Sorry, sorry, sorry. Haven't abandoned this. I thought I was ready to upload this chapter a few months ago, but then I had to re-write half of it because I didn't like how things had advanced. I was going to start the Second Task and leave this in a cliffhanger, but I decided not to because it's evil. So next chapter has the complete Second Task, and hopefully it'll take less time to upload.
Please enjoy! And I'm sorry for any mistakes, specially in the last part. Feel free to point them out and I'll try to fix them up ASAP!
Young Justice and the Pentawizard Tournament
For the Young Justice team, the rest of the winter break was spent doing heavy surveillance and even heavier training. With the Hogwarts students hibernating indoors, most of the fields were up for grabs. Kaldur had found some handy warming spells for their clothes, which made their sessions contain 70% less complaints from the team.
"This is fantastic! Why didn't we think of using magic in our missions before?" Dick had asked, vaulting over the rocks protruding from the thick layers of snow and generally blowing off steam like crazy. A few days after Christmas, they'd gotten clearance to make video-calls home, for which they'd had to travel a couple miles off Hogsmeade. They all felt pretty nostalgic after that, but Dick had been particularly struck after his chat with Bruce. Perhaps he missed the late nights of patrolling rough Gotham, or he just wanted to distract himself from the fact his guardian was a whole ocean away, but he'd been overcompensating during training to the point Wally thought he would catch himself a cold.
"Calm down, man, you're making Artemis look bad," he called, barely managing to duck away from a high kick. "Hey, those heels are hard!"
"Shut it, Wally!" Her punches and kicks were very fierce today. They had agreed on a simple spar, without arrows or super speed, and Wally was finding it a bit hard to uphold his end of the deal. He was feeling a bit sluggish in the cold. "I hate this weather!"
"Training under these conditions will be very useful, though. We don't get too many missions in this weather." With all the unavoidable snow around them, Kaldur had even begun trying to use it in conjunction with his water-bearers. So far, he only had heavy sloshing, but he was quickly getting the handle of it. Sadly, he couldn't manage to hit either Dick or M'gann, who was doing quick loops in the air. It was safe enough to do so, being out of view of the tallest castle towers.
She'd just begun drifting down onto the snow when Wally's world did a ninety-degree turn, and he found himself with a faceful of white.
"Three to one," Artemis said, her voice slightly muffled through the scarf she was re-arranging over her mouth and nose. It was amazing she could move so fast with all those layers of clothing on, but Wally wasn't about to admit that to her. Not after having to spit out bits of frozen dirt along with the snow that got into his mouth.
"That was just mean," Wally sniffed, vibrating his hands through his hair to melt away any snow he couldn't shake off normally. "We've been here for two hours, it's almost time for breakfast in the castle. Can we just call it quits for today?"
It was the last day of winter break, so they would have to cut their training short in the future. Many students used this route to get to the greenhouses for Herbology, a class none of them had been too keen on trying out, so they'd have to relocate to a spot closer to the forbidden forest.
"I agree. Besides, Conner isn't even here."
"I've been wondering about that." The boy wonder had stopped doing somersaults for the moment, it seemed. He was rubbing his gloved hands together in an attempt to warm them up, but it served him right for showing off so blatantly. "Where's the big guy, anyway?"
"He's taking care of the Skrewts with Mr. Hagrid," M'gann piped. "There are fewer of them now, and no one else volunteered to help out through the break."
"Gee, wonder why," Wally murmured to Dick, low enough so that truly-consternated M'gann wouldn't hear. Last he'd heard, the Skrewts only kept getting bigger, meaner, and more dangerous with each passing day. Besides, he was willing to bet Conner just wanted to be around Hagrid so the big softie wouldn't be by himself all break. Wally had heard that his date with Madame Maxime hadn't gone as well as he would have liked.
"I suppose it's about time we head back in," Kaldur conceded, but Wally saw him rub his arms lightly as he put away his bearers.
No one complained as they made their way back towards the castle, leaving a thick trail behind them on the snow. The stone walls of the castle weren't the warmest they could be, but they were heaven after the cold fields and the biting wind they had been forced to endure all day. Saying Wally was jealous of the lazy students slowly filling into the Great Hall would be an understatement. All bundled up in thick coats which almost covered the heads of the ickle first years, slurping noisily away at plates of hot porridge or prodding sleepily at plates of steaming eggs and bacon.
