Hogwarts at last
Chateau Delacour, Marseille, France (Aug 21 -1994)
The Mediterranean waters were crystal blue, clearly trying to surpass the sky. It was one of those rare days when the weather decided to be warm rather than hot, the day comfortable rather than beautiful. Two sets of eyes were admiring the Mediterranean out of Fleur's window. It had been more than a week since Jasmin and Fleur had seen it. They had been in England, watching over Apolline with Camille, while Dom had spent his entire time and energy investigating into the "Klein affair" as it had come to be called in the French Ministry. Now, only after he had been sure that it was safe for them to return and that Apolline was fit to go home, had Dom allowed them to come back.
Fleur fell back on her bed from where she had been sitting looking at the sandy beach. She had missed this- The feel of her bed, the sound of the waves, the sea gulls soaring in the sky making their weird noises. She had really missed not being home. Jasmin fell back on the bed too, beside her with her arms coming to rest under her head. If her dreamy smile was anything to go by, she was glad to be back too. And they owed it all to one person.
In the few days that had passed, Harry Potter had constantly been in the back of Fleur's mind. Until she had met him, she had hated boys his age with a vengeance. But meeting him had changed that slightly. He had been nothing like she was used to. He was famous, but seemed indifferent about it. He was talented, but was humble about it. He had been in a position of power, but had neither been selfish nor had he taken advantage of it. Fleur had no illusions about the many possible variations in which their imprisonment could have turned out. But instead of any of that, he had saved them merely for the sake of it being the right thing to do and hadn't even considered any form of repayment. He was truly one of the few gentlemen left in the world and Fleur respected him for it.
Jasmin was clearly thinking along the same lines. She turned to look at Fleur. "Let's write to him." There was no need to specify him by name.
Fleur only thought about it for a moment. "Okay." She settled herself in front of the table and pulled out a spare piece of parchment, while Jasmin hurried to find some ink.
Fleur chewed at the end of her quill, her red lips puckering cutely. She found herself at a loss for words. There seemed to be so much she wanted to tell him, and yet none came to mind. She found herself growing nervous as she thought about it. For some reason, this letter seemed to be of utmost importance and she didn't want to get it wrong.
Jasmin returned with the ink and perched herself on the bed as close to the desk as possible. She seemed to realize Fleur's quandary. "Wondering how to start?" Fleur nodded, still chewing at the quill.
Jasmin thought about it too. What could they possibly write about? They had never actually had any kind of conversation. Come to think of it, she had barely said anything to him. For a second, she worried if Harry thought she was a rude person, but scratched that thought from her mind straightaway. A smile began to play on her lips as she remembered his last words to her. He had called her Adri. Why would he do that if he didn't think of her as a friend? That cheered her up. She brought her legs up to hug her knees, her breasts pressing against her legs softly. "Why don't we start by thanking him for agreeing to protect us during the tournament and then ask him if he knows anything about the Triwizard we don't?"
That seemed to make sense. Fleur put her quill to the parchment, but stopped immediately. "How do we address him?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you think 'Dear Mr. Potter' sounds too formal? Or do you think I should just say 'Greetings' and move on to the letter?"
Jasmin scoffed. "There's no need for any of that. Just start with 'Dear Harry'. I'm sure it won't matter to him. After all, he didn't mind calling me Adri".
That irked Fleur a little, just a little. She playfully swatted at Jasmin who ducked, giggling, and threw a pillow at Fleur's head which found its mark. In retaliation, Fleur caught the pillow just as it hit the ground, lunged from her chair and straight into bed where Jasmin was waiting with another pillow. They pummeled each other with the pillows for the next five minutes, laughing and rolling around until Fleur caught hold of Jasmin by her waist and brought her face down on to the bed. Before Jasmin could do anything, Fleur started tickling her. Jasmin squirmed and squealed under Fleur, but to no avail. Fleur only stopped when Jasmin begged her to stop. They fell back onto the bed, breathless, flushed and happy. It had been a long time since they'd felt this happy.
Half an hour later, Apolline walked into the room to find it littered with torn pieces of parchments and the two girls huddled around the desk. She walked over to them and placed the lunch tray she was carrying on the desk. A wince escaped her as she bent down. Even now, a dull pain remained in her abdomen where she had been hit by the curse. She sat down on the bed quickly. Jasmin looked around at her with concern in her dark eyes. "Does it still hurt?"
Apolline smiled. "Don't worry. It's not so bad anymore." She took in the clutter in the room before continuing- "Now, will one of you care to explain this mess?"
Fleur turned to look around in surprise. She had been too focused on the letter to notice the muddle they'd created. She answered Apolline apologetically- "I'm sorry. We'll clean it up as soon as we're done with this letter."
Apolline peeked over Fleur's neck curiously- "A letter? To whom?"
"We're writing to Harry, mother. Is it okay if we use one of the owls?"
Apolline was lost for words. Never had she seen either Jasmin or Fleur actively seek interaction with a boy. But then again, she had heard enough about Harry Potter during her time at the hospital to know Harry was not just another boy. Her smile turned mischievous. "I don't know. The owls are kept by your father for sending important letters and England is so far away…."
