AN: Looks like I am back! Disclaimer: this is a work of fanfiction based on the novels by J.K Rowling, characters used do not belong to me. Paraphrasing and direct quotations of GoF may occur.
Chapter 15 - Serpent's Waltz
Daphne didn't even blink when she stepped out of the fireplace and into Professor Snape's office. Smoke wavered at her feet along with the last green spitting embers that had returned her to Hogwarts.
Snape remained silent from behind his desk. He lifted his dark gaze at her and then towards the door telling her to hurry and leave. It wouldn't surprise her if he cursed her under his breath for her father insisting on arranging her arrival at an ungodly time.
She left without complaint or greeting to her head of house and crept her way through the dungeons to the empty common room and proceeded down to the girl's dormitory. The sight of Tracey who had abandoned her own bed and crawled into Daphne's covers was unexpected, Caelum was curled up by her side as an indistinguishable ball of black fur.
She placed her basket on to the floor and with the back of her heel lightly kicked a large bag weighed with gifts under the bed. Sitting on the edge of her bed she observed Tracey sleep until she felt her friend's sluggish tired arms wrap around her waist.
"Creep. Bring me croissants? I want breakfast in the bath today," Tracey murmured into her ear half asleep still.
"How very luxurious," Daphne said softly, she gently unclasped Tracey arms from her waist. "but you know what day it is, there is a service I'd like to attend."
Tracey rubbed her eyes. "Alban Arthan... Ugh."
She kicked her legs and dove back into the mattress causing Caelum to jump up. He hummed in annoyance as he landed on the floor.
"You're not going to join us?"
"No no no I have to practice all day." She said, burrowing herself deeper back into her quilt.
"You know I had actually forgotten. Ah, you are terrible." Daphne gave soft chuckle."I'll let you sleep in then, see you at lunch?" She retrieved her broom from beneath her bed and picked up her basket.
An incoherent muffle escaped the mound under the covers.
After being shooed away Daphne climbed back up the steps to the second year's landing with Caelum awake he followed closely at her heels.
Careful not to awake anyone with her presence she entered only to see Astoria sat in front of her mirror already awake and dressed. Her scarlet winter cloak being fastened with a silver brooch in the shape of a raven, she had been waiting for some time.
"Yuletide greetings little sister." Daphne whispered.
Astoria darted from her chair and greeted her with a warm hug.
"I thought I might have to wake you."
"I decided to save you the trouble or we'd miss it." Astoria smiled. Letting go she patted down her skirt.
"You knew I'd be back this early today?"
"It would be far too dull for you to stay at home any longer with everything happening here." Astoria stuck out her tongue.
"True, I could never contemplate such a thing." Daphne smiled with her. With their arms linked together they left the dorm room.
"So do you have plans for the ball yet?"
Daphne wondered why her little sister had to be so impudent. She hard firmly decided she had no intention of showing her face at the ball long before the Autumn term had started. While she might enjoy an evening of music and dancing it was not enough to persuade her into a full course dinner filled with small talk and pleasantries. Not with her disdain for gossiping mouths and unwanted watchful eyes.
"There's nothing for me to gain in participating in any of these distractions." Daphne answered instead.
"Would you like to hear what they are saying about the match ups?"
"I am not interested in any of it in the slightest Tori." Daphne shook her head. "Blaise and Stephanie won't disappoint. I imagine King will get put down too."
"A fourth year versus a seventh year though, the odds aren't good for him."
"I have complete faith. Last time he dueled in our second year he terrified more than half the school and that's when he wasn't even trying. The first task topped that still."
Astoria nodded impatiently having heard the story regaled by Tracey too many times over.
"Regardless we should see something interesting tonight, not even I can guess as to what Harry might do. I definitely want to watch him." Daphne admitted with an honest smile.
Taken off guard by her declaration Astoria followed behind all the while chewing her tongue. Her sister's words made her a little anxious, she could feel the rising excitement in Daphne's voice. Astoria could tell Daphne's time at home had been spent with some self reflection. No longer was it as if her sister was only observing a rare creature or fixating over some strange anomaly.
The older sibling ignored Astoria's prying with little thought, instead she listened to the singing of robins breaking the frozen silence of that still morning.
When they reached the courtyard outside the great hall it was still quite dark. The two sisters mounted Daphne's broom. Caelum jumped up onto Astoria's lap with perfect poise and together they ascended above the battlements and flew to the edge of Hogwart's boundaries. Freezing with cold Astoria clung tightly trembling against her back muttering a warming charm for them both.
With the school growing smaller and smaller behind them Daphne flew them to a towering haggard looking mountain, its crests proudly bared upward. In the distance ahead they could see other witches and wizards all flying on brooms heading to the same point. The summit of the mountain Mhòr-Banrigh.
The sisters slowed and circled with caution, witnessing the gathering.