"Breakfast!" Wally ducked into the closest table available, which happened to be Ravenclaw, to begin piling food into an empty plate.
"Don't inhale your food this time, Wally," Dick mocked him, reaching out for a pitcher full of milk.
"Seriously, your hands are blurring out." The rest of the team filed in the end of the table, too hungry to seek out their usual seats further up in the dining hall.
That would explain why some of the nearby Ravenclaw kids were staring at him. But it didn't explain why they also stared at his friends when they thought no one noticed. Whipping his mouth with the back of his hand, Wally gave a wider look around the room. There was murmuring directed their way, shifty looks, and uncomfortable avoiding of gazes when he stared back.
"Anyone else got the feeling something weird's going on?" he asked, eyebrows arching. The situation wasn't discomforting enough for him to lose his appetite, though, so he continued stuffing scrambled eggs into his mouth. Aunt Iris's were better, but the Hogwarts elves weren't half bad at cooking.
"Yeah, someone wrote about us on the paper." There was some rustling of paper as Dick passed over the newspaper he'd found discarded on the seat next to him, displaying the pages for the rest of them to see.
A moving picture of a large building Wally had only seen once sat on the top of the page. It was an old building, though not in any way similar to Hogwart's castle: it resembled one of those pompous universities, with neat archways and a large campus, though it looked like they had just put up new, crystal-clear windows. The shapes of children and teenagers in black cotton sweaters and pants wandered through the main hall without paying mind to the photographer, and even a few birds flew in and out of sight atop a looming clock tower.
"I still don't get how they manage that," he said, brow furrowing. Alan Fletcher's The Magical Core had given him a lot of insight on the metaphysical theories of how magic worked, but there was still so much research to be done about the topic, and nearly no wizards who were interested in doing so. The book hadn't touched on how it could be possible to make a picture, or even a portrait, so life-like and continuously in motion, which was a shame.
"Shut up and actually look at what you're seeing, will you?"
"Touchy," Wally snorted, but let his eyes wander further down anyway. There were six photos there, much smaller than the first one and completely motionless. They were easy to recognize: they had been taken mere months ago, to aid in their cover-up stories for this mission. "Well, that didn't take long at all. We're not even half-way through the Tournament and they're already snooping."
"So they dug up our school records." Fake school records, which Batman had prepared beforehand to give the Houdini Institute's Principal, Jonathan Weiss.
The head of the school was the only one aware of their true identities as junior members of the Justice League, while the rest of the school staff believed them to be Zatara's students. He home-schooled his own daughter, so it wasn't a stretch to say he would have some apprentices, or that they would be the ones chosen to go on a dangerous Tournament that the American Magical Government frowned upon. Had they not been hand-picked and trained by Giovanni Zatara, Honorary Vice-Principal of the Houdini Institute, Honorary Ambassador of Muggle Affairs, and member of the Justice League, they wouldn't have been allowed out of the continent.
American Wizards weren't terribly fond of their British counterparts, which they had used fully to their advantage in this mission. Originally, the plan had been to just pose as students, without going through the troublesome need to set up fake records in the Magical Institute or the Magical Government. The idea had been shot down by Batman so quickly, it was laughable.
"Always have a fail safe," Dick sang in a small whisper, a satisfied smile pulling at his lips.
"It happened a lot sooner than expected, though," Kaldur said, frowning lightly as he ran his fingers over the page. "I thought the Institute would be less liberal with sharing private information."
"Forget about that." Dick's merry expression had fallen into a deep scowl, baby blues reading over the article quickly. Then he added, in a voice low enough for only them to hear: "I thought we were good at this undercover thing."
Unsure about what his friend could mean, Wally finally dropped his fork, leaning over the table to actually read the paper.
