A/N: Hey, so this quarter isn't as horrible as the last couple, so I was able to get this out a bit faster.
Kissing, Harry had decided, was alright. As often as they seemed to do it right though, they managed to be awkward and there were far too many instances of clinking teeth and smooshed noses, and the less said about the shriek Harry had made the first time Draco had swept his tongue against Harry's lips the better. But it was still fun, for all the tingly urgency and thrill that pumped through his veins.
Kissing was alright, great even, but sometimes it distinctly wasn't.
Harry tensed up, and as soon as he did, Draco was pulling his head away, still largely pressed bodily on top of him. Harry tried to look anywhere but his eyes, even though they were very close in proximity.
"Seriously," Draco huffed. "What's wrong?"
Harry took a moment to collect himself, which rather belied the lie he was about to tell. "Nothing's wrong," he said. He should be occluding, but he doubted kissing would be much fun at all if he was.
Draco rolled his eyes. "If nothing were wrong we'd still be making out and the only thing I'd be worried about would be checking for hickeys before we left."
"It's not your fault," Harry said.
Draco looked at him piercingly, now pulling back more and sitting up straight on the little couch he'd transfigured for them. Harry tried not to show the relief he felt to get just a bit of personal space back.
"Not my fault because it has nothing to do with me, or not my fault because I don't know I'm doing something that's bothering you?" Draco asked.
Harry bit his lip and Draco's gaze darted to his mouth briefly before his questioning look went back up to stare him in the eyes.
"Because if it's the latter, I'd much rather know so I can stop doing whatever I'm doing. We've only got so much time together during the week and I'd rather not waste it."
"You mean it?" Harry asked.
"Well yeah," Draco said. "Why, is it too much time for you?"
"No," Harry said. "I mean, you'd stop?"
Draco looked at him like he didn't know him. "Yeah," he said. "If it's making you uncomfortable. It's not the tongue is it, because you said that was alright."
"No that's alright," Harry said. "A little bit of tongue," he clarified.
"Right," Draco said. "So what is it?"
Harry took a deep breath and readied himself, but all that came out at first was, "You, um…"
Draco's silence in that moment was comforting as he just looked at Harry to continue.
"You grab me, sometimes," Harry said.
Draco shook his head. "My hands were completely above the waist," he protested.
"No, yeah," Harry said. "They were, that's not… um, like my arm, or… or, um, the back of my head, or whatever." He huffed. "I don't like being grabbed," he said, feeling utterly embarrassed.
"Oh," was all Draco said for a moment. "I'm hurting you?"
"No," Harry was quick to say. "Not like that. Just, like, at all. I don't like being grabbed at all."
"Oh," Draco said again, and then very awkwardly. "Is that… your relatives?"
"Or Greyback," Harry deflected. "Or other random death eaters, or you know, it's just, um, it's not your fault, or anything. I just don't like it."
It wasn't just that he didn't like it though, it transported him somewhere else, a different time, and he felt as though he should be over it, that with so much progress he'd made that this one little thing shouldn't be getting in the way of him making out with Draco.
"Right," Draco said. "No, yeah, I get it."
That was about as much as he said about it. They never talked about the Dursleys, or about any of the other messed up things in Harry's past. Not since they'd started whatever it was they were doing, at least.
"Well I can definitely stop grabbing you," Draco said.
It was clear that that was that, as far as Draco was concerned, which was fine by Harry. They didn't talk about troubling things. They didn't talk about abuse or kidnappings or trauma. Spending time with Draco was fun, and that was all Harry was looking for. He couldn't help it, though, to compare things with Draco to things with Ron. Ron would want to talk about it, to reassure Harry that it was alright to feel however he felt and then he'd probably share something he was going through. Harry wanted to know if his weird request was alright with Draco though or if it was just something he was willing to put up with because Harry was about the only boy in the school he could make out with.
"Thanks," Harry said. "And sorry, um, but you know," he had a sudden thought about how he could make it up to Draco for being weird. "I mean, if you did want to go below the waist, that would be- I mean, not the front or anything, I mean…" he couldn't keep talking anymore because he was pretty sure his face was melting off.
"You mean your butt?" Draco asked with a bit of a smirk, but that didn't last and he was back to giving Harry a piercing look.
Harry just nodded.
"Well you do have a rather nice one," Draco commented, apparently letting go of whatever he was thinking.
"I do not," Harry sputtered.
Draco shrugged. "To each their own," he said. "So we're good?"
"Yeah," Harry said grinning, feeling a bit relieved that Draco wasn't horribly put off by Harry making things weird.
Draco looked at his watch. "Well we've got a bit more time," he said.
Harry didn't need any more prompting and he was soon leaning back and tugging on the sleeve of Draco's shirt. They made out for a while more, Draco's hands sliding up and down Harry's back and along the sides of his face, the whole while seemingly conscious of keeping his hands open. They didn't go below his belt line either though so Harry was left a bit preoccupied worrying about whether that meant anything or not.
Draco pulled back one last time and looked a bit disappointedly at his watch. "Got a meeting," was all he said.
"Time to take over the world," Harry said, nodding.
Draco smirked. He stood up and started tucking his shirt back into his trousers.
"That was good right?" He asked.
"Very good," Harry said, deciding against bringing up his butt.
"Just let me know, if something needs to be different," Draco said.
"Yeah," Harry said. "I will. Everything's good though. Come here."
Draco sat on the couch next to him again and Harry straightened his tie.
"Gently this time," Draco chided. "Last time it felt like my lips were going to be ripped off."
"You were rushing me last time," Harry said, pulling out his wand. A very basic healing spell took care of Draco's bruised lips and Harry ran his fingers through the other boy's hair to make it look less mussed. Somehow this moment felt more intimate than just a few moments prior.
Draco returned the favor with the charm, but that was it. No one was going to notice if Harry's hair was mussed or his tie wasn't ever exactly straight. Harry stood up and Draco turned the couch back into a chair. He gave Harry a quick kiss on the lips before very deliberately ruffling his hair and leaving without another word. They never left together.
Harry took a moment to get himself straightened out before he threw on his invisibility cloak and left, trekking from one unused classroom to another. Ron, Hermione, the twins, and Ginny were already there when he arrived. The twins were very casually lobbing spells at Ron, which Ron was supposed to be blocking, meanwhile, Hermione and Ginny had index cards and were shouting out different obstacles Ron might face.
"Mirror ward," Hermione said.
"Walk backwards," Ron said after a moment's thought, which allowed a spell through that turned his freckles green.
"Boggart," Ginny said.
"Riddikulus," Ron said, fending off a stinging hex. "And laughter."
"Locked door," Hermione said.
"Alohamora," Ron said.
"Three-tailed jackal," Ginny said.
"Um, conjunctivitis on its nose," Ron said.
"Sand trap," Hermione said.
"Propulsion spell," Ron yelled out after George managed to vanish one of his shoes.
"Grease jinx," Harry called out.
Fred took that as his cue and suddenly the floor beneath Ron's feet turned slick with the magical substance and Ron's feet shot out from under him.
"Silicum Finitae," Ron said, a bit put out before pulling himself back up to his feet.
"Hypnotoad," Ginny shot out.
"Plug my ears and run past"
"Wall of fire," Hermione said.
"Flame freeze spell," Ron said.
"What's the incantation?" Harry asked.
Ron dodged something that Fred had seemed a bit too pleased to cast and said, "Pyratus Cyrotatis," Ron said.
This went on for another five minutes before Ron collapsed out of breath.
"Well that was very good," Hermione said; Ron gave her a look. "Of course, you need to do a better job adjusting your wand grip when you do counter-jinxes. Oh, and you got the steps for dealing with a tree spirit completely out of order, and we really need to work on trap curses because I'm pretty sure you made half of that up on the spot."
"But other than that you're doing great," Fred said.
Ron rolled his eyes.
"It really was a lot better," Harry said. A couple of weeks ago had been a bit of a disaster.
"I don't need to be better, I need to be good," Ron said.
"Well, we're getting there," Ginny said. "Why don't you go work on spells with Harry while we make some notes on what we need to work on."
"Yeah, okay," Ron said. Harry helped him up and pretended that the brief contact didn't feel more exhilarating than making out with Draco had.
They worked on some more spells from the list Ron was supposed to have down before the third task while Harry tried not to look worriedly at the list now and then. It wasn't that Ron was learning them slowly, it was more that there were just so many to learn, and so many more they had decided not to bother with because of difficulty level. At the end of the day, though, they didn't know what he would be facing in the maze and there were only so many bases they could cover. Harry could tell that Ron was frustrated as well.
After a while they reconvened and Hermione went over everyone's notes and corrections and they started the whole thing over again. They made it back to the tower just before curfew and the trio focused on homework for a while. It was late by the time they started packing up.
"You know," Ron said. "I reckon I'll be ready for a couple of OWL exams by the end of the year."
"Actually," Hermione said, "you're really only learning spells for very specific situations, you haven't learned an ounce of theory so, really, you'd have all sorts of trouble. Even on the practical. I mean if you don't know the theory, it doesn't matter if you know how to turn a porcupine into a teacup. If they ask you to turn it into a chalice you wouldn't know how to modify the spell now would you, not unless you'd also specifically learned that spell as well. Theory's very important Ron."
Ron nodded along. Hermione always seemed to forget that they both knew the importance of learning theory, and they would get a similar lecture every time they bemoaned having to learn anything besides an incantation.
"So how's your secret boyfriend?" Ron interrupted when Hermione's lecture became particularly derivative. Hermione was suitably distracted though and looked at Harry expectantly.
"Um," Harry said. "I don't think we're calling each other boyfriends."
"Okay," Ron said. "How's your make out buddy?"
Harry was glad for the privacy charms that were just routine at this point when they all sat down, just the three of them.
"Well we were talking about maybe doing lunch on Sunday," Harry said.