Fleur and Jasmin were now looking at her so pleadingly, she almost laughed. Apolline thought to herself, well, well, Mr. Potter. What have you done to my daughters? She said out aloud- "Alright, I'll let you use your father's owl this time. But on one condition."
"What?" –they chorused.
"Be sure to tell him that there hasn't been any news on Klein and his organization and that we are all extremely grateful to Harry for agreeing to watch over you. Your father has already written to Prof. Dumbledore, but I think it's best if you tell him yourself."
"We were going to do that anyway." Jasmin piped up.
Apolline smiled again, although her eyes were looking at Jasmin with a slight amount of sadness. She bent down and kissed Jasmin on her forehead and left the room saying- "And eat your lunch before it gets cold." As the door shut behind her, Jasmin took the lunch tray and placed it neatly on her lap. She deftly opened the lids of all the dishes and started eating, alternately feeding Fleur with her spoon, who continued to scribble in the parchment.
Ministry of Magic, London (Aug 22-1994)
It was the last meeting before the Triwizard got underway. The room contained everyone in the English Ministry who had made the Triwizard possible and everyone who had a major part to play throughout the duration of the tournament. The people who sat around the table knew exactly what was expected of them. They had already finished their respective chores. This meeting was just to report to the minister and Dumbledore and to compare notes. Ludovic Bagman twisted in his chair table and called good-naturedly, "Well, come on then Barty. This meeting isn't going to address itself."
Barty Crouch was standing in front of a window. The weather department, for some reason, had decided that today was going to be rainy. He didn't mind. Something about the droplets of water snaking slowly downwards on the window pane steadied him. This was it -the first test. All those days of watching his father speak, observing the way he held himself was going come to his aid. Today would decide if he could fool the greatest wizard of his generation and those who had known his father for more than twenty years into believing he was his father. Barty Crouch Jr. made his way to the seat reserved for him, right next to Dumbledore. He tried not to let his loathing for the man show. How simple would it be if he could just kill him right there? He would happily accept any punishment he was given as a reward. But he couldn't. The service his master had demanded of him was much more difficult and required a lot of subtlety. Dumbledore's voice broke through his thoughts. "Are you alright Barty? You seem a little under the weather."
He took a deep breath before saying in a clipped voice, "Yes, I'm quite fine. Thank you for your concern Albus." He added loudly- "Settle down everyone. This meeting will now come to order."
The general chatter around the table died down as most of them turned to face him. He took another deep breath. When he spoke again, he sounded exactly like his father. "This meeting is to iron out any little problems we may face during the Triwizard tournament. I call upon all of you to be completely frank and report any discrepancy that might harm us financially or diplomatically at a later date. The focus of the entire world will be on England and by default, our ministry. We must not lose face in front of them. I'm happy to report that there are no glitches on my end. The foreign ministers of the participating nations have agreed to all of our terms and so have their schools." He paused and looked around imperiously. Not overly so, just enough to emulate his father. When no one raised any questions, he continued. "I think it would be best if Madam Bones enlightens us about her trip".
Madam Amelia Bones stood up from her seat next to Kingsley Shacklebolt. She put down her monocle, which she had been using to peruse her file. Not that there was any need to. She knew what was in it by heart. Clearing her throat, she spoke. "Thank you Barty. I'm glad to report that my trip to Romania was a success. The dragon-keepers have agreed to get us untamed dragons as we had requested. However, they made it quite clear that they were not in any way responsible for how they might behave. You see, while dragons are aggressive in general, some of them might choose not to be so. There is no way of predicting what the dragon might do when we put them in the arena. They might choose to attack the crowd, run away or just refuse to do anything. Therefore, I have agreed that we will assume full risk for whatever might happen. We've also finalized the price for capturing the dragons. They agreed for a lot less than we expected actually. So the only thing left is to decide what we are going do with the dragons after the task."
Fudge answered from his ministerial chair- "You've done well, Madam Bones. Don't worry about the dragons. I'm sure the goblins can always use more for guarding their vaults. We can handle the rest, can't we?"
He looked over at Umbridge who immediately started shifting through her files until she found the right one. She cleared her throat too, but with a rather annoying sound. "Well Minister. The arena for the first task has been designed to provide maximum protection for the spectators, while at the same time providing free movement for the dragon. Dragon-keepers will be stationed strategically to prevent the dragon from escaping the grounds and I highly doubt the champions will be able to complete the task without provoking the dragon. So I think we are all set in that regard, minister. I may also add that the other creatures required for the second and third tasks will be transported a few weeks before they take place. So, no problems there either." She completed in a simper.
Madam Bones resumed her seat without another word. That left Scrimgeour and Bagman. Bagman went first. "Well we're all set too. We've made arrangements for the foreign dignitaries to stay within the castle itself and the arrangements for the Quidditch tournament has gone off without a hitch. A lot of professional teams have agreed to be there to scout for new talent." The very idea seemed to excite him. He bobbed up and down in his seat. "The Appleby Arrows have also agreed to sponsor Nimbus two thousand ones for all of the players representing Hogwarts. Personally, I'd say that's very generous of them considering the current price of…."
