Harry's dreams were hazy and muddled, flashes and sensations curling together with enough realism that his body broke out in a cold sweat. It felt like he'd walked this path many times; the gates to the decrepit mansion were coated in a layer of slime which can only be found in damp and cold forgotten places. It looked abandoned, but a flickering orange light from one lone window suggested otherwise.
A cold high voice, a flash of green light, the thud of a body. The sequence was the same, always lingering on a face which expressed the most fanatical adoration; the demented expression of a lunatic kneeling before his master.
Harry woke with a start, hand flying to the scar on his forehead which burned hot against his clammy skin. He was breathing heavily, limbs twisted beneath the sheets as he fumbled on the bedside table for his glasses. Extracting himself, he sat on the edge of the bed, running a hand through his sweaty hair.
A dream? The details were fading fast, he could barely remember what it had been about, but his scar was still stinging painfully.
Ron had sat up blearily, his voice thick with sleep. It was still the middle of the night.
"You okay, mate?"
Harry could only shrug and nod his head slightly. The movement caused a sharp pain in his forehead and his lips pulled back in a wince. There was rustling and the padding of bare feet on the stone floor before the bed beside him dipped. Ron leaned over him, his faced etched with concern.
"You look like you're gonna throw up. I'll get you some water, yeah?"
He left quickly and returned just as fast, placing the cup of cold water in Harry's hands.
"Thanks." He managed, taking a few gulps and feeling a lot better. "Sorry, I'm alright. Just a bad dream." He left out the part about his scar.
Ron looked doubtful. "Are you sure?"
As Ron returned to bed he mumbled a sleepy "G'night."
Harry pulled the covers up to his chin and stared at the ceiling for a long time before drifting off.
He was woken a second time by an insistent tap on his duvet, which he sleepily ignored, rolling over and burrowing deeper into the covers.
A sharp nip on the tip of his ear woke him up very quickly.
There was a rather large owl sitting on his bed with a very judgemental expression on its face and a note tied to its leg with red ribbon. Harry quickly untied it but the owl made no move to leave, ruffling its feather slightly and narrowing its large amber eyes at Harry irately. How the window had managed to open, Harry wasn't quite certain, but he had visions of the owl ramming its body against the pane and squeezing itself through the crack.
He slid the ribbon off gently before unrolling the note. It was stiff, crackling noisily in his hands and smelled slightly earthy. It was a good thing that everyone was asleep.
I've been hearing a lot of rumours lately and would like to speak to you face-to-face, just to make sure you're alright. This should reach you on the day of the Halloween Feast. Sorry about the smell, I'm in a cave at the minute. Could you meet me at the fireplace of the Gryffindor common room after the feast finishes? around 1am?
Don't worry about my receiving your reply in time, this owl is a lot faster than it looks.
Look after yourself,
Harry reread the note a few more times. Sirius had been talking to him over the Summer, but to Harry's knowledge he was abroad keeping a low profile and staying hidden. His Godfather was still on the run from the ministry after all, it would be too dangerous for him to come back to the country and risk being seen, particularly since he wasn't exactly travelling discreetly. A large, flapping Hippogriff is very easily recognised, especially one such as Buckbeak, who had been condemned to death not long ago. Seamus rolled over in bed and Harry took that as a sign to hurry, quietly retrieving a scrap of parchment, a quill and a pot of ink from his trunk. He scribbled a hasty confirmation note and used the ribbon to secure it to the owl's leg, which gave him another nip to the finger before soaring though the open window.
Sirius being back in the country was worrying him. He'd been happy with the knowledge that his Godfather was safe in the Bahamas or wherever, soaking up some sun after so long behind bars. Maybe sipping a Margarita with a large floppy sunhat on, while Buckbeak splashed in the sea. If he was confident the bird would return in time, he must be nearby, which was even more worrying. He couldn't quite stop himself feeling elated at the thought of seeing Sirius again though.
He dressed quickly before shaking Ron, who awoke with a dazed "Mmff?"
"Come on, get up. I need to tell you something."
Ron yawned, half-asleep as he struggled into his school uniform and put his jumper on backwards. Harry waited impatiently before dragging him down the stone steps to the empty common room and explaining the news from Sirius.
"He must be barking mad to be back. Mind the pun."
"But how is he going to sneak into the school?" Harry insisted, sure that Ron was completely missing the most pressing problem at hand. "The Floo Network?"
Ron stared at him for a while before a look of realisation crossed his face. "Oh, that's right. You were living with Muggles! He'll probably be Fire Talking. You know?"
Harry shook his head, confused.