"So a date," Ron said.
"Lunch," Harry said.
"With skinny dipping?" Ron asked, ribbing Harry.
Hermione blushed, but she smiled.
"He said it's a surprise," Harry said. "So I think a repeat might not be very surprising."
"I still can't believe you did that," Hermione said.
"Neither can I," Harry assured her. "Though I don't know, if you and Ron are looking for any ideas, it was actually…"
Ron threw a hand over Harry's mouth. He was blushing more than Hermione was now, his freckles all but hidden in the red.
"Well, it's getting late," Ron said. "Night 'Mione"
"You boys," Hermione said, shaking her head. She gave Ron a kiss on the cheek and walked rather briskly towards the stairs.
"See," Ron said. "Somehow I got lumped up into that. What did I do?"
"You brought up skinny dipping in the first place," Harry said, with a bit of a playful glare.
"So things with Malfoy are good?" Only Ron knew that the boy Harry had gone skinny dipping with was Draco.
"What?" Harry asked. "I never said my make out buddy was Draco."
He'd told Draco he wouldn't tell anyone about whatever it was they were doing, but Ron had put together who Harry's mystery guy was quickly enough.
"You call him Draco now," Ron said, grinning.
"Malfoy," Harry said, as if he could erase his slip up. He didn't know why he bothered. Ron already as good as knew.
Ron gave him an expectant look.
"Things are going good," Harry said. "I'll tell you more after we get ready for bed."
They dispelled the privacy spells and went upstairs. The other boys were already asleep, they really had spent too long working on their homework. They were rather silent as they got their shower things and headed to the bathroom. It was close to eleven when they wound up camped out on top of Ron's bed.
"So," Ron prompted.
"Okay so I don't know what to make of this," Harry said.
"So I told him he could touch my butt," Harry said.
"Damn," Ron said. "Getting felt up now, huh, how's that?"
"Well that's just it," Harry said. "He didn't."
"He didn't go for it?" Ron asked.
Harry shook his head, a question in his eyes.
"Well that's on him," Ron said. "You've got a perfectly nice bum mate."
Harry blushed scarlet. "So did I mess up saying anything in the first place?" Harry asked.
Ron frowned, thinking about it. "I don't think so. It's alright to tell him what you like, and it's alright for him to have boundaries. I mean, if I were in his position, I'd have gone for it." Harry died a little inside for how casually Ron said that. "But maybe he's just not ready to cop a feel. I'm more surprised by you, mate. Two days ago you said you were happy just making out."
"Oh," Harry said. "Well I'd just asked him not to, like, grab onto me when we were making out, so I thought maybe he'd like to do that instead."
"What do you mean grab onto you?" Ron asked, frowning.
"Oh," Harry said. "You know, like…" he pantomimed a bit.
"So you had to tell him he could feel you up so that he'd stop grabbing you?" Ron asked.
"What? No," Harry said. "I mean he said he'd stop as soon as I told him it was bothering me. I just figured he probably thought it was weird, so…"
"So… you're using sex to appease him?" Ron asked.
"It's not sex," Harry hissed suddenly worried that someone would hear him through their wards.
Ron waved Harry's objection away.
"Do you want him touching your bum?" Ron asked.
"Uh, yeah," Harry said.
"Like, you'd enjoy it, not like you want to make him happy so you'll do whatever he wants to do."
"Well, apparently he doesn't want to," Harry said.
"Harry," Ron said.
"I'd like it," Harry said. "I mean, I don't exactly have any experience with that, but, I figure it would be nice."
"Huh," Ron said. He ducked out of the curtains real quick and came back a moment later with the muggle psychology workbook for teens who had gone through trauma that Hermione had gotten for him over the summer. "You know there's stuff in here about relationships, right, and about boundaries." He started thumbing through the book.
"Ron it's fine," Harry said. "He's respecting my boundaries. He's the one who asked in the first place if something was wrong."
"Because you weren't letting him know about your boundaries," Ron said. "Here, read this bit here. Just the print, mind, not the stuff I wrote in after."
"Ron, its fine really," Harry said.
"I'm just worried, you know," Ron said. "I want to make sure you're taking care of yourself."
"I am," Harry said. "Really. I'll read up before I go to sleep, promise."
Ron nodded. "So grabbing, huh? Same with Benjamin last year, right?" He asked, referring to the panic attack Harry had had during one of their self-defense lessons.
"Yeah," Harry said. "I should be over it."
"There's no should be's," Ron said. "You're doing fine."
"So which asshole was it?" Ron asked. "Or was it more than one?"
"More than one," Harry said. There were plenty of times in his short life when someone had grabbed him and things had not gone well.
"Want to vent about it?" Ron asked. "Or do you want a distraction?"
Harry thought about it. "I honestly felt for a moment he was going to slap me," Harry said. "Like a week ago, he grabbed my arm to pull me closer and all I could think of was…"
"Your aunt?" Ron asked.
Harry nodded. "That's fucked up," he said.
"That's normal," Ron said.
"I don't want to think about my aunt when I'm making out with my…"
"Boyfriend?" Ron asked.
"Make out buddy," Harry said.
Ron rolled his eyes. "Well I'm glad you talked to him about it," Ron said.
Ron let him vent a bit more, and it was the conversation he hadn't been able to have with Draco, and Harry knew that if he was as close with Draco as he was with Ron he would have told him weeks ago how he had felt and it would have never been an issue to begin with. He wouldn't have ever worried about telling Ron that being grabbed messed with his head because Ron would understand. Ron would always understand.
He went to bed that night thinking about both boys, but wound up dreaming of a revolving door of greatest hits, like Greyback and Ms. Adler, or his Uncle, and it was far too early in the morning when he decided to get up and get a start on the day.
Harry never felt like he was ready when he dueled with his dad. He wasn't sure he was ever supposed to feel like he was ready, though. What was he really expecting? He didn't actually think that he was going to be on par with Voldemort by the end of term; not even on par with the Death Eaters. He was getting better, but better wasn't exactly the goal when it came down to it.
"Do you intend to stay down there all evening?" his dad asked.
Harry lay on the floor, still breathing pretty hard. "I thought we were done," he said.
"Yes," his dad said. "Did you want to take your dinner on the floor?"
"Let me think about it for a minute," Harry said. "I'll get back to you."
"You do that," his Dad said. "Perhaps while you are down there you can think up some ideas for where you would like to go on holiday."
"Holiday?" Harry asked.
"Summer break is nigh upon us," his Dad said.
"Huh," Harry said staring up at the ceiling. "I guess I haven't put much thought into it. Other things I'm worrying about."
"Like your defense OWL," his Dad said.
Harry covered his face with his hands. "Ugh, don't remind me. I have too much to do."
"I would imagine preparing Mr. Weasley for the third task is good practice for the exam."
"It is," Harry said. "The full moon's the night before, though." This wasn't news, of course; he was just venting. They'd discussed it a couple of times before.
"You can always take the exam next year," his Dad said. "I've already checked the charts, the full moon will be a full week before exams start."
Harry shook his head. He might as well get it done with and have one less thing to worry about. "I've told you I'm doing a lot better after the full moon," he said.
"After you've slept a full eight hours," his Dad said.
"I'll take a Pepper-Up Potion," Harry said. "What's for dinner?" His dad had just put dinner out.
"Hmm." Harry decided it was time to get up.
"So, you want to go abroad?" Harry asked.
"I have little preference in the matter," his Dad said.
"What would you do if you didn't have me to look after?" Harry asked.
"Harry I was a very unhealthy person before you came into my life," his Dad said. "I don't expect that either of us would do well to cloister ourselves in the dungeons and brew esoteric poisons all summer."
"Probably not," Harry agreed.
He thought about vacation while he ate.
"Hermione's parents are taking her to Germany over break," Harry said.
"Did you want to join her?" His dad asked.
"Well, I don't want to crash her vacation or anything," Harry said. "But maybe we could see her now and then. Germany's nice."
"Ah," his dad said. "And how long is Miss Granger going to be out of the country."
"A whole month," Harry said. He'd gotten very used to having his friends around all the time. Even the previous summer they'd never gone too long without seeing one another.
"And Mr. Weasley?" his dad asked.
"Maybe he could come with us?" Harry suggested hopefully. "I don't think they have any vacation plans."
"We'd have to talk to their parents," his dad said.
"But you'd be okay with that?" Harry asked.
"Dealing with three children cannot be that much more difficult than dealing with one," his dad said, then he narrowed his eyes. "Do Miss Granger's parents know that she is romantically engaged with Mr. Weasley?"
"The kids call it dating these days, Dad," Harry said. He got a raised eyebrow. "Actually I don't know. She's very careful about what she writes home, they don't know about anything, really. You don't think they'd be upset about it do you?"
"Some parents might think that fifteen is too young to start dating."
Harry blushed. He was only fourteen. "You're one to talk," he said.
"I said some parents," his Dad said. "Though I think my case is exactly why some parents think that fifteen is too young to be dating."
"Huh," Harry said. "What about the moon?"
His Dad looked thoughtful. "Find out when Miss Granger will be out of the country. Although, there is a protected section of the Black Forest that is designed for werewolves to transform in." He stopped talking and shook his head. "Of course no one else can know that you are a werewolf, so it's a moot point I suppose. We'll plan around it, Harry."
"What, so they transform outside?" Harry asked, stepping around the fact that he couldn't go.
His Dad nodded.
"Why doesn't Britain have anything like that?"
His Dad shrugged. "Bigotry."
"So people can just go in there to transform and not have to worry about… stuff?"
"I only know of it in passing," his Dad said. "Start talking to your friends, and have them start writing to their parents."
Harry smiled. It was nice to plan for a summer after the third task.
"What will you want to do in Germany?" his Dad asked.
