Harry hit the ground hard and fumbled for his wand. Rising to his feet, Harry realized he had no need for magic.
The crowd erupted into applause, the Hogwarts students jumping up and down in celebration. With one hand still gripping the trophy, Harry looked at Cedric with mild amusement. The Hufflepuff nodded and together, they lifted the trophy in the air for everyone to see. The cheers grew louder, and chants for Potter and Diggory broke out amongst the crowd. Flashbulbs went off as a crowd of Ministry photographers slammed the shutters of their cameras over and over, desperately trying to capture the essence of the moment for the front page of the Daily Prophet.
"I am pleased to announce the winners of the Tournament of Champions - HOGWARTS!" Ludo Bagman bellowed.
The roar of the pro-Hogwarts crowd swelled to a deafening crescendo. Bright lights flashed in Harry's eyes as he took a moment to drink in the rare moment of unbridled applause. In the crowd, he could see Tracey jumping up and down while holding up a green, Slytherin scarf. He waved at her and grinned.
Soft pops filled the air behind him, and Harry turned around to see the rest of the champions were transported to the crowd area. The Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students clapped and cheered their respective champions. Harry caught Krum's eye and was surprised to find the large Bulgarian walking towards him. Harry brought himself up to full height, but he was still dwarfed by Krum. He did not quite what to expect from the Durmstrang student, but Harry felt confident that Krum would not embarrass him in public.
Krum stuck out his hand and Harry let out an internal sigh of relief.
"Very good, Potter," Krum said slowly. "Did not think to do that. Very good."
Harry gratefully accepted the offer of peace. Krum turned towards Cedric and sized up the Hufflepuff. Then, for the first time in the whole year, Harry saw Krum smile. The grin that broke his face did wonders for his countenance. He always thought Krum as moody and sour, but the smile took all of the dourness away.
"We will fly again, Diggory. You will not beat me next time," Krum said.
Cedric laughed and skipped over the handshake, wrapping his arms around the broad shoulders of the Durmstrang student. "I think I'll take my one victory and keep it. I won't be flying against you any time soon!"
The cameras flashed at the brilliant show of inter-school cooperation. After all, the Tournament of Champions was not just a competition. It was supposed to bring about greater knowledge of the other schools. Harry mused that he learned plenty about the other schools, just not in the way the administrators thought he should. The picture of Krum and Diggory embracing would no doubt be plastered all along the front page of the Daily Prophet.
Surprisingly, the other Durmstrang champions took their turns congratulating Harry and Cedric. The former struggled to remember their names, but he easily remembered who he dueled. The intimidating girl with the squashed face was the witch he beat during the Second Task. She shook his hand vigorously but unlike Krum, she did not smile. Some of the other champions were more congratulatory, and Harry was once again surprised by their humbleness. Perhaps Hogwarts students, due to the fierce competition, disliked losing more than other schools.
Then, Fleur approached.
The beautiful girl glided over to Harry, her robes torn along her left arm. A spatter of blood flecked her usually perfect blonde hair, but she did not bother cleaning the red substance. She approached him purposefully, but Harry held his ground. Occlumency shields tentatively went up as she stood in front of him. He did not want to be caught surprised. Not this time.
"You have a penchant for crazy ideas, Harry," Fleur said. "When I saw you plummeting through the group of harpies, do you know what I thought?"
"What?" Harry asked.
Fleur chuckled softly. "I thought to myself - I hope he's not hurt."
Harry could not help but smile at her admission. Her previous duplicity had caused Harry to distrust Fleur, but there was no more to gain from deceiving him. The tournament was finally over. If she was being truthful, and Harry hoped with all his might that she was, then Fleur was concerned with his well being even in the midst of their competition.
"You'll be happy to know that I managed to survive one last time."
"Good. It would be a shame if I weren't able to see you later," Fleur said the last part with a hint of a question in her voice.
Harry took a gamble. "Will you be in your carriage later?"
Fleur leaned in and lightly pecked him on the cheek. "For you? Yes."
Another flash of light bulbs would give the Prophet another story to run across their front or back pages. Ministry officials stepped in to usher the Hogwarts champions away, separating Harry from Fleur. For the moment, Harry let the Ministry sheppard them from the rest of the crowd. The adrenaline was draining from his body, and he was starting to feel the acute pain in particular parts of his body. Chief among his physical ailments was his right knee. Harry thought Pomfrey had fixed the damage from the First Task, but he never quite trusted his right knee the same way afterwards. It was a pain that always lingered in the back of his mind. From his extensive time in the infirmary, Harry knew that injuries never brought him back to one hundred percent. Usually, time would help with the pain and the damage to his body, but this particular injury seemed to hold over quite a bit longer than his others.
He limped behind the rest of the champions, escaping the flashing bulbs of the press and the cheers of the suddenly welcoming crowd. Remarkably, Harry escaped rather unharmed from the Third Task. The only pain he endured was his fall from the broom, but even that was just par for the course. It was of no comparison to what could have been fatal injuries during the first and second task. They had battered and bruised him, but Harry survived. Another year in his pocket.
They turned the corner into a private room where Pomfrey and a handful of older assistants waited for them. Thankfully, no one seemed to have suffered any serious injuries. Cuts and contusions were normal for duels. There were no major burns or life-threatening hypothermia. For once, the administrators did not seem hell bent on killing them. The third task was a simple test of cohesion. Which school would come together first? Perhaps it was no coincidence that the Hogwarts champions suddenly seemed more amenable to each other. Gryffindor and Hufflepuff chatted amicably. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff congratulated each other.