"I'll explain at breakfast. Speaking of which, I'm starving."
Ron didn't look concerned, so Harry tried not to be. At least his first lesson was Defence against the Dark Arts, and all the teachers seemed to be in such a good mood because of the upcoming Triwizard Tournament. Maybe that would mean less homework.
A few hours later, Harry found himself standing in the middle of the school field with the rest of his class. Harry looked towards Hagrid's hut, where the Beauxbatons carriage was parked. A herd of golden blobs were grazing in the paddock beside it. He assumed they were horses, but they looked to be statues crafted from pure gold. He could just make out Hagrid's large form amongst them with two huge buckets held in his meaty hands.
"Right you lot! You'll notice that we're outside. Very astute of you, well done!"
There was laughter from the class. It seemed that the weather had looked on their Professor's plans, whatever they were, with approval. The leaves shivered in the slight breeze, but the weak sunlight was warm enough that Harry didn't feel cold in the slightest. The sudden nice weather looked to be a good omen. This was the day that the Triwizard Champion would be revealed after all, it had been long anticipated by students and teachers alike.
Harry turned his attention back to their teacher, who had rolled the sleeves of his blue shirt up and taken off his signature red scarf, folding it neatly onto the grass. There had been no explanation when they'd all been ushered out of the classroom, all questions had been met with an excited smile and a promise that they were going to have a fun lesson. Harry could argue that every lesson was fun.
"We're going to have a little game." Professor Emrys bounced on the balls of his feet, eyes glinting. "The game will involve two teams. You will all be one team. I will be another."
Harry goggled at him. Looking around, the majority of the class seemed legitimately concerned about the nature of this 'game' for fear they would accidentally set the Professor's hair on fire.
He laughed, unconcerned. "You'll have to work together if you want to beat me! I'm very good at this game. Although considering I'm the one who made it up, I ought to be. But hey, if you do manage to win, you'll get a nice reward. All of you need to get in a circle facing each other."
They fumbled to comply; Harry accidentally stood on Ron's foot twice in the process.
"Good! That's closer to an oblong than a circle, but good group effort. Now! Its very important that you work together on this. I'm going to dance around the circle in a very strange manner. When I eventually stop behind some unfortunate soul, they won't know I'm there, which means that whoever has noticed has about five seconds to call out that person's name. They will duck. The person opposite me will then skilfully and with minimal effort, conjure the Salvio Hexia defensive spell we've all been practicing for a long time. If they don't cast it in time, or fail to warn their peer..." He shrugged, a small smile on his face. "Do you all understand?"
There were nods of agreement. Harry withdrew his wand, noticing with a sense of dread that he was directly in front of Draco Malfoy.
Ron gripped Harry's arm, whispering frantically. "You don't reckon he'll turn us into frogs or anything like that?"
Harry opened his mouth to reply, but it was lost as Professor Emrys grinned. "Let's begin then."
And then he vanished.
Harry's eyes widened as he craned his head from side to side. How had he lost sight of him so quickly? Were their teacher's dance moves so legendary that they couldn't be witnessed with the naked eye?
Tensions grew as the class scanned the circle. Suddenly, Pavati yelled "Zabini!"
Harry's head snapped over in time to see the Slytherin crouch down, avoiding the spell which Pavati then blocked, her wand moving swiftly.
The Professor laughed. "Awesome work! So that's one point to Team... Class. Team Class. Let's keep going."
This time Harry saw him perform a little twirl before skipping away to the side. The game went on, getting more and more heated as Lavender failed to warn Ron in time and he was hit by a Tickling Hex. He rolled around on the grass, cackling hysterically until Professor Emrys lifted the spell, beaming. Harry found that his cheeks were hurting from laughing so much.
By the end, six people had been hit by the Tickling Hex while seven had blocked it after warning their classmates to duck. All of a sudden, Harry registered their teacher standing behind Draco Malfoy.
"Malfoy!" He yelled, almost subconsciously, watching the boy's eyes grow wide as he dropped to the ground.
The jet of light was cut off by his shield, dissipating into nothing. He was aware that Ron was staring at him in shock.
"Fantastic, Harry!" Professor Emrys smiled warmly. "That marks the end of the game, guys! Final score is eight points to Team Class, making you all winners. Congrats, pass around this bag of deliciousness and take one of whatever you want."
As the bag was handed around, their teacher folded his arms and beamed at them. "This was a game to test your ability and skill, the speed of your response and of course, your trust in each other. I'm really very proud of you all."
Dean raised his hand. "Sir, do you always dance like that?"