"Oh," Harry said. He rather didn't know what there was to do in the other country. "Well there's the Black Forest," he said.
"That's not an option," his dad said.
"Actually, Remus mentioned a bunch of things there, he visited a bit ago, he didn't mention anything for werewolves though," Harry said.
"We'll look into it," his Dad said.
Harry smiled, allowing himself to fantasize about a summer vacation with no worries about tournaments or Voldemort.
Hermione and Ron both liked the idea of a joint vacation and both agreed to write letters to their parents to broach the possibility. Hermione mentioned that she had definitely told her parents about the infamous potions master before any of them had known that he was Harry's Dad, and there might be concerns about Hogwarts' most hated teacher joining them on Holiday, and Harry too wondered what Ron's parents thought about the whole thing. Harry being Professor Snape's son hadn't come up much when he'd seen Ron's parents during the tournament tasks.
"Do your parents know I'm gay?" Harry asked.
Hermione frowned. "Well, you weren't outed by choice; I didn't really think it was my place to tell people who still don't know."
"No, yeah," Harry said. "That's cool. Um, I mean, would that be an issue?"
"I don't think so," Hermione said.
"Well I'm not going to hide it," Harry said. "So If I'm going to see them a bunch over the summer, they'll probably figure it out. It might be best to just tell them now. I don't want to ruin your vacation."
"If them finding out you were gay ruined our vacation it wouldn't be your fault, Harry," Hermione said. "I'm sure it'll be fine."
"More importantly," Ron said. "Do they know we're dating?"
"Well," Hermione said. "No."
"Is that going to be a problem?" Ron asked. "Do we have to pretend you're single all summer?"
Hermione looked pensive.
"You weren't planning on actually being single this summer, were you?" Ron asked in a way that was supposed to sound like a joke, but Harry could hear the worry in his voice.
"No, of course not," Hermione said. "We're fifteen though, they'll want me to be focused on my studies."
"Hermione," Ron said. "I don't think your parents will ever be worried that you weren't focused on your studies."
"You write your parents every week," Harry said. "If you hide everything interesting that actually happens, what do you have to talk about?"
"Oh, you're one to talk about keeping secrets?" Hermione said.
"I wasn't complaining," Harry said. "I'm just actually curious. Besides, these days, I don't have a single major secret that I haven't told at least one person… or had splashed on the front cover of the Daily Prophet."
Hermione huffed. "Well I tell them about classes of course, and I tell them a bit about the antics you two get up to, and the progress we all make on our projects, and I pass on a piece or two of gossip I hear from Parvati or Lavender just so Mum doesn't worry I'm not friends with any girls. Besides, I've been telling them that you're competing in the tournament, I've just been editing some minor details."
"Oh, so did I even face a dragon?" Ron asked.
"No," Hermione said. "I made up that the first task was an obstacle course, I'll make sure you have the details, and I mostly left the second task the same, just without the imminent threat of drowning or the dangerous magical creatures that tried to eat you."
"Just some minor details," Ron said.
"There's no point worrying them," Hermione said.
If he got killed by Voldemort, Harry wondered, would Hermione just tell her parents he'd been transferred to another school?
"You should tell them something," Harry said. "It's… Well it's nice, even if they can't fix anything, it's…" he blushed. "I don't know, I tell my dad stuff and then he gives me a hug and…" He was mumbling horribly at the end. He cleared his throat. "And hey, remember the time turner thing, at the Leakey Cauldron?"
"You mean when we had an elaborate ruse to trick her parents?" Ron asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. "That. You realized they were worried about you, and giving them something to, like, parent you over, it made them feel better. Parents like to parent, I think."
"So what, I should throw them a bone?" Hermione asked. "That would be even more patronizing than just keeping things from them."
"So make it something real," Harry said. "They seem like they care about you. A lot. I don't know. I wouldn't waste that."
Hermione's breath hitched and Harry was worried he'd said something wrong. Suddenly Hermione was hugging him. He looked over her shoulder to an equally confused Ron. He patted her on the back.
"I won't," Hermione said. She pulled back. "Okay, I guess this will be a bit of a long letter."
"What are you going to tell them?" Ron asked.
Hermione got a fresh sheet of parchment and started making a list.
"Harry's gay," she said. "And Professor Snape is his dad, and also I'm dating Ron."
"Who's bi," Ron said proudly.
"Who's bisexual," Hermione said, nodding. "And we were hoping we could cross paths with each other from time to time during our vacation to Germany, and…"
"Something you've been keeping from them."
"Something I've been keeping from them," Hermione said thoughtfully. She wrote something down on her list before frowning down at it and crossing it out. "I'll think of something."
"You always do," Ron said.
"You should be writing home too," Harry said.
"What?" Ron asked. "I mean they already know a ton of stuff they have to worry about. Mum gets to write me all the time and tell me she loves me and that she's rooting for me. I mean I know what you mean about them liking to be able to 'parent,' like when I told her over the summer it was a help just to have her do her knitting while I took a nap in the parlor, she seemed so relieved she could do something to help me."
"Well, I meant about the vacation," Harry said. "But you can tell a deep dark secret too if you want to."
"You realize once she gets me home for the summer she's never going to want to let me go anywhere ever again," Ron said.
"Yeah, I can see that," Harry said, remembering how haggard Ron's parents had been after the second task.
"Well, I'll try to swing it," Ron said. "It's nice to plan for something after this damned tournament."
Harry grinned at him.
"First though," Ron said. "Harry gets to tell us about his mystery date."
"Oh yes," Hermione said. "I suppose that must come first."
Harry blushed. "It might have involved another lakeside picnic," Harry said.
"I thought this was supposed to be a surprise," Ron said. "This wasn't just a repeat of last time was it?" He ribbed Harry and Harry knew exactly what he was thinking about.
"The romantic surprise, as it turned out was poetry," Harry said.
"No," Ron said.
"Oh," Hermione all but cooed. She, at least, had no idea that his date had been with Draco.
"Romantic poetry," Harry nodded.
"Shakespear?" Hermione asked.
"I wouldn't know," Harry said.
"Well?" Hermione asked.
"It was nice I guess," Harry said. A bit awkward, really. Not as awkward as kissing could be, at times, but it definitely lacked the thrill of kissing. The kissing that had come afterwards hadn't been awkward though. Draco had definitely listened when Harry had asked him to mind how he touched him. Harry wasn't sure why Hermione thought poetry sounded so great, but he hoped Ron was taking notes.
"Swimming," Ron said suddenly.
There had been a bit of wading in the lake, but Harry hadn't been going to mention that.
"It's definitely warmed up enough," Ron said. "I told you I'd teach you to swim."
Harry grinned at him.
"Are you sure you want to get back in the lake?" Hermione asked.
"It's just the shallows," Ron said.
Hermione frowned. "Well, I'll just tag along."
Harry wondered if Hermione was worried that Ron was going to have a flashback at the lake, or if the thought of him being back in the lake worried her.
"Sure," Ron said. "Wait, do you know how to swim? I can teach you too."
"I know how to swim, Ron," Hermione said. Her parents probably hadn't told the school she was allergic to chlorine to keep her out.
"Cool," Ron said.
Cool, Harry thought, he definitely wasn't very nervous about the prospect.
"Okay," Ron said. "I'm just going to have my hands under your shoulders, you just focus on kicking."
Harry hadn't expected there to be so much touching involved in learning how to swim. The lake water was still fairly cold, and he was glad for it in that moment.
Helping Ron practice for the third task really was a big help for Harry, who would be taking his defense OWL on Monday. Of course, Professor Moody was also driving them pretty hard in the last week before the exam, and Harry was glad it was the only OWL he was taking that year. He didn't want to imagine what next year would be like. With any luck, he wouldn't suddenly find himself with some extracurricular that kept him from his studies. No tournament, no combat training, no blade master lessons. Of course, if those last two were out of the way, that would mean Harry had faced Voldemort, and Harry still didn't feel ready for that.
When Sunday came, and it was time for Harry to quietly slip away from everyone else and floo home from his dad's quarters, Harry did at least feel ready for the test. His dad would be joining them just before moonrise, he was holding study sessions with his OWL and NEWT students. Harry and Remus prepared the cellar together before going upstairs to cook dinner.
"So you know I'll be going right back to school tomorrow, right?" Harry asked.
"Your dad mentioned," Remus said. "I am sorry about that, last year the defense OWL was held on Wednesday."
Harry shrugged. "Well, I've come this far. I think I'll manage. If anyone thinks I look dead to the world I'll just tell them I've been pulling all-nighters."
"You're going to crash pretty hard sometime tomorrow," Remus said.
Harry grinned. "I'll live," he said. "About our conversations though…"
"I'll make notes and we can go over them when you start vacation," Remus said.
"Thanks," Harry said. A half hour later, his dad arrived and they sat down together for some rather rare steaks.
"So it looks like we'll be visiting Germany this summer," Harry said.
"Oh, I have some recommendations," Remus said. "I'll write you a list."
"So have you ever been to the werewolf section in the Black Forest?" Harry asked.
"Oh, heard about that have you?" Remus asked. "Not for a long while, it's not terribly expensive, but it is a bit out of my budget."
"They charge people?" Harry asked.
"It's a bit like a resort, actually," Remus said. "Very communal."
"Is it much different?" Harry asked. "Being able to transform outside."
"Oh, very different," Remus said. "If only because you have an unobstructed view of the full moon and can run around."
"How private is it?" Harry's dad asked.
"Well everyone agrees going in not to reveal who else attends," Remus said. "But with Harry's celebrity, you might not want to chance it."
His dad nodded.
"You know it's a nudist colony, right?" Remus asked.
Harry was pretty sure he had timed that for when Harry was drinking his water.
"What?" Harry asked sputtering a bit.