Harry sat down, the lone Slytherin in the room full of champions. He finally slipped his wand back into his holster, convinced that the threat was finally gone. They had won. Harry had won. While the tournament was certainly difficult, they had not gone out of their way to stack the odds against Hogwarts. Perhaps the intervention of the two other schools dissuaded Snape from stacking the deck of cards. It mattered not. Harry was used to fighting uphill.
He wiped the sweat off his brow, fatigue racking his body. The teachers were making their rounds, checking on the health of their students and congratulating them for their victories. Karkaroff and Maxime were consoling their respective students, but even the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons were more relieved than anything else. It might have been billed as a competition, but the Tri-school Tournament was more a test of survival. Harry had won.
And to the winner goes the spoils.
"Rocking good show that was. Did you see that Potter boy? Tracey here is very good friends with him. Best mates actually. Reckon she's probably his right hand when they go into battle!"
Tracey cringed as her father continued to boast about her relationship with Harry. Bad enough that he had dragged her to greet innumerous political friends and dignitaries. Now, he seemed intent on raising that embarrassment to shocking levels. Tracey fought the strong urge to blush. She did her best to smile at Mister Department of Who-Knows-What and Miss Head of Committee of Committees. Tracey wanted little to do with these Wizengamot bores and wanted to head back to the Slytherin Common Room immediately. Yet, just as she edged away from the group, Ian Davis wrapped a large arm around her shoulder.
"Tracey, did Harry tell you what they were going to do? Surely, he must have let something slip to you," he asked.
A half dozen pair of expectant eyes swiveled towards her and Tracey fought the urge to point at the ground and bury herself. She smiled politely and answered, "Harry keeps his cards pretty close. I didn't know they were going to attempt that dive, but I've dueled with him enough to know that you should trust his ideas."
Her father clapped her exuberantly on the back. "See that! Close enough to know what he's going to plan next."
That was certainly not what Tracey had said, but she bit her tongue. As her father continued to crow about the tight-knit Slytherins, she found her escape path. Granger had emerged and was currently speaking with the Lovegood girl. Before her father could clasp another arm around her, Tracey spit out a quick excuse and hurried herself away from political crowd. The grounds were still populated with students and Ministry folk alike. An excited buzz lingered in the atmosphere from the Hogwarts win. Tracey had heard many whispers of a roaring after party.
As she neared Granger, Tracey steeled her insides. The Gryffindor always had a way of unnerving her. Bad enough that Granger was an intellectual who liked to flaunt her genius. Worse that Harry had put an inordinate amount of trust into her. Nevertheless, Granger had done nothing untowards to Tracey. The Slytherin knew for a fact that Granger had helped out Harry in more ways than one throughout the last two years. On this common ground, Tracey could at least equalize herself with Granger. Tracey only wished that helping Harry wasn't her only accomplishment. She swallowed her pride and approached the Hogwarts champion.
"I suppose congratulations are in order, Granger. I would say excellent flying, but I know bad flying when I see it. I'm just as bad as you," Tracey said.
Granger appeared surprised by her frank tone, but she nodded her head in agreement. "I'm just glad it's over. I don't fancy being in the air again."
Tracey shuffled her feet as a group of Slytherins passed alongside her. It was difficult for her to maintain this outward facade of enmity. While she held no grudge against Granger or Lovegood, the Slytherins would still cast judgement if she were seen conversing for an extended period of time with them. At times, Tracey wished that the lines had not been drawn so deeply in the sand. Competition and rivalry fostered togetherness in the separate Houses but the antagonism was a large burden to bear.
"And I also wanted to say thank you," Tracey continued. "I know you've done a lot for Harry this year. It hasn't been the easiest for him."
"He tends not to make it easy on himself. But you're welcome. I did my best to help, but you know Harry. He always finds a way to surprise you."
"And me," Lovegood added unnecessarily.
Yes," Tracey said. "He tends to find a way to do that."
An awkward pause overtook the group. Granger looked at her expectantly, trying to suss out if the Slytherin had any more passing comments. Lovegood continued to look blissfully unaware, gazing out towards the crowd. Truthfully, Tracey did not know why she came to congratulate Granger. She knew part of the reason was to escape her father's stuffy friends, but the other part of her did not know why she approached Granger.
An inescapable feeling of listlessness had overtaken her in recent months. Tracey knew that the this lack of direction coincided with her own admission of affection to Harry. Everyone else had a purpose. Goals. Dreams. What were her dreams? What was her point at Hogwarts? As she stood in front of Granger, Tracey realized why she truly approached the Gryffindor.
"And I'm sorry," Tracey said. "I'm sorry I haven't been more help. I know you're both real smart and Harry is Harry. Dragons, harpies, the other schools. I...did the best I could."
Even her pithy apology seemed unworthy in front of the two intelligent girls. Tracey did not consider herself stupid, but she paled in comparison to Granger and Lovegood. Still, she had never doubted Harry. She had not left Harry's side or blamed him as others did, even the Slytherins. Loyalty was not a trait just reserved for Hufflepuffs.
