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  Letters
  By: TheEndless7 ?
  Students are required to write to a pen pal in the spirit of 'International Cooperation.' New friendships and a new romance arise going into the fourth year at Hogwarts.
  Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance - Harry P., Fleur D. - Chapters: 21 - Words: 189,865 - Reviews: 1,954 - Favs: 3,995 - Follows: 2,200 - Updated: Jun 26, 2012 - Published: Dec 7, 2010 - Status: Complete - id: 6535391
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  Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. No money is being made, this is solely for practice and personal amusement. The rating is for later content.
  
  Chapter 1
  
  Letters
  
  Harry Potter never enjoyed the ride on the Hogwarts express when it traveled away from the school. He knew, that with each passing second, he sped closer to the smallest bedroom of Privet drive, to chores, and to neglect at the hands of his relatives. In short, to the Dursleys. Harry was far past sick of his relatives. He didn't understand why he couldn't just simply go to the Burrow, or with Professor Lupin? Or even just get a room at the Leaky Cauldron like he had before the year began. He sighed a little bit and stared out the window. He resigned himself to thinking of ways that he could make his summer more bearable. Surely, after Aunt Marge, the Dursley's wouldn't be happy to see him. But, perhaps they'd simply just ignore him more. He could remember how happy he felt in those brief moments when he thought he could go and live with his Godfather. He had dreams of a happy family, a caring adult, and those dreams had seemed so close. But now there was just the crushing sadness that accompanied shattered hopes and dreams.
  
  He was reminded of the letter he had received a few moments before from Sirius. The little owl was still fluttering around the compartment. He could hear his two best friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, chatting casually about what to name the excitable owl. He had suggested 'Warren' after a singer his aunt liked. One of his songs reminded him of the bird. They hadn't known the tiny thing long, but it certainly didn't seem like it would run out of energy anytime in the foreseeable future.
  
  As he thought about the bird, and who it came from, Harry realized he still wasn't very sure about his Godfather. It was strange to realize that he was not completely cut off from his parents. He wondered why he never thought about who had been his parents' friends. He assumed Dumbledore, of course, but the more he thought of it, were they friends or did they have a similar relation to the old teacher that Harry did now? Sure, Dumbledore had possessed his father's cloak for a while, but could there have been something more? He felt woefully naive for assuming that every link to his parents had been severed with their death. He made a mental note to talk to Sirius or Lupin about his parents the next chance he got. He had learned a lot about them during this last year, but he wanted to learn more. At the very least it would be nice to hear stories, and to learn more about them. Hopefully they wouldn't feel the need to tell him that he looked just like his father, but the eyes, Lily's eyes.
  
  He looked down at the letter he was still clutching in his hands. He read it again, for perhaps the fifth time since he received it. He still couldn't help but smirk at the permission slip to attend Hogsmeade visits. At least he wouldn't have to wear the cloak in the village anymore. That was a definite plus. He also knew that he would never live down the fact that Sirius had sent him the broom. Of course, Hermione was not really the type to gloat about that. Harry made a mental note to put a little more faith in her judgment. She was only looking out for his best interest. Really, the more he thought about it, he couldn't believe he was ready to jump onto a broomstick from an unknown sender without a second thought? Had his first year taught him nothing at all? And Ron was upset that the broom was scanned by the professors? He was slightly concerned that his best friend seemed to have little care for his personal welfare. Yet he couldn't blame Ron. He was just as excited to hop up onto the broom as his friend was to watch him on it. Why he hadn't thought, like Hermione, that someone may have been out to get him amazed him. While Voldemort may have been gone, or at least a wraith, he knew he should be more careful than that. It was as much his fault as his friends. He and Ron would both need to grow, he knew, to understand the dangers that likely faced him. He realized, that after Trelawney, he was afraid. Why he hadn't been frightened before that, he didn't know.
  
  After a few moments some of their other friends, notably Neville Longbottom and Ginny Weasley, joined them in the compartment. The argument about the name of the owl became more spirited. Harry didn't pay as close of attention as he likely could have. And when he did participate, he decided to play the role of the critic rather than suggest any new names. It was easier, after all. The argument continued without any major breakthroughs. Something told Harry he wouldn't learn the name of the owl until the summer. Harry's thoughts continued to drift to Sirius. He wondered what his Godfather would do now? Surely, he had to have some type of house he could hideout at or something. He had invited Harry to live with him, which meant he had to have some type of lodging.
  
  "So, who do you have in the World Cup?" Harry heard Ron ask. The question snapped him out of his thought. He hadn't followed the preliminary matches at all. Some of the students had chatted about scores, or perused the Prophet for box scores. Occasionally a game could be heard on the wireless in the common room, but Harry rarely paid attention to it. Sure, he loved playing quidditch, but he rarely paid attention to it during school. He wondered if he would if he lived in the Wizarding world. As is now he didn't watch many sports. Occasionally, he'd catch an early morning Formula One race while the rest of the Dursley's were asleep. But he didn't particularly care. It was just on TV at the time. He rarely kept it on for more than a few minutes. Usually, during the day when most sports were on he tried to avoid being in the house, or around the Dursleys.
  
  "I have no idea," Harry replied. "How's England?"
  
  "Not very good. I doubt they'll make it far. The Irish are pretty damn good, though. They should make it far," Ron replied.
  
  "Oh," Harry replied.
  
  "Who else is good?" Neville asked.
  
  "The Germans aren't bad. The French shouldn't do anything. Italy may surprise," Ginny responded. Neville and Harry both looked at her almost in shock. She smiled a little, for just a moment, before blushing and looking away from Harry. "What, I like Quidditch too. You grow up with a bunch of brothers and not develop some interest in the sport!" Everyone in the compartment laughed. They continued to talk of Quidditch, making predictions and insulting each other's picks.
  
  The ride continued. Harry noticed that the prefects were coming from compartment to compartment, pausing for a few moments at each and hanging out what appeared to be manila folders. Strange, he thought. It must just be the 'don't use magic outside of school' reminder. He saw two of the Ravenclaw prefects approach their compartment. The female one opened the door and entered.
  
  "Who do we have in there?" the male asked, looking over her shoulder.
  
  "Looks like Potter, Granger, The youngest two Weasley's, and Longbottom," the female prefect responded. Harry didn't know her, but she was a pretty girl with long brown hair and hazel eyes. It didn't hurt, either, that she had changed out of her school uniform already and wore a tight pair of jeans and a violet t-shirt. Really, the only reason Harry knew her house or her status was because she had pinned the badge to her t-shirt, and had one of her school ties wrapped around her wrist. He thought she had likely just finished her fifth year. The male prefect, who remained behind her in the hallway dug through a bag of something, pulling out a bunch of the envelopes. He handed them to the girl who started handing them out. Harry looked at his, it seemed like your typical manila envelope. There was a Hogwarts crest in the center of it, and in the upper corner was 'H. Potter' with 'Gryffindor' and 'Yr 4' written under it. He then opened it and looked inside. There wasn't a warning about using magic outside of school. In fact, there wasn't anything inside it at all.
  
  "What are these for?" Hermione asked the prefect girl. She was checking off their names on a sheet. Harry looked over at Hermione's folder. It was labeled the same way as his.
  
  "These are your summer assignments," the prefect said as she looked down her sheet, making sure everything was in order.
  
  "But there's nothing in them!" Hermione exclaimed. The prefect raised her eyes and looked at Hermione, then shook her head and marked some things off on the paper in front of her.
  
  "I'm getting to that," she said curtly. Hermione's face fell for a moment.
  
  "Oh," she replied.
  
  "Well, alright. That's in order," she said as she tucked the quill back into her hair. She took out her wand and cast a quick activation spell on all of the envelopes in the compartment, then wrapped the parchment she had been checking things off of around her wand and slid it back into her pocket. She turned to exit the compartment then.
  
  "So what do we do with these then?" Ron asked, holding his up in the air limply. The prefect looked back at them.
  
  "Oh, uhm. Right," she began. She paused for a moment and continued with what Harry assumed was a pre-planned speech. "In the spirit of international cooperation you are required to write three letters to a pen-pal over the summer months," she explained.
  
  "But what do these have to do with anything?" Ron asked, still holding his folder up. The prefect glared at him a little bit.
  
  "I'm getting to that," she responded. "You will write a letter and place it in your folder. The charm place on the folder will send it to your pen pal. Copies will be sent to your head of house as well, to make sure you do in fact complete the assignment."
  
  "Don't we get to know our pen pal?" Hermione asked. She sounded excited by the assignment. Ron and Neville groaned a little bit at the thought. Ginny seemed mostly indifferent. Harry wasn't sure how he felt about it. It felt mostly like another assignment he'd have to do. But, at the very least, it would give him something to do when he sat alone in his room at night.
  
  "No," the prefect responded. "The school feels that having the first letter be anonymous will be better for the assignment."
  
  "But what if we have nothing in common with them!" Ron asked.
  
  "That shouldn't be a problem. You were matched with a pen pal based on age and interests. There are plenty of students at both Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. I'm sure they matched you appropriately," she responded.
  
  "So Hogwarts students are writing to the students of two other schools?" Hermione asked. Harry was glad she did. He wasn't sure what a Beauxbatons or Durmstrang were. But gathered that they were other schools. It did seem off that Hogwarts's students could match with both of the schools, unless the others were much smaller.
  
  "Not quite. The pen pals are distributed throughout all three schools. The only guarantee is that you do not have one from your own school. Don't ask me for more information than that. I don't know anything more," the prefect seemed annoyed. Harry guessed that just about everyone else had simply accepted the assignment without much thought.
  
  "Are we expected to write first?" Hermione asked. The prefect stared at her again, like she couldn't believe this girl would just keep asking questions.
  
  "There are no expectations except that you write the pen-pal three letters. Every school, to my knowledge, is getting the envelope upon their departure," she explained, sounding somewhat exasperated.
  
  "Oh, okay. Thanks," Hermione responded.
  
  "Any more questions?" the prefect asked.
  
  "What happens if we don't do it?" Ron asked. Harry had to admit. He felt that that was a far better question than any of the ones Hermione had asked. The prefect smiled little bit.
  
  "One month of detentions with your head of house, and for those who are old enough, a one year ban from Hogsmeade visits," the prefect responded automatically. Harry got the feeling she was use to answering that question.
  
  "Ouch," Ron responded. The prefect smiled briefly at him.
  
  "Indeed, so I highly suggest that you do write the letters. We are also required to inform you that your head of house expects excellence, or at least competence in them. The professors will not have the institution shamed by terrible handwriting or poor composition. But they also would like us to remind you that perfection is not required on these assignments," the prefect concluded. "Now, are there any final questions?"
  
  "No. Thank you," Hermione said. The prefect nodded and turned, stepping out of the compartment.
  
  "Who's next, Mark?" Harry heard her ask as she slid the door closed. He noticed Ron staring after her.
  
  "Who is she?" Ron asked, still staring at the compartment door.
  
  "Lillian Seslion," Hermione said. "She's a Ravenclaw prefect. I'm surprised you don't know her, Harry should."
  
  "What me, how?" Harry asked.
  
  "Yea, him how?" Ron said.
  
  "Honestly you two, don't you pay attention at all?" Hermione asked.
  
  "Apparently not," Ron responded, eliciting laughs all around.
  
  "She's a chaser for Ravenclaw," Ginny responded.
  
  "She is?" Ron said, sounding incredibly surprised. Like he should have noticed that earlier. There was only one member of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team Harry was really interested in, though, so he had never noticed her.
  
  "Yes, she is," Hermione scoffed.
  
  "She's rather good, too," Ginny added.
  
  "But Davies and Chambers do all of their scoring!" Ron exclaimed. Ginny shook her head.
  
  "Yea. She has a rather weak arm. And not the greatest of shots. But she plays some of the best defense from a chaser that I've ever seen," Ginny explained. "In fact, I've heard a few developmental league teams are going to be scouting her next year."
  
  "Really?" Ron asked.
  
  "Yes," Ginny said. "She's nice, too. She's let me practice against her."
  
  "She's helped me with potions, too," Neville said quietly.
  
  "When did she do that?" Hermione asked.
  
  "Oh, she was just in the library one night, writing a letter, and saw what I was working on and offered some help. We don't ever have potions with the Ravenclaws, but the 'Puffs all say she's incredible there. Like better than Hermione good. Apparently even Snape is civil with in class," Neville said. Hermione scoffed at the reference of her skill.
  
  "I've heard that. But, I've also heard she can't transfigure anything. McGonagall has to give her extra lessons every year," Hermione commented. The compartment was silent for a moment until Ron spoke again.
  
  "Why don't Gryffindor girls look like that?" He asked quietly.
  
  "Excuse me?" Hermione scoffed. Ron looked at her.
  
  "What? Did you see her, total knockout, right guys?" Ron continued. Harry noticed Hermione was fuming. Neville blushed a little bit before he spoke.
  
  "Yes, she's beautiful," he admitted. Both girls stared at Harry then, as if waiting for his judgment.
  
  "I, uh....erm. She's not bad, but not my type," Harry said, hoping that was a diplomatic enough answer. It was the truth, too, he realized. Cho Chang was certainly more his current type.
  
  "Thank you, Harry," Hermione said. He couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not. He figured it would be best not to ask. Ginny just blushed and looked away.
  
  "So, Hermione," Harry spoke carefully. "What do you know of these other magic schools. I didn't even know they existed." He figured stroking her ego would be a good way to have her warm up, if she was really annoyed.
  
  "Oh, not much really. Beauxbatons is in southern France. I think it's near Cannes, but I can't be sure. Like Hogwarts it's unplottable. They even have charms that prevent people from rival schools seeing it," Hermione said softly.
  
  "Ugh, the French? They're the only country with a Quidditch team worse than England!" Ron scoffed. "I hope I get a Durmstrang student. Not going to have anything to talk about with a French one."
  
  "And you'll have so much more to talk about with a Durmstrang one, Ronald," Hermione scoffed. Harry could sense her need to lecture coming on and decided to spur her on.
  
  "And why is that?" Harry asked. Hermione smiled at him.
  
  "Because Durmstrang only accepts pure-blood loyalists. They're even more secretive than Beauxbatons. Their uniforms require a lot of cold-weather clothing. And they're somewhere in central Europe. The exact location wasn't in any book I could find," she explained.
  
  "How do you know all of this?" Ron asked, looking surprised. Harry felt that he at least had an excuse for his ignorance. He assumed other magical people would know more, but judging from the looks on Neville, Ginny and Ron's faces. They were nearly as clueless as he was.
  
  "I picked up a book on it last year," Hermione said carefully.
  
  "Why?" Neville asked.
  
  "I wanted to see if Hogwarts was really the premier magical academy," Hermione answered.
  
  "And what did you find?" Ginny asked.
  
  "Not much," Hermione admitted. "It's near impossible to find curriculum from any of the schools. There's rumors that Durmstrang focuses more on the Dark Arts than Hogwarts or Beauxbatons, but that is about it. It seems that there is actually very little choice in schooling. They're all rather insular."
  
  "I wonder why that is?" Harry asked. From what he knew of Muggle schools, they were more likely to try to actively recruit some students. Yet magical schools seemed to want privacy more than anything else.
  
  "I don't know," Hermione shrugged. "Some schools were already trying to recruit me when I got my Hogwarts letter. I almost expected the magical world to be the same way. Apparently I was wrong.
  
  "That's just how it is here," Ron said. Harry and Hermione looked over at him.
  
  "Yea," Neville agreed. "That's just how it's done." Hermione could tell that the conversation wasn't going to get them anywhere, so she decided to not press. To not point out how bad of an answer that was.
  
  The train rolled on. Eventually, it arrived at King's Cross station. Harry dreaded his return to his relatives. But he had thought of a clever way to ensure that they would bother him less. He clutched the letter from Sirius in his hand and stepped off of the train, ready to brave the Dursleys. He barely heard Ron comment on possibly attending the World Cup.
  
  A few hours later found him in the smallest bedroom at Privet Drive. The Dursley's had left to take Dudley out to a celebratory dinner for the end of his semester. They made no mistake to mention, repeatedly, just how much of a nuisance having to pick him up, and then drive someplace for dinner was. Uncle Vernon also made it quite clear he was not allowed out of his room while they were gone. So, naturally, the first thing he did was look for something edible in the fridge. Then he sat down in front of the TV and watched that for a few hours. It wasn't until he heard Uncle Vernon's car pull into the drive that he decided to run up the stairs and disappear into his room. He grabbed a book, turned Dudley's old TV, with very low volume, and acted like he was reading. He wasn't the least bit surprised when no one came to check on him. After a few moments, he opened his trunk to look for some pajamas to change into. He noticed the envelope on top of it. He plucked it up and tossed it on to the bed, figuring that of all his summer assignments, it would require the least amount of effort. Or, at the very least, the least amount of reading to complete. He grabbed one of his history books and a roll of parchment and tossed them onto his bed as well. After changing he grabbed a quill and some ink and sat on his bed. He dipped the quill and started to think about what to write. He didn't move for a few moments, framing the start of the letter in his head, before he decided to start to write, using the history textbook as a makeshift table.
  
  Dear Fellow Student,
  
   That's a terrible way to start a letter, but I figured it would be better than 'to who receives this' or 'dear pen-pal'. So I went with this instead. My name is Harry. I just finished my third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I'm a member of the Gryffindor house, if that means anything to you. I'm not exactly sure how to have a pen-pal. I've never really done anything like this before. So if I ramble I apologize. I'm not sure what the Professors are expecting for this assignment. The prefect who explained the assignment didn't do a very good job.
  
  Since I know nothing about you, I guess I'll have to talk about me. I dislike talking about myself; people always assume I'm lying or glory seeking. I know I'm not lying, and I certainly don't think I'm glory seeking.
  
  So, well, I suppose starting with my interests is as good of a spot as any. I enjoy quidditch. My friend thinks he can get tickets to the world cup through his father, who works at the Ministry of Magic. That should be fun. I don't really follow international quidditch, or the Quidditch leagues, but I do enjoy playing the game. I'm the seeker on my house team. We won the school tournament this year. First time in a long time our house team has done that. I'm the seeker. I enjoy chasing too, but I only ever do it when one of our chasers misses practice.
  
  In school my favorite classes are Defense Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration. I also started taking our Magical Creatures class, as well as Divination. I'm not sure I really enjoy either of them, but I like the professor for creatures. Divination, well, the professor just keeps trying to predict my death. It's rather unsettling, really.
  
   I hate potions. I'm not sure if it's because of the subject matter or the teacher, though. The professor hates me. I recently learned he had some grudge with my parents. Well, specifically my father. I'm not entirely certain what happened between them. But apparently it was a nasty prank gone wrong, and he never forgave my father for it. It seems childish that he would take it out on me. And it seems childish that I would even think he's taking it out on me, I know. But even other students have commented on how horrible he is to me.
  
   As for the other classes, I'm mostly indifferent. Charms is the next best, I suppose. History of Magic is more of a nap time than anything. Herbology is vaguely interesting, but only because I do some gardening at my relatives house over the summer. Mostly not by choice.
  
   I should probably mention that I'm an orphan. My parents died when I was one. I live with my aunt and uncle. They are not very kind to magic. They knew my parents were magical. But they're mostly ignorant of the magical world. They think I'm a freak. It's not all bad, though. They make me do chores every now and then, but usually they ignore me. I only ever spend a few weeks here in the summer, before usually going to my friend, Ron's, house.
  
   I met the man who was suppose to be my Godfather this year. And another one of my parent's friends. I thought for a bit that I would be going to live with him this summer. But that didn't happen. Maybe it will some day. I don't think it's wise to hold my breath, though.
  
   That's me in a pinch. I'm still not sure what the required length on these things are. But I think this has been a pretty good first letter. I hope you don't disagree. And I hope my writing is not lonely legible, but not awfully boring. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.
  
   Your new Pen Pal.
  
   Harry.
  
  He paused and reread the words a few times. Hoping they were satisfactory. He didn't think it was too poor of a first attempt at a letter. He did some quick editing to it and then reread it one more time. Hedwig hooted in the corner from her cage. Harry laughed and looked up at her.
  
  "Not this time, Hedwig," he said. His snowy owl gave a hoot of displeasure and looked around the room, almost as if she was looking for another courier. He laughed a little bit and stared down at the envelope. "Sorry. It's for an assignment. Some strange pen-pal thing we have to do." He lifted up the envelope and dropped the parchment into it. Nothing happened. He sat for a few minutes and looked at it. He noticed Hedwig lean forward and look at it too, as if she were also expecting something, well, magical to happen. Nothing did. He picked up the envelope and looked at it. Nothing still. He opened it and looked inside. The letter was still just sitting in there. He put it back down and sighed. Hedwig hooted victorious from her perch.
  
  "It doesn't matter," he laughed a little bit. "I don't even know who it's going to. So I can't even have you deliver it." Hedwig just hooted again. For some reason Harry got the feeling that he could probably give the letter to Hedwig and she would do her best to figure out where it was suppose to go, and get it there. She'd probably go and pester McGonagall until she got the answer. Harry laughed a little bit at that. He stood up and went to his trunk, fetching an owl treat for Hedwig, who hooted lovingly, before staring at the envelope again. He made sure it was sealed with the little clasp and then examined it in his hands. He knew that sometimes charmed objects needed an activation phrase. He held it in his hands and whispered.
  
  "Activate." Nothing happened. He sighed and looked at it again. He could see Hedwig out of the corner of his eyes, stretching her wings luxuriously in an almost taunting manner. He shook his head and got another idea.
  
  "Send," he said softly. He didn't feel anything happen. But when he turned the envelope around he saw the Hogwarts crest on the front of it was glowing. He shrugged and pressed his finger to it. He felt magic radiate out of it for a second, and then the glow vanished. He didn't need to check the inside of the envelope; he knew that the letter had sent. He opened it anyway to check. Sure enough, it was gone. He smiled and laughed a little bit. Hedwig looked annoyed.
  
  "Don't worry, in a few days I'll write to Hermione or Ron and send you off on your way," he said. She perked up a little bit at that. He put the envelope on his small desk, emblem up. He figured that if anyone replied to his letter, that emblem would likely glow as it had when he sent his first letter. He went back to his bed, then, and crawled under the covers. He picked up the text and decided to attempt to get a start on his summer History of Magic reading. He made it to the third page of the chapter before he simply put the book down, turned off the lights, and attempted to drift off to sleep.
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit. This is entirely for fun.
  
  Also, I have no beta, so any mistakes are my own. I re-read a chapter three times before I publish it. But I don't catch everything.
  
  Chapter 2
  
  First Response
  
  Harry dreamed.
  
  It was an unpleasant dream. He thought he was a snake. He slithered through strange, dark, house. His thoughts were focused on rats. He caught the scent of one of the rodents and moved after it.
  
  It was too easy to even be fun. The small animal never knew he was there. He devoured it whole, feeling a smug sense of satisfaction as he did. He curled up for a moment in the cold house. It was dusty. Not that he really cared. He was cold then. He vaguely remembered a fire upstairs, by master.
  
  He maneuvered silently through the house. He slid slowly back up the stairs, and then down the long hallway that led to the master bedroom. Inside, master sat in a chair, alone tonight. Master was alone tonight. He curled up into a ball in front of the fire that warmed master. It was much warmer. Much more pleasant. He vaguely remembered he was suppose to be doing something. Waiting for something. What was it? Something about a rat.
  
  Harry woke early the next morning. He sat up. He was breathing hard and feeling rather confused. Still, it wasn't the strangest dream he had ever had. As much as he would have liked to sleep in, he was still in the habit of rising for breakfast and classes at school. And he really didn't want to think about returning to dreams of snakes. He couldn't help but wonder if he and a certainly fictional archaeologist shared similar nightmares.
  
  He knew that Vernon had likely left for work already, and he could faintly hear Dudley's snores from the other bedroom. He didn't quite feel like getting up yet, so instead he picked up the history text and again attempted to get through his assigned reading. He made it to page eight before he decided showering and facing the day was a better idea. At least, he figured, if he kept this rate up, he'd have the assignment done by his birthday.
  
  Hedwig was perched on his desk near where he had placed the enchanted envelope. It gave no sign that anything had been returned to him. Harry felt momentarily foolish for that thought even occurring to him. Of course his pen pal wouldn't have responded yet. It has been less than twelve hours. And most of those hours were times when most people weren't even awake. In fact, he didn't even know if Beauxbaton's semester had ended. Perhaps the opposing school was still taking their exams. He may not get a reply for weeks.
  
  The owl appeared to be examining the envelope closely. She pecked at it once or twice, carefully, and appeared to be debating what exactly needed to be done about the thing that stole her master's letter.
  
  Harry rose out of bed, moving quietly toward the bathroom to proceed with his normal routine. He enjoyed the warm water in the shower, but did not take the time to enjoy it. Harry showered quickly, despite knowing that Vernon was likely gone, and that Dudley wouldn't wake up until well after noon. He didn't want to risk having someone pounding on the door telling him he'd used far more than enough water. Or question what he was doing in there.
  
  He stepped out of the shower and toweled off. He brushed his teeth, taking longer than he would at school simply because he was enjoying having the bathroom to himself. He combed his hair. Or at least ran the comb through his hair a few times before deciding that it was futile.
  
  Harry slipped back into his room and dressed for the day. He didn't put on anything special. Of course, he realized, he didn't really have anything special. It occurred to him that he probably should go and buy clothing that fit. That presented a dilemma though. He knew that the Dursley's would never take him shopping, or even let him to go London to retrieve money from his vault. Of course, he didn't want the Dursleys' anywhere near the wizard bank.
  
  That simply led to an interesting mental picture of conversations between Vernon and a goblin. The mental images may or may not have wound up with the goblin doing some of the rather cruel things Binns had condemned from the Goblin Wars.
  
  After tossing his pajamas into a corner Harry noticed that the envelope had somehow wound up on the ground next to the desk. He shook his head and laughed a little bit.
  
  "Was that completely necessary?" he asked the owl, who had resumed her spot on her perch. She flexed her wings somewhat menacingly and hooted a little bit. Harry just shook his head, not even bothering to hide the smile on his face as he picked up the envelope and place it back on his desk. Hedwig hooted a bit more and turned her head away.
  
  Harry laughed a and placed his history book on top of the envelope, hoping the near thousand pages of magical historical text would be a deterrent from Hedwig deciding to inflict any sort of harm on his summer homework assignment. He opened a window for her then, not really caring what his relatives thought about having an owl flying around the neighborhood. He doubted anyone would notice anyway. Although, he did briefly wonder, while leaving his room and heading downstairs, about the legality of having an owl as a pet.
  
  The only conclusive answer he came up with as to whether or not it was legal to own an owl in the country was that he didn't care. He decided that as he entered the kitchen and his train of thought turned into what he should consume for breakfast.
  
  Only then did he realize the house seemed rather dark and deserted. He took a moment to investigate. Nothing seemed out of place. He figured he was just more accustomed to the liveliness of school.
  
  Back in the kitchen he decided to make some eggs, mostly because eggs were quick and relatively easy. He took two out of the fridge, wondering how much the Dursley's would yell at him for stealing their food. He was about to start scrambling the eggs when he heard someone coming down the stairs. The steps were far too light to be Dudley.
  
  Sure enough, a few minutes later Petunia stepped into the kitchen. She stared down her nose at him, giving that faux haughty look she loved so much.
  
  "What are you doing?" she spat.
  
  "Scrambling some eggs," Harry replied as he turned back to her to continue cooking. Petunia took a few moments to respond. And when she did, it was certainly not the response Harry had expected.
  
  "Would you mind doing two for me?" she asked. Harry almost couldn't believe what he had heard. He expected to be told to make more for her the second she knew what he was doing. Cooking breakfast for the Dursley's wasn't entirely uncommon. But to have it framed as a question caught him off guard.
  
  "I guess," he said as he turned to look at her. She wasn't paying attention to him. Instead she was taking two more eggs out of the fridge. She then filled the tea pot with water and put it on the stove.
  
  "Thanks." Petunia handed him the two other eggs and he proceeded to begin cooking breakfast. He was silent as he did it. He watched out of the corner of his eye as she took two plates out of the cupboards and placed them on the kitchen table. After that she went and grabbed two tea cups. Harry continued to cook the eggs in silence. Petunia grabbed the water when it was finished and poured two cups. It only took the eggs a few more minutes to scramble. Harry took the skillet straight to the table and divided them equally between he and his aunt. She thanked him again, which just made everything all the more awkward. Harry noticed they had no silverware and grabbed some out of a drawer before sitting down at the table.
  
  They ate quietly. The silence bothered Harry. This was certainly an atypical morning. Harry managed three bites of eggs, and a sip of tea, before he had to know, or at least ask.
  
  "Why are you being nice," he spoke as carefully as he could. Petunia looked at him briefly. She had the look in her eyes that she always had when she was about to say something particularly rude. She opened her mouth to speak. But then thought better of it and instead took another bite of eggs. Harry watched her as she thought up a response.
  
  "Honestly, I'm tired and the thought of food was too good to pass up. Vernon is going to be especially horrible to you this summer," Petunia said slowly, taking a soft sip of tea when she finished.
  
  "How is that any different?" Harry raised an eyebrow as he looked at her. "I doubt anything could be much worse than normal. Hopefully my friends invite me over soon. One of them thinks he can get World Cup tickets," Harry intended for that comment to sound pretentious. But his Aunt simply looked confused.
  
  "You're going to the United States?" she asked. She looked rather surprised.
  
  "What?" Harry asked. Bewildered.
  
  "The World Cup. It's in the United States," she explained. Only then did Harry remember that his aunt would think it was a Muggle sport. It took him a few moments to remember that the World Cup of football must also be that same year.
  
  "Oh no. Not that. The Quidditch World Cup. One of our sports," he explained. Petunia looked at him for a moment, as if she were trying to remember something.
  
  "That's the one played on brooms?"
  
  "Yes,"
  
  "Your mother told me about that. I believe she thought your father was going to become a professional. He must not have been good enough, in the end. Didn't have a job when he died," she said softly. Despite that Harry could tell she was merely thinking aloud, the anger still rushed through him.
  
  "Oh yes. Fighting a war obviously doesn't count as job," Harry spat. He glared up at Petunia. She looked startled for a moment, but regained her composure quickly.
  
  "I didn't mean it like that. It's hard to imagine a war though. Lily never really said what your parents did. Hell, I wasn't even invited to the wedding." Petunia went back to eating her eggs. Harry took a moment to let that sink in.
  
  "Would you have gone?" He asked.
  
  "Of course I would have. She was my only sister and I loved her."
  
  "I'm sorry."
  
  "I am too. You have to understand. Vernon and I hate your world, Harry. I won't even begin to deny that. But we hate your world for entirely different reasons," she put her fork down. Harry put his last forkful of eggs into his mouth and thought he should have probably made six, rather than four. But his aunt's comments intrigued him. Wasn't he just wondering what people could have known about his parents? Sure, his aunt had always snapped at him, and simply told him to drop the subject, usually in ways involving locking him under the stairs. But, then again, he'd never asked after he'd been to school.
  
  "What do you mean?" He spoke slowly, half expecting that he would be informed that it was none of his business.
  
  "Well, Vernon hates you because you are a constant reminder that there are people more talented, more gifted, and more special than he could ever be. He doesn't understand why you have abilities he does not, why you can do things he can't. He was so mean because, deep down, he's jealous," she explained.
  
  "Jealous?" Harry snorted.
  
  "Is it so hard to imagine? I was terribly jealous of Lily when she got that letter and I didn't. Think of what it must be like to know that other people have magical powers and you do not. What makes them so special? And the worst part is, you can't even tell anyone about it, or rant to anyone because the world you are ranting about doesn't exist. People just think you're mad for believing in fairy tales," she laughed hollowly.
  
  "I'd rather have had my family than magic," Harry retorted. Petunia just smiled at him. A pained smile that Harry couldn't decipher.
  
  "You say that. And it may be true. But would you rather know about magic, and not be able to use it, family or not?"
  
  "Yes, if I had my family," he replied automatically. Deep down, though, he wasn't so sure. He remembered how students treated Filch. That must be a strange existence. But, like most near fourteen year old boys, his sense of empathy wasn't fully developed.
  
  "A mature answer, Harry. And likely the correct one. Jealousy may be petty, but it exists in many forms, and you will do well to learn to spot it," she spoke sagely. It didn't suit her. Harry still was having a hard time believing it.
  
  "I always thought he was just annoyed at having another mouth to feed, and ward to shelter. Like my presence prevented him from doing what he wanted."
  
  "It has," Petunia said quietly. "But not in the ways Vernon makes it sound. I can't fully explain it. But when you were brought here, your kind did something to the house. Through the duration of your schooling we can't move. Vernon wanted to, and could afford to, years ago," she explained. Harry felt that was a very petty reason.
  
  "But he always clamors on about how much money I cost! And how I have to work to earn my keep!"
  
  "He lies. We receive a stipend from your family vault, as I believe it's called, every month you live here. And we have access to those funds if the need should arise."
  
  "You what?" Harry exclaimed. "You have access to my money?" He felt the rage course through him. He could feel his magic coming out. It was Aunt Marge all over again. "You've been paid for watching me?"
  
  "Calm down, Harry," she snapped, which just made him more angry.
  
  "No. You've lied to me for years, made me feel useless, stolen my money!" He rose to his feet as he yelled. He wanted his wand immediately. He wanted to hex his aunt. She remained calm.
  
  "Harry. I know you hate Vernon as well. But we didn't steal your money," she explained. He just snorted. "Besides some rather nasty threats from your kind if any financial irregularities appeared in the numbers, Vernon is an honorable businessman. He's not about to steal things from his nephew," Petunia defended her husband. Harry snorted when she finished. He figured the threats were more likely to stop Vernon than any sense of honor. He did manage to reign in his magic, then. Mostly because he remembered he was on thin ice in that department.
  
  "Okay. Fine. I'll believe you for now. But I'll investigate that the first chance I get," he hoped his threat didn't sound as empty to Petunia as it did to himself.
  
  "Of course," Petunia added, "It is just another contributing factor to the jealously. Knowing you'll be wealthy as soon as you come of age." They were silent for a few moments then. To Harry's surprise she picked up the plates and moved toward the sink, rather than simply ordering him to clean them. The kitchen was silent for a moment before Harry spoke.
  
  "Well. If Vernon hates me out of jealousy, why do you hate me?" He asked. Petunia dropped a plate into the sink.
  
  "I hate your world, Harry," she paused. "Because it took away my sister."
  
  "How? Because she died?"
  
  "No. We lost her well before that. Your world does not mingle with ours. We were the closest friends. But then she was only home for the summers an holiday. Then it was simply the summers, and even then she'd be more absorbed in her work, trying to get back to magic. After a while it became clear that she wanted absolutely no part of this world anymore. She wrote to me, on occasion, but that was it. No matter how hard I tried, the magical world was always more appealing to her. I can't say that I really blame her, but that was painful." She finished washing the dishes in silence. Harry didn't have memories of really losing his family, but he had certainly lost friends, albeit it only for a time. That pain he could understand.
  
  He simply sat and contemplated for a few moments. Would friends of his turn out the same? Would Hermione wind up distanced from her Parents? Could the same thing have happened to the Creevey's, had they not both been magical? He certainly didn't want to think so. After a minute he said the only thing he could think of.
  
  "I'm sorry," the obligatory, uncomfortable answer was the best solace he could offer.
  
  "Again, Harry, so am I."
  
  "So, why are you being so nice?" He repeated his earlier question. He could hear the smile on her face when she next spoke.
  
  "I hate Marge every bit as much as you do. When she talks about my sister I wouldn't mind blowing her up myself." Harry couldn't help but laugh. He was stunned. She spoke again almost immediately. "Now go run along. I do suggest staying out of Dudley and Vernon's way as much as possible."
  
  "I always do," he replied.
  
  He passed the day with typical, out of the house activities. He spent most of it wandering around the general area and wondering about what his Aunt had said earlier. He spotted Hedwig once or twice, and wondered just how often she followed him around over the summer. He knew he likely wouldn't be missed at dinner time, so he simply stayed in a park and watched other children and families. He didn't particularly pay attention to the other families, being too absorbed in his own thoughts, but there was something soothing about simply being there.
  
  He wandered home before dark. He assumed the Dursley's would be wasting away in front of the television in the front room of the house. A quick glance in the front window confirmed it. So instead of walking directly into their wrath, he went around the back, and slipped in quietly.
  
  "Boy!" he heard Vernon yell. Apparently he hadn't been quiet enough.
  
  "Yes?" Harry yelled back, figuring at least admitting to it would be better than having Vernon assume someone had broken in.
  
  "What are you doing, coming in the back door like that! Trying to sneak around like a criminal?" Vernon yelled. Harry poked his head around the stairs and peered into the room. Vernon and Dudley were still entirely focused on the television, but Petunia peered at him over her magazine, looking annoyed in general.
  
  "I, uh, I didn't want to disturb you?" Harry admitted weakly. It wasn't that poor of an excuse, he thought. And perhaps if the Dursley's were distracted enough they wouldn't question him too much about it.
  
  "Oh, right, Go to your room, Boy," Vernon commanded. Harry just shrugged and walked up the stairs. Part of him was tempted to disobey, or comment that he was thinking about writing a letter to Sirius, but at that point his room was his goal anyway, so he walked up to it.
  
  It was exactly as he had left it earlier in the day. He casually flipped on Dudley's old television and surfed through the channels for a minute. Nothing was particularly interesting so he muted it and went over to his desk. He carefully lifted the history book off of the envelope. It was still empty.
  
  Hedwig picked that moment to fly back into his room. She hooted once, and looked at the envelope then hooted again.
  
  "Yes, I know. You would have delivered the letter, and received the reply by now," he admitted, knowing that such a thing was impossible. Hedwig hooted her confirmation. Harry smirked at her and took out some parchment and a quill. He scribbled a letter to Ron. It wasn't anything deep. He merely stated that his relatives didn't seem to be abnormally bad this summer, although it had only been a day. And he asked Ron to keep him in the loop about the World Cup, and hopefully being able to spend a portion of the holiday at the Burrow. He signed it and rolled it up. After a moment he noticed Hedwig was still gazing disdainfully at the envelope, her eyes gradually moving back to the letter in his hand.
  
  "This one is all yours, girl," he said. Hedwig hooted lovingly as Harry gave her the letter. "Take it to Ron at the Burrow, okay?" The owl just looked at him for a moment, blinked in confirmation and flew out the window. Harry laughed a little bit. He probably should have written to Hermione. She would have appreciated the irony of simply writing a letter to provide amusement for a pet. He decided to work on another summer assignment, then. He didn't feel like reading his history book, so he dug through his trunk for another piece of homework. Transfiguration was what he found first. And while that wasn't particularly appealing, he knew it would be better to get started earlier on his transfiguration assignment. Next to Snape's, McGonagall's would probably be the toughest to do.
  
  The transfiguration professor didn't let him down, either. The assignment was an analysis of theories of transfiguration. He had to read three separate theories, each of which had to be about fifty pages of his text, and then pick the one they preferred and write a convincing argument as to why. Harry read the instructions again and just laughed quietly to himself. Only McGonagall would assign something like that. He could already picture a frightened Ron's face when he realized that he had all of that to do. Of course, Hermione would help him; she always helped both of them out. And Harry doubted he'd get a very good start on it. But at least he was making the effort.
  
  He actually got much more done than he expected he would. He wasn't particularly sure who wrote the first theory he had to read, but the author had done an exceptional job phrasing the arguments. It was easy to read, and more importantly, it made sense. He looked up from it when he heard a slight buzzing sound from the vicinity of his desk. He saw the Hogwarts crest on his envelope was glowing.
  
  Why he felt a sudden rush of trepidation was beyond him. Should he be worried that his pen pal hated his first letter? Probably not. It was just an assignment, after all. Yet, that prefect had said that they were matched based on interests and similarities, so he should be able to find something to discuss with the foreigner.
  
  He slowly stood and moved toward the envelope. He looked at it for a minute before sitting back down on his bed. He very carefully opened it and looked inside. There was indeed parchment inside. He took it out and examined it. His pen pal had very pretty handwriting. He started to read then.
  
  Dear Harry,
  
   Your writing is legible enough, although I assume they do not have a penmanship course at Hogwarts. I must admit that you are correct. That was a terrible way to start a letter. But I doubt that I would have come up with anything better. I must thank you for writing so promptly. My friends were jealous that I had already received a letter when our assignment was handed out today.
  
  I will start by addressing the points you brought up in your letter. Like your rambling, I apologize in advance if my writing is subpar. English is my second language. I should ask, but I feel I already know the answer. ?crivez-vous Fran?ais?
  
   I do know what a Gryffindor is. I have a friend who attends Hogwarts. She just finished her fifth year and is in Ravenclaw. Perhaps you know her? I will be spending a week in Florence with her this summer. I do not quite understand the entire concept of houses though. At Beauxbatons we are arranged by gender and year.
  
   Now, before delve more into your interests, I must know. Are you Harry Potter? I notice you did not give a last name in your letter. But a quick look into my Contemporary Magical History text shows that Harry Potter would have just finished his third year. And he is also an orphan and his parents died when he was won. D?sol?, Harry, but if you are attempting to hide your identity, I'd leave out the orphan bit. Of course, Harry could simply just be a popular name across the channel.
  
   I am not particularly interested in Quidditch. I do enjoy flying, but I don't care for sports. However, if you do go to the World Cup I am obliged to mention that I hope England gets soundly defeated. Preferably by the French, but I'd settle for any colonial French country.
  
   I haven't introduced myself. Je m'appelle Fleur. Fleur Delacour. I am a bit older than you. I will be starting my final year at Beauxbatons and I will turn seventeen just before the year commences. I will admit, my friends thought it was most amusing that I got such a young pen pal. We were all surprised. You write well for your age. It's refreshingly mature.
  
   You proceeded along with classes. My personal favorite is charms. I like charming things. It's amazing what can be done with the charms. Simple items can gain hundreds of uses. It's fascinating. Transfiguration is tolerable, but only if you're transfiguring things into items to be charmed.
  
   I agree with you on potions, but I do not have a vendetta with the professor. I just have no patience for brewing.
  
   I find it hard to be bored by history. Our class focuses on great events from both magical and non-magical histories, and often shows how the communities affect each other. Of course, my friend at Hogwarts said your professor tends to drone on about giants or goblins or something or other. Our history class also focuses on theories about the actual history of magic, and why it exists at all.
  
   Divination is not an elective here. It is a specialty class that one is only admitted to if they have shown some previous clairvoyant abilities. I believe there are three students in the entire school who are taking it.
  
   Our Dark Arts class is focused heavily on theory and counter theory. It's text heavy and we perform little magic in it.
  
   We are also required to take classes in French and another language, as well as compulsory courses on the non-magical world. We can choose to add Runes or Arithmancy after our third year, where we can also choose to drop another subject. I dropped Potions for Runes. I believe it is better that way. I have no intention of becoming a potions mistress, why should I have to learn how to brew the draught of living death. In fact, why should anyone have to learn how to brew that?
  
   And that's Fleur Delacour, as you said, in a pinch. A strange colloquialism, but I believe I understand it.
  
   I am sorry about your Godfather. Although, I am curious to know just who Harry Potter's Godfather is. The rest of the magical world thought your non-magical relatives were your only living familial connection. Of course, if you aren't Harry Potter I will look like a fool. But there just seem to be too many coincidences there.
  
   It appears we received similar vague instructions for this assignment. I felt your letter was very nice, though, and hope that mine is the same.
  
  Adieu,
  
   Fleur Delacour.
  
  She had signed her name with a brilliant flourish. Harry stared at the letter for a few moments. He reread it quickly and then dropped it onto the bed. This assignment had seemed easy at first, but what was he going to write to a sixteen, near seventeen year old witch? That certainly didn't seem like assigned by interests and age. It would figure he'd wind up the outlier for that.
  
  Harry moved the letter back to his desk and debated exactly what he should write back to her. Nothing really came to him, so instead he attempted to go back to his homework. That didn't work really well. So he gave up and simply watched TV until he fell asleep.
  
  Author's Note: I feel it's important to note that Fleur was not going to be his pen pal when I planned the story. His original one was going to be Lilly Seslion (The prefect who gave him the assignment). But, I decided most readers likely wouldn't beinterested in a letter converation between a 'Lilly' and Harry that may encompass a large chunk of the start of the story. So I threw her in as a Hogwarts student. I debating making a Beauxbatons boy with similar interests, but that had the same problem. Eventually, I decided it should simply be Fleur.
  
  Expect similar chapter length until Harry gets to school, where I plan on increasing it by about 3000 words a chapter, if not more.
  
  Thanks for the reviews and support, I appreciate every one.
  
  ]]]]]]]]]]]]
  
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing. No profit is being generated.
  
  Chapter 3
  
  Correspondence
  
  Fleur Delacour sat at a small table outside of a little Italian caf?. She fanned herself gently in the warm summer heat. She tossed her silvery blond hair over her shoulder and admired the architecture around her. She had to admire the De Medici's, they certainly had built some amazing things in their day. They had just visited one of the Medici Palaces. It was glorious. After a few moments of admiration, her friend returned with their cappuccino.
  
  "Thanks Lilly," Fleur said. She spoke in French. Lilly preferred Italian, but they were both fluent in each language. There were even points where they'd converse with each other in two different languages.
  
  "No problem," Lilly responded, sticking to French. She sat across from her friend. "So did he write you back yet?"
  
  "I haven't checked since this morning, Lilly," Fleur laughed. "What with the dragging to Museums and the culture it hasn't been high on my list of things to do."
  
  "Hey, those last museums were your idea," Lilly laughed.
  
  "I suppose they were. Oh well, you enjoyed them too."
  
  "Oh yes, nothing like looking at old paintings for five hours," Lilly replied sarcastically.
  
  "Well it beats shopping," Fleur responded.
  
  "You don't mean that."
  
  "Okay, you're right. I don't. Shopping is a blast," Fleur admitted. "But when my father gave me vault access, I doubt he intended for me to go to Gucci and Prada."
  
  "Maybe not," Lilly shrugged, as if she couldn't see just why that wasn't a good idea. Fleur decided to change the subject.
  
  "So you really think he's Harry Potter?" Fleur asked again.
  
  "For like the hundredth time. Yes. There's only one Gryffindor Harry that I know of, and that's Potter. And everything else fits." Lilly ran her hand through her hair briefly. Fleur looked around at the architecture for another moment before she turned back to her friend.
  
  "What do you know about him?" She asked as she swept her hair out of her face again.
  
  "Not much really. He's an excellent seeker. If he would put in more time he could probably have a shot at going professional. In the inter-house championship he costs Gryffindor nearly as many points as he wins, but almost always finds a way to make up for it. He's quiet. He doesn't have many close friends, but most people are at least indifferent to him. There's another boy in his year, a Draco Malfoy, who tends to go out of his way to antagonize him. Pulled a completely disgraceful stunt at a Quidditch match last year. Every year it seems some strange rumors pop up around him. I don't know if I've ever even directly spoken to him," Lilly explained.
  
  "What did he do?" Fleur asked.
  
  "Malfoy? Oh he and some members of the Slytherin Quidditch team dressed up as Dementors and wandered on to the field during his match against Hufflepuff last year. Caused quite a bit of fright," Lilly laughed a little at the memory.
  
  "That's horrible!" Fleur exclaimed.
  
  "Yes. Harry reacted magnificently, though. Shot a full Patronus Charm at them. They ran around like chickens with their heads cut off for a few minutes. Was rather funny."
  
  "A patronus?" Fleur asked, sounding skeptical. "At his age?" She had conjured her first Patronus Charm at thirteen, but she was extraordinary at anything remotely related to charms.
  
  "Yea it was impressive. Ran them down and everything."
  
  "Well if he can do that so young he's rather talented," Fleur admitted. "Many of age wizards can't even cast that charm."
  
  "I know I can't," Lilly admitted.
  
  "You said he's involved in rumors?"
  
  "Yea, every year. I don't know if he ever has anything to do with them. But his first year, well, there's a rumor he killed the defense professor," Lilly paused just to see Fleur's shocked reaction.
  
  "How does something like that get started?" Fleur was completely aghast.
  
  "Well, one day, toward the end of term, Professor Quirrell just wasn't at meal times and Harry Potter was in the hospital wing. Harry and his friends all received a massive amount of points for protecting the school from something. No mention of Quirrell again."
  
  "That's very strange." Fleur couldn't imagine something like that happening at Beauxbatons.
  
  "Yea, then the next year, that was the year with the whole Chamber of Secrets debacle I wrote to you about. Well, turns out he's a parselmouth, so everyone thought he was the 'Heir of Slytherin' that was attacking the Muggle-borns. Well, end of the term his best friend's sister is taken down into the chamber. Everyone assumes she's dead. School is set to be closed. Next morning, Ginny is back and Harry Potter and Ron Weasley are receiving awards for services to the school. No one is quite sure what happened down there. And asking certainly didn't help." Lilly laughed a little bit. She recalled what happened when Roger Davies asked Professor Flitwick about why the awards were given. Watching her team captain run around the lake singing 'Under the Sea' as loud as he can had been worth it. Cheering charms that powerful certainly had amusing consequences.
  
  "That is strange," Fleur said, wrinkling her forehead as she thought about that story. "And last year?"
  
  "I'd have thought that one obvious. Sirius Black, of course," Lilly said.
  
  "The mass-murderer? What about him?"
  
  "Well he wanted to kill Harry Potter, of course. Why else would he break out and why else was there massive amounts of security around the school?"
  
  "I don't know. Because there was security everywhere? Ever wonder where that security went?" Fleur asked.
  
  "Not really," Lilly admitted. "But that was just the rumor around school. Maybe they just figured if Black escaped Dementors once, they weren't the best way to try to track him down?"
  
  "Probably something like that. For all we know Sirius Black is that stray over there begging from that woman for her bread," Fleur joked. She didn't notice that the dog turned and look at her after she spoke. Lilly laughed a little bit.
  
  "You're probably right. Anyway, speaking of bread, I think I'll grab us some from that bakery there, it smells delicious." Lilly stood and walked over toward the shop. Fleur watched her purchase the bread and walk back. Lilly passed her a chunk before she sat back down at the table.
  
  "Thanks," Fleur said, taking as she took a quick bite. Lilly nodded and did the same. "You know, I never did ask, how's your pen pal?"
  
  "He finally wrote back to me. Durmstrang, naturally. The entire letter just talked about Viktor Krum and how the Bulgarians are going to win the World Cup and how Viktor Krum is the best player ever. Bit annoying, really."
  
  "I bet. Not like you even care about Viktor Krum," Fleur smirked. "I hear you're more into chasers." She was surprised when Lilly actually blushed.
  
  "Oh come on. I just ran into him, completely accidentally, on a street. I didn't even recognize him!"
  
  "How could you not? He's practically your idol!"
  
  "Oh I wasn't paying attention."
  
  "Obviously. So what's the plan for the rest of the day?"
  
  "Well I was going to suggest shopping," Lilly teased. Fleur laughed.
  
  "That sounds perfectly acceptable. Just please, Lilly, don't try to convince me that I must have that Gucci dress this time," Fleur begged.
  
  "Your father let you keep it last time," Lilly countered.
  
  "Yea with no allowance for six months." They both laughed.
  
  The girls finished their coffee and stood to leave. The stray ceased begging a few tables away and trotted after them for a bit. Fleur realized she still had a small hunk of break in her hand. She laughed a little bit and spoke to the animal.
  
  "Fine, but only because you're cute," she said, which caused her friend to laugh more. The dog barked happily and ran off with the bread firmly in its jaws.
  
  Hundreds of miles away the summer passed relatively uneventfully for Harry Potter. Hedwig returned from Ron without any reply. His bird seemed annoyed. Harry got the feeling that Ron probably sent her away saying he'd write eventually, if he knew more.
  
  The Dursley's remained pretty normal. He hadn't expected a sweeping change from Petunia after that morning conversation, and none had come. Perhaps, he thought, she simply was as annoyed with Marge's comments as he was. He didn't bother to think much more on it. Mostly because later that day Dudley showed his parents his marks for the year. Apparently, there was a scathing note from the school nurse, and now Harry focused more on ways to get edible food since Dudley's diet had started. Sure, grapefruits were delicious, but it was incredibly hard to subsist on a quarter of a slice of one.
  
  He was glad Hedwig had returned quickly, as he immediately sent her out to his friends with requests for food. And, thanks to his friends, he now had a secret stash of wizard and Muggle candy. He was munching carelessly on some every flavored beans as he worked through his summer potions essay.
  