By Rita Skeeter
The long-standing animosity between the American and British Governments has led to many changes between our magical societies, writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent. This year, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has seen the revival of the famous Triwizard Tournament, as has been covered by the Prophet through the last months. Although long-standing tradition dictates it as an European-attending event, a special invitation was extended to one of the most outstanding magical institutes across the pond. The Houdini Institute for Alternative Magic has been lauded for taking on the most difficult cases of magical society and turning them into proper witches and wizards, but perhaps their non-magical methods and their close interaction with muggles have had negative influences over their students.
Richard Grayson, young thirteen-year-old Champion, has rich magical roots in Europe, so one could trust his education at home to be that of a proper wizard. The same could be said for Megan Morse and Kal Durham, seniors at the Houdini Institute, and only children of outstanding American pure-blood wizard families. It is those students most exposed to the muggle way of life which have shown the most troublesome behavior, both in their own school and overseas.
"Crock attacked me unprovoked, in public," says Draco Malfoy, a mortified fourth-year student. "Broke my nose, she did, with her bare fists no less! I never thought I'd have to face such brutal muggle violence within the school."
This sort of physical violence is highly frowned upon by our educational system, but perhaps things are different in Houdini's Institute. It is nothing to be taken lightly, either: Conner Kent, fellow senior and friend of the Houdini Champion, has more than once shown he possesses incredible strength, up to par with the alarmingly-large Hogwarts' groundkeeper. This reporter has had the misfortune of seeing the troubled child in a fit of rage, and will confess to having feared for her safety for the briefest moments. To know that some of these students are so open to using violence on fellow witches and wizards is alarming, to say the least, but this is not to be held against their Institution. A mental evaluation might not be remiss on young Mr. Kent, who shows exceedingly possessive tendencies not only over his own friends, but also presses them upon Hogwarts students, young Champion Harry Potter in particular.
"I don't have exceedingly possessive tendencies."
"Yo, Con," Wally greeted absently over his shoulder, having heard his friend's heavy steps from the moment he stepped into the Great Hall. His broad-chested friend was in the process of shaking off bits of snow and singed coat off his shoulders, reading the paper over Wally's shoulder and ignoring the looks some of the Hogwart's students were giving him. They had all gotten better at that sort of thing since getting here. "And you sort of do."
"But I'm not mentally unstable," Conner argued.
"That you aren't," Dick agreed, tapping on the following paragraph insistently. "What bothers me isn't Skeeter's psychological evaluation."
While the methods under which these children have been educated are certainly different from ours, one has to wonder if the Houdini Institute's reasons for accepting the invitation into the Tournament as are innocuous and seeking of magical cooperation as they seem. The unveiled interest each of the foreign students show for the high-standing judges of the Triwizard Tournament is nothing short of unhealthy, if their constant attention towards them is any indication.
Just last month, the group of Houdini students were overheard talking about surveillance, and young Richard's infatuation with Hogwart's newest staff member, ex-Auror Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, suggest a deep interest in not only the ways our European schools carry themselves, but in the Ministry of Magic and it's legal workings as well.
It is uncertain, almost impossible, that this interest was born from such young students. Perhaps next time Headmaster Jonathan Weiss wishes to learn about European alternatives in education, he will consider sending a proper envoy, which would be well-received for sure.
"What the hell."
Wally thought his own open mouth was enough of an agreement, but he schooled his expression into an amused face when Dick elbowed him on the side, mindful of the peering students.
"Haha, talk about paranoid," he said lightly, scratching his chin and pushing the newspaper away, perhaps a bit more roughly than he should.
Artemis was gripping her fork hard enough for her knuckles to turn white, Megan was trying and failing to hide her consternation, and Kaldur was pensively staring at a bowl of oatmeal. Conner had his brow furrowed and wasn't eating anything, but his bad-mood front was common enough that no one would suspect it was due to the article. Dick was trying to play it off casual, too, flipping through the remains of the crumbled paper, but Wally could see the tension in his shoulders, and hear the restless tap of his heel against the wooden floor.
"Infatuation," he scoffed. "They make it sound like I have a freaking crush on the guy! I don't. If anything, I have a nonfatuation. Seriously, I could do much better for juvenile crushes than a half-baked pirate."