"Well, everyone's going to disrobe and keep their belongings in lockers before moonrise anyway," Remus said. "And Germany's the birthplace of the whole nudist ideology to begin with. Somewhere along the way, I suppose, the werewolves there embraced the naturist lifestyle."
Harry looked to his dad to see if he had known that, but all he got was a shrug.
"Huh," Harry said. "Well, I probably won't have to worry about if I want to do that or not anytime soon."
"I suppose not," Remus said.
After dinner, Harry wrote in his journal before heading upstairs to take a hot bath to relax. He wondered if the chamomile tea leaves in the water actually did anything.
With half an hour left before moonrise, Harry and Remus were locked up downstairs, and Harry found himself telling Remus all about whatever it was he had with Draco. Though he didn't mention him by name, of course.
"That's great," Remus said. "I'm glad that's working out for you. Oh, I suppose I should make sure you know you're still supposed to use protection for-"
"I know," Harry was quick to say. "Hasn't come up, but um, I definitely know. Had that talk with my dad, definitely know everything there is to know about that."
"Good," Remus said. "Well, I won't torment you with that before the full moon. Why don't I tell you a bit more about Germany."
Harry smiled. That was definitely a better topic.
The transformation went about as smoothly as it ever went now that Harry had mostly acclimated to it. A few pulled muscles, but nothing Madam Pomfrey couldn't cure in a couple of moments. He was still exhausted though, and was suddenly feeling very much like taking an OWL in a couple of hours was about the stupidest idea he'd ever had, perhaps only being overshadowed by the decision to fly a car to school. He wasn't backing down though, no matter how much he wanted to curl up on the couch in a nest of blankets and sleep through the morning. Madam Pomfrey gave Harry a very disapproving look though as she handed him the pepper up potion.
"I'll expect you to head straight to bed once your exam is finished," she said.
Harry smiled and agreed, though they both knew it was a full day of test taking. He downed the potion and waited for the smoke to stop pouring from his ears. He was left with an odd mix of alertness and fatigue, energy and weariness, and muscles that still felt very sore to him. He hugged his dad, waved goodbye to Remus and flooed back to the infirmary with Madam Pomfrey.
"Now you be sure to eat a big breakfast," she all but scolded him.
"I will," Harry said. "Thanks, Madam Pomfrey." He looked at his watch. Breakfast was just about to be served. For the most part, it was fifth and seventh years who were at the tables when Harry got there. All of them getting an early start for exams. Harry sat next to Benjamin who took one look at Harry and passed him some coffee.
"You know, you do better with a good night's sleep than an all-nighter," he said.
"Too stressed out to sleep," Harry said. "Might as well get some work done." It was an easy lie. Really, everyone who looked at him would just assume he just hadn't been sleeping as the exam approached. Harry wasn't exactly known for his healthy sleep habits.
"You look wrecked mate," Ron said approaching the table. "You know Madam Pomfrey says you're supposed to sleep before exams, right?"
Harry mock glared at him and got a cheeky smile in return. Hermione, of course, went on about a proper study schedule. He knew his secrets were safe as long as his friends helped guard them.
"You want a piggyback ride to the classroom?" Benjamin asked. "You can sleep on the way there."
"I don't think I'll be able to wake up if I fall asleep," Harry said.
The written exam was very draining, and there were several times where Harry found himself having to go back and reread questions. He finished it though. Hermione helped keep him awake during lunch by quizzing him. Harry was very glad that the written test had been in the morning though, since he was pretty sure he would have fallen asleep if it had been in the afternoon. He was fairly dead on his feet, but the important thing was that he was on his feet, and moving about for the practical portion of the test, and that was the only thing keeping him awake.
"Now your instructor tells me you've mastered the Patronus Charm," his examiner said after Harry had finally finished the practical.
"Oh," Harry said. "Yeah, I learned last year with all the dementors flying around."
"In all my years," the examiner said. "Plenty of NEWT students struggle with that. Would you like to try for some extra credit?"
Harry was pretty sure that the 'try' was because the examiner was about as aware of Harry's exhaustion as Harry was.
Harry grinned, holding his wand up and casting about for a happy memory. He thought back to just before the first task, when he had told Ron and Hermione that he was gay, when Ron had thrown his full support behind him, how good it had felt to have that weight off his chest and know that his friends still loved him. He folded that memory into the feeling of his mother's love that protected him, the feeling of a hug from his dad.
"Expecto Patronum," Harry said.
A great spectral doe came out of his wand and started canting around the room and Harry felt very peaceful at the sight of it. He saw a number of heads turning and suddenly felt a bit bad for distracting them from their own tests. He let the doe approach him and nuzzle up against his side. He put his arm around her neck and closed his eyes for just a moment.
When he opened his eyes again he was staring up at the ceiling of the hospital wing.
'It's been a while,' was the first thing in his head.
He looked around, it was the middle of the night, but there was his dad, sitting beside his bed with a book.
"What happened?" Harry asked.
His dad glanced over at him before raising one eyebrow. "It seems that after a magically and physically exhausting practical exam, you decided to cast a NEWT level spell and passed out."
"Oh," Harry said. "Well, I did promise Madam Pomfrey that I'd go straight to bed as soon as the exam was over."
"Cheeky brat," his dad said.
Harry smiled at him. "I survived." And at the very least, he was far from the first student to ever pass out during exams week.
"That you did," his dad said, closing his book and getting up. Harry sat up in bed, and checked his watch. Five o' clock in the morning. He swung his feet over the side of the bed. If anything, he felt sorer now than he had the previous morning. The OWL was over though. His dad walked him back to the dormitory with an arm around his shoulder, asking him questions about how the exam had gone. They stopped outside the portrait hole.
His dad suddenly gave him a hug before holding him out at arm's length.
"I'm proud of you, you know," he said.
"Very proud," he said, and Harry got another hug. "Your mother would have been proud too."
Harry frowned. "Even with everything else?"
"Everything you have been through, you have survived, and you made sure your friends survived too. You are a remarkable young man and she would be fiercely proud of you. I can't prove that to you, but I know it's true, so if you can have any faith in me, have faith in that."
Suddenly it was Harry who was hugging his dad. They stayed like that for a while.
"Of course, I'm sure Potter would have bragged about you to anyone who would stop to listen for half a moment."
Harry laughed at that.
"They would have both loved you very much," his dad said. "Just as I love you."
"I love you too," Harry said, his voice a bit warbly.
"Alright," his dad said. "Now no strenuous activity today, I've already sent a note to Miss Granger to make sure you behave today."
Harry laughed. "Take it easy," his dad said.
"I will," Harry said. "And you too, don't think I don't know you stayed up all night."
His dad smiled and ruffled his hair.
Harry got up to the dorm in time to hear a bit of tossing and turning from behind Ron's curtains. He woke Ron up from a nightmare and got a bar of chocolate and they shared it together as the sun started to come up over the mountains. "Slept most of the night anyway," Ron said.
"You've gotten a lot better," Harry agreed, smiling at him.
With the defense OWL out of the way, Harry really felt like time was counting down until the third task. There was little more than a week to go. They had an odd mix of working on their homework, their projects, and preparations for the third task, all while still trying to find time to stay sane.
Ron and Hermione had just gone off for a bit of sanity time, and Harry was looking around to see if he could snag Draco when he got pulled aside by Dean and Seamus. He didn't really need to wonder what they wanted to talk to him about, but he decided to let them do the talking. He looked at Seamus expectantly. It seemed, however, that Seamus didn't know where to start.
"I saw you two making out a while ago," Harry said eventually, deciding to get the ball rolling.
Dean looked a bit bashful, while Seamus went a bit green, but suddenly Dean took Seamus' hand in his own.
"You didn't say anything," Seamus said.
"It really wasn't my business to say anything," Harry said, with a bit of an emphasis.
Seamus looked down, a bit shamefaced.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I was an ass, and- I was. Look, I was upset because, I thought it was a choice."
"And it would be a perfectly fine choice if it were," Harry said. It didn't sound like a major declaration when he said it, but it had taken him some time to realize that. The thought now that that people should accept him because being gay was what he was stuck with just made him mad. Being gay wasn't easy, but he didn't owe it to anyone to be straight and he didn't owe anyone an explanation. He wasn't going to apologize for how he felt about Ron.
Seamus nodded, and Dean squeezed his hand. "I'm gay," Seamus said. "And I- I grew up hearing a lot of things about that, and I didn't have any reason to think about it, until I started to have feelings like that and, well, I thought I just had to commit to being straight or something. When you came out- or I guess, when you got outed, I got so angry that you could act like it was fine, and I felt like you were attacking my own attempts to be straight and I…"
"I tried to be straight too," Harry said. "I learned, like, advanced mental magic trying to make myself straight. I get it. It still sucked though."
"I'm sorry," Seamus said.
"Are you going to be alright with your mum?" Harry asked.
Seamus shrugged. "I wasn't planning on telling her," he said.
"This summer, or ever?" Harry asked.
"Look," Harry said. "I get it, it's…" It wasn't alright. "I forgive you."
"Thank you," Seamus said.
"You know you've got to talk to Ron too, right?" Harry asked.
"Yeah," Seamus said. "I just- I thought you should hear it first."
Ron was a good sport about it later that night in the dorm. It was the four of them; Neville was off with Hannah Abbot working on an Herbology project together. Of course, Ron was much more comfortable with embarrassing Seamus.
"Now," Ron said, after apologies had been made and accepted. "I bet no one's had the gay sex talk with you yet. You know you're supposed to use contraception right? Don't worry, I can tell you everything you need to know about."
Seamus was still blushing the following morning.
"Why do you blush?" Victoria asked. The blade master was very nosy, and had just asked Harry about his love life. "So you are seeing someone?" she asked.
"Something like that," Harry said.
"Umm, I don't think we're putting a label on anything," Harry said.
"Young people today never do," Victoria said.