  It occurred to him that he had never had a summer potions assignment returned to him. He wondered if Snape bothered to even read them, or simply just enjoyed torturing students with absurd holiday assignments. Dudley never seemed to get homework over the summer. He felt monetarily envious of him for that. But then Harry realized that Dudley probably just didn't do any of the summer assignments.
  
  He went back to the potions essay, somewhat annoyed that Snape was making the entire year write about the possible negative side effects of the Wolfsbane potion. Maybe it was actually in the curriculum, but Harry expected that it was simply an extension of his hatred for Professor Lupin.
  
  His Birthday was tomorrow, too. He hoped Hedwig would return quickly. He expected, or at least hoped, he'd have to send a few thank you notes to some well-wishers. Of course, he realized it was rather silly to want his owl back solely to send her off again. But he did value the companionship of the pet. It may have been strange, but she was the closest thing to a family member he really had. Sure, the Weasley's filled in for time to time, but that certainly wasn't the same. Perhaps Sirius would be able to fill that void eventually.
  
  Fortunately for Harry, Hedwig took that moment to arrive back at Privet Drive. Harry could tell by the package she was carrying that Hermione more than came through on the special, non food related request, he had sent to her. Hegwid flew through the window and dropped the package onto his bed before landing next to him and staring at his trunk, looking annoyed.
  
  Harry couldn't help but laugh. He stood and proceeded to find a couple of owl treats in his trunk and gave them to his exhausted looking owl. She ate the treats quickly before resting on the perch. She gave an annoyed hoot when she noticed that Harry hadn't opened the package yet.
  
  He picked up the letter that was on top of it and started to read.
  
  Harry!
  
  I am so thrilled that you have decided to take up a second language! How much do you know already? Anything? Although, you really should do it because of the importance of bilingualism, not as a vain attempt to impress your French pen pal.
  
  I know, that's not what you said you wanted to learn French for, but you're my best friend and I can read through the lines. Of course, it doesn't help your cause that you asked me what you should say to impress a sixteen, near seventeen, year old witch. Although, I bet you're wishing you paid more attention to Professor Flitwick.
  
  Oh and Happy Birthday! I imagine Hedwig will get back to you about the time of your birthday. My parents made her stay the night after she arrived. They think your owl is just gorgeous. They set out a bowl of water and some food for her. She acted somewhat like a spoiled princess, but with the way my parents were fawning over her I'm not surprised. By the way, please don't tell Hedwig I said that. She's likely to bite me the next time you send me a letter then!
  
  I wanted to send you a cake. With what you said about Dudley's new diet I figured you would appreciate that. I was arguing with my parents about it. You know how they are with sugar, and really anything unhealthy for your teeth (they do have a point though! Don't just eat sweets!) but these French books will be a much better gift.
  
  My pen pal is a girl from Durmstrang. I get the feeling she doesn't really like me all that much. I've already sent her three letters. She's our age, I think. She says nothing about school, and answers my questions somewhat rudely.
  
  You aren't really going to be able to learn the language just by a dictionary and some phrase books, though. We can work more on it when we get back to school. Maybe Professor Dumbledore will let us start a French Language club!
  
  Lots of love,
  
  Hermione
  
  Harry groaned a little upon finishing the letter. He should have expected that. He half expected she'd be sending Ron French books as well. He opened the package then. He couldn't help but smile. He'd asked if she had a spare French-English dictionary in his letter, and inside was a brand new one, as well as a French phrase book, Antoine de Saint-Exup?ry's Le Petit Prince, what he assumed was a low level French textbook, and what appeared to be a traveler's guide to Paris.
  
  He opened up the phrase book and began to peek through it. He wasn't sure if it would be helpful, really, but it was worth a shot. As he paged through the text he found himself confirming his original view. But, he figured, at the very least he would be able to ask someone how to find the bathroom, if he ever crossed the channel.
  
  He was too tired to get far enough into the phrase book to really accomplish anything, and soon enough he found himself drifting off to sleep.
  
  He awoke with a very large and very colorful bird on his bed. That was slightly surprising. It had a large parcel and a note and appeared to want payment. He found some coins and deposited them into a pouch on its leg. It made a strange screech and flew out the window. Hedwig stared after it with a curious expression. The note with the package was very short.
  
  Happy Birthday Harry!
  
   You have no idea how good it feels to finally be able to at least write that to you. Hopefully, next year, I'll be able to say it to your face. I appreciate your last letter. Again, I can't tell you where I am in case the owl goes off course.
  
   I picked up this cake in a local Muggle bakery here. I have no idea if it is any good, but I broke down and bought some muffins as well, and they were delicious. At the very least it will help you with the problem of your cousin's diet, I hope. Even though James and I use to joke that a full cake is a single server, I advise that you don't eat it all in one sitting, it looks very rich. I can mostly be myself here, as no one appears to be looking for me, but I tend to avoid it, as well as people, as much as possible.
  
   Remember, let me know if anything strange arises. I hope your summer isn't too terrible.
  
   Padfoot.
  
  Harry put the letter down and opened the neatly packaged box. The bird had kept the cake in wonderful shape. It did indeed look rich, chocolate cake with chocolate icing. He'd even had it customized with a 'Happy Birthday Harry' in green icing on it. It looked absolutely delicious, too.
  
  A few minutes after Sirius's bird left a basic brown owl arrived, likely just one of Hogwarts's birds, bearing a birthday note from Hagrid as well as some of his favorite cooked concoctions. Harry debated giving them to Petunia and insisting they'd help on Dudley's diet. But he wasn't that mean.
  
  After Hagrid's owl, Errol arrived, looking completely depleted. He dropped his package and immediately started drinking from Hedwig's water bowl. The snowy owl mostly ignored the older bird. Harry skimmed the note with that package. It seemed Ron had informed Mrs. Weasley about his new diet. She was appalled and had created what appeared to be a week's worth of meals. He smirked a little bit, thinking that it would be the first summer he could remember where he ate better and more often than Dudley. Perhaps there was a little bit of justice in the world.
  
  He scribbled a quick thank you to Hagrid, Hermione, and Mrs. Weasley. He gave the first two to Hedwig, who flew off on her way with an annoyed hoot. She would have probably liked more time to rest. He left the reply for the Weasley's with Errol because he figured the old owl would take it whenever he decided to take the return trip home.
  
  He could hear Venron and Petunia starting to stir in their bedroom and decided he didn't want to be in the house when they awoke. He grabbed the new French dictionary and phrase book, along with some parchment, a pen, a couple of chocolate frogs, a cauldron cake, and the assignment envelope and quickly left his room and ventured out of the house.
  
  He wandered around Little Whinging for about an hour, not really having any idea where he wanted to go. He wished he had some Muggle money to stop in a coffee shop or a small store to buy something, just to kill time.
  
  Instead, he found himself in the park. He sat at a picnic table and gazed around. There was next to no life in the entire neighborhood. Some of the neighbors, no doubt ones who were convinced he was an insane delinquent, watched him curiously as he walked by. But that was the extent of the action in Little Whinging that morning. He glanced around the empty park. No doubt some families would come occupy it soon.
  
  He opened a chocolate frog and expertly snagged it before it jumped away. He ate it slowly, and marveled at the chocolate melting in his mouth. After a moment he picked up the card from inside the package. Circe. He didn't need to read the description witch who enslaved Odysseus and turned sailors into pigs. He did take a moment to admire the pretty Grecian though.
  
  After he disposed of the wrappings he opened the French-English dictionary and started to page through it. After a moment he took out the parchment and his pen and started to compose his second letter.
  
  Dear Fleur,
  
  Je non ecrire Francois, mais je suis en train du apprendre.
  
  That's probably terrible. I thought a second language wouldn't be that hard to learn, but it appears I was wrong. For my birthday, which is today, a friend of mine sent me a bunch of books that look helpful. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to get done myself, but my friend seems keen on helping me with it when we get back to school.
  
  I'm celebrating my birthday by leaving my relatives and hiding in a park. It's a warm day here. I'll probably have to find some shade in a few hours to stand the heat. But for now the picnic table in the empty park will suffice. I plan on eating some Chocolate Frogs and the Cauldron Cake that I brought, write a letter to the only French witch I know, and attempt to decipher these language text books. Hopefully by the time I return home I'll be able to form a coherent sentence.
  
  I'll answer your first question. I hoped it wouldn't come out.
  
  Yes, I am Harry Potter. But there isn't anything special about that. I'm famous for 'stopping' a dark wizard, who is probably still alive somewhere. I did nothing, really. I probably cried in a crib while my parents sacrificed themselves. They are the heroes, not me. It's a little whiney, I suppose, but it is rather unpleasant being famous for something that I can't remember, and didn't even know happened until I was eleven.
  
  Imagine my surprise, after spending a decade residing in a tiny storage space underneath a staircase; I discover I'm a 'hero' to an entire hidden society that I know absolutely nothing about?
  
  I do like Professor Dumbledore. But isn't there something else he could have done? Living with Muggles who absolutely despise even the faintest concept of magic is absurd. There really had to be a better alternative. I mean in my second year there was a Muggle-born first year that had more knowledge of me, and the Wizarding world, than I did.
  
  But even then I'm kept out. I know that must sound strange. But I am. I have a large pile of money in a bank that I never heard anything about until I was eleven, and still never hear anything about. Muggle banks send statements. Do Wizarding ones not do that? Even now I'm more comfortable in the Muggle world. At least there I know how most things are suppose to function. As far as I know I'm the last remaining Potter and I have absolutely no idea what could have even been left to me!
  
  I'm sorry. I didn't mean to go on like that. People just think that Harry Potter is some sort of Rock Star, and in reality he's a confused teenager who isn't really sure what's going on in either of the worlds he occupies. Of course, people are usually too busy staring at my forehead to even realize that I answered their question, or that I am incredibly uncomfortable being interrogated about it. They've actually asked me, "what was it like?" I mean, really? I was one. I don't remember what it was like.
  
  There are people at school who hate me because I'm Harry Potter. Like they assume my life is easier than theirs, and that being Harry Potter is awesome. They don't realize I grew up a lonely orphan that had no idea of fame, and that I'm so uncomfortable with that aspect of my life I can't even talk about it with my best friends.
  
  I'm sorry, I just went right back to the same topic. I'm going to eat the Cauldron Cake I mentioned and act like a Muggle at a park for a bit before continuing.
  
  He put his pen down and reread the letter while taking out the cake. He ate the cake slowly after he finished reading. He sounded whinier than he liked. But he felt it needed to be said. He could picture Fleur, well, a made up standard French girl, she looked a lot like Katie Bell in his head, blabbing away about how she got to write to the famous 'Harry Potter.' He had almost told her about what he heard around Dementors too, but he figured that sentence was beast as is. Of course, he couldn't be sure if that was an actual memory, or just what he imagined happened.
  
  Perhaps he was being too critical. But, then again, everyone that ever met him stared at the scar. He couldn't walk down Diagon Alley without having people stare at him. He hated it. He couldn't help but wonder how different things would have been had he known at a younger age. Had he grown up the famous Harry Potter, would he still have the same friends and interests?
  
  He assumed, at the very least, that he would have seen that Draco Malfoy had only wanted to be friends with him because he was Harry Potter. But, then again, would he have been so happy to have Ron even speak to him? He certainly wouldn't have been saved by the Weasley's on the platform.
  
  He heard laughing from across the park. He looked up and saw a young woman had entered the park with a child. The child was probably five or six, the young woman in her late teens or early twenties. He didn't recognize her. Then again, that didn't surprise him. He didn't get out in the neighborhood much.
  
  He watched the two play for a bit, smiling at the child's amusement by simple activities, like playing on a see-saw or even taking a turn on the swings. When he felt like a creep for watching for too long he went back to his books. He looked at the letter briefly. He couldn't think of anything else to send her at that moment, so instead he opened up the French text and read the first few pages. It was basic stuff, mostly, bon jour, ?a va, bien, et tu, things he could figure out on his own. Some basic vocabulary followed. He was lost in the text, trying to memorize the words, when a voice interrupted his work.
  
  "Hey, sorry, I didn't see you there. Hope we aren't bothering you!" the young woman said. Harry looked up at her. She had moved over toward his picnic table as the child, a young boy, had started to play in a sandbox near him.
  
  "Oh no," Harry said, looking surprised. He paused for a moment. It had been so long since he interacted with non-magical people he almost didn't know how to act. She looked at him funnily for a moment before he continued. "It's fine. I'm just doing some reading."
  
  "What are you reading?" she asked. Her eyes glanced down toward the books, briefly, as she sat on the top of the picnic table. She then focused her attention back on the child. It's just an introductory French book. Wanted to try to learn a second language," he replied.
  
  "A noble pursuit," she responded. Harry got the feeling that she wasn't really paying attention to him, but merely creating conversation while she watched the kid. "I took Latin in school. Was easy. Didn't have to speak it." Harry was silent for a moment. He closed the book and looked up at her. She was pretty, with long black hair and pale eyes. She looked bored, though.
  
  "I don't know any Latin. I'm not even sure what it would sound like," he lied. But then again, he wasn't sure the occasional spell incantation counted as knowing Latin.
  
  "Like any other language, really. But it's not spoke now, so teachers usually aren't picky," she responded.
  
  "Still. It's a little strange, don't you think? I mean you just know some words of everything, regardless, like oui, adios, and guten tag. I can't do that with Latin."
  
  "Odi et amo, quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio sed fieri sentio et excrucior," she responded. Harry blinked.
  
  "Sorry, what?"
  
  "Oh nothing," She laughed a little bit and gave him a full smile. "That's just some Latin for you."
  
  "I see. I'm Harry, by the way," He said. He decided not to give his surname incase she thought he attended St. Brutus's.
  
  "Lyn," she responded. "Henry's babysitter."
  
  "Are you from the neighborhood?" Harry asked.
  
  "Moved here two years ago," she responded. "And you?"
  
  "Lived here all my life, but I spend most of the time at a boarding school," Harry responded.
  
  "Oh? Where's that?"
  
  "Err....It's in Scotland," He responded.
  
  "Oh, that's cool," Lyn responded. She then checked her watch. "Henry's parents will be home soon so I should walk him home." She stood and went to fetch the kid before giving him a slight wave and walking off down the street, chatting happily with the child as she did.
  
  Harry watched for a moment. She hadn't asked about the scar, of course, she hadn't really looked at him. Still, it was nice, despite the fact that it confirmed he was more comfortable in the Muggle world than the Wizarding one.
  
  He went back to the French text for a bit. It only took a few minutes for him to become bored with drilling the same vocabulary words over and over again. He moved onto the next chapter, which consisted mostly of translating some basic conversational French like 'how are you.' After another Chocolate Frog, Rowena Ravenclaw this time, he decided to return to the letter.
  
  So, I took a little break and did some of the French text book my friend got me. I'm rather embarrassed by my earlier attempts at stringing together words. I'm tempted to cross it all out, as I can already tell that simply looking up words in a dictionary and stringing them together is not the best way to compose a sentence.
  
  Of course, if I were using a pencil I could just erase it. I've wondered, do you use quills to write at Beauxbatons? Pens are so much more efficient. It took me at least a month to get use to dipping and writing with a quill at Hogwarts. I can't believe that they haven't picked up on some of the new technology. I mean, pens aren't even that complicated. In fact, the ones in the clear cases pretty much show you everything involved.
  
  Anyway. I realized I'm being incredibly self-centered in this letter. You mentioned a friend at Hogwarts (who you didn't name, so I can't claim that I know her, although I do only know a few Ravenclaws) who you were traveling to Florence with sometime this summer. Well, how did that go? I'm actually totally envious. I've never been off this island. Traveling has to be a blast. Isn't the leaning tower of Pisa there? Well, actually, I know it's in Pisa, but isn't Pisa right by Florence? My Italian geography is bad. In fact, now that I think about it, my geography in general is bad.
  
  You also haven't really told me anything about your life in France. Where do you live? I live in a suburb of London called Little Whinging. It, a little bit of London, and a castle up in Scotland are about all I know. I'd like to travel. My friend also sent me a travel guide to Paris that I'm going to page through later today. The first couple of pictures I looked at are amazing, though!
  
  What's your family like? Do you have any siblings? What do you do for fun? Tell me more about Fleur!
  
  Sincerely,
  
  Harry Potter.
  
  He read the letter once more. He felt he needed more at the end, but struggled to think of anything else to add. He realized he asked Fleur about her interests, but wasn't really sure what he would answer. What did he do for fun? Summers at the Dursley's his main recreational activity was, well, avoiding the Dursleys. If he went to the burrow he usually just played Quidditch with Ron and his brothers or helped with work around the house. At school, well, he wandered around and got into trouble. Mostly unintentionally.
  
  He hoped that Fleur would at least be more interesting than him.
  
  After a few quick revisions he folded the parchment so it would fit into the envelope and sent it on its way. He was glad Hedwig wasn't around to hoot at him for not utilizing her services.
  
  He looked around the park again. It had filled up in the time it took him to write the letter.
  
  He watched some younger kids play tag in the center of the park for a few minutes. Harry was almost tempted to join in. Instead he started to page absently through the tourist guide of Paris that Hermione bought him. Mostly, he just looked at the pictures.
  
  As he started to feel hungry, though, he turned to the restaurant section and read reviews there. That didn't help with his hunger. He kept reading, anyway, not really caring that it just made him hungrier.
  
  About an hour passed with him simply paging through the book. Children continued to play happily in the park and Harry felt mostly normal. At least until he noticed Dudley and his gang were approaching.
  
  He saw one of the kids playing tag run into Dudley. A moment later Piers pushed the kid to the ground and said something that made the rest of the gang laugh. Harry stood, gathered up his books and moved toward them. Dudley noticed him first, and made an attempt to move away before the rest of the gang noticed. Dudley's plan failed.
  
  "Hey Big D, look who else is here," Piers said, nodding toward Harry. Dudley turned and looked at Harry.
  
  "Oh screw that," Dudley said. "I'm hungry man. Let's go get some fish and chips."
  
  "Nah man. Let's beat him to a pulp. It'll only take a minute. We haven't had a good game of Harry Hunting in years!" Piers responded. Harry just held his books loosely by his side and smirked a little bit.
  
  "I'd rather eat. I'm starving," Dudley said. He looked at Harry then. "Don't smirk at us like that, though, Freak. What are you doing at the park anyway? Creeping around and spying on children?"
  
  "Some reading and letter writing, if you must know. Your snores are too loud for anyone in the house to focus. What are you doing at the park? Bullying small children to feel better about your new Grapefruit diet?"
  
  "Shut up," Dudley said.
  
  "Oh come on now. Grapefruit are delicious," Harry watched Dudley tense as he spoke. "Now if you'll excuse me. I'm off to mail this letter to my Godfather," he lied. Dudley looked like the personification of a popped balloon. His entire body seemed to deflate. Harry walked past them to leave. Piers made a move to lunge at him, but Dudley stopped him with a thick hand on his shoulder.
  
  "Screw him man. We'll get him back somewhere less public," Dudley spoke. Harry laughed a little as he walked away. Both of them knew Dudley wouldn't attempt anything.
  
  Harry wandered to the small library in the neighborhood and spent the rest of his afternoon there. It was pleasant. He looked up things on France, Italy and specifically, Florence, simply because he couldn't think of anything better to do. Of course, his version of 'looking up' consisted mostly of encyclopedia entries and staring at pictures of architecture. On the whole, though, it wasn't a bad day. Even if he spent way too much time in the library. He imagined telling Hermione that he spent at least four hours in a library on his birthday. She'd probably be too proud of him to question it.
  
  When he got home he noticed a distinct absence of Dudley, which wasn't a bad thing. The kitchen table was set up for two and the smell of a large meal filled the room. He noticed candles and assumed that Dudley was dining out, and that no member of the Dursley family was actually serious about the diet.
  
  No one stopped him as he went upstairs. That was fine by him. Petunia and Vernon probably assumed if they said anything he'd want to eat some of their food. And while it did smell good, he'd just eat some birthday cake for dinner. In his mind, that sounded much better.
  
  The first thing he noticed was that Errol had taken the note and left and in the process managed to knock half of his belongings off the desk. He cleaned the mess up quickly before flopping down onto his bead and starting to channel surf. He settled a fighter pilot movie from a few years back. It wasn't particularly good, but at the very least it was entertaining. He grabbed a smuggled fork and some cake and ate while watching the movie. It wasn't his worst birthday, he thought.
  
  When the movie ended he put the cake away and changed into his pajamas. He threw himself back onto his bed, intending to do more channel surfing. He landed practically on top of where he set his new books. As he shoved them off of his bed he noticed the Hogwarts crest on his manila envelope was glowing. He scrambled to grab it and nearly ripped the envelope as he opened it. He pulled out a piece of parchment and saw Fleur's pretty cursive handwriting inked wonderfully on it.
  
  Dear Harry,
  
  You're kidding me, right? You can't be serious. There is absolutely no way. I thought Lilly was pulling my leg when she told me. Quills? Quills? You still have to use quills? On everything? I mean, sure, we have to use anti-cheating quills on tests, but for any other work and note taking the professors don't particularly care as long as it's in ink. I can't even fathom why someone would want to use a quill.
  
  I wish you the happiest of Birthdays. I am honored to be included in your birthday plans. Now don't eat too many of those chocolate frogs or you'll get sick!
  
  To answer your questions. I'm actually writing to you from Florence right now. My Hogwarts friend, Lilly Seslion, invited me to stay at her family's estate for a week. I do mean estate too. It is almost sickening to see how much wealth her family has. I'm not even sure what her parents do. She and her mother both claim they are decedents of the De Medici family, but if that's true then I'm a descendent of Marie Antoinette.
  
  That's sarcasm, too. I know it doesn't come across well in writing. I'd abhor being related to her.
  
  Florence is a beautiful city. I love the architecture. I dragged Lilly to a bunch of museums today. She's not a fan, but I'm interested in the history and art so she puts up with it. After some coffee in a beautiful little caf? we wandered around the shops. The shopping in Florence is amazing, both Muggle and Magical. Lilly is interested in designer Muggle clothing so that's where we spent most of the evening.
  
  I've been here for four days now. Lilly is a gracious host. We've gone to all sorts of monuments and architectural sites and looked at many different things. The De Medici family is amazing. I could bore you with the intimate details of everything we've seen, but I don't think I'll do that. Of course, if there is anything specific about Florence you would like to know, feel free to ask!
  
  We have not ventured out to Pisa. I believe it's about an hour away by train. I would like to see the tower myself, but that probably isn't high up on Lilly's priority list. I have no idea how Muggles made a building stand like that. It certainly would be interesting to see.
  
  You asked about my family. We live in Avignon in southern France. I have a younger sister, Gabrielle. She'll be turning eight soon. When I look at her it is like looking into a looking glass. I have to watch her often when my parents leave the house. We get along very well, despite the near nine year difference in our ages.
  
  Gabrielle and I both take after my mother. She spends most of her time at home, taking care of Gabrielle and I. She misses me when I go away to school, I get a letter nearly every week.
  
  My father is an avocat. I think the closest English word is solicitor? He takes both Muggle and Magical law cases. I think he wants to go into politics, eventually. But he has always loved law and is happy.
  
  My interests don't stray far from my academic ideas. I like to read about charms. I do like art and architecture, though, as you can probably tell from my comments on Florence. I used to take ballet lessons when I was younger, but I haven't since I went away to school. I've thought about picking it up again, but I simply haven't had the time. Mother tried to get me to learn the piano when I was younger, too. But I didn't care for it at all. She's having better luck with Gabrielle.
  
  Now, Harry, I am sorry about seeming too interested in who you might be. I was merely curious. My friend has told me a little bit about you. I know I probably shouldn't take second-hand information, and that having her inform me about you is probably slightly against the idea of learning about each other through our letters. But all she really said was that you're quiet and have a rather insular group of friends. She also told me that there are always rumors about you that tend to be unfounded and unexplained. I should also say that she is mostly indifferent about you. She knows very little and admits that freely. Of course, as far as she is concerned, the most important thing about you is preventing you from getting the snitch. She does say that you are an incredible seeker with a chance of going professional, if that is something you would be interested in.
  
  She also told me of another student at your school, I assume he's one of the ones who hate you, and a rather classless prank he attempted during a match. I was more interested in how she said you summoned a Patronus Charm. You said before that Charms wasn't one of your favorite classes. Perhaps you should reconsider that, Harry, because the patronus is an incredibly advanced, and challenging, charm and I'm very impressed.
  
  I would like to say that, well, according to our Professors we were assigned to each other based on some system of testing they did, so I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to learn about the Harry Potter on the other side of the envelope, not the one in the contemporary history books.
  
  Also, while it is very nice of you to attempt to learn French, you are right. Your first sentences there are abysmal. It took me a minute to figure out what you were trying to say. If you keep at it, you'll know what's wrong soon. If you like, I'll write up some basic French verb tables for you, but I bet they're in the back of your text.
  
  Oh and I know very little about banking. I asked Lilly and she looked at me like I was insane. When I return to France I'll ask my father what exactly is expected of a bank and an account holder. I am sure there is some type of decorum involved.
  
  I'm going to retire for the night now. Thank you for your second letter. Once again, bon anniversaire!
  
  Bonne nuit,
  
  Fleur.
  
  Harry read the letter three times before he placed it on his bedside table. He wasn't sure if it was possible to establish an opinion about someone through two letters, but he liked this Fleur. She seemed like she would be a good friend.
  
  Of course, she also seemed to be academically focused, and could likely just be being nice in order to get a good grade on her summer assignment. Of course, that's all he was doing, too. Still, he thought as he crawled into bed and resumed channel surfing, it was nice to have someone else to say things to. Even if they weren't colossally important things. And this Fleur seemed to accept that.
  
  Eventually, he found a replay from the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim from earlier that day. He didn't really care about the race, but he liked the sound of the engines. The white noise helped him sleep. He wondered, as he rolled over and curled up into the blankets, if it had anything to do with the motorcycle ride that eventually brought him to Privet Drive.
  
  Author's Note: I was surprised at the reviews that mentioned a 'redemption' of Petunia. I used her mostly as a mouthpiece for things I noticed about the Wizarding world. And, I could imagine her secretly amused by Marge's fate, as Marge is insulting her sister. There will be no attempt at Dursley redemption, and they likely wont appear agian in the rest of the story.
  
  I also wrote the second to last chapter of this story the other night, so I've got it planned better at this point, which should increase update speed.
  
  Next chapter should also polish off the 'assignment' portion of the fic. Likely it will take place after the World Cup, and there will be a bit more of Harry learning about Harry.
  
  Thanks for the reviews. I appreciate all the feedback.
  
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit off of this.
  
  Chapter 4
  
  Assignments Complete
  
  Wormtail stepped up the old staircase very slowly. His master was meeting with another follower, he knew. But, it bothered him that he didn't know who the follower was. He stepped over Nagini as he approached the upstairs library where his master resided. The snake looked up at him, hungrily. Wormtail liked the snake about as much as he liked Padfoot. He grimaced at the comparison. Why did Black have to escape? He was fine as a pet of the Weasley's. Sure, they weren't his ideal family. But he could always sneak out for a couple of days and pass as a Muggle and no one was ever any wiser.
  
  He stepped carefully over the snake and proceeded through the door into the upstairs library.
  
  "Ah, Wormtail, how nice of you to finally join us," he heard a sickly voice speak. He'd been with his master for months, but the voice still sent chills down his spine.
  
  "Yes master. I was merely -"
  
  "No excuses, Wormtail. Neither of us care," his master coughed as he finished speaking. Wormtail rushed toward his side.
  
  "Master, you should eat! Have you not had anything since lunch?" He asked. He cringed ever so slightly. He hoped it wasn't noticeable. The fetus-like shape that rested in the chair, garbed only in a pale blanket, was easily one of the most disgusting things Wormtail had ever seen. He choked back bile every time he looked at it.
  
  "Of course I have not eaten, Wormtail," his master snapped. "I cannot feed myself, and you have not milked Nagini since then. But it can wait."
  
  "Are you sure, Master?" Wormtail didn't relish the thought of feeding his master, but it was better to have it over with. He was, at the very least, less likely to get tortured that way.
  
  "You presume to question me, Wormtail?" The fetus's hand twitched toward the wand that rested on the table.
  
  "Of course not, Master!"
  
  "Very good. Now, as you can see, you were not nearly as clever with our hiding spot as you imagined. Our friend here found us without much difficulty. Now, what would we have done had he been from the Ministry. Or worse, had he been Dumbledore?"
  
  "I've been most discreet! There have been nothing more than vague rumors!" Wormtail argued.
  
  "And it was vague rumors that led you to me in Albania. All it takes, Wormtail, is one curious person to follow the rumors. We've already had to kill one Muggle because of your indolence in checking the surrounding area. Let's not make ourselves anymore obvious."
  
  "I'm sorry, Master!" Wormtail saw the hand twitch toward the wand again.
  
  "You are very lucky, Wormtail, that I am not healthy right now. You will be more discreet. You will have no more trysts in the village. You will remain in the manor at all times." His master ordered.
  
  "But you will need someone on the outside, too! Someone to retrieve things you need!"
  
  "And I have that now. Don't you recognize our friend?" Wormtail looked over at the other figure. He was tall and blond and looked incredibly ragged. He didn't recognize him.
  
  "No Master," Wormtail admitted. His master laughed, choking a little more as he did.
  
  "That is probably for the best. You can't give him away, then. Regardless, he has come to me with a very interesting proposal. I believe we should hear him out."
  
  "As you wish, my Lord."
  
  "Continue, then," the fetus said. It made some sort of motion to the man standing by the fireplace, but Wormtail was still too busy examining the stranger to decipher the motion.
  
  "Well, My Lord, as you know your plan for the World Cup worked. Crabbe and Goyle were easily conned into breaking out the old robes and tormenting some Muggles. I must admit Wormtail came through there. Chaos and panic ensued. Unfortunately, there were no deaths, Muggle or Wizard." The figure spoke. "I wish I could have aided your efforts better."
  
  "That is alright. Panic and chaos will work just as well for now. The body count will come when I return."
  
  "Yes. You may also be interested in knowing, My Lord, that the wand I stole to cast your mark was Harry Potter's. I didn't know it was him at the time. Please forgive me for not simply grabbing him and apparating away. Had I not been confused by the lingering effects of the curse, the ritual would already be complete!" The man kneeled before the chair that his master rested in.
  
  "It is unfortunate, but understandable. After so long under the Imperius Curse side effects must be expected. Tell me, what happened to Potter's wand?"
  
  "My father found him, and the wand, later. He attempted to accuse Potter of casting the mark. Amos Diggory convinced him to not. But as you said, sir, rumors can be useful." The man explained. Wormtail looked at him for a few moments and then gasped. Barty Crouch Jr? He had died in Azkaban! Well, apparently not.
  
  "An interesting option," their master said. "But I don't know how well that rumor would spread right now. Maybe if we could get your father to back it. But I think I like your original plan even more. Explain it to Wormtail."
  
  "My father had company over one night. They spoke of the Triwizard Tournament and how it will be taking place at Hogwarts this year."
  
  "I fail to see how exactly that helps us. Besides, we discovered that in Albania" Womrtail spoke.
  
  "That is because, once again, you lack any real creativity, Wormtail." Voldemort snapped. "Now continue."
  
  "Igor Karkaroff is currently the headmaster at Durmstrang. Having him inside Hogwarts during the upcoming tournament may be of incredible value. That is, if he is still loyal. He did hand over enough names for my father to pardon him. Of course, the scandal of my name emerging was a bit distracting," the younger Crouch laughed.
  
  "It would be useful to have an agent inside Hogwarts. I cannot be sure if mine is currently active. For spending many years at the school, Wormtail provided surprisingly bad information." The Voldemort fetus tilted its head toward Wormtail briefly. He cringed away from both the look and the insult.
  
  "Well, perhaps I should approach him before the school year, my lord?" Crouch asked.
  
  "No. I doubt Karkaroff has remained loyal. He was very nearly as cowardly as Wormtail. We will dispose of him soon enough. Merely out of principle. Perhaps I shall let that fall to you. I doubt he will try to do anything more than flee," Voldemort spoke slowly, as if he contemplated his actions as the words came out.
  
  "Thank you, My Lord. It would be an honor. Perhaps I should try to approach your old insider, then?" Crouch asked again.
  
  "No." Voldemort answered quickly. When Crouch looked like he was about to question that decision, Voldemort continued. "I could lose too much if my former spy did turn his back on me. It will be best to gauge his loyalty later. He did nothing to bolster my confidence when I last infiltrated the castle. I fear he has been lost to me and our cause. For now, we must think of a way to place you in that position."
  
  "Me sir?" Crouch asked. Wormtail thought he looked confused.
  
  "Yes. You. Is there anything else we may be able to find useful. Your plan calls for someone inside of the castle. As my resources are limited to yourself and Wormtail, I'd have thought the decision rather obvious." Wormtail ignored the insult. By now he was mostly accustomed to them. He also realized that he wasn't sure what this plan was yet. He knew he'd likely be berated, but he asked anyway.
  
  "You haven't explained the plan yet." Wormtail said.
  
  "Oh. We enter Potter in the Triwizard tournament," Crouch said. Wormtail looked at him.
  
  "How is that even possible?" Wormtail asked.
  
  "If the tournament is held as it was in the past. The Goblet of Fire will determine the competitors. A powerful Confundus charm should be able to confuse it. If Potter's name is submitted under a non-existing school, he should still be required to compete," Crouch explained.
  
  "Why would we want him competing?" Wormtail asked.
  
  "Well, he'll likely die. Which would be unfortunate, but far from the worst possible outcome. But if we have an agent at the school that agent could attempt to earn Potter's trust. And from there help Potter though the tasks as secretly as possible," Crouch explained.
  
  "But why would we want to help him?" Wormtail thought this plan sounded convoluted and dumb.
  
  "Traditionally the last task involves retrieving the trophy. If the agent can turn the trophy into a Portkey, we can transport Potter to wherever we like. We can then use him to complete the resurrection ritual," Crouch explained. Wormtail felt the plan gained more merit. With how well Potter was protected it made sense. But still, he didn't think getting him into the tournament would be easy.
  
  "But if he doesn't win?" Wormtail asked.
  
  "Then the Dark Lord kills the Triwizard Champion. That will undoubtedly leave a collective scar on the psyche of the Wizarding world." Crouch shrugged. As if it was a win-win either way.
  
  "I like this plan, Wormtail. We must think of a way to get an agent inside the school." Voldemort looked between his two disciples. The room was silent for a few moments before Crouch spoke again.
  
  "I may have an idea there, Master. But it would be very challenging."
  
  "Share it," Voldemort commanded. And Barty Crouch did just that.
  
  The day after the World Cup was one of the most hectic Harry could remember. The Weasleys', particularly Molly, were being incredibly protective of him. And, while life at the Burrow was infinitely better than life with the Dursleys, he would have at least liked to have the option of leaving. Of course he likely would not have minded this so much had he not wanted to check in with Gringotts, as well as maybe get some new Muggle clothing.
  
  He couldn't be mad at Mrs. Weasley for doing his shopping for him, though. It was a nice gesture. He also doubted he could have picked out a pair of dress robes as nice as she had. He was restless, though. Ever since the idea planted itself in his head he just wanted to go out and do something for himself. He didn't think that Death Eaters were about to attack Diagon Alley, or Muggle London. And if they were watching him specifically, well, there were plenty of times that the house was defended by only Mrs. Weasley and a few children. And while Harry was completely confident in Mrs. Weasley's magical ability, he assumed a group of Death Eaters would have been capable of defeating her and some kids, if they so wanted to.
  
  Of course, he thought idly, he didn't know what wards were on the house. Bill seemed to be a capable curse breaker. He was sure the Burrow was better defended than he knew.
  
  But that didn't particularly matter to him. There hadn't even been the briefest mention of dark activity since the quidditch match. So in the few days following the World Cup he started to formulate a plan. It didn't take him long.
  
  "Hey Hermione," he asked a few nights later. Hermione was finishing another letter to her pen pal. Harry couldn't help but admire how resolved she was. Her new friend did respond, occasionally, but it was always brief. Still, that didn't stop his friend from writing nearly constantly. At least, Harry thought, it kept her distracted from her new house elf crusade.
  
  "Yes Harry?" she asked. He could tell she assumed that he was asking for help on a summer assignment. She hadn't believed him when he said he finished it all. Well, except for a little bit of Snape's essay that he didn't care about, and his final letter to Fleur. She didn't bother looking up at him.
  
  "I was wondering if you could try to help me with something tomorrow morning?" Harry asked. He looked around the room once more to make sure they were alone. Every Weasley was in bed. Ron had been the last to go, just a few minutes earlier.
  
  "And what would that be?" Hermione asked as she took a moment to send the letter.
  
  "I want to take a trip to Diagon Alley and then Muggle London to do some shopping. I could use your help," he explained. She raised an eyebrow at him.
  
  "What do you need to buy?" she asked. He liked Hermione's directness. Ron would have probably groaned and said that such a trip simply sounded awful. Of course, he knew how Ron was with money, and he knew that watching him buy things, and explore a bank probably wouldn't end well. He just hoped he could think of a good enough excuse so that Ron didn't feel left out.
  
  "Well I'd like to visit Gringotts. I want to learn more about what my parents left me. If anything. Really, I want to see what I have. I feel like I should know," Harry tried to explain why he felt that, but the words simply didn't come.
  
  "I'm sure you could just ask Mr. or Mrs. Weasley, Harry," Hermione replied.
  
  "Probably," Harry admitted. "But I want to do it myself."
  
  "I highly doubt that they'll just let us go wandering around Diagon Alley, much less Muggle London. What did you need in London anyway?"
  
  "Nothing special. I'd just like to do some shopping. I'm sick of wearing Dudley's old clothing." Harry admitted.
  
  "That may be a good enough excuse," she said.
  
  "It's not an excuse, Hermione, I really do want clothing that fits me."
  
  "Oh I know. I was just saying that Mrs. Weasley probably won't have any interest in shopping in Muggle London, and Mr. Weasley has to work during the day so he probably won't be able to go. Ron and Ginny may want to join us, but if we catch Mr. Weasley early enough he may let us go alone."
  
  "I was thinking the same thing," Harry said. "Especially if we mention the Muggle bit. Frankly, we're likely safer in Muggle London than just about anywhere else, too."
  
  "Well it's worth a try at the very least. We should really invite Ron, though," said Hermione. Harry knew she was right, too.
  
  "I'll ask in the morning. But you know how he can be with money," Harry admitted, thinking back to their second year and how Ron complained about his broken, second-hand wand.
  
  "You do have a point there. He likes to sleep until noon, anyway."
  
  "We can always tell him you wanted to go to a Muggle bookstore to pick up some French books," Harry teased. Hermione laughed a little bit.
  
  "Yea that would scare him away. Speaking of which, how is your French coming?" She asked.
  
  "Oh, erm, it's coming along," Harry lied. He hadn't really been working on it at all. Hermione saw straight through him.
  
  "Oh Harry. Fine, repeat after me. Je suis. Tu es Il est," She started. Harry didn't let her finish the conjugation.
  
  "I can conjugate 'to be,' Hermione," he interrupted. She looked at him for a moment.
  
  "Prove it," she dared. Crossing her arms over her chest as she spoke.
  
  "Je suis, tu es, il est, elle est, nous sommes, vous ?tes, ils sont, elles sont," he replied quickly, getting the entire conjugation out in one breath.
  
  "So you have been working on it! Good!" She smiled brightly at him. "Your pronunciation is a little off, but we'll work on that. Let's move onto harder things now. Quelle heure est-il?"
  
  "Nuit?" Harry responded weakly.
  
  "Well yes, but like what hour, you know, to drill numbers."
  
  "I haven't gotten that far, Hermione. Let's work on that tomorrow." He begged. She sized him up for a moment.
  
  "Fine. But only because you seem to want to get up early tomorrow. Mr. Weasley leaves around eight-thirty. So I'll expect you down here by then." She stood. He nodded and gathered up his stuff as well.
  
  "I will be," he replied as they went to their separate rooms in the Burrow.
  
  Upon entering Ron's room Harry immediately jammed his foot into the base of his friend's bed. Ron hadn't left the light on. Harry didn't blame him, he probably wouldn't have either. But still, stubbing his toe on his friend's bed was a bit annoying. Harry thought the orange walls would brighten the room more. Of course, when it was pitch black out, a little paint didn't brighten a room.
  
  He stumbled to his bed. Ron's continued snores told him that he hadn't woken his friend. That was good. He quickly deposited his things in the corner he took over upon moving in. Ron hadn't seemed to mind. He made sure everything was accounted for before quickly changing into his pajamas.
  
  As he changed he noticed a faint light coming from his pile of possessions. When he finished he went to check what exactly that was. He found his manila envelope and noticed that the Hogwarts crest was glowing. He felt bad, as he opened it, but didn't take out the letter yet. It had been nearly a month since he wrote to Fleur. He meant to after the World Cup, to tell her about it. He figured that would be an interesting letter. But with what happened he just hadn't gotten around to it.
  
  Still, he was tired, and he'd likely wake Ron if he tried to read the letter now. So instead he crawled into bed and dozed off.
  
  The sun woke him very early. He groped for his watch and discovered it was well over an hour before he and Hermione would attempt to ambush Mr. Weasley. He vaguely remembered wanting to do something in the morning. It took him a few moments of staring at the manila envelope to realize that the blurry crest was glowing. He took his glasses from the bedside table and pulled out the letter. Fleur's handwriting looked less pristine than usual. Like perhaps she had rushed the letter.
  
  Harry James Potter,
  
  I looked up your middle name in a history text. Whenever mother is particularly angry with father, Gabrielle, or myself, she comes out with the full name. Fleur Isabelle Delacour sends me running for the hills. I hope I have the same effect on you as I am very very angry with you right now.
  
  You do not reference that you are going to attend the World Cup in your first letter and then not send anything after Death Eaters start attacking at one of the camp sites. Of course, maybe you didn't get to go. In which case I apologize. Or maybe you were at a different camp site. In which case I apologize again. Of course, I am working on the assumption that you are perfectly fine, because I suspect that if anything had happened to you, it would be all over the papers.
  
  I really do hope you are okay. It is probably silly of me to be concerned. But I have enjoyed your correspondence over the summer months, and would appreciate it if it were to continue. Really, I'm just worried that you may have been hurt. Please tell me you're okay.
  
  Harry blinked at the first part of her letter. The thought that she would be worried about him was a little strange for Harry. It wasn't like she knew him, after all. Harry tried think of how he would feel if the situations were reversed. He would probably be disappointed if she had never sent the third letter. Would he be worried if no reply came? He had to admit that, well, yes.
  
  Of course, it felt nice to have an older witch worried about him too. That alone made him feel a little special. And she wanted to continue their correspondence! Perhaps he'd send Hedwig with a letter to her after the semester began. It didn't matter if he didn't know her address, he was confident Hedwig could find her.
  
  He reread the start of the letter once more. It was a little bit surprising, how he felt, well, cared for, by simply having her worry. Three years, two close friends, and a surrogate family and he still wasn't accustomed to the feeling.
  
  He went back to reading the letter. He guessed Fleur had paused at that point as well, as the writing became significantly neater for the remainder of the letter.
  
  I digress though. I know I did a disservice on your question about banking from our previous letters. When I returned home to Avignon I asked my father about how the banking system worked. He gave me a rather thorough synopsis of the French banks. After that I asked if English banks were different. He explained that they are a little different and explained the differences.
  
  At that point I decided to attempt to end the conversation. But instead I was treated to another lecture on German banking systems. From there, I received a comparison of all three. And now, my father seems to be under the impression that I am simply fascinated by banking and that I should attempt to get an internship or job at a bank once I have graduated from Beauxbatons.
  
  The differences are actually fairly interesting. Goblins and humans do have different ways of running things. That's not to say that the French banks are without goblin involvement. Father said that most of them fled after the wars. The vast majority took up residence in the United Kingdom, although a large chunk also went overseas to both Americas.
  
  Because of this, after the Second World War wizarding France was rather depleted. I think it was largely the same in Britain and Germany as well, but my French history is considerably better. A group of Muggle-borns helped the depleted work force at the Paris Gringotts branch. Eventually, the goblins gave them more and more control over the bank. Now, most of the Gringotts branches in France are run by humans, but overseen by goblins. Again, this is largely because of the lack of a goblin population in France.
  
  Because of the influence of Muggle-borns, many Muggle banking practices were adopted. Most of the differences in banking styles between England and France come from goblin and human practices. In general, though, all Gringotts branches run pretty much the same way.
  
  However, my father did state that a statement is pretty universal. Most of the differences come when more complicated systems arise, like investing. Father says goblins are typically more conservative investors than humans. But angry wizards blaming them for losing their money is the last thing they need, so I guess that's understandable.
  
  He said there were many reasons someone wouldn't receive a statement, especially if that person is a minor. There could have been a clause in a will, or some type of age restriction, or they could be redirected to a guardian. In most cases, you would still have access to the vaults and the full contents therein unless something explicitly says you do not. He advised talking to a banker as he felt that in the case of any of these, you would have the right to know just why you were not receiving a statement, or any fiscal information.
  
  Coincidently, a very similar thing happened with Beauxbatons. The magical population was so hindered after the wars some Beauxbatons classes were in the single digits. It was then that the headmaster at the time hired squibs with degrees in certain subjects and taught a lot of magical theory and non-magical classes. The headmaster felt that another war would soon brake out, and that magical society may be decimated. He was wrong, of course, but a lot of the heavy theory and other classes at Beauxbatons are still around because of this.
  
  I'm sorry I can't provide more help than that. But banking is actually really confusing. There's apparently far more to it than putting your money in a secure spot. I wish you luck in your endeavors. Hopefully you've already figured this all out and my answer is too late.
  
  The rest of my trip in Florence was fairly uneventful. Lilly took me to a great deal of shops, and I dragged her to far too many museums for her liking. We both had a splendid time. She told me to pass on that 'Ravenclaw is going to kill you this year' which seemed rather childish to me, but she believes taunts are half the fun of sports.
  
  On a side note, you may be able to counter the aforementioned taunts with a comment that her new boyfriend is old enough to be her father. He isn't. But he is five, maybe even six, years older than her. I'm sure it will not end pleasantly for Lilly, but it is her choice.
  
  I'm back in Avignon now. I'm going to spend the last few days of summer going over my final summer homework assignments. The work load seems surprisingly light this year. Perhaps they're just waiting to crush us with the impending exams. I expect I'll be distracted from studying by Gabrielle on countless occasions, anyway. Part of me thinks it would be fun to still be in school when she starts. Part of me is very glad I will not be. I'm shopping for my school supplies tomorrow. That will likely be the highlight of the remainder of my summer.
  
  I must say I am rather glad you were my pen pal. I may have only received two letters to this point, but this assignment has been fun. It truly was a pleasure to exchange letters with you this summer. I hope you enjoyed it as well. If you ever find yourself in France, specifically southern France, let me know. I also hope you don't mind if I look for you should I ever be in England.
  
  Now write back as soon as you can to tell me that I'm overreacting. That a few stray renegade fools who decided to masquerade as Death Eaters are no match for Harry Potter, and that I'm foolish to even think you could have been harmed!
  
  Adieu
  
  Fleur Isabelle Delacour
  
  Harry was smiling by the end of the letter. He couldn't help it. He thought idly about traipsing over the channel and exploring France. He wondered if Sirius had every spent some time there.
  
  He imagined his Godfather chilling on a beach, freshly groomed, and ogling young witches as he sipped a drink. He knew that was probably better than whatever Sirius was currently doing. He silently wished Sirius the best, hoping that perhaps Sirius was somewhere where he could be himself.
  
  Harry reread the letter once more, focusing a little bit more on the details involved in the banking aspects of it. He was glad to know that he wasn't the only one who was naive to certain business practices in the magical world. He made a mental note to thank her in his final letter because he at least had some vague idea what could be going on now. Even if the vague idea wasn't a particularly good one. And, she had tried to help him simply based on him whining in a letter.
  
  He realized he was going to be late for his meeting with Hermione if he didn't get out of bed. He placed the letter under the cover of one of his books and ran off to the Weasley bathroom to shower and get ready for the day.
  
  Before he ran downstairs to meet with Hermione, though, he decided to attempt to wake Ron.
  
  "Hey Ron, Hermione and I are going to try to go to Muggle London to pick up some things, get out of the house, you know. Wanna come?" He asked over the light snoring.
  
  "Ugh. Just a few more minutes," Ron said, rolling over in the bed
  
  "So you'll come with us?" Harry was slightly surprised. Ron pulled the blankets over his head and curled into a ball.
  
  "Few...more....minutes," he said, his voice droning off. Harry shook his head. He figured he should have known better than trying to wake Ron up at this absurdly early hour. So instead he scribbled a quick note saying that He and Hermione were going to try to go to a Muggle bookstore to pick up some things she was looking into. That he'd tried to wake him, and that he expected to be back by lunch.
  
  Harry found Hermione waiting for him downstairs. She was eating breakfast quietly. Molly Weasley piled a large amount of food onto a plate and handed it to Harry as he entered. Harry sat at the table, between Hermione and Mr. Weasley, He ate slowly as he realized he wasn't sure how to convince Mr. Weasley to let them out. He knew Mrs. Weasley wouldn't allow it, so it would be futile to ask with her in the room.
  
  Thankfully, as if on cue, Molly excused herself, saying she had to go wake Ginny. It was then that Hermione took action.
  
  "Mr. Weasley?" she asked quietly.
  
  "Yes?" He responded, not even bothering to look up from the paper.
  
  "Well, I was wondering if I could head out to a Muggle bookstore in London today. One of my favorite authors has a new book out, and I would just love to pick it up," she asked sweetly. Mr. Weasley looked at her.
  
  "Why don't you tell Molly the title and she can go pick it up for you. I don't think it's safe to go out alone," he said and went back to reading the paper.
  
  "Well it's a Muggle book, and I'd like to browse a bit too. Harry will go with me. We'll be fine, perfectly safe," she said. Harry thought she sounded very convincing.
  
  "Yea, I'd go," he interjected.
  
  "I don't know. Molly wouldn't approve. It's not safe out there. You never know when Death Eaters could strike again," he said. "But now I must go to work. You two have fun today." He stood and walked outside where he apparated to the ministry.
  
  "Well that didn't work," a voice said from the door. Both Harry and Hermione jumped as Bill Weasley walked into the kitchen and started to gather up some breakfast.
  
  "No, it certainly didn't," Hermione said. Bill leaned against the counter and ate the toast.
  
  "You really just want to head to a bookstore and pick up some Muggle books?" he asked.
  
  "She does," Harry responded, not knowing if that was really true, or if she just figured it was a convenient story. "And I was hoping to be able to pick up some new clothing."
  
  "Interesting," Bill said, appraising them for a moment.
  
  "Yes. It's silly we're stuck here. Not that we really mind, the Burrow is great, but we'll be perfectly safe. It's not like there's Death Eaters walking around Muggle London. There hasn't even been any more dark activity since the World Cup!" Hermione complained.
  
  "And it's not like we don't know how to blend in," Harry added. He watched Bill finish his toast. The oldest son of Arthur and Molly seemed lost in thought.
  
  "Alright," he said after a minute. "I'll take you to the Alley, I'm sure you can find whatever you need in the general vicinity, then you can just use the floo at the Leaky Cauldron to get back."
  
  "Really?" Harry was stunned.
  
  "Yea. A little bit of adventure is always fun. And the two of you are likely going to be perfectly safe in most areas of London." Bill finished his toast before lifting himself off of the counter. "And frankly, mum's a bit overprotective. It certainly isn't a war out there. Everything is pretty much normal. But you should still be careful."
  
  "Thank you, Bill," Hermione said.
  
  "Yea, thanks," Harry added.
  
  "Just do me a favor," Bill said.
  
  "What's that?" Hermione asked as she too finished her breakfast.
  
  "Don't wind up getting yourself killed in London. Mum would never let me live it down," Bill joked. Harry couldn't help but chuckle a little bit.
  
  "We'll do our best, Bill," Harry responded.
  
  "Alright then. Let's go outside and I'll side-along you one at a time to the Leaky Cauldron. I'm sure you can figure out wherever you'd like to go from there?"
  
  "Yes, we'll be fine," Hermione said. Harry was glad she thought so, he wasn't sure could navigate from where.
  
  "Alright. Meet me out front then. I'm just going to scribble a note to mom so she'll blame me and not the two of you," he said as he grabbed a quill and some parchment. Harry and Hermione nodded and walked out to the front of the Burrow.
  
  A few moments later Harry found himself slightly dizzy and rather nauseous. Apparation was a lot stranger than he expected. Bill had left to head to the bank immediately after popping in with Harry. Hermione had gone first and looked recovered. Harry vaguely heard her speak.
  