"You were his friend when he had few. I know he appreciated it," Lovegood said, seemingly reading Tracey's thoughts.
Tracey allowed herself a small smile but quickly wiped it off her face. Appearances still had to be maintained no matter what tenuous alliance they had forged.
"Don't worry about it," Hermione said. "I agree with Luna. He appreciates your loyalty at a time when it is a precious commodity. We have all our roles, right?"
"Right," Tracey said.
Tracey doubted her conversation with Granger would ever be comfortable. They were a distance apart in terms of personality, and the rivalry between their houses would hang over their heads for as long as they were at Hogwarts. Still, Tracey felt that an understanding had passed between them. They may never be friends, but Harry linked them together to form an odd relationship.
"We should get going," Hermione said, similarly uncomfortable with the awkward pauses. "I think the Gryffindors are trying to throw some sort of party."
Granger and Lovegood bid their farewells, and Tracey was left alone once more. She chanced a glance over her shoulder and found her father still talking with the same Ministry officials. He had insisted on attending the final task to support Hogwarts, but Tracey reasoned it was more to rub elbows with the other politicians. She detested the small talk and faked amicableness when her father talked to those in the Wizengamot.
Even from a distance, Tracey spotted faces she recognized. Minister Fudge was at the center of the group, laughing heartily and what must have been a smashing joke. Ludo Bagman was in the mix, talking to some younger men. Madam Bones, mother of Susan Bones, was standing some feet away from the group and talking with a group of Aurors. Dolores Umbridge, the ugly toad-like woman was talking to her father. Beside her was a shock of red hair that had to be a Weasley though Tracey could not pin his name. She remembered him from her first year.
The sheer amount of Ministry members surprised Tracey. While she knew the tournament was seen as an important event for the Ministry, she did not anticipate the attendance of all the important people in the government. She recalled the end of the previous year and Harry's claim of the strange visit from the Department of Mystery members. Those in the Department of Mystery wore very distinctive robes. Tracey scanned the crowd but could not find the ornate silver robes. That did not mean they weren't there. If Harry was right, they were capable of being present without being seen, counterspells be damned.
She jumped, her heart leaping into her throat for a moment. Distracted by her observations, Tracey had missed Pansy sliding next to her.
"What's wrong with you?" Pansy said. "Never mind. Let's go back already. Too many people here."
Casting one last look at all of the Ministry members around, Tracey had to agree. There were far too many people of importance in one location.
Harry stepped through the entrance to the Slytherin Common Room and found a crowd awaiting him.
The Slytherin Common Room always had the strange juxtaposition of having high vaulted ceilings to contrast the underground location. The height of the room falsely enlarged the common area and diminished the population within. Yet, the crowd still filled the spacious area. It seemed as if every Slytherin were waiting for the Boy-Who-Lived.
Harry quietly sucked in a breath. He was still exhausted from his flying feats and his right knee refused to cooperate even after Pomfrey's treatments. He was in no mood for a confrontation, but commanders rarely chose their battlefields in Hogwarts. Why not the Slytherin Common Room?
A few months ago, he had walked into the Slytherin Common Room and was greeted with thunderous applause. Now, cautious eyes watched his approach. Tracey did not start the applause, but she stood in front of the group and her expression dared anyone to jeer or disparage Harry in front of her. He limped towards the gathering of Slytherins, letting his eyes pass over the crowd.
He lingered on Draco, his green eyes meeting Malfoy's ethereal silver. Harry's current Commander had not undergone any drastic physical changes over the year, but Harry saw a different person behind Draco's eyes. Gone was the antagonistic brute that Harry had lived with during his first three years in Hogwarts. Malfoy was far more cold and calculating than his younger self. Harry maintained eye contact with Malfoy, knowing just how important acceptance from the Commander would be for the rest of the Slytherins.
Malfoy nodded ever so slightly.
Harry returned the nod with one of his own, grateful for the other boy's acceptance. It would have been a much harder task to address the Slytherins without Malfoy's approval. His squeezed his thigh right above the sore knee as he prepared to speak to the gathered Slytherins. Oddly enough, he did not feel the immense pressure that usually accompanied such gatherings. Whereas he would have prepared and parsed every word of his speech in past times, Harry was prepared to improvise tonight's address. He had proven himself capable of leading more than enough times to count.
He let the pause linger and scanned the crowd. The whole room was waiting for his next move, but Harry truthfully did not know what he was to say next. He was caught in an internal battle. One side thirsted for righteousness and justification for his actions. The other side called for humility and temperance. How was he respond to all those who refused to believe in him even after everything he had done for Slytherin? Who were they to question his actions and the resulting consequences since it was for the better of the House? What gave them the right…
Because I can't do it alone anymore…
His own words echoed in his mind. Harry grinded his teeth together and swallowed the monster raging for vengeance. Now was not the time for smugness. Now was not the time for I-told-you-so's. No matter how much he would have loved to thrust his victories in their collective faces, a true leader would take the high road.
"I'm sorry I got it all wrong in the beginning. When I started this year, I had it my mind to become a better leader - to unite us and hammer our foes. I wanted to be the leader that everyone followed. I wanted to be the leader that all Slytherins followed. I wanted…"
Harry trailed off as he looked out onto the crowd and found no sympathizers save for Tracey. Sullen, unsympathetic faces looked back at him and it was clear his explanation moved little of them. The older Slytherins, in particular, must have heard some version of this speech many times during their studies. What ambitious Slytherin would not want to be the leader to unite them? What could he say to move them? What he could say to convince them?