His tone was playful, but his smirk was practiced. Wally knew what he must really be thinking: the Skeeter woman had ruined everything. She was way off in her conclusion, but she still gave away their interest in the judges. How had she even known? Who could have overheard them talking about their patrols?
They always made sure there was no one around, because Conner could hear someone drop a pin ten miles away if he focused, and he'd never heard any steps or an extra set of lungs or heartbeats while they talked. Besides, Skeeter hadn't been allowed into school grounds since before the winter break. Conner had gotten tired of chasing her and her photographer away from Dick's vicinity (a service their short friend never asked for, but put up with nonetheless), and took his complaint up to Dumbledore himself. As far as they knew, she was banned from the castle and its surrounding area.
The familiar brush of M'gann's mind against his own like a bristled brush made him look up, but the ruffled tendril pulled back after a small shake of Kaldur's head. It was too risky. A school of magic was like a restless river that would easily drown the sound of M'gann's mental streaming, in the best case. It would be easy to fall back on it to solve this little problem, but what they really needed was to figure out what they had done wrong.
Boy, this was going to be even more fun that their morning snow-training. They'd have to step up the game.
By consensus, the most hated classes right after the winter holidays were those that required students to spend long periods of time outside. The climate was so bad that the Restless Snapdragons Professor Sprout had been growing in the corner of Greenhouse two had grown lethargic. On the upside, the brightly-colored flowers no longer tried to bite off pieces of their coats, or distract them from the task at hand.
But the thick dragon-hide gloves they had to wear for class didn't help their numbing fingers much, so it was always a relief when they could trudge back inside. Hermione was looking forward to getting up to the Common Room so she could finish her Charms essay, which she knew Ron and Harry would try to put off for the weekend. Seeing as she didn't want her best friends to fall behind, though, she had decided to borrow Ron's exploding snap deck without telling him. Stealing that distraction should have been enough to force Ron and Harry to sit down with her and do some advance on their work, but as luck would have it, there was an even bigger, louder distraction on the way to the Gryffindor Tower.
They were almost all the way up to the castle when a mix of bright lights and shrill whistling reached their ears. A couple students were gathered around the clocktower courtyard, where Fred and George Weasley were lighting small fireworks with the tips of their wands. The fuses were kind of short, so they tossed them into the air right away, where they exploded in a shower of lights and complex designs that normal muggle fireworks would have never managed. One of the sparklers even twisted midair to turn into a dove made out of red light, which fluttered over the head of a laughing Richard Grayson before dissolving into a shower of sparks.
"This is amazing!" said Richard, one hand rustling his hair to get rid of whatever could have been left there.
"And against the rules!" Hermione stomped over to the small group of people, which also included Wally West and Kal Durham.
"Hey guys," Wally greeted, but brought his eyes back to the sky to see looping letters drawn in fire. They looked like two M's, but Hermione reflected that they must have been meant to be W's. Despite the small mistake, she had to admit this sort of thing took some complex spell-casting.
"You shouldn't be playing with those," she said. There didn't seem to be many fireworks left: George's arms were loaded with four or five small ones, maybe, and Fred wasn't carrying any.
"We're not playing," said Fred, as he lit up another one and tossed it high above his head. He clicked his tongue when what looked to be some sort of fuzzy flower appeared in the sky. "That was supposed to be a lion."
"Needs more erumpent fluid," decided George after observing the malformed lion head dissolve in the air.
"Well, if you're not just showing off, then what's going on?" Harry asked from beside Hermione. It was Richard who answered, stepping up and sweeping one firework out of George's arms to inspect it.
"Don't sweat it, it's just a demonstration. I thought Fred and George had some amazing ideas, but I wanted to have a look at what they could do with a limited budget before pitching their ideas home." He carefully turned the firework in his hands around, inspecting the short fuse and the crude appearance. They didn't look good enough for selling, nor very safe, so hopefully what they had on them now was all of it. Hermione would loathe seeing the dangerous things in the hands of the first years up in the Gryffindor Tower. "Just curious, but what's this thing's shelf life? Do you think I could send a few home to America?"
"There shouldn't be a problem with it, so long as you keep 'em dry."
"I'd say they could last for a month or two, as they are now. Want to add in a few of our special candies?"