They all landed on an flat outcrop of stone at the mountain's tallest peak, and as if naturally grown stone monoliths arose from beneath.
Known as Menhir there were many such standing stones across the continent still, whether singular or in a circular formation. Despite them lasting through millennia their origins still remained obscure.
The Greengrass girls themselves were told stories by their mother of how thousands of years in the past clans of giants built and gifted these megalithic structures to the ancient druids and wise folk, their ancestors as a gesture of friendship. There were different sites for individual deities called for different rites depending on the sabbath. Primarily these locations were categorized as Hearg and Wēoh. Hearg were commonly seated on high ground or in places of singular importance, such at this site. Wēoh referred to the more communal accessible shrines hidden throughout Britain. No matter how they came to be, these great stone circles became the religious sites for their ancient practices.
Closing in Daphne and Astoria could feel a stirring in the cool morning mist. The air was thin as magic was heavy and the dark cloudless sky slowly grew increasingly blue. Undeniably there was a strong presence of spirits residing on that mountain top.
The two girls flew closer and lower until they landed and their feet landed on the ice touched rock beneath them. Dismounting Daphne gripped Astoria's hand tightly. Before them the group of black hooded witches and wizard parted, revealing a stone altar in front of the largest stone monolith. As their custom it had been adorned with evergreens of ivy, holly and juniper. Sat carefully placed between the twisted branches were three candles: the first had wax as white as milk, the next was red like blood and the last candle a pitch black.
For them Midwinter or Yule was the leading Sabbath, from before Saturnalia and as ancient as Babylon. Those who had come to celebrate it shared more than blood or which corner of the world they originated, they were a coven.
A tall witch robed in white and furs came to greet them. "Daphne and Astoria. I was not expecting you to join us. Nevertheless, you are most welcome."
She was exceedingly beautiful Daphne had always thought. Her ebony skin like dark polished wood glowed along with her pearly smile. She was without a doubt the high priestess of her coven, ranking above any elder she was an absolute authority to her community. It did not matter if Astoria and Daphne weren't native to the coven, they were still followers of the old ways, so they were welcomed and no one could cross Sinestra's word.
"We thank you High Priestess Sinestra." Showing proper respect the sisters bowed their heads.
From inside the wicker basket Daphne presented to her a parcel wrapped in simple white cloth.
"An offering." She said simply.
It was only a loaf of honeyed bread. One she baked herself with her mother, but Aurora Sinestra treated it with extreme care when she placed it on the altar magnificently laid full with gifts.
Without waiting any longer with a clear resonating voice carried on the wind she began.
"Since the beginning of time,
we have gathered in this season,
to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun.
On the Winter Solstice, the darkest of nights,
The Goddess becomes the Great Mother,
once again she gives birth to the Sun,
bringing a new light to this Earth.
On the longest night of winter,
And the dark night of our souls,
there springs the new spark of hope,
the Sacred Fire, our Light of the World.
We gather tonight to await the new light,
On this night Maiden who is also Mother and Crone,
prepares to welcome the Sun.
Let us now prepare to welcome the new light within."
Sinestra cited to the congregation. Another a priestess stepped forward beside her.
"I light this fire in your honour Mother Goddess
You who created life from death, warmth from cold
The Sun lives once again, the time of light is waxing.
We invite you, Great Mother, to our circle
Bring us new light, the light of your glorious son."
She with her wand she lit the white candle on the Yule log.
"Mother I come to you as Maiden
Young and free, fresh as springtime
Yet within me a yearning stirs to create and share
I bring forth the fruit of my creativity.
As an ancient prophet once told as I stood with my son,
A sword shall pierce through thy own heart also."
The second priestess couldn't have been much older than Daphne. She appeared tranquil and reserved as the red candle was lit.
"O'Crone, Ancient wise one, Lady of Darkness,
We three in one who brought forth that special child as long ago,
A bright light that grew and was sacrificed to be reborn as a new light."
Sinestra herself lit the final black candle.
"Ancient King of the forest, we welcome you
Return from the shadows.
O'Lord of Light the wheel has turned,
We call you back to warm us.
Great God of the Sun,
We welcome your return.
May you shine brightly upon the Earth."
The Yule Log completely caught fire. It burned with a fierce roar that crackled and spat. Despite the intensity of the flames it would stay alight for twelve days and twelve nights. Sinestra picked up a chalice from the altar and held it in front of before them.
"Yule is the end of the old solar year and the beginning of the new one.
This is a time for us all to reflect and it is a time to look ahead to the future.
We toast the new year and in token of its promise,
we consecrate this sacred wood.
You who have died are now reborn. Lend us your light through
the winter months as we await the spring.
Once having burned with the Yule fire,
these candles will contain our hopes and wishes,
our thoughts and dreams."
She tilted the chalice back and took a deep sip. Soon it was passed around the congregation, all of them only taking a mouthful, including Daphne and Astoria. Though it had passed many people it never emptied.