"I wanted to be recognized," Harry said in resignation. "I wanted to be feared. I wanted everyone to follow my orders as I gloriously charged down our enemies and rose Slytherin to the top of the lists. I wanted it all. I wanted everything. Can you blame me for that? Can you blame me for being ambitious? Are we not Slytherins?" Harry's voice rose as emotions got the better of him. He gazed at the crowd, his heart suddenly pounding.
"But I was wrong."
The admission was part deception and part honesty. The Slytherins would normally not have accepted such weakness in their leader, but Harry realized it was weakness that they desired from him. For too long, Harry had sought to remove all humanity and emotion from the equation. Ruling with an iron fist worked in the midst of a heightened battle, but battles were not all won in the Room of Requirement or the Board Room. Some battles were won far before Harry even stepped onto the battlefield.
Still, he was wrong in some ways. He was wrong to think that everyone would follow him for his heroics in the forest the year before. He was wrong to think everyone would follow him just because his skill easily surpassed theirs. He was wrong to think that Slytherins would easily fall in line once they tasted such dominant victories. In the end, he had vastly underestimated the deception of his own classmates and mistook insubordination for incompetence.
Harry would not lose the Slytherins again in such a manner.
"I was wrong," Harry continued. "I tried to be your leader without showing you respect. I tried to be your leader without hearing your grievances. I tried to be your Commander without letting you decide what you wanted. I'm not asking for a vote and I'm not asking to replace our current Commander. I just want everyone to know - I'm not bigger than Slytherin."
Harry paused for a moment, waiting for the reaction of the crowd. They disappointed him. Their reaction was muted at best, despite his forged honesty. What more could he say? Hiding his disappointment, he held his head high and walked towards the stairs, intent on retiring to his room in peace. It was a great surprise when someone sidestepped into his path, blocking Harry's quiet retirement.
Millicent Bulstrode stood over him, peering down at him with her small, pinched eyes. Harry had half a thought to hex her on the spot, but he would have been foolish to do so. She unexpectedly stuck out her hand and grumbled, "Good job."
Harry would never have guessed that Millicent Bulstrode would be the one to validate his efforts in the tournament. He laughed aloud and grasped her hand in a firm handshake. Millicent had been nothing more than fodder for spells for the duration of the year. Harry scarcely gave her more thought than he needed to do. Outside of Battle class, he rarely interacted with the tall girl, but he was grateful for her thankfulness now.
Tracey rushed to his side and patted him affectionately on the back, glaring daggers at the rest of his cohort. A few others shook his hand or gave him similar congratulations. Blaise notably avoided his gaze and remained with the rest of the crowd, but Goyle mumbled his congratulations and Pansy made a snide, but toothless remark while patting him on the back. It wasn't the thunderous applause that he had received earlier in the year, but it was enough to let him know that Harry wasn't a total pariah.
He didn't wait for more plaudits. Content with the reception he did receive, Harry walked up the staircase, but paused as he recognized a decidedly non-Slytherin voice.
"I didn't think that you would all be here, but this will have to do," said Hermione Granger of decidedly not-Slytherin.
A cowering First Year was the singular piece of evidence needed to understand how Hermione ended up inside the Slytherin Common Room. Impressively, she was alone and had no backup. Harry felt compelled to pause and stare at her with an inscrutable expression. Even the other Slytherins seemed baffled to find her in the dungeons. While Harry's class mostly despised her, the other years knew of her prowess given the tournament. Nonetheless, she appeared nonplussed appearing in front of the entire Slytherin house.
"What do you want, Granger?" Tracey asked.
Harry was grateful for Tracey's quick response. He knew that there was no love lost between the two girls, but she was no doubt beating other Slytherins to the punch and making sure she was the one questioning Hermione. Other Slytherins might not have opened with dialogue. Harry slowly made his way down the stairs, weary of what he might have to do.
Hermione arched an eyebrow at Tracey but did not speak directly to the Slytherin girl. Instead, she addressed the whole group.
"I'm here to an extend an invitation to Slytherin. They're throwing a bit of a Hogwarts party and we couldn't find anyone in the halls, so here I am. If you want to come, just follow me."
The Slytherins must have still been stunned by her appearance. That was the only reason no one talked for a full minute after her surprising invitation. Harry continued his slow approach, sliding through the crowd with ease. It was a surprise when an older Slytherin Harry didn't know spoke up.
"Why me?" Hermione retorted. "Could be worse. Could be the Weasley twins. I don't think you fancy them being down here though."
The thought of Fred and George accessing the Slytherin Common Room must have been enough to break the rest of the Slytherins out of their stupor. Whispers, both excited and suspicious, traveled through the mob as they finally absorbed Hermione's invitation. Slytherin had hosted their own parties after major victories, but in Harry's time, they had never participated in some sort of inter-House affair.
In a night already full of surprises, Tracey managed to add one more when she walked up to Hermione and nodded her head at the Gryffindor.
"Let's go then," Tracey said.