  "Give it a few seconds and your head will feel like it comes out of the tube," she said, moving close to him. He nodded. Sure enough, like always, she was right. A few seconds later he felt mostly himself.
  
  "That was strange," he said slowly as the world righted itself around him.
  
  "Yes. I'd read about it, but it was certainly strange," Hermione admitted. Harry took another moment to ready himself before asking.
  
  "So do you really know where we should go?"
  
  "Well yea, unless you have a surplus of Muggle money on you, Harry, we have to go to the bank first," she said matter-of-factly.
  
  "Oh that's right," Harry said quietly. He had hoped that the bank could be the last step of their trip. Of course, he now realized how silly that was. Hermione led him into the alley and toward the bank.
  
  It was still early enough that Gringotts was not crowded. Harry realized he hadn't really utilized the bank himself since his first year with Hagrid. He had his key, he'd found it in his trunk the night before, which was good. Harry paused in the entryway of the bank. He was only vaguely aware that Hermione pulled him toward the waiting line. Three goblin tellers were open and Hermione dragged him up to the closest one. He placed his key on the counter. The goblin spoke.
  
  "You wish to visit your vault?" It spoke with a faux cheerfulness. Harry idly wondered if that was simply a trait of bank tellers worldwide.
  
  "Well, yes. But I'd also like to, uhm, you know, learn what all is in it, and what all my parents left me. Like, did they have a will?" Harry asked, sounding mostly confused. The goblin looked at him. His eyes found Harry's scar and his face fell for a moment as he realized that a simple vault trip had turned into something more complicated.
  
  "Do you have an appointment?" The goblin asked, despite knowing the answer. If Harry had an appointment he would not have gone into the teller's line.
  
  "Uhm. No," Harry admitted.
  
  "Very well. Wait over there," the goblin said and pointed toward a corner where a few chairs sat outside what appeared to be some offices. The goblin picked up the key too, examined it and handed it back to Harry. "Gornuk will be with you in a few minutes, Mr. Potter." Harry nodded a little bit. He wondered how the Goblin knew his name, but then remembered the scar, and assumed that the goblin confirmed it with something on the key.
  
  "I wonder how long we'll have to wait," Harry asked as he and Hermione took a seat.
  
  "I have no idea," Hermione said with a shrug. "At least the chairs are comfortable."
  
  After ten minutes of idle chat that centered around whether or not the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor would be competent one of the office doors opened. Another goblin walked out and looked at the two young wizards.
  
  "Mr. Potter?" It asked. Harry nodded and stood.
  
  "Yes?"
  
  "Come with me," he said and walked back into the office. Harry and Hermione stood and walked into the office. The goblin continued to speak as he sat behind a large desk. "I am Gornuk. Now how can I be of service? Oh, and please sit." Harry and Hermione both did. Harry took a moment to look around the office. It reminded him a bit of Dumbledore's office, mostly because of the amount of unidentifiable things littering the desk.
  
  "I uhm, was wondering if I could see my parent's will?" Harry asked. He wasn't really sure if that was what he was supposed to say.
  
  "Very well. You will need to present two types of identification before we proceed with that," Gornuk said. Then, upon seeing the confused and worried look on Harry's face he added, "Your wand and vault key will suffice."
  
  "Oh, okay," Harry said and took out both, placing them on the desk in front of Gornuk. The goblin picked up each item and examined them carefully with some of the devices on the desk. After a moment he looked satisfied.
  
  "Alright, Mr. Potter, will a copy of your parents will conclude your business with us?" Gornuk asked as he handed back the items.
  
  "Uhm. No, I'd like to have some galleons exchanged for Muggle money."
  
  "That can be arranged. Or, if you prefer, we can issue you something we often issue to mix-marriages or people who want to spend time in Muggle locations. We call them Gringotts cards. They're essentially a plastic card that links to your vault. They act like a Muggle credit card, if you are familiar with those," Gornuk explained. "They're becoming very popular in some other magical communities. Most wizarding shops do not accept it, but it is useful for wizards who spend time amongst Muggles. Still being tested, here, but Gringotts would appreciate your testing one."
  
  "That would actually be very handy," Harry admitted, even though he wasn't sure how often he would use it. Gornuk nodded and took out a form and a quill, placing each on the desk in front of Harry.
  
  "Fill that out then, Mr. Potter. I will return with your first request." The goblin stood and left the office, leaving Harry and Hermione to look over the paperwork. The form was pretty straight forward. Hermione helped him with the few questions he couldn't answer himself. Harry signed it as Gornuk entered the room again. The goblin moved back to the desk and put a folder down in front of Harry.
  
  "Inside that, Mr. Potter, is a copy of James and Lily Potter's will, as well as a summary of the contents of your family vault. I'll let you look it over here at your leisure. However, that copy is Gringott's only one, if you would like a copy yourself you'll have to file for it. That one should not leave my office," Gornuk explained.
  
  "Alright. Thank you, sir," Harry said quietly, staring at the folder.
  
  "You're welcome, Mr. Potter," Gornuk responded. He glanced over the form Harry had just filled out. It appeared to be to his liking, he picked it up. "I will take care of this while you look over the will." The goblin left again. Harry stared at the folder containing the will for a few moments before he finally worked up the courage to open it.
  
  It was surprisingly short. The handwriting looked too neat to belong to a male, so Harry assumed that Lily had composed it. Of course, he had no idea what either of their handwriting looked like, so he supposed that may be a biased call. Harry learned that just about every asset the Potter's had was left directly to him, in the event of his survival. There were some other minor things left to other people, like some gold to each of the Marauders, as well as some other items left to people Harry didn't know. Even the Dursley's received some money, although it was considerably less than anyone else.
  
  He looked over the assets briefly, not really sure what most of the material items were. It was stated their wardrobes should be donated, which Harry thought was a nice gesture.
  
  Eventually, Harry found what he was looking for. He read that his first legal guardian was to be Sirius Black. He knew that already. If Mr. Black was incapable of holding that position, his guardian ship, it stated, would pass to Albus Dumbledore, with the intention of fulfilling the emergency charms for his safety. Harry saw that this was explained further. It stated he would have to live with the Dursley's until he would attend Hogwarts. It also stated that the guardian would be responsible for fiscal decisions until Harry turned seventeen. Harry noted an edit, made by Dumbledore, dated shorted before his eleventh birthday which stated that Dumbledore allowed Harry to have free access to the vault. And that was the end of the mention of Harry. A few more items were dispersed. He read it once more to simply make sure he had everything down.
  
  "That's pretty straight forward," he said, passing it to Hermione, even though he knew she'd been reading it over his shoulder. He noticed other paperwork in the folder and started to look over that. The first was a record of all of the items in the will being discharged. Money had been deposited from the Potter vault into the respective vaults, and items had been claimed.
  
  The second piece of paper was more interesting to him. It contained the contents of the Potter vault, as well as record of every withdrawal and deposit since their death. The first thing he noticed was two large deposits days after his parent's deaths. Then, for the decade following, there were a few small withdrawals and deposits, signed for by Albus Dumbledore. At first Harry was annoyed with that. Why was Dumbledore using his money? But then he noticed that every withdrawal was followed, a few days later, with a deposit for the exact same amount of money. He'd have to question the Headmaster about that, if he ever got the chance.
  
  He noticed the number at the bottom of the sheet. It was large, but he knew it was less than half of what Gwenog Jones made in a year with her new contract. Judging from his average school expenses, too, he figured he would have to get a job at some point.
  
  He noticed Hermione was looking at the same sheet he was now, too. He pointed to the top two deposits, the largest two on the sheet.
  
  "What do you suppose those were?" He asked.
  
  "I don't know," she looked at them carefully. "Life insurance policy maybe? It's dated right after their deaths."
  
  "Oh. That would make sense. I suppose I'd take out a policy if I knew Voldemort was after me too," Harry said. He realized then, that, well, Voldemort was after him. He idly wondered if he should write his own will.
  
  Gornuk picked that moment to return. He handed a small black card to Harry. Harry turned it over in his hands. It looked like an exact replica of Muggle credit card.
  
  "You must sign the back for it to activate. If you're ever prompted for your 'Personal Identification Number' it is your vault number with a zero in front since it requires four digits."
  
  "Thanks," Harry said, picking up the quill he had used to fill out the paperwork earlier and signing the back. The card glowed for a moment as it magically activated. "But shouldn't Dumbledore have to approve things I do in the vault, with him being the guardian?"
  
  "No. He granted you free access to the vault. Adding the card is just an extension to that. As far as Gringotts is concerned you are free to spend the Potter money in any way you like. He will receive bank statements and financial updates, as well as investment tips until you turn seventeen. At that point we would highly encourage you to come in and speak with a banker about the future of your vault in more detail. However, until that point we cannot change anything without the express consent of your Guardian," Gornuk explained.
  
  "I see. Thank you for all of your help," Harry said.
  
  "You're welcome Mr. Potter. Thank you for your patronage of Gringotts Wizard Bank," Gornuk said formally. "Are you finished with these documents?"
  
  "Yes. Thank you. I think we'll be going," Harry said. The Goblin nodded and gathered up the Potter's will. After they left the office Harry turned to Hermione and spoke.
  
  "Well, shopping then?" He asked his best friend.
  
  "Sure," she smiled at him. "I'm totally jealous of that card, by the way. You may want to keep it under wraps around Ron."
  
  "You're probably right," Harry admitted. He paused for a moment, "Well, bookstore first, or clothing?" He watched his friends eyes light up and she laughed.
  
  "Bookstore of course!"
  
  Harry and Hermione enjoyed their afternoon. Harry thought they spent a little too long in the bookstore, but he could hardly complain as she helped him pick out nearly an entire wardrobe later. Her taste was certainly much better than his. He wasn't even annoyed she'd made him repeat the prices to everything in French. He didn't buy anything particularly special though, just things he could be comfortable lazing around in on weekends.
  
  The pair walked back to the Leaky Cauldron and took the Floo back to the Burrow. Harry fell out of the fire, but was happy that he managed to keep the bags from spilling everywhere.
  
  "Hello Harry," Mrs. Weasley said as Hermione came out through the fire. Harry winced a little bit and looked up at her. She was still smiling. She picked up the bags, "Why don't you let me take those up to Ron's room. I see Bill was right. You were perfectly safe." Her voice could best be described as stiff.
  
  "Yes. Sorry Mrs. Weasley, Hermione and I just had some errands we wanted to do. Didn't want to impose more," Harry admitted.
  
  "Oh it's fine. I just do wish you'd discuss it with me next time," Molly said sternly. Harry got a feeling Bill would get much worse chewing out.
  
  "We will. Where's Ron?"
  
  "Out back flying around with Ginny and the twins," Molly said. "They asked for you to join them when you got back. Something about playing a three on three game."
  
  "Awesome," Harry said, and heard an audible groan from Hermione as she realized she'd just been conscripted.
  
  It wasn't until later that evening, after Hermione had made him drill French once more, that Harry found himself finally composing his final letter to Fleur.
  
  Fleur Isabelle Delacour,
  
  You are overreacting. Although I do appreciate the concern, a few stray renegade fools who decide to dress up at Death Eaters are not going to be able to stop Harry Potter, no matter how hard they try. Of course, I personally wish they'd stop trying.
  
  Although, and I'm not sure I'm supposed to talk about it or not, but we did run across them at our camp sight. There isn't much to say, really. They were using a spell to float some Muggles around and generally just blowing up anything they could get near. We ran and hid in the forest. It's probably not my bravest moment, but none of us really knew what to do.
  
  The rest of the night got a little confusing. We actually ran into some girls from Beauxbatons in the woods. I wasn't thinking enough to ask after you, well that and the fact that we were in a panic. I should have attempted to wow them with my mastery of the French language! I'd lost my wand somewhere along the way (I've since found it). Eventually, we ran into some ministry officials and everything ended up being okay. Stories like that always sound better in your mind, don't they? More heroic and glamorous? Nothing says epic adventure like running scared to death through the woods!
  
  But the important thing is that we are all okay. I just hope they catch whoever did it soon.
  
  Also, you have a pretty name.
  
  I'm glad you enjoyed your trip to Florence and it sounds like the rest of your summer is going to be pleasant. I'll confess that, while I did look up Florence after you mentioned it, I have no idea where Avignon is. I'd ask Hermione, but she'd probably lecture me on the history of France for an hour. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
  
  I'd be honored if you were to look me up if you're ever in England. I would love to do the same. Maybe I'll have the means to travel next summer.
  
  The rest of my vacation has been pretty enjoyable as well. The World Cup was fun. Viktor Krum is amazing to watch. Part of me wishes I could be that good some day. It would really be a thrill to hear an announcer yell my name in front of thousands of screaming fans.
  
  Today was a particularly good day. Hermione and I went to the bank. I managed to read my parents will and find out what has happened to all their assets. I must thank you for your information on the banks. It did help. All I really needed to do was go into the bank and ask. Who would have thought something that simple would have been effective? The goblins were very courteous, too.
  
  After that we did some Muggle shopping. Hermione wanted to pick up some new books, so we spent far too long in a bookstore. After that she helped me pick out a bunch of new clothes. It feels nice to have all sorts of new things to wear, even though I've never really been that concerned with clothing. Hermione really was great, though. She helped me pick out a ton of stuff that I'm not sure if I'd have even looked at, and seemed entertained by the entire trip.
  
  When we got back home Ron and the rest of his siblings who were home were flying around out back, so we played some three on three. I was rather surprised at the outcome. Ron played with his brothers, Fred and George, both of whom are on the house team with me. I played with Hermione, who hates being on brooms, and Ginny, Ron's younger sister. We torched them. Hermione just floated near our hoop and Ginny and I tore them apart. She's getting very good. I'm indifferent on chasing, but there was no need for a seeker. Fred and George just couldn't match me and Ginny. I'm not sure she'll ever let them live down getting out-flown by their younger sister.
  
  But now I'm packing my new clothes and getting ready to take the train back to school in a few days. Well, if by packing my clothes I mean staring at them every couple of minutes while I compose a letter to a certain French witch. Maybe if I stare hard enough I'll have an uncontrollable magic burst and they'll wind up packed? If only magic was that convenient.
  
  I would be honored, Fleur, if you wished to continue to correspond with me outside of the parameters of the assignment. I feel like I have gained a friend through this assignment. I'm sorry my third letter kept you waiting for so long. My only excuse is that the last few weeks got away from me.
  
  I have a very talented owl, Hedwig, who has yet to have any issue finding someone I'd like to write to, even without much more clue than their name. Once I'm settled at school, I'll write to you (about what, I've no idea) and hopefully we can continue to do this. I look forward to your letters, and am happy to know that mine haven't bored you to tears. This has really been fun.
  
  Sincerely Yours,
  
  Harry James Potter.
  
  Harry reread the letter once before he slid it into his manila envelope and sent it on its way. He couldn't help but wonder if the folders would still work after the assignment was complete. He didn't think of that for long though, as he knew he should really get his new clothing packed. So he tossed the folder onto the desk and proceeded to do just that.
  
  He couldn't help it if his thoughts wandered to an older French witch worrying about him. After all, what young wizard didn't want that?
  
  Author's Note: This chapter got away from me a bit. The first copy was 13,000 words, where 6000 is my goal. So I spent some time cutting out a fair amount.
  
  Sadly, Nagini did not eat Wormtail, despite how funny that idea is. I also realized I deviated a bit from Crouch's story in the book, but if he isn't hit by a random stunning spell at the World Cup, then there's a solid chance it could have happened that way.
  
  As always, thanks for all the reviews, I appreciate them. Hope you all had a happy holidays.
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit.
  
  Chapter 5
  
  The Tournament
  
  Barty Crouch Jr. stood outside the dark house in the middle of an equally dark neighborhood. Leave it to 'Mad-Eye' Moody to live right smack in the middle of a Muggle neighborhood. Luckily for he and Wormtail the sun was yet to rise. It had taken them longer to locate the proper house than they had planned. It didn't help that Moody had relocated at least three times in the last three months. No wonder people thought he was mad.
  
  Barty knew, as he stood under his invisibility cloak, that this would be their last chance. They were lucky that Moody had not moved to Hogwarts yet.
  
  "We should make our move," Wormtail said from his side. Wormtail's part of the plan was simply to be the decoy. They hoped that Moody would not recognize him. He was, afterall, supposed to be dead. And, if Moody did recognize Wormtail and the plan failed, then hopefully Barty would not have to reveal himself, and no one would learn of his escape from Azkaban.
  
  "Soon," Crouch replied. He cast a quick spell to survey the wards on the area. Not much appeared, making it appear safe enough. But both Death Eaters knew Mad-Eye better than that. The plan pretty much consisted of sending Wormtail in as bait, and when the Auror was distracted, having Crouch stun him. The biggest issue would be how to place Crouch so Moody's magical eye would not spot him under the cloak.
  
  "You should probably move up through the wards with me," Wormtail said. "That way if anything activates, hopefully Moody will only see me and you can pin yourself against the house there, next to the door?" he gestured to the spot. While Barty didn't particularly like the thought of following a plan Wormtail had originated, he was yet to think of a better idea.
  
  "That should work. I doubt he has anything too dangerous active, given the neighborhood, but it is Moody," Crouch said. Wormtail nodded.
  
  "He may already know we're here," Wormtail added.
  
  "Yes. But I doubt he extended the wards past the yard. I'm not even sure Moody is insane enough to tolerate them going off every time someone walks past the house," Crouch commented.
  
  "You're probably right. Well. Enough stalling, the sun is coming up. Let's go?" Wormtail asked, clearly afraid to take the initiative.
  
  "Lead on, Wormtail." The shorter man nodded and took a step forward.
  
  Wormtail immediately felt the wards on the home sense him. They didn't seem to be anything more than basic intruder wards, which was all they had been able to detect. Wormtail kept walking toward the door. He felt Crouch push past his left side and knew the cloaked Death Eater was going to hide up against the wall of the house. Wormtail kept his steady pace as he walked right up the path to the front door. Nothing else triggered in the yard. He took a deep breath when he reached the front door.
  
  He felt Crouch shield him as he pressed the doorbell. Strangely, nothing happened. Well, nothing out of the ordinary at least. They heard the bell ring. Nothing happened or a few seconds after that. Wormtail stared at the door, standing enough to the side so Barty should have a clear shot with his curse when Moody opened it. They waited a few moments longer before Wormtail felt something creeping up on him. He turned to see two garbage cans had been animated and spewing garbage everywhere as they made to attack. The flying garbage was scorching the ground where it landed.
  
  Wormtail went to raise his wand when a red blast of light hit the first can. It knocked it back, but didn't cancel the enchantment. Another blast of red light hit the second one. Wormtail watched the two cans continue to approach and tried the most basic spell that came into mind.
  
  "Finite!" he said sharply, pointing his wand at the closer of the two. It fell sideways and stopped spewing garbage. A quick flick of his wand canceled the second one as well. He turned back to the door, not sure what to do when another blast of red light took the door off its hinges.
  
  "Go, Wormtail, find him. I'll cover you," Barty hissed. Wormtail nodded and stepped into the house. It was dark and appeared to be empty. He kept walking, carefully through the rooms, knowing Barty wouldn't step into the same room as him, just to avoid detection from Mad-Eye.
  
  The living room appeared to be empty. As did the kitchen. He stepped carefully into the den and still saw no sign of Moody. It worried him that there was no sign of any living creature. It also worried him that he didn't know where Crouch was. He determined that Moody was not on the first floor. He paused at the bottom of the stairs and waited for a few seconds, just so Crouch would understand what his next move was.
  
  Wormtail ascended the stairs slowly. He looked around carefully. The upstairs consisted of a long hallways and a few rooms coming off of it. To his right appeared to be the master bedroom. To his left was a bathroom and what appeared to be two more bedrooms further down the hallway. The bathroom door was open, and Wormtail peered into it to discover it empty. He backtracked toward the master bedroom and carefully opened the door.
  
  It also appeared to be empty. Wormtail walked around the large bed that dominated the room. It was messy. Someone had been there, at least. There were also pictures and other possessions on the dresser in the corner. Wormtail turned to exit the room when he finally saw their target.
  
  Alastor Moody was standing, hidden by the doorway, and watching Wormtail carefully.
  
  "Pater Pettigrew?" He asked, sounding shocked. His wand was leveled toward the Death Eater. "And here I assumed that you were just some Muggle thief."
  
  "Sadly, no," Pettigrew said, shifting into a practiced dueler's stance. He knew he wouldn't last very long in a straight up fight against Alastor Moody, but it should be a straight up fight.
  
  "Do you really think you can out duel me, Pettigrew?" Moody asked with a laugh. Pettigrew shifted so Moody would have to put his back to the door.
  
  "For the sake of my Master, yes," Pettigrew taunted.
  
  "So you really are working for He-who-must-not-be-named. I thought Dumbledore was losing it when he mentioned that this summer."
  
  "No. But I did have him fooled for years. All the while residing in the home of one of his greatest allies. Things I've learned have, and will continue to, help the Dark Lord greatly!" Wormtail said proudly.
  
  "You're assuming I let you go," Moody laughed. "Instead, I'll lock you in that trunk you're standing in front of and take you to Dumbledore today."
  
  "What?" Wormtail stammered as he looked over his shoulder at the large trunk with many locks. It was all the distraction the former Auror needed.
  
  "Stupefy!" Mad-Eye shouted, sending a jolt of red energy right at Peter Pettigrew. Wormtail would have sworn he heard an echo as the room went black.
  
  He groggily opened his eyes to see Barty crouch staring down at him.
  
  "Good, you're awake. Help me get him into this trunk," Crouch ordered. Wormtail saw the stunned and bound Moody standing by the door.
  
  "So the plan worked?" He asked groggily as he stood up and moved toward Moody's body. He levitated it lazily toward the trunk.
  
  "Yes. Sorry I couldn't get him until he had already stunned you," Crouch said. Wormtail doubted that was the truth.
  
  "It's fine. We got it. I expect someone from the ministry to be here soon. Those attacking cans made a lot of noise." Almost on cue they heard what must have been Moody's intruder ward activate.
  
  "Shit," Crouch said. "You have the potion?" He asked as he ripped a few hairs off the unconscious Moody's head.
  
  "Yes, here." Wormtail pulled a vial out of Polyjuice and tossed it to Crouch, who caught it in mid air. The other Death Eater quickly put the hairs into it and gulped it down. Wormtail took the time to magic Moody's eye out of the socket and onto the dresser in the room. He put the leg next to it, too. After that he deposited Moody into the trunk and turned to look at the new Moody. He watched Crouch put the eye in, wincing with disgust.
  
  "This thing is disgusting," Crouch said.
  
  "I'd imagine." Wormtail watched it spin around and look at everything. "I always wondered how that thing worked."
  
  "It cuts into my vision. It's almost like seeing double, but it's still like I'm looking straight at whatever it sees." As Crouch finished speaking the eye darted across the room. He nearly fell over as his vision adjusted. "And it's certainly going to take some getting used to. There has to be a way to control it. Oh well, at least I know it's Arthur Weasley who was sent to investigate the disturbance. Hide under the cloak, I left it on the bed. Once I get rid of him, we can figure out what we need to take to the school."
  
  Wormtail obliged, picking the cloak off the bed as crouch affixed the fake leg and started to move, very carefully, down the stairs. He couldn't help but smile. The first step of their master's plan worked flawlessly.
  
  Harry Potter tossed himself into the seat on the Hogwarts Express. It was the first chance he'd had to relax that day. Heading back to Hogwarts was always a hectic day. He looked forward to the few hours of the train ride before, the feast. He saw Ron digging through his bag, probably to attempt to finish his potions essay. Harry had finished his, rather poorly, the previous evening.
  
  "You told me you finished that!" Hermione scolded as Ron dug for a quill.
  
  "Yea, well, I haven't. Got most of it done. Just need a conclusion," Ron said, sucking gently on the end of the quill as he reread his last paragraph. "You'll look it over for me when I'm done, right?"
  
  "Well," Hermione scoffed. "Only if you finish it quickly." She did her best to sound annoyed, but both boys knew that she liked to be right too much to avoid a chance to correct either of them.
  
  Harry stretched out on the seat and yawned. The scenery was just changing from London to the countryside. He stared out the window for a few minutes, zoning out. He saw Hermione rifle through her belongings out of the corner of his eye, but didn't pay much attention to whatever she was looking for. At least until she spoke.
  
  "Oh! It looks like we got our grades on our letter assignment!" she exclaimed, pulling out a stiff looking piece of parchment from hers.
  
  "Don't care, potions," Ron said, scribbling furiously at the bottom of his essay.
  
  "Harry cares though, right Harry?" Hermione asked.
  
  "Uhm. Yea," Harry replied. He didn't really care, but it would make Hermione less likely to question him about it. He pulled his trunk down and started to dig through it for his manila envelope. Sure enough, the crest on it was glowing and he pulled out an equally stiff and formal looking piece of parchment. It was brief.
  
  Mr. Potter,
  
  You have done an exceptional job with this assignment. You and your pen pal appear to have embraced the assignment and started the foundations for a lasting relationship. Hopefully, you and Miss Delacour can continue the relationship that has been fostered.
  
  I also noticed that writing has appeared to be therapeutic. Perhaps it is something you should continue with.
  
  Your grade for the assignment: O.
  
  Professor McGonagall
  
  Harry simply read 'exceptional' and 'O' before tossing the envelope and parchment back into his trunk.
  
  "What'd you get, Harry?" Hermione asked.
  
  "Oh, an O, you?"
  
  "An O as well."
  
  "Is that your first O, Potter? Judging by your work in Potions it has to be," Draco Malfoy said from the doorway, flanked by his usually cohorts Crabbe and Goyle. Harry and Hermione turned to look at him.
  
  "Hardly, Malfoy," Harry responded. "Some of us can actually manage to fight a Boggart, and not get mauled by a friendly Hippogriff."
  
  "If you insist. I never felt those half-breeds knew anything worth teaching anyway. But I got rid of that filth readily enough. Hagrid won't last through the year. See, when you actually have influence, you can do things like that," Draco sneered. Harry didn't feel like pointing out that he had been responsible for more teachers leaving the school than Draco had.
  
  "Just go away, Malfoy, none of us care about your vaunted influence," Harry said.
  
  "Oh, come now. I just wanted to see who your pen pal was this summer. The great Harry Potter should have warranted someone special. I doubt you can top mine. I had Viktor Krum," Draco boasted. Ron went furiously red and looked ready to tear up his potions essay.
  
  "Good for you," Harry responded with a faux cheerfulness, hoping that acting like he didn't care, or feel jealous, would make Malfoy leave sooner.
  
  "Yes. We exchanged Quidditch tips. He said he thinks I could be really talented and will easily make one of the English league teams when I'm done in school. Said even he could learn things from me. Said we had a lot in common."
  
  "Really?" Harry couldn't help but laugh. "Like what, how to lose in the championship game? Because you guys do have that in common." Harry felt slightly bad about the jab at Krum. He had flown magnificently, and Harry wished he was that talented, but he couldn't resist taking the shot at Malfoy.
  
  "Oh yes, get cocky, Potter. I'll show you with the tournament this year." Malfoy spat.
  
  "What tournament?" Hermione asked.
  
  "You mean you don't know?" Malfoy laughed, shaking his head as if he was dealing with children. "Doesn't Weasley here have family members that actually work at the Ministry, and Gringotts? He should know. Father told me months ago!" He said 'work' as if it was a distasteful word.
  
  "What are you talking about?" Ron growled. Malfoy just laughed more.
  
  "I can't believe you don't know!" he took a minute to recover from his laughter. "Come on guys. Let's get back to our compartment. These fools are so far out of the loop it's almost not funny!" he laughed more and walked away, followed closely by Crabbe and Goyle.
  
  "What was he talking about?" Ron asked again, his face flushed red in anger.
  
  "I have no idea," Hermione responded.
  
  "It doesn't matter, he's just being an ass," Harry said.
  
  "Think he really got Krum as a pen pal?" Ron asked, looking down at his potions essay.
  
  "Who knows? Is he even still in school? I mean I know he's young. If he did, it was probably through a bribe or something," Hermione said. Ron just sulked more.
  
  "Still, why can't I ever have that. Always money, and now he gets to be friends with Krum. That's just not fair," Ron brooded. Both Harry and Hermione knew he just needed some time to get over it. Hermione slid next to him in the compartment, leaning close to him. So close Harry almost felt jealous.
  
  "Oh don't worry. Did you finish your essay?" she asked, sounding as sweet as she could.
  
  "Yea." Ron nodded. "Here." He handed it to her. She started to read it, commenting on things he needed to change as she did. Ron wasn't really paying attention. Harry continued to stare out the window.
  
  The rest of the trip to the castle was uneventful. Harry was starving by the time everyone was in the castle. He hoped the headmaster would keep his speech brief, or perhaps just have it after the feast. He should have had a bigger breakfast or a few more chocolate frogs on the train.
  
  Thankfully, Dumbledore did simply open with a few odd words before instructing the students to eat. Harry grabbed some of whatever appeared closest to him, not particularly caring right now, simply being hungry.
  
  "No new defense teacher," Hermione stated as she cut up a few pieces of chicken.
  
  "Really?" Harry said, looking up at the staff table. Sure enough, there was no new professor.
  
  "I wonder who's filling in," Ron commented. Nearly-Headless Nick took that moment to float by.
  
  "Oh, there's a new professor," the ghost said. "He just appears to be late. Seems the elves prepared another wonderful feast this year." Harry heard a loud clank from the plate next to his. He saw Hermione dropped her fork onto her plate.
  
  "Elves?" she asked. "Elves? Elves are enslaved here?"
  
  "Certainly," Nick responded, floating away. "How else do you think everything gets done?"
  
  "Elves!" Hermione spat. Harry sensed she was going on loop and returned to his food, too hungry to worry about elf rights at that point.
  
  When the feast finished, Dumbledore rose and approached the podium once more.
  
  "Welcome or welcome back to another year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We are looking at a very unique year this year. First, although he appears to be running late, I will announce our staff changes. Replacing Professor Lupin as the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor will be former Auror, Alastor Moody." A murmer ran through the crowd. Many of the Slytherins looked around sheepishly.
  
  "Alastor Moody?" Harry asked under his breath to Ron.
  
  "Dark wizard catcher. One of the best. Supposedly he's a little insane, but they say half the cells in Azkaban are filled because of him," Ron responded. "Dad thinks he's great."
  
  "Also. Our caretaker, Mr. Filch, has requested once again that you view the list of banned items on his office door. Possession of any of them will result in a detention. Also, the Forbidden Forest remains forbidden to all students.
  
  "Now, it is my honor to announce that-" Dumbledore's announcement was interrupted with a loud clang from the doors of the Great Hall.
  
  "That's him," Ron said from Harry's side, a sense of awe in his voice. Harry couldn't help but be impressed as the imposing figure worked his way up to the staff table. The clank of the fake leg echoing through the now quiet hall. His electric blue eye shot around the room. Harry would have sworn it lingered on some of the Slytherins, but he couldn't be sure. He knew it was probably just his personal prejudices coming out.
  
  Of course, it didn't help that he also thought Moody's eye lingered for a little bit too long on him. Eventually, Dumbledore started to speak again.
  
  "Well, now that Alastor has arrived," Dumbledore said with a nod toward Moody, who sat at the staff table. "It is my pleasure to announce that Hogwarts will host the return of the Triwizard Tournament." Again there was a murmur through the crowd.
  
  "At the end of October students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will arrive to attend the tournament. Many of you will get a chance to meet your pen pal from the summer assignments. We expect the finest behavior from our students while we host this event.
  
  "As some of you know, the Triwizard Tournament consists of champions from each of the schools competing against each other in a series of tasks. This will still be the main focus of the tournament. Students will be required to be seventeen at the time of entry to be able to compete." This time the murmur from the crowd had a very dissatisfied feel. Harry briefly pictured himself as the champion. But only briefly.
  
  "Except, in addition to the champions competition, there will be many other competitions. Just about every club or team that the schools share will be in competition at some point during the year. Heads of the clubs will receive more information about that in the coming weeks. The tournament itself will be highlighted by four main competitions.
  
  "The first of the other competitions is, naturally, the competition between the individual champions. The second competition will be dueling competitions between students from each institution. As Hogwarts does not have a dueling club, the students will be picked by Professors Flitwick and Snape after a tryout held next week." There was another murmur through the crowd. Most of the Slytherins looked a little bit too happy about that.
  
  "The third competition will be an academic knowledge competition with students answering questions on subjects taught in each school.
  
  "And finally. There will be an interschool Quidditch tournament. Professor Hooch will be hosting tryouts for that. You do not have to be on a house team to tryout. Those tryouts will be this coming Saturday." Harry perked up a little bit about that. If Krum was really still at Durmstrang he may be able to compete against him. He'd certainly be trying out for the Quidditch team.
  
  "And with that," Dumbledore continued, "I hope you all have a successful year and compete to your fullest while representing the school. Classes will begin tomorrow as usual. Have a pleasant evening back." The headmaster then returned to his seat and the Great Hall exploded with conversation. Everyone was talking about some part of the tournament, and it seemed that everyone wanted to participate with their favorite club.
  
  The discussions continued well after the feast ended and the students went back to their common rooms.
  
  "I'm going to go out for the Quidditch team," Ron said as the trio sat in their usual spots. There was a hallow laugh from behind them.
  
  "As what? A water boy?" Fred asked.
  
  "Or a towel boy?" George commented.
  
  "Oh shut up you two," Ron said. "You know I'm not a bad keeper. I was going to go out for that this year anyway."
  
  "I'm going to go out for chaser, too," Ginny added as she walked by. Ron looked up at her.
  
  "But you're not even on a house team!" He commented.
  
  "Either are you. And Wood didn't have tryouts last year. We'll see. It can't hurt to tryout. Be nice to get a bunch of Gryffindors on the team. Hopefully more of us than Harry make it."
  
  "What?" Harry asked.
  
  "Oh come on, Harry," George said. "You only lose when you fall off. You're pretty much a lock."
  
  "Cedric beat me," Harry said, but he was proud the others thought he was a sure thing. "I'm not sure I'd have beaten him to the snitch even had I not fallen."
  
  "Well, fly better than him on Saturday and you're in," Fred said.
  
  "Are you two going to try out?" He asked.
  
  "Probably," George replied.
  
  "Since we can't enter the individual thing, we may as well," Fred added.
  
  "You two are good. You should make it," Harry said.
  
  "We appreciate your confidence," Fred replied in a way that made Harry feel like they expected to make the team regardless.
  
  "So, keeper, eh?" Harry asked, turning back to Ron.
  
  "Yea. It's what I usually played in the yard. I'm not bad."
  
  "Well I hope you make it," Harry said, realizing he probably sounded like he was already on the team, and hoping his friend didn't notice. "I wonder who else will try out?"
  
  "I'd guess pretty much everyone on a house team. And then probably a bunch of others. Saturday is going to be insane," Ron sounded excited.
  
  "Quidditch, really? Usually I don't have to listen to this prattle for at least a few more weeks," Hermione commented from the corner. Ron and Harry both just looked at her and went back to judging players by position. It became clear that if they were picking the team, it would just be Gryffindors.
  
  The first week of classes passed relatively quickly. The only really eventful part was the first lesson with Professor Moody. Harry still felt proud that he was the only one in the class that could throw off an unforgivable curse. He joked he was two for three and secretly hoped he never had to feel the third one. Ron had laughed, Hermione had not found it funny.
  
  Saturday evening found him worn out and sore from flying almost all day as he lounged in front of the fireplace in the common room. Most of the talk was still on the Quidditch tryouts. Harry looked out the window only to notice his snowy owl fly in. She looked at him for a moment, looking rather bored, then trotted over to a first year who was giving treats to her owl. Harry remembered he'd promised to write to Fleur. He felt bad that he'd completely forgotten about his former pen pal in the excitement of the tryouts. He didn't feel like doing his weekend assignments yet, either, so he found a stray bit of parchment and a quill and started to compose a letter.
  
  Dear Fleur,
  
  It's been an interesting week here. One of the more hectic starting weeks I can remember in my four years at school. The Triwizard Tournament! It sounds like it's going to be a blast! I hope you're coming to Hogwarts for it so we can meet. Of course, I believe Beauxbatons is in southern France, so perhaps the wrong school is hosting it for the winter months.
  
  The first week at Hogwarts has been pretty normal. Our new defense teacher, which makes four in four years since I've been here, some people say the office is cursed, is former Auror Alastor Moody. He's a bit, well, unstable. In the first class he demonstrated the three Unforgivable Curses. He even used the Imperius curse on us. I managed to fight it off, which I was rather proud of. Still, I'm not sure those should have been shown in the classroom. They really shook up my friend, Neville. Moody's logic was that we should be able to identify and fight the curses, but something still felt wrong.
  
  My friend Hermione has taken up the elf rights cause. It's entertaining, in a way, watching everyone think she's crazy for trying to free house elves. I'm not sure what I feel. I mean, slavery is wrong and all, but they seem happy. And the only house elves I've met have been very strange.
  
  I tried out for the school quidditch team today. The tryouts were intense! I'm amazed at the amount of people that showed up. It must have been half the school! Madame Hooch organized everyone by position and then just kept running people through drills all morning. She even made us all use old school brooms to make sure the competition was even. Interestingly enough, Draco Malfoy is even worse when he's not on his nimbus!
  
  After the drills Madame Hooch dismissed about half of the people. I don't think any of them actually left though, just went into the stands instead. She then organized the remaining players into four separate teams and had us play matches against each other. Hooch made me the captain of my team, but we didn't really have enough time to come up with plays or anything. We just had a few simple calls during the matches. Each match lasted about an hour. A new snitch was released if the seeker caught it and we just kept playing for the entire time. It was one of the most intense quidditch things I've done. It was a blast though, even if I'm exhausted now.
  
  I think I had a pretty good tryout. I caught more snitches than anyone else during the games, beating Cedirc Diggory by one catch late. And I was consistently fast in the seeker skills drills.
  
  A few of my friends also tried out for the team. Fred and George Weasley, who are on the house team with me, had a great showing in the beater skills drills, especially when they were working in groups. Madame Hooch split them for the games though, and they each suffered a bit there. But I still think they were in the top for beater groups.
  
  My best friend, Ron Weasley, had an okay tryout. I don't think he did well enough to make the team though. Don't tell him I said that. He was pretty good with the basic skills and positioning for the keeper drills, but in the actual matches he was abysmal. He missed some things that should have been pretty easy saves. He was okay to start, but once he got scored on a few times he just lost it.
  
  Their sister, Ginny, also came to the tryouts. She went out for chaser and had a pretty good day. I don't think she was good enough to usurp any of the house team chasers, but she may have a shot at making the Gryffindor team next year if she keeps improving. She was the opposite of her brother, too. She wasn't the best at the basic drills, but flourished in the actual games.
  
  I think the rest of my house teammates also had good showings, but we were split up for the entire second half of the day, and I was focusing more on myself than the others.
  
  Your friend, Lilly, had a great tryout. She was tops in the speed drills for the chasers, and about middle of the pack in shooting. Madame Hooch also made her the captain of her team for the matches, and they won every match but one, despite having Ron as the keeper. She and Ginny worked very well together.
  
  The final team should be posted by next week. Of course, it is subject to change if someone on it becomes an individual champion and chooses to focus on that instead of Quidditch.
  
  So, how was the first week at Beauxbatons? I hope it was pleasant. I know you're seventeen, so are you going to try to participate in the individual competition? I think it may be fun to represent your school like that, but I'll stick to trying to be the seeker on the quidditch team. Let me know if you're coming. I really look forward to meeting you if you do.
  
  Sincerely,
  
  Harry Potter.
  
  He reread the letter once, hoping that he didn't bore her with the quidditch tryouts, knowing she didn't really care for the game. But still, it was the highlight of his time back at school, so he figured he should include it. That, and it was really all he could think of to write about.
  
  He called Hedwig over as he slid the parchment into an envelope. His owl landed on the table next to him as he wrote 'Fleur Delacour. Beauxbatons' on the envelope. He showed it to Hedwig.
  
  "Will that be enough to get it to her?" He asked. The owl clucked and pecked him on the forehead in a way that indicated he was stupid for assuming she even needed that much information. Harry couldn't help but laugh as he attached it to her leg. Hedwig didn't move, she simply stared at him. Harry laughed again.
  
  "Stubborn. I'll give you a bunch of treats when you get back, I promise," he said. His owl sized him up for a moment, then flew out the window and on her way. Ron came and sat next to him then.
  
  "Who'd you write to, Padfoot?" He asked.
  
  "No. My pen pal from summer. I told her I would when we got back to school," Harry responded. Ron looked confused.
  
  "Yes, but the assignment is done," Ron said.
  
  "You know, Ronald, not everyone just does things because they're assigned," Hermione said from the corner. She had SPEW badges with her and was knitting a hat. "And that reminds me Harry, let's work on your French a bit more," she ordered. Harry groaned but figured it was better than knitting hats for house elves.
  
  Harry was surprised when Hedwig flew in with the Monday morning post. She must have made great time. She landed next to him and held her leg out impatiently. He recognized the handwriting on the letter immediately and couldn't help but smile as he detached it from his owl. He went to open it when Hedwig nipped him on the hand.
  
  "Ouch!" he nearly yelled before remembering his promise from the other night. He reached into his robe and was lucky enough to have a few treats there. He gave the treats to Hedwig, who munched them down quickly as he opened the reply.
  
  Harry,
  
  I am going to be brief. Your owl is incredibly beautiful, but a tad impatient. I get the strangest feeling she doesn't like me. She found me readily enough in the hall at school, though, which is rather impressive.
  
  We were not exposed to the Unforgivables until our sixth year, so I would say fourth does seem a little early. But we have had the same professor the entire time. I'm not sure what constantly having a new teacher would do to the quality of learning in the class.
  
  Our first week has mostly been preparation for the tournament. We are organizing the teams that will be brought to Hogwarts for the tournament. I agree that the wrong school is hosting the event, but that is because I am not particularly interested in the winter in the United Kingdom.
  
  I will be one of the students coming with Beauxbatons for the tournament. I intend to enter myself into the individual competition, but if that does not work out, I will be fine with being on the academic team if need be. We have not been told how the champions will be picked yet, so I doubt you have been. But if you know, would you mind sharing? Please?
  
  I am glad that you feel your tryout went well. I hope you do make the Hogwarts team so I can get a chance to watch you fly. I look forward to meeting you in person, and it seems we will get that chance in just under two months.
  
  I'd write more, but your owl seems insistent on taking a reply back to you, and I have to finish up some assignments, so until we meet.
  
  Adieu
  
  Fleur.
  
  Author's Note: I planned to start the next chapter with the tryouts, but felt it worked better to include it here. The next chapter will reveal the team, which has already been chosen. Sadly, this is probalby the last chapter to feature letters between the two. I should have probably thought of a better title for the story. This chapter was hastily edited, but I figured I'd post it, and edit it again and repost it later, my upcoming week is just a bit busy so I'm not sure when that update will be. I apologize if there's anything glaringly bad in the text.
  
  As for the tournament itself. I haven't decided if I'll make it more tasks than in the book. If I do, I can't see it going past five. I figured more things going on outside of the champions was more interesting than bringing three institutions together so three students can compete.
  
  As always thanks for the reviews
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  Chapter Six
  
  Champions
  
  Charms class seemed to take forever. It wasn't that Harry wasn't entertained. He actually enjoyed the class and the diminutive professor. It was just that Madame Hooch had said earlier that the final Quidditch roster would be posted today. Harry hadn't had a chance to check since lunch, and he desperately wanted to rectify that.
  
  "Harry, it's your turn," Hermione said, snapping him out of his daze. He looked at her for a moment, before he remembered the task at hand.
  
  "Oh, right, sorry," he replied and picked his wand up from the desk. He focused on the small clay amphora in front of him. He slashed his wand diagonally down to the left, before cutting it back sharply to the right saying the incantation, "Infragilis," as he did.
  
  The next part of the lesson was much easier, and much more amusing. He reached out and knocked the amphora off the table. It fell to ground with a very unsatisfying shattering noise.
  
  "Too bad, mate," Ron said as he looked over the edge of the table. "Beat me though, three pieces. My best so far is four. Hermione is at three, too, but her brake was cleaner than yours." Harry peered over at it too. The amphora lay on the ground in three perfectly broken pieces.
  
  "Damn," Harry sighed as he picked the pieces up and placed them back on the desk. Hermione glared at him, presumably for cursing, but he ignored it. "Reparo," he muttered and watched the three pieces form back into an amphora. The shattering clashes that emanated from the class around let him know that just about everyone was having trouble with the work.
  
  "You're up, Hermione," Ron said. She slashed her wand through the air and said the incantation clearly. She paused for a moment and took a deep breath and knocked the amphora off the desk. Her face fell when the noise of broken clay accompanied it hitting the ground.
  
  "Tough break," Ron commented, looking over the desk at it again. "Just one of the handles broke off. Hermione looked perturbed, but they still had a good twenty minutes to work on the charm. She picked the two pieces up off of the ground and fastened them back together with a quick mending charm.
  
  "Your turn, Ron," Hermione said after making sure the amphora was in pristine condition. Ron waved his wand and said the incantation. He paused moment before pushing it off the desk in Harry's direction. Again, the shattering sound accompanied it disappearing over the edge of the desk. Ron cursed under his breath, earning him a quick swat from Hermione.
  
  "Three pieces," Harry said, picking them up and placing them back on the desk. "Well, two and a handle." Ron repaired them quickly and set the amphora back up on the desk.
  
  "Well, at least getting to destroy the object again and again is amusing. And we're getting there. You're up, Harry," he said. Harry cast the charm again and knocked the pot off of the desk once more.
  
  "Handle and a chip," Ron said, picking the pieces back up and placing them on the desk. Harry repaired them quickly and gestured to Hermione. She took a deep breath and cast the spell very deliberately before knocking the amphora off the desk once more. This time there was no shattering noise, instead just a hallow thunk as it hit the ground. Harry looked over the edge and saw it was completely intact. Professor Flitwick noticed as well. He waddled over and picked the amphora up, placing it back on the desk.
  
  "Fantastic work Miss Granger!" he said, rather exuberantly. "First in class again, after what, five attempts?"
  
  "Four, sir," Hermione admitted proudly, blushing slightly at the praise.
  
  "Very well done. Ten points to Gryffindor!" Flitwick said before continuing to cycle around the room.
  
  "Alright. Now you two get it," Hermione ordered. "Harry, I think you're coming too far back on your slash. Try it again." Harry sighed. As much as he loved Hermione, he hated when she turned into Professor Granger after performing a spell once. Oh well, at least he still had a much better Patronus than she did. He went through the motions once more, ignoring the advice Hermione gave.
  
  "Just a small chip," Ron said as he picked the amphora up off the ground. Harry repaired it and Ron tried again, getting the same results he got the time before. Hermione said something as Ron took his turn, but Harry didn't pay that much attention because he knew he'd get it on his next try. He disagreed with Hermione's insistence on perfect technique every time. Magic, to him, was as much about intent and understanding as anything else.
  
  After class Hermione continued to prattle on about the unbreakable charm. She seemed content to once again go over every single detail of it, despite the fact that they has just sat through a lecture, and essentially mastered the charm in class. Harry found himself wondering if there was a charm that would transcribe everything she said into his notes, so he simply wouldn't have to bother taking them in class. He made a mental note to ask Flitwick about that.
  
  "Are you two even listening?" she snapped after a few minutes. Harry looked quickly over at Ron, who was gazing off in the other direction.
  
  "Of course we are," Harry said indignantly as he tried to see what Ron was looking at.
  
  "Oh, well, where was I?" Hermione asked sweetly. Harry had fallen for this trap before. By not answering her correctly here, he would be admitting not only that he wasn't listening, but that he lied about it too. Thankfully, he finally saw what Ron was looking at. Madame Hooch and Roger Davies were chatting in a corner of the hallway. They were looking over a piece of paper. Davies seemed to be asking questions as he pointed at it.
  
  "Hang on a second, Hermione," Harry said as he watched. He could sense Hermione wasn't happy with being put on the back-burner like that.
  
  "What do you suppose they're talking about?" Ron asked as Hooch seemed to be explaining something. Davies didn't argue. He appeared to agree with Hooch's reasoning of whatever he had questioned, and moved on to the next point.
  
  "Has to be something to do with the team," Harry said.
  
  "But why Davies," Ron asked. "He's not good and he had a mediocre try out." Harry sensed the animosity there. Davies's tryout was rather good, truth be told. Harry suspected Ron was just bitter about the fifteen goals the Ravenclaw scored on him.
  
  "He and Diggory are senior and Diggory didn't have that great of a tryout," Harry said. "With Flint and Wood gone they're the only two at the school with Captain experience."
  
  "But Davies didn't fly that well either!" Ron scoffed.
  
  "Fifteen for eighteen on you seems pretty well. Then again a pygmy puff would have probably made a better keeper, Weasley," Draco Malfoy said as he walked past.
  
  "I'm sorry, Malfoy, but how many members of the Slytherin team even made it past the first cut?" Harry asked, not taking his eyes off Hooch and Davies as they continued their discussion.
  
  "The tryouts were unfair. We were hindered by inferior brooms. Father has already heard about it. The situation will be rectified," Draco sneered.
  
  "You do realize everyone was on the same broom, right?" Hermione said. "Meaning that you're admitting you're a product of the equipment, and not actually skilled."
  
  "Shut up, Mudblood. Your kind are lucky they're even allowed to watch Quidditch," Draco spat. Unfortunately for him, his insult came right as Professor McGonagall emerged from her office.
  
  "Ten points from Slytherin for the derogatory insult, Mr. Malfoy, and detention tonight," she said, continuing on her way to the Great Hall for the evening meal. Malfoy looked like he'd just sucked on a lemon. Harry thought he would say something else, but he decided to simply go to dinner instead. It may have had something to do with McGonagall staring back at the group from down the hall.
  
  "Hermione," Ron said, "that was the perfect line." He was still smirking about it, too.
  
  "Thank you, Ron. I wonder if his father can really pull some strings and rig the tournament?"
  
  "I doubt it," Ron replied. "I mean, it works just fine with Slytherin house. But he got kicked off the board of governors after second year, and the rest of the governors are going to want to win the tournament too much to let him meddle. They know Hooch will have picked the best team.
  
  "Oh, faith in Madame Hooch now? After chastising her talking to Davies over there?" Hermione teased. Ron blushed red and muttered something about 'not that good' under his breath.
  
  Harry kept watching the two talk for a few more minutes, before they seemed to agree. Hooch rolled up the parchment and started walking off toward the Great Hall. Roger Davies looked up and glanced around the hallway. Harry assumed he was looking for his friends, who likely had gone ahead to the Great Hall. The Ravenclaw's eyes met Harry's and he gave him a quick nod with a smile.
  
  "I wonder what that's about?" Hermione asked.
  
  "Me too," Harry said. "Looks like Hooch is going to post the team though, let's head to the hall and find out." Harry hurried after the flight instructor, thinking perhaps he was a little too eager to see the results. Hermione rolled her eyes but accompanied the two boys as they checked their fates.
  
  The Entrance Hall was packed with students by the time the trio arrived. They all cluttered around the small bulletin board. Harry approached and fought his way through the masses with Ron at his side.
  
  "That's bullshit," he overheard a Slytherin beater say.
  
  "Oh come on," a Hufflepuff muttered.
  
  "You've got to be kidding me. I had a much better tryout than her! So did you," Angelina Johnson said to Katie Bell.
  
  Harry took a deep breath before he stepped up to the posted parchment. His eyes scanned the top of the list before slowly sliding down over the names.
  
  The following players will represent Hogwarts in the upcoming quidditch tournament as a supplementary part of the Triwizard Tournament.
  
  Starting Roster:
  
  Keeper: Herbert Fleet - Hufflepuff
  
  Left Beater: Fred Weasley - Gryffindor
  
  Right Beater: George Weasley - Gryffindor
  
  Left Wing Chaser: Roger Davies - Ravenclaw "C"
  
  Right Wing Chaser: Alicia Spinnet - Gryffindor
  
  Center Chaser: Lillian Seslion - Ravenclaw "A"
  
  Seeker: Harry Potter - Gryffindor "A"
  
  Reserved Roster:
  
  Keeper: Cormac McLaggen - Gryffindor
  
  Beater: Titus Button - Slytherin
  
  Chaser: Malcolm Preece - Hufflepuff
  
  Seeker: Cho Chang - Ravenclaw
  
  Utility: Ginevra Weasley - Gryffindor
  
  Players on the team will be expected to report to an opening practice to pick up their uniforms and brooms this Saturday morning at eight. Bring nothing but yourself. Congratulations to the final twelve.
  
