Disclaimer - While Harry Crow might be my own invention, Harry Potter belongs to JKR.
Fleur had heard talk all week of this event, now she was seeing it for herself. The wondrous room that they trained in every morning, and had hosted the Merlin Ball, now contained a fabulously festive ice rink.
Her date was chuckling at her side. "We're getting used to this room, if that's at all possible. This is our third Christmas having a party in here, our reactions were pretty similar to yours the first time we saw it."
Roger took Fleur over to the tables where the skates were waiting on them, holding hands while skating around the massive Christmas Tree would never get old. There were a few staff members proving that point by skating alongside their students.
The French champion made another discovery when they eventually sat down to eat. Fred and George introducing their girlfriends made Fleur realise she knew far more members of the lower years than she did tonight's crowd, which was reserved for the six and seventh years. What was strange though was none of the group that had Harry at its centre acted younger than the people here tonight - quite the opposite.
Alicia and Angelina seemed far more interested that their boyfriends knew Viktor than that they took lessons with a veela every Sunday, a refreshing change for Fleur. It would also be a change to board the Hogwarts Express tomorrow, heading home with Harry and Hermione for the holidays. Her family would arrive a day later and she was really looking forward to that.
Gliding along the ice with Roger at her side was also very pleasant, and boded well for the ball next week. She had dreaded going with someone who would have drooled all over her for the entire evening - the Gryffindor boy McCleggan coming to mind. She would be there with Roger, Harry and Hermione, Viktor and of course his mysterious date. The girls here tonight were all watching the Bulgarian Champion like hawks, each hoping for some clue as to who he was taking to the ball. If his date was here tonight, she was a superb actress. Neither she nor Viktor were giving anything away.
Hermione still had her planner out as the express sped toward London. "Okay, the Delacours are arriving tomorrow. The Creeveys, McDonalds and Abercrombies on the twenty-third, then it's just family until the evening of Christmas Day. After that party, we have Tonks and Remus getting married on the twenty seventh and New Year will be celebrated at Kingussie too…"
"That's a lot of work, Hermione. I know my parents offered to host New Year…"
It was Harry who quickly cut her off. "No, Padma. Until this is over we need to keep our families close. Your home may have the same wards as Crows Nest but it doesn't have squads of goblin warriors based there. We're getting so near to a final solution, now is not the time to be taking the slightest chance…"
Harry stopped as they were interrupted again by people popping in to wish them a Merry Christmas. When it was once more just the four of them, he continued.
"We know this is going to be over soon. Until it is, let's keep everyone together as much as possible. I want this to be our best Christmas ever."
None of them mentioned it might be their last, the thought was there in the back of all their minds though.
Platform nine and three quarters was a happy place as families were once more reunited. Harry couldn't help but notice Orla's accent slipping right back to where it originally was the instant she started talking with her parents. Harry wanted to make sure the Quirks understood they were welcome at both the Christmas and New Year events being held in Kingussie. He was promised Orla's owl would let them know their decision beforehand.
Tonks was waiting for them on the platform, her portkey would take all of them to Kingussie where their families were waiting. Hermione and Padma were left chuckling at Harry, who was trying to ignore Luna kissing Colin goodbye.
Bill was standing beside a very happy mother and son, his gaze though still picked up Ginny watching Luna with her boyfriend. "How's my favourite sister? Those marauder trainer robes look good on you, Ginny. Just remember what I said, no dating until you're twenty six."
Rolling her eyes at her brother's old joke, Ginny told Bill how things really were. "Chance would be a fine thing. All the good wizards seem to be getting snapped up. Dean Thomas invited me to the Yule Ball yet has hardly spoken another word to me since asking. Even Ron's got a girlfriend, and he's invited Lavender to Christmas dinner with us. That should be loads of fun!"
"You'll need to tell me about it, I'm having Christmas dinner in Kingussie."
"Ouch, I bet that news went down well with mum?"
"About as well as Percy telling her they were spending this Christmas with Penny's family. They intend to do it year about with each family. Not a bad idea - though mum didn't seem to agree."
"Is Charlie coming home?"
"Not this year…"
"Oh great! I'm beginning to wish I'd stayed in Hogwarts, it would certainly be more peaceful. At least tell me dad's not having to work during the holidays..."