Madam Bones shook her head resignedly, while Scrimgeour growled- "Get back to the report Ludo."
Bagman clapped his hand cheerfully. "Right you are Rufus. The arrangements for the dueling tournaments have also been completed. We didn't have to do much really. Dumbledore took care of it for us." He looked over at Dumbledore, who nodded back to him, smiling. "Well I guess that's about it. Oh wait, there is one small….er….discrepancy."
Fudge asked- "What?"
Bagman answered- "Bertha Jorkins. She has been missing for quite a while now. I thought she was with her sister, but we now know that's not the case. So…yeah." He ended a bit lamely.
The fact that Bertha Jorkins had gone missing was public knowledge in the ministry. Neither Bagman nor Fudge, however, had done anything about it. Before Fudge could say anything, Rufus Scrimgeour stood up. "We'll send someone to look for her." He turned to look at Fudge who sat back in his chair, slightly cowed. Scrimgeour addressed the rest of the table. "I've spoken with all my counterparts from the arriving nations. There is no problem. Auror corps has already been deployed in all the sensitive locations in and around Hogwarts. Indeed, Hogwarts is a fort right now. Nothing gets in or out without our knowledge." He sat back down without a wasted word.
Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling mischievously behind his glasses, muttered under his breath- "Oh, I wouldn't be sure of that."
Diagon alley, London (Aug 25-1994)
Diagon alley had never been this crowded. The narrow streets were cramped with people, both British and foreign, and all manner of shops that seemed to have sprung up overnight. For some reason, a lot of the foreign students had decided to do their shopping in Diagon alley rather than in their own countries. It was understandable, as they were going to be studying in England for the upcoming year, but it did make for some very cramped spaces. The Weasley family was holed up inside Flourish and Blotts at the moment, to Fred and George's great chagrin. They had been protesting with Mrs. Weasley about how one of their classmates might see them in there and how they would never be able to live down the humiliation there afterwards, until they spotted a pretty girl through the window. Not another word was heard from them as they charged into the bookstore, even ahead of Hermione.
Hermione was quietly perusing a dusty volume of 'An History of Triwizard: the glory and the gore', in a corner. She was hoping to come across something about what Harry might have to do in the upcoming year. She had been horrified when Harry had confessed to her and Ron about the fight at the World Cup, his kidnapping and the escape. But she had been even more shocked when she heard the job, no, mission Dumbledore had given him. She couldn't understand how Dumbledore could ask him to just risk his life like that and why Harry would agree to do it. She had read enough books on the tournament to be sure of one thing- that it was dangerous. And this tournament was being touted as the most exciting, in other words life-threatening, tournament ever. There was only one thing to do. She would have to try and convince Harry not to participate. But first….
"Ron! Will you please stop breathing down my neck?"
"What, I was just trying to catch a look at what you were reading."
Hermione snapped her book shut and put it back on the shelf. Ron was starting to get on her nerves a lot of late. She looked around the aisle for Harry. He was nowhere in sight. She asked Ron, who was right behind her- "Have you seen Harry?"
"No, I'll go look for him if you want." He turned and sped off, knocking down a couple of books in the process. Hermione shook her head and bent down to pick up the books.
Harry was just on the verge of picking up his copy of 'Standard book of spells, Grade four' when he spotted Fred and George in a corner, talking with a very pretty girl who looked like she was French. As he watched, the girl said something to the twins and they turned and started walking back, towards him. He waited patiently until they reached him.
"Not trying to spy on us and pick up our moves, are you Harry?" Fred asked.
Catching a look on Harry's face, George added- "Why? I believe he was Fred."
Harry answered them calmly. "I don't know what you guys are talking about."
"Well, well, well. Harrykins has finally started to notice girls then, has he?"
"I guess we might have to start finding us some serious girlfriends George."
"I agree Fred. If Harry Potter-" started George.
"-the Boy Who Lived-" chimed in Fred.
"-saviour of the masses" continued George "is entering the field, then I believe our days as players are over."
"Ha ha" said Harry sarcastically. He grappled with himself on whether to ask them for help or not. They would definitely take the mickey out of him for it, but nobody knew as much about girls as they did, or at least that's what he thought. "But let's suppose I did want to…um… impress a girl, so to speak. How would you suggest I set about doing it?"
Fred and George looked at each other in surprise before they turned and chorused at Harry- "Who's the girl?"
"Shhh…Keep it down, will you?" Harry looked around and then continued, "There's no girl. I just thought I'd like to know how you guys do…er…whatever it is you guys do."
"What we do is an art Harry. You can't hope to reproduce what we do."
"But we will teach you a few tricks of the trade." said Fred, winking at him.
"On one condition, of course."
Harry nodded wryly. "Don't tell your mother?"
"What? No, that's not it. That's an implied rule that applies to everything we teach you. Consider what we're asking…. as a form of payment."
They seemed very serious about it. Harry was actually curious now. "Alright, what's the condition?"
"You know there's supposed to be an inter-school Quidditch tournament this year, right?"