"My friends are boyfriend-girlfriend," Harry said, defending his generation.
Victoria smiled. "Are you with nice boy?" she asked.
"Um," Harry thought about it. "He wasn't always, but yeah, I guess he is a nice boy. Oh by the way," he said, by way of getting the topic off of Draco. "Like three of my classmates have come out to me since I got outed."
"It makes people feel safer to know that there are others," Victoria said. "I saw the article about your friend after the second task. My Yuuri and I have been rooting for him. It was good of him to come out as he did. Both you and him challenge society's view of us."
That made Harry feel a bit bashful.
"All I ever do is survive whatever life throws at me," he said.
"You do more than that," Victoria said. "Come on, we will practice more how you will survive." She picked up a practice dagger and Harry sighed, picking up his own. He was getting pretty good with the thing, but practicing stabbing and slashing people felt really different from practicing hexes and shields.
"Okay," Hermione said. "Irish badgermole."
"Concussive spell," Ron said.
"Hermione," Harry said. "What did we say?"
"We said we'd relax right before the tournament," Hermione said with a sigh.
They were on their way downstairs where Ron's family was waiting for them. All of the families of the champions were allowed to arrive early to spend time with their loved ones. Harry tried not to think of a morbid reason why they would do that.
"Okay," Ron said. "So there's this museum in Bonn I want to go to."
"You want to go to a museum?" Hermione asked.
"Well, it's a racing broom museum," Ron said. "So, yes."
"That sounds like fun," Harry said.
"Well, I want to show my parents some of the magical historic sights. Dad loves history," Hermione said.
"Weird," Ron said. Hermione smacked his arm.
Hermione had gotten her parents blessing for the three of them to meet up over holiday. An invitation really, for them to spend as much time as they wanted. Harry still didn't know what Hermione had told her parents, but he was sure he would get some sort of briefing before they crossed paths. He knew at least that her parents were fine with him being gay, though they had some reservations about Hermione having a boyfriend. Harry didn't envy Ron for however that meeting was going to go. He spent a moment to wonder if he would be seeing Draco at all over the summer. He still wasn't sure if there was anything more between them other than the physical. He might be getting attached, but he didn't feel for Draco what he felt for Ron. Thinking about that didn't hurt so much anymore at least. Seeing Ron and Hermione together wasn't quite so bittersweet anymore. He wondered what Draco thought of the arrangement between the two of them.
The twins and Ginny were already in the Great Hall with their parents when they arrived. Bill had come as well, and apparently Percy was with his boss somewhere making final arrangements. Harry, Ron, and Hermione all got great big hugs from Mrs. Weasley, and there was a lot of small talk to be made, and the twins largely took over talking about all the ways everyone had been helping Ron get ready. Eventually, it was time to mingle, and Ron took his family around to introduce them to the other champions and to meet their families. That was nice, though Mr. Diggory had a bit of a forced friendliness to him. Fleur's parents were really friendly though; they definitely remembered Ron coming to their daughter's aid and vice-versa. Victor Krum told his mum all about playing Quidditch with them.
All too soon, though, Professor McGonagall came to collect Ron.
"The spectators will be arriving soon," she said. "And you need your final instructions."
There were more hugs, and if Harry held on just a bit longer than necessary, no one commented on it.
"You've got this," was the last thing Harry said to him before he left.
Ron gave a big wave, putting on a bit of a show of bravado for his family.
"Well, why don't you children show me around the school," Mrs. Weasley said. "It's been too long since I've gotten to stroll around."
Harry didn't get to do that, however, Professor Moody came up to them soon after Ron was taken away.
"I've got bad news and worse news Potter," Professor Moody said.
"Oh," Harry said. "Um…"
"There's a lot more outsiders popping up for the third task," Professor Moody said. "Decision's been made that you'll be safer sitting with your father in the teacher's box."
Harry could tell from the tone of his voice what Professor Moody thought of his dad.
"And the worse news?" Harry asked.
"Some bureaucrat from the testing administration is throwing a fit about a fourth year taking the OWL, I think it's because you scored higher than they expected you to, but there's a bit of a disagreement up in the Headmaster's office right now and they want to talk to you."
"Now?" Mr. Weasley asked.
"They're supposed to submit scores tonight," Professor Moody said. "Damned bureaucrats the lot of them."
Harry sighed. "I guess I'll see you all after the task is over."
"After we've gotten rid of all these spectators," Professor Moody corrected. "Come on Potter. The Headmaster shouldn't be dealing with this with the third task about to start."
Harry walked with Professor Moody up towards the headmaster's office, a pit of dread growing in his stomach. When they arrived and the only bureaucrat there was Madam Bones, Harry knew that the time had come.
"Come in, Harry," Professor Dumbledore said.
"Tonight?" Harry asked, and he didn't care that his voice broke. "I won't know if Ron's alright."
"I'm very sorry Harry," Professor Dumbledore said. "Prophesies are a tricky business; I knew to be on alert this year, and because of that, I realized that our defense professor had been replaced with an escaped death eater. When I learned of his plan, I knew that it was a part of the Prophesy that still must happen. I couldn't leave a Death Eater running around my school, of course, so Professor Moody has been impersonating a Death Eater instead for most of the year. As far as Voldemort will be concerned, his loyal servant will be delivering you to him tonight. I gave you a choice at the beginning of the year, Harry. A choice to be a part of our plan to destroy Voldemort once and for all. You still have that choice. There is a good chance that you will die tonight, but Voldemort will be gone forever. Should he find some other means to return, we will have no way forward."
Harry shook his head. He thought of his dad, who would be marked for death should Voldemort ever return. He thought of Hermione who had no place in Voldemort's future. He thought of everyone who had stood by him and helped him.
"I couldn't choose anything else," he said, upset. There had never been a choice. "What do I have to do?"
"I very much hate to say it," the headmaster said. "But I cannot tell you how Voldemort will be destroyed tonight. What is most important, is that he not know that we know of his plans. He is a Legilimens, so you must occlude as long as possible. Also, Harry. When you arrive, I want you to struggle, but in the end, you must be captured. As far as they are concerned, you will be delivered to them without your wand."
Harry nodded grimly.
"Buck up," Professor Moody said. "You aren't dead yet."
"Alastor," Madam Bones scolded. "It is alright to be scarred Potter, more than alright. You'll face of to be scared of before the night is through. Now come here, you'll need this."
"What's is it?" Harry asked.
"A pocket bracelet," she said.
Harry looked at the headmaster for explanation.
"We do not want them to find your dagger or your wand when they search you," the headmaster said.
Harry held out his wrist and Madam Bones tied the leather bracelet to it. It was light weight, but Harry had the absurd thought that it felt like a manacle.
"Even I can feel the magic in this thing," Harry said. "I don't think it'll get past them."
"Not when I am done," the headmaster said. He picked up a silvery dagger from his desk.
"I had this commissioned for you, Harry," he said. "Goblin forged, much like the sword of Gryffindor which you are already familiar with. It is coated with a most deadly poison. You must make sure that you do not cut yourself with it."
Harry nodded. Damn bloody prophesy.
"Hold it in your hand, and will it away," the headmaster said. "When you summon it, it will reappear in your hand exactly as it was when you sent it away.
Harry did so, and he could feel the dagger's presence inside of the bracelet, though he could not put into words how.
"Your wand as well," the headmaster said.
Harry frowned, but put it away.
"Unfortunately, we must economize on space," the headmaster said. That is about the limit of what we can send you with."
The headmaster sat down and invited Harry to sit down opposite of him. Harry held out his wrist and the headmaster began a very complicated incantation.
A few days prior, Harry had been thinking that he wasn't ready to face Voldemort. He'd been thinking of his skill with a wand or with a dagger. He wasn't ready to face him off in a duel. But he had thought that he was ready to face his destiny. He had thought that it would be easy to just go along with the headmaster's plan. Some time ago, when Harry had first learned that the prophecy wasn't over, and that he still had to face Voldemort, he had taken it as fate. Like it was something he had known for a long time, and only then had someone actually said it out loud. As absurd as it seemed, after second year, Harry had just started assuming that he would keep coming face to face with Voldemort until one of them didn't come away from the encounter. He'd never assumed that he would win, by any means, and he hadn't lived in fear of the next encounter, he'd just allowed the thought to exist in the back of his mind.
When he had heard that it was fate, that he must somehow be a part of Voldemort's final downfall, Harry had just rescued his friends from Greyback and become a werewolf. It had made sense to him then that his life was effectively over. He'd been far from the thought that any of his relationships were permanent. He'd been sure he would rejected by his dad, his friends would either fear him or realize that their lives would be better off if they weren't around someone who's life was so dangerous. He'd been sure that it was over, but the thought that he could do one last thing to make sure Voldemort could never come after his friends or his dad. That, at least had felt right.
He wasn't sure when it was exactly that he'd begun to see a future for himself with his friends and his dad. He wasn't sure when he'd begun to accept that he could have a life surrounded by people who cared about him, but sitting there as the headmaster incanted, Harry realized that the thought, that facing Voldemort might mean that he would never have to face a day when the people he cared about no longer cared about him, was no longer a distant comfort in the back of his mind. It was just gone. Now, facing Voldemort might mean not growing up with his friends; it might mean never hearing his dad say he loved him ever again. Harry realized that he didn't want to miss out on anything that growing up with the people he loved held.
Eventually, the bracelet seemed to sink into his skin, and Harry couldn't feel it anymore. The headmaster then cast another spell twice, once on each of his arms. He then tapped Harry's wrist and a pocket watch on his desk. He picked up the watch and placed it on his belt. It felt like a finality. Harry took a deep breath pressed his palms into his watery eyes for a moment. He still didn't have any choice. He lifted his head up to look at the headmaster. Everything he wanted for his future would disappear if Voldemort ever came back. Everyone he cared about.