He couldn't help but smile at his sister. After all their initial worries, she was growing into a fine witch. Like teenagers the world over though, Ginny was in such a hurry to grow up. "We're not working on anything at the moment that has the potential to see dad missing the holidays."
"That's at least something. You here to take us home?"
"Sorry Ginny, Percy's here for that. I'm taking Jenny, Euan and the McDonalds home. I will be at the Burrow during the holidays though..."
Ginny found herself hugging her favourite brother, not missing that Bill had said the Burrow rather than home. She wondered if there had been words between Bill and mum over his choice of girlfriend? Ginny hadn't spoken to Ron's girlfriend since warning Lavender what would happen if she cheated on her brother, again. Now Ginny was going to have to spend Christmas Day in Lavender's company, and that, combined with her three missing sons, would put her mum in a very bad mood too. Ginny couldn't see Christmas in the Burrow being very merry this year.
The situation in Kingussie couldn't have been more different, the joy was evident the instant they portkeyed into the training room. They might have been keeping up with some of the family during Hogwarts meetings but this was the first time since Jamie's christening they'd seen Sapphire, Lukas, Moa and Xeno.
"It is a bit much to take in but it will calm down a bit once everyone gets reacquainted."
"O', 'ello Mrs Granger. 'Ermione warned me but zat did not prepare me for zis. I would like to zank you for inviting me, and my family…"
"Fleur, it's just Emma, and the Grangers are guests in this house too. It belongs to the Baron of Kingussie, and his mate, Hermione, of course. They are the ones that invited you, the rest of us are just happy you could make it. How did your school mates react to you being able to leave Hogwarts?"
"To be 'onest, Emma, I zzink I 'ave made more friends in my short time at 'Ogwarts zan I 'ave in my years at Beauxbatons. Anozzer witch was favourite to represent our school, she 'as not taken me being chosen champion very well. Zat I am currently in ze lead has stopped the critique for a while, but we will just 'ave to see how zat goes after ze second task. Zankfully zey 'ave become so obsessed with 'oo Viktor is taking to the ball zat I 'ave been getting peace, it will not last zzough."
Her laughter may have surprised Fleur but Emma just couldn't help it. "I think Viktor's date will still have them talking well after the second task."
It was clear Emma knew who Viktor's date was, that she was looking at the group of girls just confused Fleur more. "All of zose girls already 'ave dates for ze ball, zere is no way 'Arry would let 'Ermione go wizz someone else..."
"Oh, you're right about that. You just missed one of the girls..."
It hit Fleur like a sledgehammer. "Sacré bleu, Sapphire?"
That stopped all conversation and saw everyone looking toward the French champion, leaving Fleur no choice but to ask the question that was already on her lips. "Sapphire is Viktor's date for the ball?"
This saw the goblin in question laughing. "That was supposed to be kept quiet, Emma. Not even ten minutes..."
"No one here is going to spoil your big entrance, Sapphire. Fleur really needed to know though. With Harry, Hermione, Roger and Victor already at the top table, adding Fleur will give you total support amongst the champions."
"Oui, I know Roger already counts you as a friend, I 'ope I can be one too?"
It was a smiling Harry who settled the matter. "Fleur, You're in Kingussie now. We're all friends or family here."
The girl in question couldn't help but notice that fact later at dinner. Outside her home, Fleur was struggling to remember when she'd eaten a meal in friendlier company.
Harry was having a wonderful dream where he and Hermione were getting really friendly, only to discover he wasn't dreaming. His voice was barely above a whisper as he asked the first question that came into his newly awakened brain. "Hermione, what are you doing?"
"I would have thought that was obvious, Harry."
"Okay, why are you in my bed and doing what you're doing?"
"Don't you want me to be doing this?"
"Hermione, I'm holding on to my remaining senses here by a thread. You never do anything without a reason though, and I want to hear that reason before I don't care anymore."