"Of course!" Professor Emrys laughed, his hands flapping excitedly. "Dancing is one of my all time favourite things! Its such an amazing expression of free will. Watching humans stomp about and twist their limbs into various positions to the beat of some funky music will never get old. Of course, the Yule Ball is on the horizon, so no doubt you'll learn all about it."
Harry didn't know about dancing being amazing, more like embarrassing. He'd never really been one for school discos or Saturday Night Fever. He hadn't even been able to get a glimpse at Professor Emrys dancing properly though, he was a whirl of blue out of the corner of Harry's eye.
"Humanity's love of dancing is one thing which has remained constant throughout the ages." The Professor seemed far away, his eyes distant. Then he blinked and grinned. "And of course, a healthy way to exercise! And that's important, kids. Eat five fruits and vegetables a day, get at least eight hours of sleep.. aaand dance until your friends call for a teacher out of concern for your mental wellbeing. Your lives are too short to worry about anything else really."
Ron had fished a Chocolate frog from the bag and was holding it like it held the secret to life itself.
"Alright, when you're all ready you can leave. Your homework is to enjoy the feast tonight and try not to do anything stupid in the last few hours of the Triwizard Tournament entry times. I've already had to deal with two certain prominent troublemakers this morning regarding the age restriction."
Ron slapped a hand over his face.
The class dispersed in a flurry of chat and excitement. Harry turned to see the Professor walking towards Hagrid's hut at a leisurely pace.
"That was odd." Hermione said at last. Noticing the blank looks on their faces, she rolled her eyes. "Didn't you notice?"
Harry and Ron shared a look before turning to meet Hermione's incredulous expression. Harry elected to unwrap the pack of Bertie Bott's every flavour Beans that he'd withdrawn from the bag instead of holding her stare.
"Honestly, you two must walk around with your eyes and ears closed. Its a wonder you don't walk into everything. Towards the end of the lesson, Professor Emrys started talking about "humans" and "humanity" as if he wasn't one."
"Wasn't a what?"
"A human, Ronald."
"Well he looks like one to me."
Hermione sighed. The phrasing had been weird, Harry had to admit, and the guy did have a mysterious aura sure, but he was all over the place. In fact, Harry wouldn't be surprised if it was revealed that his teacher wasn't human, but in fact a large and very excited puppy.
He bit into a bean that thankfully tasted like mango, and watched Hagrid greet the Professor which a bear hug that literally raised the smaller man from the ground a few feet.
"And Hagrid likes him." Ron said smugly as they turned to walk back towards the school, as if that settled the whole thing.
True, but Harry could think of a few of Hagrid's "friends" who weren't exactly the kind of people you would invite to a tea party. He wasn't about to remind Ron of that particular near-death experience though.
The rest of the day passed in a blur, it was as though everyone was trying to get it over with so that the choosing would come faster. When they got there, the Great Hall was buzzing with expectation, the air was alive with the sound of hundreds of voices chattering at once. The fact that it was Halloween had not escaped the headmaster, the ceiling was decorated with an assortment of floating pumpkins which had been carved so that the candlelight flickered through toothy smiles. The Goblet of Fire had been moved to stand in front of the Headmasters chair, and everyone seemed to glance at it every now and again, their expressions mixtures of hope and speculation. Harry had eaten his meal with gusto, before turning his attention to a creamy looking dessert, which Hermione informed him looked like a Blancmange, a French dessert set out in honour of Beauxbatons. Whatever it was, it burst with flavour against his tongue and tasted of almonds and cream. From the corner of his eye he was aware of a constant flurry of movement as Ron grabbed handful after handful of Halloween sweets and cakes decorated with spiders and skeletons.
After they had all finished eating, Dumbledore stood. Silence fell across the room. Harry could feel the tension against his skin, his stomach twisted with anticipation.
"The time has almost arrived. Can I ask the champions to please make their way to the front of the hall, walk along the staff table and go into the chamber in the back for their first instructions."
The goblet burned an intense blue in the darkened hall, the flames flickering restlessly. The assembly held their breath as the seconds ticked by. Everyone watched, waiting for any sign of change with a nervous tension.
The flames turned red in a burst of colour that hurt Harry's eyes. A few people gasped. A tongue of flame spat a charred piece of parchment out into Dumbledore's waiting hand. His voice echoed through the hall.
"The Durmstrang champion will be Viktor Krum."
Ron grabbed Harry's arm with a mad gleam in his eye. "Of course, he's the greatest Quidditch player ever. Of course it would be."