"You will know when it is time to use it," the headmaster said. "When that time comes, your only priority should be to escape. Should you cross paths with Voldemort as you do so, you should use the dagger. Anyone else, and it is up to you if the dagger or your wand is your best tool. Do you understand?"
Harry understood the words that were being said, but the actual meaning, he was sure, would come with time. He nodded, and took a deep breath through his nose, sniffling a bit. It wasn't time for tears.
"If I don't come back, um, there's some letters in my trunk," Harry said heavily. The headmaster nodded at him sadly.
"Anything else?" Harry asked.
"I need you to take off your anti-portkey charm and your potions bandoleer," the Headmaster said. "Your broom and cloak as well."
Harry was shaking a bit as he did so; he felt bare. The headmaster performed a diagnostic charm on Harry before nodding to himself, he stood up, so Harry did as well. Madam Bone walked up and shook his hand.
"I think you have what it takes," she said.
"I thought all I had to do was let myself get captured," Harry said.
"I think you have what it takes to survive," she said.
"It's time Potter," Professor Moody said, his gruff voice about as soft as Harry had ever heard it.
"Words cannot describe how proud I am of you right now," the headmaster said.
The words didn't have the same effect as when his father had said them. Harry just smiled a little hollowly.
"Start occluding now, Harry. Professor Moody just forced you to remove your anti-portkey charm by threatening your friends, and you are being kidnapped," Professor Dumbledore said.
Not too far from the truth, Harry thought.
"Hold this in the palm of your hand," Professor Moody said, handing Harry a pewter medallion.
Harry swallowed and took it and held it out in his open hand. He let the fear and anger he was supposed to feel rise up and he stared at the object in his hand with trepidation and resolve. The headmaster tapped it with his wand and Harry felt a sharp tug behind his navel and the office around him disappeared.
When he landed hard upon the earthy ground he had pushed his fear to the back of his mind. There wasn't room for fear, not when he'd just been kidnapped. Not when Moody had betrayed them and threatened his friends. He started running as soon as he could get up. A hand quickly grabbed his arm, he spat a curse that was pointless without his wand and twisted around and saw Augustus Rookwood, one of the escaped Death Eaters grabbing him. Harry snarled wordlessly and broke the grip easily, putting the man in a wrist lock and throwing him to the ground.
"Stupefy," someone he couldn't see incanted and Harry dove out of the way before getting up and promptly tripping over a low tombstone. He was in a graveyard. He tried to pick himself up but the next spell he heard had him throwing himself into a roll. He managed to get his feet back under him.
"Crucio," the spell was screamed out, and Harry fell to the cold ground writhing and screaming as it felt like he'd been dumped into a vat of fry oil. The pain of the transformation was nothing compared to what he felt then. He screamed and screamed and screamed until he couldn't scream anymore, and still it didn't stop. It felt like it went on forever but then suddenly, he felt his mother's protection envelop him and he was left limp and panting on the ground as he struggled to hold on to the feeling. Somewhere along the way, his arms had been bound behind his back. He tried to struggle, but he couldn't. He tried to occlude but he couldn't That was okay. He didn't need to. He focused on the pain, and the fear that it would come again. That's all anyone would see if they looked into his head.
Someone was incanting over him.
"It's him," someone said. "It's really him."
"Is he clean?"
"Yes. Those fools; they actually gave him to us. You probably think someone will come for you Potter, but they'll find this graveyard empty when they do."
Someone grabbed him roughly and he felt another tug behind his naval as he was portkeyed away once more. He landed roughly, unable to brace himself for the fall. Immediately his scar began to hurt. It was hardly worth noting though, it was nothing to the pain he had just endured, it was nothing to the knowledge that he was now in Voldemort's presence.
"Prepare him," a voice said. Voldemort's voice.
"Hominum Pupatium," a lazy droll incanted and Harry felt as if a number of strings started tugging at his body, lifting him up and dragging him to a tall stake in the ground.
"Incarcerous," ropes wrapped around him, tying him to the stake.
He struggled against the bindings, feeling panic growing in him, he grabbed what meager mental strength he had and tamped it down. He started desperately putting his mind in order. The pain helped. It was something he could focus on. Something Voldemort would expect him to focus on. He managed to throw up a mental screen before Voldemort started talking.
"It has been some time, Harry Potter," Voldemort said. "We've both come a long way since last we crossed paths, though tonight is the night your path ends, and I start a new path of my own."
Harry's eyes sought out the voice and he was disgusted to see what looked like a grey baby in the arms of none other than Bellatrix Lestrange. He also saw Antonin Dolohov and Augustus Rookwood starting some sort of complex incantation. It looked like a ward. They were in a deep narrow gulley, and Harry had a feeling that there was no one around for miles.
"How are the Aurors planning to kill me?" Voldemort asked.
"What?" Harry asked, confused, his painful voice barely a scratchy wisp in his throat. "I don't know. A bucket looks like it might do the trick."
"Crucio," Bellatrix Lestrange spat out.
An eternity later, when Harry became aware of his surroundings once more, panting and in a panic once more, he realized that everyone else had moved on from the questioning. He didn't know if he had really tricked Voldemort or if they'd just figured no one would have told Harry anything. It was starting to sink in that whatever the Headmaster's plan had been, Voldemort had known and now Harry was in a situation that had never been planned for. Did that mean he should escape? He focused on the bracelet in his wrist, but he still couldn't feel it.
He pushed the panic down once more and in that moment his feeble control over his own mind slipped and suddenly he was left with his own despair and fear and helplessness. He started thrashing at the bindings. He felt as if he had no strength left, but he had trained past exhaustion before and he wasn't going to let that stop him. He couldn't move though, and soon enough that became the overriding feeling as panic built and built. He couldn't move.
He couldn't move
He couldn't move.
"Cornelius," Amelia greeted the Minister for Magic, who looked all ready to enjoy the third task of the tournament.
"Madam Bones," Fudge said. "So good you could come for the show, you know Antiquitus has been complaining about the amount of overtime you've had your department pulling this past couple of weeks."
"We've found He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and we strike tonight," Amelia said.
"Now that's hardly something to joke about, my dear," Fudge said, nervously.
"When the dust settles, it will be entirely up to you if you want to claim credit for authorizing the operation."
"Now hold on just one moment," Fudge said indignantly. "Why wasn't I told about this sooner?"
She just gave him a rueful look. "I have some last minute preparations to see to. Enjoy the tournament, Cornelius." She reached into her robes and grabbed a portkey back to the ministry.
It took a while, but his mother's protection sprung up around him once more and his panic quieted and he just let himself feel her love and comfort. He pretended that it was real.
"I will eat you when you die," a susurrative voice said, jarring Harry out of his moment of peace.
"What?" Harry asked. He looked around himself. It took him a moment to remember where he was, and he took in the deep and narrow gulley; a great chasm in the earth. The terrain was rocky and dusk just barely clung to the sky. He saw a massive cauldron over a roaring fire, and the three death eaters were moving about, he didn't see Voldemort. He looked down and found the source of the bizarre comment. He took a few calming breaths, struggling to get his nerves together.
"I bet that guy over there's tastier," Harry said in parseltongue to the enormous snake slithering around on the ground below him. It was a lot easier to talk in parseltongue just at that moment; his throat felt raw and parseltongue mostly relied on sounds made with the tongue. A different hissing voice answered him though.
"Nagini will not betray me," Voldemort said. Harry still couldn't see where Voldemort was and that was about as disquieting as the actual sight of him. He took a few more calming breaths.
"Are you sure you want to go through all this again?" Harry asked. "There's a lot of babies out there. You'd live your entire second life worried one of them was going to turn you back into vapor, that needs to leech off the bodies of others."
Voldemort's amused chuckle sent a shiver down Harry's spine.
"Your mother's protection was a surprise, that's true, but that is a mistake I won't make again. You won't get to see the world I will build. Much as Bella would love to keep you as a plaything, I will not make the mistake of allowing you to live once I have been reborn. There are a number of people I will not suffer to live once I have been reborn. I think you know a number of them."
"They'll stop you," Harry said, in English this time, his voice raspy.
"They will cower before me," Voldemort said. "I wish you could see it for yourself, but you will have long since been Nagini's dinner."
"We are ready, master," Rookwood said.
"As am I," Voldemort said.
Harry watched, as Dolohov moved around and picked Voldemort up from off to the side where Harry couldn't turn his head. He watched in confusion as Dolohov approached the cauldron, sparks jumping off of the potion within and placed Voldemort inside. The potion started glowing white and no time was wasted after that.
Rookwood levitated what looked like a human femur over the cauldron.
"Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son," Rookwood said.
The bone crumpled into dust and settled over the cauldron which sent sparks dancing all over and the potion turned a pale sickly blue. Harry hoped that somehow, everything was still going according to the headmaster's plan. He knew it wasn't, but he still hoped.
"Flesh of the servant, willingly sacrificed, you will revive your master," Dolohov said, holding a hand over the cauldron, his other hand holding a great knife up high.
Harry had a moment of realization before it happened and closed his eyes before he heard the plop of the flesh landing in the potion within. When he opened his eyes again, the potion was glowing red and Bellatrix Lestrange was walking towards him, a fierce look in her eyes. She had a dagger of her own.
"Blood of the enemy," she said with a snarl. "Forcibly taken." The dagger went into his upper arm and Harry hissed in pain as he watched her press a vial up to the wound to collect the rivulets that poured forth. "You will resurrect your foe." She tipped the vial over the cauldron, and the potion within shined white once more, and brighter than ever.