Hermione snuggled in close, her whispering in his ear wrecking further havoc to Harry's already weakened defences. "We agreed to finalise our bond before the third task. I don't really want my first time to be in Hogwarts. This means so much more to us, it will make us husband and wife. We shouldn't be sneaking about the castle's corridors looking for a quiet room to do that…"
"The reason why the Blacks, Hobsons and Delacours are all sleeping in the new chalet accommodation begin to make sense…"
"You have no idea how difficult it was to organise everyone so not to have others sharing our bedrooms."
"I'm almost frightened to ask, is that why Neville has a room to himself too?"
When no answer came, Harry just held her closer. "I know how important this is for us, we were never going to be sneaking about Hogwarts in the middle of the night. Nor are we going to do this while sneaking around Crow's Nest. This is our family home, and it just wouldn't feel right with all our family here. How are we supposed to face them in the morning?"
He could practically feel the confusion and disappointment radiate from his mate, not a situation he would ever tolerate. Harry quickly banished both conditions. "The weekend before the third task, we will leave Hogwarts after our potions class on Friday. That weekend will be spent on the island where, if my beautiful mate still wants to, we will finalise our bond."
It took Hermione a moment to answer, and even then she was barely coherent. "Really?"
"Really really, love. This way I know I won't be worrying about the final task, and what we think that will bring with it. I'll be far too busy looking forward to that special weekend, I hope this will give you something to look forward too as well…"
Hermione's passionate kiss was all the answer he needed, and almost destroyed his resolve to wait there and then.
"That sounds absolutely wonderful, Harry. I wasn't really happy sneaking about to do this either, I just couldn't think of any other way. I'm certainly looking forward to that weekend now, and the island will be the absolutely perfect location to finalise our bond."
"This seems to be something you and Padma have discussed, should we make this weekend open to them as well? The Patil beach chalet is at the other end of the row to the one father and I use, we can have all the privacy we want."
Glad it was dark to hide her blushes, Hermione thought that would be a good idea too. "Padma approached me, guessing I'd want to complete our bond to make sure I'd be at your side. She and Neville are considering doing the same. None of us know how this fight is going to turn out, she wants to go into it though as Neville's wife. Having something to look forward to is also a wonderful idea."
"Sometimes I wish I'd never included you three in this…" Harry had to put his hand over Hermione's mouth as she was ready to tear strips off him, and they still needed to be quiet. "Then I think of all the things I would have missed out on - having you here in my arms, our two best friends and their families staying in our home. I'm sorry, Hermione, I might be being selfish here but I wouldn't change a thing."
He replaced his hand with his mouth and demonstrated the love he had for his mate with that kiss.
It was sometime later, and a rather breathless Hermione who eventually answered him. "Sometimes, Harry, we have to be selfish. You go right on being so because I'm not going anywhere." Hermione didn't go anywhere, at least not until Betsy woke her in the morning before the house began stirring.
It was cold that first morning in Kingussie but Fleur was getting used to her morning workout. The five ran around the estate, wherever possible using the landscape as shelter from the biting wind.
When they reached the growing goblin village, they were practically ordered into one of the houses for a warm drink. Sitting sipping hot goblin ale, and surrounded by the children who were all delighted to see them, Harry was pleased to observe the French champion just accepting the goblin hospitality in her stride. Living in the southern part of France hadn't prepared Fleur for December's weather in the Scottish Highlands. Out of the five of them, she was the one most in need of the hot drink.
Harry was also pleased none of the children asked why they weren't flying today, that was something he wanted to keep up his sleeve for the moment. There was no escaping though from the children dragging their new friend, Fleur, off to see their favourite exhibit in the Gringotts building.
The children got the reaction they were looking for, all were chuckling away as Fleur's chin practically hit the floor. While Harry and Hermione made a point of speaking with the goldsmith and armorer who now had businesses in the building, Padma and Neville were at a still shocked Fleur's side.
"No matter how many times I see it, I still get shivers right down my spine. Since the goblins rendered the basilisk, and their tailors make most of Neville and my formal clothes, it's about as accurate a portrayal of the situation as it's possible to make."
Neville had his arm around Padma to help his mate with those shivers, it certainly helped him too. "I prefer to think of my happy memory from that incident. I was scared witless, then Padma grabbed me and kissed those fears away. I was still scared but knew I would do my best to help us all get out of there, all our lives changed that day. Whatever trouble Harry or Hermione get into, the Longbottoms will be there to cover their backs."