"Write down what each does, and it's a deal."
So they did have more than what they were carrying. For a moment, Hermione seriously considered telling McGonagall, so she could check out their dorm and confiscate all of it. The idea fled quickly, though: as long as they didn't actually hurt anyone, she could try and pretend she didn't know about their secret stacks.
"What are you people talking about?" Ron interrupted, fed up with being ignored. He was always very loud when he was upset, so Hermione had to look around to make sure he hadn't
"Richard's father is a businessman," Kal explained, ("Dick," Richard corrected beside him) "he might be interested in making an investment in Fred and George's projects."
"So that's what you wanted to talk to them about on the Ball?" asked Harry, eyebrows arched.
Hermione didn't really know what they were talking about. She hadn't been at their table for most of the Ball, and after that, Ron had been insufferably short-tempered towards her, and only got worse when they touched the topic. They had reached a truce of sorts, though he still became hostile whenever Victor Krum was mentioned, so she knew what this was about. She just didn't know how to fix it, because Ron was being very thick-headed about the whole subject.
"Yep," Richard nodded. He'd pulled out a muggle lighter from his pocket, tapping it against the firework in his hand. "So, could I light the fuse with fire, or is it a strict wand-magic activation?"
George went to explain that for now, a lighter would do, too, but Hermione had stopped listening. The doors to the castle had opened, and she could see Professor McGonagall's tall frame appear under it, accompanied by the limping shape of Professor Moody. She could tell Wally had seen them out of the corner of his eyes, too, and she spotted him giving Richard a little nudge on the side.
"Whoa!" There was a small spark of fire, and the firecracker shot out of Richard's hand with a high whistle.
The whistler went off parallel to the ground, racing just inches above the cobblestone and headed straight for their instructors. Professor Moody tried and failed to set it off with a quick finite, but all he got for his trouble was the device homing in on him, twirling around his wooden leg and upwards on his body. Hermione had to squint against the bright curtain of golden sparks surrounding the mismatched man, who bellowed in irritation. No matter how much he cast on the firework, it didn't stop it's rotations until it ran out of juice on its own.
"Mr. Grayson, Messrs. Weasley!" said Professor McGonagall, once the whistler had fallen harmless to the ground, where it was blasted off by a fuming Professor Moody. "I would've thought you had more sense than this! Someone could have gotten hurt, not to mention we have rules against these sort of things!"
"Yeah, about that, technically, we just can't light them in the school hallway, and we're outdoors," Wally pointed out, and Hermione saw him bump fists with Richard behind the shorter boy's back. She thought he had a lot of ridiculous bravado, in addition to very tussled hair. She could've sworn he'd been better groomed a moment ago.
Professor McGonagall's mouth was pressed into a thin line as she shot him a stern look, looking like she'd just found a lost Weasley twin.
"Please, Professor," Richard produced a folded piece of paper from his pocket, handing it over to the strict Professor before she could snap at either of them. "I have a permit from Professor Zatara. And for what it's worth, Professor Moody, I'm really sorry about that firework just now."
Hermione suspected Richard didn't feel sorry in the least, for all he oozed charisma with his smile; Professor Moody looked like he didn't believe a word coming out of him either. Their Defense professor had been very testy with the foreigners since that Skeeter woman published the gossipy article about them. Malfoy had tried mocking Crook and Grayson about it, but when it became apparent that none of them cared too much what the papers said of them, the rest of the castle had lost interest in it.
"All seems to be in order." Professor McGonagall didn't sound pleased, and she refused to return the permit to Richard once she was done with it. "I will not take points or assign detention, this time, but any more requests of this sort are to be run through me in the future. Did I make myself clear, Mr. Grayson?"
The courtyard cleared up surprisingly fast after that, and Hermione drifted away from Ron and Harry to give Wallace and Richard a piece of her mind.
"That was a really dangerous thing you did," she began, and cut herself short when she caught their eyes on her. Lecturing people (particularly Ron and Harry) about doing unnecessarily dangerous things usually didn't get her impish smirks in return.
"I know," said Richard, with that same disturbing chuckle she'd thought she'd heard back on the First Task.