Harry hoped desperately that Voldemort had just drowned in the potion. Suddenly though, he yelled out as it felt like his scar had exploded. He felt a searing pain in his head and blood poured down his face and into his eyes. Through the haze obscuring his vision, he could see a black miasma of smoke rising from the cauldron and the three Death Eaters had collapsed to the ground and seemed to themselves be in pain. The pain intensified, but suddenly he felt his mother's protection enveloping him once more. There was a warring in his head and he felt as if his very being was being was ripped apart before suddenly it cleared and he felt a lightness to himself that was very inappropriate for the situation he had found himself in. That was when he noticed that there was a bracelet around his wrist once more. He willed his wand into his hand at the very same moment that something emerged from the liquid. Suddenly, the headmaster's plan made sense; a great abomination, a monstrous lupine monster rose from the cauldron and howled just as Harry's own breath caught in his throat, a phantom memory of the wolf inside himself wanting to answer.
Severus would be very happy when the whole damned tournament was over, and Harry wouldn't have to constantly worry about Ronald's survival. At the very least Bagman was out of the equation, and at this point, Severus actually had faith that Hogwart's second champion would survive. At the end of the day, though, the whole thing had been one massive distraction for Harry, who needed to be preparing to face the Dark Lord.
He became alert when Albus entered the teacher's box. The Headmaster should be with the other judges, the tournament was supposed to start soon. Severus rose to intercept him. Albus was looking at a pocket watch and held up a staying hand when Severus walked up to him. Severus waited as the headmaster consulted the watch. Severus looked at the watch and saw a face split in two. One side had words in black that said 'too soon,' and 'almost,' and 'now,' while the other side just said in red letters 'intact,' and 'bleeding'. One hand was pointing to the words 'too soon', and another pointed to the word 'intact.'
Severus watched as both hands started to move, one hand moving to the word 'almost,' while the other moved to the word 'bleeding.'
"I told you that you would be there when Harry faced Voldemort," Albus said. "The time is now. Your only task is to evacuate Harry."
Severus paled, the hand moved from 'almost,' to 'now,' and Albus drew his wand. Severus did the same as Albus clasped Severus's shoulder and tapped a pewter ring on his finger. The portkey activated and Severus felt the tug behind his naval as he was pulled away from Hogwarts.
They landed in a graveyard, and they weren't alone. Severus turned around, searching, his eyes scanning the dark shadows. There were a dozen Aurors, Mad-Eye Moody, and Madam Bones, but there was no Harry and there was no Voldemort. He heard Albus gasp, and that sound sent a dagger through his heart.
"Where is he," Severus ground out.
There was no time for a response, he let out a sharp gasp and fell to his knees as his arm burst into agony. He pulled up his sleeve and saw for the first time in thirteen years the dark mark emblazoned on his arm. It burned as it had never burned before, smoke seeping from his skin and the flesh around it turning an angry red. It didn't matter. He knew where to go. He stood up, and gritted his teeth.
"Wait," Albus said. He pulled the ring off of his finger, and placed it on the ground next to a rock he pulled up from the ground.
"Malus Navis Portalis Majorit," he cast before picking up the rock and shoving it into Severus' hand.
Severus didn't waste another moment. He apparated away and felt the jarring sensation of hitting an anti-apparition ward. It didn't matter, the Dark Mark would pull him through, but he doubted he would be seeing Albus any time soon.
Harry wasn't sure who was the most surprised by the giant scaly wolf monster that came out of the cauldron that Voldemort had been supposed to be reborn from. It could have been Dolohov, whose throat was ripped out by the lunging, gangly beast. It could have been Belatix Lestrange who was splashed with his blood. Rookwood had the sense to start flinging spells at it. Harry himself was too busy trying to escape his bonds. The problem was that he was bound fairly tight and he was having trouble casting any sort of spell with his wrists so immobile.
Bellatrix Lestrange had at this point joined Rookwood in flinging spells at the monster. Harry sent his wand back into the bracelet and very carefully summoned the dagger, being very aware of it's poisoned blade. Wolfsbane, he was guessing. The goblin made dagger sliced through the rope like it was string and Harry was able to wriggle out of the rest of it. He put the dagger into his off hand and assumed a reverse grip before summoning his wand again. Harry had been a bit confused when the Headmaster had told him that his only job at this point would be to escape, but he understood now why combating Voldemort wasn't Harry's task at this point.
He was about to run away when someone apparated into the narrow gulley. They wore a black hooded cloak and a skull mask and they took one look at the spectacle before them and they turned in on themselves to apparate away, only to reappear a fraction of a second later. Harry didn't wait to see what they would do next. He was supposed to be escaping. It shouldn't have been so surprising that his legs were no good for running. He'd hobbled a couple of feet away from the mayhem along the uneven rocky terrain when another death eater apparated directly in his path.
"Expelliarmus," Harry cried out as a scream rent the air behind him and caused him to flinch. The spell went and missed by a large margin. His limbs were still quaking in the aftermath of the cruciatus curse.
The element of surprise gone, Harry found himself in a very one-sided duel. He fell to the ground as a blasting curse slipped past his feeble shield and impacted his side. He was saved, perhaps, as the monster decided to come their way.
"Accio Harry," and Harry suddenly found himself flying through the air.
"Dad!" he cried out. As relieved as he felt, he didn't want his Dad anywhere near the chaos.
He wanted very badly to hug him, but it wasn't exactly an option at the moment.
"We can't apparate away," was the first thing he thought to say.
"I know," his dad said. "Can you walk?"
Harry shook his head. "Not well; Cruciatus Curse."
Another scream echoed through the gulley and Harry heard two more cracks of apparition. His dad wasted no time in picking him up and starting to run a short distance to the other side of an outcropping of rock where he placed Harry onto the ground. He quickly reached for his belt and pulled out a potion that he handed to Harry. Harry didn't question it and downed it quickly. Some of the pain ebbed away and his quivering stilled a bit. His dad cast a spell that quickly bound his bleeding arm. He heard several more cracks of apparition and at that point, he was losing track.
"Is that the Dark Lord?" his dad asked.
"It was," Harry said.
"Come on," his dad said, pulling him to his feet. "Stay in front of me."
There was only one direction to go and they ran as well as they could over the dark terrain. Harry at least had a bit of an advantage, his eyes saw better in the dark than the average wizard. His ears too, and Harry could easily make out the carnage that was happening behind him. He wished he could plug his ears.
They didn't have too far to run before they were faced with a number of boulders that blocked their path. Harry turned around, he couldn't see any other way out of the narrow gulley. His dad grabbed him tight and tried to apparate them away, but they were still within the bounds of the ward.
"Do you have your broom?" his dad asked.
"No," Harry said. "I think I could climb, though."
"I'll levitate you," his dad said.
They were, unfortunately, not the only ones who had decided to run away from the lupine abomination.
"You!" a Death Eater accused. Harry wasn't sure which of them he was referring to. There were two more Death Eaters running up behind them.
"Confringo," his dad wasted no time before he started slinging curses, and Harry quickly followed suit.
The problem with the gulley was that there were only two directions to travel in, and trapped as they were, they were basically doomed to have a good number of Death Eaters funneled their way.
Harry cast a banishing charm on a rock about the size of his head and watched as it struck a Death Eater in the chest. He told himself that he had imagined the crunch of bones.
"Engorgio," Harry cast on a number of small boulders, giving him and his dad a bit of cover.
"Reducto," his Dad cast at the side of the gulley causing a shower of rocks that knocked two Death Eaters off their feet. If Harry had had the time, he would have stopped to marvel at the spectacle. His Dad had never exactly gone easy on him in training, but watching him fight now, with a fierceness and a skill Harry had never imagined, Harry realized that there were levels of skill that he himself had yet to even approach. Yet still more Death Eaters were showing up, and it was only a matter of time before they were too outnumbered. No one had told him that all of these Death Eaters would be summoned somehow, or that his dad would be summoned with them. What was the point of all of this if the people he cared about were still in danger? He'd done this so he would never have to worry about Voldemort killing his Dad for being his Dad.
"Aguamenti Maxima," a Death Eater incanted, and a ridiculously large jet of water arched over their heads against the gulley walls behind them. The water crashed back down and a torrent swept Harry's feet out from underneath him and Harry found himself carried out by the brief river that had formed in the gulley. The spell didn't last very long, luckily, but it did leave Harry separated from his dad and a bit surrounded.
Harry slashed out with his dagger at the leg of the nearest Death Eater as he got his feet underneath him once more. The Death Eater fell with a scream, the blade had cut through the bone easily. Harry made a mad dash for another outcropping of rocks, while his dad kept the other Death Eaters busy. Another scream was heard in the distance that was rather abruptly cut off. A moment later a demonic howl echoed against the walls of the gulley and there was the briefest lull in the fight. It was getting closer. Harry could hear the click of it's claws on the rocky ground.
Werewolves had far superior night vision, compared to humans, and Harry had to assume that whatever Voldemort had turned into, that he could see in the dark gulley a lot better than they could, and Harry had no desire to allow the beast any sort of advantage.
"Lumos Solaris," Harry cast, and a great sphere of light shot out of his wand and hovered high overhead, he'd kept one eye closed when he cast it, and now he squinted through his eyelids, and took in the area around him.
"Stupefy," he cast at a nearby Death Eater who had shielded his eyes against the bright light. He heard a scrambling off to his left and looked over to see the monster prowl into sight. Harry chanced a glance over at his dad. They were trapped now, not just with the Death Eaters, but with a monster that had already killed several dark wizards. He had no idea how he was supposed to make sure his Dad got out.
The beast gave out a low guttural growl and several Death Eater's turned to face the creature at their backs, wasting no time in throwing spells against it ineffectually. For all that had been flung at it, it only seemed to have some minor cuts and burns on its pelt. One of the death eaters took a page from Harry's dad's book and tried to bring the wall of the gulley down on the beast, but it scampered away from the rockslide and leapt on the nearest Death Eater, a swipe of a massive paw rending robes and flesh. Harry supposed that this was the point where he was supposed to use the dagger, though he had little desire to get anywhere close to it. Getting close, however, would likely happen sooner, rather than later.