This earned him a kiss from his mate who then tried to explain further to Fleur. "We know beyond question both of them would do the same for us. We're tentatively related because we're Jamie's godparents, but there were much stronger bonds forged that day - bonds forged never to be broken. I'm as close to Hermione now as I am to Parvati, considering Parvati's my twin that should tell you something of our relationship."
"Harry is the reason I'm spending Christmas with my parents. They were as lost to me as his mum and dad are to him, yet he brought them back. He refuses even to recognise a debt exists, since my mum is also his godmother, the Longbottoms all know differently though. The end of the war is coming and we'll once more have to fight a deadly foe. Harry will be in the middle of it, Hermione right at his side and we'll have their backs. I just hope we're as lucky again as we were that day."
Fleur could see the emotions running through the couple, she put it down to an understandable reaction to what was currently right in front of them. There were so many stories about Harry and his friends circulating Hogwarts that Fleur had fallen into the trap of believing they couldn't possibly all be true.
The swords these four always wore were certainly real enough, they were currently strapped to their backs. She'd also seen the medals they wore for the Merlin Ball, those were definitely real too. That they received one of those medals for bringing down the creature currently in front of them was absolutely earning an Order of Merlin the hard way.
"I 'ave never seen anyzing like zis, and 'ope I never do."
A chuckling Hermione confirmed they never wanted to see another basilisk either. "It was because of this that Harry Crow was made Baron of Kingussie, and wizarding law was changed to allow goblins to live outside Gringotts. That's why The Director wanted a permanent monument to this in Kingussie, it will always have a special place in The Nation's heart."
"Just like you, love. One visit to the goldsmith and he's offering to make our wedding rings."
"A goblin-made wedding ring! Oh Hermione, I'm so jealous..."
Her best friend though had some good news for Padma. "Well there's no need to be, he offered to make yours too. It would have taken him another twenty or thirty years to acquire his own business inside Gringotts. Here he has wonderful facilities and a home for him and his family, there are also a queue of young goblins now applying to apprenticeship under him. Kingussie has changed his life too, and he wants to thank the people who made it possible. Since he has to walk past this every day, he knows exactly who that is."
A quick confirmation from Neville saw a now excited Padma hug everyone in range. "Our rings will obviously feature my family design, we could see about having a Longbottom family design commissioned and registered?"
"Harry, could ours be your family design too?" This request seemed to floor Harry for a moment before a wide smile told Neville he hadn't just put his foot in it.
"That would be wonderful, Neville. What do you think, ladies?"
A pair of kisses later told both guys their mates thought that was a wonderful idea too. Fleur was now beginning to get some idea of what Hermione had tried to tell her. This was home for so many reasons other than that they happened to have a house here. It was also staring to realise there was more going on here than was being said. She thought of a few questions on the run home but they left her head the instant Fleur entered Crow's nest and discovered her family had arrived in Kingussie.
Apolline Delacour was so far out of her comfort zone it was scaring her. The atmosphere in Kingussie was like nothing she'd felt before, Henrica and Moa though were helping the Delacour family quickly fit right in. This today however was simply beyond her comprehension.
There were young witches and wizards of every blood status shopping in this massive muggle store. Add in both her veela daughters, a goblin female wearing a hat, the entire group were being supervised by some muggle parents and Apolline felt her mental shutdown was not only justifiable but inevitable.
Then there was the Weasley wizard to simply confuse her even more. He came from an old pureblood family, yet was Assistant Ambassador to the Goblin Nation. He was here with his muggle girlfriend and her magical son, but had also brought his young sister along, a day's shopping as a present for her Christmas. This was certainly not the Britain the Delacours had been expecting. Fleur had written home about some of the changes but this beggared belief.
It had started with a portkey to Gringotts, watching as goblins saluted and bowed to Harry and Hermione was mind-blowing. A walk through Diagon Alley showed changes too, practically everyone knew who they were and called greetings. They picked the rest of their party up in the Leaky Cauldron before a fleet of taxis ferried them to this department store.