  Harry couldn't help but smile as he stared at his name on the list. He swelled with pride as he saw the ink marked "A" next to it. That had to have been what Hooch and Davies had been discussing in the hallway.
  
  "Holy shit! I made the team!" he heard Ginny say from his side.
  
  "Ginny! Language!" Hermione said from behind him. Harry couldn't help but laugh.
  
  "Congratulations, Ginny," he said, smiling at the younger girl. She blushed but hugged him.
  
  "Thanks Harry! And you, alternate captain, how cool is that?" she said.
  
  "It's pretty cool." Harry blushed.
  
  "Wonder what it means about brooms?" George asked. Harry realized he was still hugging Ginny and let go. If he didn't know better he'd assume that the girl was disappointed with that.
  
  "Beats me," Harry said. "Guess we'll just have to find out on Saturday. Where'd Ron go?"
  
  "No idea," Fred commented. "Probably to eat. Git can't have expected to make the team after that tryout though."
  
  "Yea," George added. "We love him and all, but wow did he ever choke."
  
  "I wonder what the practices will be like?" Ginny asked, likely simply to move the topic off of her youngest brother.
  
  "No idea. It'll be interesting to see if Hooch runs it or Davies. She's technically the coach, you know. But Roger built a pretty strong Ravenclaw team. With Wood gone they may have been the favorites this year." Fred said.
  
  "You think? I mean, we're bringing back the entire team except for Wood," Harry said.
  
  "Yea, but keeper is huge. We know anything about Fleet?" George asked.
  
  "Great save percentage, covers all of the hoops very well. Hufflepuff just didn't play that great of defense in front of him," Ginny answered. "This tournament is going to be awesome!"
  
  "Yes it should be. We'll George and I are going to prepare a party in the common room for later. Congratulations Harry, Congratulations Ginny." Fred said as the twins left.
  
  Harry found Ron at their usual spot at the Gryffindor table. He was sulking, so Harry simply set next to him and started to pick out some food for dinner. Hermione sat herself between the two and continued her post-lecture comments on the unbreakable charm. Harry ignored her. His eyes slid around the hall to the various people who would soon be his teammates. Davies and Seslion sat near each other, their heads close, both looking down at something. Cho was next to them, talking to one of her friends. Fleet sat with his girlfriend, a plain looking Hufflepuff. They were snogging. Alicia wasn't anywhere to be seen, and Fred and George were off planning their party.
  
  Harry's eyes shifted for the reserves. Ginny was just a few seats down from him at the table, she was chatting happily with some of her friends. Cormac McLaggen was at the other end of the table, bragging loudly. Harry scanned the Slytherin table. He didn't know which one Titus Button was, and nothing seemed to give him away, if he were even there. Preece sat at the opposite end of the Hufflepuff table, talking with Diggory as they both ate.
  
  Harry scanned the Great Hall one last time before going back to his meal, half listening to Hermione as she spoke of the charm. At the very least he was glad she was eating again, if only that he didn't have to listen to elf rights speeches during meal times.
  
  Saturday came quickly. Harry groggily rose early and cleaned himself up. He looked at his Firebolt for a few moments before closing his trunk and heading down into the common room. Ginny was coming down at the same time.
  
  "Hey Harry," she yawned. "It's far too early to be up on a Saturday."
  
  "Yea. It is. Grab some breakfast before heading to the pitch?" He asked.
  
  "That was my plan. Heard the twins bumbling around down here earlier, so they're probably at the Great Hall already." Ginny moved toward the portrait hole. She was dressed in athletic shorts and a tank top, her hair pulled back into a pony tail. Harry couldn't help but think she looked rather cute as he followed her out of the portrait.
  
  They sat next to the twins and Alicia at the Gryffindor table. They were the only Gryffindors in the hall at that point, and the five of them accounted for half of the people eating breakfast at the early hour before practice. They didn't really talk, but rather just ate and sipped some tea, waiting until the appropriate time to walk down to the pitch. Harry just nibbled on some toast, and ate one egg, in silence.
  
  At about ten to eight the group headed out to the pitch. Hooch and Davies were waiting, Davies looking like he just arrived just a little before the Gryffindors. They all waited quietly, Hooch's hawk-like eyes surveying the pitch as the other players arrived. Harry thought they looked like a rather motley bunch, all in various states of athletic clothing, none of them really sure what they should do. They stood in house groups and waited.
  
  At five minutes to eight the entire team had arrived, the last two being Fleet and Preece. Hooch looked everyone over and the players.
  
  "Congratulations on making the team. We now have a couple of months of solid practice before the tournament starts. We will practice on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Monday and Wednesday will begin promptly at eight in the evening. Saturday will begin at eight in the morning. And Sunday will being at six in the morning with three hours of calisthenics. We will brake for lunch, and then reconvene at three o'clock for a full practice. The schedule will change when the tournament begins, but will still be just as rigorous." Hooch's voice was cold and perfectly even. "Are there any questions?"
  
  There was a slight murmur from the players, but no questions came out of it.
  
  "Good. Now follow me into your newly redesigned locker rooms," Hooch said and turned toward the small building at the end of the pitch.
  
  Harry gasped when he entered the building. Last year it had simply been a few lockers and a separate changing room and showers. Now it was easily twice the size, if not larger. The players walked into what was nearly a lounge, with chairs and couches around. There was a separate changing room still, and two separate showers. The back wall was dominated by twelve large open air cubbies. They were each wooden and started about two feet off the ground and extended up about six more feet. Hanging in each, back facing the players were their Hogwarts uniforms. They were black, with a set of four thin stripes on each elbow, representing the houses, red followed by yellow, blue, and green. On the front was a large version of the Hogwarts crest, smaller ones appeared on each shoulder. Between the stripes and the logo on the arm was the player's number as well. Harry noticed they were numbered by position, in the way many national teams did. Being the seeker, he had seven. The name and numbers on the back were yellow.
  
  His eyes scanned the rest of the names, Fleet above one, F. Weasley above two, Ge. Weasley above three, Davies above four, Spinnet above five, and Seslion above six. Harry stared up at his own then, the 'Potter' curved slightly above the '7' and he couldn't help but smirk.
  
  "This is," George started.
  
  "Awesome," Fred finished, fingering his uniform carefully.
  
  "You got that right boys," Lilly added.
  
  "Yes. Make yourselves comfortable. This will practically be your second home. Under your main uniforms, folded at the bottom, you'll find your practice uniforms. Each player has been given three. They'll be cleaned twice a week if left in your locker. Change into those. I'll be back in a few minutes." She left the locker room. Harry walked up to his locker, seeing the other players doing the same to theirs.
  
  The practice uniform was close to the same as the other, except it was white and seemed to be made of a lighter material. Harry held his up and looked at it. He fingered the yellow 'A' that would be above his right breast, smiling a little bit. He pulled his on, shifting his shoulders a bit to see how it felt. Naturally, it fit perfectly.
  
  "Wow, George, have you seen this?" Harry turned to see what Fred had asked.
  
  "They've given us new bats, and new pads, and a full set of equipment," George said, holding up the new bat.
  
  "I've gotten two new sets of keeper pads too," Fleet said.
  
  "Me too," McLaggen commented from Harry's right.
  
  "They certainly do want to win," Davies said from Harry's left. "Let's not let them down."
  
  "Hell yes," Fred said. "I wonder if we get to keep it all."
  
  "You do, Weasley. You also get to keep these." Hooch held up a broom. She had twelve more following behind her. She banished them slowly, one at a time, toward each of the players. Harry caught his and examined it. Fleet said what he was thinking.
  
  "But I rather like my broom."
  
  "I'm sure you do, Fleet. However, this tournament is bigger than your personal preferences. I actually fought against this, but certain transportation companies decided to back their nations, and buy a large amount of sponsorship. It seems with the increased cost of floo and portkey travel, some mostly Muggle companies feel they can build and market new brooms. You will be flying on the newly designed Lotus LE1, a prototype sports broom. Beauxbatons will be on the Renault R1 and Durmstrang will be flying on the on the Mercedes MB1." Harry looked down and saw the Lotus logo on the end of his broom. He examined it carefully as Hooch spoke. It seemed like a nice broom, not quite as nice as his Firebolt, but.
  
  "How do they fly?" Davies asked. Harry could see Roger was examining his broom just as carefully as he was.
  
  "Fairly well. They're certainly on par with anything Cleansweep or Nimbus has come up with. The acceleration and the turning are amazing, and the top speed is fairly good. The companies claimed to model them after some Muggle race car. They aren't Firebolts, though. They're going to market them as a more 'sporty' broom for middle-aged clientele with a disposable income," Hooch explained. "And the R1 and MB1 are supposed to have the same specifications as the Lotuses, but only time will tell there. At the very least it prevents someone from buying Firebolts for their school's team. Or offering to." Hooch shook her head at that idea. Harry wondered if someone had tried.
  
  "Well, what's on our agenda for today, Coach?" Davies asked.
  
  "Today is just an easy day. I want you to get the hang of to the brooms. Our real practice regimen will start tomorrow. We're just going to do basic drills by position. Weasley, you're on the roster as the twelfth flyer, as such I'm going to shuffle you around a lot. Today fly with Potter and Chang," Hooch ordered.
  
  "Yes, coach," Ginny said as the team started out. Harry stepped in behind the 11 'Chang' and the 12 'Gi. Weasley' as they walked out to the pitch.
  
  The first practice was easy and light. They flew around on their new brooms and learned the strength and weaknesses of the new model. Harry didn't mind the Lotus, of course Harry had yet to get on a broom he minded. He rather liked the mobility it provided, although after his Firebolt the top speed did leave something to be desired. He spent a good portion of time watching the trio of Weasley's fly, each with a giant smile plastered on their faces. Harry hoped Ron wouldn't be too jealous of his siblings. Maybe one of them would give him their old broom.
  
  The second day of practice was the exact opposite. Hooch dragged them through just about every physical drill Harry could think of. They ran, they did sit-ups and push-ups, then they ran some more. When they finally limped to lunch, which was provided in the locker room and not in the Great Hall, none of the players knew how they were going to go back out to the pitch after their break.
  
  They managed, though. Hooch ran them through even more drills than Wood had the year before. By the time the six Gryffindor players went back to the common room they may as well have been the walking dead. Even Angelina Johnson and Katie Bell, who were both annoyed they didn't make the team, didn't say anything. Ron was still brooding. He hadn't spoken to Harry or his family members since he learned they all got a full set of new Quidditch gear. Of course, they hadn't had that much time to chat.
  
  The six collapsed in a heap in the corner of the common room.
  
  "I hurt, everywhere," McLaggen said.
  
  "Me too," Fred responded.
  
  "And that was just day one," Ginny added, eliciting a groan from everyone.
  
  "Well. At least we'll all improve during the year," Harry said, trying to remain positive.
  
  "Yea, train up another group to win the house tournament next year," McLaggen said.
  
  "That's the spirit," Alicia said. "You did make some great saves today, Cormac. I was amazed you weren't falling off your broom like the rest of us."
  
  "Oh I was," Cormac laughed. "But I just had to float there and try to get my body in front of it. More lucky than anything. I have to say though, our chaser line is amazing together. I could barely track them today. Fleet was saying the same thing, too. We should be able to score in bunches."
  
  "Yes we should," Ginny said proudly. She'd flown as a chaser that afternoon, and flown well. "How's that third beater?"
  
  "Button?" George asked, as if he hadn't quite heard the question. "He's pretty good, too. He got kicked off the Slytherin team because Malfoy wanted his cronies on it. Told Flint he wouldn't fly for Slytherin again. Malfoy even threatened to curse him if he didn't give the numbus back."
  
  "What'd he do about that?"
  
  "Hit Malfoy upside the head with it and walked back to the dungeons, apparently. Explains that welt he had for a while last year." All six players laughed, drawing some looks from the common room.
  
  "You do all realize we have practice again tomorrow, right?" Harry said when the laughing subsided, eliciting another groan from the players involved.
  
  "Hooch is going to kill us," Alicia responded.
  
  "Probably," Ginny said. "And if she doesn't the other professors will. I still have a charms essay to finish for tomorrow. I should go do that." She left and a short time later the rest of the players went to finish their respective assignments.
  
  Harry walked up to his dormitory after finishing his defense assignment. He planned on making up some Divination homework and sleep. Knowing his luck he'd accomplish the second well before the first.
  
  He'd already changed when he noticed Ron was sitting on his bed, staring up at the ceiling.
  
  "What's up, mate? Want to work on the divination assignment?" he asked. Ron turned and looked at him.
  
  . "No." His friend snapped.
  
  "Well what's up man?" Harry asked, trying his best to sound like a supporting friend.
  
  "Why do you always get everything. Never me. Even my sister gets more than I do," he grumbled.
  
  "You just had a bad tryout. You'll make up for it next year. You can get to the house team then," Harry said.
  
  "Easy for you to say. With the alternate captaincy you'll probably replace Wood. And McLaggen is going to get all the practice during the tournament," Ron spat.
  
  "You can usurp him. Just practice more," Harry said. As he thought of it, he wasn't sure when he last saw Ron actually practice. If he had the capability to over the summer, he'd probably send most of it on a broom. Of course, he'd told himself that he'd learn French in his free time over the summer. In fairness, though, he actually enjoyed quidditch.
  
  "Oh sure, practice more. Easy for you to say, Mr. Natural." Ron glared at him. Harry just rolled his eyes.
  
  "Fine, mate. I'm going to work on my Divination. Talk to you in the morning," Harry said calmly. He threw himself down on his bed, closed the curtains, and worked on thinking of new ways he could maim himself in the future.
  
  The first part of the school year passed quickly. Ron never quite came out of his funk, but Harry didn't really notice. Hooch really did drill them constantly. But the team started to bond rather closely in the brief moments of downtime they had.
  
  Their locker room became a bit more of a common room for the players. At first because after long practices they simply didn't feel like walking back to their respective common rooms, but later because they started to enjoy each others' company.
  
  They also learned that homework was a lot easier in a group than not. Harry found himself learning parts of the older students' curriculum from Davies as he helped others with assignments. He also picked up a little arithmancy and some ancient runes.
  
  The most helpful by far, though, was Roger's transfiguration skill and Lilly's potions abilities. They single handedly eased the rest of the team through two of the toughest subjects the school offered.
  
  Lilly even took to teaching them some French, mostly quidditch terms, simply so they wouldn't be at a disadvantage when trying to decipher what commands the Beauxbatons team shouted.
  
  They were going to do the same with Durmstrang, too, but no one was sure what the primary language of that institution was.
  
  The team settled into a routine. For the weekday practices they met up about an hour before, worked on some homework and talked. Sometimes Harry, Roger and Lilly discussed strategy and hand signals.
  
  After practice they usually showered and lazed around, finishing up whatever assignments they had left to do. Usually, they got back into Hogwarts a few minutes before lights-out and returned to their respective common rooms.
  
  Weekend practices worked much the same, except they typically took their breakfast in the locker room, and then spent the rest of the day there or on the pitch. They became slightly reclusive from the rest of the school, but none of them seemed to mind.
  
  Harry wasn't sure any of the professors would admit it, either, but he thought that the teachers were being easier on the members of the team.
  
  Harry could tell too, after a month and a half of grueling practice, that he was in much better shape than he had been before. The entire team was. Where their Sunday morning workout had been grueling before, now it was easier. Most of the team even went for runs in the morning now. Harry was surprised at how invigorating a jog around the lake could be.
  
  The actual practices with Hooch were still every bit as grueling. Each time they thought they were coming up to where Madame Hooch wanted them, she pushed them harder and harder. Some of the people who didn't make the team had taken to coming and watching the practices. On occasion, if Hooch needed another chaser or beater for a drill, she'd invite some of the more loyal ones up. It became apparently quickly that the twelve flying regularly were considerably better than the counterparts who didn't make the team.
  
  Some of the other students even started to train, off the pitch, with them. Ron Weasley showed up a couple of times, but complained about all of the running and eventually stopped coming.
  
  Draco Malfoy never once showed up and acted as if the quidditch team didn't exist.
  
  Harry wished he'd come back. It would have gone a long way to help his chances for the house team next year. And while it was clear now that Fleet was a superior keeper to McLaggen, even McLaggen recognized that, it was becoming more and more clear that it would be very hard for Gryffindor's captain to not simply let Cormac onto the team.
  
  Sure, there were moments when he was arrogant on the pitch, but Davies, Hooch, and the superior play of Fleet kept him in line.
  
  Harry was amazed he ever went to class. He certainly barely remembered much of what went on in them. He actually started to use one of the homework planners Hermione had gotten him, simply to make sure that he did keep his assignments in order. Most of the team felt the same way. Never before had their school year completely revolved around quidditch. Harry absolutely loved it.
  
  The only downside was that between quidditch and his class work he had very little time for anything else. Of course, that meant he didn't have to put up with Ron's brooding or Hermione's lectures on house elves, but it also meant that he saw very little of his two best friends.
  
  He also hadn't had a chance to write to either Sirius or Fleur. Of course, neither had written to him, either. Sirius probably had better things to worry about, but he wasn't sure what was on Fleur's schedule, so the lack of correspondence hurt just a little.
  
  And that was how Harry found himself, on the evening of the thirtieth of October, standing next to the Weasley twins and Hermione, waiting for the other schools to arrive. The team had decided to get a quick practice in that evening, and very nearly missed the arrivals when Hooch came flying out to the pitch to yell at them.
  
  The team scrambled back to the locker room and changed quickly before making their way to the main entrance hall. Harry noticed McLaggen was standing next to Hermione, trying rather unsuccessfully to engage her in conversation.
  
  "How do you think they'll get here?" Harry asked, mostly to Hermione, to rescue her from the unwanted conversation.
  
  "No idea," she answered. "You didn't think to ask Fleur?"
  
  "I've been too busy to even write to her," Harry admitted. Hermione snorted a little bit.
  
  "If you insist," she said knowingly. Harry rolled his eyes.
  
  "Sorry I haven't been hanging around much. But I don't need both you and Ron being put off with my presence," he said.
  
  "I'm sorry," Hermione said, sounding hurt. "It's just I never see you! Only in our core classes! And Ron has been in a right foul mood all year."
  
  "I know. I'm sorry about that. I'll try to come back to the common room early. But it's been tough with the practices. They really are worse than anything Wood ever made us do."
  
  "Yes, I've watched. But look at you, Harry," Hermione smirked and reached out to pinch his bicep. "You're almost not a twig. You may actually impress this Fleur now." She smirked at his blush.
  
  "Oh quiet," He said. He looked up to avoid having to look at her, knowing he'd just wind up blushing more. "Hey, what's that?" He asked, seeing something in the sky that appeared to be moving toward the school.
  
  "I have no idea. That has to be people from one of the schools. It looks absolutely huge," Hermione said as other students began to point and comment. It only took it a few more minutes for the object to become more visible.
  
  "It's a carriage," Harry said dumbly.
  
  "Yes," George said. "Pulled by giant Pegasus or something."
  
  "Maybe Abraxan." Hermione responded. The carriage circled around the castle once before the giant horses came to a quick landing not too far from the entrance. The entire school waited impatiently in the cold air.
  
  After a few more minutes a gigantic woman, who reminded Harry of Hagrid led the Beauxbatons students off of the carriage. Harry couldn't count how many there were, but he immediately understood why the house tables in the Great Hall had been elongated
  
  Harry let his eyes scan the crowed. The girls all wore the same blue silk outfit, down to the hat. The boys wore blue robes rather similar to the standard Hogwarts outfit. Harry heard the giant woman say something to Dumbledore, but he was too busy scanning through the Beauxbatons students to hear the conversation. He was looking for Fleur, and he was looking for potential quidditch opponents.
  
  Of course, it was then he realized that he had no idea what Fleur Delacour looked like. He looked around to see if Lilly was anywhere near him to point her out, but she was nowhere to be seen.
  
  "Which one is Fleur?" Hermione asked from his side.
  
  "I don't know," Harry said. "Never asked her what she looked like." How he pictured her always changed, depending on the situation. Of course, it probably didn't help that the majority of the time he thought of her was as he curled up in bed, thinking of companionship, or someone to make his muscles hurt a little less before he fell asleep. Of late, that companion tended to look awfully similar to female members of the Quidditch team.
  
  "That's too bad. I'm sure you'll meet her soon enough," Hermione said.
  
  "I guess," Harry said. He watched as Hagrid directed the Beauxbaton's carriage over toward a part of the grounds by the lake, where he assumed it would stay the rest of the year.
  
  A few moments later Roger Davies moved next to him. They talked quietly, as not to draw the ire of the nearby Professor McGonagall. They were going over some new hand signals that felt more efficient than the old ones they'd been using when a ship emerged from the lake. Harry and Roger were both caught off guard as it did.
  
  They turned their attention to it and watched as a heavily clad robed man approached with a group of fur-clad students following behind him. The bulky robes and fur hats made it difficult for Harry to differentiate between the sexes as the Durmstrang students approached.
  
  "Would you look at that," Roger said, gesturing to the side of the man who must have been the Durmstrang headmaster. "That little Slytherin bastard was right." Harry looked to where Davies gestured.
  
  "Krum," Harry said, recognizing the figure immediately.
  
  "Honestly," Hermione said as she watched a group of Hufflepuffs swooned as Krum walked past. "He's just a quidditch player!" Davies paused and looked at her, like he couldn't believe she just said that.
  
  "She doesn't get it, does she?" The Hogwarts captain said as his eyes followed Krum.
  
  "No, she doesn't. No offense, Hermione," Harry said as his friend just snorted and rolled her eyes.
  
  "Well, Harry, looks like you may get to fly directly against the best. Bet that gives you chills," Roger said.
  
  "If he plays, I look forward to it," Harry replied, trying to sound confident. The truth was he didn't think he could match Krum in a direct match. His memories of the feints Krum pulled at the World Cup came back as the Hogwarts students followed the Durmstrang students into the hall.
  
  Harry took his usual seat at the Gryffindor table. Ron barely looked at him as he sat down. Harry's eyes scanned the Ravenclaw table, where most of the Beauxbaton's students had decided to sit. He found Lilly, Roger, and Cho, who all sat near each other. If Lilly was friends with Fleur, she sure wasn't showing her friend around Hogwarts yet.
  
  A strikingly beautiful blonde girl spoke to the giant woman near the end of the table. A few other Beauxbaton's students joined in that conversation.
  
  "I don't believe it. That git can't have been right," Ron said, causing Harry to look up. Ron's eyes were focused directly on Draco Malfoy's head. It took Harry a moment to realize that Draco was talking animatedly with the imposing figure that sat next to him.
  
  "Apparently he was. Bet his dad bought that," Harry said.
  
  "I don't care if his father bought it," Ron spat. "Why does Draco Effing Malfoy get to be friends with Viktor Krum!"
  
  "I'm sure they're not friends," Harry said. "I bet Krum is used to people like Malfoy and can see straight through him." Ron simply continued to brood. Harry realized just how little time he'd spent with his friend this year.
  
  "I can't believe that," Ron said, unable to take his eyes off of Malfoy and Krum.
  
  "Hey Ron, why don't we go flying tomorrow night. Stop by the pitch after practice?" Harry said, hoping to distract his friend. Ron just shrugged.
  
  "Okay, sure, after the Champion selection," Ron said. Harry had completely forgotten about the individual aspect of the tournament. He wondered if Ron was entertaining ideas of trying to enter.
  
  Harry didn't have much time to contemplate that as Dumbledore started his welcoming speech a moment later. Since Harry was starving from practice and waiting for the other schools to arrive, and since he didn't particularly care about the individual aspect of the tournament, he didn't really pay attention. Instead he tried to find the Durmstrang quidditch players this time, assuming they would be sitting near Krum. Unfortunately, the only people sitting near Krum were Draco and his cohorts.
  
  Harry missed the lighting of the Goblet of Fire, mostly because he simply wasn't paying attention. Really, all he remembered about the speech was that one of the French girls laughed during it.
  
  Harry was thrilled when the food finally appeared. He took a large helping of chicken, mashed potatoes, and peas. He heard Hermione and a few others comment on the appearance of some foreign food. That intrigued Harry, but he was too busy devouring his meal to particularly care. Harry ate in silence, thinking about his upcoming Transfiguration paper, while he listened in to some of his fellow Gryffindor conversations.
  
  A moment later Harry heard a voice from over his shoulder.
  
  "Excusez-moi. Are you wanting ze bouillabaisse?" the voice asked. Harry turned over his shoulder to ask which of the dishes the bouillabaisse was so he could pass it to her.
  
  Of course, what he saw knocked any words out of him. The French girl had very long silvery-blonde hair and very large blue eyes. She smiled fully with very even white teeth, and she was looking directly at Harry. She made a gesture toward what Harry could only assume was the bouillabaisse and looked like she was awaiting a reply.
  
  Harry was glad he wasn't the only one speechless, too. He noticed Ron looked purple, and his mouth was wide open and filled with half-chewed food. That was the only sight it took for Harry to snap out of his momentary daze.
  
  "Yea, here," he said quickly, pushing it toward the blonde.
  
  "You 'ave finished wiz it?" she asked, smiling at Harry.
  
  "Yea, it was delicious," Ron said, a little too loudly. The girl smiled diplomatically at Ron and picked up the dish. She walked slowly back toward the Ravenclaw table, turning a few heads on the short walk.
  
  Harry watched her plop down between Lilly and Cho at the Ravenclaw table as Ron muttered something about veela, only to be chastised by Hermione. The girl said something to Lilly, who laughed quietly as she looked at the bouillabaisse. Harry did a quick double take as the beautiful French girl continued to talk to Lilly. The blonde turned and looked at him. When she saw he was looking she smiled and went back to her food. Harry blushed and looked away. At least he knew what he'd like to curl up with tonight.
  
  The next day started like just about any other that term. Harry arose far too early for the weekend and met Cormac and Ginny in the common room.
  
  "Where are the twins?" he asked.
  
  "Not coming his morning," Ginny said. "They're finishing up their aging potion and going to try to enter the tournament. Told me they'd be there for practice."
  
  "Okay. Three times around the lake?" Harry asked as they walked out of the common room.
  
  "Should probably make it four," Cormac responded. "I know I need to burn off the feast."
  
  "Me too," Ginny laughed. They walked down to the entrance. Harry didn't even spare the Goblet of Fire a second look as they stepped outside. After some quick stretches by the door they started their morning Jog around the lake. Davies and Fleet were already out and running.
  
  They ran their four laps in close to the same amount of time it had taken them to run two when they first started. It was just a short walk from the edge of the lake back to the pitch and into their locker room.
  
  When they entered the locker room Roger called Harry over as Cormac and Ginny ducked into their respective showers.
  
  "Check out this play, Harry," Roger said handing him a diagram of a play. It was a daring offensive play where the beaters literally cleared the way right to the hoops for the chasers. Harry admired it and offered a pointer on where the beaters should go.
  
  "And you know," Harry said, "I could shoot along above or below the actually play and create a distraction. Could call the play at a point where I'd be heading that way and it may be even more effective.
  
  "Oh. Good idea, a couple seconds distraction could make it even easier. We'd have practically a six on oh if pulled off right," Davies laughed. "I love it."
  
  "If they break it up though it's a clean breakaway at our own hoops," Harry commented.
  
  "I know," Fleet said from behind Davies. "I designed it. High risk high reward."
  
  "Well, let's practice it today and see how it works," Harry smiled. Davies nodded and agreed. Harry excused himself and went to take a quick shower before changing into his practice uniform.
  
  "Any luck?" He heard Davies ask as he stepped back into the locker room proper.
  
  "No. We grew these ridiculous beards and had to have Pomfrey get rid of them," George admitted.
  
  "That's a shame. We're going to hit the pitch. Join us when you're ready," Davies said, picking up his Lotus and walking out to the pitch.
  
  They had an easy practice that day. Hooch only stopped by briefly, as she was showing the separate visitors facilities to the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang teams, so Davies ran the majority of it. Harry and Cho spent the first part of it practicing various feints and seeker diversionary tactics. For the second half Davies wanted to run a quick scrimmage, so Harry paired with Titus and joined Roger, Alicia and Lilly with McLaggen in the hoops, against the Weasley twins and a line of Ginny, Malcolm Preece, and Cho with Herbet playing keeper.
  
  The scrimmage went fairly well. Harry knew he was an awful beater so he concentrated on trapping the bludger and passing it to Titus, who was incredibly accurate with his shots. They played first to two hundred. Harry's side won, but only by a few goals.
  
  After the match they went back into the locker room and changed. They resumed their usual routine of lounging around, waiting for the champions announcement at the evening feast.
  
  The conversations quickly shifted to who they would like to have represent the school in the individual competition. Answers varied, but the consensus eventually came down to Cedric Diggory. The Gryffindor's had lobbied heavily for Angelina Johnson, but the rest of the team members just didn't see it.
  
  Ten minutes before dinner they left the locker room and headed back to the Great Hall. The team split up upon entering and sat at their respective tables. Harry watched as Lilly sat next to the gorgeous blonde girl. He had meant to ask her if that was Fleur during practice, but they hadn't talked much, and he didn't want to do it in front of the rest of the team.
  
  Harry sat between Ron and Hermione again. He picked up a glass of pumpkin juice and took a large drink.
  
  "Who all put their name in?" Harry asked, looking around the Great Hall, trying to determine who looked too excited about the coming prospect of being a school champion. Harry would much rather be an alternate quidditch captain.
  
  "Just about every seventh year," Hermione said. "And quite a few of the sixth years that were old enough. The goblet is certainly going to have some choices to make."
  
  "Who are you pulling for?" Harry asked.
  
  "Angelina Johnson, duh," Ron said. "Gryffindor or bust."
  
  "Cool. Best of luck to her. Crouch and Bagman are still here?" Harry asked as the food appeared on the tables. He noticed the random foreign dishes still showed up. He debated trying one, but after a chilly day of flying, the hearty beef stew looked far too inviting.
  
  "Yes, just for the champion selection. Then I imagine they'll return for each of the tasks," Hermione commented.
  
  After the meal Dumbledore rose and walked up to the podium next to the Goblet of Fire. He made a sweeping gesture to the goblet and started to speak.
  
  "Ladies and Gentleman, it appears that the Goblet is ready to make its decision on who will compete in a quest for eternal glory. I congratulate the Champions in advance. If you have the honor of having your name called, please step into the waiting room down the hallway behind me. Now it appears the Goblet is ready!" Dumbledore shouted dramatically. The flames on the goblet jumped around and after a brief moment a piece of parchment shot out of it. Dumbledore caught it expertly and read it, before gazing around the Great Hall.
  
  "The champion from Beauxbatons is," he paused for a moment as a large portion of the Beauxbatons contingent leaned toward the podium. "Fleur Delacour!" Applause followed the selection. Harry's eyes scanned the Ravenclaw table. Many of the Beauxbaton's students looked rather dejected. The beautiful blonde next to Lilly looked pleasantly surprised. She stood and walked up to Dumbledore and disappeared down into the waiting room beyond him.
  
  "Wow," Harry muttered softly. He heard Hermione laugh next to him.
  
  "Prettier than you expected, Harry?" Hermione teased. Harry laughed and shook his head a little bit.
  
  "I don't know what I expected," Harry admitted. "Can you believe that, Ron?" Harry looked at his best friend, who said nothing, but was flushed red and glaring at him. He looked like he was going to speak, but Dumbledore spoke before him, as the goblet shot yet another pieces of parchment into the air, which the old headmaster caught.
  
  "The champion from Durmstrang is," he paused again, "Viktor Krum!" The cheer was much louder for Krum than Fleur. Harry saw Malfoy patting Krum on the back and screaming.
  
  "Damn it," he muttered, clapping politely for the famous seeker.
  
  "Harry, language!" Hermione scolded. "But why are you upset about that?"
  
  "I wanted to fly against him," Harry admitted. "He may blow off the Quidditch now that he's the individual champion."
  
  "Oh it's just a sport Harry!" Hermione scoffed.
  
  "It's not 'just a sport' Hermione. Right Ron?" Harry was looking for support from his best friend. Instead all he got was a dejected muttering.
  
  "Oh yea, Harry Potter worried about not getting to fly against Viktor Krum. Too bad you don't get everything."
  
  "You know what, Ron-" Harry started, he was about to lay into his friend when Dumbledore interrupted.
  
  "And our final champion. The Champion from Hogwarts!" Dumbledore caught the next bit of parchment. "Is none other than Cedric Diggory!" The applause for the home champion was deafening.
  
  "Oh come on! Not the pretty boy!" Ron exclaimed, but Harry was pretty sure he was the only one that could hear. Ron ladled more food onto his plate and ate through the applause. Harry didn't have the heart to lay into him after that. Harry went back to eating as well before Dumbledore finished his speech.
  
  "Yes, congratulations to all of the champions. I look forward to seeing them represent their school. Remember now that the best we can do for the three champions is to provide support and encouragement. Any direct interference into the tasks will result in severe reprimands to the student, and likely the champion as well. I trust that in the spirit of competition, this will not need to be enforced." Dumbledore continued with a similar message. Harry overheard Ron talking again.
  
  "Damn Diggory. And Harry complaining about not getting his way. They get everything." Harry turned to see his friend stabbing a roasted potato angrily. He pressed his jaw together. Harry assumed Ron didn't realize he was talking aloud. But he didn't care.
  
  "Ron, just shut up. Diggory deserved it. He's one of the hardest working people in the school. Yes, I'm upset that I may not get to fly against Krum, but he'd have probably beaten me anyway. And frankly, we aren't 'given' this. I work hard at seeking. Much harder than I've ever seen you work at keeping. Diggory is one of the best students. His work ethic is legendary, even for a Hufflepuff. Everyone involved in the Quidditch team works hard to be on the team. None of us were given anything. Maybe if you did more than bitched-"
  
  "Harry Potter?" Harry heard his name and looked around. He half expected it was Hermione chastising him about practically yelling at his friend. He saw Dumbledore looking at a new piece of parchment in his hand. He looked at it again and read once more. "Harry Potter." The Great Hall went silent. Harry stood slowly, not knowing what else to do, and walked up toward the podium. Dumbledore looked at him curiously and gestured for him to walk down into the waiting room.
  
  Fleur stood by the fire in the small, dark room. Cedric and Krum each stood in opposite corners, looking at her. She ignored them. She turned and looked at him when he entered.
  
  "'Arry!" She smiled fully at him. Krum and Diggory turned and looked at him. Harry thought they looked jealous. "Do zey want us back?" Harry looked at her and didn't know what to say.
  
  "Fleur," he started, thinking that worked well enough. "I. Erm. I' don't know," he said weakly. She tossed her hair to the side.
  
  "Zen why are you here?" she asked.
  
  "I'm not sure," Harry admitted. He heard Krum mutter something in a foreign language, it didn't sound nice and drew a glare from Fleur. Diggory looked like he was about to say something when they heard footsteps in the hallway. Ludo Bagman burst in, followed by loud argumentative noises, and the other tournament officials.
  
  "What's going on?" Cedric asked. Bagman waved him away and looked directly at Harry.
  
  "Remarkable. Truly remarkable. May I present to you three, the fourth Triwizard Champion," Bagman made a sweeping gesture to him as he spoke. Harry gulped a little bit. He didn't want to compete, surely there had to be a way around this. He hoped he could talk his way out of it.
  
  He turned to face the other champions. His gaze was met by three cold, furious, stares.
  
  Author's Note: This chapter originally checked in at 14,000 words. My goal per chapter is 6-9k, so I cut it down to around 9 even. In doing so took out a bit of Ron being less of a prat. Upon editing I noticed he seems to be angry the entire chapter. That wasn't really the case the first time, but I guess it works for now. The chapter also originally ended after the upcoming scene, but I figured I'll just use that to start the next chapter instead. It ended up a bit quidditch heavy, but I assure you it was even more so in the first draft.
  
  Also, I was going to come up with better names for the brooms, but everything I could think of wound up seeming like a cliched bird names. Then I figured there hasn't been a blatantly obvious F1 reference in at least three chapters, so in honor of the car launches, or something like that. Of course, in 1994-5 I'm pretty sure Lotus was the only actual team, and Renault and Mercedes just supplied engines. Oh well, details. On a completely unrelated side note, the two new lotus-renaults look pretty nice...
  
  Erm. yea. Next time we have the first direct action of Harry and Fleur.
  
  I've also realized that I hate editing my own work. I went over this chapter twice, and have decided I need to look a little bit into getting a beta...
  
  Thanks for reading and all the reviews, I appreciate every last one.
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  Disclaimer: I own none of this and am making no money off of it. It is just for fun.
  
  Acknowledgments: A thank you must go out to Onichun who helped with the beta work on this chapter. I'm still willing to have 2-3 more people read it before publication. Shoot me a PM or an E-mail if you are interested.
  
  Chapter 7
  
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  "There must be a mistake. 'E cannot compete! 'E is too young." Fleur was the first to recover, she looked over at Harry. Her expression was the first to soften.
  
  "Oh there is no mistake, Miss Delacour. His name came out of the Goblet of Fire, and as such he is bound to compete in the tournament," Bagman explained, grinning from ear to ear as he did.
  
  "But how did my name get into the goblet? I didn't put it in!" Harry exclaimed.
  
  "We'll figure that out later," Bagman said. Fleur looked back as Madame Maxime and the other heads continued to argue.
  
  "Madame Maxime!" she said, "Zey are saying zat 'Arry is to compete as well!"
  
  "What? Dumbly-dorr? Zat is most unjust." Madame Maxime glared at the Hogwarts headmaster. "'Ogwarts cannot 'ave two champions!"
  
  "Didn't you put an age line around the goblet?" Karkaroff said dryly.
  
  "Yes, and it worked well. Every other underage student grew a very long beard, as some of your students discovered," Dumbledore said calmly.
  
  "Are you insinuating something about our institutions, Dumbledore? It seems just as many of yours were caught cheating. And apparently one of them was successful," Karkaroff retorted.
  
  "I'm not insinuating anything, Igor. Has anyone simply tried asking poor Harry?"
  
  "Poor Harry?" Viktor Krum retorted. "He's getting the chance of a lifetime!" Dumbledore ignored the quidditch star.
  
  "Did you put your name into the Goblet of Fire, Harry?" Dumbledore asked, looking him square in the eye.
  
  "No," Harry said quickly.
  
  "Did you ask, or pay, one of the older students to do it for you?"
  
  "No," his reply was more forceful.
  
  "Well I am convinced that Harry did not wish this on himself," Dumbledore calmly stated.
  
  "Obviously 'e is lying!" Madame Maxime shouted.
  
  "Madame," Fleur interjected.
  
  "Not now, Fleur," Madame Maxime cut her off before she could make a point.
  
  "I would have to agree, Dumbledore. You can't simply take the boy at his word like that."
  
  "The foreigners do have a point, headmaster," Snape spoke slowly. "Potter does have a penchant for rule breaking rivaled only by his father and the outlaw Sirius Black."
  
  "You see, Dumbledore, even your own professors doubt the boys veracity," Karkaroff stated.
  
  "That's not true," Professor McGonagall interrupted. Harry was surprisingly grateful she came to his defense. He wondered if she believed him, or if she simply trusted Dumbledore's judgment.
  
  "Hardly, the boy has stepped far out of every year here, Minerva. First he wandered, knowingly, into restricted areas of the castle. Second he defies a specific order to not leave the safety of the common rooms. Third he knowingly consorts with a werewolf and winds up well off of school grounds after hours," Snape chronicled everything with a sneer. Karkaroff and Maxime looked horrified.
  
  Harry felt the anger swelling up inside of him. He made a note to thank Ron. If he hadn't been so irritated with his friend earlier, he probably wouldn't have had the anger to channel into his next statement.
  
  "Well, you weren't doing much about the basilisk, Professor Snape. I figured someone should take care of it," he snapped.
  
  "A basilisk?" Krum laughed. "I doubt the boy has ever even seen one."
  
  "You expect us to believe a tropical serpent was in the school?" Karkaroff laughed with his student.
  
  "And 'e lies more right in front of you!" Madame Maxime stated. Harry looked over at Cedric, who seemed to be contemplating things. No doubt he was thinking back to his fifth year, and the petrified students.
  
  "But surely 'e shouldn't compete. 'E is too young. 'E cannot be skilled enough," Fleur said from her spot in front of the fire place. Harry looked at her. He felt hurt. She didn't think he was capable.
  
  "It doesn't matter, Miss Delacour," Bagman said from the opposite side of the room. Harry looked at the former quidditch player. He thought Bagman appeared to be sizing him up, like he was some type of race horse.
  
  "'Ow can zat not matter?" Fleur's eyes narrowed as she focused on Ludo Bagman. But it was Barty Crouch who spoke.
  
  "Because the Goblet of Fire constitutes a binding magical contract. I believe your father is an attorney, Miss Delacour, you should understand what that entails." Fleur's eyes narrowed even more as her gaze shifted over to the other ministry official.
  
  "What happens if I don't compete?" Harry asked.
  
  "You lose your magic," Fleur said simply.
  
  "Yes," Crouch responded. "The magic of the goblet bound your own personal magic to it. Failure to attempt the tasks with result in the loss of your magical ability."
  
  "Great," Harry responded. "Why would someone enter me in this?"
  
  "You 'ave failed to convince me you did not enter yourself," Madame Maxime said.
  
  "Frankly, I don't care if he entered himself or not. Either way it is obvious that Hogwarts is cheating. Whether it is a single renegade student or an entire institutional plot is irrelevant," Karkaroff said.
  
  "That is an outrageous accusation," McGonagall said.
  
  "You've done nothing to counter it. After all, as the boy said, why would an outside source want him in the tournament?" Karkaroff sneered at McGonagall. Harry half expected the transfiguration professor to curse him.
  
  "That doesn't seem like that hard of a question to answer, Igor," Professor Moody spoke from the doorway. Harry wasn't sure how long the defense professor had been there. He was slightly disturbed by the fact that the defense professor could sneak up on anyone.
  
  "Oh? Enlighten us, Mad-Eye," Snape said.
  
  "People die in these tournaments, Severus. They were canceled because three consecutive ones ended with none of the champions surviving. The last time none even made it past the first task. And correct me if I'm wrong, but we all know who would want Mr. Potter dead," Harry noticed that Moody looked at Snape when he spoke, but his electric blue eye focused on Karkaroff. Harry saw Fleur and Cedric both paled at that revelation about previous champions. At least they'd brought it upon themselves. Krum seemed unconcerned.
  
  "I doubt that he-who-must-not-be-named put Harry Potter's name into the Goblet of Fire," Karkaroff said dryly. "If he was even still alive, and possessed the ability to do so, I think we'd all have more pressing matters to worry about than the tournament."
  
  "He has followers," Moody retorted. "But you would already know that, wouldn't you, Igor."
  
  "Had followers, Moody. And I'm not going to stand here and be accused by a mad man."
  
  "They seemed pretty active at the World Cup," Moody accused. "You were there, weren't you? Watching your star pupil?"
  
  "Alastor, enough," Dumbledore said quietly. Moody looked at the Hogwarts headmaster. "We do not need this to descend into petty squabbling."
  
  "It is already there," Fleur said quietly from the corner. Everyone in the room looked at her. She had turned back to the fire.
  
  "Miss Delacour remember your manners!" Madame Maxime scolded. Fleur just laughed haughtily.
  
  "Moi? I am not the one accusing an innocent boy, whom you know nothing about, of cheating. Zis 'Arry 'as done nothing so far. Maybe 'e really doesn't want to compete!" Fleur looked very tense in the corner. Harry wanted to go and hug her. He figured that would be incredibly bad manners, though.
  
  "Oh please. 'E probably dreams about competing," Madame Maxime chided her student once more.
  
  "But zat does not matter!" Fleur said exasperatedly. "'E is bound to compete like ze rest of us! Zair is nothing zat we can do. So let us move on and be done with it!"
  
  "Well said, Miss Delacour," Bagman said. Harry didn't quite think the matter should be dropped that easily. But of course, he had a little more at stake than Fleur.
  
  "The girl has a point," Moody said. "We should simply move on. We can look into Potter's matter more closely later. But, as she says, there is nothing that we can do about it. Tell them about their first challenge so we can all get to bed and ruminate on the day." Harry thought that Moody was pretty quick to dismiss the matter for a madman obsessed with dark wizards. And he had really laid into Karkaroff.
  
  "Right. Well. You do not get to know about the first task," Bagman said to the four champions.
  
  "Well that's useful," Cedric commented. Bagman looked slightly put out at being interrupted, but continued anyway.
  
  "The task is designed to make you face the unknown. Courage in the face of the unknown is an important quality required of the champions. You will face the task with nothing more than your wand, on the twenty-fourth of November. The champions will be prohibited from asking for help.
  
  "Also, champions are exempt from end-of-the year examinations. As part of that you four are also not required to attend classes. However we strongly advise that you do so. Learning more never hurt. Best of luck to you all." Bagman bowed slightly to the champions as he finished speaking. Harry had a feeling that rule was devised with the assumption that an underage student would not have wound up in the tournament.
  
  Harry idly wondered about all of the times he foolishly rushed into the unknown. Nothing they presented to him could be harder than that, could it? Of course, he'd always had help. Harry didn't really pay attention to the conversation between Crouch, Bagman and Dumbledore as he thought about the future tasks. Instead he took the time to inch closer to Fleur.
  
  "Hey," he said quietly when he felt he was within whispering range of the French girl. She didn't turn to look at him. "Thanks for sticking up for me there."
  
  "I did not 'stick up for you' 'Arry." She responded coldly. "Zey would 'ave argued all night if someone 'ad not spoken up."
  
  "Well, still. Thank you," he whispered. "I really didn't put my name in the goblet."
  
  "So you said. You know, some of your classmates do not speak very highly of you. Zey say you often seek attention."
  
  "Who said that?" Harry asked.
  
  "I do not know. I overheard it at lunch."
  
  "So you'll formulate an opinion based on heresy?"
  
  "Non. But I overheard students in each of ze 'ouses with similar opinions."
  
  "I already told you once, Fleur. I don't want any of this. It just sort of happens. And now I have to compete in some tournament I was looking forward to watching from the stands with my friends." His words came out angrier than he would have liked. Fleur tensed, but did not get the chance to respond as Madame Maxime's voice cut through the room.
  
  "We are leaving now, Miss Delacour," the large headmistress said. Fleur just nodded and walked next to the woman as the two left. Harry noticed Karkaroff and Krum had already left, leaving just the Hogwarts contingent behind.
  
  "Professor Dumbledore?" Harry asked, "Is there anything I can do to prove that I didn't put my name into the goblet?" The headmaster looked caught off guard at being so directly addressed and questioned.
  
  "I do not know, Harry. I will discuss the matter more with the other judges when we next meet. For now, I would not worry about it. Instead try to focus on the tasks ahead. I would suggest a good night of sleep." The aged headmaster looked at him, with the familiar twinkle in his eye. Harry didn't really like that answer, but he could sense there was nothing he could do about it now.
  
  The headmaster left the room then, followed shortly by the remaining professors. Harry looked over at Cedric, who eyed him carefully.
  
  "Well, shall we?" Harry asked, gesturing toward the door.
  
  "Sure," the Hufflepuff said. They walked into the empty hallway together. "Slytherin's monster was really a basilisk?"
  
  "Yes."
  
  "Unbelievable," Cedric said, almost in awe. "The signs were all there, but I would have never guessed. It's lucky that no one died."
  
  "Very," Harry responded, not really interested in talking about that. He had the strangest feeling he was going to become as much of an exile this year, as when everyone thought he was the heir of Slytherin.
  
  "And you fought it?" Cedric asked.
  
  "I did," Harry said curtly. "With the help of Fawkes and a sword now on display in Dumbledore's office.
  
  "I saw that sword at a prefects meeting last year," Cedric paused for a moment. "You should have kept that one." Harry couldn't help but laugh.
  
  "The thought hadn't even occurred to me. It may have come in handy now."
  
  "Well if we wind up having to fight a basilisk, Harry, don't be surprised if I summon you to me and defer to your expertise," Cedric joked. Harry laughed a little bit more.
  
  "I wonder if that would constitute asking for help?" he asked.
  
  "Only one way to find out," Cedric responded, drawing another laugh from both of them. They reached the point of the castle where they had to split apart to head to their own respective common rooms.
  
  "Well, I'm heading up," Harry said, moving toward the stairs hoping they wouldn't shift out of the way as he walked up.
  
  "And I'm down to the right. But Harry, before you go, how did you manage to get your name into the goblet?"
  
  "I was telling the truth, Cedric. I didn't enter myself, and I didn't ask anyone to enter me."
  
  "Oh. Well, good night, Harry," the Hufflepuff said, sounding slightly disappointed. Harry knew Cedric didn't believe him. He knew there had to be some way of convincing the students, but what it was escaped him.
  
  "You too, Cedric. Good luck with this thing," Harry responded before walking up the stairs that led to the Gryffindor common room.
  
  Harry hesitated outside of the common room for just a moment. He wondered what his housemates would think. Would they just assume he was a cheater as well?
  
  He gave the fat lady the password and stepped into the common room. Fred and George were the first to meet him. They clapped him on the back, cheering loudly.
  
  "How did you do it?" George asked.
  
  "Yea, and no beard!" Fred commented.
  
  "At least it's a Gryffindor," Angelina Johnson said from behind the twins. She had a polite smile on her face.
  
  Someone passed him a bunch of food, but he wasn't hungry so he dropped it onto a nearby table. Lee Jordan tried to wrap a banner around him like a cape. He tried to avoid that but failed. The questions kept coming. No one even really seemed to care about his answers, or even listened when he tried to give them. Eventually, after about half an hour of Gryffindor's celebrating him, they started to calm.
  
  "So how did you do it?" George asked once more. Harry was about to give the standard answer he'd been giving all night when someone else spoke up.
  
  "He didn't," Ginny said from a back corner where she finished up a homework assignment.
  
  "Yes, he's said that, but I don't believe him. No offense, Harry." George said to his sister.
  
  "Well you should," she responded.
  
  "And why is that?"
  
  "Because he was with us the entire day. I met him in the common room as he left his dorm, looking like he should still be asleep. Then he went for a run with me and Cormac. And then he practiced with the team for the rest of the day. We all returned to the feast together. He didn't have any time to put his name in the Goblet," Ginny explained.
  
  "Well he could have come back up to the common room to meet you," Fred commented.
  
  "He could have, but trust me, he looked like he had pretty much just rolled out of bed," Ginny stated.
  
  "Thanks Ginny," Harry said.
  
  "No problem. Did they figure out how your name came out of the Goblet?" she asked.
  
  "No. Moody was the only one who even had a theory. He thinks someone entered me in the hopes that I would die during it," Harry said calmly. The common room went unnaturally quiet. Harry suddenly felt rather like the elephant in the room.
  
  "Well," he said dumbly. "On that note, I'm going to bed. I'll see at practice tomorrow," he gestured to Ginny and the twins. He'd have gestured to Cormac and Alicia too, but he didn't see them.
  
  He wondered if Ron and Hermione would believe him. He was happy that Ginny, at the very least, believed him. He pondered where exactly Ron and Hermione were, he hadn't seen them since the feast. He'd completely forgotten that the last thing he'd said to Ron was that he complained too much.
  
  He entered the fourth year boy's dormitory and gazed around. Only he and Ron occupied the room. Harry smiled a bit at his friend.
  
  "Hey Ron," he said quietly. Ron just looked up at him.
  
  "Oh, come to yell at me some more?" Ron asked.
  
  "No. Look, mate, I'm sorry about that," Harry said. "I've just been frustrated of late and I shouldn't have lashed out."
  
  "You've been frustrated?" Ron laughed. "I'm sorry you're so frustrated that you now get to be a school champion. How'd you do it, anyway, the cloak? You could have at least let some others in too, or did you not want the competition."
  
  "Come on, Ron. You know me better than that. I didn't want the competition at all, I didn't want to compete."
  
  "Yes well, you should have told me how you did it then. I could have entered!" Ron said, sounding a mix between excited and hurt.
  
  "But I didn't enter myself!" Harry argued.
  
  "Sure. Why else would your name come up?" Ron asked, for the first time in the conversation sounding level-headed.
  
  "I don't know. Moody thinks whoever it is probably is hoping that I die during the tasks." Harry admitted for the second time in a few minutes.
  
  "Oh please," Ron almost laughed. "Moody isn't all there and you know it. And you can't use that excuse every year."
  
  "What?" Harry asked, sounding confused.
  
  "First it's Snape wanting to kill you and steal the stone. Next it's the Heir of Slytherin wanting to kill you. Sorry if you don't remember, but it was my sister that he wanted to kill. Next Sirius Black wants you dead. Low and behold he winds up being your Godfather! Who's it going to be next year? Merlin back from the dead to smite Harry Potter? It gets old mate."
  