Harry nodded. Dumbledore had mentioned it. George went on, "Well we're going to try out for the beater positions." Harry nodded again. That made sense. There wasn't even any need for them to tryout. They were much better than any of the other beaters at Hogwarts. He still didn't understand what any of this had to do with him. George's next sentence answered that question. "We want you to try and become the seeker for Hogwarts."
Harry thought about it. Normally he would have jumped at the idea of representing Hogwarts in Quidditch. But he had promised Dumbledore to participate in the main tournament and he didn't want to get distracted. But then again, if he worked extra hard….
Harry accepted. "Ok, you got a deal." then added suspiciously-"But why is it so important to you guys I become the seeker of Hogwarts."
Fred slapped one hand to his heart and the back of his other hand to his forehead. He exclaimed dramatically, "Isn't it possible we want what's best for the school and you, dear Harrykins? Can't you entertain the possibility that we do some things from the goodness of our hearts?"
Harry simply said, "No."
Fred dropped his hands. "No, we didn't think you would either."
George explained, "You see Harry. We thought about it long and hard, and there are only three people in our entire school who have a realistic chance of becoming seeker. You, pretty-boy Diggory-" George's scowl indicated what he thought about playing with Diggory. "-and Malfoy. We're hoping it's either you or Malfoy."
That caught Harry off guard. "You guys hate Cedric so much, you would rather Malfoy became seeker?"
Fred and George chuckled pointing at Harry, "Isn't he cute? No, that's not why we want Malfoy on the team."
"Being a beater isn't all that easy Harry. Sometimes we mishit the bludgers and sometimes, by accident of course, those damn balls end up taking the seekers head off."
"Or decapitating them for life."
"I mean, no one would regret it more than us."
"But you have to admit, Malfoy hobbling around on a crutch for the rest of his life is a tad bit funny."
Harry looked from one of them to the other. "You guys are joking, right?"
"But whatever the case, we would rather you became the seeker of Hogwarts than either of those two ponces. So…we good?" Harry nodded. "Now that your questions are all answered, let's get down to business." George's tone became preachy. "The art of wooing the fairer sex is not something you can master overnight. It takes years of training and experience. You must harden your heart to face, accept and indeed, revel in rejection. But most importantly, you must learn the greatest and the most valuable trait that a man needs to know while pursuing a woman."
Harry's curiosity got the better of him. "What's that?"
Fred folded his hands. "Perseverance, my dear grasshopper. As Merlin once said, "There be not a girl on the face of this earth, who doth not succumb to persistence.""
Harry stated dryly, "I'm pretty sure he didn't say stuff like that."
Fred stopped in the middle of his oration and looked at Harry with mild annoyance. "I'm the teacher here. And if I say Merlin said that, then he did. Now where were we? Ah yes. Lesson number one. Flattery."
"Harry, we've met a lot of girls and we're yet to meet one that didn't fall for some well-chosen words of adulation. We'll teach you the second lesson when you've learned to get what you want from a girl using smooth-talk."
"That's it. You want me to flatter girls."
George shook his head, "That's it, he says."
"Never learns, does he?"
"How about this?" George pointed to the pretty girl they'd been talking to. "If you can get her name using the power of your words alone, we'll tell you the next secret to seducing a woman."
Harry grinned. "You guys struck out with her, didn't you?"
For an answer they shoved him in her direction. "Stop being a smart-alec and do as your teachers command you."
Harry caught himself from crashing headlong into a bookcase and hissed, "What do I tell her?"
George waved his hands nonchalantly. "Just say she has a nice smile. They're all suckers for that one."
Thinking he'd have been better off keeping his mouth shut, Harry approached the girl, who seemed to be engrossed in a book. Close up, he saw that she was very pretty indeed. Her lips were curved in a sensuous fashion and the blonde hair that fell down to her shoulders framed her face very well. As he got closer, she turned to look at him. Her large, brown eyes would have been quite attractive, if they didn't carry a small hint of pride and vanity in them. Harry thought, Well, here goes, and said, "You…er…have a nice smile."
She replied in a haughty tone, "And how would you know that Monsieur?"
"Um…er…Well, I don't…" Harry thought quickly. "But I'm sure I'd like to find out."
A smile did seem to tug at her lips. Her eyes softened a little anyway. She looked over at Fred and George, who were peeping from behind books that they were holding upside down. As soon as they saw the girl looking at them, they dived behind a nearby bookcase. "Are you friends with those two clowns? They just told me that my sneezes sound like a chorus of angels giggling."
Harry tried his best to keep his face straight. "I'm sorry. We're having them checked." She broke out giggling. He stretched out his hand- "I'm Harry, by the way."
She regarded him coolly for a few seconds before accepting his hand. "Celestine. Pleased to meet you."
In the meantime, Fred and George had taken up positions behind the bookrack and were trying to eavesdrop on the conversation. "Can you here what they're saying?"
"I would if you quit your yapping."
Ron, who was passing by, spotted them. "What're you guys doing hiding behind the bookcase?"
Fred waved at him to shut up. Ron, however, came closer to them and asked, "Have you guys seen Harry around?"
"No. Bugger off."
