Disclaimer:Neither the world nor the characters belong to me. They are the property of J K Rowling, to whom I owe thanks for letting us use her creation to tell these alternate stories. The challenge belongs to whitetigerwolf, to whom I owe thanks for the idea that kick-started this story. I'll happily claim credit for the story itself, though.

Some Author's notes: Communication and language.

"Normal speech"; "Thoughts";Lingua Felinarum; {Parseltongue}.

Chapter 33: What's That Doing in There?

Dumbledore's state of mind was getting stretched rather thin, and he was forced to turn to his deputy for assistance. A new Defence professor was what they needed, and they needed one very soon. With all the extra work involved in the preparations for the Triwizard Tournament, and the requisite security concerns that he'd handed over to his previous selection for the post, along with the aged wizard kicking himself at missing the imposture of one of his closest friends, it was squarely in McGonagall's lap to locate the new teacher, as Dumbledore and Snape went over those notes that they managed to find amongst the belongings... it was fortunate that this was how they found the original Alastor Moody, hidden in his own trunk, and he was quickly moved to St Mungo's where he was looked over and treated for his captivity and its side-effects. Predictably, he felt unable to accept the teaching position, but he did feel capable of assisting with the security concerns, aiding them greatly over the next few weeks.

He was currently leafing through the file that his Deputy had supplied for his perusal. Charles D. Vaughn... there was something familiar about that name, although he was hard-pressed to put his finger on it. The usual entries were there, of course. His last employment (special hit wizard), his origin (muggleborn... and an Australian) and his various academic achievements. The requirements here were a little less stringent for the Ministry appointees, one of whom they were in danger of receiving, and if you weren't one, then you needed at least four 'O' NEWTs and a Mastery, preferably in the course you were teaching, to receive a teaching position at Hogwarts. The possible Professor Vaughn had those, it seemed. He qualified in Defence with a Mastery, and held 'O' NEWTs for Transfiguration, Arithmancy and Ancient Runes,as well as a second, more esoteric Mastery in something called Contramancy... oh dear.

Turning to the cabinets behind him, the old wizard quickly located the file he sought: the school transcripts of one Charles Daemon Vaughn. It made for some... interesting reading. Apparently, he'd held off applying for the position for several years so his younger brothers, the Trouble Twins Jacan and Drefan, could graduate, avoiding any charges of favouritism thereby. As McGonagall had indicated that this young man was the best option for the post, with the distant second being a Ministry man from somewhere in the depths of the Committee for Muggle-Worthy Excuses, it seemed he had little choice. Lifting his quill, he scrawled his signature into place.

The apprehension of Bartemius Crouch Junior was the talk of the school... and the British Wizarding community. Investigations were launched into how a convicted dead Death Eater was impersonating a teacher at Hogwarts, instead of occupying a cemetery plot just outside Azkaban Prison. Veritaserum was liberally applied to get to the bottom of the story, and although Barty Crouch Senior was implicated, caught and tried for his part, the only useful information was that the one calling himself Voldemort was seeking a means to acquire a proper body. The younger Crouch had been no fool, and had been carefully obliviated of any incriminating details, such as where Voldemort was hidden, and who was actually caring for him. As for the exact details of the plans his 'Master' had sent him for, that was considerably easier.

The plan had called for the disguised Death Eater to place the name of Harry Potter into the Goblet of Fire, and then to make sure the boy survived all the tests that awaited him, so that the boy would make a powerful sacrifice to Voldemort's return, but exactly what was to happen to Harry had not been given to Crouch to know. Nor was the back-up plan any clearer. In frustration, Director Bones was forced to simply station a number of aurors to assist in watching over the Goblet...

Once the shock from apprehending the Death Eater posing as their Defence teacher had worn off, the kitty couple and their friends found the following weeks to be distressingly normal... and while they truly enjoyed it, their nerves were almost raw as they waited for the other shoe to drop. It was into this atmosphere that the new Defence Professor dropped.