A small smile appeared on Hermione's face. She shrugged at the rest of the Slytherins and turned to exit the room. Tracey looked over her shoulder at Harry and waited for his response. Harry wanted nothing more than to walk upstairs and collapse into his bed, but every instinct told him that would be a craven mistake. Hermione might have been the representative of this invitation, but she was certainly not the instigator. Someone else wanted the Slytherins to partake.
With a tired mind and body, Harry succumbed to the pressures of leading Slytherin. If he, as Hogwarts champion, were not to attend the party, then how would the rest of the school look upon Slytherin then?
If I'm serious about not doing this alone, then I need more than just Hermione to win against them. Harry briefly pondered ordering the rest of the Slytherins to attend the party without him, but that would never work. He limped forward until he was shoulder to shoulder with Tracey. Harry turned to address the rest of the Slytherins, feeling the weight of responsibility returning to his shoulders. How many times had he asked them to go into battle? Surely, they would enter the fray once more.
"I'm sure we could show them a thing or two about parties."
Harry smiled as he saw the majority of the Slytherins step forward. They couldn't turn down a competition.
While it would certainly be foolish and not in line with what Harry thought Hermione would do, he nonetheless took a few precautions as Hermione led the entire Slytherin house across the Hogwarts campus. Harry saw Hermione petulantly roll her eyes as he sent forward scouts and advised Malfoy to have others watch the rear in case they were ambushed. Harry couldn't help it. He had been down this row before.
His fears were quickly unfounded as they traversed. Hogwarts was conspicuously empty save for the Slytherins. Usually, there'd be a smatter of students or even the usual din of shoes and boots padding along the brick interior. Yet, it was unnervingly quiet save for the soft swish of the Slytherin robes. Hermione must have noticed this strange discrepancy as she purposely kept quiet during their trip. Harry thought he spotted that same ghosty smile on her face.
It should have been no surprise to him that they ended up in the corridor for the Room of Requirement. Hermione paced back and forth in front of the wall three times as required and then stepped back as a half-crescent mahogany door appeared. Despite the lack of ambush and Hermione's nonchalant attitude, Harry still had a feeling the night had more twists ahead of it. Hermione, with her penchant of reading his mind, looked at Harry amusedly.
"Do you want to send in some scouts to make sure the coast is clear?" Hermione innocently asked.
Even a few Slytherins chuckled at her mocking tone. Harry knew her long enough not to be embarrassed by her play. Instead, he walked up to the door himself. If it was a trap, then it was a well-laid trip. Trusting Hermione not to do something so foolish right after the tournament ended, Harry placed a hand on the door. He turned to Hermione right before he opened it.
"Whose idea was this?" Harry asked.
At his question, Hermione looked at the door as if she were seeing through it. That same ghost of a smile appeared on her face, except this time, it had a hint of pride.
Harry knew this couldn't be a trap. He pushed open the door and stepped inside, momentarily blinded by the gush of light pouring from the room.
The party had already started and it seemed as if every student in Hogwarts was inside. Banners of every house, save for Slytherin, hung from wall to wall and corner to corner. Students were lazily hanging on improvised hammocks strung from the ceiling. Food and drinks, especially those with a little buzz in them, were plentiful and littering the ground and, at some parts, the walls. A record player blasted a fast-paced harmonious tune and a few Hufflepuffs, based on their scarves, danced a jig at the center of the room.
As the rest of the Slytherins filled in behind Harry, the other students finally noticed the newcomers. Someone made the awful mistake of silencing the the record player, blanketing the room in a more than uncomfortable silence. One by one, the Slytherins walked in - not unlike a Battle class. No wands were raised, but the tension was the same. Even as all of the other houses competed against one another, Slytherin had always stood on their own. That fact was evident by the existence of all the other houses at this party save for them.
One figure made his way through the mob, politely but insistently pushing others out of the way. Cedric pushed his way to the front, parting the sea of students easily. Hermione abandoned the Slytherins and joined him, reaching out to give his hand a quick squeeze. He smiled affectionately at her, and Harry was surprised to see their relationship take such a public turn. The Hogwarts champions faced each other, both with inscrutable expressions.
Cedric could not hold his for long. That lopsided grin broke out on his face as he winked at Harry. The tall Hufflepuff opened his mouth to say something, but he was interrupted. Harry steeled himself internally as he recognized the voices of interruption. Fred and George Weasley were not the ones you wanted to address the entirety of the Slytherin house.
Fred cleared his throat obnoxiously. "Dear brother, what's gone on with the party?"
"I'm not quite sure, Fred, but Potter does have that effect when he enters the building. Always so moody. So mysterious. What do you think we should do about it?" George said.
Fred met Harry's eyes and Harry's stomach dropped to his feet as he watched the twin's smile grow wider. Nothing good would come of this.
Fred raised his hands melodramatically and not even Cedric had the wherewithal to stop him. Harry almost pulled his wand out to stun the ever annoying Gryffindor before he could escalate matters. It was to Harry's greatest surprise when Fred did nothing but bring his hands together. Again - and again - and once more until George joined in a raucous show of applause. Like a wave gathering momentum, the other Hogwarts' students joined as the applause grew deafening. Harry turned around to see the jaws of the other Slytherin students hanging open as they received a congratulatory applause loud enough to wake up Hogsmeade.
The room thundered to life as a chant broke out that Harry never thought he would hear from anyone other than his house. He had to pinch himself to see if he was experiencing another one of those lifelike dreams. He was not. Harry simply stood in awe as the entirety of Hogwarts screamed at the top of their lungs.