Gabrielle had been introduced to some of the Hogwarts students after the first task, those same students had quickly struck up friendships with her youngest daughter when they arrived in Kingussie early this morning. Maggie Creevey was firmly stuck to Gabrielle's side, apparently appreciating having someone nearer her own age, and a girl, to talk with.
Apolline was beginning to decipher the hierarchy amongst the group. Denis, Euan and Orla were all keeping a close eye on the two younger girls, they in turn were being watched over by Natalie and Pauline. Even though Luna and Colin were walking about holding hands, it was clear they too were acting in a supervisory capacity too. Then there was Harry, he seemed to miss absolutely nothing. Her husband was most impressed with Harry Crow, and he was not an easy man to impress. She was drawn out of her musings by the woman appearing at her side.
"Are you all right, Apolline? You seemed as if you were in another world there..."
This drew a small chuckle. "Mary, I feel as if I am."
"Oh good. Roy and I get that quite often, I'm glad it's not just us. Your world can be a confusing place for those of us not raised in it."
"Funnily, it is my world I find strange. I see Gabrielle 'aving fun and Fleur 'appier zan I 'ave seen 'er. It is also 'ard to miss your Natalie making sure ze younger ones are fine."
This drew a smile from Mary. "When Natalie was offered a Potter Scholarship, Roy asked Harry straight off what he expected in return. His answer was very simple, he expected Natalie to do her best at her lessons and look after the younger years who would come behind her. None of the Potter Scholars would even dream of letting Harry down, and I'm also pleased to say it's been the making of our daughter. She now has so many friends, even during the holidays she's writing, phoning or with Euan."
"Fleur 'as suggested Gabrielle might like 'Ogwarts better, we zought she was making joke. Now I see zis I am not sure."
"It was a decision we certainly agonised over, I'm pretty sure we got it right. Harry said he wanted the Potter Scholars to be like a family, and that's just how he treats them. Roy and I are getting on in years, and no one knows what the future will bring. We now know that, should anything happen to us, our Natalie will have another family who will step-in and look after her. I can't tell you what a comfort that is..."
Apolline had her hand on Mary's arm. "You 'ave raised a fine daughter, one to be proud off. Let us now do what we came here for and shop. I zzink our menfolk will need zere brandy to do zis shooting with Dan in Kingussie."
"Oh no, Dan has strict safety protocols. Dobby would never hand a gun to someone with alcohol in them."
"My 'usband is going to be so disappointed..." Apolline was laughing as she and Mary started browsing for things that held their interest. In Harrods, that was many, many things.
Bill entered the Burrow with a nervous Jenny on his arm, Ginny shouting their names soon alerted the entire house they were there. Molly arrived to see her daughter hugging her favourite brother, it wasn't lost on the mother that Ginny then hugged Jenny just as enthusiastically.
" Ginny dear, you look beautiful. We thought you would have left by now?"
"Thanks Jenny, we would have if Ronald didn't take so long getting himself ready for his date. If he makes us late..."
The noise generated by someone thundering down the stairs halted Ginny's rant. "Right, keep your hair on - I'm here."
"All that time, and this is the result? Right, we need to leave - now."
Ron was left following behind his sister and waiting twin brothers, the argument hadn't stopped though. "Hey Ginny, what's the matter with how I look? I thought I looked good!"
"Dream on, Ron" That was Ginny's final comment as she used their floo to take them directly to the Hogwarts ballroom.
"Oh dear, Euan and the group from Kingussie left nearly an hour ago."
Bill quickly answered his girlfriend, not wanting either Jenny or his mum to get upset over this. "They had to leave early so Harry could open the room. Without that, those four wouldn't have been able to floo there."
Arthur was making the couple welcome while Molly busied herself making tea, soon the four of them were seated and Arthur got the conversation ball rolling. "So, how are you enjoying working for Gringotts?"
"I don't really work for the bank, Arthur. I just go in one day a week to try and help Barchoke's department understand a bit more about the non magical world. He and Harry have done so much for me, I simply had to help out any way I could."
This was the first Molly was hearing of this. "So you work with Bill, Percy and Penny?"
"Oh yes, and Sapphire too. Oops, that last bit is supposed to be a secret for now."
Bill could only smile at that. "It's only a secret because Barchoke wants to surprise Harry with it, and he wants to know why his son changed his mind over tonight's ball. It's not a state secret love, more like a joke between father and son."