Once it was returned to her, Sinestra poured the remaining wine onto the altar. The fire from the log spread across the stone altar lighting the gifts brought by the coven. The flames turned white burning greater and more fiercely. Ashes and smoke whirled so thick around the congregation that it dimmed the coming light so that all they knew was the white blaze before them.
Daphne and Astoria joined the others in giving thanks with their parting invocation.
"O' Ancient ones we thank you,
for the light you have brought to us this night,
May we carry it within us throughout the coming year.
Thank you most gracious Lady,
for your freshness of spirit, your nurturing care,
your infinite wisdom.
Live within us throughout the coming year.
So may it be."
Only then did the intense first light of the morning sun hit the stone obelisk. Smoke and mist arose in the god rays around them. The coven all turned to greet each other with wishes of well being all the while the two sisters silently withdrew and returned to the sky.
With the celebration of the solstice having come to an end the two sisters landed back on school grounds and decided to walk the rest of the way back to Hogwarts.
"You brought an offering today." Astoria had grown very curious about this fact.
"Ah, I did yes." Daphne brushed back her hair.
"Was there something you wished for?"
"Only forgiveness." She said.
She gave her an easy smile and continued walking through the snow Caelum at her heels once more. However Astoria remained unmoved from the path. From somewhere deep within the forbidden forest behind them she could hear ravens calling. She was again aware of an unsettling feeling rising in her stomach and Astoria was no longer willing to hold her tongue.
"What's wrong? We shouldn't linger in the cold." Daphne asked, stopping to turn with the wind still blowing her hair about her.
"You broke father's rules, recklessly and purposefully so Queenie." Astoria said grudgingly.
Like any pureblood family there were many rules enforced upon them in their household, both spoken and unspoken. Daphne knew to which she was referring. Three rules her father had given her before allowing her to attend Hogwarts.
"Yes. Do not draw attention to myself, do not get involved in house politics and under no circumstances was I to make contact with one Boy Who Lived." Daphne smile twisted. "All three of them."
The way she spoke like it was an accomplishment to be proud of irked Astoria further.
"And you used my begging you to help Draco as reason to do so." Astoria glared. She had wanted to say this much earlier. So many times over.
"I did. As long as you have things your way I can be allowed to have mine. Rather fair wouldn't you agree Tori?" Daphne tilted her head with a satisfied look.
With her sister's lips alight with mirth, it was clear to Astoria as to why her pleas were met with such little resistance.
She had unwittingly given Daphne her excuse to disobey their father on a mystery that intrigued her to no end. The worm, the parasite that was Harry Potter that infected the school had now spread its reach to plague her sister. She wondered if maybe Daphne had been waiting for such an event, or simply siezed that small spark of opportunity and decided to grasp it without hesitation and without care for any of the consequences for her actions. Even now Daphne's eyes had tell tale dark circles beneath them.
When Christmas Eve arrived it was snowing heavily again and for the first time that year the Quidditch stands were full. It was evening and orbs of light hung high in the air lighting the grounds below and where the pitch floor once was there now sat a large raised hexagonal duelling platform.
The cheer was tangible for everyone. Yet Harry sat casually on alongside Fleur and Blaise on a bench with the other duellists. Patiently they awaited the signal for the first half of the duelling tournament to end.
He could sense Fleur beside him remained confident as ever if her natural smile was anything to go on. This was not her first duelling competition and the number of duelists was significantly less than the amateur European divisions she had taken part in.
But even she could not shake the feeling of uneasiness that came with one Slytherin beauty sizing her up when she flawlessly finished her first bracket. Not after watching Selwyn hex her fellow Beauxbaton students into a wailing frenzy. She fixed her expression into a well rehearsed cool and aloof smile for good reason.
Finally Professor Flitwick's whistle blew and his voice called Harry's name, causing his head to snap up in attention.
It's time. He stared out grimly as Blaise gave him a hard slap on the back.
"Bonne chance 'Arry," Fleur wished him.
Jumping onto the platform King felt far superior. Looking around the stands he stood tall and imposing compared to the lean and scrawny black haired shit staring darkly at him from the other side. With a smirk as he took his starting position.
He became increasingly aware of how silent the crowds grew. Even though this was a much greater audience than he anticipated, King kept his eyes on Harry expecting him to show some sign of nervousness. And yet there was none.
Harry raised his wand to head height, drawing his arm back forming an attacking stance. His eyes bored into King's. This tip of his holly and phoenix wand, his partner, glowed dangerously.
King blinked in surprise. Not only did Harry look calm but like he planned on making the first move. A bead of sweat dripped down King's temple and the twinge of anxiety in his stomach boiled into anger. An irrational and inescapable anger at the fierce expression he was receiving from his opponent. That pair of emerald green eyes that somehow always felt like they were trying to push others out of his sight.