"SLY-THE-RIN! SLY-THE-RIN! SLY-THE-RIN!"
Harry could still hardly believe the sudden disappearance of animosity between all the houses. Two Firewhiskeys later, Harry didn't understand why they had to fight at all. People he had never spoken to came up to congratulate him for securing the trophy for Hogwarts. Cedric was boasting to anyone and everyone about Harry's idea in the last task. Even Fred and George managed to wrangle Harry in for a quick shot of a drink that tasted nothing like whiskey and more like one of Pomfrey's awful potions. Though Harry believed in keeping his guard up, he found it difficult to do so in this wild party.
He eventually plopped himself down in a chair next to Tracey and noticed she had a drink in her hand as well. She smiled beautifully up at him and made no effort to scoot over to make extra room for him. He squeezed in beside her and awkwardly pinned his arm to his side. She rolled her eyes and ducked her head so he could throw his arm over her shoulders.
"Not so awful, right?" Tracey said.
Harry chuckled despite his internal awkwardness. "No, s'not too bad."
They sat in companionable and relative silence for a few minutes. One of the older Slytherins was currently engaged with Roger Davies in a duel of who could keep levitating a plate while chugging multiple pints. In another corner, Harry was surprised to see Millicent flailing her arms wildly in a loose attempt to dance. Personalities that he never would have guessed rose to the occasion as a temporary alliance was established. Tonight, there was only Hogwarts.
"Harry?" Tracey said.
He murmured in response, soaking in the party as the buzz of the drinks washed over him. Harry's eyes wandered and found Draco sitting in a corner with a small handful of other Slytherins who were not yet partaking in the booze or other drugs. Harry almost yelled for him to come over and enjoy, but he had enough sense not to call out his Commander. Blaise was nowhere to be found, but Harry still felt a pang of sadness. If they were still friends, this was Blaise's domain.
"Harry?" Tracey said, elbowing him in the ribs this time.
"What's that?" Harry said in response, turning his head to look down at the girl in his arms.
He was finally aware how close she was.
Their faces were maybe a foot apart and he could suddenly smell the perfume in her hair and on her skin. Harry was always fond of her blue eyes, but they seemed to glow in the dim light of the room. Her hand was rubbing a small pattern on his side, her fingers tracing his ribs through his shirt. Her breathing was heavy and she licked her lips as if to say something. Instead, she moved forward ever so slightly, closing the distance between them.
Harry guiltily pulled back and witnessed the devastation he caused in her face. To her credit, she recovered quickly, but he was too close not to remember her expression. He had made a mistake, yet he also felt that he made the correct decision. Whatever she felt for him, he could not return it.
"Yes?" Harry tried to go back to whatever her original question would have been.
They stayed in position for just a few seconds more, his arm wrapped around her shoulders while her head rest on his collarbone. She looked up at him, her lip wobbling ever so slightly and a slight mist creeping into her beautiful, blue eyes. But she must have known as well.
Tracey pulled away from him and looked away. Harry felt his hands awkwardly drop to his lap as he found himself unsure of his next action. It was territory he did not usually find himself in. In battle, he planned and forecasted almost all of his actions, even his improversations. Why was it so difficult to think of what to say now?
Someone screamed as Roger Davies finally dropped his levitating plate and the older Slytherin roared in victory. A few Hufflepuffs tried to lift him on their shoulders, but he was too heavy and they fell in a laughing heap. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cedric and Hermione leave the room. He looked round and round, doing everything he could not to meet Tracey's eye. At last, he felt her hand on his knee.
Harry turned to look at her, feeling abject terror in his guts.
She smiled a sad smile and said, "I love you, Harry."
Before he had a chance to respond, she stood up and left him.
Hermione tapped the familiar pattern into the bricks and stepped back as the wall opened up. She had done this a hundred times before, but this time, her heart hammered quickly against her chest as she stepped through the tunnel. Cedric trailed behind her, marveling at the secret passage.
He made a few observatory comments as they entered the cave, musing about this and that. Hermione managed to spit out a few customary answers to his inquiries, but her mind was elsewhere. While he had not explicitly expressed it, Hermione always knew that Cedric had a desire to move forward with her.
Yet, she found herself terrified at the thought. It was not that she did not like him. On the contrary, she felt more for him than she had ever felt for anyone in her life. Why then was she so nervous as she approached the small pond of water at the far end of the cave? Why was she so nervous as she felt Ceric walk up behind her and wrap in her a tight embrace, his scratchy chin rubbing gently against her neck?
Why did it feel like her heart was in her mouth as he planted a soft kiss at the point where her neck met her shoulder? Why did she feel a combination of pleasure and terror as he licked his earlobe? Why did she shudder when his lips met her jaw and she smelled the mix of whiskey and cologne?
The last question was posed in a voice that was not her own, and she must have said it aloud as Cedric suddenly jumped back, concern etched onto his face.
"Hermione! Is everything okay? Am I...am I moving too fast?" Cedric asked.
Hermione whirled away from the small pond, her hand clutching the tattoo writhing on the side of her breast. Even now, in this moment of intimacy, the voice returned with a wrathful vengeance. She felt equal measures of repulsion and attraction towards Cedric even though the former emotion should not have been present. What was the tattoo doing?