"That's a relief, I don't think I'd be very good at keeping secrets."
"You won't have to worry with these two, they won't tell you any. Will you and your father be going for a walk in the orchard tonight?"
Bill felt Jenny react at his side, he wanted to kill that idea stone dead. There was no way he would be leaving Jenny alone with his mum. "No business tonight, mum, strictly pleasure. I brought gifts to place under the tree."
An excited Arthur tried to move the conversation along. "Ginny loved her adventure in muggle London yesterday, I want to thank you both so much for that. Ginny was even more excited when she came home than she was before she left, something I didn't think was possible."
"It was no trouble at all, Arthur, she really is a lovely girl."
"Bill tells us you're studying?" Molly tried to keep the interrogation tone out of her voice but it didn't fool the two Weasley wizards in the room.
"Yes, I plan to go to university next year and am studying for the entry qualifications to do so. I always thought I would study law but now I'm not so sure. My age would be against me getting a job in that field, and I've also discovered I like teaching."
Bill didn't want to influence her decision but highlighted an option Jenny had probably overlooked. "I know a certain goblin who would just love to have someone working for him who understood muggle law. I think that's what Hermione wants to do too, and she's the smartest witch to enter Hogwarts for many a year."
Arthur again tried to get into the conversation before his wife fired off more questions. "Well I know Percy and Penny rave about your lessons, both feel they are learning so much about the muggle world."
Molly though was not to be denied the information she craved. "I understand your staying in Kingussie for Christmas?"
Rather than being in any way intimidated by the question, Jenny's entire face lit up at that. "Oh yes, it will be wonderful. Normally it's just Euan and I celebrating Christmas together. This year we'll be surrounded by friends, and people who we've started to think of as family. Euan's never had that before so this is already his best ever Christmas. Seeing him standing there tonight, surrounded by friends and all dressed up to go to a ball, we would have been here earlier but I must have cried for fifteen minutes after they left."
Jenny felt her hand being taken, surprised it was the one next to Molly. "When Bill left for Hogwarts, I cried for days. I had six other children still at home but my heart was breaking because one of them was missing. His first letter home started the whole process off all over again. It's been the same every September when another one left, the day the twins got on the express - this house felt so empty."
"When Euan left in September, I stayed with the McDonalds for a few nights, I had eventually to force myself back into my own home."
Bill then took Jenny's other hand. "Roy and Mary would have been sorry to see you go, they miss their Natalie too."
Molly was now looking directly at her eldest son and smiling, there were tears in the corners of both mother's eyes and all could tell her words were heartfelt. "It's very hard for a mother to let them go. Children grow up though, not something any of us can change - or would want to. Where is this university?"
Both male Weasleys now relaxed, Molly was still going to ask questions but the last vestiges of hostility had now disappeared. If there was one thing Molly Weasley could recognise it was a good mother, Jenny Abercrombie fell squarely into that category. That made Jenny alright in Molly's book, anything else could be dealt with over time.
Roger arrived in the corridor outside the room of requirements to find the three champions waiting on him. He kissed Fleur's cheek in greeting before providing the French Champion with a corsage to wear. Nodding in recognition to the others, he had a question for Viktor. "Your date not here yet, or have you been stood-up?"
"Miss Sapphire allowed me the honour of escorting her to the ball."
He had of course noticed Sapphire there, Roger would bet he'd just done the same as everyone else and assumed she was with Harry. He then addressed his friend in her own language. ""You look stunning tonight, Sapphire. I hope you will honour me with a dance?""
A now blushing Sapphire was giggling with excitement, this was the biggest night of her life. "Why thank you, Roger, and of course I'll save you a dance."
They chatted for fifteen minutes or so before McGonagall came out to say they were now ready for the champions, her eyebrows nearly shot into her tight bun of hair when Viktor offered Sapphire his arm. Like everyone else, Minerva had assumed that Sapphire was here with Harry. She was just about to tell the goblin female she would need to enter the ballroom now, as it was time for the parade of champions. Minerva was delighted and relieved Mr Krum had offered his arm to his date before she'd put her foot right in it.