It could be said that this defect in King's mindset was his biggest weakness. From the beginning he had always underestimated Harry. Before King had even been locked up with Peeves overnight he saw Harry as nothing but a trickster who relied on luck and cunning. He was an oddity within Gryffindor house.
When the whistle blew he kept his wand low ready to defend and for a split second he arrogantly wondered what the boy could possibly do to him. King's eyes were keen enough to see Harry's wand moved. But no spell was shouted or spoken all he had noted was the slight twitch of Harry's mouth.
First there was a flash of light eclipsing the stadium. In that same second thunder boomed as blue lightning erupted from Harry's wand.
That was all it took. One moment, a lost nerve and a slight hesitation. King fell to his knees, he screamed and he cursed. His head bowed into the platform while cradling his hand.
Severe burns stretched up his arm with the remains of his wand left embedded from his forearm to his hand.
There was no applause for Harry. Just King's cries as he was propped up and taken off the platform. King had caused such distraction that everyone lost sight of the fourth year champion as soon as he stepped off the platform. However he wasn't missing, for once he hadn't slipped away like he was known to. Instead he had sat right back in his place next to Fleur and Blaise as if nothing had happened at all.
It would be remembered by the school for weeks as an astonishing victory and very little more. Perhaps to some it was another fluke, to others simply a difference in skill and that King had been outmatched by a boy three years his junior. But the humiliation ran deeper than just the loss of his challenge.
After the initial shock wore off many teachers were unsure of how to even act in this situation. This was a personal duel agreed between the two. If this was a match he'd surely be disqualified, if it was a scrap in the corridor then it would be detention for a month. In the end Flitwick just asked the next set of competitors to come forward.
The stands filled with students and spectators alike were all thinking similar thoughts. Harry Potter really was too terrifying. There were those still that weren't thinking this too, those with insight and experience could see precisely what had unfolded. This group was comprised mostly of teachers and duelling experts among the audience and one girl.
Daphne, whose eyes hadn't left him for a second, lowered her omnioculars and grinned. She sat on one side of her sister with Tracey on the other, huddled together on the top row of the stands. With privacy charms worn by all three on Daphne's insistence they talked freely among themselves.
"He's been practicing." She said quietly as if to herself. "He should be very pleased with himself."
His wand movement had been fast, sharp and accurate, worthy skills of a seeker. Worthier still of a champion to take on a superior opponent by surprise on his first move without even an exchange.
"You could hardly call that a duel. I wouldn't find much satisfaction in such a victory." Astoria frowned, though she couldn't even deny his quickness.
It wasn't the result of the duel which was being disdained and not just by Astoria, but the method. The destruction of a wizard's wand was a great humiliation to bear. To many it was considered distasteful.
"If you faced him little one you'd be done in with just a tickling charm." Tracey snorted.
Astoria scowled at the remark.
"You misunderstand his intentions Tori. King wanted to settle a vendetta and use this fight to bully Harry. This being a personal duel broken rules of excessive force and brutality don't count for anything. Harry only had one thought for this match up."
Tracey rested her chin on her hand, hunched forward and thinking. "Efficiency."
"Exactly. The average duel has a correspondence between opponents. Through each exchange of spells and counterspells they will reveal parts of themselves, more and more of their strengths and weaknesses, until a flaw is exploited. Harry is at the forefront of this tournament and such as his personality, he is unwilling to show anyone any such parts of himself. Much like a hammer, strike fast and strike hard. The crudest of all duelling styles but the most effective, minimizing any information that could have potentially been gleaned from this match."
"He chose this strategy deliberately and worked hard to execute it." Tracey nodded even as she was still pondering. "Like you said his casting speed definitely improved a notch from what we have seen in class, I could barely track his wand. "
"Not just that his mouth didn't even open. He tried to use a non-verbal cast, it was a good attempt but flawed." Daphne gave a veiled smile to Tracey. "Even like this he has still shown some of his cards."
"Non verbal casting, how annoying." Astoria muttered.
Tracey laughed. "Not impossible for some, you are an excellent example of that yourself Daphne. He must have just started. But in such a short amount of time it would require a familiar spell."
Astoria could feel her mood souring by the minute. Daphne was forbidden from using wandless and wordless magic under all circumstances.
Daphne grinned at Tracey's deductions "One that he has mastered and could cast in his sleep. It may not have worked as it should have, but he still left King wandless in the end."
"Ahh, so this is the result of Harry's nonverbal Expelliarmus." Tracey said quietly in awe.
"Yes. It just shows that his magic untempered proves he is quite the brute. But at such a level of technical difficulty he must have had quite the teacher."
Finally did Daphne's eyes shift from Harry to the beauty who was currently chastising him, Fleur Delacour.
The next morning the previous night of duelling excitement was still a hot topic, students and attendees witnessed even greater feats of magic and far more exciting matches which casted a favourable shadow on Harry's reversal.