"I know, you've only told me about a hundred times." Harry responded, clapping with the rest of the hall, which had dissolved into thunderous applause as Krum silently disappeared into the chamber.
A second later, another burst of crimson flames revealed the next champion.
"The Beauxbatons champion is Fleur Delacour."
A beautiful girl rose gracefully from where her fellow students were allocated, gliding past the teachers to join Krum.
Harry noticed Fred and George nudge each other before turning to Harry. "Sadly it won't be us next, we ran into a slight problem. But we hope its Angelina."
"Yeah we heard about your problem alright, white beards wasn't it?" Ron countered, just as the flames in the goblet flared one final time to reveal the last of the trio.
"The Hogwarts champion is.. Cedric Diggory!"
The room descended into anarchy as every Hufflepuff leapt to their feet. Cedric himself smiled bashfully, heading for the chamber behind the teachers table. Harry wasn't surprised, the handsome student was the favourite among all Houses, even some in Slytherin. With a final flicker, the Goblet of Fire went out.
"Well that's all! Excellent. Now you can all support your champion-"
A loud clatter echoed from the side of the hall. Harry turned around to see that Mad-Eye Moody was staring, wide-eyed and shaking at the extinguished Goblet of Fire. His flask had slipped from unfeeling fingers and the contents had spilled across the floor.
Dumbledore resumed talking after a pause and everyone turned their attention back to the front of the hall, but Harry's attention remained on Moody. The man was fuming, his face contorted into a snarl. At that moment, the magical eye whizzed in its socket and fixed on him. He found that he couldn't look away.
After what felt like an eternity, it darted in another direction, towards the staff table. All the teachers were paying , attention to Dumbledore, except for Professor Emrys, who was staring right back at Mad-Eye. Slowly, he winked, shooting a huge smile across the room at the grizzly Auror, who snatched his flask up and cleared the spill with a hasty wave of his wand before leaving. The door slammed just as the headmaster finished speaking.
"Lets not loose our heads, school is still your priority! Now off you trot."
That night in the common room, Harry sat around the fire with Ron and Hermione. After Ron had explained to him over breakfast the basics of having a Fire Talk, Harry kind of knew what to expect. Hermione had expressed as much outrage at his Godfather's recklessness, and she confessed that she'd never seen Fire Talking before -Harry felt weirdly comforted that he wouldn't be the only one. They'd managed to nab the comfortable armchairs and all the remaining students had retired to bed as the hours ticked by, even those celebrating Cedric's victory at the Feast.
At one o'clock on the dot, Sirius' head appeared in the fireplace. No bangs or sparks, or any fuss at all. One second he wasn't there and the next he was.
"Sirius!" Harry greeted him, trying not to let the sight of the floating head freak him out. "How are you? Are you alright? Why are you back in the country?"
Sirius smiled at the flurry of questions. He looked very different to the last time Harry had seen him; his face was much less gaunt and his hair was short and clean. He looked a lot younger, more like the mischievous boy who had helped create the Marauders map and caused so much trouble at Hogwarts.
"Harry. Never mind me, how are you?"
"We're all fine. Its really great to see you Sirius." Harry said, meaning it with all his heart.
Sirius' face softened. Hermione poked Harry before turning to the fire.
"It is great, but why did you take such a big risk coming back here?"
Harry met his Godfather's eyes. They hadn't quite lost the haunted look that Azkaban had left with him, but they shone brightly with concern.
"I've heard that Karkaroff is at Hogwarts. That and a lot of other rumours made me too uneasy to stay away. You all need to listen to me. Karkaroff was a Death Eater."
Hermione clasped a hand over her mouth.
Ron frowned, his hands tightening into fists. "Would Dumbledore allow that? A Death Eater in the school?"
Sirius nodded solemnly. "But he doesn't trust him. I think that's why Moody has been hired. He's the one who caught Karkaroff in the first place. That's part of another strange thing I heard - Moody's house was broken into the night before he was due to leave for Hogwarts." Ron made to interrupt, but Sirius interjected. "I know, I know, they said it was a false alarm at the ministry. They think he's just paranoid. But I don't think it was. I think someone wanted to get rid of him, stop him coming to the school."
"Why?" Harry asked, trying to piece the information together in his head.
"I don't know. But Karkaroff can't be trusted, and that means his champion can't either. You should stay away from Durmstrang, under Karkaroff they'll know a thing or two about the Dark Arts."
Ron shook his head vehemently. "Not Krum. He's legendary. He wouldn't hu-"
Harry elbowed him.