  "You can't be serious, Ron. Quirrell tried to kill me. Your sister saw the basilisk. It almost killed our best friend! Damn it man. I didn't want to be in this tournament. I don't want this. Why can't you believe that?" Harry pleaded. His blood was beginning to boil in his veins. Almost every part of him wanted to punch his best friend.
  
  "How unlucky for you, Champion. Oh you don't want to compete, but now you have to. How terrible is that. And here I thought you were my friend. But no, I'm not even worthy of knowing how you tricked the goblet," Ron spat. Harry blinked and felt like his chest was being crushed.
  
  "You're my best friend, Ron. I didn't enter the tournament. I don't want to compete. Please, believe me," Harry begged. Ron just turned away and pulled the curtains back on his bed. Harry stood in the middle of the dorm, unable to believe his friend's reaction. He couldn't think of anything else to do other than crawl into his bed and hope that the entire day had simply been a dream.
  
  Unfortunately when he awoke the next morning he quickly realized it wasn't a dream. He also realized he was likely late for his morning run. He groaned and quite literally rolled out of bed, before pulling himself up and heading down to the common room. It was still empty, which was probably a good sign.
  
  He hurried downstairs toward the Great Hall. He peered inside, but didn't see any of his Quidditch teammates, so he nicked a few pieces of toast from the nearest table and hurried outside.
  
  Thankfully, most of his teammates were still running around the lake, so he figured he could at least do a quick warm-up before joining them for practice. He started on his run. After his first lap around the lake, Roger caught up with him.
  
  "So you're staying on the team?" Roger asked. Harry looked at the older boy.
  
  "Of course," he said. "Why would I not?"
  
  "Well, with the individual tournament, Hooch figured you were going to want to focus on that."
  
  "I don't even want to be in that, much less focus on that. I'd much rather compete with the team I earned a spot on," Harry said.
  
  "And that's why I picked you as an alternate," Davies said.
  
  "What?" Harry asked. "I thought Hooch picked those."
  
  "No. She picked me as Captain, and I picked the two alternates. She figured I'd have wanted someone older for the second. But I went with you on the hunch that you'd really throw yourself into it. And you have," Davies explained. Harry felt incredibly flattered.
  
  "Thanks, Roger," Harry said.
  
  "No, Harry. Thank you. No offense to Cho, but you're a considerably better seeker than she is."
  
  "She's getting better. We all are."
  
  "Yes, she is. And Ravenclaw should put up a significant challenge next year in the house cup. But you're getting better too, and with the way the Gryff's are playing, it could get ugly. I'm just sad I won't be here to see it."
  
  "Well, we'll just have to win the complete tournament for you, then," Harry said.
  
  "If only it were that easy," Roger laughed. After a few moments pause, as they were nearing the end of the lap, he continued. "I hate to ask this, Harry, but curiosity is getting the better of me. How did you manage to get your name into the goblet?"
  
  "If I knew I'd tell you," Harry said. "I didn't put it in myself, and I didn't ask anyone to do it for me. Although if that worked, you'd think more people would have done it."
  
  "Somehow I knew that. You were with the team all day. I thought maybe in the morning, but that just felt wrong. You know no one is going to believe you, right?"
  
  "What else is new?" Harry asked, getting another laugh out of the captain.
  
  "You have a point there. You'd think after four years someone would give you the benefit of the doubt. As long as you keep practicing as hard as you have been, I don't care whether or not you're in the individual tournament. Just don't get yourself killed. We need you." Roger joked.
  
  "I'll do my best," Harry couldn't help but smile.
  
  "Good. I'd expect nothing less," Davies said.
  
  "So what did you tell the team?" Harry asked.
  
  "Nothing yet. I figured I should talk to you first. If you're going to play, then there really isn't any point in telling them anything. Unless you disagree. I say just continuing with practice as normal would be the best course of action." Roger explained.
  
  "I have no problem with that," Harry said. He slowed his pace and started to walk toward the locker room.
  
  "Good. I'm going to do another lap, looks like Alicia and Cho need some incentive to move a little bit faster. I'll see you on the pitch, Harry," Davies said and ran off after the two girls.
  
  A few hours later Harry found himself floating high above the pitch eating a sandwich. A few of his teammates had gone back to the locker room to eat, but Harry had decided to stay out. It was warm enough for the time of year and he enjoyed having the sun beat down on his back.
  
  "Whatcha doing up there?" he heard someone ask from below him. He glanced by to see a large yellow six on the back of the white uniform flying away. Braided brown hair cut down the middle of the number. She circled back and flew up to meet him, hovering on her Lotus next to him.
  
  "Eating lunch," Harry said.
  
  "I noticed that," Lilly said. She was tossing a quaffle up and down as she floated next to him.
  
  "And what are you doing?" Harry asked as he finished his sandwich.
  
  "Well I was going to work on some one-on-one moves before we did some breakaway and shootout drills, but I didn't feel like chasing after the quaffle so I decided to come and bother you."
  
  "Nice of you."
  
  "I thought so too," Lilly lay back on her broom and looked up at the sky. "So, you had your first meeting with Fleur last night, didn't you?" Harry looked over at her like that, knowing his response would be judged and not wanting to respond incorrectly.
  
  "Yes, I did." Was all he decided to say.
  
  "Well how did that go!" Lilly asked.
  
  "You're her friend, aren't you? Ask her."
  
  "That well, eh? Was it her aura?" Lilly asked.
  
  "Her aura?"
  
  "Yes, she has an aura, well more of a slight pull. She's a quarter Veela," Lilly explained. "You stumble over words and fail at talking to her? That tends to happen."
  
  "Oh, no. I was fine. She just seemed to believe that I'm a liar. As she'd heard that from other students. Doubted that I really didn't want to compete. You know, same as everyone else." Harry said.
  
  "She didn't say that!" Lilly exclaimed, looking slightly perturbed.
  
  "Not quite directly, but more or less."
  
  "She's usually more open than that," Lilly said, with a slight frown. "She rather enjoyed your letters, too. It was all she'd talk about when she was in Florence."
  
  "Well she reacted as to be expected. Probably thinks I'm trying to steal her school's glory or something. I'll settle for beating the snot out of them at quidditch." Harry commented.
  
  "Well, you'll get your chance there. Looks like they're getting ready for the drills," Lilly was looking down. Harry did the same and saw the rest of the team walking back out onto the pitch.
  
  "You said Roger wanted to do one-on-one breakaways?" Harry asked.
  
  "Yea. He figured we'd end the day with that and see what Hooch wanted to do tomorrow," she explained.
  
  "Well that works. I suppose Cho, the beaters, and I get to play fetch?" Harry asked.
  
  "That's probably a good guess," Lilly laughed. Harry just shook his head, fighting back a smile, and flew down toward the rest of the team.
  
  He abused his privileges as an alternate captain and made Fred and George take one set of hoops, while Cho and Titus took the other. He mostly circled the pitch with Roger, taking mental notes on how everyone performed just in case he was required to pick the lineup for a shoot out. Of course, for that to happen both Roger and Lilly would have to be otherwise incapacitated for the decision to fall up to him. And frankly, if that was the case, he wouldn't really have that many shooters left to pick from.
  
  Harry watched Herbert Fleet stop a shot from Alicia before turning his Lotus to the other set of hoops where he saw Malcolm Preece score on Cormac.
  
  "Who's that?" Roger asked, catching a return quaffle from one of the beaters before tossing it to Ginny, who raced on toward Herbert.
  
  "Don't know," Harry said, looking toward the ground where someone approached the pitch. "I'll go check it out." He swooped toward the ground landing next to Colin Creevy.
  
  "There you are, Harry!" Colin said. "The people from the prophet, and I think some other foreign papers, want to interview the champions! You're supposed to be there!" Harry thought the boy sounded too excited. Harry just groaned.
  
  "Fine. Let me go tell Roger and then change. I'll meet you out here in a few minutes," Harry said.
  
  He delayed it as long as he could, but even with changing as slowly as he possibly could, and walking at a pace that would make a snail blush, he found himself in front of a group of reporters a mere twenty-five minutes later.
  
  It only took him a few minutes to realize how bad of an idea that was. It seemed all of the reporters had finished with the other three champions. Immediately after his wand was declared to be in proper working order, the reporters descended upon him.
  
  "How did you get into the tournament?"
  
  "Are you looking forward to competing?"
  
  "What do you think your parent's would think?"
  
  "Will it interfere with your quidditch?"
  
  "Are you going to try to go professional if you have a good showing in the tournament?"
  
  "Do you feel your age will be a severe detriment for the tasks ahead?"
  
  Harry didn't even know how, or where, to respond. He stared at the reporters and felt incredibly confused. They just kept asking questions, not even seeming bothered that he didn't say anything. After a few more moments he felt a comforting touch on his shoulder. He looked up to see Professor Dumbledore standing next to him. The aged headmaster spoke.
  
  "Please. Young Harry has never been interviewed before, and we are running out of time. I believe we can manage five questions. Please keep them limited to matters of the tournament, and do remember that unlike the other champions, he is a minor," Dumbledore stated. When he finished the reporters hands all shot into the air. They reminded Harry a little bit of Hermione. He did his best imitation of an athlete giving a press conference when he pointed to the first, a blonde witch in the middle.
  
  "Rita Skeeter, a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Harry. Now, you must answer the question we're all dying to know. How did you manage to trick the legendary Albus Dumbledore's age line and enter yourself into the tournament?"
  
  "I didn't," Harry said dumbly. None of the reporters looked happy with that. But Dumbledore spoke before any of them got the chance to comment.
  
  "We do not believe Harry entered his name into the Goblet of Fire. Why it came out is currently being investigated."
  
  "So you don't believe what Maxime and Karkaroff are saying about the boy's honesty and that his is a plot to give the advantage to Hogwarts?" A reporter asked from the corner of the gaggle.
  
  "Do you really want to waste one of your questions for Harry on that?" Dumbledore asked. The reporter immediately backed down. After a moment Harry gestured to a man standing to the left of Rita.
  
  "Do you feel that you'll be at a disadvantage because of your age?"
  
  "Well, yes. Everyone else has three more years of experience on me. I'm sure they know more magic than I do," Harry answered honestly. He gestured to a female reporter.
  
  "Two part question, if you don't mind. First, there have been many rumors that you often find yourself in precarious situations at school; could experiences from that help you in the tournament?"
  
  "Well, probably, but I'm not sure how," Harry answered. As soon as he finished speaking the reporter continued.
  
  "Okay, second, some Hogwarts Professors say you have a constant need for attention and this is merely you acting out. Care to comment on that?"
  
  "Not really," Harry responded before realizing just how bad that sounded as an answer. "But I will say if I really wanted attention, I'd probably have done an interview sooner." He was please when the reporters laughed.
  
  "Care to comment on the rumored precarious situations?" Another reporter asked. Again, Dumbledore answered before Harry could.
  
  "Please limit questions to the tournament," the headmaster stated. "We have time for two more."
  
  "Harry, we know you've made the Hogwarts Quidditch team. There has been some uproar from the broom companies that this tournament allowed for three first time manufacturers. And to make it worse, the manufacturers are mostly Muggle-borns in Muggle companies. What do you know of this and what do you think of the new Lotus LE1 you'll be flying in the tournament?" A reporter on the other side of Rita asked.
  
  "Uhm. I don't really know much about the controversy. Really, all I knew of Lotus, Mercedes and Renault is that they manufacture Muggle vehicles. Usually expensive ones. And I think they all take part in forms of Muggle racing as well. As for the broom, it flies rather well. I have no complaints about it, and I think the team rather likes it as well. We all appreciate that the equipment in the tournament should be equal. It should make for better matches." Harry hoped that he gave a satisfactory answer.
  
  While he did prefer his Firebolt, he had to admit the Lotus was growing on him. Still, he doubted he'd use it next year in the house tournament.
  
  "Alright, last question, Harry," Rita chimed in. Some of the reporters around her glared at her. Harry got the strangest feeling that they didn't particularly like her. "How does it feel to be the representative of Hogwarts in this tournament?" Harry paused for a moment and looked at her.
  
  "You'd have to ask Cedric. He's the Hogwarts champion. I'm actually pulling for him in this. He's a great competitor and I hope he does well. As for being a member of the Hogwarts quidditch team, that's a great honor and I hope I perform well." Harry looked up at Dumbledore then. The twinkle had returned to the headmaster's eye.
  
  "Alright. That's enough for the day. You will all have chances to question the champions after each of the tasks. Dumbledore escorted the reporters out of the room and presumably to the entrance hall. Harry gazed around the room for the first time. He was left alone, the other champions all having left while he was answering questions.
  
  He took his usual seat next to Hermione for the evening meal. She gave him a polite smile as he sat down and continued her conversation about runic translations with a sixth year next to her. Harry began eating.
  
  "Hello Harry," Hermione said a few moments later, once she was happy with the runes conversation.
  
  "Hey. Where's Ron?" Harry asked.
  
  "I haven't seen him since lunch," Hermione admitted. "How was practice?"
  
  "It was fine. We took it pretty easy today. I had to go and talk with reporters after about the tournament."
  
  "How was that?" she asked.
  
  "I don't know. It didn't seem too bad. I was late because of practice and Dumbledore limited their questions."
  
  "And I suppose you won't know until it's reported, anyway. What kind of questions did they ask?"
  
  "It all seemed pretty standard. How I got it, how I thought I'd do. Some quidditch stuff." Harry explained.
  
  "Well it probably wasn't that bad," Hermione joked. "After all you boys do really love talking about your quidditch."
  
  "Yea," Harry agreed. "Thanks, by the way."
  
  "For what?" Hermione looked startled.
  
  "For not asking."
  
  "We've been through enough together, Harry." She said. "If you tell me you didn't enter your name, I believe you." She explained. They both heard Ron talking in the distance and looked over to see him enter the great hall, and take a seat down the table from them with Dean and Seamus.
  
  "I wish someone else believed me," Harry said softly, looking down at his food.
  
  "Oh Harry," Hermione sympathized. "I think he believes you. I mean, I can't see why he wouldn't. You've never been anything but honest with him. I just think he's insanely jealous of you," Hermione attempted to justify their friend's feelings.
  
  "Yes, well. He can have the tournament if he wants it. I sure don't," Harry brooded. Hermione rolled her eyes and hit him playfully.
  
  "Stop brooding. Tell me about Fleur." Hermione demanded.
  
  "My gorgeous French pen pal who happens to be the Beauxbatons champion?" Harry teased.
  
  "Yea, the blonde cow that everyone fawns over," Hermione attempted to tease, but Harry sensed a bit more vehemence there.
  
  "She's part Veela. Her friend told me that. That's why they're fawning," Harry commented.
  
  "You didn't seem bothered," she commented, then gasped and looked surprised. "Harry, are you..uhm...?" Harry got her meaning.
  
  "What..No. I was enthralled at the World Cup. And I do think she's pretty. But she thinks I'm a cheater who's trying to give Hogwarts an advantage in the individual competition." Harry stated. Hermione frowned.
  
  "You can't really catch a break this year, can you?" Hermione said quietly.
  
  "Nah, the first few months were great," Harry laughed. He speared a piece of meat and brought it to his mouth while he looked around the hall. He looked at Ron for a moment and just shook his head. He knew his friend would come around, eventually, but he wished he had Ron's support.
  
  Harry dove. He pressed himself faster and faster as his eyes focused on the little golden ball that skimmed just above the ground. He forced the Lotus to its very limits. He felt the wind resistance as he pushed it harder. He knew he was traveling at nearly two hundred kilometers an hour as the ground grew progressively closer. A year ago he didn't think he would be willing to try this maneuver.
  
  The golden ball darted away from him as he grew closer to the ground. Harry reacted purely on instinct. He pulled his broom up quickly, maintaining almost his full speed as he raced after the snitch. He dodged a bludger with an easy roll, not even bothering to take his eyes off of the snitch, even for the moment he was upside down.
  
  The snitch shot upwards and he followed it, gaining quickly. It reversed quickly and Harry corkscrewed sharply and followed, upside down coming out of his own reverse move. He didn't even notice as he sped up on the golden ball. It tried to cut right but Harry anticipated that and grabbed it right out of the air.
  
  He quickly rolled is broom upright and saw that the mock game had stopped because everyone else on the pitch was staring at him. Roger flew over next to him and took the snitch.
  
  "Wow, Harry, just wow. Please refrain from doing that again," the captain said.
  
  "Doing what?" Harry asked.
  
  "Trying to kill yourself in practice. We still have games to play. Cho thought you were feinting. She didn't even follow you into the dive. I wasn't even aware these brooms could change direction that fast."
  
  "Neither was I," Harry commented. "Still, I'd have had it coming out of the dive on the Firebolt."
  
  "If you insist, Harry," George said, flying up next to him.
  
  "That flying was professional quality, Harry," Fred said, following his brother.
  
  "Yes. Well, I think we're done for the day." Hooch said, flying up next to them. "Nice catch, Potter. Remember, our first game is in a month."
  
  "Who do we play?" Roger asked.
  
  "I can't tell you that until it's announced, Davies, you know that," Hooch said. Roger smiled charismatically at the old coach.
  
  "Yes, but it's worth a try." The whole team laughed. Fred and George flew off to collect the bludgers as Malcolm tossed the quaffle to Hooch.
  
  "Who's that?" the Hufflepuff chaser said as he peered at the ground blow them. A figured clothed in blue was walking out toward the pitch, looking up at him.
  
  "Looks like a Beauxbatons student come to spy on practice," Alicia said.
  
  "Someone should go yell at him," Titus said, looking directly at Lilly.
  
  "Indeed," Roger agreed, doing the same thing.
  
  "Why are you all looking at me?" Lilly asked. "Is there something on my face?"
  
  "You speak French," Titus said.
  
  "So?" Lilly asked.
  
  "So go yell at the French trespasser," Roger commented.
  
  "They all speak English, you know!" Lilly said as she flew down to meet the approaching Beauxbatons student. The rest of the team flew down to the locker room to change.
  
  Harry grabbed a sandwich upon entering, making a mental note to thank the elves for always having food in the locker room after practices. Harry was sure Fred and George had something to do with that, but he had yet to ask them.
  
  He went and sat by his locker, pulling off his seeker gloves and boots. He tossed his socks into the laundry bin at the bottom of his locker, and watched as they simply vanished. They'd appear perfectly balled the next day, he knew. He had to admit, he could grow accustomed to being pampered.
  
  He pulled on a fresh pair of socks and was about to pull off his uniform when Lilly entered and spoke.
  
  "Harry, someone wants to speak with you outside," she said as she moved to her locker.
  
  "Who?" Ginny asked, sounding slightly jealous.
  
  "Just a friend of mine. She's harmless," Lilly answered. Harry put on his shoes, ignoring the fact he was still in his practice uniform and walked toward the exit. He couldn't help but notice Ginny watching him, with her arms crossed across her chest.
  
  He stepped out into the night air and was glad for the heavier uniform. He realized then, that the actual game uniform was likely heavier than the practice uniforms because it would likely be cooler when they played the games.
  
  He didn't see anyone waiting for him outside, so he started to walk toward the pitch itself, figuring whoever it was would wait in the stands. He hadn't taken more than three steps when a voice spoke behind him.
  
  "Potter," the quiet, feminine voice said. Harry didn't think it could be anything good if he was being addressed by his last name. His first assumption was that it was some Beauxbatons student intending to insult him for being an individual champion.
  
  "Yes?" he asked without turning. His voice sounded harsh when he spoke, but he didn't care.
  
  "Sept?" Is zat important for you?" He realized she was just reading the back of his jersey. He turned to look for her. Fleur Delacour sat stiffly on a nearby bench. She had her full uniform on, including hat. He could only assume her has was up in a bun, hidden under the hat since he didn't see any of it. Her large, blue eyes were focused on him, and her hands were together in her lap. She looked as tense as she had before the fireplace a few days earlier.
  
  "No. It's just the assigned number," he said, moving over toward her.
  
  "Oh. 'Ow does zat work?" She asked.
  
  "You don't really follow quidditch at all, do you?" he asked. She looked down and blushed and he cursed himself for not simply explaining it.
  
  "Non. I told you I do not 'ave much interest in it," she admitted.
  
  "Oh, the seeker on traditional teams is simply number seven. National teams use the system. Professional league players usually pick their number," Harry explained.
  
  "I see. And what number will you pick when you are professional?" she asked.
  
  "I've got a long way to go for that, Fleur. I'm not even sure I'm good enough, or if that's what I want to do," he said.
  
  "Entertain me, 'Arry," she said.
  
  "Honestly, I don't know," he replied. "I haven't really thought about it. Eleven, maybe?"
  
  "Pourquoi?" she asked. "I mean, why?"
  
  "Because I was eleven when I discovered the magical world. It changed my life, seems fitting," Harry said. He couldn't help but smile as he added, "And it was the first number that came into my head when you asked." She chuckled a little bit as well.
  
  "Well zat is a good reason," she said.
  
  "So did you ask me to come out here to discuss quidditch numbers?" Harry asked, trying to sound light as he spoke.
  
  "Non. I did not. I 'ad a rather interesting visit from my friend ze other night. After one of your practices," she spoke slowly, wringing her hands together as she did. Harry leaned against the side of the stands, a few feet away from the bench where she sat.
  
  "And?" he asked.
  
  "Well, Lillian was rather adamant that I was being silly. And she informed me zat zair was no way you could 'ave entered your name. She said zat you were playing quidditch all day, and zat you never 'ad time to go to ze hall." She said, placing her hands down on the bench next to her.
  
  "That's true," Harry said. "And I don't want to compete."
  
  "Yes, with ze quidditch I can see zat," she spoke softly. "Lilly also said zat you are shy, and do not like being in ze spotlight. So she didn't feel zat you would even enter 'ad you been of age."
  
  "Oh. I don't know about that," Harry said, getting a brief mental image of becoming the champion. "If I was of age, and there wasn't a quidditch tournament, I'd likely have tried."
  
  "Well, regardless, we will be competing. I will be aiming to defeat you," she said.
  
  "I'd expect nothing less," Harry said. "I'll be aiming to beat you as well. So is that why you wanted to speak to me?"
  
  "Well, yes. I wanted to apologize for not believing you. I am sorry, 'Arry. I should not 'ave judged so swiftly." She stood and faced him as she spoke.
  
  "I accept your apology, Fleur. I'm more than used to people rushing to judgment," he said, doing his best to brush it off. He realized, again, that his words likely sounded harsher than he intended them. But it had been a long week.
  
  "Merci, 'Arry," she took a step or two toward him. "Now, I would like to be friends. I enjoyed your letters zis summer. Do you forgive me enough to try zat?" Harry almost laughed. She actually looked concerned. Like there was a chance that he wouldn't. Her wide blue eyes focused on him. He stared back and smiled ever so slightly.
  
  "I'd like to be your friend," he admitted.
  
  "Good," she said. "Zen we should do zis properly. I am Fleur Delacour and it is a pleasure to meet you." She held out her hand and sounded oddly formal. Harry reached out and took it. Her hand felt soft and fragile in his, but just by looking at her he could sense that she was far from fragile.
  
  "Harry Potter," he said. "I'm pleased to make you acquaintance. The pleasure is all mine." He shook her hand gently before letting go.
  
  "Thank you," she said. "Unfortunately, I must return to ze carriage now. Madame Maxime 'as very strict rules in place. Good night, 'Arry."
  
  "Good night, Fleur," he responded before watching her walk back to the large blue carriage that dominated a corner of the grounds.
  
  Author's Note: At this point, the rest of the story has been planned, more or less. The next chapter will either be the first quidditch match, or the first task, depending on what I feel like writing more. Also, I wouldn't expect updates quite as quickly. The blizzard that hit the midwest last week gave me ample time to write, and resulted in the third updated in about two and a half weeks. It usually takes me about that length of time to complete one chapter.
  
  As always, thanks for the reviews. I appreciate them all. I hope you enjoyed the update!
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no money off of this.
  
  Acknowledgments: Thanks to Onichun again for some beta work on this chapter. Again, I'm willing to have more people read them over before I post, contact me if you're interested.
  
  Chapter 8
  
  Quidditch
  
  The next few weeks passed quicker than Harry realized. He didn't focus much on the individual tournament, as he was being drilled into the ground by a combination of Hooch and Davies.
  
  He still did attend most of his classes, which surprised even him. But they were easier when he could bounce homework ideas off of the older students on the team. None of them even really had a problem with helping him. Of course, they probably figured the sooner his work was done, the more he could focus on quidditch.
  
  Of course, he wasn't a perfect student. He did skip divination almost regularly, and skived off of potions every now and again. Snape was almost unbearable at this point, and Harry simply didn't feel like dealing with it.
  
  And that's how he awoke one weekday morning. He knew he had potions that day, and he simply didn't feel like going, so he was going to use the champion excuse to not. He rolled out of bed and used the boys' showers quickly. He was the only one there.
  
  When he finished he wandered down to the common room. It was busier than normal. Most of the students were gathering the last supplies they needed before heading to class. Alicia approached him when she saw him.
  
  "Hey Harry, schedule has been posted," she said, stepping past him to gather up her bag.
  
  "Oh? Who do we get first?" He asked, turning to watch her grab her bag.
  
  "Check for yourself," she teased. Harry rolled his eyes and walked over to the tournament bulletin board. He scanned it quickly. The top thing was the scheduling of the first individual tournament task. He already knew when that was, so he skipped down.
  
  The next posted section was the quidditch schedule. The first match was scheduled a few days before the first task. Harry stared at it for a few moments before just smiling. The text on the paper was simple. It just said Hogwarts V. Durmstrang 1:00 PM. Karkaroff still hadn't released who would be on the Durmstrang team.
  
  After that he noticed that Durmstrang played Beauxbatons a few days before the winter break. In the middle of February Hogwarts played Beauxbatons. Then the last game, scheduled much later, toward the end of the semester, was to be determined. But Harry didn't care about those details yet. He knew his first opponent, and he couldn't wait for the match. The best part was that it was under a week away.
  
  His eyes scanned the rest of the sheet as well, mostly to see just what events were involved. The academic competition seemed to be the most prevalent event. It appeared that each school went up against the other on every class, about once a month, over the course of the school year. Harry realized he wasn't even sure who would be on the team for that. He'd been too busy with quidditch to even bother.
  
  The next event that appeared the most was the dueling. There it seemed like a group of nine duelers, three from each school would fight three separate times over the course of the year. Again, Harry wasn't the sure who would be representing his school there. At the very least, dueling seemed like it would be more interesting than the academic competition.
  
  Gobstones, chess, and exploding snap also had their own little tournaments, usually devoted to a weekend date where nothing else appeared to be planned. There was even a dance competition of some sort scheduled for early January. There were also some notices on who to contact if one was interested in any of the above games. Harry wasn't. He wasn't even sure if he'd go watch any of them.
  
  The last item on the list was some sort of ball for Christmas Eve. He tucked that away mentally before heading down to the great hall to take in a leisurely breakfast.
  
  The only Gryffindor's at the table were lower years that Harry didn't really know that well. He made his way over toward it, thinking he'd just sit by himself at the end when someone called out.
  
  "Hey Harry, come here," He turned to see Lilly waving him over. She sat at the Ravenclaw table with Roger and Malcolm. Harry walked over and sat down next to the Hufflepuff.
  
  "What's up?" He asked as he sat down, helping himself to some eggs and toast.
  
  "You going to class this morning?" the pretty Ravenclaw asked.
  
  "Probably not. You need something?"
  
  "Yea, Malcolm and I have creatures this morning. But Hagrid has seemed busy for the last few days so we're expecting to get out early. I wanted to work on some defensive breakaway drills. I would prefer to have it be more than one on one. You in?" she asked.
  
  "Sure," Harry said. "Roger is busy I take it?"
  
  "Yea I have runes," Roger said. "In fact. I'm going to be late. See you guys later," The captain said before leaving the table.
  
  "Will we need a keeper?" Harry asked. He didn't know where Herbert or Cormac were, but he figured they could find someone to float up near the hoops. Or, if it really mattered, he'd try it and the other person could play chaser.
  
  "Nah," Lilly said. "My goal is going to be to make it so you don't get a shot off or at the very least force you into a low percentage shot. Not going to really care if you score or not." Harry was going to formulate a response when he heard an annoying voice behind him.
  
  "What, Potter, not even allowed at your house table now?" Draco Malfoy said. Harry turned and looked at him. He wore the same usual smirk he had, but now it was accompanied by a flashing badge on his chest. Harry had seen a few of those badges before, but had never registered it that it read 'Support Cedric Diggory' followed by 'Potter Stinks'. He also noticed a large green "C" on Draco's robes.
  
  "Aren't you supposed to be in potions right now?" Harry asked, looking up at Malfoy.
  
  "Captain's privilege. Professor Snape feels I could spend the time better practicing dueling than working on a subject I'm already masterful in," Draco sneered. Harry realized that meant Malfoy was the captain of the Dueling team. The thought made him sick. He half expected Draco's father bought that.
  
  "Oh, so that's why I had to tutor you for all you second year?" Lilly asked. Harry blinked and looked at her.
  
  "That was advanced instruction!" Draco spat.
  
  "Sorry, but advanced wouldn't be doing the year end first year potions again," Lilly commented. Harry could tell Draco didn't know what to say, so he chose to focus the conversation back onto Harry.
  
  "What is she your girlfriend now? Certainly a step up from the Mudblood." Draco leered. Lilly just laughed.
  
  "No. My boyfriend is a tad older, and more famous, than Harry. Perhaps you'll meet him. I warn you, though, if you leer at me like that in his presence, he may hurt you." Lilly sounded rather sure of that statement.
  
  "Oh, famous? Do I know him?" Draco laughed.
  
  "Probably. We were at one of your father's dumb parties." Lilly said. That seemed to make the wheels in Draco's head spin. "I assume that gaudy badge on your robe means you're the dueling captain?"
  
  "Yes, which is above you two alternates," Draco bragged.
  
  "Yes, it must be. Too bad you only have authority over the dueling team. I'd ask you to come help us with our quidditch drills, but I've got a feeling you need all the dueling practice you can get," Lilly smiled sweetly at him. "We'll all be cheering for you. Don't go embarrassing the school now." Draco went incredibly pale as Lilly stood and started to leave the Great Hall. The two boys followed her. It was Malcolm who spoke first.
  
  "You go to parties at Malfoy Manor?" Malcolm asked.
  
  "Begrudgingly. My father is too polite to decline the invitation."
  
  "What does your father even do?"
  
  "Oh he dabbles," Lilly responded.
  
  "That's not an answer," Harry said.
  
  "Sure it is. It's just not a very good one," Lilly said as they walked outside. "Well, we'll see you on the pitch in a bit, Harry." He just nodded and moved off toward the locker room while the other two wandered toward Hagrid's hut.
  
  Sure enough, Lilly was right. Harry floated above the pitch on his Lotus while the two students walked toward the locker room about fifteen minutes later. Hagrid must really be busy with something. Harry made a mental note to visit him at some point. The gamekeeper had come to watch a few of his practices, but they hadn't really talked much this year.
  
  A few minutes later the two teammates flew up by him. Harry moved to one set of hoops, and Lilly the other. Malcolm flew up next to him.
  
  "What should we try?" Harry asked. Malcolm looked a little confused, like he expected Harry to call the plays. But after a minute he shrugged.
  
  "You start, hit me about mid field. I'll give it back to you around the zone. She's going to expect me to take the shot, so go hard to the right hoop and try it?"
  
  "Works for me," Harry said. They tried the play. It may have worked, but Malcolm didn't get much on the pass and Lilly managed to intercept it.
  
  "Going to have to try harder than that boys," she laughed as she tossed the quaffle to Harry.
  
  "Same thing," Harry said as they flew back. "But this time let's reverse it." It worked a little bit better, but Lilly managed to knock away the shot.
  
  They kept that up for about a half hour. Malcolm and Harry started to get more past her as they grew more accustomed to playing together. Malcolm took most of the shots. On the last run Malcolm beat her rather spectacularly with a fake pass into a quick dangle and a hard high shot. The ball sailed off toward the forest as Lilly cursed loudly. She went to retrieve it. After a few minutes she flew back.
  
  "Hey, Harry. You should probably see this," she said as she came back, tossing the quaffle to Malcolm.
  
  "What is it?" Harry asked, flying over toward here.
  
  "Oh just follow me," she said, flying off toward the forest. They skimmed just above the tree tops. Lilly flew toward a specific corner of the forest. "I saw some smoke rise up over here and cruised over to check it out." Harry looked down toward the forest canopy. Through the trees, in a slight clearing, he spotted four distinct beasts. Dragons. No wonder Hagrid had been busy.
  
  "Four of them," Harry said dumbly. "Wonder whatever they could be for." Lilly laughed a little bit.
  
  "Yea, I'm sure they'll be happy to see you, too. Seeing as they're all penned up now."
  
  "They're not going to make me fight one," Harry said, as if trying to convince himself.
  
  "I doubt it. It takes five or six full grown, trained, wizards to take one down. None of the champions would stand a chance against a dragon head to head," Lilly said.
  
  "So I'll likely have to avoid it or out maneuver it," Harry said.
  
  "That seems like a better bet, yes."
  
  "Well that will be difficult. I'm certainly not faster than a dragon."
  
  "Their weak spot is the eyes. If you can hit it in the eye with something," Lilly started, but Harry interrupted.
  
  "Then I have a blind, angry dragon. I'm not sure if that's an upgrade."
  
  "Yea, probably isn't," Lilly admitted.
  
  "Hmm. I'm allowed a wand. What can I do to make myself faster? Charm my feet? No. That probably wouldn't help. I bet it would take a lot of power to transfigure a dragon into something?" He was mostly thinking aloud.
  
  "Yea. It would probably take McGonagall and Dumbledore to transfigure one. And even then, they'd have to have it restrained," Lilly commented.
  
  "Out fly it," A voice spoke from behind them. They swerved their brooms around to see Malcolm had followed. "I'm so telling Cedric its dragons, by the way."
  
  Go right ahead," Harry laughed. "But how do I out fly it? I'd need my-" he paused for a moment. "Shit. Flitwick won't teach the summoning charm until near break. You two know it, right? I need to master it."
  
  "What are you going to do?" Malcolm asked.
  
  "I'm going to leave my Firebolt out by a window and summon it to me. Hopefully the dragon doesn't eat me before I get it."
  
  "You seriously think you can out fly a dragon?" Lilly asked, sounding rather skeptical.
  
  "No idea," Harry admitted. "You have a better idea? I doubt they'll let it roam free around the grounds."
  
  "But what if they don't let it fly?" Lilly asked.
  
  "Well then I'm going to have to think of something," Harry said. "Will you two help teach me the spell?"
  
  "Sorry, Harry," Malcolm said first. "But I'm going to go tell Cedric. Good luck man," Malcolm said. Harry couldn't blame him. He'd probably go tell his friend too, if one of them was competing. He watched Malcolm fly back toward the locker room.
  
  "I'm free till lunch. But after that you're going to have to find someone else," Lilly said. Harry nodded and they flew off after Malcolm.
  
  They didn't even bother changing yet. Instead Lilly took the cushions out of the furniture in the locker room and littered them about.
  
  "Alright. It isn't a particularly hard charm. Students usually get it after one day of charms class. You just have to know where about the item you are trying to summon is. And be able to picture it clearly in your mind. Obviously it's the easiest if you're looking right at the item. After that, you just say the incantation, which is accio, point in the general direction, and hope something comes flying your way. Like Accio Cushion," she pointed at one of the cushions she had just scattered around the room. It flew right up to her, landing at her feet. "Oh and I should mention, smaller objects you'll be able to catch. Larger ones it's best to get out of the way."
  
  "Sounds pretty straight forward," Harry said.
  
  "It is. Of course, depending on the distance of the item, and the strength of the spell, things can take more or less time to show up. Give it a try," she said.
  
  "Accio cushion," Harry said, pointing his wand at one of the closer cushions. It wiggled just a little bit, but made no noticeable movement toward him.
  
  "Not bad. Most people don't get any movement on their first try. Took me at least five attempts to get it to move," she commented. "Try again.
  
  "Accio cushion," Harry said dumbly. Nothing happened.
  
  "No, you have to keep focused," Lilly scolded. "Try it again." Harry took a deep breath and focused himself. He looked at one of the cushions, pointed his wand and spoke.
  
  "Accio cushion!" The cushion jumped a few feet toward him.
  
  "Much better. Now try a closer one." Lilly kicked one closer to him as she spoke.
  
  "Accio cushion," he said again, this time pointing his wand at the one closest to him. It flew directly at him, very quickly. It hit him square in the chest and knocked him onto the ground. Lilly laughed quite loudly.
  
  "Alright! We're getting there. Quickly too! The next step is control. You should have this down quickly. Of course, something much further away will be harder."
  
  "That wasn't funny," Harry grumbled as he pulled himself up off the ground.
  
  "I respectfully disagree," Lilly stated. "Now get back to work."
  
  By the time lunch finished, Harry felt he had a pretty good feel for the charm. He could summon just about anything in the locker room without much difficulty. Some of his teammates stopped by around lunch and helped out. Or at least found other random objects for him to attempt to summon.
  
  They even took a few things outside and had him summon them back inside. He'd want to work on some distance things in the next couple of days in his free time, but he felt he had it down.
  
  "I think you've got it," Lilly said.
  
  "Me too. Thanks." Harry responded.
  
  "No problem," she said.
  
  "Yea, we wouldn't want you to get hurt in the first task. At least it's after the game," Roger said.
  
  "Well. I'm going to head to class then. I'll see you guys later," Lilly said, turning toward Harry and the door.
  
  "Let me help," Harry said, smirking. He pointed his wand at her. "Accio Lilly." She flew toward him, crashing into him near the door. They fell to the ground, Lilly on top of him, to much laughter from the teammates in the locker room.
  
  "Cute, Harry," Lilly said. Ginny entered the locker room and looked at them. She blushed quite a bit and scurried over toward her locker.
  
  "Well it's good to know it works on people," Harry teased from underneath the chaser. She rolled off of him, giving him a playful swat as she did, and stood.
  
  "I suppose it is. I'm off to class. If any of you summon me back, I will hurt you," she teased to more laughter.
  
  "What was that about?" Ginny asked meekly as Harry walked past her, toward one of the couches.
  
  "Fun with summoning charms?" Harry responded with a smile. Ginny crossed her arms, nodded and went back to her locker. Harry tossed himself down onto one of the couches and thought about the first task, taking no notice of Ginny's reaction.
  
  He couldn't sleep that night. He hoped it wasn't pre match jitters a day early. That would be unfortunate. He didn't think that was the cause, though. Mostly because his mind kept coming back to Fleur and the dragons. Something just didn't feel right about him knowing and her not.
  
  So he grabbed his invisibility cloak, some parchment, an envelope, and the Marauder's Map before stepping out of the dorm. He quickly stepped through the common room and out into the castle proper. A quick look of the map revealed no one was in the hallway near him so he moved quickly toward the owlery.
  
  The night air was chilly so the large open room was rather unpleasant to stand in. It didn't help that he was still in his pajamas, with the exception of the cloak. Interestingly, he noticed some of the owls looked at him, despite being under the cloak. He wondered if they could see some sort of distortion, or if their vision was simply that much better. Still, he took out the bit of parchment and composed a quick letter.
  
  Fleur,
  
  I am sorry that we have not had much contact lately. With the upcoming task and match, I have been rather busy. I'm sure you have been too.
  
  I'm writing now to tell you something I discovered today. When we were practicing earlier today we discovered something over the forest. In the northwest corner they're keeping four dragons caged up. I can't imagine what four dragons would be doing on the school grounds, unless it's for the tournament.
  
  One of our chasers said he was going to inform Cedric, and since I know, I figured it would be unfair if you didn't know as well. I doubt they'll make us combat a dragon, but I'm sure it will be involved in the first task.
  
  I suppose this letter is rather anti the spirit of 'facing the unknown' but I dislike having an unfair advantage.
  
  Anyway, I hope your time at Hogwarts has been going well so far. I'd like to show you around the castle, if given the opportunity. I know I'll have more free time after the first task and match. I hope we can chat more then.
  
  Until then, though, best of luck in the first task and the academic competition. I believe you said you were going to try to compete in that if you weren't the Beauxbaton's champion, is that still the case now that you are? If so, that may be enough incentive for me to actually watch those events!
  
  Sincerely,
  
  Harry.
  
  He scanned it once, figuring it was good enough for what he wanted to say. He hoped she would appreciate it. He quickly scratched 'Fleur Delacour, Beauxbaton's Carriage,' onto the envelope and tucked the letter inside. He pulled off the cloak and found Hedwig, who despite the hour was sleeping on a perch a little to his right. She opened her eyes and hooted affectionately at him.
  
  "Hey Hedwig," he said. "Would you mind taking this letter for me?" he showed it to her. She looked at it for a moment before simply hooting again. He put the envelope down for Hedwig to take. Instead, she simply closed her eyes again.
  
  "Hey, aren't you going to take that?" Harry asked. Hedwig opened her eyes again, looking rather annoyed. She made a pointed show of turning her head to look out one of the windows. Harry noticed the Beauxbaton's carriage was only a few hundred meters away. Hedwig turned her head back to look at him. Her eyes indicated he was a fool for assuming that it would take her more than a few minutes to complete his request.
  
  "Oh come on, Hedwig. It's urgent!" Harry pleaded. His owl sized him up before spreading her wings. Harry assumed she was going to fly off, but instead she wacked him in the head with one of her wings, and resumed her normal position on the perch. Harry sighed.
  
  "Oh fine. And don't badger her for a reply this time. I kind of like her, so be nice." Hedwig didn't make any motion. Harry knew enough to know when his owl was jilting him, so he threw the cloak back on and scanned the map once more.
  
  Nothing out of the ordinary on the map. Well, except that Barty Crouch and Alastor Moody were doing something in Moody's office. Their dots were strangely close. Close enough that Harry didn't really want to think about what that something could be. He watched for a moment as Crouch moved away from Moody. He shook his head, deciding whatever the professor got up to was his own business and walked back to bed.
  
  Fleur didn't reply for a few days. Harry almost assumed that Hedwig had intentionally decided to not deliver the letter. Of course, his owl hadn't done anything like that before. Perhaps Fleur was simply too busy with the thought of the dragon to do anything about it.
  
  He awoke the day of the match with the same early morning jitters he always had. When he got down to the common room, he saw the other Gryffindor members of the team were waiting for him.
  
  "Couldn't sleep?" he asked.
  
  "Nope," Fred said. "We were about to come wake you up."
  
  "Yea, we planned on having breakfast, a quick morning jog, and then twitching nervously in the locker room until the match. Join us?" George asked.
  
  "Sure," Harry said.
  
  They sat at the Gryffindor table in the nearly empty Great Hall and ate slowly. Harry just picked at some toast. He saw an owl fly into the hall, a tad early for the post. It flew over to the table and dropped a letter in front of him. He didn't recognize the bird, but it has a Beauxbaton's crest on it. He opened it quickly and looked at it. There was just one sentence on the parchment, written in a familiar, pretty cursive.
  
  The sentence simply read. 'Meet me by the carriage two hours after the match.' Harry looked at it, folded it up, and put it into his pocket. The rest of the team didn't even seem to notice.
  
  They spent the morning, twitching nervously, in the locker room. Harry spent an hour going over his Lotus making sure it was in perfect working order. He noticed some other teammates did as well. Around noon they changed into their black tournament uniforms. It was the first time any of them had put it on.
  
  Harry looked over at Lilly at the locker next to him and couldn't help but think that the uniforms looked pretty good as the chaser absentmindedly pulled her hair back for the game.
  
  After a few minutes Hooch came into the locker room.
  
  "Alright. This is what we've trained for. Go out there and fly your hearts out. You are every bit as good, if not better, than they are. As you know, the three preliminary matches determine which two teams will play in the championship at the end of the year. If you win here, you control your own destinies for that. Let's go out there and show them what Hogwarts is made of!" There was a cheer of agreement from the players.
  
  "Well then," Hooch continued. "Line up by the locker room door. The announcer will introduce the Durmstrang starters first, followed by our starters. Fly out as they call your name. Circle around the north hoops. There will be a few minutes of warm up before the match starts. Reserves, follow me to the benches on the side," Hooch explained. Roger stood first and moved to the door, Harry and Lilly followed, giving small words of encouragement to the other plays, and trying their best to not seem nervous as well.
  
  Harry waited as they stood outside the locker room. They could tell that the pitch was already packed with students and others. It looked like the stands had been magically enhanced. He couldn't begin to guess how many people were waiting out there. Less than the World Cup was the best number he could come up with. But after a while, Ludo Bagman's enhanced voice penetrated his mind.
  
  "Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the first Interschool Quidditch Match of the Triwizard Tournament. Today Durmstrang will challenge Hogwarts on the first leg of our four match tournament. As you all know, each team will play the other once, and then the final match will be the two teams with the best records. If there is a tie, the tiebreaker will be overall points scored.
  
  "Now, without further ado, the Durmstrang Quidditch team. We have Kubica, Strauss, Bathory, Petrov, Ivanova, Nadasdy and the team captain,Viktor Krum!" Cheers exploded from the pitch. Harry watched seven figures fly from one of the locker rooms on the other side of the pitch. Their uniforms were a deep blood red and had the Durmstrang crest on the chest. Harry's eyes found Krum easily enough in the distance. He couldn't help but smirk that he would get a chance to fly against the absolute best.
  
  "And now we have the home team. Ladies and gentleman, I present you with Fleet!" Herbert took off flying toward the hoops as his name was called. Every player would do the same behind him as their name came up. "Weasley, Weasley, captain Roger Davies, Spinnet, Seslion, and Potter!" Harry chased after the number six in front of him. When she swooped down to fly in a circle with the chasers, he lifted off and hovered near the start of their defensive zone. His eyes found Krum, who was talking with one of his beaters.
  
  Krum's beater flew off, Harry saw the three on her back and assumed it was Bathory, even though he couldn't read the black lettering from the distance. Krum flew toward the center of the pitch. He waited next to the referee, whom Harry didn't recognize. At the very least, he looked professional
  
  He gazed down and saw Hooch standing behind the bench where the reserve players sat. They all stared up at the players flying around and looked slightly awed. He wondered if he looked like that, just flying rather than sitting.
  
  He also noticed the advertisements on the pitch that had replaced house colors. Lotus, Renault, and Mercedes-Benz were the most prevalent, but other companies had apparently offered up money too. Even The Hog's Head had a small place. Of course, with all the people present it would probably do rather good business that night.
  
  A few moments later Roger flew over toward the center of the pitch and shook hands with Krum. He and Krum both flew back toward their teams then. Harry fell in next to Roger as the Captain spoke.
  
  "Well here we go. This is what it's all about. Let's go and represent our school as best we can. Hogwarts on three," he put his hand in and they counted off with a loud team yell.
  
  They lined up then. Harry went to the seeker's spot, above the action, a little bit back of the center of the field. He instinctively knew Fred and George were perfectly spaced behind him. He watched the chasers move into position then. Roger on the left, Lilly in the middle and Alicia on the right.
  
  "Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen here and listening on the wireless. We're lined up and ready to go. We have Hogwarts in black with yellow lettering, and Durmstrang in red with black lettering.
  
  "The official moves in with the quaffle, there's the toss, won by Hogwarts, and we're underway. Seslion back to Davies. The captain down the left wing throws it back to Seslion as he dodges a bludger from Strauss. Seslion over to Spinnet. She shoots! Kicked away by Kubica. Rebound is loose! Davies gets it and he scores! That's ten to nothing Hogwarts!" The crowd exploded. Harry pumped his fist once, glad for the opening goal, and glad how quickly it came. He circled above the pitch, looking only for the snitch and stray bludgers. Krum did the same, keeping his distance from Harry as he did. Bagman's voice rang through the stadium again as the match resumed.
  
  "Durmstrang with possession. Petrov to Ivanova, back to Petrov, no! Stolen by Seslion, she hits Spinnet who shoots and scores! Twenty to nothing!" Bagman shouted. "What a steal there for that young lady, and a great goal for the other Hogwarts femme fatale!" Harry breathed a sigh of relief. They had thought their chaser line would be good, and so far it appeared to be. He dove a tad lower to scan closer to the ground for the snitch as the game continued.
  
  "Durmstrang back with possession. Petrov to Ivanova up field to Nadasdy back over to Petrov. Seslion moves in to attempt the steal but dives out of the way to avoid the bludger from Bathory. Petrov passes back to Nadasdy who shoots! Save by Fleet. He throws it to Davies who passes to Spinnet. Intercepted! Petrov in and alone, he cuts high, no he cuts back, Fleet dives! Goal! Twenty to ten!" Harry cursed under his breath. He flew back to a higher altitude to look for a snitch.
  
  "Hogwarts back in possession. Seslion inbounds it to Davies. He tosses it to Spinnet who narrowly avoids that bludger from Strauss! She drops the quaffle though. Petrov has it. No! A perfect bludger by Weasley. Not sure which Weasley, though. Seslion in possession. She takes it into the Durmstrang zone. She's in the open. She dives low, cuts back up and shoots! No, passes to Davies who buries it! What a misdirection! Thirty-Ten!" Harry had watched them practice that play before. Both Fleet and Cormac hated it, and they often knew when it was coming.
  
  "Durmstrang back in possession. Petrov to Nadasdy over to Ivanova, back up to Petrov who loses it dodging a bludger. Picked up by Davies, throws it across the pitch toward Spinnet but it's intercepted by Ivanova who hits Petrov who hurls it down to Nadasdy who's in on a breakaway! He cuts left, right, back left, fakes right and scores! That's Thirty-Twenty Hogwarts!" Harry made a series of quick hand signals to Roger, who nodded and made a similar series of gestures to the rest of the team. If Durmstrang wanted to run their own designed breakaway play, they would do the same.
  
  "Spinnet in possession. She passes it to Seslion, who returns it right back to Spinnet. Spinnet hurls it down the length of the pitch and Davies is there! He catches it, he's all alone, he goes right, left, shoots! Save Kubica!
  
  "Kubica gets it out to Petrov, who finds Ivanova. She takes it down to Nadasdy. He finds Petrov. Spinnet tries to block him but he gets it around her back to Ivanova who shoots! Save Fleet!
  
  "Fleet finds Seslion, who hits Spinnet, who dodges a bludger from Strauss, who just gets nailed by a return bludger from Weasley. Davies with the quaffle now. No he turns it over to Petrov who goes hard at the hoops! Another great save by Fleet!
  
  "Fleet returns it to Davies. The Weasley twins clear the way sending Blugers at Petrov and Bathory. Bathory returns one but Weasley hits it right back at Ivanova. Hogwarts has a three on one now. Davies hits Seslion. She passes to Spinnet, back to Davies who shoots! Save by Kubica but he allows he rebound. Seslion picks it up, left hoop is wide open! And that's Forty to twenty Hogwarts!"
  
  "Petrov inbounds it to Ivanova. She looks for Nadasdy. Intercepted by Seslion, she swerves around Ivanova and shoots. Goal! Fifty to twenty! And it appears Durmstrang has called a timeout. We'll take a moment for our sponsors." Bagman started to read an ad as Harry and the rest of the team landed near Hooch and the reserves.
  
  "Good good. You have their keeper on the ropes. Keep the pressure on him and let's make Krum think about the World Cup. Keep playing the zone on defense. You're doing great. Weasleys, throw more bludgers at Petrov and Nadasdy, you're giving them the zone a tad easier than I'd like. Now get back up there!" Hooch ordered. The players shot back into the air and flew around their own zone as they waited for the Durmstrang team to finish. The official landed by the Durmstrang team after the timeout expired and prepped for resuming play.
  
  "Well it looks like they're ready to resume play now. Petrov to Ivanova. She takes it up to the center of the pitch before passing to Nadasdy. Ouch! He barely got that one away before that bludger. Petrov picks it up. Another bludger! He gets the shot off but it's very weak. Easily scooped up by Fleet.
  
  "Fleet tosses it out to Davies. He tosses it to Spinnet. Over to Seslion who goes right through Ivanova and Nadasdy. She hits Spinnet on the wing. Spinnet with the shot! Right past Kubica! Sixty-Twenty! Seems like Durmstrang tempers are flaring up a bit. Kubica is yelling at Petrov.
  
  "Well, Ivanova doesn't seem to care. She inbounds it to Nadasdy. He returns it to her. Petrov is finally back in the play, he takes it from Ivanova and throws it at Nadasdy. Seslion cuts in front of the shot, but Ivanova gets it around her. Saved easily by Fleet!
  