The anticipation at Hogwarts finally reached its peak. Even the burden of a heavy load of homework over the holiday couldn't quench the spirit of Christmas. The students spilled from their beds awakening to their piles of presents. The excited chatter and joy filled the dormitories and common rooms, paper was torn, ribbons were cut and the heavenly aromas from the kitchen drifted through the castle.
There was one who didn't quite wake up in the best of moods. Harry at the crack of dawn had been rudely roused by Dobby, the house elf in his earnest wanted to give Harry his presents in person. Harry hadn't really thought of getting Dobby anything at all, so he quickly bluffed his way through by gifting him an old and foul pair of vernon's socks along with one of his old Weasley jumpers.
Harry's weariness instantly dissipated as he watched Ron sheepishly put on the chudley Cannons hat he had gotten him. A feeling of awkwardness rose within him. Not needing to be told he grabbed the nearest present sat at the foot of his bed and got started.
Even the Dursleys managed to send a single tissue, perhaps still remembering the Ton-Tongue Toffee. This year's haul consisted of more sweets, chocolate, mince pies and pastries, quidditch books, another epic Weasley jumper, this time emerald green with a white dragon on it, and from Sirius a penknife; Harry's most impressive present simply for its utility. It came with attachments to unlock any lock, cut any knott and a few other features both essential and somewhat nefarious.
Afterwards Harry met up with Hermione in the common room and together they went for breakfast. Their morning was spent mostly lazing in the common room, where everyone was enjoying themselves. Harry had even Brazenly walked up to Lewis King, who sat with his burns healed and threw him a money pouch of seven galleons.
"For a new wand." Harry said.
King couldn't even look him in the eye. Neither of them gave another word but the house assumed that this feud had finally come to an end and could be put to rest.
"Harry-Harry-Harry! Come get over here! Seamus you too!" Fred and George shouted them over to where they were sat.
"What is it?" Seamus asked, getting up from the sofa he was sharing cozily with Lavender.
"More presents of course!" George grinned.
"Check out these." Fred gestured to a small pile of broom shaped gifts by the fireplace, wrapped in plain brown paper and a green ribbon.
"Oh, one for each of you on the quidditch team?" Hermione peered from behind Harry.
Harry noticed one oddly small rectangular present compared to the others with the same wrapping. Picking it up he saw a letter attached was addressed to him in familiar writing. He got a bad feeling. Perhaps unsurprisingly his rectangular parcel was in fact a collection of books.
'Great Expectations by Charles Dickens'
Harry glanced up at the others who had already torn into their gifts. The quidditch team members all violently tore at the wrapping. He was right in his guess that they were brooms but it was hard not to be given their distinctive shape.
"Firebolts?" Some Gryffindor shouted out hopefully.
"The Nimbus 2X." Angelina's voice was barely a whisper and there was no disappointment there either. Her hands shook with excitement.
"I thought these were supposed to still be in pre-production." Even Harry had read up on them from a Quidditch Insider magazine at the World Cup. This broom was rumoured to be the prototype successor to the 2001 series.
They looked sleek and took inspiration from the Firebolt's choice of wood. Dark polished ebony handles and silver birch tailends fashioned in the classic Nimbus style.
"Haha! Harry didn't get one - unlucky mate!" Seamus laughed unashamedly.
"I already have I have my Firebolt thanks mate." Harry rolled his eyes and inspected the first book's bindings.
They were a faded decorated blue with gold lettering and it had that very old book smell. He checked the date published inside.
1861. That's mad who gives away books like this as a gift? He thought to himself.
"Oh yeah… What did you get then Harry?"
"Just some books. Who sent these anyway?" He waved volume one in front him with the suspect letter already sitting hidden in his back pocket.
"Check the tag. It says there." Angelina answered. She was lovingly running her hand over the handle and down the spine of the broom and sighing with content.
Harry grinned knowing first hand the euphoria for a quidditch fanatic to be in possession of such a finely crafted broom. His nostalgia was short lived and he bent down picking up a fallen green ribbon from the floor, attached as promised was a golden parchment label.
'Wishing you a merry Christmas and the best of luck in the forthcoming competitions. Please accept this gift on behalf the nation. Courtesy of the Viridian Trading Group proud sponsors of the Triwizard Tournament.
Signed, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Antares Greengrass.'
Harry's eyes narrowed and without a second glance he tossed the ribbon into the fireplace beside him. It was some kind of joke, with her name written all over it. His head filled with a hundred questions but only one seemed important right now.
"You guys know who the Viridian Trading Group are?" He asked the twins.
Having expected this question the two smirked.
"Only the single largest multinational conglomerate in the known magical world. They own a lot of subsidiaries, got their fingers in everyone's pies." Fred wiggled his eyebrows.