Rationally, she knew what it was doing. She knew the consequences of trying to feed her own power with dark magic. How stupid could she have been to be so short-sighted?
You wanted to win. You needed to win. You needed me.
"Hermione?" Cedric asked again, trailing after her.
She put a hand up, warding him away. "I'm okay. I'm okay. I just need a second."
Concern was all over Cedric's face, but he said, "Sure. Take your time. I'm - I'm sorry I was moving too fast."
"No." Hermione shook her head. "It's not that. It's…"
She paused, unsure as to what she should say. How could she move forward with Cedric if he didn't know this about her? It would be colossally unfair to him not to tell him about the tattoo.
You've barely told anyone. The Lovegood girl knows, but not even Potter knows. Tell Potter instead. Go to Potter. Leave this worthless scum.
Hermione shook her head, trying to clear the voice. It was so loud. She took a few deep breaths, trying to settle into Occlumency and avoiding the confused stares that Cedric was giving her. She just needed some semblance of control before moving forward. The familiar walls recreated themselves in her mind, and the voice abated from her thoughts. She would have felt embarrassed by the situation, if the voice in her head did not terrify her so much.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said.
"No, I'm sorry." Cedric tried to preempt her. "I shouldn't have been so forward or moved so quickly."
Hermione waved away his apologies. She knew he would try to take the onus on himself, but he had just took what he believed to be the next step. How could she blame him for believing his actions were just as she took him away from the party and into the privacy of her previously intimate domain.
She approached him and wrapped her arms around his body, grateful for the warmth of his chest. It was uncharacteristic of her to show so much emotion, but Hermione felt more than comfortable enough to do this with Cedric. She trusted him and if he were to trust her, then Cedric deserved to know.
"It might seem cliche to say it's me, but not you, but in this case, it is actually me," Hermione said.
Cedric looked down at her in confusion. "What's that mean?'
Hermione took a deep breath and moved forward with their relationship.
"I made a mistake a few months ago…"
Harry stumbled out onto Hogwarts grounds. The Ministry had long cleaned up the staging area, so it was not difficult to find the Beauxbatons carriages. Though his head was a bit foggy, Harry still had enough memory to know which carriage belonged to Fleur. Trying to make himself look presentable, he knocked on her door, aware that he was breaking every rule of constant vigilance.
In that moment, he didn't particularly care. Harry had been under the pressure cooker of the tournament and the school year for so long, and it felt good to finally let off some steam. He also thought that he was probably trying to hide some latent guilt by taking actions to keep his mind off Tracey. Perhaps that's why he found himself on Fleur's doorstep, his body tingling and his mind racing.
She opened the door with a knowing look on her face. Without uttering a word, she turned around and left the door open, letting him take the first step inside. Harry swallowed down a dry throat, feeling foolish. Fleur was far more experienced than him. What did he hope to accomplish?
Harry shook his head. He knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish.
An eerie sense of deja vu overtook him as he approached Fleur's bed. She was laying languidly on a pillow, propping her head up with one hand. She wore a silk shift that seemed to dance along her smooth skin. His senses flared as the heightened Veela magic took over, driving them together. No words were needed as he joined in her bed, running one hand from her shin to the top of her thigh.
Fleur smiled and let him take the lead, and Harry did his best not to seem like an overeager puppy. Their limbs came together as did their mouths. Her tongue raced exquisitely along his body and every touch stoked the fire within. His hands grasped and gently pulled her, and he made believe that her moans were not just customary notices.
Their movements sped up and they became a clash of bodies. Over and over they rolled as Harry forgot all of the outside world. For one night, Hogwarts Battle School ceased to exist. For one night, all of his scars were miraculously healed. For one night, he even forgot Fleur's past transgressions. For one night, she was his and he was free to lose himself inside her.
For one night, Harry let all of his guards down.
Tracey ascended the spiral staircase to the highest tower in Hogwarts. After leaving the party, she changed into a strapless green dress that fell all the way to her feet. A more elegant pair of robes covered her shoulders as she walked through the near empty halls of Hogwarts. Tracey had plenty of time to think before she entered the room.
It was nearly two in the morning, but Draco still must have thought of her and set up a small circular table with some biscuits and a pair of drinks. She laughed, maybe inappropriately, at the date-like setting. In another world, this scenario would have been quite romantic. A small nightcap in the Astronomy tower with a rather handsome gentleman. It struck Tracey as ironic that she would feel the same way of Draco that Harry would feel of her.
Yet, maybe she did not have to feel that way about Draco. Perhaps if she opened herself up to him, then she would feel more. But she didn't even believe her own rationale. Tracey thanked the other Slytherin as she plopped down on her chair rather ungracefully and picked up the biscuit. In contrast, Draco neatly sat down and pushed her drink towards her.
"Not good?" he asked.
"Understatement," Tracey responded between bites. "A vast understatement of how tonight went."
Draco had the courtesy of faking pity. Sometimes, she could tell when he tried to fake emotions and when he actually felt them. She wasn't one hundred percent accurate, but she could at least notice those discrepancies from Draco. He was an odd character, but he was also one of the few people who understood her.
"Somehow, I knew, I think," Tracey said. "I think I always knew he didn't feel that way about me. It still hurt. It still hurts even if you know."
