers fandom, I will say that is the only fandom where my stories are so long. In all other fandoms I am keeping my chapters a more respectable length, because they are based off fandoms where the episodes or chapters are smaller. Movies are long, hence why the chapters are long.
But I can PROMISE you that I will not abandon this work. I will finish it eventually, come hell or high water. So, let me know what you thought! I always enjoy hearing from you guys.
Thanks to DarkRavie, cara-tanaka, SeverAllTies, BadGirlgoesworse, Sheankelor, Christine Jay, Azure Gryphon, Dragon Soarer, ChopSuzi, CrystalBlues, risi, katenkapotter, HPCullen, wolf-master321, Rori Potter, moonlightmusic, kev sakura, Lumcer, ShadowObsessor1, Namikaze Artemis, Jezek10, kage kitsune 14, emmalleigh, Reader-anonymous-writer, Cassandra30, blackcallalily, HappeeGoLuckee, butterflyrain23, how far, Pyrane, and MaiyaV for reviewing the last chapter!
how far: Well, Harry wouldn't know everything; he's not omniscient. And Occlumency can only go so far with helping him remember things. So while he can remember the big picture, smaller details will escape him. I'm glad you enjoyed this story. :)