"We thought about writing to their investment branch in the summer about a startup loan for our joke shop. They're basically a bank in their own right since asking for loan from Gringotts will have goblins stripping the clothes off your back." George explained.
And having expected this question they then pulled Harry into a secretive huddle. "There is probably someone else you can speak to if you want, y'know, insider knowledge on one's daddy dearest." Fred tapped his nose with a wink.
"Got it." Harry pulled away with a long groan and stood up.
George followed him up in high spirits and loudly cheered to those around him with his arms spread wide. "So. Broom race around the castle anyone?"
"Is that a challenge?" Harry grinned and accepted the distraction eagerly.
By the time they reached the pitch the other members of the quidditch team had the exact same thoughts. The only ones missing were the Slytherin members which wasn't a surprise. Even with their new brooms none of them were a match for Harry, though Angelina came in at a close second place. Harry was very pleased with this. They put this down to the fact the Firebolt was still superior in top speed and control by a margin.
The rest of their day was spent with aerial snowball fights with a side of six a side no-snitch quidditch with alternating teams. When the sun began to fall they all agreed it was time to go back up to the castle.
The walk back felt long and was full of trepidation for Harry. Most of the scenarios he imagined were of him tripping over or something equally embarrassing.
Back in the fourth year boys dormitory, along with his other housemates who had little to practically no experience with formal events, Harry stood shrugging helplessly while attempting to complete his bowtie with little success. He had to admit though his dress robes weren't bad at all. Black and sharp, fitting his slim form and the dinner robe hiding just how skinny he was. His emerald bow tie and matching waistcoat were patterned in an intricate design. It was just like Mrs Weasley to pick out something to compliment his eyes. Unfortunately his hair was a lost cause as always.
"Your turn Harry, you look like you're about to strangle yourself." Ginny had just finished helping Ron with his large frilly bowtie. She waved him towards a large mirror that had been stationed in the corner.
"It's certainly crossing my mind." He joked. "Feel free to finish the job."
She was wearing a pale pink gown, an antique string of pearls decorated her neck with matching earrings. They were a gift from her aunt Muriel she received that morning. Harry noticed how she would nervously play with them as if to check they were really real.
She laughed just as easily while Harry straightened up before her.
"And how is it you know how to do this?" He had been trying not to stare but he really thought she looked stunning.
"Dad, Bill, Charlie and Percy." Ginny counted. "You'd think one of them might've learned how to tie a bow at one point. How're you feeling?"
"Like I've got devil's snare in my stomach." Harry rubbed the back of his head.
"You're the one who chose to go with the Slytherin." Ron muttered. He was currently salvaging some of his dignity by severing off some of the excess lace with his wand. To his credit it did make his maroon robes look more like actual robes and less like a dress.
"Tracey isn't so bad." Neville said quietly. "She is really good at Herbology and never made jokes about me like Draco and Pansy did."
Compared to Neville however, who had sharpened up considerably, Ron was still looking a little rough on the edges.
"Maybe not right in front of you Nev. She still snickers away to herself in potions and I heard she loves to gossip. I'll bet you anything she wants dirt on you Harry." For a second Ron remembered himself. He closed his mouth and glared back at the mirror.
"He will be fine." Ginny rolled her eyes at him. "There you go all finished. You're probably more worried about your feet than your partner, right Harry?"
"Right - yeah, and thanks a lot Gin." Harry smiled at her brightly, his tie now complete.
"So where is she? Thought she might come say hello or badger you about being late or something by now." Ron asked impatiently. His eyes narrowed at Harry as if something suspicious was going.
"Hermione is still fixing her hair. It's been a challenge, even with Lavender and Parvati helping. And no I still don't know who is taking her either. It's a mystery to us all."
"Bad form pining for another fella's date don't you think?" Seamus interjected. "You even manage to find anyone Ron?"
"Bugger off Seamus, there is someone actually." Ron defended himself. "I'm gonna go down to wait for her now." With a last disdainful look in the mirror he left.
"Wait that wasn't' a no?" Seamus called after him and chased Ron out of the dormitory to pester him further.
Harry shook his head. He wondered if he had time to brush his teeth again while still trying to avoid looking directly at Ginny.
"We'll go too, see you downstairs Ginny." Neville grabbed Dean and followed suit.
"Thanks Neville." Ginny gave him a smile.
Harry watched them leave with envy, feeling slightly awkward being left alone with the youngest Weasley.
"So who is it? Do you know?" He asked carefully.
"My friend actually, Luna Lovegood. I thought it would be good for them both - well him mostly. So I asked her for him."
"So he wasn't stubbornly waiting for a chance with Hermione then?"
She laughed again. "No no no. He was reluctant at first, what with his failed attempts to ask several girls and then there was the whole Fleur disaster. But he came around to the idea in the end."
"Is she nice?" Harry couldn't help but ask.