Just then, Harry's voice rang out loud and clear from the adjacent aisle. Ron, catching sight of Harry, started in his direction. Quick as they could, Fred tackled Ron to the ground while George clapped a hand around his mouth and dragged him back behind the book rack they'd been hiding. Without any wasted movement, George perched himself on Ron's chest, hand still covering Ron's mouth. Fred too seated himself comfortably on Ron's stomach, his back against George.
Celestine left soon afterwards, having finished with her purchases. Harry, not being able to find Fred and George, went back to looking for his school books. But the Weasley twins didn't budge an inch for the next ten minutes.
The Burrow, England (Sep 1-1994)
September the first dawned with a slight chill in the air, a clear precursor to a rainstorm. The just-risen sun was hidden from view by ominous dark clouds. The wind blew the plants around and made the trees sway to its will. For his part, Harry found the weather to be pleasantly comfortable. He was standing on a small hill that overlooked the Burrow. Nothing was stirring inside. It was still too early. Soon, the crooked building would become a center of bustling activity. Soon, it would be time for him to leave for Hogwarts. Despite the possibility of this year being the most dangerous ever, which in itself was saying something, and the huge amount of effort that would be required of him, the thought of going back to the Hogwarts excited him. Whatever might happen, the castle would give him the strength he required to face any challenge. He knew that much from experience.
Hermione had tried to persuade him from competing in the tournament, of course. He wasn't surprised. In fact, he had expected it. And when she did pester him about it continuously, he wasn't annoyed in the slightest. She was a creature of logic. And she cared a great deal with him. It was only natural for her to try and stop him. But there were some things that logic just couldn't understand. Sometimes, you just trusted your gut and hope things work out.
A small smile lit up his face as he thought about the letter he had received from Fleur and Jasmin. The letter, written in a neat, cursive hand, had been courteous and friendly at the same time. They had thanked him for saving him and again for promising to watch over them. There had been no new information about Klein and his men. He hadn't expected there to be any. Judging from the letter, Jasmin still didn't know about Klein's real identity. He would have to be careful not to slip up accidentally. There hadn't been much else of importance. For some reason though, every time he thought about the letter, he was ever so slightly pleased.
He had written back of course, mostly about Quidditch. He had remembered to inquire about Apolline's health, but couldn't think of anything else to write about. Hedwig had graciously consented to deliver the letter.
Not long after, Harry saw smoke coming out of the Burrow's chimney. Mrs. Weasley had clearly started cooking breakfast. He decided to return to the Burrow. It would be time to leave soon and he still had some packing left to do.
Inside the house, chaos reigned. Fred and George had taken Ron's mattress and locked it in the attic with the ghoul. Of course, it hadn't bothered them in the slightest that Ron was still sleeping on it. It was hard to tell who was shouting the loudest- Ron as he banged on the attic door, the ghoul as he dropped random stuff on the attic floor, howling as he did, or Mrs. Weasley, who was yelling herself hoarse at the twins. Ron and his mattress were extracted from the attic by a very amused Charlie.
Compared to the excitement at the Burrow, the journey to Kings Cross was very uneventful. It started to drizzle as they entered Platform three quarters one by one. Harry was the last to go through the barrier that separated the muggle station from the wizard one. The Hogwarts express stood majestically at the station, belching clouds of white smoke. People were scurrying around to get into a compartment before the rain started to come down hard, so there was a lot of bustling going on. Ron, who was still seething at the twins for their newest prank, made his way straight for a compartment without wishing Mrs. Weasley, Bill or Charlie goodbye. Fred and George also seemed to vanish into the crowd. That left Harry, Hermione and Ginny standing with Mrs. Weasley and her two eldest sons. Bill was watching the Hogwarts express wistfully. Harry looked at him curiously.
Bill answered his look. "I was just wondering how cool it would have been if they had held this tournament a few years ago. I would have still been in Hogwarts and could have been part of all the excitement."
"I thought Bagman promised to arrange for tickets to the first task."
Bill scoffed. "Sure. Watch from afar as someone else puts up a performance. Anyway, the real excitement will be in Hogwarts itself. Meeting all those people, making new friends and of course, learning from some of the greatest minds in history." He took a deep breath. "Well, no point regretting something that is out of my control. You be sure to have a good time Harry."
Harry smiled and shook Bill's hand. "I will. See you soon."
Charlie too shook his hand and gave him a wink. Mrs. Weasley, whose attention so far had been monopolized by Ginny and Hermione, ruffled his long hair fondly before giving him an extra-long hug. She pulled away and said almost in a whisper, although Harry was sure both Hermione and Ginny could hear every word. "Harry dear, you be sure to take care of yourself now." There was a sad look on her face. "I don't know what it is that you and Dumbledore are planning, but there is nothing more important than your life Harry. Do you understand?"
Harry gave a sideways glance at Hermione. She shook her head vigorously. Harry supposed Mrs. Weasley had guessed something was up. He wanted to disagree with her. There were many things more important than his life. But he just nodded. The rain started to come down hard as the Hogwarts Express gave a warning whistle, indicating it was about to start moving. The students started clamoring around the carriages trying to get in as soon as possible. With one last nod to everyone, Harry heaved his trunk in one hand, the Firebolt in the other and started walking towards the train, closely followed by Hermione and Ginny as the train began to move. They got in and by the time they turned to wave goodbye, Mrs. Weasley, Bill and Charlie had apparated.