  "Fleet throws it behind the Durmstrang chasers to Spinnet. She's all alone! Weasley blocks a bludger from Bathory and Spinnet is in on the breakaway! A quick move to the left, Kubica is out of position! Goal! Seventy-Twenty Hogwarts!" Harry couldn't help but smirk from his broom. Durmstrang's chasers were obviously unprepared for the aggressive play of the Hogwarts bunch. He kept scanning for the snitch. So far there was no sign of it.
  
  "Durmstrang has possession again. Petrov to Ivanova. Wait! Krum has spotted something. He's speeding off toward the other side of the pitch!" Harry looked over at where he had last spotted Viktor Krum. Sure enough, Krum was speeding over toward the far corner of the pitch. Harry didn't see anything, but he followed the Bulgarian seeker anyway. He tuned out Bagman's commentary as he did, which he could tell focused on Krum.
  
  When Harry had almost caught up with his opposite when Krum pulled a very fast reverse move and darted the other way. Harry still saw no sign of the snitch, but decided again to follow. He assumed Krum was testing his skills, and he would do his best to keep up. He pulled the same move as Krum, to much cheering from the crowd, and chased after the Durmstrang seeker.
  
  When he had almost caught up Krum started to dive. Harry recognized the move from the World Cup. By now he knew the entire thing had been a diversion, but he also knew it was better to keep pace just in case it wasn't.
  
  He followed Krum into the feint and almost immediately regretted it. He saw Bathory and Strauss line up shots and knew he would have almost nowhere to go. Strauss hit his first, aiming it directly between where Krum and Harry were. Harry dodged to the right on instinct and saw Bathory fire her shot to where he would be. He barely swerved out of the way of it as Krum pulled out of the feint and resumed circling the stadium.
  
  "What a move by Potter to avoid that excellently executed beater move by Durmstrang!" Bagman's voice boomed through the stadium. The Hogwarts faithful gave Harry another cheer before Bagman continued.
  
  "We missed out on a bit of scoring there, too. I've just been given the updated boxscore. It looks like we had Seslion from Spinnet, followed by Spinnet from Davies. Durmstrang then answered with Petrov from Ivanova and Petrov from Nadasdy. But Hogwarts came right back as Davies from Spinnet again, followed by Davies from Seslion. Durmstrang scored the most recent goal with Nadasdy from Ivanova. Which brings our total to 110-50 Hogwarts.
  
  "Worked in there, too, for those watching at home, six saves by Fleet and five saves by Kubica.
  
  "Hogwarts still has possession. Davies over to Seslion. Back to Davies as they enter the Durmstrang zone. Davies cuts past Petrov and tosses it up, blindly, to Seslion. She fakes the shot and leaves the quaffle for Spinnet who shoots! Save by Kubica!
  
  "Durmstrang back in possession. Petrov up to Ivanova. She takes it around, cutting outside of Spinnet while dodging a bludger. She passes it back to Petrov who fakes to Nadasdy, drawing Seslion out of position as she goes to attempt the takeaway. Petrov hits Ivanova who shoots! Save by Fleet!" Harry tuned out Bagman then. He figured the chasers had it well in hand so he focused his attention on the snitch.
  
  Harry raced along the edges of the stadium, scanning inwards for the snitch. He noticed some familiar faces in the stands. Ron and Hermione sat together. Interestingly, Lavender Brown sat on the other side of Ron.
  
  Draco Malfoy sat not far away from that group. He was wearing a replica Krum jersey from the World Cup, his dueling captain's badge sill prominently displayed next to his 'Potter stinks' badge. Harry made a mental note to support Beauxbatons during the dueling portion of the tournament.
  
  He passed a large red contingent that he could only assume was Durmstrang students and supporters. Nothing seemed too out of the ordinary with that.
  
  The next group he flew past was obviously the Beauxbaton's contingent. A few of the students there also wore Krum jerseys, but most just wore their blue uniforms. Harry spotted Fleur in the stands, sitting with a bunch of other girls. They were chatting, and seemed to be paying little attention to the game. She caught his eye as he flew by and could have sworn she smiled.
  
  Harry didn't have time to ponder that, though, as he continued his search for the snitch He desperately wanted to catch the snitch and prove himself on par with Krum. He didn't care how he performed against him in the individual competition, but beating him at quidditch would be the highlight of Harry's young life.
  
  There was still no sign of the snitch. Harry saw Krum was simply floating above the pitch, simply surveying the area in his search for the snitch. The Durmstrang seeker easily dodged a bludger hit by one of the Weasley twins, without even seeming concerned that it came near him. Harry dodged a retaliatory shot from Strauss as he pulled his Lotus up and examined the pitch as well. He watched a play develop beneath him, wondering what he had missed while he had tuned Bagman out.
  
  "Petrov passes it to Ivanova. She cuts back and tosses the quaffle to Nadasdy. He takes the shot and it's blocked by Fleet.
  
  "Fleet tosses it to Seslion. She swings around behind the hoops and looks to set up the play. She finds Spinnet who tosses it quickly to Davies. Davies takes it out of the Hogwarts zone. Petrov tries to block him but a bludger changes his plans. Davies ducks under Ivanova and finds Spinnet entering the Durmstrang zone. She flies around Bathory trying to place a bludger shot. Spinnet throws to Seslion in front of the hoops who takes the shot! Goal! That's a one hundred point lead for Hogwarts. 150-50!
  
  "The superb play of Fleet has completely stifled the Durmstrang chaser line and Hogwarts shows no intention of letting up. This is beginning to look very similar to the World Cup. " Harry tuned Bagman out again. He knew it was well past time to end this game, but he had still seen no sign of the snitch.
  
  Then he noticed Krum push his broom into a dive. Harry couldn't tell if it was a feint or not so he took off after him. Krum abruptly cut around, as if he were chasing the snitch. Harry followed as closely as he could, trying to force his broom onto a better line than he currently was to gain more ground on Krum. As Harry caught up Krum the Bulgarian pulled himself into a steep climb, obstructing Harry's view enough that he couldn't tell if the Durmstrang player was actually chasing a snitch or not.
  
  After about a hundred feet he leveled out, well above the crowd at the stadium. Krum put himself into an extremely sharp banked turn and moved clockwise, still managing to keep his body blocking Harry's line of sight for the Snitch. Harry followed for a few moments before Krum reversed directions.
  
  Harry pulled up and looked over the scene, trying to see if the Bulgarian was actually chasing the snitch. He didn't have long to look though, as Krum immediately forced his broom into a dive, again blocking Harry's view of whatever he was chasing.
  
  Harry dove right after him, pressing himself as low to his broom as he possibly could, making himself as small and as fast as the broom would allow. He slowly caught up to Krum, trying desperately to overtake his opposite, debating then between blocking him if he were chasing the snitch, or peeling off and resuming his search if he wasn't.
  
  He was pushing himself faster when he saw it. A flash of gold cut through his line of sight, banking off to his left. Krum kept diving but Harry reacted on instinct and pulled hard out of the dive, feeling like the force of his turn would knock him off of his broom. He kept himself stable and chased after the snitch. Judging by the gasp from the crowd, Krum was doing the same thing.
  
  The snitch cut upwards as Harry closed in on it. He knew if Krum was following him, which he expected the professional seeker to be doing, he'd have the better line pulling up after it, so Harry continued forward into a larger turn radius and darted back after the snitch.
  
  Sure enough, he just beat Krum coming up and stayed ahead of him as he raced after the snitch. It maneuvered into a quick left-right chicane, Harry followed it perfectly, Krum trailed enough that he simply kept going straight and picked up ground on both Harry and the Snitch.
  
  Harry blocked Krum as best he could as he closed in on the snitch. While he couldn't see the Bulgarian behind him, he could sense the presence gaining.
  
  The snitch abruptly dove, and Harry followed it. Again, he could sense Krum taking his exact line. The snitch only dove for a few seconds before leveling out and taking a sharp left. Harry followed it, knowing that he was getting closer, and that in a few more seconds victory would be his.
  
  It continued straight through the center of the pitch, and the two seekers flew expertly through the opposing chasers. By now they were dodging the occasional bludger out of instinct. But the beaters focused a bit more on the chasers, for fear of taking their own seeker out with a poorly aimed shot.
  
  He was almost in range when the snitch darted quickly to the right. He swiped his arm out, attempting to grab it as it did, but he missed by a few inches. He could feel the air from the wings on his hand, but that was it.
  
  He knew it was over as he turned his broom to follow. He saw out of the corner of his eye that Krum had taken the turn better, and had a better line. The Durmstrang seeker shot inside of him and quickly engulfed the snitch.
  
  "Ladies and Gentleman Krum has the snitch! Krum has the snitch. We missed out on a bit of scoring in that great chase there! We had Davies from Seslion, Ivanova from Petrov, and Spinnet from Davies shortly before Krum ended the match. The final score 210-170 Durmstrang!" Harry tuned out Bagman after that last announcement. Harry wasn't sure what to do. He'd never lost while conscious. He simply floated slowly toward his team, looking confused and dejected and feeling like he had let everyone down.
  
  He wasn't sure how he got back to the locker room. Or how he changed out of his uniform. He simply sat in his locker and stared out. His teammates came up to him and said things like:
  
  "Don't worry man, we'll just crush Beauxbatons and get a rematch."
  
  "He's the best in the world for a reason. It's not your fault."
  
  "We'll get them back."
  
  "You played great. That was amazing flying, just wow."
  
  "I mean it was Krum, Harry. He's the best."
  
  Harry didn't really listen. He knew he'd lost. His teammates tried their best to make him feel like it wasn't his fault. But he didn't care. He'd been out flown for the first time in his life. He hated the feeling, he absolutely hated it. And he wasn't sure what to do about it. No one really wanted to hang around the locker room. But no one wanted to face the Hogwarts faithful, either.
  
  At the very least it had been an entertaining game. But still, Harry couldn't shake the feeling that he had been the reason they lost. And that he was solely responsible for the defeat.
  
  What he didn't know was that every one of his chasers was thinking about the shots that didn't go in that would have extended the lead, and that Herbert was going over missed saves in his head, wondering what he could have done to secure the win.
  
  Harry realized just how much he hated losing. He vowed to practice harder, to improve, and to make sure that he got to fly against Krum once more. He didn't know if he could beat him. But he would do everything in his power to at least get another shot.
  
  "Really, man. Don't worry about it," Davies said, sitting in Lilly's locker next to Harry. "We'll get him back."
  
  "I was right there, man," Harry replied, almost angrily. "I had the line and everything."
  
  "Well, we played hard. And if we beat Beauxbatons we have another shot at them. It'll just make it all the more sweeter." Roger stood and clapped him on the back. "Don't get too down on yourself. Even the best lose. Kick his ass with the first task and we'll worry about Beauxbatons." Roger started to walk away.
  
  "You're not mad?" Harry asked. Roger turned and looked at him, then just started laughing.
  
  "You flew toe-to-toe with Viktor Krum and almost beat him. Something most professional seekers can't do. Why would I be mad?" Durmstrang was a seventy point favorite, and we nearly beat them. We'll get them back." Roger said rather sternly, and Harry finally saw just why Hooch had made him the captain.
  
  "Thanks," he replied weakly. Roger nodded and turned to leave.
  
  "Just remember, Harry. Don't get yourself killed in the first task. We're going to need you if we're going to enact our revenge!" Harry couldn't help but smile. He felt a little bit better, but it would take a while before he was over the loss. He reached into the pocket of his robes and found the note he'd tucked there earlier and remembered he had somewhere he had to be.
  
  Two hours later he stood outside the Beauxbaton's carriage, facing away from it. He'd been waiting for about fifteen minutes, simply staring out toward the lake and going through the match in his head. He didn't hear the soft footsteps behind him.
  
  In fact, he didn't even notice he wasn't alone until a pair of soft arms wrapped around his body. He tensed immediately and almost tried to struggle out of the grip until he smelled the flowery perfume. She was taller than him, but she managed to put her head just above his shoulder as she hugged him tightly.
  
  "It is me," Fleur said behind him. "You can relax." Harry felt his muscles loosen, he took a deep breath.
  
  "Sorry," he said.
  
  "I am sorry, too," she whispered. "You flew well."
  
  "Not well enough," he mumbled.
  
  "Nonsense," she scolded. "You flew your best."
  
  "Well. I'll have to fly better against Beauxbatons and hopefully I'll get another shot at him." Harry said, firmly, as if saying it would make it happen. Fleur simply laughed quietly. "What?" Harry asked.
  
  "Beauxbatons will not present a challenge," she said.
  
  "You can't count out a team like that. That's when they surprise." Harry said.
  
  "Oui. But you will be prepared. And after watching ze game, ze Beauxbatons team does not expect to be of consequence."
  
  "Why is that?" Harry asked.
  
  "We 'ave not played quidditch for very long. About five years. Ze team could tell today zat both Durmstrang and 'Ogwarts are better. We figured zat would be ze case. Today confirmed it," Fleur explained. She was still holding onto him. Harry rather liked having her chest pressed into his back, and her soft arms around him, so he made no attempt to move.
  
  "Well, we will still be prepared," Harry said.
  
  "I would expect nothing else," Fleur stated. "You do seem most determined."
  
  "Yes. Well. Why did you ask me to come out here tonight?" Harry asked.
  
  "It was about ze note that you sent me," Fleur said.
  
  "Oh. I know we're not supposed to ask for help. But it just didn't seem fair, me having stumbled upon them like that," Harry said.
  
  "Non. Zat is not it. Did you really simply fly over ze dragons in ze forest?" she asked.
  
  "Yes. Well, Lilly did. Then she came and found me and took me over to where they were," Harry explained.
  
  "I see. You did not know about ze dragons before zat?" she asked. Harry was confused. He wiggled a bit in Fleur's arms, trying to spin around and look at her. He managed to and stared into her wide blue eyes.
  
  "No. I didn't. Why?" Harry asked. Fleur let her arms fall off of him and she took a few steps away. She started to talk to herself, in French. Harry had no idea what she was saying, but she seemed to be trying to think through something. She crossed her arms over her chest and paced back and forth for a few moments.
  
  "You really did not know ze first task was dragons?" she asked, turning to look at him.
  
  "No, why?" Harry asked.
  
  "Madame Maxime told me about a week ago," Fleur explained. "She said zat all ze champions would know. I 'ave been preparing since." Harry was a little shocked. "Madame Maxime, she said zat ze tournament were often run like zis. I 'ave seen Krum practicing some sort of curse on ze boat. I assumed all of ze champions received ze same information."
  
  "I just learned the other day. And Cedric had no idea when Malcom told him," Harry said. Fleur eyed him carefully as he spoke.
  
  "I believe you. I am very disappointed in my institution. I 'ope zat you have a plan for ze dragons?"
  
  "Yes. I do. I think I'll be okay." Harry explained.
  
  "Zat is very good," she said. "I 'ope zat you do well."
  
  "Well, you could always hug me again for luck," Harry said, blushing a little bit, but he did manage a smirk. Fleur laughed.
  
  "You are very cute, 'Arry," she said, giving him her full smile when she spoke. For a moment, Harry lost himself in that smile.
  
  "I'm glad you think so," he said. He realized just how lame that sounded and just how out of his league he was at flirting. But Fleur didn't seem to mind.
  
  "'Arry, you must not be afraid to ask me for 'elp later in ze tournament, too," Fleur ordered.
  
  "I will," Harry said dumbly. "Thanks."
  
  "You are welcome, 'Arry. I must return to ze carriage now. Madame Maxime keeps us under very strict regulations. Do me a favor, 'Arry?" she asked sweetly. So sweetly Harry couldn't refuse.
  
  "And what's that?" Harry asked.
  
  "Keep writing to me. I 'ave enjoyed your letters and zey will be a way to circumvent ze rules. Perhaps we shall have another clandestine meeting later," she teased.
  
  "I'd like that," Harry admitted. "And I will."
  
  "Good," Fleur said. "Although. I do not believe zat your owl likes me."
  
  "Hedwig? She's probably just jealous. She's rather independent," Harry defended his owl.
  
  "I guess," Fleur said, sounding unconvinced. "Regardless. Bonne Nuit, Harry." "Good night, Fleur," he said as he watched her go. All he could think about when he walked back to the castle was that he really needed to learn more about, and get closer to, Fleur Delacour.
  
  Author's Note: Thanks again for all of the reviews, I appreciate them all. I hadn't expected to complete this chapter in four days, so maybe I should say it'll be a longer time before updates more often. I'm not sure how I feel about how the match turned out, and plan on writing the Beauxbatons one differently, but we'll see. Props if ya get the not really veiled references on the Durmstrang team. Either way, get well soon, Robert (The team was decided well before the accident).
  
  I should probably explain that I see Durmstrang as collection of pretty much everything east of France, hence the German, Polish, and Hungarian names.
  
  Up next is the first task and maybe a little bit of ball preparation. Again, if you're interested in some beta work, contact me through PM or E-mail and thanks for the reviews!
  
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: As always, I own nothing and am making no profit.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun and Bird875 helped with some beta work.
  
  Chapter 9
  
  Dragons
  
  Fleur Delacour took a deep, shaky, breath as she stepped out of the tent. The Welsh Green waited for her inside the large stadium that had been erected for the event. Fleur swallowed hard and went over her plan in her head. It wasn't that difficult. Assuming it worked. If not, her backup plan was relatively simple. Run around and think of anything to not wind up as dragon chow.
  
  Her plan had worked well enough the first few times she'd practiced it. Of course, the first time her target had simply been her friend, and not a considerably larger, magical resistant, beast. But the theory was the same. At least in theory.
  
  Of course, theory is a lot more comforting when you're in a classroom, practicing a spell on a target that doesn't think you look delicious. Well, Lilly may have thought she looked delicious, but that's not relevant.
  
  She ran her fingers over her wand slowly as she waited to be called into the actual task. Ludo Bagman was announcing Cedric Diggory's. It sounded like he did fairly well.
  
  Bagman then described Diggory's tactics. It sounded like he had transfigured a rock into a dog and used it as a distraction while he attempted to sneak in and grab the egg. Fleur thought that would probably be a decent plan if her first attempt didn't work. She wouldn't pick a dog though. She'd pick a big large cow. That would have to look more appetizing than a petit French girl.
  
  Of course, this task would be so much easier if she could just charm the dragon with her Veela abilities. Just give it a nice smile, throw her hair over her shoulder, saunter up to it and caress it gently, and then grab the egg and get out of there.
  
  It would be so much easier had the first task been men. Men she was use to dealing with. Her mother had prepared her well enough for that. She could ensnare most of them without a problem, if she so wished. She didn't usually wish, though. Often she would rather simply be left alone.
  
  Well, not alone. But boys rarely walked up to other girls and expected them to immediately want them. Well, at least they did that less to others than her. Weren't teenage boys supposed to be nervous and afraid around pretty girls? What happened to that?
  
  She didn't mind being part Veela. Truth be told, she rather enjoyed it, and really couldn't imagine being something else. Sure, she probably wasn't ready for some of the advances of older students in her first couple of years at Beauxbatons, but thankfully, largely to her mother's help, she escaped from them, innocence intact.
  
  Those early years had been lonely, though. She had a very hard time making friends. Girls whom she had known before school stopped even talking to her at first. They'd come around, mostly, after a few years. But she'd sought company elsewhere, and it had almost ended poorly.
  
  She was glad that Lilly had gone to Hogwarts rather than Beauxbatons. She had remained a friend through everything, probably because of the lack of time they actually spent around each other.
  
  Still, she couldn't complain. She rather liked being a Veela. It certainly had its advantages. Especially now that she had some control over it. It was certainly easier to get out of the bad dates when she could simply charm them and have them realize just how much she wanted them to leave. It was surprisingly helpful.
  
  Of course she did end up having a number of pretty terrible dates. Her mother had advised her to wait until she was older to really try to find someone. She'd said that men are much better when they grow up. Until then, she's suggested not letting anything get serious.
  
  Fleur had followed that advice, more or less. There was an incident her second year at Beauxbatons that nearly resulted in the expulsion of a sixth year, but thankfully, for both Fleur and the male involved, Madame Maxime had found them, and stopped them, before anything happened.
  
  That wasn't to say she was completely without complaint, though. People assumed since she was a quarter Veela she was not human. And that bothered her. What, she was just supposed to be some silly little nymph that let the satyr have its way with her? She'd much rather not. Of course, that's probably what most of them thought. That she was simply there for their amusement.
  
  Certainly, there had been archaic laws not too dissimilar from that. Thankfully, they were nearly entirely abolished.
  
  Still, if she wasn't human, then what was she? Some sex-indoctrinated machine meant to simply please some 'powerful' male. That wasn't about to happen.
  
  That was one of the reason she decided to enter the tournament. Simply to prove that she was ever bit a witch as anyone else. She wasn't a wallflower. She had no intention of being one. Of course, the thought of proving herself in the tournament was more amusing when she didn't have to face down a dragon.
  
  She momentarily regretted entering the tournament, but she shook that thought out of her head, quite literally, and focused as much as she could on the task at hand.
  
  She was starting to get nervous. Bagman was still talking about Diggory's tactics. Why the hell weren't they ready for her yet? They were probably subbing out the dragons. She was annoyed it took so long.
  
  She was also annoyed that she had to wear a different uniform for this stupid thing. It was tight-fitting and the same blue as her school uniform, but it had a Beauxbaton's coat of arms on the chest. She stared down at the two crossed wands for a moment. She knew it said 'Delacour' on the back, but had nothing else there. Interestingly enough, it had come with a skirt, no mention of if she would have preferred pants, like the other champions.
  
  Fleur rolled forward on her toes, bouncing slightly, waiting to be told they were ready for her. She hated it. Just let her at the damn dragon already. Let's get this stupid thing over with! Come on! She wrung her hands together, a bad habit she often did when she was nervous or unsure of herself. Her mother often scolded her for it. She'd said a young lady shouldn't give away her emotions so readily with her actions.
  
  "Miss Delacour, they're ready for you," one of the English ministry officials next to her said. She looked over at the robed official who gestured for her to approach the stadium. She swallowed hard and followed her toward the stadium.
  
  The stadium was probably about half the size of the quidditch pitch. But it seemed to seat close to as many people. Fleur stepped up to an iron gate that made her feel a little too much like a gladiator going to the slaughter in the arena.
  
  The Welsh Green waited for her. It looked rather agitated. It attempted to shoot fire at those in attendance, but there seemed to be some sort of magical barrier that prevented the fire from hitting the stands. Either that or the dragon's range simply wasn't enough.
  
  "Ladies and Gentlemen! Our second champion is about to enter the arena!" the voice of that British quidditch player echoed through the arena. Fleur didn't know his name. To be entirely honest, she thought he was fairly annoying. But she gathered he was one of the people instrumental in organizing the tournament.
  
  "Her opponent is the Welsh Green! As many of you know, the Welsh Green was involved in the now infamous Ilfracombe Incident! And many wizards believe that the Great Fire of London in 1666 was the result of Welsh Greens happening upon the city.
  
  "The Welsh Green is perhaps the most at home on land of our dragons, and is considerably maneuverable, both on land and in the air."
  
  Fleur couldn't help but laugh a little bit to herself. She had researched just about every type of dragon when Madame Maxime had revealed that dragons were the first task, so there was nothing new in the announcer's introduction. Of course, she doubted most of the crowd knew anything about dragons, and the announcing was for their benefit.
  
  "Now!" he continued, his voice echoing through the arena. "Miss Delacour, if you please, enter the arena!" The iron gate opened and Fleur stepped confidently into the arena.
  
  Fleur felt far less confident when the barrier between her and the dragon was gone. She stared at it for a few moments, trying to size it up, and gauge what its first move would be. She could see the next of eggs that it guarded, and noticed one was a bright gold underneath the other large white ones.
  
  At least they weren't real dragon eggs, she thought. Welsh Green eggs were supposed to be brown. Of course, they could simply be from another breed. Regardless, she'd do her best to not see any of them destroyed.
  
  Her plan required her to have the dragon focused on her, and to lure it slightly away from the eggs. It would be a shame if innocent young hatchlings were destroyed because of a simple human game.
  
  The dragon seemed more intent on focusing on the crowd, guarding the eggs from that, rather than from the only actual threat in the arena. Fleur was thankful for the brief distraction, but it would also mean that she would have to find a way to get it to focus on her, hopefully without angering it.
  
  She took the time to survey the area around her. It was mostly a large, open area with stands built up around it. She had plenty of room on either side, which she was glad for, if for no other reason that it gave her room to run around like a fool if need be. A few rocks littered the area around. They seemed to be strategically placed, probably with the intention of being used as a place for the champion to hide.
  
  Fleur took a few steps toward the dragon. They were soft, careful steps. She did want the dragon to notice her, but she wanted it to be on her terms. It only spared her a very brief look, as if it was accounting for her, but still felt the masses were a greater threat.
  
  Fleur took that moment to start in with her plan. She took a very deep breath and started to focus herself. What she wanted to do would require a great deal of magic, so she gathered as much as she could around herself and continued to walk toward the dragon.
  
  It spared her another glance. She wondered just how perceptive the creature was. Could it sense she was getting ready to wield a spell, and would it determine her as a threat? Of course, as the crowd saw her move, they cheered, which distracted the dragon once more.
  
  Fleur sighed. That wasn't helpful to her. She needed it focused on her soon or her plan wouldn't work. She could only think of one way to really get the dragon to focus on her. She didn't really like the plan, but it was the best one she had. She raised her right hand and pointed her wand at the dragon.
  
  "Stupefy!" she yelled. The red jet of energy hit the dragon. It roared rather loudly, not looking the least bit phased by the stunning spell. She hadn't expected it to. The spell did have the desired effect though.
  
  The dragon ignored the cheers from the crowd then, and focused on her. It took a few steps away from the eggs, largely to put itself in a better position to defend the next from the new found threat.
  
  Fleur half wondered if the loud cheering from the crowd at her initial cast was because they expected her to attempt to fight the dragon. She knew that if she watched one solitary soul throw a stunning spell at a dragon, well, she wouldn't be cheering. She'd be more likely praying they didn't die.
  
  She was distracted by that thought when she noticed the large amount of fire coming directly at her. She dove, in a fashion that her mother would probably highly disapprove of, behind one of the rocks and waited for the fire to disappear. It took longer than she would have liked.
  
  When she was sure the dragon was quite finished shooting a pillar of fire at her she took a deep breath and stepped out from behind the rock. The dragon looked at her and growled menacingly. It retreated half a step toward the nest and seemed to think about what it should do. It had obviously noticed that fire hadn't worked, and was thinking of a better course of action. It flapped its wings once or twice. That was bad for her. She needed it on the ground.
  
  Fleur took a step toward it and let her magic flow through her. She knew it was now or never. She took one final deep breath before she started to sing, as slowly and as lovingly as she could in the situation.
  
  "Bonne nuit mon tr?sor. Ferme tes yeux et dors," she started softly. Annunciating each word carefully, every bit of her attention and her magic focused onto the dragon. After finishing, she took a deep breath and continued.
  
  "Bonne nuit mon tr?sor. Ferme tes yeux et dors," she sang louder. It was a lullaby that her mother had sung to both her and her sister when they were younger. Of course, to the best of her knowledge, her mother hadn't enchanted the words as she sang. It was incredibly tiring to keep up.
  
  The Welsh Green looked completely enamored at her words, though. Its eyes were focused on her. To her great satisfaction the lids seemed to be drooping slightly. She kept singing as she approached it, moving very slowly as to appear as unthreatening as possible. The dragon slipped out of its defensive crouch and lay down in front of the nest. It was starting to rest its scaly head on the ground. Fleur was a mere few feet away from it, but she needed it completely asleep before she could approach it further, so she continued to sing, a bit louder now.
  
  "Bonne nuit mon tr?sor. Ferme tes yeux et dors," letting the magic enchant her voice was taking its toll on her. She expected she'd have a sore throat tomorrow, at the very least. But watching the dragon fall asleep in front of her very eyes was entirely worthwhile.
  
  She walked up next to it, still singing quietly as she approached it. Very carefully she reached out and traced a hand over the scales on the neck of the dragon. It did not appear to take any notice of her. That meant the spell had to have taken hold. As long as she kept singing, which she did, quietly, it should remain asleep. She walked behind it, turning and back peddling as to not take her eyes off of it.
  
  Fleur carefully stepped over the dragon's nest and lifted the golden egg from the nest, to cheers from the crowd. She smiled a bit but kept singing as she snuck past the beast. She sighed as she stepped past its head once more.
  
  She took a deep breath then. Unfortunately, she stopped singing to do so. A quick snort caused her to turn and face the dragon once more, just as fire shot out of its sleeping nose. The next thing she knew, her skirt was alight. She quickly doused it and focused back on the dragon, resuming singing the lullaby as she slowly crept back to the iron gate.
  
  Once she was outside of the arena the crowd exploded into applause again. She took a deep breath and examined the egg before a ministry official approached her.
  
  "Miss Delacour, you're required to go to the medical area now for a quick examination. After that your scores will be displayed and you'll be taken to a reserved seating section to watch the remaining champions," the official said. Fleur simply nodded her understanding and let him lead, feeling completely relieved.
  
  She had accomplished the first task, and done so rather well, she thought. Her throat already hurt a bit from the enchantment, hopefully the resident nurse would have something she could take. But for now she knew she had completed one of the tasks. She'd successfully outmaneuvered a dragon. How hard could the last two tasks be after that?
  
  Two days earlier, after the match, Harry found himself in the common room, chatting idly about strategy with Fred and George. They weren't quite over the loss yet, but they were getting there.
  
  The conversation slowly shifted to the twins plans to pursue a joke shop. Harry started to doze off, thinking about what he should do if the summoning charm failed. He half wondered if a dragon was a snake and he could simply ask for the egg. That would make the task far easier.
  
  Harry focused back a little bit on the twins conversations. Strangely, their topic seemed to be how much they could sell their brooms for, after the quidditch tournament was up. Harry blinked.
  
  "Wait, you want to sell the Lotus?" He asked.
  
  "Yea," George said. "We're going to need a pretty large chunk of cash if we want to open up a shop. They're our best assets at the moment."
  
  "What about the money you got from Bagman, didn't he give you great odds on the World Cup?"
  
  "Yea. That still wouldn't be enough, though," Fred said.
  
  "Regardless, the git didn't pay us," George replied.
  
  "He didn't?" Harry asked, vaguely remembering Bagman handing over a rather large amount of golden coins to the twins.
  
  "Well he did," Fred explained. "But he did in Leprechaun gold. It was all gone by the next morning."
  
  "I'm sure it was a mistake," Harry said.
  
  "That's what we thought," George responded. "But we've written to him, and we've approached him now. He completely ignores our letters and has done his best to not have much direct contact with us during the tournament."
  
  "In other words. We're beginning to think it wasn't a mistake," Fred commented.
  
  "We'd probably be trying harder if not for the quidditch. But that's been a blessing. We think we can sell the brooms for enough cash to get a down payment on some place, and perhaps to help us get some more supplies. Of course, they'll be worth more if we win," George added.
  
  "Well, that seems like a fairly good idea," Harry said. He idly wondered what the brooms would be worth. There certainly weren't many of them around yet, and having been flown in the tournament would make them a collector's item.
  
  "A joke shop?" a voice said. The three of them looked around, unsure of who had spoken.
  
  "Did you hear that?" Fred asked.
  
  "Yea. Who said that?" George said, looking around the common room. Harry did the same. They were alone by now, they must have lost track of time.
  
  "Fireplace," the voice said. Harry was the nearest, he peered in and gasped.
  
  "You probably shouldn't be here! I'm not alone!" He stated.
  
  "Yes, but they look like two more of Arthur and Molly's boys, and I assume since you've been chatting with them for the last two hours that they're at least friendly," Sirius said from the fire place.
  
  "Is that?" Fred stammered.
  
  "Sirius Black?" George asked.
  
  "Yes, but he's not bad," Harry said quickly.
  
  "I'm sorry. But doesn't he want to murder you?" Fred asked.
  
  "No, he doesn't. He's actually my godfather," Harry admitted. The twins looked skeptical.
  
  "It's a confusing story," Sirius said from the fireplace. "What it comes down to is that no, I do not wish Harry any harm. One of my school friends, Peter Pettigrew, also known as Wormtail, was the one who betrayed Lily and James. He is a rat animagus, and was better known to you as Scabbers."
  
  "Wait, Ron's rat wanted to kill Harry?" George asked, raising an eyebrow.
  
  "I doubt it. I assume he was happy enough where he was. But when I escaped from Azkaban he had knew I'd be coming after him. That's when he started trying to escape.
  
  "I finally caught up with him toward the end of the year. But Moony's unfortunate condition let him escape once more. I can only assume he's gone to find his master. He probably thinks that's his only refuge." Sirius explained. The twins looked at the face in the fire for a moment, before deciding to speak.
  
  "Correct me if I'm wrong. But you just said Wormtail and Moony?" Fred asked.
  
  "Yes," Sirius said. "They were nicknames we used in school."
  
  "So we would be correct to assume that you are either Padfoot or Prongs?" George asked.
  
  "I would be Padfoot," Sirius responded. "Harry's father was Prongs."
  
  "So you're the Marauders?" Fred asked.
  
  "The group that created the map that ruined our perfectly innocent childhood and set us off on this delinquent path?" George added. Sirius laughed in the fireplace.
  
  "You found our old map? I thought James had it last."
  
  "Oh yes, we found it. It's a very useful little thing. We gave it to Harry last year when he couldn't go on Hogsmead trips. We figured he could use it more than us. You have to tell us, though, how did you enchant it to work like that. We can't duplicate it to save our lives," George said. Sirius just laughed.
  
  "You'd have to ask Remus. He and James did most of the actual magic and enchanting involved. Peter and I did most of the mapping." Sirius's fiery face had a very large smirk on it. Harry could sense that he was glad someone else had used the map for troublemaking purposes.
  
  "Professor Lupin, really?" Fred asked. "Damn, and to think we had him at our disposal all of last year and didn't know anything!"
  
  "Yes, what a pity," Sirius spoke slowly. Harry almost thought he was imitating Snape for a moment. "Now, you said you were interested in opening a joke shop?"
  
  "Well, yes. That's what we want to do. Stuff marketed at students mostly. We have some things in the works. One of our favorites are these little candies that make you sick when you eat one half. So you can get out of class, then you eat the other half and you're perfectly okay," George explained.
  
  "We also have fake wands and the like, and some other candies for simply funny situations. Things that will like, turn the person who eats it into a canary," Fred added.
  
  "Interesting ideas," Sirius said. "All things that need to be ingested?"
  
  "Yes. We've had the best results with those so far. We have some other stuff drawn up, but nothing that we've really had great results with yet. We were hoping to get a head start on a bunch of stuff this year, what with having the slight break between the large tests, but the tournament has interfered." Fred admitted.
  
  "I see. And why did you choose this line of business? I can't imagine Molly and Arthur are very proud of it," Sirius said.
  
  "Well, Mom doesn't like it at all, that's for sure," Fred said.
  
  "Dad seems okay with it, though," George commented, mostly to his twin.
  
  "Yea. We're interested in this mostly because Zonko's hasn't really come out with anything new in our time here. And we felt that we can produce things that are better than what they have. So far we feel we've had pretty good luck." Fred explained, suddenly getting rather serious and looking into the fire.
  
  "Still," George adopted a similar tone. Harry was amazed at how the twins went from amusing school boys planning pranks, to businessmen. "We're going to need investors and capital before we can do much with it. We think that we can easily turn a profit once we get the infrastructure in place." Harry had never realized just how detailed their plan was. He, like Molly, had mostly written it off as a fantasy. But listening to them talk, he realized they had put a lot more stock into this than he would have given them credit for.
  
  "Yes. I noticed that last year when I was hiding around the town. Zonko's hasn't really changed their product line since I was in school. They certainly could use some competition," Sirius said.
  
  "That's exactly what we thought," Fred spoke. "And we also think we're more than capable of being that competition, provided we can get the needed capital."
  
  "Well boys. I'm almost sold. I'll tell you what. For your next Hogsmead visit, give Harry here a sample of some of your better supplies. If I like what I see I'll consider being a silent partner. The Black money has been idle for too long anyway. We'll work it out in a way that you can simply pay it back to me and have everything be yours, if you like," Sirius said. The twins looked stunned.
  
  "We appreciate the offer, Mr. Black," Fred said.
  
  "Yes. We do. We'll make sure Harry has a sample of our best products in time for the next visit."
  
  "Fantastic," Sirius said. "If you have anything else, like say a business plan, or future idea, of anything of that nature, I'd appreciate copy to look over. Perhaps I can help with some other things."
  
  "We have some mail-order concepts that we are developing, if you'd like us to include that. That's about all we have going on at the moment," Fred added.
  
  "Yes, and anything you come up with between now and then," Sirius said.
  
  "Will do, Mr. Black," George said. Harry could already see the wheels in the twin's heads spinning. He could tell they were formulating exactly what to give Sirius.
  
  "Call me Padfoot," Sirius said, rather automatically.
  
  "Alright. Padfoot," Fred said hesitantly. "If we may ask, why are you being so helpful and nice? You certainly don't seem like an evil mass murderer."
  
  "Well, thanks to Harry here I'm not a murderer. Pettigrew killed the people I'm infamous for killing. He's the only one I ever wanted to murder, but Harry made me realize just how bad of an idea that was.
  
  "I'm helping you because I think it's a fantastic idea. The Wizarding world could use more individuals like you two willing to do things other than enter the ministry. But aside from all of that. I love to laugh and haven't done nearly enough of it for years. Everyone can always use a good laugh. And you two appear to have great potential," Sirius stated. The twins looked completely awed to be complimented by one of the Marauders.
  
  "Wow, are you serious?" Fred asked
  
  "If that pun was intentional, Fred, it's terrible," George commented. "But we appreciate the compliment, nonetheless, Padfoot." Fred sounded rather formal.
  
  "Good. And I appreciate anyone interested in making mischief and getting a few laughs out of people. It is truly a noble calling." Sirius too, sounded rather formal. "Now, away with you two so I can actually have a conversation with my godson."
  
  "Right away, sir!" Fred said. He and George stood up in near perfect unison and exited the common room.
  
  "They're a strange bunch," Sirius commented as they left.
  
  "Incredibly," Harry said. "But they're good people."
  
  "Most Weasleys are. Now. We have a lot to talk about, don't we? Care to explain how I find out in the paper, rather than from Hedwig, that you were mysteriously entered into the Triwizard Tournament?" Sirius scolded.
  
  "Oh well. I was busy!" Harry stated, realizing it was a very poor excuse.
  
  "Obviously. Congratulations on making the quidditch team, too. James would be proud of that. I watched the match earlier. You flew amazingly well," Sirius complimented. Harry couldn't help but feel some pride at his godfather's words.
  
  "Krum flew better," was the only reply he could manage.
  
  "Krum won. That does not equate to flying better. But he is the best seeker in the world, Harry. There's no shame in losing to him. Now work your ass off and get another shot at him," Sirius ordered.
  
  "I plan on it," Harry said, rather sternly.
  
  "Good. But that's not why I came to talk to you. Do you know what the first task is yet?" Sirius asked.
  
  "Dragons," Harry said. "I saw them in the forest a couple of days ago."
  
  "Alright, they likely won't make you fight one. Do you have a plan?"
  
  "Yea. I'm going to summon my Firebolt and attempt to lure it away and out fly it," Harry admitted. Sirius laughed from the fireplace.
  
  "You're worried about out flying Krum, and your plan is to out fly a dragon?" He asked.
  
  "Yes, that's the gist of it," Harry admitted, looking away and thinking that perhaps he could have thought of a better plan.
  
  "Well, if you manage that, I'm sure Krum will be even more nervous for the rematch than he is now. Do you have anything in place for if that doesn't work?"
  
  "No, not really. Run around and hope I get lucky?" Harry asked.
  
  "That's likely not far off of what you would probably have to do anyway," Sirius said. "I'd suggest trying to do something that would distract it. How's your transfiguration?"
  
  "It's not bad. I get most of the things done in class. McGonagall seldom has anything negative to say about it."
  
  "Well I would think your best bet would be to transfigure something around you into a distraction and use that to accomplish whatever you're going to attempt to do," Sirius explained. Harry had thought of that briefly, but he wasn't quite that confident in his large scale transfiguration to really attempt something of that nature. And he felt that he had the summoning charm down well enough.
  
  "I think I'm better off trying my way. I don't know what will be in the area for me to transfigure, and I'm pretty sure I have the summoning charm down. I was going to spend most of tomorrow practicing with it," Harry said. Sirius's fiery eyes focused on him for a moment.
  
  "If you insist, Harry. I'm just not sure how wise flying against a dragon would be. I just think you should have some type of a backup plan in case that doesn't work," Sirius said. Harry had to admit that it was probably a good idea. But still, formulating two plans seemed like a lot of extra work. Of course, he wasn't sure if his first plan would even work, so it was probably a good idea.
  
  "Yea. Well, I'm still going to practice the summoning charm and attempt to try that first. But I'll look into some other things tomorrow, too. I'm not sure how much time I'll have to look it over, but I bet I can get some help. Hooch gave us the rest of the weekend off, so I'm sure the team will be free, and Hermione is usually willing to help." Harry said, thinking over all of his options in his head as he spoke.
  
  "You're as stubborn as your father," Sirius said with a smile. "He'd be proud of you, Harry."
  
  "Thanks," Harry said, he rather liked the compliment. Something about being compared to his father always made him feel special. People just seemed to admire James. Well, excluding Snape.
  
  "I planned on contacting Dumbledore tomorrow. But do you know if there is any news on who put your name in the goblet, Harry?" Sirius changed the subject.
  
  "No. I haven't heard. Really I haven't had much time to think about it," he admitted.
  
  "That's troubling. Dumbledore isn't one to not understand everything that's going on in his school," Sirius said, mostly he seemed to be thinking aloud.
  
  "Do you have a theory?" Harry asked, purely to be privy to the musings.
  
  "No. Just come conjectures. I know that Igor Karkaroff is a Death Eater," Sirius said. Harry was rather surprised.
  
  "You mean was a Death Eater?" Harry asked.
  
  "No. You do not stop being a Death Eater. Although I doubt they'd welcome him back. He turned over quite a few names for his freedom. They mutter his name nearly as much as yours in Azkaban."
  
  "That's comforting," Harry said. Of course he preferred that they mutter his name in prison rather than in the comfort of their own homes.
  
  "Is there anything else odd you've noticed?" Sirius asked.
  
  "Not really." Harry responded as he thought about it. "I've seen Mr. Crouch and Professor Moody up late in Moody's office on the map, that's about the strangest," Harry joked. Sirius looked slightly concerned. At least as concerned as one could when their head was composed largely of burning embers.
  
  "Crouch and Moody? That's strange. They represented rather different political ideals back in the day."
  
  "How so?"
  
  "Well, Crouch was the one who sent me to Azkaban, without a trial. The Wizarding world was so panicked after the war that they did that to many Death Eaters. It sprung from the fact that they all used the same imperious defense, and refused to make vows or take a truth potion. Crouch had enough support to send them away without trials," Sirius explained. Harry realized he could probably do the same things to prove he hadn't entered the tournament.
  
  But he was sure Dumbledore knew that too, and he doubted that any of the other competitors actually cared if he had or hadn't entered himself. All that particularly mattered at this point was that he had to compete.
  
  "And Moody didn't like that?" Harry asked. "Everything I've heard about him indicates that he was rather intent on getting rid of every dark wizard he ever came in contact with."
  
  "Yes, Moody is somewhat obsessed with that. But he's a lawman through and through. He believes that people do make mistakes, and that even he can be wrong from time to time. Albeit rarely. And he does think everyone does have the right to trial," Sirius explained. "Really, I'd have expected Moody's late night affairs to be with Dumbledore rather than Crouch."
  
  "That's a mental image I really didn't need. Thanks Sirius," Harry said, half wanting to take the poker for the fire and gouge his eyes out. Of course, it may be more effective to gouge at Sirius with it.
  
  "That's what I'm here for, my boy," Sirius laughed. Harry knew he had to get the subject back on track before Sirius decided to give him as many bad mental images as he possibly could.
  
  "So you think it was Karkaroff?" He asked.
  
  "I have no idea, Harry. But it does seem like something he would try to do, perhaps to be able to claim credit for anything bad that happened to you during the tournament. Of course, I've heard he rather likes his cushy Durmstrang Headmaster job. And getting caught interfering with the tournament would really threaten that."
  
  "Nothing is ever easy, is it?" Harry sighed.
  
  "No," Sirius laughed. "Nothing ever is. But speaking of easy, have you decided on your date for the ball yet?"
  
  "My what for the what?"
  
  "Your date for the Yule Ball. It's tradition that the champions open the ball dancing with their dates," Sirius teased. Harry's eyes widened.
  
  "I need to find a date?" Suddenly facing a dragon didn't seem that difficult.
  
  "Yes, apparently you do. Come on, you're famous and young. That has to count for something," Sirius continued to tease. "I'm almost surprised you don't have girls hanging off your every limb. I would have!"
  
  "Well I've been busy!" Harry tried to defend himself. Sirius just laughed more.
  
  "Oh Harry. No fourteen year old boy is too busy for girls. Hell, most grown men are never too busy for girls. I spent some time in Spain, France and Italy. Did my own version of Hannibal crossing the alps this summer. And I'll tell you, there was this pair at a caf? somewhere in Italy and just wow. Blonde and a brunette. They didn't make teenagers like that when I was in school. Those two alone made me wish I was sixteen again!" Sirius laughed more. Harry tensed. He found himself worried about who he would ask. Maybe if he could communicate with the dragon in parseltongue he'd ask it. That would certainly make for an interesting date.
  
  "I should probably make a comment about you leering at teenage girls, Sirius. But I'll let you off easy because of the time in prison," Harry muttered.
  
  "Oh that is so something James would have said," Sirius laughed. "But seriously now, who's, if I'm pardoned a clich?, the apple of your eye!" Harry had to think about it for a moment. Not too long ago his thoughts would have immediately centered on Cho Chang. But it wasn't Cho Chang who had her chest pressed into his back just a few hours earlier. He blushed a little bit at the memory.
  
  "Well there's this French girl. She was my penpal over the summer. I think I'll ask her. I don't know her that well, and she's a bit older than me. She's also the Beauxbaton's champion."
  
  "Going for the more mature witches, eh? I can't say that's a bad choice," Sirius teased.
  
  "Yes, well. I'll probably ask her. She's never talked of a boyfriend. So maybe she'll agree to just go as friends or something."
  
  "No no no! Don't go with that, you'll never get out of the dreaded 'friend zone' Harry!" Sirius scolded. "Go for a date or bust!"
  
  "I'll keep that in mind," Harry responded dryly. "Of course if she says no, then I'm stuck with the same problem."
  
  "There has to be someone else you'd consider going with," Sirius said.
  
  "Oh yes. I'd go with Hermione, or pretty much anyone on the Quidditch team. But that would be as friends." Harry realized he'd just classified Cho as a friend rather than a love interest.
  
  "Hmm, anyone on the team? You and Roger Davies would be an interesting couple."
  
  "If I hit you with the poker, would it hurt?" Harry glared at his Godfather's head.
  
  "Probably not. But let's not find out. Anyway. I've kept you long enough. I'm lucky I haven't woken the owners of this place, really. Head to bed, Harry. Best of luck with the dragons." Sirius said.
  
  "Thanks, Sirius. You really want me to bring you stuff from the twins during the next Hogsmead visit?" He asked a final question.
  
  "Yes. I think it could be rather fun. Their reputation precedes them. If it's as good as I hope I'll gladly front them the money. Anonymously of course. Now get some sleep!" His godfather demanded as the head disappeared from the fire. Harry sat for just a moment before groggily lifting himself up and heading to his dormitory.
  
  His thoughts were filled with images of brooms and dragons and dates. And even a dragon in a dress acting as his date. That wasn't a very pleasant image, either. It wasn't until he put his head down on the pillow that he realized just what he had been a party to. Sirius Black and the Weasley Twins working together? Was Hogwarts really ready for that?
  
  He fell asleep long before he could think of an adequate answer.
  
  Fleur Delacour watched Krum's dragon as it was blindly led out of the arena. It certainly hadn't seemed happy, but Krum managed to retrieve the egg. He was lucky, though, that the golden egg appeared to be indestructible.
  
  She glanced over at her egg. It was perched on a table she shared with Cedric Diggory, between their two seats. His egg was next to hers. The Hufflepuff champion hadn't spoken much. Fleur noticed he was sporting rather large bandage and was glad the only damage she suffered was the singed skirt. Judging by the look of the seating arrangement, Krum would wind up on her left, between another table.
  
  Around her were people whom appeared to be sponsors and other dignitaries. They mostly left the champions alone. A few of them had questioned her and Cedric briefly, but their attentions focused mostly on the tasks.
  
  Of course, with the way they were talking during the task, she expected that they would have a great deal more to say to Krum when he finally joined them. She saw the judges give Krum his scores. A ten from his own headmaster? That's a joke, every other egg got crushed! She crossed her arms and sulked as the crowd applauded the new leader in the standings of the Triwizard Tournament.
  
  She could have really used a glass of wine. That would have made things more enjoyable. The officials around her were all drinking, but no one had offered her or Cedric anything as of yet.
  
  A few moments later Krum did join them. He didn't say anything, but rather just sat next to the other two champions. One of the sponsors near them, wearing gray robes with a vaguely familiar logo on the front spoke to Krum in a language she didn't recognize. She assumed it to be his native tongue.
  
  Fleur listened in, mostly in the hope of stumbling upon a word or a phrase she recognized. She came up with absolutely nothing, but tried anyway.
  
  She wasn't paying attention when they brought in the final dragon. It wasn't until Bagman started to speak again that she even noticed it was protectively guarding a nest in the arena.
  
  "And our final dragon, ladies and gentlemen! The Hungarian Horntail! A vicious breed indeed. One of these is believed to have killed five hundred Hungarian peasants before Hungarian officials managed to stop it!" Bagman yelled to more cheering from the crowd.
  
  Fleur kept her arms crossed, starting to feel nervous for her young friend who would have to get past that beast. It was close to twice the size of her dragon. Fleur noticed the spiked tail, too, and winced a little bit for Harry.
  
  "And now, would our final champion, young Harry Potter, please enter the arena!" Bagman shouted. There was more applause. Fleur even clapped politely. She noticed that a large section of the Hogwarts crowd, mostly those with green on their scarves, looked a tad too eager for the event. Almost like they hoped he'd fail, and fail miserably.
  
  She sat on the edge of her seat as Harry entered the arena. He looked incredibly tiny from the distance. Well, she thought, he'd said he had a plan, time to see if it would work.
  
  Harry stared at the dragon, slightly awed by the gigantic creature. He knew very little about dragons, but this one certainly didn't look friendly. It stood protectively over the nest, blocking the majority of it from his sight. It had large yellow eyes that focused straight on him from the second he entered the arena.
  
  He was momentarily awed by the beast. Part of him could see how Hagrid and others would want one. They certainly were grand creatures. And the possibilities, if you could domesticate it, seemed endless.
  
  On the other hand, judging by the look in its eyes, it would much rather eat him than have anything to do with being domesticated. It roared rather loudly and kept focused on him.
  
  Harry raised his wand, hoping desperately that his plan would work. The dragon tensed into a very defensive stance as he displayed his wand. Harry took a deep breath and knew that it was now or never.
  
  "Accio Firebolt!" he yelled, pointing in the general direction of Gryffindor tower.
  
  The only noticeable thing that occurred involved the dragon. It took him casting the spell as a form of attack and roared once more at him. But this time, she decided to accompany the roar with rather a lot of fire.
  
  Fleur watched from afar as Harry dove behind the same rock she had used as a barrier. There was too much noise for her to know which spell Harry had attempted to use. But whatever it was, it appeared to be about as effective as her stunning spell earlier.
  
  Harry cowered behind the rock for a few moments. Fleur could see he was thinking about his next action. She wondered, almost as much as he did, just what that next action would be.
  
  Thankfully, they didn't have to wait long. Harry looked up from behind the rock, which the Horntail still focused on, and noticed before anyone else that his spell had worked.
  
  Fleur turned over her shoulder and looked toward where Harry was looking. She noticed few of the people around her do the same.
  
  "A broom?" One of the sponsors asked. He wore green robes with a yellow and green logo on the front.
  
  "Apparently so. This should be interesting," another said. He was clad in yellow and black robes.
  
  Fleur watched as Harry quickly mounted the broom, and shot off away from the dragon. It watched him eagerly, but did not follow. Harry turned and floated above the arena, looking at the horntail as he pondered his next move. Fleur couldn't help but think he looked quite a bit more comfortable on the broom than he had behind the rock.
  