As the Gryffindors and Slytherins of their year walked into the Defence classroom, they were greeted by a very odd sight. Completely ignoring the sturdy railing that was set aside as a perch for it, and choosing instead to cling to the high back of the Professor's chair, was a truly massive bird, an eagle, standing three feet tall and splintering the polished and sturdy oak in its talons like balsa. As the class stopped and stared, the eagle turned, raising and opening the hooked beak that drew their gaze inevitably away from its talons, and keened at them, a long, high cry that made them all very glad they weren't rabbits. As the bird of prey mantled, and ruffled its dark brown, almost black, feathers into place again, settling the six or seven foot wingspan as it fixed them with its gaze, the teacher himself emerged from his office at the back of the classroom.

"Don't mind Antilles there," he said in a broad Australian drawl, "He's just a big old softie."

Ron goggled a little, as the afore-named Antilles shifted his balance, casually splintering wood that would have held Hagrid's weight with his claws. His response forced it way out, to both his own mortification and the general amusement of the class. "Soft? Compared to what? Flippin' granite?"

Chuckling at Ron's outburst, the teacher waved them to take their seats as he stepped over to open a window. As the massive bird swept through the opening into the outside sky, Hermione made a connection... "That's a Wedge-tailed Eagle, isn't it?" she asked, as the shaven-headed man turned back to face them. "And you're a Star Wars fan." The last was a statement.

"Indeed," the teacher replied. "The wedge-tail is one of the eagles native to Australia, and his tail feathers are quite distinctive. As for the other, how do you conclude that?"

Hermione glanced towards the window. "Why else would you name a Wedge, Antilles?"

Professor Vaughn's class became fairly popular, and was compared quite favourably against previous Defence Professors', and the school-wide consensus put him on par with Professor Lupin. The only fact that kept him from greater popularity was his decision to have each class begin a physical exercise regimen. "Hearty magic comes from a healthy core, a healthy mind, and a healthy body," he had announced to each class. "The Ancient Greeks understood this, and they had an influence on everyone who came after that lasts to this very day."

He also placed a large emphasis on the practical. "Given a choice, improve your aim before you work on speed. Getting off the first spell means nothing if it can't hit your target," he'd explained. "Speed is fine, but accuracy is final."

Perhaps the biggest reason for his popularity was his method of rewards for the most progress in his class: Vouchers for the Cosy Cauldron for beverages and snacks and meals... The proprietress Morgan was his sister, and the two had gone to Hogwarts together, in the same year, even though they weren't twins (she was a Halloween child, and he was born the very next August). "I recommend the tuna-and-cheese toasties," he'd mentioned as he handed Harry a voucher to reward his mastery of a reflective shield charm.

The presence of the impostor at Hogwarts had been pointed at in an attempt to cancel, or at least postpone, the Tri-Wizard Tournament, to no avail. Minister Fudge had uncharacteristically put his foot down. "We will not let some mad fanatics force us to conform to their whims," the Daily Prophet had reported him as saying. So it was that the students of Hogwarts stood outside on the afternoon of Halloween, although Harry and Hermione were very... twitchy. They both knew that tonight they'd be in the Chamber of Secrets, and what came with it. They were managing to hold on through affectionate nuzzlings and purring into each other's fur. Unlike almost anyone else, they needed no warming charms to deal with the Scottish outdoors, their fur thick enough that, in combination with their robes, they could pretty much ignore the chill wind across the lake.

Still, it was with relief that the Chaos spotted the approach of the Beauxbatons contingent, the massive Abraxans drawing the house-sized carriage through the sky to land between the castle and the forest. The emergence of the Durmstrang ship from the lake was equally impressive, although Ron nearly reverted to his old self in excitement as he recognised Victor Krum. It took a discreet, if firm, elbow from Daphne to calm him down. The Chaos almost missed the presence of one Draco Malfoy amongst the Durmstrang contingent, only picking him from the crowd by his hair and the scars on his cheek. The youth seemed almost sculpted, he'd changed that much.