"Totally worth it," Wally shrugged, and both of them were heading down a corridor on the right, following their friends in the direction of their sleeping quarters.
Hermione stood where she was for a moment, trying to shake off the uneasy feeling that the whole group was up to no good. But she had an Arithmancy essay to finish, and whatever that pair was getting into couldn't be more dangerous than setting off fireworks in the middle of a schoolyard.
If they got nothing out of this little campaign of theirs, at least Dick had confirmation on one front: it was easier to cling to Wally's shoulders when he didn't have his bright yellow suit on. It was a good thing, because the last thing they needed right now was for Dick to fall off and knock over a suit of armor. Wally had already done that, which was why they were in this mess to begin with.
"Right, turn right!" Dick hissed against Wally's ear, and they nearly toppled over at the sharp curve, but Wally pulled through and regained their balance on the last second.
Hogwarts' hallways were wide enough for rivers of children to rush towards their next class without clogging them up, but they weren't nearly large enough for Wally to make clean turns with cargo. It would be a different matter entirely if there weren't suits of armor and other objects of the clanking variety on the end of every hallway, but for now they couldn't go much faster.
Wizards, despite their many strengths in the field of the occult and the wand-waving, weren't very fast on their feet, so even without flight or super speed, Dick and Artemis should be able to outrun any of them. The problem was that the castle had many secret passages the team didn't know about, and they couldn't be sure their pursuer wouldn't take one that beat them to the next landing. Better use Wally's speed to put as much ground between them and Moody, and preferably get back to their sleeping quarters before they could bump into him.
They had researched the reach of Moody's magical eye carefully over the weeks, and while they still didn't have an exact measurement, they had an approximate. After Rita Skeeter's article in the Daily Prophet, Dick had decided it would have to be enough. To their good fortune, the Weasley twins had been quite willing to give their little pyrotechnic show earlier than Dick had anticipated, and it was only a matter of timing the demonstration with Moody's free periods and known castle rounds. Professor McGonagall showing up hadn't been an issue; Dick only had to be a bit more careful aiming.
All in all, their plan had been very simple. Distract Moody's magical eye with a firework, have Wally speed-toss a spare tracking device at the back of Moody's belt, and use a handy Point-Me spell to have a general idea of where the small gadget was.
The bug wasn't functional within Hogwarts grounds, but it was no bigger than a small pebble, and nearly impossible to properly take apart with magic (they'd had Zatara try, but it was a bad job all around if you didn't know what you were trying to dissemble). They would then gamble on the man not noticing the small pebble, not taking off the belt, and doing something incriminatory, all on the same day.
It was a swiftly-made plan; they had never expected to get any results from it, other than further proof that Moody was the most paranoid person to ever walk on Earth and maybe a hint of how to better get the drop on him. And yet here they were, trying to get as much space as possible between them and Moody after having followed the man all the way down to the corridor housing most professors' offices.
"What's that sound?" he asked, suddenly aware of a loud, echoing mechanic sound...
Then, out of nowhere, something shot out of a tapestry to the right, bouncing off the floor and right between Wally's knees.
It wasn't hard to trip at the speed they were going, and Dick landed on a heap on the ground after being propelled over his friend's head. A familiar wailing filled the corridor for a few moments before coming to an abrupt stop.
"Where did this thing come from?" Wally asked in a whisper, quite needlessly, as the short wailing of the golden egg would've given their location away already. He turned the bulky metal egg in his hands as though he'd find the owner's name written on it.
"Another secret passage," said Dick, who was already inspecting the gnomish tapestry hanging inconspicuously on the wall. No one would ever suspect it of spitting golden eggs at innocent passerbies. His eyes darted over the dark passage it revealed, but there was no sign of another champion around.
Loud hollering behind them had him ducking past the tapestry and into the shadows, Wally following his lead on the opposite side of the pathway. Not a moment too late, because just then, Filch the caretaker stomped through the corridor, calling after poltergeists and hissing threats and sweet words to his animal companion. He'd been alerted by the brief wailing of the egg, and who knew who else had been.