  "Well, Mr. Potter appears to have summoned his broom," Bagman's voice echoed through the stadium. "After what we saw a few days ago, that may be a wise move. The question now is will the Horntail take the bait?" Fleur looked over the scene and didn't think it would.
  
  Harry had arrived at a similar conclusion as he simply hovered outside of the dragon's range. He slowly maneuvered closer to the dragon, carefully gauging its reactions as he did. The dragon merely focused on him. It appeared to be smart enough to wait for him to make a move. Or perhaps it simply didn't want to leave the eggs unprotected.
  
  Harry decided to be a little more aggressive. He flew straight at it, pushing the Firebolt to its absolute limit. When aimed for the right side of the dragon's head, giving every indication that he was simply going to fly past it. But when he got close he abruptly cut to the right and swerved back away from the dragon. The crowd gasped. Very few of them noticed the dragon was ready to grab him out of the air had he not changed course.
  
  Harry banked around the creature, observing it for a moment, before pulling up and out of range once more. The Horntail watched his every movement, but made no attempt to chase after him.
  
  He circled it, watching as it circled the nest, so it always faced him in the same way. Even if he cut sharply back or changed directions, it kept its positioning.
  
  Harry changed tactics then. He cut sharply back and dove, not on a path that would take him at the dragon, but on one where, if the horntail so wished, it could attempt to knock him out of the sky. He watched it follow him into the dive. He was lucky he saw it inhale deeply, or he probably wouldn't have been able to pull out of the dive in time to clear the large pillar of fire.
  
  He cut up and to his right, pulling directly over the dragon, figuring that was his best escape route. The dragon roared at him and breathed more fire in his direction, but he managed to spiral out of range.
  
  Harry figured he was getting closer to irritating it into takeoff, so he tried the same move once more, except this time he did it even closer to the dragon. It had near identical results. He reversed and tried it a third time, moving closer to the dragon once more. Again, it reacted nearly identically, the fiery breath coming exactly when Harry expected it.
  
  He pulled up and over the dragon again, except this time the beast had countered. He nearly flew face first into the Horntail's spiked tail. He quickly banked the Firebolt to the left and dove around the tail. The horntail swiped it back at him and he rolled around it once more. The horntail shot more fire at him, which he dodged easily.
  
  The horntail roared once more and Harry couldn't help but laugh as he sped away from it. Had he not spent nearly the entirety of the first few months at school on a broom, he didn't think he'd feel quite the same way. And he certainly didn't think he'd have been able to dodge the tail had he not had the practice.
  
  Still, he was enjoying himself. Something about going up against a scary beast was surprisingly liberating. He spun himself around, smirking at the dragon, and simply flew straight at it. He could tell as it lined up another shot of fire at him. He heard the gasp from the crowd as he kept flying straight at it.
  
  He knew most of them probably didn't see him dive just under the fire. He doubted even the horntail saw that movement. He cut under its legs, right over the nest and shot underneath it. He could have probably made a play for the egg, but he didn't want to accidently fumble it as he rushed past. He rolled around the tail, rather expertly, and cut right over above the horntail again. Its eyes found him and it roared once more.
  
  Fleur heard laughing from next to her. She looked over and saw the two sponsors watching. The one in green was laughing.
  
  "Holy shit just look at that kid go! It's like watching Senna drive! Just pure talent on display!" The man sounded completely astonished.
  
  "Damn it, man. Thinking about that still makes me sick." The sponsor in yellow responded.
  
  "Me too. But your boy got a title out of it in the Benetton. Bet you're glad it was Hill in the Williams down the stretch," the figure in green teased.
  
  "Not with the way it came about. You know that as well as I do," yellow responded. Fleur saw green was going to say something, but she decided to interrupt.
  
  "Excusez-moi qui est Senna?" She asked. The two sponsors paused and looked at her with complete disbelief. When one finally spoke, it was not to answer her question.
  
  "Oh look! It's finally going to give chase!" green said as the dragon flapped its enormous wings and lifted itself into the air. Fleur gasped at the sheer size of the thing. To her right Cedric looked amazed. To her left, Krum didn't look at the dragon at all. His eyes were focused on the boy on the broom.
  
  Harry wasted no time once it had taken off. He wasn't sure just how well the dragon would maneuver in the air, and he didn't really want to find out. He flew away briefly, hoping it follow but not looking back to check.
  
  When he felt he'd put enough distance between him and the nest he pulled into a hard banking turn and saw that the dragon had indeed followed him. It was banking to match his turn, but he knew it had no chance. He'd put himself on the perfect line toward the nest. He pushed the Firebolt as fast as it would go, straight toward the golden egg, laughing to himself as it grew bigger and bigger.
  
  Despite suffering no damage during the task, Harry found himself in the medical tent with his Firebolt and the golden egg. Madame Pomfrey looked him over quickly, muttering about the lunacy of bringing dragons onto the school grounds. She seemed rather determined to find something wrong with him, despite his insistence to the contrary, and his otherwise impeccable robes.
  
  His rescue came in the form of Hermione and Ron. Once they entered the tent, Pomfrey stopped attempting to find something wrong with him. Hermione ran up to him and hugged him tightly. She started to say something, but Harry ignored her, staring at Ron instead. His best friend looked away for a moment before finally gathering the courage to speak the words he should have said nearly a month ago.
  
  "Harry, I reckon whoever put your name into the goblet really was trying to do you in," he said meekly. Harry couldn't help but laugh.
  
  "Ya think?" He said, still full with adrenaline from flying around a dragon. He suddenly understood why Charlie Weasley had gone into that profession. It certainly was a rush. Judging from the look on Ron's face, it wasn't the type of reaction he had expected.
  
  "I erm. Harry, I just wanted to say that-" Ron started but Harry waved him silent.
  
  "It's okay. I know," he said. Ron looked momentarily stunned.
  
  "So, we're still friends?" he asked meekly.
  
  "I don't see why not," Harry said, offering his hand. Ron shook it carefully.
  
  "Awesome mate!" Ron said. "Let's go check out your scores!" Ron walked out of the tent. Harry noticed Hermione was staring at him, very carefully, and he simply shrugged. He knew that he would probably never be quite as close to Ron as he was in the past, but he wasn't going to simply crush his friend. He was a much better friend than that. He'd let Ron go on thinking he was still his best friend, because frankly, he didn't lose anything from that at the moment.
  
  But Harry expected that one day Ron would again act like he had in the previous months. And he knew that this would happen all over again. But he'd deal with that when it came. He doubted that Ron would even notice the difference in his behavior anyway.
  
  He left the tent with Hermione and walked up to see the scores from the judges. They were all good, except for the one from Karkaroff. Harry didn't care though. He has simply wanted to survive and he had performed wonderfully.
  
  "You're tied for the lead with Krum!" Ron exclaimed from next to him. It was strange hearing his voice after months of being ignored.
  
  "How about that," Harry said dryly. "How'd Fleur do?"
  
  "She's just behind Cedric," Hermione said. "She enchanted the dragon. Put it to sleep. It was really an incredible bit of enchanting. I think her score should have been higher. But she wound up putting part of the audience to sleep as well." Harry noticed Fleur and Cedric were walking off toward a tent on the other side of the arena. Krum, however, was walking toward him. When he got closer he spoke.
  
  "Harry Potter?" he asked. Harry noticed the Bulgarian's eyes slid to Hermione, who also seemed to notice as she flushed bright red.
  
  "Yea?" Harry asked, crossing his arms and shifting his weight a little bit. He wasn't sure what to think of the Bulgarian. His first reaction was to dislike him, as he'd lost to him at Quidditch. But of course, if that was how things worked, then he should hate Cedric much more than he did.
  
  "You flew vell. Congratulations. I vas asked to gather you for interviews," he nodded toward the tent that Fleur and Cedric disappeared into.
  
  "Really?" Harry groaned and started to walk off toward the tent. "I hated this before," he grumbled. Krum laughed and walked next to him. He intentionally didn't look back. If Ron's new loyalty was already wavering, he didn't want to see it.
  
  "It does not improve. They are always vultures." The Bulgarian said.
  
  "Any advice?" Harry joked, feeling like much more of an equal than he probably was. But they had flown head to head, and they had just completed the same task, with the same final score.
  
  "Do not let them twist vords. They vill try to get the story they vant. Be blunt," Viktor said.
  
  "Thanks. I'll try that." Harry responded, wondering why he felt more nervous about talking to a gaggle of reporters than he did about flying against both Krum and a Horntail.
  
  "You are velcome. Now, vhat is brunette's name?" Krum asked. Harry looked at him for a moment.
  
  "The one I was just with?"
  
  "Ya,"
  
  "Oh, that's Hermione," Harry said, wondering what Krum's interest would be. Then again, he realized, he was in a rather similar situation.
  
  "Like daughter of Menelaus and Helen?" Krum asked.
  
  "Uhm. Maybe?" Harry said. Krum just nodded.
  
  "Thank you. Harry. Now we face reporters!" Krum said. Harry could only groan as the older seeker pulled him into the tent.
  
  Author's Note: Sorry for the lack of Harry/Fleur interaction here. I had some planned, but decided with the two days between the match and the task, they'd both be to busy. On the positive side, the next two, and quite possibly three, chapters will focus on the two protagonists. Up next is the dueling and academic competition, some pre-ball planning, with the ball finally following (likely not in the next update). Harry's date is already decided, but I'm not saying anything more than that, since it appears to be a matter of interest in some reviews.
  
  As always, thanks for the reviews. I appreciate every last one of them. I'm still willing to add one more pre-reader before things are posted. Send me a PM if you're interested. Thanks for reading!
  
  
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I am making no money, this is purely for fun.
  
  Acknowledgments: Thanks to Onichun and Bird875 for some beta work.
  
  Chapter 10
  
  Interlude
  
  Monday morning came far too quickly for Harry. He rose and dressed rather slowly, debating if he would go to class or not. He could only imagine how challenging practice was going to be later, after Hooch gave them the weekend off.
  
  Ron was waiting for him in the common room when he came down. He seemed unusually perky for the morning. Harry couldn't help but wonder if someone hit him with a cheering charm.
  
  "Hey Harry. Want to go to breakfast?" He asked.
  
  "Sure," Harry responded, as breakfast was his plan regardless.
  
  It felt slightly unusual walking into the hall with Ron. He realized he probably hadn't done it since the quidditch team had been decided. He had that strange d?j?-vu feeling that came from slipping into an unpracticed routine.
  
  His eyes shifted across the hall, looking for members of the team. They had been his dining companions for the last few months, and it felt odd not eating with them. Of course, the lack of quidditch discussion would be an interesting change, too.
  
  "You really were amazing against Krum, Harry," Ron said as they sat at the Gryffindor table. So, apparently quidditch would still be the discussion. "I thought you had him before that last turn."
  
  "Me too," Harry said as the post arrived. He noticed an owl dropped a few papers next to Ron, who dug out a few bronze coins and paid the birds. "Developed an interest in the news?" Harry asked.
  
  "Not really. Hermione, Lavender, Dean and I took out a few subscriptions. The birds come to whoever is here at the time. We've pooled our money for it," He explained. Of course, the explanation meant next to nothing to Harry.
  
  "But why?" he asked.
  
  "Are you kidding? Have you not seen these articles?" Ron asked, looking completely stunned.
  
  "Obviously not," Harry responded dryly.
  
  "Well, some of them are pretty good. People all over are writing about the tournament. The Daily Prophet is pretty mediocre, but Rita Skeeter writes some absurd things. Where she gets her information here is beyond me. She's taken a liking to you, though. Wizarding News Weekly offers some fairly balanced things," Ron explained. He would have continued, too, but Harry cut him off.
  
  "So you're reading about the tournament that's going on here?" Harry asked.
  
  "That's what I said when they approached me about it. But it's actually pretty interesting." Ron held up a copy of Wizarding News Weekly. The main headline was 'Durmstrang Bests Hogwarts 210-170.' Underneath the headline was a picture of the Durmstrang team mobbing Viktor Krum as he held the snitch in his hand. Harry wanted to gag at that. He should probably be over the loss by now, but it had only been three days.
  
  "The quidditch is the bigger story?" Harry asked, assuming the rare individual competition would be the bigger deal.
  
  "The individual stuff is below the fold. I'm betting one of the manufacturers owns a stake in the paper," Ron said with a shrug. He appeared to be lost in the article.
  
  "I suppose that would make sense," Harry shrugged.
  
  "It helps that Dean noticed a full page Lotus add appears in every issue, too," Ron commented. Harry couldn't help but laugh.
  
  "Yea, I guess that would give it away. Anything interesting in there?" Harry had to admit he was rather curious. He couldn't really think of a time when people had written about him. Sure, he expected he appeared in some history texts, but not for any action he had done himself.
  
  "It's mostly a recap of the match. Here, you may find this interesting." Ron handed him the paper. "The final paragraphs." Harry looked down at the newspaper and began to read.
  
  But the story of the day was not Viktor Krum or the Durmstrang victory. But rather the superior play of the Hogwarts chasers, who not only scored an amazing amount of goals on a highly touted keeper prospect in Kubica, but also completely stifled the Durmstrang chaser line. The same line that many believed would steamroll the competition.
  
  One British scout said of the Hogwarts chasers, "Any of them could play professionally if they put the work in. Their flying is incredible for their ages."
  
  Also stealing the show, despite failing to catch the snitch, was Harry Potter. Scouts from both the Ballycastle Bats and Falmouth Falcons stated they would strongly advise scouting, and even drafting, the young seeker if he chose quidditch as a profession.
  
  James McNeal, head scout for the Falcons and frequent contributor to the Sports section here said of Potter, "He has some of the best pure talent I've seen in years. His tactics against the Dragon were an excellent display of his skills. His last turn in the match wound up a bit wide, and it cost him. But many professional seekers have suffered the same fate against Krum."
  
  More information on Mr. Potter's flight against a dragon can be found on page three.
  
  Harry stopped reading then, despite the article continuing for a few more paragraphs. Harry had to admit, he rather liked the praise. He hadn't even known professional scouts were coming to the matches. He realized how silly it was of him to be surprised by that, though. Professional scouts often came to the inter-house matches to look at older players. Why wouldn't they come to a much more detailed competition?
  
  "Falmouth and Ballycastle, eh?" Ron said. Harry, who didn't particularly follow professional quidditch, mostly because the vast majority of the season was when he was at the Dursley's, didn't know much about either of the teams. In fact, he wouldn't admit it, but he doubted he could find Ballycastle on a map.
  
  "Yea. That's interesting," was all he could think of to say. His mind filled with thoughts of being a professional seeker. He shook them from his head though. He'd focus on getting a rematch with Krum. After that, he'd think more about whether or not he should pursue a career in sports.
  
  "Very," Ron responded. "You coming to Charms today?"
  
  "Yea," Harry muttered. "If Flitwick even remembers who I am." The two boys rose then, and headed to class together.
  
  Harry couldn't help but think that the rift between them was closing. Perhaps, friendships could survive through stupidity on the part of one of the friends. After all, wasn't that the point of friendship? Still, he had more important things to worry about, so he decided he was just glad to have Ron back in his corner.
  
  The next few days passed very quickly for Harry. He went to the majority of his classes, which was surprising, but he figured learning things would probably help him out quite a bit. After all, he doubted he could simply out fly the next task. Whatever it was.
  
  He'd only made one attempt with the egg so far, and the ensuing headache had guaranteed that he wouldn't be making another attempt for the moment. After all he did have until February. Of course, the task was before the Beauxbaton's match, so he should think of something just so he wouldn't break his promise to Roger.
  
  Part of him doubted that any of the tasks would be dangerous enough to actually kill one of the champions. There certainly had been a number of professionals on hand in case something happened with the dragons. But then again, people had died in the past, and safety measures sometimes simply weren't enough.
  
  He found himself rather excited for the dueling competition that weekend, despite not knowing who would actually be participating, with the exception of Draco Malfoy. Still, despite that, he wanted his school to do well.
  
  Then again, he was sure he'd never hear the end of it if Malfoy beat the other two schools after he lost to Durmstrang.
  
  Much to his surprise, many Hogwarts students, including Ron, started coming to the quidditch practices again. Apparently they had put on a good enough show during the game that students wanted to see more.
  
  Harry barely noticed the new attendees, though. He was far too focused on his own work and practice to particularly care about the audience.
  
  But, all in all, nothing particularly major changed during the week that followed the first task. That's how Harry found himself, finishing up a transfiguration essay, on an early December weekend morning. Hermione read the essay over his shoulder as he finished it up. She had the courtesy to at least let him finish sentences before she commented. He mostly ignored her suggestions and simply kept writing.
  
  "Come on!" Ron said as he entered the common room. "If you keep working on that all day we're going to miss the duels!"
  
  "They're staring already?" Hermione asked.
  
  "In a half-hour! But the Great Hall is filling up very quickly!" Ron stated. "We should head down there now if we want to get a good seat!"
  
  "Harry has to finish his essay!" Hermione exclaimed. Harry looked up at her. He wanted to comment that he didn't, actually. He was exempt. "And you haven't even started your homework!"
  
  "I'll do it later," Ron brushed her off. "After the duels,"
  
  "And I'm finished," Harry said, scribbling the last sentence quickly. "So let's go."
  
  "Great," Ron said as he and Harry started to walk toward the portrait hole. Hermione muttered something about not editing Harry's paper and followed after them.
  
  Ron had been right. The Great Hall was already packed with students by the time that the trio entered. Harry looked around to see how the Hall had been set up the Great hall for the event. He noticed that three long platforms had been spaced throughout the hall, with seating mixed in between the platforms. Most of the seats were taken.
  
  "Great. It's nearly full," Ron complained from Harry's side.
  
  "There's three over there," Hermione suggested helpfully as she nodded to the opposite corner of the hall.
  
  "Alright, let's go," Ron said as he started to move over to the corner. Harry noticed something by the main platform though. It appeared to be three empty seats next to what appeared to be a familiar blonde and brunette.
  
  "Wait, let's try those," he said, walking over to the seats. As he approached the blonde girl sitting near the three seats told a near slobbering boy that the seats were indeed taken.
  
  "They're taken," Ron said, looking toward the two girls. Harry shrugged.
  
  "Let's find out for sure," he walked up behind the girls. "Hey Lilly. These three taken?" He asked. Lilly turned and looked at him over her shoulder.
  
  "Nope. Help yourself," she said. Harry slide between the chairs and sat on what appeared to be a simple metal folding chair. He was pleasantly surprised that the chairs must have been charmed, as it felt like he was sitting in one of the comfortable armchairs in the great hall. Ron and Hermione sat to his right.
  
  "Thanks," Harry said, making himself comfortable in the chair. After a moment he leaned forward and spoke across Lilly. "Hello, Fleur. How are you today?" The blonde girl looked at him for a moment. She had her arms crossed over her chest and looked somewhat annoyed.
  
  "I am fine, 'Arry, 'Ow are you?" she asked. Her voice sounding perfectly passive.
  
  "I'm good. Just waiting to watch the duels. My friends here tell me you enchanted your dragon to sleep. I wish I could have seen that," he said. She leaned forward and looked at him from across her friend.
  
  "I did. I 'ad not counted on it snoring, though. Lit my skirt on fire," she said, smiling weakly at him.
  
  "I'm sorry," Harry said. "Hermione was saying she felt you deserved way more points. Enchanting a dragon must be incredibly challenging." Hermione looked over at the mention of her name before speaking up.
  
  "Oh yes. I can only imagine how much effort that took." Fleur smiled politely at both of them.
  
  "It was very challenging. Enchanting my own voice to 'ave ze effect left my throat rather sore. Thankfully your nurse gave me a nice tonic," Fleur admitted, looking over at the trio. "I can show you 'ow to do it, 'Arry, if you like."
  
  "That would be cool," Harry said. She smiled at him once more. He had to admit, he knew nothing about enchanting, and it would be cool to learn something. It may even help him later in the tournament. Of course, he also thought it would be cool to have an excuse to stare at Fleur. And that wasn't just because he was still lost in her smile. Well, maybe a little bit.
  
  "Are you free tomorrow afternoon?" Fleur asked.
  
  "Yea, I am," Harry responded.
  
  "Zen it is a date. Meet me at ze carriages at two," Fleur said. Harry just looked at her and smiled fully. He knew it wasn't really a date, but he rather liked the way she said it. His mind slipped to other things that could be accomplished on dates with beautiful French girls. He barely registered when Hermione spoke.
  
  "So Fleur," his friend asked. The French girl looked over her as she continued. "What do you know of the Beauxbaton's duelers?"
  
  "Ze team is composed of Claude Bourdais, Sophie Sinclair and Josephine Marat. Claude and Josephine are ze better fighters. But Sophie 'as incredible form and precision," Fleur explained. "And ze Hogwarts contingent?"
  
  "Oh. It's uhm. Draco Malfoy, Cedric Diggory and Adrian Pucey. Cedric and Adrian are probably competent. I'm not sure about Draco," Hermione explained. Harry knew nothing about Pucey other than he played fairly well on the Slytherin quidditch team. He was the only member who didn't go out of his way to commit penalties. Diggory seemed to be a good choice, too. Harry knew he always put in the time and effort into any task.
  
  "Draco Malfoy? Ze one you told me about?" Fleur asked, looking at Lilly.
  
  "The very same. His father likely bribed Professor Snape for the spot on the team. Pucey and Diggory may have been able to train him some, but I expect he'll be outmatched. He's at least two years younger than the other duelers. And from what I hear, not the best of students." Lilly explained. "And he's also has an incredibly high opinion of himself."
  
  "And you don't?" Fleur teased her friend.
  
  "That's beside the point," Lilly responded quickly. The two friends continued to tease each other. Harry chatted quietly with Ron and Hermione, not really about anything important, as they waited for the duelers to enter.
  
  "Cedric entered the competition?" Harry asked, looking over at Hermione.
  
  "Yes, he's the only individual champion to appear. He hadn't planned on it but Flitwick asked him to," she explained.
  
  "I hope he does well," Harry admitted, glad he could cheer for at least one of the Hogwarts duelers without feeling slightly guilty.
  
  Eventually, the nine representatives entered the Great Hall. Harry noticed they all had uniforms similar to that of the quidditch teams, although the duelers looked to be a tad more mobile. Closer to what he was forced to wear for the individual task. He noticed the only two female duelers, both from Beauxbatons, wore skirts.
  
  He also noticed, much to his dismay, the completely smug expression worn by Draco Malfoy. He appeared as if he was looking down his nose at everyone. Like he expected this to be easy. Draco was also the only dueler to be wearing a 'C' on his chest. At least Cedric and Adrian seemed to be far more focused.
  
  "Welcome to the dueling portion of the Triwizard Tournament," Crouch announced. Harry was rather surprised that Bagman wasn't doing the commentary for the duels. Then again, Harry realized, there would likely be simultaneous dueling, so he wasn't even sure if there would be a commentator.
  
  "Today's round of dueling will commence with a student from Hogwarts opposing a student from Beauxbatons. After that the contestants will alternate until each has completed six duels against six different opponents. The dueler with the most wins earns one point for his school. If there is a tie, each dueler earns a point for their school. The school with the most wins also earns one point. The points are cumulative through all three sessions of dueling. The school with the most at the end will be declared winner," Crouch continued, explaining everything rather methodically.
  
  "Duels will be refereed by officials from the school not involved in the duel. I myself will be officiating all Beauxbatons against Durmstrang duels. Duels will last until one person is disarmed or ruled unable to continue. No recovery potions are allowed during the duration of the contest
  
  "Mr. Malfoy and Miss Sinclair have agreed to open the dueling. If you two would please step onto the middle platform. You may begin when instructed by the official," Crouch said. Harry watched Malfoy and a very slender brunette witch step onto the center platform. Each of them took a spot at one end.
  
  Harry noticed Draco took the end closer to where the duelers had waited, making the French witch walk the length of the platform, past the Durmstrang official. Personally, Harry would have let her have the closer end. But perhaps he was just too chivalrous for his own good. Or maybe he just hated everything Malfoy did, and simply didn't want to think he would ever act that way.
  
  His eyes followed the French duelist as she walked down the platform. Sophie didn't seem too extraordinary. She was very thin and very small. Harry couldn't help but think she had a seeker's build. After she stopped and turned back toward Malfoy, the Durmstrang official spoke.
  
  "Please keep the duel clean and within the rules. Duelists are given one warning, then a second will result in forfeit of the duel. Please bow." Malfoy did, curtly. The French girl curtsied. "And you may begin!"
  
  The French girl didn't move. She looked noticeably less tense than Malfoy, her expression completely unreadable. After a few seconds of standoff, Malfoy made the first move.
  
  "Stupefy," he pointed his wand and shouted. Sinclair stepped to her side and carefully dodged the spell. Her skirt swished just a little bit as the magic flew by. Malfoy paused for a moment before trying another spell.
  
  "Diffindo!" He yelled. The spell had the same effect. Sinclair moved just a tad to her side and seemed to wait for Malfoy to do something more. He paused and tried once more.
  
  "Reducto!" Again, the girl simply stepped away from the spell.
  
  "What's she doing?" Harry asked to no one in particularly.
  
  "Malfoy is leading his spells," Lilly responded.
  
  "What?" Ron asked.
  
  "Ze boy is pointing his wand shortly before casting. She knows where ze spell is coming," Fleur explained quietly.
  
  "Oh I see," Harry said. That made sense. He wasn't sure he would have thought about it if he were dueling. "Where do the spells go after she dodges them?" Harry gazed around the great hall, wondering where the magic had disappeared to.
  
  "The platforms are surrounded by a nullifying field. Nothing done inside of them can pass through the field, nothing we do can penetrate it. I've been told in some professional duels, the field also reflects spells, making it more hectic," Hermione explained.
  
  "Well Malfoy is lucky that it isn't here," Harry commented.
  
  "Yes, he is. Although, he's only casting one spell at a time," Hermione said. "It's like he expects her to just get hit and fall over. He can't be that dumb."
  
  "No, but he is that arrogant," Ron added. Hermione couldn't help but agree.
  
  "He should probably have attempted to learn nonverbal spells, too," Lilly added.
  
  "Oui. Zis is going to be over quickly once Sophie decides to fight back," Fleur commented. Harry couldn't help but feel bad for Draco. He knew that was rather silly of him, as if the situations were reversed he knew Malfoy would insult him to no end about it. But still, it was clear Draco had no idea what he was getting involved in. He tried a few more spells, but the French witch easily dodged all of them. After a few minutes of fighting, she had yet to even cast a spell.
  
  That changed, though, after Malfoy tried another cutting curse. She shielded it causing a blinding flash of light as the curse impacted on the magical barrier. Sophie Sinclair then stepped forward, walking slowly up the platform. She cast one spell that looked to be a cutting curse to Draco's left. The Slytherin looked rather surprised and jumped to his right, straight into Sophie's bludgeoning curse. Harry couldn't help but wince as Draco went down like a sack of bricks.
  
  "Hogwarts, can you continue?" The Durmstrang official asked. Sinclair walked back to her end of the platform, as if she wasn't interested in his response.
  
  "Yes," Draco muttered as he rose to his feet.
  
  "Alright then. Resume," the official said. Almost as soon as the words left his mouth Sinclair went right back onto the offensive. She hit Draco with a cutting curse that he obviously wasn't ready for. Draco gasped only to take another bludgeoner square in the chest. He collapsed to the platform and again Harry couldn't stifle the wince. The official walked over toward Malfoy, kneeling next to him. He cast a quick first aid spell before standing.
  
  "Hogwarts unable to continue. Winner Beauxbatons," there was applause from across the hall. Harry noticed many of the Hogwarts students cheered as well. He simply clapped politely. Adrian Pucey walked over and helped Malfoy back toward where Pucey and Diggory watched the duel. The elder Slytherin cast a spell that cleaned the blood off of Malfoy's uniform.
  
  "Maybe he'll think before he whines to his father next time," Ron laughed. "Of course, he probably doesn't even realize that he never even had a chance."
  
  "I dunno," Harry said. "I feel bad for him."
  
  "Why?" Ron asked. "He deserves it."
  
  "Still. It could be a very long day for him. I mean, I know it's his own fault for entering, but it's going to be painful if he loses every match like that." Harry leaned back in his chair and looked back toward the dueling platforms. He knew Ron was staring at him with an expression of complete disbelief, but Harry didn't care.
  
  He heard Fleur say something in what he assumed was French to Lilly, although it sounded slightly off. He gazed over at the girls and noticed Fleur was also eyeing him carefully. He looked away and leaned over toward Hermione.
  
  "What are they talking about?" He asked quietly. Hermione shrugged.
  
  "I don't know. I don't speak Italian," she responded.
  
  "Oh," Harry said. Feeling rather stupid for not recognizing the language, but he had little experience with languages in general. But the second duel was commencing, so he focused his attention on the Durmstrang and Beauxbaton's students who started to battle.
  
  The rest of the day continued in that fashion. Harry chatted idly with his friends between the matches. And, toward the end of the day, during the matches as well. As the duels finished up he found himself mostly speaking with Lilly about quidditch strategy. They both tried to convince Fleur to give them tips on how to defeat the Beauxbaton's team, but she merely gave them an appraising look and went back to watching the duels.
  
  The highlight of the day had been Cedric Diggory dueling Claude Bourdais. The duel had lasted nearly a half hour and employed bits of magic Harry hadn't even realized existed. The amount of light and magical energy that radiated through the hall during that duel had been simply amazing.
  
  Diggory had eventually won with a well placed disarming charm through the French wizards onslaught. They shook hands as Diggory returned the wand. Anyone could tell from just looking at the two competitors that they each couldn't wait for the next chance to duel.
  
  Unfortunately, that duel also directly led to one of Malfoy's two wins. He faced a severely winded Bourdais after nearly an hour of rest. Both of Malfoy's wins came from being considerably more rested than his opponent. Harry had to admit, as he watched the French wizard put up a very good fight, that it was probably the best way to use Malfoy if the team wanted to win. But despite the obvious difference in skill, it was easy to see that Diggory had taken the last of Bourdais's energy, and as a result Malfoy earned the win.
  
  It seemed each team was going to exit the first round with a point. Cedric and one of the Durmstrang duelers finished the day with the best record, each going five and one in their duels. Bourdais would have also had that record, had he not lost to Malfoy in his final match.
  
  But Beauxbatons wound up with the best overall record, thanks to superb dueling from all three of their duelists.
  
  Harry thought the duels themselves where rather anticlimactic. He realized about halfway through the day, that he would much rather watch a quidditch match than duels. But that was just him. Plenty of students seemed enraptured by the fighting.
  
  Ron being one of them. He talked of nearly nothing but the duels for the rest of the evening. Of course, most of the students did. Ron; however, simply couldn't stop talking about how one of the Durmstrang duelers had simply completely embarrassed Malfoy.
  
  Harry simply couldn't bring himself to find that quite as humorous as his friend did. Sure, he had laughed while the Durmstrang dueler held Malfoy upside down in the air, but it had been strangely reminiscent of the World Cup. And again Harry simply felt that even Malfoy didn't deserve to be that embarrassed in front of the entire school.
  
  Part of him, although it was a very tiny part, was glad that he had at least won some matches, rather than just get trounced in all of them.
  
  While Ron continued to discuss the duels, he worked on his defense homework. It was a rather basic essay and he found he cruised through it without much difficulty. It was something that Moody had covered with older students earlier in the year, and Harry had been there when Roger explained it to Malcolm in the locker room. Hermione didn't even offer any corrections on his work as he wrote. In fact, he was pretty sure she pulled out her own essay and added one or two of his points to it.
  
  After he finished that he decided it was late enough to turn in for the night. After all, he did have to wake early and go for a run. He'd been a little lazy with his workouts in the last few days, and deemed to rectify that.
  
  As he walked up the stairs he remembered he said he'd meet Fleur too, the next afternoon, so he crawled into bed with visions of what he could do on his pseudo-date with Fleur. Not really caring that most of his visions were completely impossible.
  
  The next day Harry found himself waiting in the chilly December air outside the carriage. Again, he was fifteen minutes early, so he simply stared at the lake and waited for Fleur to show up. Part of him hoped he'd get another nice comforting hug.
  
  "'Arry!" A voice sounded behind him. He turned over his shoulder and saw Fleur near the entrance of the carriage, wrapped in a shawl. "It is freezing out 'ere! Come inside!" she ordered. He laughed a little bit and walked slowly over toward her.
  
  "It's not so bad. I've played quidditch in worse," he said.
  
  "Zat may be true, but get inside," Fleur demanded, leading him into the carriage.
  
  Once again he had to admire the capabilities of magic. Upon entering the carriage he found himself in a large foyer that would have seemed much less out of place in Early Modern France. It was absolutely gigantic.
  
  "Wow," was all he could say as Fleur led him through the first level, into a small, private room with an ornate table, two chairs and a fireplace.
  
  "It is something, is it not?" she said, sounding quite proud of her institution. She took the chair closer to the fire.
  
  "Yes, it is," Harry admitted. Fleur smiled politely at him.
  
  "Merci. Now, is zat ze only clothing you have?" she teased, and gestured to his practice uniform. He was still wearing it, having not changed back into his clothing after his little morning routine. Of course, the practice uniform was probably cleaner than his normal clothing.
  
  "No," he laughed. "But it's warm and I do have practice later."
  
  "I see. 'Ave you eaten?" she asked.
  
  "No," Harry said. "I did a morning workout and then came back here. I was going to get lunch, but I wound up helping a teammate with her transfiguration homework."
  
  "I shall have some food brought then," Fleur said, relaxing into her chair. Harry sat in the other chair and looked at her. The meeting felt entirely too tense. Like neither of them were particularly sure how to act around each other. Fleur summoned an elf with some rapid French.
  
  "They let you summon the elves?" Harry asked when it left.
  
  "Oui. Ze older students at Beauxbatons are allowed certain privileges. 'Owever zey are 'eavily monitored in case of abuse." Fleur explained. "Now tell me, ze friend you were helping, is she cute?" Harry wasn't sure what to say. He thought about it for a moment. He hadn't really considered Ginny that way before. He wasn't sure how to answer. He decided to be honest.
  
  "Yea, she's fairly pretty. A year younger than me though, so you know."
  
  "Oh?" Fleur raised an eyebrow. "Prettier zan I?" she asked. Harry couldn't tell if she was teasing or jealous. Of course, the thought of Fleur Delacour being jealous struck him as incredibly odd.
  
  "No. She's not," Harry admitted. When Fleur laughed and gave him her full smile he figured he'd answered correctly.
  
  "You are very kind," she responded as the elf popped back into the room and placed a few dishes on the table that separated the two of them. Harry's eyes gazed over the table before he spoke.
  
  "What did you ask for?" he asked. The elf immediately left the room after it had placed the dishes.
  
  "Nothing too special. Some bread and cheese and whatever else zat would be dinner tonight. It looks like ze elf decided to get more creative. He brought some Provence style tomatoes, zose are one of my favorites. Oh and zat appears to be a risotto with some chicken worked in. Another of my favorites," she said, pointing to the few things on the table.
  
  "Well it smells fantastic," Harry said, acutely aware that the only thing that he could really smell was the risotto.
  
  "It does," Fleur said, lifting herself out of her chair. She took one of the plates and daintily placed a few chunks of bread and some cheese on the plate. After, she picked up a fork and added some of the tomatoes, before finally spooning some risotto onto the plate. She then carefully placed a fork on the corner of the plate before stepping over toward Harry and handing him the plate.
  
  "Oh. Thanks," Harry said, staring down at the food.
  
  "You are welcome," Fleur responded, while she took the other plate and gave it much the same treatment. She sat back down, carefully holding the plate, and began to slowly eat the risotto. Harry looked down at it. It just appeared to be a soupy rice with bits of chicken worked in. He carefully put some onto his fork and brought it to his mouth, completely unsure of what to expect. He took a first tentative bite, then immediately scooped more onto the fork and ate it. It didn't take him long to decide he could eat an entire vat of the stuff.
  
  "Wow that's delicious," he said, spearing a piece of chicken from the rest of the risotto and eating it quickly.
  
  "I am glad you think so," Fleur said with a full smile. If Harry had been looking directly at her he would have easily been enthralled. Instead, he was looking at his food, and was only almost enthralled. He tried one of the tomatoes next, and enjoyed it just as much.
  
  "You always eat stuff like this?" he asked.
  
  "Oui. Ze elves 'ave different preparations very often. French, Italian, and Spanish cuisine appear ze most often," Fleur explained. Harry couldn't help but be slightly jealous. Sure, there was always a variety of different things to eat at meal times at Hogwarts, but there was nothing like this.
  
  "It's no wonder you don't like the food we have here," he laughed.
  
  "It is not zat I don't like it," Fleur stated. "It tastes fine. It is just very bland and too meaty," she frowned, as if she wasn't getting her point across the way she wanted to.
  
  "Oh it's alright, you can admit you hate it," Harry laughed, spreading some cheese onto a piece of bread and eating it quickly.
  
  "But I do not 'ate it," Fleur said diplomatically. "Beef stew is good on very cold days."
  
  "Yeah, so is this risotto," Harry laughed.
  
  "Yes, it is," Fleur responded. She looked at him for a moment before speaking. "You really did fly very well in ze first task, Harry. Ze sponsors were most impressed."
  
  "Thanks," Harry responded. "It was actually kind of fun."
  
  "Fun? You did look like you were enjoying yourself. But you found flying against ze dragon fun?" She seemed a little bit shocked by that.
  
  "Yea. It was just a big spiky opposing seeker," Harry joked. Fleur continued to look at him in disbelief.
  
  "You cannot be serious," she said flatly.
  
  "Well, mostly. I was scared to death at first. Scared that my broom wouldn't come. Scared that the dragon would destroy it before it got to me. Scared the dragon would have no problem swatting me out of the air. But once I finally got into the air and flew around it a bit, well, that all left," Harry explained. "I suppose the easiest way to explain it is that I simply didn't have enough time to be afraid."
  
  "You are very brave," she said.
  
  "Oh I don't know," Harry responded, modestly. "My friends call me recklessly stupid. I suppose it's a form of bravery."
  
  "You are too modest," she said. "You are much braver zan I. I was afraid of ze dragon the entire time. Zey said you fought a basilisk?" She said.
  
  "Yea. I did," Harry blushed and looked down. Eating his last piece of bread and cheese as he did. He didn't particularly want to go into detail about that. He doubted she'd believe him anyway.
  
  "How did zat come about?" she asked, leaning forward a little bit.
  
  "It's a long story," he sighed. "There was this thing called the Chamber of Secrets," he started, but Fleur interrupted him.
  
  "Lilly told me about zat. Students were petrified by a monster, she said."
  
  "Yea, they were. Hermione figured out what it was. She was petrified, though. And the Heir of Slytherin took a student into the chamber. That student was my friend Ron's sister, Ginny. We found our defense professor at the time, Professor Lockheart. He turned out to be a total sham, but anyway, we found the entrance to the chamber and headed down.
  
  "That's when we found out Lockhart was a fraud. He wound up taking Ron's wand, and started to go into this long tirade about how he was just going to take our memories and leave three bodies for the monster. Escaping with his reputation intact, and probably a new book deal. But his plan backfired. Ron had broken his wand earlier in the year, and the spell wound up hitting him rather than us. I'm not sure whatever happened to him, to be honest." He explained.
  
  "Zat is terrible!" Fleur said. "Mr. Lockheart was never very popular in Europe. But Lilly mentioned him a couple of times in letters. Even before he was a teacher. She said he struck her as more of a Shakespearean actor more zan a professor," Fleur said.
  
  "I'm not sure if I can see that," Harry admitted. "Although, I've never seen a Shakespeare play."
  
  "You should, zey are usually wonderful. My favorite is As You Like It," she said. "Now continue with your story!"
  
  "Right away, Ma'am!"
  
  "Do not call me zat! I am not old enough to be a ma'am!" She scolded, giving him a faux expression of anger. "Mademoiselle if you must be formal. But just stick with Fleur!"
  
  "Right away, Mademoiselle Fleur!" Harry said quickly, laughing slightly as she rolled her eyes at him. "But anyway, to make a long story short I wound up separated from them with the Heir of Slytherin and the basilisk. I didn't really do much, Professor Dumbledore's phoenix showed up and saved my life, as well as blinded the beast. Eventually I killed it and destroyed the Heir of Slytherin."
  
  "You killed a man?" Fleur asked, looking stunned, although she did not look judgmental. Her expression would have been best described as concerned.
  
  "Well. I don't think so," he explained, momentarily forgetting about Quirrell. "He was like a ghostly projection from a diary. And I destroyed the diary with a basilisk fang and after that he died and Ginny woke up. I'm not really sure of the exact details," Harry admitted. Fleur raised an eyebrow and contemplated that for a moment.
  
  "Strange. I wonder what ze item was. Something strong enough to project a human-like image, able to act on its own? Zat had to be a very powerful dark object," Fleur said. "At ze very least I am impressed. Perhaps you are far more deserving to be in zis tournament zan ze rest of us."
  
  "Well regardless," Harry said, wanting desperately to change the subject. "My friends said you did an incredible job on the first task. I wish I could have seen it. I don't know anything about enchanting," Harry said.
  
  "It is not too challenging. But it requires a lot of magical power to sustain ze enchantment, as I did. It is easier to enchant items rather zan creatures. It requires an incredible amount of power to make ze enchantment permanent. It is why most items have runes carved into zem," she explained. Harry couldn't help but be enraptured. He half wanted to tell her she would be a good teacher. But he realized he probably would have spent more of class simply staring, as opposed to listening.
  
  "I see, but how does one do it?" he asked.
  
  "It depends on what zey wish to do," she responded. "If someone is enchanting a item zey need ze item. Zey zen find ze spell zey want and carefully cast it around ze item, as close to it as possible, gradually getting closer until it imbues into ze item. See, in theory it is not hard," she explained. Harry was already pretty much lost, but he didn't want to let Fleur know that.
  
  "It makes sense," he said. She smiled at him.
  
  "Oui. But with a creature it is different. See, what I did with ze dragon was different. Instead I channeled my magic through myself," she explained.
  
  "How?" Harry interrupted. Fleur looked at him for a moment. She looked both slightly annoyed that he had interrupted him, and rather happy that he was interested.
  
  "You will learn zat later in school. It is not very difficult. Like meditation or focusing. Zere is very little use to it unless one is casting a larger, challenging spell," she explained.
  
  "Okay," he said. "Now go back to what you were explaining about the dragon."
  
  "Ordering me around already, 'Arry?" Fleur smirked at him, tilting her head to the side. He made the mistake of looking right at her as she moved and found himself wondering what he had done. He'd upset her. He didn't want that. Apologize now!
  
  "No, I erm." He didn't know what to say, her sharp laugh brought him back to reality.
  
  "Zat is okay, 'Arry. It is cute," she said. That made him feel a little bit better. "Now. As I was explaining. I channeled my magic through myself. From zair I focused on a sleeping charm and my own throat and words. As I sang I focused ze spell onto my words as well. When ze dragon heard the words, ze spell started to effect ze dragon. Eventually, it fell asleep. I put a few of ze closer audience members to sleep as well. And I doubt it was very fun watching." She sighed. He thought, for a moment, that she was second guessing her strategy.
  
  "Oh that's nonsense. I bet you're a great singer and that the crowd was given a treat!" Harry said. The French witch gave him her usual polite smile. It told him she could tell he was simply being nice to attempt to cheer her up, and that she appreciated it.
  
  "I am a much better dancer zan a singer," She admitted with a smile. The reference to the dancing made him remember something he'd been meaning to do for a few days. He wondered if it was a subtle hint on her part. That would be almost too good to be true. Of course, he hadn't expected the gigantic lump that just appeared in his throat. And he was a bit surprised that he had suddenly forgotten how to speak.
  
  But after just a brief moment, he worked up the bravery, or perhaps reckless stupidity, to
  
  "Speaking of dances. Would you be interested in going to the ball with me, Fleur?" he asked. She looked at him for a few moment, as if she hadn't heard him right.
  
  "What?" she asked, immediately making him feel like a complete and utter fool. But he had never given up after one attempt before. Perhaps she had simply heard him wrong.
  
  "The Yule Ball at Christmas. Would you like to attend it with me?" he asked. She immediately frowned.
  
  "I am sorry, 'Arry," She said. "You are a little young for me. But anyway, I 'ave already agreed to go with one of Lilly's friends so she would not 'ave to," she said. Harry thought that was a weak excuse. He did his best to not seem too disappointed. He knew he certainly didn't appreciate being called a little young for her.
  
  "Oh. It's okay. I just thought you may not have had a date. Not that you probably have an issue with that. And I figured I'd offer. Not out of pity or anything, because I'd really like to go with you but you know because it could have been fun," Harry rambled. Fleur smiled politely at him again.
  
  "I appreciate ze offer and ze sentiment behind it, 'Arry. If I 'ad not already made the promise to my friend, I would carefully consider it," she took on a rather polite tone, as if she didn't want to hurt his feelings. He smiled anyway, simply because he couldn't think of anything better to do.
  
  "I'm glad you have a date," Harry said, before he realized how stupid that sounded. As if Fleur would have struggled finding a date. "Hopefully you'll save me at least one dance?"
  
  "I would be honored to," Fleur responded with a smile. As she finished speaking the clock struck four. Harry groaned.
  
  "It's four already?" he asked. Fleur looked over at the large, ornate, golden clock above the fireplace.
  
  "It appears to be," she responded. "Is zat a problem?"
  
  "No. I'm just going to be late for practice," Harry said and stood up. Fleur stood with him.
  
  "Alright," she said, sounding slightly disappointed. "Zis was fun though. We should do it again?" she asked. For a moment Harry thought she may have been worried that he hadn't enjoyed himself.
  
  "Definitely!" he responded enthusiastically. "Especially if you can gather up some more of that risotto."
  
  "Zat can probably be arranged," she laughed, smiling fully at him again. He wished he didn't have practice. He would have rather stayed with Fleur.
  
  "I really enjoyed myself, Fleur. Thank you." He reached out and hugged her rather tightly. Mostly just to initiate contact with her. He inhaled her wonderful flowery perfume as she hugged him back. After a moment he let go.
  
  "I enjoyed myself as well, 'Arry. Good luck at practice," she smiled. And with that, he stepped out of the Beauxbatons carriage and headed toward the locker room.
  
  When he finally made it back to the common room that night he had decided on another girl to ask out to the ball. He just had to work up the courage to ask again. Funny, how he still felt nervous at the thought. Rejection certainly wasn't pleasant. Even though he was accustomed to it from the Dursleys. Still, he'd never really put himself out to be directly rejected like that before. It was a strange feeling.
  
  He sat down on the floor of the common room and leaned against the chair where Hermione was working on some bit of homework. Ron was sprawled on a couch and also working on an assignment. Hermione was the first to notice he arrived.
  
  "How was your day?" she asked politely, without looking up from her homework.
  
  "Not bad. I met Fleur for a bit. I asked her to the ball," Harry recounted carefully. Ron laughed a little bit.
  
  "You asked the Veela chick to the ball?" he asked, too loudly. Some people in the common room turned to look at him.
  
  "Yes I did," Harry said curtly, glaring at his friend. "After I had lunch with her."
  
  "What did she say?" Hermione asked.
  
  "No of course," Ron laughed before Harry had a chance to reply. Harry wanted to make a comment that he had a much better chance of doing anything with Fleur than Ron ever would. Not to mention he wanted to punch his friend for referring to her as 'the Veela chick.'
  
  "Ron," Hermione scolded, and then waited for Harry to answer.
  
  "He's right. She said no. But only because she's already agreed to go with someone else," Harry said.
  
  "Who?" Hermione asked.
  
  "I don't know. She didn't say. Just one of Lilly's friends," Harry said.
  
  "I don't like that Seslion," Ron interjected. "She seems rather pretentious." Harry just shrugged. He couldn't really argue with Ron there, but she was incredibly nice to her friends. So rather than respond he found a stray bit of parchment and started to work on the short assignment Flitwick had given them for the week. He figured he could fake getting a start on it until Ron went to bed. He didn't have to wait very long.
  
  "I'm tired," his friend said. "I think I'm going to head to bed." Ron yawned rather obnoxiously as he finished speaking. He stood and worked his way up to the dormitory. When he was out of earshot he worked up the courage to ask a second girl to the ball.
  
  "So, Hermione. Would you be willing to accompany me to the Yule Ball?" he asked slowly, and probably far too formally, as he took Ron's spot on the couch. She looked up at him.
  
  "What, I'm just your second option, Harry?" she asked. Harry opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He wasn't sure how to reply to that.
  
  "No. I..erm. If you don't want to... you're like my sister. I figured we could go as friends...only if you wanted of course," he said quickly. Hermione shook her head and smiled at him.
  
  "I would have loved to, Harry. I was waiting for you or Ron to work up the courage to ask me. But I have also agreed to attend with someone," she said.
  
  "Ron worked up the courage to ask you?" He was curious. The rejection hurt considerably less coming from Hermione than it had from Fleur.
  
  "No," Hermione laughed. "He seems to be under the delusion that whoever he asks will just be thrilled to go with him. So he's waiting for the last minute."
  
  "Well, maybe he'll get lucky. Who are you going with then?"
  
  "Viktor Krum," Hermione said. Had the quidditch star not asked for her name before thrusting Harry toward the throng of reporters, he would have assumed she was joking.
  
  "Wow, he works fast," Harry said. Hermione raised an eyebrow at him.
  
  "What do you mean?"
  
  "He asked me who you were after the first task, when he took me to the reporters. How did he ask you?"
  
  "Well, he spends a lot of time in the library. It's actually a bit irritating as his fan club follows him around and it interrupts my studies. But today, actually, he just walked right up to me and asked me out. I guess that explains how he knew my name."
  
  "Yes it does. Well, I hope you have a great time," Harry said. And it was true. Hermione deserved that. He should have known someone would beat him to asking her out. He laughed a little bit when he realized Krum beat him at two different things in the span of a week. No wonder he was the international star.
  
  "So who are you going to ask then?" Hermione asked. "Someone on the team?"
  
  "Probably. I'll ask a few of them tomorrow. Ginny or Cho are probably my best bet, wouldn't you think?"
  
  "Probably," Hermione agreed.
  
  It took him a few more days before he found what he felt was the proper opportunity to ask some of his teammates to the ball. Most of the team was in the locker room after the morning workout. Harry turned to the pretty brunette who sat in her locker next to his and asked.
  
  "Hey Lilly. I was wondering, do you have a date for the ball?" He figured he'd take that approach, rather than ask directly. Lilly barely paid him attention as she serviced her broom.
  
  "Yes. My boyfriend is coming up for it. I heard you asked Fleur. I'm sorry she was already engaged," Lilly said. "Do you even know how to dance?"
  
  "Erm. Not really, no." Harry admitted. He realized that could be a bit of a problem. But it was a problem that didn't last long.
  
  "Cho and I are giving Malcom and Titus lessons after practice tonight. You should probably stay too. I'll ask one of the other girls to stay after, too." She said.
  
  "Thanks" Harry responded. After that he stood and walked a few lockers down. He was going to ask Alicia, but he saw her and one of the Weasley twins snogging under a tree the day before, so he assumed that wasn't an option. Cho was showering and changing into her practice uniform, so next up was Ginny. He smiled at her when he approached.
  
  "Hey Ginny. Would you like to go to the ball with me?" he asked. Ginny's face lit up for a moment, but only a moment. After that she frowned a little bit. Strangely, her frown reminded him a bit of Fleur's reaction. He knew the answer before she even spoke.
  
  "I would have loved to, Harry. But I've already agreed to go with Neville. In fact, he asked me shortly after the ball was announced. I'm sorry." She truly looked it too.
  
  "Hey, no problem. You two should have fun. Neville is a good bloke. Would you mind staying after practice and helping me learn to dance? Apparently Lilly and Cho are giving Malcolm and Titus lessons."
  
  "I'd love to, Harry."
  
  "Great, tell Lilly, that way she won't ask someone else to come," Harry said. Ginny nodded and trotted off toward the other alternate captain. Cho took that moment to emerge from the changing rooms.
  
  "Hey Cho. Do you have a date for the ball?" Harry asked. The pretty Asian witch nodded.
  
  "Yes. I'm going with Cedric. Why?" she asked.
  
  "Because Harry here seems to have the absolute worst luck when finding a date," Titus said from his locker just a few feet away. Apparently he'd heard Harry's measly attempts at locating a date.
  
  "Oh. I'm sorry," Cho said. Harry was growing rather sick of having girls apologize to him for no reason. "I know a few younger Ravenclaws that may not have a date. Would you like me to find out?" She asked.
  