"She's the best. Last year we became very close." Ginny smiled fondly, "After the diary and everything that happened... I struggled to talk to anyone. I really struggled." A look of pain came over her as the memories surfaced. "My other friends they couldn't understand the trauma. When we were in Egypt my brothers treated me like glass and no offence while you never treated me differently - you and Hermione were always a bit occupied."
"Sorry." Harry lowering his head.
"It's not your fault Harry, you are the one who saved me. I owe you my life, I'll never forget. But I'm not your responsibility. I was isolating myself, shutting down, crying - I blamed myself for it all. But then Luna came. She seemed to know just how to talk to me, helped me sort through everything. She has a way of helping you with your perspective. She is something of an outcast too, but also so much more than that."
Harry listened to her carefully, feeling a little uncomfortable that he hadn't thought more of Ginny's situation and that he could have done more than few kind words and smiles here and there.
"She- she sounds great."
"She really is. If I get chance I'll introduce you." Ginny took a deep breath "You should know Harry, I've wanted to speak to you for a little while now, but I haven't gotten the chance. You don't make it easy." She gave him a pointed look coupled with an amused smiled.
"Ah. Sorry..." Harry had felt like this was coming. His insides churned like an earthworm through the mud.
"Ron wouldn't talk about what happened and what was said between you two… but Hermione gave me the rundown."
"So we aren't friends anymore it's been that way for a while now. What more is there to say?" Harry averted his gaze out of the window and shifted guiltily.
"I'd like you to try to be. I know it's probably selfish of me to ask. I feel like right now I'm the only one he really has to talk to about... things - and even then he isn't really talking to me. I've realised how important that is, now I know what that's like."
"He is a big boy Ginny he can cope."
"I know, but I also don't think you've been fair on him. I understand you are dealing with a lot, there is always this heavy pressure around you. Ron though, he wasn't even mad about you being in the tournament, not really."
"What was he so mad about then?" His words came out sharper than he intended. Even now Harry could feel his blood run hot again. It wasn't Ginny's fault but he couldn't help his annoyance rising.
"He was jealous - just not about the goblet, you had that first fight but he thought things would be fine right after - friends fight it happens. Ron and Hermione argued with each other to death almost last year."
"I guess that's true." He said quietly.
"But then you disappeared and this space just grew Harry. You see he really thought you and Hermione were together and you used the falling out to push him away. I told him he was being silly but it wouldn't leave his head. After the selection you were always by each other's side, always disappearing together. It really did look like that in a twisted jealous kind of way, to a lot of people. It was a topic in the common room for weeks. He got stupid since it was like his biggest fear came true."
"I know he has a crush the size of Jupiter on Hermione but even he has to realise that's ridiculous-"
"He screwed up Harry. But did you or Hermione really make an effort to help matters? Can you honestly say that you tried to first explain the situation? You saw him earlier - he still worries about you right now. I know what he is feeling right now is regret. He might not be cool and can't make friends easily. Fred and George have practically taken your side, and that even now makes me mad." Ginny's temper flared, her eyes flashing dangerously.
Ron would never admit his feelings proudly, scapegoating the tournament and him being a champion was only too easy to hide behind. Still it hurt.
And here was Ginny fighting his case for him earnestly.
"Right now - I think more than anything else he is lonely. That's part of why I set him up with Luna this evening. He's my brother Harry, I don't want to see him like this and you bring out the best in him. So I want you two to patch things up, he'll be willing if you are. Consider it my christmas gift?" She looked up at him. Her expression softening, pleading with her big brown eyes.
Loneliness. This observation of her's really struck Harry. He knew it well too.
"I'm just asking you to talk normally to him again. No sarcasm, no quips, don't ignore him if he ignores you. It shouldn't be hard just treat him like you do Neville, Dean and Seamus and take it from there?"
"Fine whatever sure." Harry mumbled feeling ashamed.
"Promise me." She looked up at him dead in the eye and held up her pinkie finger.
"Really Harry." She replied so aggressively it startled him.
But how could he go back? Harry wondered. And then there was Hermione's current feelings to consider too. At the moment they were growing less than favourable to Ron since the first task. Harry's brow furrowed, all this hurt his head.
"Okay, I promise to try." In the end he could only bow to Grinny's determined expression.
Linking her pinky with his they shook.
"Thank you. It means the world to me and it'll mean more to him. Now, would you please accompany me to the entrance hall Harry? I've made Neville wait long enough." Ginny looked down turning slightly pink again.
He hadn't had chance to see it before, or rather he hadn't been paying attention, but Ginny was no longer the little girl hiding herself from him anymore. She was blossoming beautifully.
"Sure." Harry smiled at her. Letting her take his arm he guided her out of Gryffindor tower, as he did there was a throb in his heart it was a jumble of something both happy and sad.