Inside the train, it was the usual hustle and bustle as everyone tried to find the compartment with their friends. Harry, Hermione and Ginny dragged their trunks through three carriages until they came across Ron sitting in a compartment with Neville Longbottom. Harry slid open the door and held it open. "Hi, Neville." Hermione said brightly as she entered and sat next to him. "Had a nice summer?"
"Yeah, it was okay. Hi Harry, hey Ginny."
Harry, tucked his trunk under in the overhead rack before throwing himself in a seat near Ron and saying- "How come we didn't see you at the World Cup, Neville?"
Ginny seemed unsure about what to do before seating herself in a corner and smiling at Neville, whose face had fallen slightly at the mention of the World Cup. "Gran wouldn't get tickets. Said the ministry was trying to rip us off. Still…" his face brightened. "There's going to be plenty of excitement this year at Hogwarts, isn't it?"
Before Harry could reply, a very rude and very familiar voice interrupted him. "Yes, there is Longbottom. In fact, I think there will be more excitement than you can handle. Think you can stop yourself from soiling your pants in front of all the foreign guests? " The compartment door had slid open to reveal the guffawing forms of Crabbe and Goyle and the pale, arrogant face of Draco Malfoy.
Ron, already angry, was up on his feet in an instant. "Shove off, Malfoy. I'm in no mood to deal with you."
A malicious smile began to play on Malfoy's face. "What's got your knickers in a twist Weasley? It can't be because your family went bankrupt or anything. You have nothing to begin with."
Ron lunged at Malfoy and was caught just in time by Harry. "Let me at him." Ron snarled. "I'm not taking any crap from him this year. Let's settle this right now, Malfoy." Crabbe and Goyle started cracking their knuckles menacingly. Hermione stepped in front of Ron and was about to say something, when a cool voice floated in. "Do you mind moving out of the corridor. You're blocking the way."
Harry recognized Daphne Greengrass from their year. Her straight blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail today, but her blue eyes were as icy as ever. She surveyed the scene in front of her dispassionately; her eyes lingering on Harry and then Hermione for just a second longer than the others.
Malfoy smile widened. "What's the hurry Daphne? Don't you want to watch me put Potter in his place?"
Daphne flicked a strand of her hair out of her eyes. It was simple enough action. And yet, she made it seem regal. "I'm not interested in your petty squabbles, Draco. I actually have better things to do."
Malfoy, pretending not to hear her, turned to face Harry who still had one hand on Ron's shoulder. "I suppose you're thinking of trying-out for the seeker position in the school team, Potter. You never miss a chance to show-off, do you?" His drawling voice sounded uninterested, although Harry knew better. But Malfoy had unknowingly committed the mistake of ignoring Daphne. She drew her wand quickly- a little too quickly for Harry's taste, and pointed it straight at Malfoy's face. "This is the last time I'm going to ask, Draco. Get out of my way." Even Malfoy didn't miss the dangerous undertone of her voice. Malfoy's eyes narrowed at Daphne. His hands seemed to wander in the direction of his wand. For the briefest of moments, Harry was sure Daphne was going to fire a spell right into Malfoy's face. Then, without a word, Malfoy turned and left with his two cronies following close behind.
Tracy chirped cheerfully from behind Daphne, "Should've hexed him when you had the opportunity."
Daphne pocketed her wand and started walking in the direction Malfoy had just left, without a backwards glance. "Plenty of chance for that later." Tracy just continued smiling as she slipped a pert wave in the direction of the Gryffindors before following Daphne. Ron slammed the door behind them and sat back down, breathing like a winded rhinoceros. Except for Pigwidgeon shooting around in his cage, twittering madly, there was silence for a few minutes as nobody spoke. Then, Ron broke the silence. "I'm gonna enter the Triwizard tournament."
Everyone looked at him in shock, none more so than Hermione. "What? Don't be silly Ron. You can't."
"I can and I will. I'm gonna win the tournament and the prize money and then we'll see if Malfoy can crack his stupid jokes on me." Ron was starting to sound determined, but Hermione wouldn't hear any of it. "Ron, do you hear how ridiculous you sound? Are you really going to consider risking your life because Malfoy cracked some stupid joke about you being poor? That's just crazy. You can't enter the Triwizard tournament on a sudden whim."
Ron threw her a challenging look. "Why not? Harry is…" He caught himself from saying anything more, but the damage was done. Neville hadn't understood the full meaning of the words or Ron's horrified expression, but Ginny was looking at Harry in alarm. For his part, Harry determinedly avoided Ginny's eyes and stared outside the window at the rain, which was now harder than ever. Ginny seemed to wrestle with herself about asking Harry directly before she settled with giving Hermione a look that clearly said "We're talking about this later." Nothing more was said on the subject.