  "If you would, that would be great," Harry admitted.
  
  "Great, I'll get back to you." She went to examine the bristles on her broom. She'd given Harry an idea, though.
  
  "Thanks Cho," he responded before turning to the Slytherin beater. "Hey Titus?"
  
  "Sorry Harry," Titus interrupted him. "I'm already going with Tracey. And you're not my type."
  
  "You're not my type either, Titus. Can you think of anyone else for me to ask?" Titus just shrugged.
  
  "One of Tracey's friends was complaining about being forced to attend with someone she couldn't stand. I wasn't particularly paying attention at the time. I could ask her about it and get back to you?"
  
  "Thanks," Harry said.
  
  "No problem, man. I have to admit, watching you get rejected by everyone is a little bit sad. I'll let you know tomorrow. And since I feel bad for you, I won't try to kill you in practice today," the Slytherin teased.
  
  "You couldn't hit me anyway," Harry said. He went back to his locker to look over his broom a bit before practice. Fleet and Davies were having issues with the twigs on theirs, so everyone was keeping closer watch on their own. He couldn't see anything wrong with his.
  
  So his thoughts shifted back to the ball. He was starting to worry. Finding a date shouldn't have been this hard, right? Especially not for one of the champions. No. He knew thinking like that was wrong. If someone only wanted to go to the ball with him because he was one of the champions, well then they weren't the girls he wanted to go with.
  
  Of course, if this stupid rejection streak kept up he may not have a choice. Still, only Fleur's initial rejection had actually hurt. The rest had simply been, well, inconvenient. For lack of a more appropriate term.
  
  "Alright, we have the pitch now, let's go!" Roger said as he entered the locker room. Harry picked up his broom and walked out toward the pitch, pushing the thought of being a champion without a partner as far out of his head as he could.
  
  Author's Note: I don't really have much to say about this one. The chapter itself marks the halfway mark with how I have things planned. That is, of course, subject to change.
  
  Up next is the Ball, which is the one chapter/scene I've been dreading having to write, so we'll see how that goes.
  
  Nothing much else to say at this point. I am starting to kick around some other ideas for fics, mostly that deal with post-Hogwarts life. But I wouldn't expect anything to appear very soon. I like to focus on one thing at a time.
  
  Anyway, thanks for the reviews, I appreciate all of them. Hope you enjoyed the update.
  
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing, and am making no profit.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun for the beta work on this chapter.
  
  Chapter 11
  
  Yuletide
  
  Break came quickly, which Harry was glad for. Still, he made no further headway on the dating front. He would have been more worried, but a few Gryffindor girls had offered to go with him if he couldn't find a date. Harry didn't really want to accept any of those offers, but if he had to he would.
  
  He'd asked one other girl. She was a Ravenclaw and had been suggested to him by Cho. She'd been, well, strange to say the least. She'd told him that she appreciated the offer, but she was vacationing over the holiday with her father instead. Harry couldn't help but think she was probably one of the only students actually going home for the winter holiday.
  
  Still, she was pretty, in a young and innocent sort of way. But she was slightly unusual. He hadn't been able to tell if she was making up most of the things she said. But he wasn't going to worry about it more than that.
  
  He was on his way to watch the Beauxbatons against Durmstrang match that highlighted the start of break. He, Roger, and Lilly had planned to observe it from a coach's perspective, to learn everything they could about both opponents in preparation for their match against Beauxbatons at the end of February. The rest of the team was getting a well deserved day off.
  
  Of course, Harry expected that just about all of them would be watching the game. But they would simply choose to do it with long neglected friends and girlfriends.
  
  He was walking quickly toward the pitch, as bundled up as he could stand to be, knowing it was incredibly cold outside. He was about to wrap a scarf around his neck when he heard his name called.
  
  "Hey Potter!" he turned to see Titus Button standing by a few Slytherins. Harry walked over toward them.
  
  "What's up, Titus?" He asked. He noticed that a few of the Slytherins weren't giving him the nicest of looks. Titus had his arm around Tracey Davis's shoulder. Harry couldn't help but notice that her expression indicated that she wanted absolutely no part of him.
  
  "Roger wanted you to meet him and Lilly outside the locker room," Titus said. Harry looked at Titus for a moment. He already knew that. He and Roger had discussed that earlier. He knew that Titus had to be going for something else.
  
  "Yea, I know," Harry said dumbly. "I was heading there now."
  
  "Oh. Okay. That's good," Titus responded with a goofy smile on his face. Harry raised an eyebrow and stared at the beater.
  
  "Yea. I take it you're heading out to the game?" Harry asked. It wasn't that telling of an observation as they were all heavily dressed and one of the girls filled out a woman's Krum jersey rather nicely.
  
  "Yea. Heading out there now. Walk with us for a bit?" Titus asked, turning himself and Tracey toward the entrance hall. Harry shrugged. He noticed that a few of the Slytherins with Titus didn't seem to think that was such a great idea. Harry didn't really find it to be all that great of an idea, either. But they were going in the same direction.
  
  "Sure," he said, falling in step between Titus and the girl in the Krum jersey. They walked down the hallway in near silence. Harry could sense that the Slytherin students were only tolerating his presence because Titus had invited him. Still, he had to admit, it was strange. A year ago, even under an invitation, Harry wouldn't have gone near a pack of Slytherin students for fear of his own personal safety.
  
  But he knew Titus. He'd grown to like him in the last few months. Of course, he didn't see Titus as a Slytherin anymore, but rather a teammate. Really, the same could be said about every member of the team. He knew Titus was rather laid back and focused. And, despite not being a starter, he knew Titus wanted Hogwarts to win the tournament as much as anyone else on the team. And as such, he certainly wouldn't let anything happen to the star seeker.
  
  Of course, the team had played perfectly well without him in the first match, so perhaps he gave himself far too much credit. But he had flown toe-to-toe with Krum, and that had to count for something.
  
  "So Harry?" Titus asked, knocking Harry out of his daydream. "Did you ever find yourself a date for the ball?"
  
  "No. I haven't agreed with anyone yet. Some older Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors asked me, but I think they simply want a date with a champion."
  
  "And there's something wrong with that?" Titus laughed.
  
  "I guess not," Harry admitted with a shrug. "But you know, being used always feels strange." The girl next to him scoffed. Harry turned to look at her, but was distracted by Titus speaking.
  
  "Yes there's that. In fact, Daphne here found herself in a similar conundrum. Wasn't it, Daphne?" Titus asked. The girl next to him glared at the elder Slytherin.
  
  "We don't need to talk about that, Titus," she said coldly.
  
  "Oh come now," Titus laughed. "You were just bitching about it a few minutes ago. What's the difference now?"
  
  "We don't need to involve a Gryffindor in Slytherin arguments," Daphne said, rather sternly.
  
  "I don't see a Gryffindor here," Titus responded. "I see a bunch of Slytherins and a school champion."
  
  "A Gryffindor school champion," one of the other Slytherins said.
  
  "If you insist," Titus shrugged. "But Daphne here is wearing more red than he is."
  
  "It's a different red," Daphne spat.
  
  "Red is red. Anyway, why don't we see if Harry here can provide some insight into your problem," Button asked.
  
  "Slytherins take care of their own problems." Another of the students said, rather sternly.
  
  "Yes, but we've failed rather spectacularly at that. All we've done is divide our already divided house. Perhaps we should look for a slightly less biased opinion?" Button asked. Harry wondered what the issue could be.
  
  "He's not unbiased. He hates Malfoy," another student said. It dawned on him just what the issue could possibly be then.
  
  "Fine. Maybe Potter can help. Maybe he won't just laugh at us." Daphne crossed her arms as she spoke. They were in the entrance hall, heading outside and toward the pitch. "You see, Potter. Darco is rather insistent that his cronies have dates. Millicent agreed to go with Vincent and Draco wants me to go with Gregory," Daphne said.
  
  "And you don't want to go with Goyle, I take it?" Harry asked. Not quite seeing what the problem was.
  
  "No. I don't. But Draco has seen to it that no one else asks me, leaving Goyle my only option if I wish to have a date for the ball."
  
  "No one else will ask you?" Harry asked.
  
  "No one else has," Daphne responded. "I've been waiting a few weeks. Only a few people in Slytherin will even talk to me. Our house is more inclusive than the other three, in case you haven't noticed. Ever since his father bought those brooms Draco has had rather exalted status."
  
  "Well, there's an easy solution to all of this," Harry said.
  
  "Oh and what's that?" Daphne spat. "Just don't go? That's what the rest of the house said. Except Titus over there who said I should go and ask just about anyone else out of pure spite." Titus made a noise Harry could only assume was agreement while continuing his conversation with the other Slytherin students.
  
  "I guess that's a possible solution," Harry said. "But it wasn't the one I was going for."
  
  "Oh, and what one were you going for, Potter?" she asked.
  
  "Well, Daphne. If you really wanted to anger Malfoy-"
  
  "I don't want to anger Malfoy. I just don't want to go to the ball with Goyle. I thought that was obvious."
  
  "Well, regardless. If you don't want to go to the dance with Goyle, then go with me," he said. She looked at him, and then started to laugh. It was certainly the most unique reaction he'd seen.
  
  "What?" she asked, fighting back laughter. "You want to go to the ball with me?"
  
  "Sure, why not?" Harry responded.
  
  "Because we don't like each other?" She stated.
  
  "Oh please, we don't know each other well enough to know if we like each other or not," Harry commented. He thought it was a clever sentence at least.
  
  "So you want to go to the ball with me?" Daphne asked again. She looked rather startled by the entire thing.
  
  "Yes, we've been over this," Harry responded dryly.
  
  "Why me though?" she asked.
  
  "Well, you're pretty. I don't know you that well so it would be interesting. And as a Gryffindor I would be completely shunned if I didn't attempt to disrupt Malfoy's plans," Harry admitted. He noticed Daphne blushed slightly when he called her pretty. "Oh and my friends say I have this uncontrollable urge to help people."
  
  "So you're just using me to annoy Draco and because you feel sorry for me?" she asked angrily.
  
  "Not really," Harry admitted. "I need a date. Frankly, you're a better option than most of the girls who have asked me of late. So we'd be using each other. If I'm not being too arrogant here, I would like to at least think I'm a better choice than Goyle." Daphne paused and sized him up.
  
  "Can you even dance?" she asked rather snottily.
  
  "I'm learning," Harry responded. "And I think I'm competent now."
  
  "Well fine, ask me again, more formally," Daphne commanded. Harry raised an eyebrow and looked over at her.
  
  "Will you, Daphne Greengrass, attend the Yule Ball with me this coming Christmas night?" he asked, trying to sound as formal as he could.
  
  "I'll think about it," Daphne said. Harry opened his mouth to comment, and then closed it, staring at her for a moment before actually formulating his next sentence.
  
  "But you just said," he stammered, feeling slightly annoyed now.
  
  "I told you to ask me formally," Daphne responded. "I gave no indication that my answer would change." The exited out toward the grounds then. Harry pulled his cloak tighter around him.
  
  "Shit it's colder than I thought," Button said. Harry had momentarily forgotten he was walking with a group of Slytherins.
  
  "Yes. I'm going to freeze in this," Daphne scoffed. "Thanks for the accurate weather report, Titus. I thought you said you were out earlier."
  
  "I was," Titus laughed, pulling his own cloak tighter around him. "It got colder."
  
  "Here, take this," Harry said, pulling off his cloak and scarf and offering them to Daphne. She looked rather surprised.
  
  "You'll freeze then," she said.
  
  "Nah. I have an extra in the locker room. It's lighter, but I'll be fine," he explained. She didn't take much more convincing as she threw his cloak around her shoulder and started wrapping the scarf around her neck.
  
  "Okay. Thanks, Harry," she responded awkwardly.
  
  "No problem. I have to go though, locker room is over here," he said, walking toward that path while the Slytherins continued toward the pitch. He'd only taken a few steps when she called after him.
  
  "Wait, Potter!" Daphne shouted over the icy wind.
  
  "Yea?" Harry turned to look at her.
  
  "I'll do it. I'll go with you. Meet me in the entrance hall before the ball," she said. Harry smiled a bit at her.
  
  "Alright. I'll do that. I look forward to it, Daphne." He turned and walked toward the locker room before he could see her reaction. It was cold, after all, and he really wanted his spare cloak.
  
  He barely found Roger and Lilly before the match started. They'd obviously decided to not wait for him outside of the lock room. He'd missed the player introductions while he searched for them.
  
  "Where were you?" Roger asked as Harry walked up next to his two teammates.
  
  "Getting myself a date for the ball," Harry said.
  
  "And how'd that go?" Roger laughed as the players started to line up for the game.
  
  "Splendidly," Harry said. "Except I had to bribe her with my cloak and scarf, so I went to the locker room to grab another one."
  
  "Good. I don't need you getting pneumonia on me, or something absurd." Roger teased.
  
  "Who are you going with?" Lilly asked.
  
  "Daphne Greengrass," Harry responded.
  
  "A Slytherin and a Gryffindor? That sounds like a bad romance novel," Lilly laughed.
  
  "Yea, a bit. But she got out of her date with Goyle by going with me," Harry said.
  
  "Well, you're certainly better looking," Lilly commented.
  
  "Less talking, more watching," Roger said as the match commenced. Harry watched the red robed chasers quickly take the quaffle, go right down the pitch, and score easily. Harry blinked.
  
  "That certainly looked easy," he commented.
  
  "Yes, it did," Roger responded. One of the Durmstrang chasers stole the quaffle on the inbound from Beauxbatons and put it right through the hoops again. "And so did that."
  
  "Yes, are these the same chasers we outplayed?" Lilly asked.
  
  "Yea, they are," Roger responded. "They've been practicing rather hard though. Wonder how much they've improved?"
  
  "Well either we're exceptionally good, or they improved a lot," Harry commented as Durmstrang scored again. "Who's Beauxbaton's keeper?"
  
  "Bloke named Bourdais, one of their duelers, I believe." Roger commented.
  
  "His positioning isn't horrible. They're just not doing anything in front of him," Harry commented.
  
  "They certainly aren't. But they're doing fairly well now. They've kept it in the Durmstrang zone for a while," Lilly commented.
  
  "All passing though. They haven't even tried to get a shot off," Roger said.
  
  "Yea. And Durmstrang is using the same defense they tried against us. It appears to be working here, though," Lilly said.
  
  "At least better than it did against us," Roger commented.
  
  "Yea. The Beauxbatons seems to be stalling," Harry said.
  
  "I'd agree. Not sure what the merit to that strategy is when you're losing. I doubt that they expect their seeker to beat Krum," Roger said.
  
  "Probably not. It certainly doesn't help that she's just trailing him like Lynch did during the World Cup," Harry responded.
  
  "Yea. I bet that ends pretty poorly," Lilly commented. "Durmstrang really needs to get their beaters involved. They're not even attempting to pressure the Beauxbaton's chasers right now."
  
  "Yea, but the Beauxbaton's chasers aren't even attempting to score right now, so I'm not convinced that the Durmstrang team really cares," Roger comented.
  
  "Maybe not," Harry said. "But it could be a strategy. Lull them for a bit and then drive the hoops." It turned out that may have been the Beauxbaton's teams plan. As nearly as soon as Harry said that, the French chasers pulled a quick passing move that left Kubica well out of position and scored their first points of the game.
  
  "Good call, Harry," Roger said. "Let's see if they can play anything resembling defense now." Turned out, they couldn't. The Durmstrang team went right down the pitch on the inbound and scored again.
  
  "Guess not," Lilly commented. Beauxbaton's looked rather rattled. They went to inbound the quaffle and once again Durmstrang stole it easily and scored. The Beauxbatons team was visibly shaken then. They took their only time out and circled toward their coach.
  
  "This match is over," Roger said.
  
  "It's still very early," Harry commented.
  
  "Yes, it is. But they're completely outclassed and shaken. They'll be better when they play us, I would imagine. But for now, they're out matched. The only question is how long will it take for Krum to find the snitch." Roger sighed.
  
  "Still, we may as well scout them the best we can," Lilly responded.
  
  "That's what we're here for," Roger agreed. Harry simply kept watching as the teams resumed play. Beauxbatons managed an inbound pass without losing possession. They slowly moved down the pitch. Durmstrang didn't particularly challenge them.
  
  Harry could tell that the Durmstrang team simply felt the match was over as well. They knew they were better than the Beauxbatons contingent and had decided to not show anything for the rest of the match.
  
  "Yea, they're just using basic defenses now," Lilly commented.
  
  "And I'm sure their offenses won't be any better for the rest of the match," Roger added. Harry watched in silence as the Beauxbaton's team managed another shot. Kubica saved it and tossed it to Petrov.
  
  "You're right, attack patterns don't get more basic than that," Lilly commented as the Durmstrang team moved down the pitch. Harry watched as the Durmstrang chasers quickly out positioned the Beauxbatons ones. Petrov had a very nice chance for a goal, but it was batted away by Bourdais.
  
  Roger and Lilly kept talking, but Harry paid them little heed. They'd all come to the same conclusion. Barring a miracle on the part of the Beauxbatons seeker, the match was over. Harry figured he could better spend his time scouting his direct opposition.
  
  "Who is the Beauxbaton's seeker?" He asked when he noticed that
  
  "Sophie Sinclair, the duelist," Roger said. Harry nodded a little bit. He vaguely remembered thinking she had a seeker's build. Apparently he'd been correct. He found her in the sky easily enough. But after watching her for just a few minutes he could tell he wouldn't learn much about her style. She was simply following Krum and was probably lucky that he hadn't decided to pull off a feint.
  
  His glance shifted to Krum as the Durmstrang seeker cut back across the stands. He'd probably be able to learn more focusing on the professional. Krum seemed to be fully focused on getting to the snitch. He was not trying to distract opposing players, or even bring any attention toward himself. He flew in quick, fluid circles around the pitch, allowing him to survey every inch of it from multiple angles.
  
  Harry let his eyes gaze around the pitch as well. He ignored the actual action and attempted to find the snitch. Perhaps he'd be able to better determine when the match would end if he could spot it. Of course, he also wanted to see how long he could follow it for when he wasn't chasing it.
  
  He wasn't sure how long it took, but he eventually found it.
  
  "Snitch is by the left Beauxbaton's hoop," he said. After a moment Lilly responded.
  
  "Yes, it is, there, just above the hoops," she said.
  
  "I see it," Davies said. "Looks like Krum sees it as well." Krum, who had the optimal line anyway, was speeding down the pitch straight at the snitch. It made a feeble attempt to cut to the right, but the little golden ball never really had a chance.
  
  Christmas day came quickly then. Harry wrote a quick thank you note to Sirius for the rather handy looking knife. He assumed it would be useful in the tasks ahead. Or at least make sneaking around the school at night a tad easier.
  
  He realized he should probably explore more. He hadn't been nearly caught outside of bed once this semester yet this semester. That had to be a record for him. Hell, he'd barely had time to look at his map.
  
  He even took a minute to look through the book Hermione had bought him. Of course, that was likely because the book was about quidditch teams. Of course, like the previous books she'd gifted to him, it just happened to be in French. Oh well, maybe that would make him practice more.
  
  At the very least, he learned where Ballycastle was. He also deciphered a brief history of both the Bats and the Falcons. He decided he'd rather play for Ballycastle, if given the opportunity. But that was getting rather ahead of himself.
  
  After he'd finished opening his presents he decided to go on a morning jog. The other Gryffindor fourth years looked at him like he was insane. When he was finishing up a giant snowball fight appeared to be forming on the grounds. Harry joined one of the sides but didn't put too much effort into the match.
  
  Most of the girls left in the early afternoon to get ready for the ball. Harry trickled inside later when the rest of the crowd gave up on the match and headed back toward the dorm.
  
  Ron was already there, cutting lace off of his robes with his wand. His friend looked rather focused, and rather annoyed. Harry vaguely remembered overhearing Ginny and the twins laughing about how bad Ron's dress robes were. Harry felt bad for his friend. He found his own dress robes folded neatly at the bottom of his trunk.
  
  "So we're flying solo, then?" Ron asked, laughing a little bit as Harry started to change.
  
  "What?" Harry asked, not quite getting his friends meaning. Of course to use 'we're' and 'solo' in the same sentence just seemed slightly off.
  
  "We're both going without dates. Hermione refused to go with me when I asked. Said she had another date. I think she's making it up, though, because she wouldn't tell me who she's going with." Ron said. Harry blinked a little bit as he pulled on his robes, adjusting them to fit better as he did.
  
  "She's not. She has a date," Harry said. Ron looked at him.
  
  "Is she going with you?" he accused.
  
  "No, she's not. But I know who she's going with," Harry said.
  
  "Who?"
  
  "It's not my secret to tell," Harry said. Ron just glared at him for a few moments. Harry finished dressing.
  
  "Well at least we'll hang out all night then," Ron said. Harry fixed his tie in the mirror before he spoke.
  
  "I have a date, Ron," he said. "And I've promised dances to a bunch of people."
  
  "What, who? And since when do you know how to dance?"
  
  "I took some lessons," Harry said. "And you'll find out, I suppose. I have to go meet her now. See you later, man." He left the dorm before his friend got a chance to comment further.
  
  "Potter, champions and their dates are lining up over there!" Professor McGonagall said as he entered the entrance hall. "You do have a date, don't you?"
  
  "Yes, she's meeting me here," he responded, moving over to wait where she had told him to. So far, the only other champion there was Krum, who waited patiently in the corner. He nodded briefly at Harry, but otherwise just looked surly as per usual.
  
  "Nice match against Beauxbatons," Harry said, mostly to create a conversation. Krum looked at him for a moment before speaking.
  
  "Thank you. They were not very good. We shall see you in the finals," Krum said rather sternly.
  
  "I hate to jinx it, but I hope so," Harry said.
  
  "Practice hard. Do not get lazy and you will not jinx it," the Bulgarian said. Harry was going to comment, but Hermione entered the hall at that moment and walked up to Krum. Harry couldn't help but think she looked gorgeous. He took a step away from the couple, not wanting to impose.
  
  Cho and Cedric came down next. Harry thought Cho looked nice too. But as he stared at her he realized his crush was gone. Yes, Cho was very pretty, but he wasn't particularly interested in being the one who escorted here. He felt no jealousy toward Cedric. He gave them each a kind nod as they walked past.
  
  All that changed a moment later, though, as Fleur entered the entrance hall on the arm or Roger Davies. Harry felt his fists clench and his throat tighten. His chest constricted and for a moment he had difficulty breathing. Fleur looked stunning in silvery-gray robes that perfectly complimented her figure. She'd done her hair up and was wearing very little makeup. Harry noticed pretty silver earrings and a pretty silver necklace as well.
  
  He also noticed she seemed far too interested in her conversation with Roger. Way more interested than she should have been. They both walked past him without seeing him, which hurt. Harry suddenly found himself hating Roger, something he hadn't ever before. Every fiber of his being wanted to strangle the captain, to simply make him go away. Roger looked like he felt far too lucky, too, as he gazed at Fleur in ways Harry thought he shouldn't be allowed to.
  
  Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath, attempting to calm himself. He knew he had no real ill will toward Roger. He'd treated him with nothing but respect and had been incredibly helpful.
  
  He noticed McGonagall was looking at him strangely. He was the only champion not ready. She looked annoyed, like she wanted to start the ball, but couldn't because his date had yet to arrive. Other students were already filing into the Great Hall, but the champions remained outside.
  
  Harry couldn't help but wonder if Daphne stood him up. Had the whole thing simply been some ploy to embarrass him? Well if it was, it was working.
  
  "Potter, over here," he heard a voice say. He turned and saw her then. She wore a gold dress that accentuated her form much better than the Viktor Krum jersey had. She had short, matching gold heels on, a couple of gold bracelets on her right wrist, and a thin gold necklace. Her dirty-blond hair was done up in a loose bun. She'd let some strands of hair fall down to frame her hazel eyes. She looked very nice.
  
  "Daphne. Please call me Harry, though. If I'm called Potter all night I'll likely think I'm being attacked. You look fantastic," Harry said with a smile. She laughed a little bit.
  
  "Thanks. You look rather nice yourself," she admitted.
  
  "Better than Goyle?" Harry teased.
  
  "Considerably," she responded dryly as McGonagall rushed over. She looked at the two fourth years for a moment. Her expression was unreadable, but Harry could tell they ranked rather high on a list of surprising couples. Well, assuming she kept such a list.
  
  "Champions this way," she said. "Line up behind me, walk straight down the aisle and take seats at the table in the middle. You'll be joined by some judges and sponsors. The meal will commence before the ball." The champions did as she asked. Cedric and Cho led the way into the Great Hall and to the table. Harry and Daphne sat next to each other, near Hermione and Krum. The others sat further down the table. They were joined by a few of the sponsors. Harry recognized only one. He wore green robes and the same logo that was on Harry's tournament broom was plastered onto his right breast. Dumbledore started the feast by demonstrating how to order and soon the hall was filled with noise of people eating and conversing.
  
  "So how did Goyle take it?" Harry asked, attempting to create some sort of a conversation with Daphne. She shrugged and daintily cut up a piece of chicken.
  
  "Well enough, I suppose. I didn't tell him who I was going with, just that it wasn't going to be him. I'm sure I won't hear the end of it tonight." She speared the piece of chicken with her fork and brought it to her mouth.
  
  "Well I hope they don't give you too much grief," he said honestly, cutting up his own food as well.
  
  "At the very least I should be able to walk tomorrow," she said.
  
  "What?" Harry asked, finding that to be a very strange statement.
  
  "I'm assuming you'll be much kinder to my poor feet than Gregory," she responded. Harry couldn't help but laugh.
  
  "I certainly hope so," Harry said. They continued to chat, not really about anything in particular. After a few moments of conversation the sponsor leaned over and spoke.
  
  "Harry, excuse my interruption. I don't believe I've been introduced to your friend here," the sponsor said. Harry didn't believe he'd been introduced to the sponsor, but he let that slide.
  
  "My date is Daphne, Daphne Greengrass," he said. Daphne gave the sponsor a quick nod.
  
  "I'm Lewis Harris. Formally of Team Lotus. I was one of the designers of the broom you're flying in the tournament," he said. Harry nodded a little bit.
  
  "Cool," he didn't know what else to say, "It flies well. I appreciate it."
  
  "I'm glad you think so. Are you familiar with Team Lotus?" Harris asked.
  
  "I'm sorry. I can't say that I am," Harry admitted.
  
  "Ah. I thought being raised by non-magic types you may have some familiarity. We compete Formula One races," Harris said.
  
  "Oh. I've watched a couple of those," Harry said. He vaguely remembered a Lotus car, although he couldn't remember if it ever performed well. Nor did he particularly care.
  
  "Oh? Are you a fan? Team Lotus appears that it will be losing the grid spot for this upcoming season, but I could certainly arrange for you to be a guest at one of the races," Harris offered. "The British Grand Prix is shortly after the end of your term. We could shuttle you and your family out to Silverstone, if you like."
  
  "Uh, we'll see," Harry said. And, while he was amused by the idea of telling the Dersleys' he'd received a free trip for his family to a race, he doubted it would go over well. And he was wondering where this conversation was going.
  
  "Yes. But some of the sponsors and myself were wondering if you would be willing to do a favor for us, Harry," he asked carefully. Harry raised an eyebrow.
  
  "And what's that?" he asked, trying to sound as skeptical as he could.
  
  "Well it isn't much. It looks like my partner at Mercedes is already speaking with Mr. Krum about it. I'm sure my partner at Renault will approach Miss Sinclair tonight as well. Since the first quidditch matches have been played we'd like to get three players to give a comparison of the brooms. We figured it would be excellent PR for all of our companies," Harris explained.
  
  "So what, you want the seekers to race each other?" Harry asked.
  
  "No. We'd just like you to come out to the pitch this upcoming weekend and fly around on each of the three brooms. Then we'd just like to get some comments on the brooms as a whole. One of the quidditch periodicals will publish something about it," Harris explained. Harry couldn't help but think it sounded fun.
  
  "Alright. I'll be there," Harry said. Harris thanked him and went back to his meal.
  
  "You must get that a lot," Daphne said, carefully eating the dessert sundae she had ordered up.
  
  "Not that often, really. That's the first time I've ever been asked to do something. It sounds fun," he admitted.
  
  "They're using you, you know," she commented as she sucked a bit of chocolate syrup off of her spoon.
  
  "How's that?"
  
  "They just want you to say some good words about the brooms. They're trying to establish themselves in a new business, publicity from you and Krum will sell a lot of brooms," Daphne commented. "You should have had him pay you."
  
  "I...erm. I never thought of that," Harry commented.
  
  "Well. Whatever you do, Harry, make sure you get a good agent," she teased.
  
  "Know anyone?" Harry laughed.
  
  "No, but if I find someone, I'll make sure to let you know," she said. "Now the dancing is starting." Harry noticed that the other students were all starting to rise. The champions were heading over toward the center of the dance floor.
  
  "It is. Well, Miss Greengrass, may I have the first dance," Harry joked.
  
  "You may, Mr., Potter," she responded, taking his arm and walking with him to the dance floor. Harry couldn't help but notice the stares from just about everyone in the hall. He'd certainly surprised a few people with his choice of a date. Even Malfoy just looked on completely aghast. The best part was that the Slytherin couldn't think of an insult that didn't demean one of his housemates.
  
  When they arrived in the middle of the dance floor he took her hand, placing his other on her waist. They started to move slowly with the music. He led her gently across the floor. Daphne looked pleasantly surprised.
  
  "You're not bad. Whoever gave you lessons certainly was competent."
  
  "I'm glad you approve." They danced mostly in silence then. Harry kept his eyes focused on her, mostly out of fear of accidently being caught looking at another girl. He certainly didn't have much dating experience, and he didn't expect a relationship to develop between he and Daphne, but he still knew looking at other girls would be bad form. At the very least he'd want her to enjoy herself.
  
  As he spun around the floor with her he noticed Ron sitting alone at one of the tables. Ron's eyes shifted from Harry to Hermione, his expression indicated he felt betrayed by both of his friends. Harry felt bad for him, but couldn't say that he hadn't brought it on himself.
  
  He turned Daphne so he wouldn't have to look at his friend. Of course, that put Fleur in his line of sight, so he shifted her once more until he could see Crabbe and Goyle. The sheer look of confusion on Goyle's face as he stared at Daphne was one of the funniest things Harry had ever seen. He smirked a tad and kept dancing.
  
  Soon other pairs joined in the dancing. He continued to lead Daphne around the dance floor as he gazed at the other couples that occupied it. He looked at the other couples that swarmed onto the dance floor. None of the couples really surprised him.
  
  He may have been biased, but he felt that He and Hermione had snagged the least likely dates. His gaze slid over Lilly, who wore a violet dress and danced with a tall, tanned guy who appeared to be too old for her. Seeing his teammate reminded him of a promise he'd made though.
  
  "I hope you don't mind, but I did promise a few dances to some other friends tonight," Harry said quietly speaking just over the volume of the music.
  
  "Trying to get rid of me already, Harry?" Daphne asked. Her lips curved up into a smirk.
  
  "Of course not," Harry responded quickly, feeling flustered.
  
  "Don't worry about it," Daphne said. "I didn't expect to have your undivided attention the entire evening. I'll make do. But I do want the last dance." Her voice was rather stern.
  
  "It's yours then," He responded. They danced for another song, twirling through the crowded dance floor. They didn't say much, both of their gazes wandered around the hall, looking at other couples. Harry was just happy that he managed to correctly lead her around the dance floor. And that he never once stepped on her feet.
  
  Harry noticed that he finished the dance next to Krum and Hermione.
  
  "May I borrow your date for a dance, Viktor?" He asked. The older player looked him for a brief moment.
  
  "Yes, but I will want her back," Viktor said. Harry nodded and took Hermione's hand, as Krum took Daphne's. The next song started as he led his friend across the dance floor.
  
  "Having fun?" he asked her.
  
  "Yes, you?" She responded, grinning at him.
  
  "Yes, Daphne has been great," Harry said. "We haven't really talked about much, though."
  
  "Either have Viktor and I. One of the sponsors wouldn't stop talking to him over dinner. I think he almost hit the man," Hermione laughed.
  
  "Yea, I had one talking to me too. You know, it looks like our other friend isn't having that great of a night," Harry nodded over Hermione's shoulder, and then spun them so she was facing toward Ron.
  
  "Well he should have been more proactive. I heard him ranking girls based on their looks in the common room the other night. I'm glad he didn't find a date," Hermione said coldly.
  
  "He can be a bit of a jerk. You'd think having that many older brothers would have been a tad more humbling," Harry commented.
  
  "Yes. But Daphne Greengrass, Harry? How did that happen?" Hermione asked.
  
  "Titus set us up. Apparently her options were Goyle or me. I'm just glad she picked me," he laughed.
  
  "Well you do look quite nice tonight, Harry," Hermione said. "Certainly considerably better than Goyle."
  
  "Thanks. You're looking rather nice tonight, too. Do I want to know how long the hair took?" He teased.
  
  "No, you don't," she said flatly. "But if you look, Pansy is completely ignoring Malfoy and staring at Daphne with Krum." Harry turned them until he saw that.
  
  "She is. Looks like she wants to stab my date," Harry commented.
  
  "And steal mine," Hermione added.
  
  "How serious is that?" he asked, knowing she would know he meant her relationship with Krum.
  
  "I don't know. We don't really know each other. Probably more serious than you and Daphne, but more than that I can't say."
  
  "Well he seems like a good bloke. He certainly can fly."
  
  "I'm not sure his quidditch playing ability has much to do with determining if he's good or not," Hermione commented.
  
  "Well it may not have any effect, but it certainly doesn't hurt. It looks like he wants you back, though," he said as he noticed Krum and Daphne moving back toward them. They switched partners flawlessly and Harry found himself staring into Daphne's hazel eyes as she spoke.
  
  "Try for your dance with Seslion next," Daphne commented.
  
  "My what?" Harry asked.
  
  "Well I'm assuming you're going to dance with her, being teammates and all. And if I dance with her date I'll dance with the three best quidditch players here," she commented. Harry looked over toward Lilly, wondering who her date was.
  
  "Are you complimenting me, there? Or did you have a third player in mind?" Harry laughed.
  
  "Complimenting you. But don't let it go to your head. I'm sure I have a 'Potter stinks' badge somewhere I could wear," she teased.
  
  "Please don't," Harry said. "Who is her date anyway, I don't recognize him."
  
  "Diego Langes-Piquet. He's a chaser in the European leagues. Won the league MVP this last year for a Greek club. And he's only like nineteen," Daphne said. "You really don't follow professional quidditch do you?"
  
  "I spend my summer with Muggles," Harry laughed. Daphne didn't seem to find that a satisfactory answer, but she chose not to comment.
  
  "Regardless, dance with her next," she ordered.
  
  "As you wish," he responded, smiling and shaking his head. He moved over toward Lilly and found his chaser teammate in his arms for the next dance.
  
  "Sorry," he laughed. "But my date wanted to dance with yours."
  
  "It's okay," Lilly started to lead the dance, obviously not thinking Harry was good enough to let him lead. "You are quite a bit better than when we first practiced."
  
  "I had a good teacher."
  
  "And complimentary, too. Daphne is very lucky," she said.
  
  "I don't think Daphne and I are going to be very serious," he responded.
  
  "Really? You make a cute couple."
  
  "You think so? Regardless, I'm interested in someone else." He tried his best to not let his eyes wander to Fleur. He failed. The French girl was dancing with the French keeper, Bourdais, while Roger looked on, rather angrily.
  
  "Ah," Lilly said, seeing where Harry was looking. "Good luck with that." She didn't sound like she was really wishing him luck.
  
  "No advice?" Harry asked.
  
  "I don't think she's your type. You'd be better off with someone younger and not a Veela," Lilly said bluntly.
  
  "Are you serious?" Harry said.
  
  "Yes," Lilly responded. "Especially for your first. Go after someone easier." Harry didn't really like that answer. But he tried his best to not let it show.
  
  After the song ended he again danced with Daphne. She was rather flushed and giggly.
  
  "So that Piquet was charming, I take it?" He laughed.
  
  "Uh-huh," she admitted. "Thanks for letting me do that."
  
  "You're welcome," Harry said, not realizing he'd had a choice in the matter. He noticed most of the couples were filtering off of the dance floor to get something to drink. He wasn't the least bit winded, which he knew he owed to his training, but he figured he should ask his partner. "Would you like a drink?"
  
  "Please," she responded, taking his arm as the dance finished. They walked over toward the tables where drinks were being served. Harry noticed most of the students appeared to have wine and not the usual pumpkin juice. He took two glasses, handing one to Daphne before sipping his own. It was very diluted.
  
  Daphne sat on a nearby bench, Harry moved to sit next to her.
  
  "I should have worn different shoes," she joked.
  
  "I can't imagine wearing heels," Harry said as Viktor and Hermione approached them. Hermione sat next to Daphne as Viktor spoke to Harry.
  
  "You going to fly for the sponsors?" he asked, rather bluntly. Harry had a feeling he was not a man of many words.
  
  "Yea, I am. It sounds fun. Are you going to?"
  
  "Yes. Agent would be disappointed if I did not," Viktor admitted.
  
  "I'll see you out there then," Harry added. Viktor nodded.
  
  "Hey Harry!" He turned and saw Ginny smiling at him. She wore a pink dress and looked rather nice. He also noticed Neville was winded and taking a large drink. "Can I trouble you for the next dance?" Harry looked over at Daphne, who appeared to be receiving lecture from Hermione. He didn't have time to answer the question, though, as Krum put a hand on his back and pushed him toward the younger girl.
  
  "Don't make pretty witches wait," he heard Krum say from behind him.
  
  Harry managed to not fall over as he took Ginny's hand and moved back to the dance floor. He led her carefully through the slow song.
  
  "Having fun?" he asked. She nodded rather enthusiastically.
  
  "Yes. You could have probably done better than a Slytherin, though," she said. "Ron is very unhappy with you and Hermione. He thinks you're both being conned by the enemy."
  
  "The enemy?" Harry asked with a laugh. "And Daphne has been great."
  
  "Apparently all non Gryffindors are the enemy. And are things serious with the two of you. I wasn't aware you were even friends?"
  
  "We weren't really. I don't think things are that serious."
  
  "That's good," Ginny said with a full smile. Harry was going to comment that she'd just made fun of her brother for considering opposing houses the enemy, but the song ended and Ginny scampered away with a quick excuse that she wanted to try to dance with Krum as well.
  
  Harry walked back toward his date. He noticed Hermione was still lecturing Daphne, who looked rather annoyed by it. He also saw that Roger and Fleur were standing near the drinks table. Roger was talking animatedly about something. Fleur didn't appear to be paying attention. Harry walked up to them.
  
  "Can I have the next dance, Fleur?" He asked. She looked at him.
  
  "Oui," she said quickly. Harry doubted she even knew she slipped into French. Harry offered her his hand, and she took it, quickly. She hurried away from Roger and back onto the dance floor. She took the lead in the dance as soon as the music began.
  
  "You look stunning tonight, Fleur," he said, letting her lead the dance. "Are you enjoying yourself?" She took a deep breath before speaking. But it didn't matter, she still sounded annoyed.
  
  "Yes. Ze ball 'as been fun," she said curtly.
  
  "Your tone indicates otherwise," Harry said calmly. Fleur looked at him, almost like she were stunned someone would simply not believe what she said without question.
  
  "Roger is a bit trying," she admitted, carefully weighing her words as she spoke.
  
  "I'm sorry about that," Harry said.
  
  "It is not your fault," she said quickly.
  
  "Regardless. I still rather you enjoyed yourself," Harry said. Fleur smiled weakly at him.
  
  "When I am 'aving fun, I cannot control my aura as well. Too much fun ultimately leads to unwanted affections," Fleur admitted. Harry hadn't thought about that before. Of course, he rarely even remembered that she had an aura.
  
  "That's too bad," Harry said, not sure what else there was to say. He kept dancing with her, moving a tad closer to her.
  
  "I am accustomed to it," she said. Harry wasn't sure what to say about that. Their song ended and Fleur moved away from it.
  
  "Wait. One more," Harry said. She looked back at him, seeming to weigh the options for a moment, before walking back into his arms.
  
  "Fine, but you 'ave to lead," she said, and he did. It was a slow song and he held her close as they danced. He held onto her carefully, leading them in a slow circle on the dance floor. Fleur didn't say anything. She didn't need to. She simply clung to him and moved with him.
  
  Harry never wanted the song to end. But after four blissful minutes it did. Fleur dislodged herself from him and moved away without a word. Harry watched her walk back toward Roger and accept a drink with a smile. He couldn't look away. Thankfully he was pulled into another dance.
  
  "Hung up on the Veela, eh?" Daphne asked. "I'm actually a little jealous."
  
  "I'm sorry," Harry said, blushing a little bit. "I should probably be more focused on you. Really, thanks for coming with me."
  
  "I'm having fun, Harry. Unfortunately there's no one else I want to try to dance with. So you're stuck with me for the rest of the night."
  
  "That's fine," he said as he pulled her closer for another slow song. "What was Hermione lecturing you about? House elf rights?"
  
  "House elf rights? What? Why would anyone lecture me about that? They go insane when you free them!" Harry just shrugged. "How did you know she was lecturing me?"
  
  "She gets this look," Harry responded. "I've seen it enough."
  
  "I bet you have. She was lecturing me about you."
  
  "Anything good?"
  
  "Nothing out of the ordinary. Just some more things I can use as blackmail material. You know, make you do things for me so I don't tell Draco," Daphne said.
  
  "Oh good," Harry responded dryly. "And what do I have to do now?"
  
  "Oh just keep dancing. I'll think of something eventually," she responded, moving closer to him. Harry obliged, moving in a slow, small circle in much the same way he had with Fleur. Daphne seemed to enjoy herself. Mostly they just looked at each other. Harry couldn't help but wonder how things may have been different had he not met Malfoy until after the sorting. Had that been the case then perhaps he and Daphne wouldn't have seemed so strange.
  
  Harry didn't think about that too hard, though. Instead he just focused on dancing with the pretty witch in his arms. They spent the vast majority of the night on the dance floor, simply enjoying each other's company.
  
  They did take occasional break where they would sip some of the diluted wine and chat quietly about nothing in particular. Funny stories from each other's houses were the main topics of conversation. They even described their house's common room to each other. Harry didn't have the heart to tell her that he'd been in the Slytherin one before.
  
  It was one such break where they found themselves talking with a few Hufflepuffs. Harry wasn't really paying attention to the general conversation. It was something about the tournament, which meant he should have probably been paying more attention. But he was too busy watching Fleur and Roger. Roger was trying to lead her out of the Great Hall. She seemed to be resisting. Judging from her dress, she didn't have her wand handy. Harry saw them leave. He knew he shouldn't have cared. But he couldn't help but feel that something was wrong.
  
  "I'm going to use the loo," he said, standing and moving toward the doors.
  
  "Hurry back," Daphne called after him. "You still owe me that final dance."
  
  He stepped into the hall. A few students loitered around, ending their evenings early, Harry supposed. He wasn't sure which way Fleur and Roger had gone, but he picked the path that led back to the Ravenclaw common room.
  
  It only took a few halls before he could hear Roger's voice. He knew he shouldn't be doing this. Something about it just felt wrong. He found them quickly. Roger was kissing her, rather forcibly. He had her pressed to a wall. Harry swallowed hard, unsure of what to do. He'd seen people snogging before, to be sure, but he'd never wanted to punch the guy before.
  
  He was going to leave. He knew he should. But he noticed Fleur struggling against him. She pushed him away briefly and tried to move away. She had tears on her face. Roger was on top of her after a moment.
  
  He reacted purely on instinct. He didn't think of any of the ramifications. He pulled out his wand and pointed it at his Captain.
  
  "Stupefy," he said. Roger collapsed in a heap when the jolt of light hit him. Fleur looked up and her eyes met Harry's.
  
  "'Arry?" she asked carefully. He walked up to her.
  
  "Are you okay?" he asked. He looked down briefly to make sure Roger was indeed stunned.
  
  "Oui. Just stupid," she said. "May I 'ave your wand?" Harry handed it to her without thinking. She conjured herself a tissue and handed it back.
  
  "Are you sure?" he asked again.
  
  "Yes. Mother always said to always 'ave my wand. I left it in my room," she sighed. Harry was surprised that she had recovered so quickly.
  
  "This happens a lot?" Harry asked.
  
  "I told you. Ze aura always wins," Fleur said. "'E caught me off guard, or I would have charmed 'im and made 'im leave," Fleur explained. Harry didn't have the heart to say that a crying defenseless witch probably wouldn't be able to charm much. He noticed she was still crying a tad too, sniffing gently. He moved closer to her and hugged her. She simply went limp in his arms.
  
  "I'm sorry," he said gently, closing his eyes and trying his best not to breathe. He wasn't sure what exactly triggered Roger's actions, but at the very least he didn't want the same fate to befall him.
  
  "It is okay, 'Arry," she said softly. "You should get back to ze ball. Your date will be worried."
  
  "She can wait," Harry said quickly. Of course, the thought made him feel bad for Daphne. At the very least he wouldn't miss the final dance. "Are you sure you're okay?"
  
  "Yes, 'Arry," she slid out of his arms. "I will take care of Roger."
  
  "What are you going to do to him?" Harry asked. Fleur looked at him for a moment, her eyes still wet. She smiled weakly, though.
  
  "Prop him up against ze wall and walk away," Fleur said. "When 'e wakes up 'e will probably just assume 'e will likely assume 'e just passed out."
  
  "Oh. That sounds like an okay plan. I'll do it." Harry slid Roger over toward the wall, leaving him there. Fleur just watched, she was still shaking slightly. After a moment she finally spoke.
  
  "Thank you, 'Arry. I do not like to admit it. But my own stupidity caused me to be 'elpless tonight. It looks like I should 'ave taken you up on ze offer to accompany you tonight." She said slowly.
  
  "I'm just glad you're okay," Harry responded dumbly. "Are you going back to the ball?"
  
  "No. But you should. I am going back to ze carriage," she said rather sternly. He walked with her to the entrance hall, not sure of what to say. When they arrived he still didn't know what to say. Fleur broke the awkward silence.
  
  "'Ave you figured out ze clue for ze next task yet?" she asked.
  
  "I haven't really thought about it," Harry admitted.
  
  "Open it under water," she said quickly. "Now enjoy ze rest of your night." She turned to leave. Harry saw Daphne emerge from the Great Hall at that moment. She looked at him, he turned and watched Fleur go. He knew he should probably follow her. He knew he should to something noble like escort her back to the carriage. He knew he should do anything that could prove he wasn't just a boy.
  
  But Madame Maxime beat him to it. The headmistress walked up behind her star pupil and Harry realized he hasn't even managed to wish her a good night.
  
  "Harry?" Daphne asked quietly from his side.
  
  "Sorry," He said quickly. "Just ran into Fleur. I was just saying good night. I didn't miss the last dance, did I?"
  
  "No. You didn't," she said, taking his arm and leading him back into the hall.
  
  The ball was winding down, but most couples were still there. Daphne led him back to the dance floor and they slow-danced once more.
  
  "You should probably be aware of the Hufflepuffs," she said in an obvious attempt to keep the mood light.
  
  "Why's that?" Harry asked.
  
  "Susan and Hannah are almost as obsessed with you as they are Cedric. When he's gone next year you may want to test most of your food."
  
  "With the looks some of the Slytherins are giving me now, I should do that anyway," Harry responded.
  
  "That may be a good idea," Daphne agreed.
  
  "Sounds like a lot of work," Harry laughed.
  
  "Just have an elf do it for you. I'm sure Granger will appreciate that," Daphne laughed.
  
  "Oh yes. That would end well. She'd probably end up assaulting me if I did something like that." As he finished speaking an announcement came on that they were on the final song of the evening. It was also slow, one of the slowest of the night. Daphne inched closer to him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and moved her body closer to his. They silently moved in a small circle for the first few moments of the song.
  
  "So, are you really going to try for the French witch?" She asked quietly.
  
  "I don't know," he responded. "I'd like to try."
  
  "You and every other male in the castle."
  
  "I guess."
  
  "Well, how are you going to do it?"
  
  "I don't know."
  
  "Well, I don't know anything about her. But she seems like she could use someone mellow and caring. I expect she doesn't get many boys that simply care for her. That may be your best route." Daphne advised.
  
  "Thanks for the advice," Harry said carefully.
  
  "You're welcome. And if that doesn't work, you could always just tell her and be assertive. But don't make it seem like you're charmed."
  
  "Maybe I'll try that."
  
  "Yes, but I must tell you. It's rather bad form to talk about how you're going to try to woo another girl while dancing," she said.
  
  "But you brought it up!" Harry claimed. She laughed.
  
  "That's irrelevant, Harry." She closed her eyes. Moving as close to him as she could while he led her in the short circles. He figured it was probably best if he simply kept silent for the remainder of the dance.
  
  When it ended the remaining couples were ushered out of the hall by tired looking professors. Most of the students loitered around the hall, not quite wanting the night to end. Harry and Daphne walked toward the junction where they would have to part for their respective common rooms.
  
  "Harry," Daphne said quietly. He paused and looked at her.
  
  "Yes Daphne?" Harry asked.
  
  "I had a fantastic time tonight. Thanks for asking me," She said, giving him another tight hug. She paused for a moment and stared into his eyes.
  
  "You're welcome." He blushed. "I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. I had a fantastic time as well. She paused for a moment. Harry wasn't sure if he should let go of her or not. The next thing he knew her soft lips were pressed to his own. He froze. After a moment Daphne pulled away and looked at him.
  
  "Was that your first kiss?" She asked carefully.
  
  "Uhm, yea," Harry admitted, again feeling his face flush.
  
  "You're lucky I'm not the French witch. I'll give you a mulligan. Try again," she ordered.
  
  "What?" he asked.
  
  "Kiss me again," she said, rather more sternly. Harry didn't have the heart to tell her she initiated the first one. Instead, he simply obeyed. He leaned forward and pressed his lips cautiously to hers. He kept the kiss as careful and light as he could. After a few moments Daphne pulled away.
  
  "Was that better?" he asked.
  
  "Considerably." She smirked. "Harry Potter's first kiss. I hope you don't mind if I brag about that."
  
  "Go for it," Harry shrugged.
  
  "Good. Good night then, Harry." She gave him a peck on the cheek. "Thank you again." She started to walk down to the Slytherin common room.
  
  "Thank you as well, Daphne," he said quietly. As he walked back to the Gryffindor common room he again allowed himself to think what may have been had he not convinced the sorting hat he wasn't a Slytherin.
  
  But that thought didn't last as he remembered leaving Roger stunned against the wall. He wondered what repercussions would come from that. At the very least, their next practice should be interesting, even though it wasn't until after break ended. Roger couldn't have known he was there, though. Fleur was the only one who saw him. Hopefully she was right and he'd simply assume he passed out.
  
  Either way, he wouldn't worry about it until morning. He'd focus on his egg now. Hopefully Fleur's clue would help him more. Of course, if water was required for the clue, water would likely be in the task. So he assumed the lake, the largest body of water in the area, would be involved.
  
  He shook that thought out of his head. Until he figured out the clue, he shouldn't think too hard about possible tasks. He could just wind up preparing for something completely irrelevant. And that could be a fatal mistake.
  
  Author's Note: I'm not sure where to begin on this chapter. Absolutely nothing from the planning of the story found its way into this one. Harry's date was originally Astoria Greengrass, set up in much the same way. But I had assumed she was a third year, as opposed to a second. So, I changed my mind on that. From there, pretty much every girl who rejected him last chapter became a potential option. For a variety of reasons, they didn't make the cut.
  
  So instead I fashioned this version of Daphne. Part annoyed Slytherin, part happy to not have to dance with Goyle. She ended up being somewhat closer to how the 'Lilly' character was planned to be in the original draft, before she fell into a supporting role. In the end, all I can really say about this chapter is that I'm glad it's over. The ball was the roadblock that I knew I'd have to deal with sooner or later.
  
  Regardless, I hope you enjoy reading it more than I enjoyed writing it. Next up is a little more filler before the next task and Quidditch match. Two things that I'm at least excited about writing. The next chapter 'should' be a tad shorter. It mapped at around 6,000 words, but we'll see.
  
  Either way, thanks for your reviews, I appreciate every one of them. I hope you enjoy the update.
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun with some preliminary beta work as per usual. Also, while I had always planned a broom scene like this one, RDG2000 suggested a 'Top Broom' type episode. I attempted it, but wasn't good enough with the actual Top Gear personals to pull it off. Figured I should acknowledge it though. More on that later.

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