Draco nodded politely, his eyes never leaving her. She finished her biscuit and reached for her glass but stopped. The incredulity of the situation made her laugh once more. The night started out with her mouth over her hands as Harry sacrificed his body for victory once more. How did the night end with her in the Astronomy tower with Draco Malfoy?
"It's for the best," she said, mostly talking to herself. "I need to move on anyways. What's the point, right? What's the point in trying to convince him to love me if he can't even kiss me? What kind of boy doesn't even want a kiss?"
Draco remained silent, a finger tracing the rim of his glass. Tracey appreciated his silence. Sometimes, people wanted to interject what they thought, but Tracey just wanted to vent. For too long, she had kept her feelings about Harry to herself, scared of what others might think, but Draco understood. Draco knew.
"It's for the best," she repeated. "It's just time to move on. The next chapter. Turn the page. Next step in the potion. Time to learn another spell."
"To new beginnings?" Draco offered, raising his glass.
Tracey laughed. "Yes! Exactly! To new beginnings!"
They clinked glasses and Tracey took a deep swallow of the clear liquid.
Draco declined to take a drink of his own and set his down gingerly. He leaned back, exhaling as if he were blowing out a puff of smoke. He stretched his arms above his head, his back popping. Next, he twisted his neck around and a few more joints popped. Then, he rubbed his face and Tracey could see the exhaustion in his eyes.
"Do you remember our first class together this year?" Draco asked.
Tracey nodded, her mouth drying for no reason.
"I didn't know what to quite make of you. I knew what he thought of you, but I was curious to see for myself. How much did you really invest all of your time into Potter? How desperate were you for his love?" Draco adopted a quite different tone than what he usually used. His inflections changed. He sounded older.
Tracey opened her mouth for a rebuttal, her throat was unfathomably dry. She could barely croak out any words.
"Then again, it has been quite some time since I immersed myself in this setting. I almost didn't do it. I thought to myself - why would you stoop so slow to join in this nonsense? But as I've learned, there are some things you can only trust yourself to do. But you have given me great insight, Tracey Davis. Your weakness was key in understanding Potter. He is not who I thought he would be. Spoiled. Petulant. A brat raised by that snake. Yet, he is...formidable…"
Tracey tried clearing her throat and reaching for the glass to get another drink, but she found her limbs too heavy to move. At first, she thought it might have been the booze, but her head was surprisingly clear. Her heart started racing. Why can't I move?
"And the longer I thought about it, the longer I realized just exactly what they did. They hid them both here - don't you see? That's what I would have done. He always knew that I would come back and he figured it out faster than I did. The Potter boy is one of them. That's why he was so confident to keep him here. He knew I would realize."
She tried wriggling her toes, but she found herself unable to do even that. Her eyes could still move as she scanned the room, but even those movements were difficult. Panic overtook her body as Draco continued to speak. What happened to me?
"But they underestimated me. They probably thought me arrogant, but it was their arrogance that allowed me to dig in deep. It was their lack of humility, their lack of imagination! What arrogance they showed! How could they have kept this ruse running for so long with this little imagination? Even their battlefields bored me after a while. They were preparing for a fight far different than what I will bring them. They underestimated me. Me!"
Wand, Tracey thought. I need to get my wand. Some sort of counter-jinx. Some sort of spell.
"Don't bother," Draco interrupted her thoughts. "Don't you remember our first class?"
Deep in her heart, the terror overtook her. Draco was in her head. He knew. He knew. He knew.
"Think, Tracey." Draco leaned forward, his silver eyes alive with fire. "What was our first class?"
And even in her terror, her mind raced back to the beginning of the year. It cycled through the list of days even as her body entered a crippling paralysis. They were both on the Medical track. Pomfrey was their teacher. It was a test. A test of potions. A test of identification. A test of…
"Yes!" Draco hissed, matching her thoughts line by line. "The Widower's Potion."
Root of cassava. Grinded into a fine grain. Clear. Smooth. Odorless. A poison.
Tracey could still breathe and now she hyperventilated. Her mind was racing, but her heart was slowing. She could feel the heartbeats elongate and stretch as the poison took its course. It was not terror deep in her heart. It was the Widower's Potion.
"What they don't tell you about Polyjuice is that you start thinking like him. You wear one face for so long that you start becoming that face. I do pity you, Davis. You remind of my mother. She also died loving someone that would not love her back."
Even in her panic, she managed to register the fact that Narcissa Malfoy was still alive.
Polyjuice? Your dead mother? Who are you?!
"Who am I?" Draco answered.
"An interesting question from an uninteresting girl. Who I am is up for debate. Am I a terror? Am I evil? Am I the one you should fear? I have been all those things, but I have also been nothing. I am much like your beloved Potter - someone who was shaped by their upbringing and their environment. I am someone who believes in the greatness of your own self. I am the one who will show that old fool what a hypocrite he really is. I am the greatest student of Hogwarts. I am death and undeath. I am You-Know-Who! I am He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named! I am the man of many names!"
He leaned forward, towering over her as his face started changing. His skin warped back and forth, falling off and reforming in different places. His hair fell in blond bits and pieces, and his pallor grew even more sickly. Tracey's heart swallowed, but her emotions swelled. As his face reconstructed into his true form, Tracey screamed a silent scream that no one would ever hear.
He said his true name and Tracey mercifully wished for death.
Projected Update: Friday the 13th