A werewolf wasn't like a regular wolf. A wolf would take down an individual animal and feast upon it, ignoring the other prey animals in the area. The werewolf wouldn't feast until every human around it had been taken down. No sooner was one Death Eater struck down, then another was pounced upon. Harry thought his best chance for survival would be to go on the offensive. He came up with a plan and figured that it had worked once to save Ron, and he wasn't exactly all that concerned with getting bitten again.
Harry pointed his wand at the ground behind him and looked at the movement of the monster in front of him. This wasn't very much an exact science. He cast the same propulsion spell Ron had used in the first task, and he rocketed in a haphazard arc towards the thing that was once Voldemort. It turned as he flew at it and a swipe of its paw knocked him out of the air and tore open his leg. Harry gasped in pain and heard his Dad call out his name as the beast sat back on its haunches, getting ready to pounce. Suddenly though, a large boulder flew at it, and Harry knew that his dad still had his back.
"Incarcerous," Harry cast on his own leg, and rope wrapped tightly around it, cutting off the flow of blood. Harry did his best to stand, though he knew he wouldn't be able to walk, much less run about. He supposed he would be a bit of a one-trick pony. His dad was still flinging rocks at the monster, and now he had garnered the thing's attention.
"Get out of the way," Harry yelled as the beast snarled and started running toward's his Dad. Harry felt his heart leap into his throat and didn't waste any more time. He cast the propulsion spell once more and launched himself towards the back of the monster, his dagger outstretched and giving his best approximation of a battle cry, hoping at least to get the thing's attention. He didn't care about how he landed, so long as he managed to hit the thing. He watched it leap at his dad just as he himself fell upon it, and he plunged the dagger down hard into the beast's side, and held on tight.
An enraged howl cut through the air, and Harry was suddenly thrown off to the side, landing roughly on the rocks. The dagger was left inside of the monster, and Harry was glad for it, since he didn't want to chance another tumble with the thing still clutched in his hand. The beast was still thrashing about, and much too close to Harry's dad for his liking. He almost jumped on it again when he noticed the pool of water the thing was in.
"Glacius," Harry incanted, freezing the water and managing to trap one of the beast's paws in the ice. The beast continued to struggle, though it was growing weaker, and everyone around it was casting curses upon it. It didn't take too long for the poison to take its course though, and eventually, it fell still. That was when Harry realized that he was still sprawled out on the ground, surrounded by the remaining Death Eaters, and with a bad leg besides.
The temporary alliance, if it could be called that, broke down quickly after that, and Harry was forced to deflect several curses before his dad sent out a rather large wave of flames. They weren't particularly damaging; they were rather more of a distraction. As everyone turned to shield themselves, Harry was once more summoned to his father's side. Not that he was complaining, but he was rather getting tired of being thrown about like a rag doll.
The battle was beginning to pick up once more, and Harry was starting to realize that they wouldn't be able to hold out forever. But that was when a trio of red-robed Aurors flew into the gulley on brooms. They started flinging spells at the Death Eaters while one of them sent off a flare into the sky. Talking to his friends later, Harry would tell them that the most surreal thing he had ever seen, was the headmaster, flying down soon after, moving about and flinging spells in a fashion that belied the fact that he was well over a hundred years old, and looked older besides. The battle was basically over after that, and Harry allowed himself to be flown away to the boundary of the anti-apparition wards.
He wound up at the Ministry of Magic, where he barely noticed being healed and reunited with his dad. He felt like he was separate from everything happening around him. It took him a moment to notice that his Dad was talking to him.
"Do you know what happened with the tournament?" Harry asked, interrupting his dad.
"I left rather abruptly before it started," his dad said. "Harry, are you okay?"
"So maybe it got canceled?" Harry asked.
"I don't know," his Dad said. "I doubt it."
He asked around, but no one could tell him what was happening with the third task. An Auror wanted to take a statement from Harry, but Madam Bones arrived with a portkey back to school. Harry figured he'd get an official story to tell later.
"I have to see how Ron did," Harry said. They'd reappeared in the Headmaster's office, alone. He tried to stop his shaking. His dad wouldn't let him walk down to the grounds if he saw that the potion he'd been given earlier had worn off.
"Harry," his dad said. "Even if they started the third task without the Headmaster, I doubt it's over yet. It was supposed to start only half an hour ago."
"Half an hour?" Harry asked. "That can't…" He thought about it. It hadn't been that long, had it? "Well, I've got to see how he does."
"Harry, we're going to stay here until we know that its safe," his dad said.
Harry huffed. He wanted to say that Voldemort was gone and all the Death Eaters were either dead or captured, but he didn't actually know that, so he sat down and bounced his leg while he waited for the Headmaster to come back.
"How do you feel?" his dad asked.
Harry shrugged. The after effects of the Cruciatus Curse still lingered, but he was mostly all healed up. If he could just stop trembling, he felt like he would be able to give his dad a hug without letting on the fact that he should probably spend the night in the hospital wing.
"How were you captured?"
Harry shook his head. "I wasn't," he said distractedly as he started bouncing on his heels. His dad had sat down but Harry didn't think that he could sit down with out immediately jumping up again and pacing. "This was the plan. Pretty much everything went according to plan. Voldemort wanted to use my blood for his, like, rebirth potion, but he didn't know I was a werewolf. I think we were supposed to stay in the graveyard though. I think they knew we had a plan of our own. It worked out, though, I guess."
"This was the plan?" his dad asked.
"It worked," Harry said. He started rubbing against the spot where the knife had sliced into his arm. There hadn't even been a mark left behind to show that it had happened. Harry didn't feel like any of it had happened. There were three parallel scars on his leg now, he knew, curse scars that would never go away, but even though he had seen them with his own eye it felt like he had seen someone else's leg. Even the pain and tremors throughout his own body felt inconsequential.
His dad had nothing but a cold glare for the Headmaster when he finally arrived.
"What's happening with the tournament?" Harry asked.
"This was the plan?!" his Dad asked.
"The tournament is still ongoing," the Headmaster said to Harry; and to his dad, "Yes, Severus, this was the plan."
"And the prophecy has been fulfilled then?" His Dad asked on top of Harry's, "So is it safe for me to go watch?"
The Headmaster held up a steadying hand. He walked over to his desk and pulled out what looked like some sort of tiara. He did a complicated incantation upon it before smiling.
"Yes," he said. "The prophecy has been fulfilled and you may both move on with your lives without its burden." The tiara was placed back into his desk without comment.
"And move on to the tournament," Harry prompted. Harry was sure he would have questions later, he was sure he would care later, but just then there was only one thing he wanted.
"Yes, Harry," the Headmaster said. "I suppose I should return to my other duties, myself."
"That's it then," his dad said.
"That is it," the headmaster said. "There will be questions later, for the record, but I will talk to you about that later when Harry can give us his entire attention."
"It was a plan, and I agreed to it," Harry said. He hadn't planned on saying that. He didn't have a plan in the first place, but he realized that that was important, so he said it before he even considered it. It didn't feel like something he would say. He didn't feel like himself.
Both adults looked at him.
"The story," Harry said. "I wasn't kidnapped."
The headmaster nodded, though he gazed at Harry appraisingly. Another drawer was opened and Harry was handed back all of his confiscated items, and the three of them made their way to the grounds.
Harry felt oddly as if the night's events hadn't happened to him, as if he had just been told about them. The lingering pain throughout his body told him otherwise, but it all just didn't seem real. The pain and fatigue mounted as they walked, piercing through the odd intangibility Harry felt. He sidled up next to his Dad, who put his arm around Harry's shoulder, gripping him tight as they walked, but even that didn't feel real.
"They told me you'd been healed," his Dad said.
"I was," Harry said. "I'm alright, really. Just a bit shaken up."
The arm around his shoulders moved up and down a bit in an approximation of comfort. They arrived too late. And though Harry was relieved to see Ron outside of the maze, surrounded by his family, a part of him was disappointed that he hadn't seen any of it happen. No part of his night seemed like it had really happened. It didn't take long to discover the outcome.
"A tie?" his dad sounded a bit incredulous.
The headmaster chuckled.
Their arrival caused a bit of a stir. The headmaster's absence from the proceedings had been noticed, and his arrival now with a slightly bedraggled looking Harry and a stressed out professor drew the attention of the paparazzi away from the champions.
The headmaster quieted their shouted questions. "I wanted to congratulate all of the champions. There is much to rejoice for tonight, not least of which is that all four of our champions made it through the three tasks whole and hale. There is more that happened tonight, but I'm afraid that you shall have to wait until tomorrow morning. I'm sure there will be a briefing at the ministry. For tonight though, we celebrate the remarkable achievements of our students. Now I believe I did abdicate my duties to my deputy headmistress, so perhaps if she is ready, it is time for the cup to be given to our champions.
Harry wasn't surprised when it was Ron and Cedric who climbed up onto the pedestal. Everything still felt incredibly surreal. He was trying to make his way towards Ron and his family when it happened. He'd been very close, and the frustration he felt just then was perhaps the most real thing he'd felt since he left the gulley. Madam Pomfrey, having already checked over the champions, stormed up to Harry and took one look at him before pulling out her wand and casting a diagnostic charm.
She sent a glare towards the Headmaster. "Just letting you walk around in your state," she said. "Come on now, to the hospital wing with you."
"But Ron," Harry said.
"But nothing," Madam Pomfrey said.
Harry sighed, resigned to his fate. Perhaps winding up in the Hospital Wing would make everything feel real. Though he thought the detached feeling might be for the best just then.
A/N: Well, so that happened. I hope you've been finding a lot of good fic. If any of you are looking for non-fanfiction, I'd like to recommend the Gives Light series by Rose Christo, it has gay main characters and is very cheap on Amazon Kindle. One chapter to go.