The evening passed in a blur for the kitty couple, a rush of noise and sound. Although there were a few events that stuck out. When Dumbledore proclaimed the rules and restrictions on entering the tournament, the two felines managed to drag their attention away from each other long enough to learn what not to do.

Another event they recalled was when a gorgeous blonde girl in Beauxbatons blue cleared her throat behind them, and froze as they turned, with an audible 'eep'.

"Veela," Harry noted quietly.

"Avian instincts," Hermione agreed. Glancing at the bowl in the older girl's hands she made an educated guess. "Here for some bouillabaisse?"

The French Veela nodded nervously. "I... I am Fleur D-Delacour," she said with a tremor in her voice. "I-I did no realise zat 'Ogwarts 'ad ze Bast'et 'ere. You are ze siblings, oui?"

Hermione shook her head as Harry chuckled, a coughing cat-laugh. "Certainly not," she replied. "We are a couple, and that would be very awkward. I'm Hermione Granger, for now, and this is Harry Potter, well, Potter-Black after the adoption. How we came to be Bast'et is quite a long story, and best suited for another time, when we aren't quite so... on edge. Here." She handed over the sought-after soup. "I'm sorry to be rude, but we're in... a highly instinct-driven mood, and..."

As the bushy-haired feline pressed herself back against her Harry, the French girl seemed to understand. She didn't flee, but she did move away with alacrity.

The next days classes saw the two felines struggling to remain awake after their night's exertions, but the teachers and their classmates had gotten used to the kitty couple's habits by now, although the attitudes were a surprise to the guests from the other two schools. The puzzled looks faded somewhat when Draco explained certain things to his fellows at Durmstrang, and Luna at the Ravenclaw table was only too happy to do the same for the Beauxbatons students. As the feast came to a close, everyone's eyes were drawn to the Goblet of Fire, which had been set into enchantments intended to keep the competitors limited to those who were of age.

Dumbledore rose and spoke, and although the felines were still somewhat tired, and indeed were still pressing together at every opportunity, they and their friends were able to keep their attention face front... at least, most of them were. Ron, taken by a sudden foreboding, turned to Harry, attracting his feline friend's attention and signalling a question, trying to ensure Harry still had the rings on him.

It was a puzzled Harry who nodded, patting the pocket of his robes. Ron then raised his left hand, firmly grasped by the one belonging to a puzzled Daphne, and mimed tying the two together, then gestured towards Hermione. As Harry took her hand in his own, the three puzzled members of the Chaos saw their red-haired compatriot's shoulders slump with relief, even as the goblet sputtered and flared as the Headmaster began to speak.

"In a few moments, the Goblet of Fire will select a Champion from each of the schools," he declared. "I wish for you all to give them your support, that we might have a friendly and wholesome competition."

He was forced to cut his speech short as the flames pouring from the artifact hissed, spat and popped, then with a flare of light, a single scrap of parchment was launched in the direction of the head table, and the Hogwarts Headmaster snagged it from the air. "For Durmstrang, we have Viktor Krum," he announced, to resounding cheers from the students of that school, although a few muttered and gave dark looks toward the device.

The Goblet did its routine again, and this time he proclaimed Fleur Delacour the Champion for Beauxbatons, before the whole thing happened again. "And our own Cedric Diggory is the Champion for Hogwarts," Dumbledore announced, inwardly happy that it wasn't Harry.

But the ancient relic still burned, and the pops and stuttering flames caused Harry to grip his mate's hand tighter. The flare of light that accompanied the final, unexpected piece of parchment extinguished the goblet, and the old wizard almost fumbled the catch and stared at the parchment for a few tense seconds before he spokea name he'd dreaded seeing, that had still been chosen despite all the precautions and protections they'd managed to put in place.

"Harry Potter."