"We had decided on ladies first, so Miss Delacour and her date shall lead us off. She will be followed by our other visiting champion, Mr Krum and his date. Centurion Crow and his mate, Miss Granger will complete the procession. I will lead you in and over to the head table. Centurion, I'm sorry but Dumbledore is there too. We arranged it so you are both as far apart as possible, and the seating becomes fluid after the first dance."
Harry nodded his acceptance and McGonagall led them in.
"It gives me great delight to introduce the Champions of Beauxbatons, Durmstang and Hogwarts..."
The applause was thunderous and Sapphire sparkled on Viktor's arm, her smile as dazzling as her accessories. Her magnificent jewellery had been supplied by The Director himself, publicly signifying she had his backing for this event.
Harry was behind his oldest friend and his eyes were busily scanning the hall. He certainly noticed those who had stopped clapping when they spotted who was on Viktor's arm, just as he saw all their friends cheering like crazy. When his eyes caught sight of Dumbledore, Harry knew there would be trouble. The old wizard was bloody livid.
Dumbledore was out his seat and heading toward the champions' party, Minerva moved to intercept while Augusta, Amos and Madame Maxime were hot on his heels. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry also spotted the Blacks, Tonks, Remus, Padma and Neville all on the move too.
"This is an insult to the Durmstrang Institute of Magic, I demand this be changed at once. Did you know about this, Minerva? I will not allow our school champion to have a creature on his arm, it's a disgrace..."
Minerva was just about to rip this old fool a new one, thinking she would concern herself with who the champions were bringing as dates, when she felt herself being brushed aside.
Hermione made no attempt to stop him, Dumbledore calling Sapphire a creature meant there probably wasn't anyway to stop Harry now. The smack was heard all around the ballroom as Harry backhanded Dumbledore across the face.
"You will apologise to Sapphire or face my blades. Those are your only options, old man."
Seeing the boy in a temper had Albus using all his experience to calm himself, and make the best of the opportunity he'd just been presented with. Beating this whelp in a magical duel would certainly go a long way to curbing the goblin influence on their society. "I will not apologise for telling the truth, so we will duel."
"Goblins don't duel, they fight. First blood acceptable to you?"
Albus just nodded, this was better than he could have hoped for.
Viktor tried to intervene before this situation got any further. "Harry, Sapphire is my date, it should be me fighting for her honour."
This earned Viktor smiles from all of the champions' party. "Thanks for the offer but this one is on me. It's a goblin thing, Viktor. I am registered within The Nation as Sapphire's champion, anyone trying to get to me through her will face my blades."
Hermione was already loosening his waistcoat. "Harry, why don't you just wear your tunic to these things, save all this bother of me having to undress you."
"Hey Hermione, I thought that was your favourite part." Padma and Neville were now by their side, offering support and continuing Hermione's efforts to dispel Harry's anger.
A worried Augusta asked the question that was on all their minds. "Centurion, do you intend this fight to be in here? I have the safety of all my students to consider..."
It was Neville who quickly put her mind at rest. "Gran, we fight in this room every day. Hogwarts will keep everyone safe."
In this magnificent ballroom setting, it was easy to forget this room could become anything Harry wanted.
Albus was in no way alarmed, though slightly confused at the behaviour of Harry's friends. There were kisses of support from the girls and slaps of encouragement on the back from the wizards. At no time did any of them display any signs of anxiety over this fight, the Longbotom betrothed witch appeared as if she was barely holding on to her laughter. Black and Lupin were all smiles too, even his assigned auror bodyguard seemed was time Albus reminded them what a powerful wizard he was.
The floor cleared and Hogwarts herself erected wards around the two combatants. A golden Harry had a shield, knife and sword all poised to attack. His opponent knew what those blades could do, Dumbledore had no intention of letting Harry get close enough to use them. This would be a magical fight, therefore there really could only be one winner.
Albus assumed a classic duelling position, legs spread, right one forward and he was balanced on the balls of his feet. Miss Granger shouted 'ready' and Albus was left to assume she said 'fight' - all his senses were shutting down as the pain overtook him. A column of rock, about the width of a bludger, had just shot out the floor and slammed with considerable force into his groin. That it then remained there was about the only thing still holding Dumbledore upright, his knees being more than ready to buckle.