As he cleared his mind of their conversation they arrived to the bustling entrance hall. From the courtyard Peeves sung another ludacris Christmas carol echoed by the suits of armor along the passageways. He tried not to pay attention to everyone coupled together chatting happily, or pairing off and entering the Great Hall already.
Ginny with one last smile left his side for Neville.
Spotting the other champions he looked for a path through the students. Fleur was the first he saw. Next to her Cho stood pretty in a traditional cheongsam, positively beaming beside Cedric. Needless to say Fleur was overwhelmingly stunning as always, Harry barely noticed Oliver next to her.
Looking passed her allure that made her seemingly perfect he noticed she had actually made very little effort with her appearance. A messy bun was all she had done with her hair and her dress was made of simple silver satin, long and shimmering endlessly. Her neck boasted only thin silver chain and small diamond studs in her ears.
However as he came closer and more attendees moved off his blood froze.
His stomach turned and his mouth hung open in surprise. Draco was smirking at him, his expensive black velvet dress robes similar to Harry's own save a vampiric looking high collar. It wasn't Draco who made him stop.
Stood by his side was Daphne smiling on his arm and speaking to him intimately.
It looked so unnatural. Daphne had never worn such a light expression around Draco before. It was a rare thing for her to smile so why now and with him? Harry felt something alien swell through him. It lied somewhere between disgust and anger. A part of him wanted to confront them and yet another part wanted to get as far away as possible as fast as possible. Harry tensed, this wasn't the place, his legs wouldn't move either.
"Is someving wrong Harry?" The strained question came to him from behind.
Harry turned and was met with Viktor. He was also companionless and greeted him with a firm handshake. The quidditch star looked incredibly regal with his blood red cape and fur mantle. His stiff posture showed he too was feeling anxious.
"Ah nerves I guess." Harry answered, realising he must looked awkward stood alone and very still in the midst of the crowd for too long. He was a little surprised and touched by Krum's concern though. "You?"
"Da but I am excited also." He smiled. "I hope dat dis is okay vith you."
"That's good yeah," Harry nodded growing slightly perplexed, "yeah of course, why wouldn't it be?"
Krum was no longer paying attention to him though. Instead he was smiling with a fixed gaze to the top of the stairs.
First Harry saw Lavender and Parvati smirking as they passed him by, and behind them a witch Harry only just recognised.
She just beamed at him, her skin glowing in the torch light as she drew closer.
"She is really beautiful, da?" Viktor said tenderly.
She really was. Her bushy curls had been replaced by a sleek elegant knot. Pastel blue dress robes flared and floated around her. Even her smile had changed somehow.
"Yeah." Harry murmured in agreement. There was no other word for it.
Hermione continued to shine even brighter as she took Viktor's arm. She gave him a small wave and nervous smile as they walked to the other champions lined by the double doors.
Harry however was not given the luxury of time to process her transformation.
"Mr Potter, it is almost time and you were supposed to bring a partner. Or did you really plan on dancing by yourself?" Professor Mcgonagall's brisk voice cut across the entrance hall.
"I did ask someone Professor she just isn't here... yet. She will be though." As the glances came over him Harry had to adjust his expression. Unfortunately he had been caught off guard and the smile he painted came off as crooked and insincere.
Professor Mcgonagall ignored this and turned her attention over to the other students who weren't champions or their partners.
"If you are ready do not dawdle and proceed inside to the great hall if you would." She announced.
With Lavender now in tow, Seamus gave him a reassuring clap on the shoulder. The few remaining students slowly trickled out until it was just Harry and the Champions.
Tracey was nowhere to be seen. Harry felt his heart begin hammer in panic.
'Where the hell is she?'
Harry was doing his best to not let his anxiety show. He turned to Daphne trying to meet her gaze.
She wasn't even paying attention, in fact she was ignoring him quite purposefully. Draco's mouth twisted with mirth.
In the corner of his eye Fleur murmured something to Oliver who nodded. Hermione was looking equally alarmed for him.
"Mr Potter if she doesn't show herself in the next minute I will be leading you into the hall with myself as your partner." McGonagall gave him a sharp reminder. It wasn't a threat either.
Harry gritted his teeth with the feeling of helplessness and defeat.
"That won't be necessary professor. I'm here now." A silky voice entered from above.
Harry's head span. He could only blink and gape in horror at the owner of that despised voice.
AN: It's been like what two years? It is good to be back. This chapter has been an unimaginable pain and love for me. Stopping, starting, stopping, redrafts x10 etc but I never really gave up on it I can proudly say. And this only part 1 because I don't know how to accurately plan chapters apparently and end up writing twice as much as I mean to, plus cut content. Seriously I cut out a 2k word folklore tale about giants that just I made up for this particular chapter.
Leave a review if you like or if feel like sending me hate mail you can reach me in my pms. Again I'm working without a beta again so go easy on any grammar mistakes. Feel free to point them out so I can fix for future updates.