Sirius smiled slightly before his expression clouded again. "There's something else as well. A witch has gone missing from the Ministry of magic. Bertha Jorkins. Disappeared in Albania, where Voldemort was rumoured to be last. She would definitely know about the upcoming Triwizard Tournament."
Hermione was a lot faster than Harry at realising the implications of that. "Are you saying there's a conspiracy surrounding this year's Tournament?"
"I don't know." Sirius said honestly. "But there's too much happening for me to ignore. I'm worried about you. Harry, you have a habit of getting involved with the danger over at that school, you're very much like your dad. There's a very real threat that something could go horribly wrong and you need to be really careful."
They sat in silence for a few moments. The weight of Sirius' warning made Harry suddenly very aware about his dream that morning and his scar hurting. Memories of a fanatical grin flashed behind his eyes. If he mentioned it to Sirius, there was no telling what his Godfather would do, probably break down the school gates to take him away.
"So, is anything good actually happening at that school?" Sirius asked after a moment, obviously seeing the effect of his words on their mood.
Harry smiled. "We do have an awesome DADA teacher."
Sirius raised an eyebrow skeptically. The school did have a reputation of hiring rather shady characters for the job.
"No really, he's great. Professor Emrys."
"What was his name again?"
"Emrys. Professor Emrys." Harry repeated, eyebrows raised in confusion. From the corner of his eye, he noticed Hermione and Ron exchange a glance.
Sirius frowned. The flames waved slightly in the silence, casting long shadows across the expanse of the empty common room.
"Emrys." He repeated after a significant pause. "Hm. I think I met him once, a long time ago. I don't know if its the same bloke, but he had the biggest, goofiest grin I think I've ever seen in my entire life, if I recall."
"That sounds like him." Ron grinned. "Was he a cute kid?"
"What? He wasn't a kid, ha. I met him after I managed to crash into the only tree in a huge field, miles from civilisation. It was the first time I'd ever crashed, but I blame your dad for putting itching powder down my pants." Sirius paused to laugh. "It wasn't funny at the time though. I knew I was in trouble. Then from nowhere, this shock of black hair came into view - this guy was hanging upside down from the branches eating an apple as casual as you please. Just laughing at me. I didn't really know what to make of him, but he was a really decent bloke. He fixed my bike with a spell I'd never even heard of before, and then he gave me directions back to the road."
Hermione made a soft sound. "How old did he look?"
Sirius frowned, his features softening into consideration. "Maybe 20? Not much older than we were at the time."
There was silence, broken only by the crackling of the fire and the slight rattle of the window.
"Impossible." Ron breathed.
Harry simply shook his head. "It can't be the same person then. Maybe the Professor is the son of the guy who helped Sirius."
"That doesn't add up." Hermione quietly pointed out, her hair glowing in the light of the fire. "If he had a son, he'd be about our age now or younger."
"Look, I have to go." Sirius interjected. "I broke into this house and I think the owner just came back." He turned his piercing gaze to Harry, face lined with concern. "Be careful, and remember what I've told you. Keep away from Karkaroff and his pupils. I don't know what's happening with this Tournament, but I don't like it. I'll send word soon."
Before Harry could say goodbye, the head vanished with a small pop.
They looked at each other silently, digesting the information Sirius had brought. Hermione's eyes flashed. He recalled how quickly she had worked out that Lupin had been a werewolf, and knew that whatever secret Professor Emrys was hiding wouldn't stay hidden for long. He couldn't shake the feeling that the guy didn't mean them any harm, and he trusted him with every bone in his body.
He just hoped he was right.
A/N: Ahem. So yeah! Hi. I know its been a long time, thanks for being so patient! Hopefully the size of this chapter kind of makes up for the wait, but you've all been amazingly understanding. So thank you. I hope you liked this chapter, I'm really enjoying writing this whole story and reading your lovely reviews. They really make me smile and I get really excited to read them! You were so nice about the last chapter, it really pushes me to write more for you, even though I don't fully understand why you like it. I'm glad you do though! Haha. And a lot of your theories are very good. You'll have to see though, there are a lot of ways this could go. Merlin is my favourite character in the history of everything and I do hope i'm doing him justice, above everything else. Sadly, exams are coming up and I'm going to be even busier trying to not completely mess my life up. It's depressing, but it has to be done. So again, i'd really appreciate your patience! I promise after all this is over, I'll be publishing chapters so fast you'll probably get annoyed and stop reading. I have so many ideas about how this is going to end and a tonne of awesome scenes that are playing out in my head all the time, stopping me from studying and stuff. So that's gonna come! Have some virtual chocolate and cookies from me. Okay, thanks for everything, you're all amazing.