Mrs. Norris' ugly mug pushed past the tapestry, her malicious glowing eyes searching the staircase before she noticed Dick and Wally on either side of the entrance. The speedster wiggled his fingers in an attempt at a charming greeting, and while the feline didn't seem too impressed, she did pull back and continue down the corridor.
Filch had never been hard to get past, and once Conner earned them the cat's approval, sneaking around for their night rounds had been laughably easy. Mrs. Norris only liked Conner and only barely tolerated the rest of them, but so long as they weren't messing with school property, she left them well alone.
"Let's go," Dick mouthed, jerking his head towards the top of the narrow staircase before them. He had a general idea of where it led, and that would have to be enough to get them back to their living quarters.
They advanced soundlessly up the flight of stairs, though Dick paused to the sound of rustled paper under his feet. In the time it took him to bend down and pick the worn-out piece of parchment, a map of some sort, Wally managed to trip on the stairs. It wasn't strange, because the castle had fake steps and a few that acted as escalators if you stood on them for too long, but he would have expected Wally to be more careful at a time like this.
"What are you doing?" Dick chided before noticing the strange look Wally was giving the stairs between them.
"I think I found them."
"And what would 'them' be, Mr. West?"
Neither of them had heard the man approaching until the tapestry fluttered on his entry. It was fortunate that Batman had been their Den Mother for so long: it kept the team on their feet for these types of situations.
"The missing steps. I think I can tell them apart now." He said it with so little thought, no one would think it was a lie. Dick felt really proud of his friend. "Oh, hi, Professor Snape! Good evening."
"Sleepless night, sir?" he added himself, nudging the folded parchment into his back pocket before the man could see it.
"Grayson." The Potions Professor both looked and sounded like he was in a bad mood, and the suspicion he regarded them with made them feel like they were stepping into his classroom for the first time. "You must be aware you're out past curfew."
There was a tone of demand in his voice, so Dick improvised.
"I wanted to work a bit on the Tournament's next clue, and Wally tagged along. Time flies and it's about time I worked on it."
"You haven't worked out what the next Task is going to be," Snape deadpanned, unbelieving. The man must not have liked the implication that one of the few students he tolerated had been lazy enough to leave the clue shrouded in mystery for so long. It would be flattering if that was the case, but to be fair, they hadn't found out about the dragons until they were brought into the Castle.
"I wouldn't say that, sir. I know what it's going to be, we were just looking for loopholes and maybe a way to solve the breathing issue."
The professor didn't look satisfied just yet. Was there a reason for his unusually high levels of suspicion?
"Is it that I'm not supposed to help out?" Wally supplied into the silence. "I thought it was fine so long as it wasn't a teacher. I doubt Professor Zatara would even answer if we asked-"
"Turn over your pockets."
Dick shared a look with Wally.
"Don't make me repeat myself, Mr. West. Mr. Grayson. Turn over your pockets."
"Ok, prof, just a second."
Dick didn't know what the man was hoping to find, but neither of them had brought anything incriminatory for their little outing, so delaying the order would only make them look contrary. There was a soft rustle of clothes behind him as Wally dug into his jacket's pockets, and a softer, closer movement right behind him.
A flowery, clean sort of scent reached Dick's nose, and he had to hold back the urge to twist around and kick whoever was reaching into the back pocket of his jeans. It was an invasion of privacy, but he allowed the invisible champion behind him to extract the piece of parchment from his person. Dick busied himself with pulling out handfuls of folded notes from his front pockets, innocent doodles he passed around with the Team when they were watching over a boring class.
"I think that's the last of it."
A wave of a wand had their belongings, along with anything remaining in their pockets, floating into Snape's reach for inspection. The man's expression darkened with every candy wrapper and piece of lint, but he returned everything once he was done, unsatisfied and wearing a stormy expression.
"Anything we can help with, Professor?" Wally offered. The man could be an ass all he wanted, but he had his loyalties in the right place, and he seemed honestly bothered tonight.
"No, West," the man replied callously. Dark eyes gave them another look-over, before turning sharply towards the tapestry again. "Get back to your dormitories. I will see that you receive proper punishment through your Deputy Headmaster."
They might get told off for not being careful enough, at most. Zatara had been so busy with the League lately, he only had time to check in once or twice a week, so the Team was mostly on their own.