The weather began to grow steadily worse as the day wore on. Many of their friends looked in on them and staying to chat about Triwizard, the rumors they had heard about the foreign students and so on. Ron cheered up considerably when Dean and Seamus dropped in and told them excitedly that almost every professional team in England had agreed to send scouts to Hogwarts. The ensuing discussion about the prospective contestants for the Hogwarts Quidditch team lasted for the next hour or so. Dean asked Harry excitedly, "You are going to tryout for the seeker position, aren't you Harry?"
Ron answered before Harry could. "Of course he is. We can't let Malfoy become the seeker of Hogwarts. We'll never hear the end of it. And that dolt Diggory is no better either."
Hermione, who had gotten tired with the endless Quidditch talk and buried herself in her Transfiguration textbook, looked up and scoffed, "Cedric Diggory is not a dolt. He is a prefect and also top of his class in everything. Besides, aren't you forgetting about Cho Chang?"
Ron laughed derisively, "Oh please, you only like Diggory because he's handsome. And Cho Chang doesn't count. She's just a girl."
It was hard to tell who was more offended, Hermione or Ginny. Ginny was the first to lash out anyway. "What's that supposed to mean? She's just a girl. Girls can play Quidditch just as well as any boy, Ron. Have you forgotten that all three of the chasers in the Gryffindor Quidditch team are girls."
Ron looked at her in surprise. It was the first time she had raised her voice in Harry's presence. Ron seemed at a loss for words, but recovered quickly. "Calm down, Ginny. I didn't mean it like that. I just meant that Cho Chang doesn't have a chance when compared to the other prospective seekers." He looked at Harry in shock. "Merlin, what's got into all the girls here?" Harry just smiled and continued to stare out of the window.
By the time the Hogwarts Express came to a stop, it was extremely dark and extremely wet. The only good thing was that it had stopped raining. As soon as he got off the train, Harry began looking around until his eyes caught sight of the huge form of the Hogwarts Gamekeeper.
Standing head and shoulders above even the tallest students, was Hagrid, the lantern in his hand swinging around dangerously as he beckoned with his other hand. "Firs' years this way. Firs' years over 'ere." Already, a bunch of small, nervous-looking students had gathered around him. It never ceased to amaze Harry how tiny the first-years seemed every passing year. Harry caught Hagrid's eyes and waved. Hagrid waved back with the hand that held the lantern, almost knocking out a Ravenclaw sixth-year in the process. "Alrigh' there Harry? See yeh back at the castle." Harry smiled and walked towards the horse-less carriage in which Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny were already sitting.
Hermione removed Crookshank's cage and made room for Harry. As soon as Harry was seated, the horse-less carriage began moving with a jerk. Harry felt a slight tremor in the very depths of his stomach. It wasn't long now, before he would see his beloved castle. It came into sight slowly. Its many turrets and towers were awash with lights. Harry had hoped they hadn't changed anything about the castle for the tournament. His hope was rewarded. The castle looked as it always did- ancient, mysterious, imposingly grand- a true picture of strength.
The Great Hall glittered in all its usual splendor. The mood in the room was one of suppressed excitement. Everyone had waited impatiently for the Sorting to get over. Prof. McGonagall had just removed the Sorting Hat and the three-legged stool from the hall. Even Ron, hungry as he was, was hoping Prof. Dumbledore would announce the Triwizard tournament before the feast, rather than after. As he got up to deliver the welcoming speech, Dumbledore seemed to have already sensed the mood in the room. The small smile, almost hidden by his long beard, said as much. He stretched out his arms widely, his crimson robes glinting magnificently in the candle-light. "To our new students, welcome. And to our old students, welcome back. Another year of learning awaits you, although I think you will find this year particularly memorable." There were smiles around the room. No one spoke.
"But before we get sidetracked, let me take this moment to welcome our newest Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher," said Dumbledore brightly, into the silence. "Professor Moody." Harry didn't know if it was because of Moody's bizarre appearance or because everyone was waiting for Dumbledore to get to the important part of his speech, but Moody only got a lukewarm applause. Moody, for his part, seemed completely indifferent to the less-than-warm welcome.
"I must also remind you that the Forbidden forest is out-of-bounds to all the students and Mr. Filch has also asked me to tell you that the list of forbidden objects inside this castle has been extended to include Fanged Frisbees and Screaming Yo-yos." Harry suspected Dumbledore was keeping them on tenterhooks on purpose. The people around him had started making impatient noises.
Dumbledore seemed to realize he had kept them waiting long enough. "It is also my great pleasure to tell you that we are to have the honour of hosting the Triwizard tournament this year at Hogwarts." Dumbledore had barely completed his sentence before half the people in the hall were on their feet, shouting and pounding the tables.
Dumbledore smiled placatingly. "Yes, yes. Now, I am aware that you will have heard different reports and rumors about the tournament from different sources. Allow me to explain in detail. The Triwizard tournament was started seven hundred years ago to further international friendships between the three different schools of magic. It consisted of one tournament where a champion was chosen to represent the school in three deadly tasks and the winner was given the Triwizard Cup. However, it was stopped when the death-toll of the tournament went up and none of the champions survived for three tournaments in a row." He paused, and let the words sink in. "However, now, after two hundred years, we believe it is time to restart the tradition once again. This time, we are attempting not just to develop the relationship between the schools, but also the countries. Hence, we have invited all the students and teachers from their school to come and spend an entire year here at Hogwarts." Once again, there was loud clapping and cheering.