With his colourful robes reaching to the floor, none of those watching were aware of this, they just saw Dumbledore struggle to erect a weak shield as Hermione called 'fight'. A quick barrage of spells destroyed that shield before Godric's blade did its work. With one swipe it sliced through Dumbledore's wand, and also whipped off his beard just below his chin. Harry's knife then nicked the old wizard's cheek, drawing blood and ending the fight.
Having done its job, the pillar then shot back into the floor just before Harry nudged Dumbledore onto his back. As he crumpled to the floor, Albus may have received the painful message but he had yet to decipher it. Hogwarts would protect her champion.
A wandless Dumbledore was now lying on the floor in a foetal position, blood trickling from what amounted to nothing more than a shaving cut. Albus wasn't caring a jot that the hall had descended into wild cheering, Harry's name being loudly chanted, he felt as if he'd just been violently kicked in the nuts by a centaur.
"Sapphire, is your honour satisfied?"
A blushing Sapphire knew she had to answer. "Yes, Harry."
Harry knelt beside Dumbledore, speaking low so only the old wizard could hear. "You chose to fight Hogwarts' champion in a room she controls, your second big mistake of the evening. Goblins don't do pranks but I think my dad would have liked that, Remus and Sirius are certainly laughing their arses off. Hogwarts will always aid her champion if his cause is just, which it clearly was in this case. The behaviour you just displayed is no longer acceptable inside Britain. We have changed but you clearly haven't, old man, it's time for you to leave."
Standing back up, Harry once more raised his voice so everyone could hear. "Hogwarts, Dumbledore has decided he doesn't want to stay. Please show him out, but gently - remember his age."
Vines grew out of the floor in a direct line from the exit to Dumbledore, they picked the old wizard up and slowly passed him along the floor toward the door. As their load past, never more than six inches off the ground, those vines dissolved back into whence the came - their job done. The entire hall watched in silence as the former leader of the light was sliding along the floor in a heap while Harry stood with Hermione buttoning his waistcoat. The significance of this could not be any plainer, there was a new leader of the light in Hogwarts.
Sirius couldn't even look at his godson without bursting into more laughter, Remus being only slightly better. Amos wasn't the only one unsure of what they'd just witnessed, Viktor got in first though.
"Vhat just happened? How is this possible?"
Hermione was smiling at Harry as she lovingly fixed his tie, it was her who gave them their answer. "Hogwarts creates this room because Harry asks her to. Training, ice skating, balls - whatever is needed Hogwarts will supply. Training aside, only a complete idiot would try to fight Harry in here. We all knew that, Dumbledore didn't. Professor McGonagall, I think we're ready now."
Fleur took Roger's arm, whispering to her date as everyone returned to their seats. "Ze first morning I stepped into zis room, 'Ermione asked it for somewhere I could change. I just never zought what else it could do."
When Sapphire took Viktor's offered arm, not a word was said against this from anywhere in the hall. If Albus Dumbledore could so easily be defeated, no one wanted any trouble with Centurion Crow.
Madame Maxine was trying to have a quiet word with Augusta so only half the top table heard. "I was listening to what 'is mate said, 'as zis 'appened before?"
"Yes, a few years ago at the ministry summer ball where Harry was awarded his Order of Merlin, First Class. Umbridge took umbrage that Harry was dancing with Emma Granger, a muggle. She challenged Harry and then cut her own hand, desperate to then avoid what would have been an embarrassing defeat. Dumbledore was barred from that event, he left Britain only a few months later. He should never have returned."
This left Olympe wondering just how long her champion would be in the lead of the tournament. The organisers were all quite pleased with the design of the second task, they would be announcing details and the date after the New Year. She watched the centurion chat with the other two champions and thought it was obvious they would help each other train for this task. The Headmistress of Beauxbatons thought that alone would make this tournament a success, no matter who won it.
A/N thanks for reading
A/N2 I discovered an app that downloads fan fiction to my ipad. Pocket Fiction is free but claims it offers an in-app purchase, probably to get rid of the annoying ads. I've yet to discover how to activate that. Emails to the developers have been unanswered so anyone out there know anything about this app?