"Of course, Professor."
The faint thumping of steps down the hallway had the sulky Potions Professor twisting around without even making sure the two teens followed his instructions. He'd want to intercept whoever was crossing the school at this late hour, which just might give them enough time to get away before the owner of the wooden leg caught up to them.
Wordlessly, Dick and Wally reached into the space between them to wrap their hands around scrawny limbs, though it wasn't really necessary.
"Fake step. I'm stuck," invisible-man said, and the junior superheroes hoisted him up and off the stairs. Their invisible companion was light enough that they could practically carry him up the stairs, which was very fortunate considering the rush they were in.
They made it to the upper landing and down a long hallway before any of them spoke again.
"Having fun, Harry?" Dick whispered, fishing around with his free hand to pull off the soft fabric coating Harry's body. Some sort of invisibility cloak, from the looks of it: he could see the dark silver lining on the inside but nothing else, so it looked like they were hanging out with the floating head of the Boy Who Lived.
"Loads," the teen scowled, shaking his arms free of their grips, but keeping up with their quiet steps. He accepted his Golden Egg from Wally with a relieved thank-you, but added a soft accusation: "You weren't working on the clue for the Tournament."
"Nope." They waited to see if Harry said anything to that, but it didn't seem like the teen was going to press any further. Too bad, because now Dick couldn't ask about the mysterious map in return. "Looks like you were, though. We owe you one for the First Task; need a hint?"
Harry visibly hesitated, but shook his head. "I got it." Dick had assumed as much, considering his damp hair and the squeaky-clean smell he carried.
"Attaboy. But if you need anything, just ask. Here's out stop."
They reached a crooked suit of armor, one with a helmet that was slightly caved in and a spear tilted towards the Team's temporary lodging rooms.
"Careful on the way back to Gryffindor Tower, Harry. Watch out for those fake steps." If they weren't already on Moody's radar, one of them would've followed the teen wizard to make sure he made it back safely. With his nifty cloak, though, it was unlikely he'd get caught, unless he had seriously rotten luck.
"Yeah, ok. Thanks again." One of Harry's hands appeared briefly to pull his hood back over his head, and with a subtle glimmer of moonlight, he was gone. Wally and Dick had already started down the hallway when they heard his detached voice again: "Wait. Did you… did you see anyone on your way to the staircase?"
First Snape, and now Harry. Talk about weird suspicions.
"No. Only Mrs. Norris, Snape, and you. Partially. Why?" Harry didn't answer, but they knew he hadn't moved from his spot: he wasn't that quiet when walking. So they waited.
"It's nothing. I just. I thought I saw Mr. Crouch in Snape's office."
Dick raised his eyebrows, and wondered if checking out his Tournament clue was all Harry had been doing tonight.
"Barty Crouch?" he asked, and managed not to sound at all skeptical. They had been quite close to reaching the professors' offices, and they hadn't seen Barty Crouch anywhere; Harry must've been there before them to see the man and be at the staircase at the same time as them. Probably before going to take his bath: the office might be somewhere between Gryffindor Tower and the bathroom he used. "No, we didn't see him. You think that's who Snape was looking for?"
"Maybe... Are you sure you didn't see him?"
"Pretty sure." There was something strange about the whole situation, but they would have to figure it out some other time. "Anything else?"
"Ah, no. But thank you."
His light steps faded in the opposite direction, and they had faded completely by the time they reached the tapestry to their dormitories. Several golden threads near the middle twirled and re-arranged themselves at eye-level to Wally: Deputy Headmaster says...
"Yawrood eht nepo."
The tapestry rolled itself up to reveal a sliding piece of wall, and they ducked into the small living room Professor McGonagall had transfigured for them. Everyone else was sleeping soundly, and the briefing could wait until tomorrow morning. A good night of sleep would surely help them assimilate the events of the night better. It had started off somewhat uneventful, but as Dick slid into his bed a few minutes later, had the feeling that they were on the verge of solving who had gotten Harry Potter into the Triwizard Tournament.
Pentawizard Tournament, he corrected himself, and pressed his head more firmly against the pillow.