Dumbledore looked like he was quite enjoying himself. "I am also glad to say that we have arranged for a lot of competitions throughout the year between the schools to promote friendly rivalry, ranging from gobstones and wizard chess to debates, academics, etc., I believe there are a total of 124 events, all of which can be viewed on the notice board. Each of these competitions will have individual prizes." Harry clapped politely, along with the others.
"Now, the main tournament will consist of three important competitions that will take place throughout the year- the traditional Triwizard tournament, a dueling tournament and a Quidditch tournament." The attention of the people around the room sharpened. "The winners of each of this tournament will receive one hundred points each at the end of the year, apart from a thousand galleons of prize money. The second place winners will receive seventy five points and five hundred galleons. The third place winners will receive fifty points for competing and no money. At the end of the year, the total number of points will be tallied and the winning school will be decided, a great honour that I hope you can bestow on your school. Of course, the entire tournament will be followed closely by the entire wizarding world, so I hardly need to mention that there is a lot of glory involved for all the participants."
"That's it. I'm entering." Ron declared, his face awash with the prospect of such glory and riches. Harry couldn't help but smile wryly. He didn't want any of those things and he might still end up competing. Entering the main tournament seemed to be the popular notion around the room.
Dumbledore nodded understandingly, "Eager, as I'm sure all of you are to participate in the traditional Triwizard tournament, I must stress that it is not to be taken lightly. The chance of losing your life is very real and none but the most skilled wizards and witches can survive the tasks we have set this year. So be very sure before you volunteer for the Triwizard tournament, because once you are chosen, there is no turning back." At this point, his blue eyes landed on a pair of green ones before moving on.
"I'm sure all of you are braving hunger and fatigue to listen to this old man ramble on, so let me cut my speech short. I only have one last announcement and I have no doubt it will bring cheer to almost all of you. As we speak, the other two schools are conducting tryouts to determine the best amongst them. Both Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving here in a weeks' time." Murmurs began circulating throughout the hall. One week wasn't enough time to prepare. How was this going to cheer them up?
Dumbledore had to raise his voice to be heard. "Since we only have one week to conduct tryouts for both the Quidditch and Dueling tournaments and since all of your teachers will be busy with the welcoming of guests, I have taken the liberty of declaring the entire upcoming week a holiday." Shouts of joy rent the air. It took several minutes and many exploding sparkles from Dumbledore's wand to bring back order in the room. "Unfortunately, the holidays are not for leisure play as all the students will be divided into committees led by teachers for helping with the reception of guests from foreign ministries, reporters, arranging for their stay and such. Your respective house heads will explain everything in detail tomorrow."
Dumbledore seemed to have reached the end of his speech. He looked around at the excited faces of his students before continuing in a serious voice, "There hasn't been a gathering like this in centuries. I am not exaggerating when I say that this event has the potential to change the course of wizarding history. At the cost of repetition, let me impress upon you that the attention of the entire world will be upon us. The ministry and the teachers of Hogwarts have taken great pains to ensure your safety. Just remember, there is nothing more important than your safety." At this point, Hermione looked pointedly at Harry who just ignored her. If Dumbledore didn't think he could complete the tasks, then he wouldn't have suggested it in the first place. His mind was set and nothing Hermione said was going to change that.
Dumbledore was still speaking, "And now, I think I have held you back from enjoying a delicious feast long enough. Tuck in." He sat down and was immediately engaged in conversation by Prof. Flitwick.
Harry looked around the room as towering mounds of food appeared on the golden plates. People were either tucking in to their food with gusto, like Ron or discussing what Prof. Dumbledore had just said. There were a few worried faces here and there, like Hermione, but for the most part people seemed excited at the year ahead. As he sat there, in the middle of the the Great Hall, a wave of calm washed over him. He didn't know what it was, but somehow being inside the boundary of the castle always made him feel safe, like nothing could harm him here. Experience, of course, had taught him better. But he didn't care. Who wanted to languish in some corner of the muggle world, even if it was safe? Mortal peril or not, this was where he truly belonged. He had reached home at last.
A/N: Don't be disappointed that I've made the first task look similar to canon. You can be sure that none of the tasks will be similar to those in canon, including the first.
I would be much obliged if I didn't get a lot of flames about how Harry is still friends with Ron and Hermione. Like I said in the previous chapter, I'm trying to keep everyone in character as much as possible and I don't really hate Ron and Hermione. Does this mean they'll play a big part in the story? Maybe. Maybe not. But whatever the case, it will be believable. Harry isn't suddenly going to transform into a jerk and shed off his first and best friends.
A tiny bit of bad news- I won't be able to update for a month or so. Really sorry about that.
And finally, my sincere thanks to everyone who reviewed. If I'm unable to PM you personally, please forgive me. I'll try to answer as many of your reviews as possible. Thank you all.